Texans' Dameon Pierce has Christian McCaffrey visions in Slowik offense

Dameon Pierce ran with the power of a sledgehammer as a rookie, bulldozing linebackers at the point of impact and dashing away from pursuit with uncommon speed.

Pierce embarrassed the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense with an epic, tackle-breaking display that earned him the Angriest Run of the Year.

His bruising, helmet-first mentality was brutal for defensive players to deal with, leaving a pile of fallen players in his wake.

“I don’t like to take it, man,” Pierce said of his approach to football. “That’s about as simple as I can get. I don’t like to take contact. I’d rather be the one delivering the blow.”

And now the Texans’ star running back, a Pro Bowl alternate last season, is envisioning an even more dynamic encore as he prepares for his second NFL season.

The reasons why include his diligence this offseason and the arrival of offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who’s installing the San Francisco 49ers’ “running back friendly” system steeped in West Coast offensive principles that showcased the versatility and talents of running back Christian McCaffrey.

“Oh, the more ways I can get the ball, the better, baby,” Pierce said. “I love that, I love that But I’ve got a lot of great guys to look at. Most recently, probably Christian McCaffrey. He thrived last year in the league, in his offense he’s just getting out of the backfield, getting in the flat, catching hitches or whatever the case may be. There’s multiple ways to get a running back the ball.”

As a rookie, Pierce rushed for 939 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games after being drafted in the fourth round out of Florida. Before a high ankle sprain ended his season with four games left, Pierce caught 30 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown on 39 targets.

What does he do for an encore?

“Try to get more yards, more touchdowns,” Pierce said. “Be a bigger role on this offense. Be a better leader. Just get better.”

And McCaffrey, playing in a system he “exemplifies,” in Pierce’s opinion, piled up 746 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 11 games after being acquired in a trade from the Carolina Panthers. He also caught 52 passes for 464 yards and four touchdowns on 65 targets.

Perhaps Slowik’s offense is tailored just as perfectly for Pierce’s skills, which go beyond human battering ram and also qualify him as a home run threat with the speed to take it the distance.

“I’d still say it’s running back friendly,” Pierce said. “That’s one thing that excites me. We run the ball. I love that. I like the dynamic that coach Slo brings. He likes to attack the defense in every way possible.

“If he sees a weakness, he’s going to pull that thread until the whole ball of yarn comes loose. He’s going to pick at the defense, he’s going to put the defense in positions where they have to think, and not where they can react. He likes a lot of movement, he likes a lot of motions, he likes putting us out, you know what I’m saying?”

Pierce emerged as the Texans’ most dangerous offensive player last season and should be the centerpiece of the the offense again. The architect of the 49ers’ top-ranked defense last season, new coach DeMeco Ryans is expected to emphasize a strong running game on offense to establish an aggressive, productive style.

Pierce embodies the kind of physical, tough approach that new coach DeMeco Ryans is looking for on both sides of the football.

Ryans loves Pierce’s work ethic and passion for football.

“Dameon has been consistent all offseason,” Ryans said. “He’s been here every day, he’s been upbeat. He brings tremendous energy, not only to our offense, but to our entire team. Always has a smile on his face, always working hard, improving on the little things that he has to work on. I’m excited for the season that he will have ahead of him. His physical style, the speed that he plays with, the way that he’s improving in his pass protection, it’s been fun to watch.”

As much as Pierce, 23, has made an impression on Ryans, the feeling is mutual.

A hard-hitting former Pro Bowl linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Ryans, 38, still looks like he could be playing in the NFL with his chiseled physique.

“I’m convinced he could still play in this league,” Pierce said. “I thought Coach ‘Meco was a player at first. I was like, ‘That’s Coach ‘Meco,’ man, he’s rock solid.’ I’m like, ‘dang, man.’ Cool guy, great guy, down to earth, you can tell he has a passion for this game, and he has a passion for his players, and that’s a guy who loves being around football. Coach ‘Meco,’ he’s still working out.

“I like seeing that from a coach because it shows that he’s committed to the grind. He’s around everywhere. We see him in the café, meeting room, weight room, on the field, off the field, just around the building. As players, that makes us more comfortable around the coach and that’s a guy we want to follow: a leader.”

Although Pierce is in just his second NFL season, the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Georgia native has strong leadership qualities. His personality is infectious. He’s a big factor in the Texans’ locker room. And Pierce’s ability could make the transition to a potential rookie starting quarterback in first-round draft pick C.J. Stroud much more seamless.

“C.J.’s a great kid, I’ve loved the way he’s come in and worked,” Pierce said. “Obviously, he was a high draft pick so there’s a lot of expectations on him and he’s handled it very well. I would say that he’s a quick learner, and the only thing I tell him every time I’m on the field with him, ‘Command the huddle, bro. Don’t be scared. Don’t be shy. Don’t shy away from that leadership role.

“You’ve got guys on this team who are behind you and who will help you in that aspect. And we’re here to lift you up, so if you go out there and make a mistake, you know you’ve got solid ground to fall back on and we’re going to help you through it.’”

Pierce has been impressive during organized team activities. And his teammates believe he’s primed for another big season.

“Oh, man, just watching him, man, just build from last year,” wide receiver Nico Collins said. “Man, you can tell he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he’s willing to get better every day.”

Pierce prefers to work on his weaknesses than brag about his strengths.

He’s intentional about working on his pass protection techniques under the direction of running backs coach Danny Barrett. And he wants to upgrade his ball security after fumbling four times as a rookie, often while fighting for extra yards.

“You’ve got to protect the ball and protect the quarterback, and we’ve been working a lot on both,” Pierce said. “Because last year, I think I had four on the ground, and I’m trying to drop that to zero. One is one too many. So, we’ve been working a lot in that aspect, kind of working on a lot of things without the ball. Because he knows everybody in that room is very capable of doing great things with the ball, so it’s more so what can we do without the ball to help our offense?”

What Pierce accomplished last year wasn’t done in a vacuum. He rushed for 139 yards in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in a nationally televised Thursday night game. In his final game of the season before he injured his ankle, Pierce rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in a 27-23 road loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

As a member of the Cowboys at the time, veteran tight end Dalton Schultz took notice of Pierce’s competitiveness.

“That kid can run hard,” Schultz said. “I remember coming out of the game last year I was like, ‘Damn, who is this No. 31 kid, he is just gashing us.’ He is a great player, full of energy, ball of energy and I asked him ‘What year is this for you?’ Because he carries himself like a vet.

“I was just listening to a kid who is a second year in the league guy and kind of surprises me a bit because he definitely gives off that veteran established leadership style. Having him kind of be at the head of the running back room I think is big time heading forward.”

The knowledge Pierce is acquiring to boost his game is beneficial. The respect he’s earning is significant to him.

“That’s one of the things that I really, really, really try to do is impress the vets wherever I go because I know they know what it takes to stay in this league and sustain in this league at a high level,” Pierce said. “Anytime a vet is saying good things about a young guy such as myself, that just gives me confidence. It kind of reassures me that I’m doing the right thing, I’m handling it the right way and that I’m doing vet-like things that are going to contribute later in my career.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Tennessee Titans v Houston Texans

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