Texans safety Jalen Pitre ends joint practice with a pick-six

HOUSTON – Jalen Pitre read the eyes of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, sprinting immediately at the snap of the football to intercept his slant pass at full speed.

Once the Texans’ standout safety picked off Tagovailoa by undercutting the route, he was off to the races as he bolted up the sideline past chairman and CEO Cal McNair for the touchdown to end a joint practice in raucous fashion. Teammates and fans celebrated loudly and cornerback Steven Nelson put his hand in the air while watching Pitre run off with the football.

It was the exclamation point on a productive day for the Texans against a returning playoff team regarded as a strong contender in the AFC East.

“Man, big time play,” said Texans linebacker Christian Harris, who also returned a Tagovailoa interception for a touchdown during drills earlier in practice. “It doesn’t surprise me. ou know that’s happening every day at practice. In a big moment like that, that’s something that we need.”

The touchdown from Pitre was a mere snapshot of his playmaking skills.

When Pitre reflects on his mostly stellar rookie season, he likes most of what he immortalized on film. Although he led the hometown Texans with 147 tackles and five interceptions, Pitre focuses on the plays that got away and is honing his technique to avoid missing tackles this season through a more controlled style.

It was all familiar territory for Pitre akin to how the Stafford graduate excelled throughout his rookie season last year. With fast reactions, intensity and intelligence, the second-round draft pick from Baylor parlayed his skills into an immediate starting job and an impactful first NFL season.

“Oh, he’s the GOAT,” rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr. said. “Honestly, he works his butt off every day. I can’t say enough good things about him. He brings the team up, has a lot of energy every day. He just has something about him – he has that tick in him that makes him go and it’s contagious and spreads to the whole defense.”

As Pitre sprinted to the end zone, Anderson trailed him on his path to six points and an exclamatio

“Oh, I’m right behind him. I’m not as fast as him, but I’m trying to catch up to him.”

Pitre was an instant difference-maker on the Texans’ defense as a rookie.

A lot of what made Pitre different was how he diagnosed plays and how much quicker he reacts to the football than most safeties. It’s about his knowledge of the game.

“The way Jalen Pitre practices every single day, it doesn’t surprise me when he makes a big play,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “It’s expected because that’s what he does every day. He’s not going to surprise you with a wild play because that’s who he is.

“He’s consistent in his preparation and it shows when it’s time to line up and compete. He’s the same guy he always is, so it’s very exciting for the entire team when all eyes are on us, and to see him step up and make a play like that. It’s exciting and uplifting for our entire team.”

Pitre recorded the most tackles among all NFL rookies and became the first player to record more than 125 tackles and intercept five passes since the tackle statistic began being tracked in 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He played 93 percent of the Texans’ total defensive snaps, rarely leaving the field.

“Oh yeah, I’m going for the ball every time,” Pitre said earlier this week when asked about a potential interception got away from him against the New England Patriots in a preseason opener as he allowed a 27-yard reception to former Baylor teammate Tyquan Thornton. “I feel like it’s important that we get takeaways for the offense to get the ball back, and every time the ball is in the air, I’m looking to do that.

“I understand that I’m not perfect, and sometimes plays like that are going to happen, but I’m not going to dwell on those things. Going to look for ways to improve it, and I think in that situation, just going up and high-pointing the ball would probably help me, but I’m always looking to get the ball back in the offense’s hands.”

And the latest interception from Pitre didn’t surprise safety Jimmie Ward, the hard-hitting former San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick who joined the team in free agency.

The play was manifested by Pitre, something he has all planned out.

“The crazy thing is, he always talks about that,” Ward said. “Two-by-two, open, spread, slant. Steal the slant by one, and he went and got it.”

Harris intercepted a no-look pass for a touchdown, continuing a strong training camp as he heads into his second NFL season. Harris, who has 4.44 speed in the 40-yard dash, is the Texans’ fastest linebacker.

“Really just kind of like, (Tua’s) shoulders opened up so I’m immediately standing down, trying to do a no-look pass and just trust my instinct,” Harris said. “Kind of feel like where I was at was a good position, so just trying to make a play.”

Still, Tagovailoa had his moments.

Especially when he aired it out to All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, one of the fastest players in the NFL. Tagovailoa also found success during a red-zone drill.

“They’ve got a good group over there,” Ward said. “Offense is very explosive. Got a lot of fast players. That’s kind of how they built their offense. The wide receiver groups, all of them can run. So, of course they were going to make some plays and guys getting paid, too. But I feel like we made a lot of plays out here, too, and we took the ball away.

As the Texans try to engineer a turnaround after going a combined 11-38-1 over the past three seasons, Pitre is encouraged by the outlook. After going 3-13-1 last season, the Texans have had a positive offseason.

“I feel like the mindset is shifting,” Pitre said. “You know, everybody’s hungry to do more and just to help out each other. When you got a team that is aggressive, smart and relentless, I feel like good things are going to come out of that.

“I just want to make the team better. That’s my overall goal. I just want to come in with the right mindset in order to improve from year one. I feel like I did some great things, year one, and I’m just trying to build off that.”

NOTES Several players didn’t practice, including defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, quarterback Case Keenum (leg, soft-tissue injury), linebacker Christian Kirksey (hamstring), tight end Brevin Jordan (hamstring), defensive tackle Thomas Booker (wrist), offensive tackle Tytus Howard (hand surgery), wide receiver Jared Wayne (Grade 2 hamstring strain). ... Offensive tackle Austin Deculus practiced after limping off at practice Monday. ... Tight end Dalton Keene returned to practice. ...

After getting into a shoving match earlier in the week with running back Devin Singletary, Harris threw Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson to the ground. Wilson pushed Harris before the flareup got broken up.

“It’s always good in general just to go against another color and compete,” Harris said. “Just trying to use the things that we’ve learned so far, put together in this training camp and put them against another team. So, there’s a lot of stuff we obviously need to clean up.”

“All business, I’m just trying to compete and get better. I mean, we’re all out here with the same goals, the same mindset, so we’re all hungry.”

When asked if it’s a case of running backs simply not liking to get hit in practice, Harris replied: “I don’t know what it is, but, look, we have to bring the same intensity every day. We have a standard to develop over here, put over here, especially with DeMeco.” ...

Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud did a nice job of connecting with tight end Dalton Schultz. The former Dallas Cowboys franchise player provides a reliable downfield target. He beat Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, a former All-Pro selection who graduated from Wheatley and grew up in the Fifth Ward. Howard had a difficult time keeping up with the Texans’ wide receivers, including Tank Dell, Noah Brown and Robert Woods.

“What does Dalton mean to our team? I think it’s that,” Ryans said. “He provides a security blanket for the quarterback, has really good hands. He’s a guy you can rely on. He’s good in protection when it’s called upon him, so Dalton is just a pro’s pro. He’s consistent in his approach every day, and it’s great to have Dalton on our team.” ...

Ryans didn’t indicate how he will divide up snaps, including Stroud’s playing time, Saturday night against the Dolphins. ...

Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil manhandled Dolphins star pass rusher Bradley Chubb in one-on-one drills.

“With Laremy and what he brings to our team, you have every team, if you’re going to be a great offense, you’ve got to have a great protector at that left tackle position, and that’s what Laremy provides for us,” Ryans said. “Laremy has done it at a high level for such a long time, right? He’s consistent and he’s reliable. So, it’s comforting to have Laremy out there, and knowing he’s played a lot of football, seen a lot of things, he’s confident. When you have a lot of young guys around him, he can provide that experience to the guys, so Laremy has been really good for us.” ...

Ryans has an extensive background with Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel.

The two former 49ers colleagues got to know each other initially when Ryans was a Texans rookie and McDaniel was a part of Gary Kubiak’s coaching staff.

I’m proud of Mike and the position he’s able to be in now,” Ryans said. “He’s a tremendous, young coach, brings great energy to this team. These guys are prepared. He’s always looking to push the envelope. He’s not just going to do it how it’s always been. He’s always looking to gain an edge, always on the cutting-edge side of things. So, it’s fun always to go against Mike because he’s going to prepare you for things you would probably never see from other teams, so it’s very challenging.

“And that’s why I really wanted the opportunity to practice against him because I know the type of coach he is, and I know the challenges that he’ll present to us defensively. And then just as a person, Mike is one of the smartest coaches I’ve been around. Always keeps it low-key, always having fun, always cracks a joke at the right time. Very witty guy. Just proud of the coach that he’s become, the man that he’s become. It’s fun to see him in the position that he’s in as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach.” ...

McDaniel, known for his quirky sense of humor and his swaggy clothes, watches and shoe game, has a prodigious work ethic. He would often work at strange hours, even at 3 a.m. in darkened film rooms

“Working with Mike, he’s like in his black hole,” Ryans said. “He’s quiet. Not a lot of people going in, messing with him. His office was dark, and the film was just running. And I see the wheels are turning just on, ‘What motion can I do to run the same play?’ He’s just always thinking, forward-thinking in the way he approaches the game, the way he watches film, and just the way he teaches.

" He’s teaching the receivers or [running] backs. Like, his players love playing for him. He brings a great energy, a different energy from other coaches, and it’s fun that a guy can be himself and still lead a team in the way that he does.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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