Texans notebook: Davis Mills leads pair of touchdown drives, overcomes interception

Plus: Jalen Pitre, Hinish pushing for roster spot, injury updates and more

Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) warms up for an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) (Eric Christian Smith, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

HOUSTON – Texans starting quarterback Davis Mills had his moments during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, making some sharp throws.

The strong-armed former third-round draft pick completed 6 of 10 passes for 58 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 17-0 win Thursday night at NRG Stadium.

The interception came on a pass Mills wishes he could have back. The fade route to wide receiver Chris Moore was bobbled by Moore and deflected by Samuel Womack III and intercepted by Tarvarius Moore.

Mills was resilient, though, rifling a 16-yard touchdown pass in the second half over the middle to Moore after a previous touchdown pass to wide receiver Nico Collins was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty on Moore.

“I mean, we just kept calling our stuff,” Mills said. “Obviously, you get a little mental reset at halftime, make sure what you thought you were getting in the first half from the defense, making sure that’s accurate with what you thought and what you’re actually going to get in the second half, too. Just wanted to come out and put together a drive at the start of the half and go down and get points. That’s what we did.”

The interception represented a play that Mills wants to learn from.

“It was the right route,” Mills said. “I’ve got to give him a better ball there. If you kind of compared quarterbacking to golf, it’s where you miss, not where you make every throw. I’ve got to give him a better ball there. Obviously you’d like to see the film to confirm some things, but that one, that throw to Chris Moore down in the end zone after our defense got a turnover, that was a big one. It’s where you miss, not where you end up throwing it. So got to give him a better ball away from the defender’s leverage.”

Another throw Mills wasn’t pleased with was during a defensive pass interference penalty on a throw to Collins.

“The other throw I want back is probably the go ball to Nico on the right sideline that we ended up getting pass interference on, but I just hung that one up and underthrew it,” Mills said. “Would like to put a little more on it so we can probably end up scoring on that play rather than just getting the pass interference call.”

Heading into his first full season as the starter after entering last year backing up veteran Tyrod Taylor, the former third-round draft pick from Stanford is feeling good about his game.

“Very confident,” Mills said. “I think every rep you get adds to your experience level, your memory bank. The more reps I get, the more and more comfortable I am out there. I mean, it’s exciting just with what we have moving forward.”

“I think the sky’s the limit with what we’re capable of doing on offense. I think it’s going to be very unique to what we’re going to do here compared to different teams around the league. It’s going to be really exciting kind of pulling some of those tricks out of the bag once we get to Week 1 versus the Colts.”

Mills didn’t play in any preseason games with his top wide receiver: Brandin Cooks.

Cooks caught 90 passes last season for 1,037 yards and six touchdowns. He was signed to a two-year, $39.6 million contract extension this offseason.

“Yeah, when you have a No. 1 receiver like that, you know once we get into game plan he’s going to be the No. 1 guy in a lot of progressions,” Mills said. “We’re trying to find ways to get him the ball. When he’s not available like he was throughout preseason, it does give you valuable time with other guys to continue building chemistry and timing and getting on the same page with those guys. It’s exciting just continuing to develop with those other playmakers.”

Derek Stingley Jr. builds in second NFL game

Texans first-round cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. had a pass deflection in his first NFL game against the Los Angeles Rams.

He had three tackles and a sound performance in pass coverage in his second start against the San Francisco 49ers as their passing game never clicked.

“I’m just glad that the team is coming together,” Stingley said. “We’re out there on defense, flying around. I think it’s going to be a good year. I’ve really been learning from anybody.  I’m just taking it in and trying to get better.

“Everybody is out there giving 100 percent effort. I think we made a statement to ourselves that we can go out there and play together. I can always get better at everything, technique, being at the right spot. That’s what everyone wants to do.”

Jalen Pitre: ‘Being violent when you get there’

Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre displayed his rare instincts again in his third preseason game.

The second-round draft pick from Baylor and immediate starter had five tackles, including one for a loss on fourth down to halt a drive against the 49ers. On 4th-and-2 at the Texans’ 35-yard line, Pitre tackled 49ers running back Trey Sermon for a loss of three yards. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is extremely active and off to a fast start in the NFL.

“Definitely, I’m big on running to the ball and being violent when you get there,” Pitre said. “I hope to always be around the ball on any play out there. The chemistry is strong. We have some great people back there, some great communicators.

“It’s a big shout-out to my teammates and my coach. I appreciate all of them for that. I would say my tackling has gotten a lot better.”

Pitre’s versatility, range and aggressiveness have made him an early standout.

“What we notice, is when you’re making a whole lot of big flash plays,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “Jalen has been consistent throughout. He’s a smart player.

“He’s been like a sponge as far as learning, but he’s going to be around the ball. That’s what we’ve seen. I’m excited about going forward with him and him lining up for us when Indy comes into town.”

Signed to an $8.95 million contract that includes a $3.692 million signing bonus, Pitre models his game after New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu, a former All-Pro selection and Texans defensive captain, along with Arizona Cardinals standout safety Budda Baker.

A former consensus All-American, Pitre led Baylor with 18 tackles for losses in his final college season. He finished with 76 tackles overall, with three sacks, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries.

“He’s a guy who’s in here early, so he understands what it takes to be a pro,” veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “He’s doing all the necessary steps, and that’s why he’s flying around all over the field.”

Undrafted rookie Hinish pushing for roster spot

Texans undrafted rookie defensive tackle Kurt Hinish celebrated a sack, his second of the preseason, after previously delivering a tackle for a loss on running back Trey Sermon.

Sacking 49ers starting quarterback Trey Lance for a loss of seven yards represented a big moment for the Pittsburgh native.

Signed as a free agent for $85,000 guaranteed out of Notre Dame, Hinish is making a strong case for a roster spot. There are many around the team who believe he’s done enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

“It helps,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s about making plays when you get an opportunity. Kurt has taken advantage of his opportunities, too, but he’s been like that just about every day of training camp.”

Hinish keeps pushing and shoving, driving his legs until he gets free from blocks. Against the New Orleans Saints, he chased down his former college teammate, Ian Book, for a sack.

The Texans’ gritty defensive tackle from Notre Dame is making a strong impression.

The push from Hinish was emblematic of how the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Pittsburgh native has performed throughout training camp. He’s making his presence felt at the line of scrimmage and with his work ethic and study habits.

Hinish is making his bid for a roster spot and he’s created a strong impression on the coaching staff.

No one played in more career games in Notre Dame history than Hinish, appearing in 61 games with 35 starts and recording 81 tackles, 20 for losses, 7 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble. A former All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorable-mention selection,

Hinish ran the 40-yard dash in 4.96 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times at the NFL scouting combine.

At Notre Dame, Hinish became known for his high-octane style and for painting his face for games. He had 10 tackles, one sack and two tackles for losses in a win over Navy last season.

And Smith emphasized that Hinish is off to a fast start in the NFL.

“Whenever you have a nose guard that gets a sack, that’s really big,” Smith said. “But he’s been a steady performer throughout camp also.”

Hinish, an avid hunter and fisherman who caught Notre Dame’s attention in recruiting when he convinced Central Catholic High School teammate David Adams to submit his highlight tape to the school’s recruiting coordinator, embraces a “lunch-pail,” blue-collar mentality.

“That’s the way I am,” Hinish said. “I take it one day at a time. I do my best every day I show up at the building. I feel excited. I’m making the most out of my opportunity, for sure.”

New kicker, for the night

The Texans signed former New York Jets and Carolina Panthers kicker Matt Ammendola before kickoff.

Ammendola made a 45-yard field goal and missed a 31-yard attempt.

Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn is dealing with a short-term injury and is expected to return for the season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts, according to a league source.

Fairbairn, who missed four games last season on injured reserve with a groin injury with Joey Slye stepping in for him, is not expected to be out for long. The Texans needed a kicker for this preseason finale.Ammendola, who recently tried out for the Green Bay Packers, played collegiately at Oklahoma State.

The Pennsylvania native made 20 of 26 field goals as a senior at Oklahoma State.

With the Jets, he was cut in December after hitting 13 of 19 field goals and 14 of 15 extra points through 11 games. He was signed to the practice squad after being released, then signed to a reserve-future deal before being released in March.

Texans’ injury updates

The following players didn’t play due to injuries: defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (biceps), kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (groin), defensive tackle Ross Blacklock (groin), linebackers Garret Wallow (ankle) and Christian Harris (hamstring), tight ends Pharaoh Brown (hamstring), Teagan Quitoriano (knee) and Antony Auclair (right knee), wide receiver Drew Estrada (leg), cornerback Tavierre Thomas (quadriceps), cornerback Kendall Sheffield and starting defensive tackle Roy Lopez (soft-tissue injury).

“Yeah, a little soft tissue injury, shouldn’t be much, nothing to keep him out of the first game, anything like that,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said regarding Lopez. “Going into the third preseason game, if guys aren’t 100 percent or close to that, we held them a little bit. He’ll be fine. Nothing serious.”

The Texans held out three key veterans for precautionary reasons: left tackle Laremy Tunsil, center Justin Britt and wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

Tunsil, Britt and Cooks didn’t play in any of the three preseason games.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Jerry Hughes made their preseason debuts.

Texans’ quick hits

Nickel back Desmond King intercepted a pass, getting back on the field after being evaluated in the blue medical tent on the sideline after getting shaken up on a punt return.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Jake Hansen intercepted a pass. The former Illinois standout has had a strong preseason at diagnosing plays.

Defensive end Adedayo Odeleye, an international program player from London, recorded his first NFL sack, bringing down Brock Purdy for a loss of seven yards.

Linebacker Blake Cashman tied with Neville Hewitt for the most stops on the defense with six tackles, including five solos.

Undrafted rookie tight end Seth Green, a former University of Houston player, had a 24-yard reception.


Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC-2 and click2houston.com