Texans' Dameon Pierce eyes 1,000-yard season

Inside a sweltering gym in July, Dameon Pierce is pouring sweat as droplets fly off of him while in constant motion. Pierce is a study in determination as he runs with a football, changing directions explosively in tight spaces across the artificial turf as he cuts around orange cones.

It’s the NFL offseason, but it’s not vacation time for Pierce as he worked overtime with private trainer Justin Allen at All-En Sports Performance. Between the elevated temperatures, an intentionally hot environment, and the series of football drills, high-intensity training workouts and weight lifting and stricter nutrition habits, the Texans Pro Bowl alternate running back transformed his body.

Although listed at 5-foot-10, 218 pounds, Pierce is noticeably leaner and more compact. And he looks even more explosive than he did as a rookie when he emerged as an early candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year before an ankle injury against the Dallas Cowboys ended his season early.

“Yeah, I’ve been trying to get that baby fat off me, man. You know what I’m saying?” said Pierce, who credited his work with Allen and Texans nutritionist Ladd Harris. “It was really my diet, you know. Just leaning out and getting that body fat percentage down. You know Ladd and our nutritionist, they were really happy about that. I’m trying to get through some holes man. I’m trying to get through there.”

“It was a hot gym – there was no AC in there. We’ve just got fans blowing in there. So, I definitely got some extra body fat off in there. J. Allen, that’s my guy, we’re locked in, so we fine-tune my work outs for me. It’s hot in there. We burn off some fat, man.”

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.

And Pierce endeared himself to his blockers with his hard-nosed running style and infectious personality. He set himself apart with his downhill approach to the game and zest for punishing defenders.

“Man, we love Dameon,” right tackle Tytus Howard said. “He’s one of the most energetic guys on the team. We love blocking for him and we know that all we’ve got to do is get our hats on guys and he’ll handle the rest.

“He’s explosive, he’s fast, strong. He’s one of those backs that can do it all, so we’re hoping to get him to be one of the best running backs in the league this year. We know he can do that.”

Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans

Photo: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

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? He has set his sights on the 1,000-yard milestone.

“It’s going to look a lot better than last year,” Pierce said. “Definitely cap 1,000 yards. That’s a goal I have for myself. That’s what I expect from me, so I definitely want to cap 1,000. ‘Slow’ [Slowik] expects that. Everybody around me expects that and I’m going to try everything in my power to get that.”

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. .. I love my fit in this offense. Like a jig-saw puzzle.”

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.

“Yeah, Dameon has been having a really great offseason,” Ryans said. “He looks great, in shape, and every time he touches the ball, you see the speed, you see the physicality. I know we don’t have pads on, but you can see the mindset that Dameon runs with, and I love that mindset. That’s what we’re going to need, and I’m encouraged to see his progress. He’s doing an excellent job, and I think I love Dameon just because his personality is great.

“He brings a lot of energy each and every day, always has a smile on his face, always excited, and always enthusiastic about practice, so he has that contagious energy that I love to be around. For us to be a good offense, we have to have Dameon at his A-game, and for Dameon to have his A-game, our offensive line has to be on their game, so it’s all a matter of guys working in sync, working in conjunction.”

Pierce is ultra-focused, dialed in on improvement.

The depressed running back market, even for elite backs like the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley, the Indianapolis Colts’ Jonathan Taylor and the Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, that’s not what Pierce is thinking about. He’s also not eligible for an extension until after his third NFL season.

“I feel like when it’s my time, I feel like a lot of that is dependent on the guy,” Pierce said. “A lot of guys are starting to base that off of what they do on the field. It’s more than that when it comes to the owner looking at this guy, like, ‘How did this guy impact our organization, how does this guy impact our locker room?’ The player on the field is obvious, but like I said, I just try to focus on being the best me. I come in here every day and try to uplift everybody. And in the future, my contract will reflect what I’ve done for this team and what I mean to this team.”

After being drafted in the fourth round, Pierce signed a four-year, $4.5 million contract. His agent, Elton Patterson, negotiated $25,000 more at his slot than the precedent that was in place. That personal example is encouraging to Pierce.

“I wouldn’t say devalued, but once you set a market for something, everybody is going to follow,” Pierce said. “Kind of like what happened when I came in. When I got my rookie contract and my four-year contract, and everybody’s trying to say, ‘Hey, man, he got this,’ and then everybody’s trying to bump it up. So, that’s just the NFL, it’s the business side. They’ve got their own opinions and ‘have their guys working on that,’ or whatever.”

So, worrying about the future that’s not something Pierce is going to waste time on. His future contract negotiations will arrive when they arrive and he’s not going to stress out about

“I can control what I can control,” Pierce said. “Who knows, when it comes my time, the running back market might be the highest it’s ever been like houses in 2008. It’s time to buy a running back. Everyone will be trying to buy a running back; you know what I’m saying when my time comes? All I can do is play ball and make my value as high as I can with my play on the field and what I do around the stadium and what I do in the building.”

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.

Texans work out tight ends Nick Vannett and James O'Shaughnessy

By Aaron Wilson

Thin at the tight end position due to injuries, the Texans are looking for experienced depth.

One day after working out and signing former New England Patriots tight end Dalton Keene, the Texans worked out two veteran tight ends.

They worked out former Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and New York Giants tight end Nick Vannett and former Kansas City Chiefs, Patriots, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings tight end James O’Shaughnessy, per league sources.

O’Shaughnessy, 31, is a former Chiefs fifth-round draft pick from Illinois State who has 112 career receptions, 1,108 yards and three touchdowns.

Vannett, 30, is a 6-foot-6, 257-pound former Seahawks third-round pick from Ohio State. He has 90 career receptions for 874 yards and six touchdowns.

Texans starter Dalton Schultz is banged up after a collision to his side with safety Jimmie Ward, but “will be fine,” according to coach DeMeco Ryans.

Tight end Brevin Jordan has a strained hamstring.

Tight end Teagan Quitoriano pulled a quadriceps during offseason training and is on the physically unable to perform list.

The Texans’ healthy tight ends include Eric Tomlinson, Andrew Beck, Mason Schreck and Jordan Murray.

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content