HOUSTON – Derek Stingley Jr. was a man of few words Monday morning. He was all-business days away from his NFL regular-season debut.
Ultra-focused and confident in his skills, the Texans’ starting rookie cornerback, a first-round draft pick selected third overall out of LSU, Stingley is fully healthy and fully engaged on doing everything he has to do Sunday against an Indianapolis Colts offense headlined by quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Jonathan Taylor.
Stingley is sticking to his routine, and letting his actions speak volumes.
“I feel comfortable, learning every day,” Stingley said inside the Texans’ locker room. “Preparing the same way we do everything else, going out and practicing every day. I feel pretty excited, but it’s nothing different. It’s just football.”
Stingley has made a full recovery from a Lisfranc foot injury that required surgery. A former consensus All-American and blue-chip recruit, the Baton Rouge, La., native went through a lengthy ramp-up process with the Texans setting a goal of ensuring he was physically prepared to play every game and not risk any setbacks.
“It feels good,” Stingley said when asked about being completely recovered from his foot injury.
The way the Texans managed Stingley gradually, he made his preseason debut against the Los Angeles Rams after being held out against the New Orleans Saints. Stingley broke quickly on the football to bat away a pass intended for wide receiver Landen Akers against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
Stingley showed what he’s already displayed in practice: his foot is fine, and he’s ready for the season, as general manager Nick Caserio and coach Lovie Smith had predicted.
“We all have to have a first time, at everything,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “You’re excited about the first time. I’m sure those are the thoughts going through Derek’s mind. As his coach, what I’ve seen him do, he’s smart. He knows football.
“He’s healthy. He’s ready to go. It’s safe to say he’s going to play this week. I’m excited about seeing him play. Again, as a rookie, you’re going to continue to get better each week, but he’ll be ready to go.”
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn. The Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board and thus, selected him one pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Then, Stingley signed a fully guaranteed, four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option.
“Stingley got that demeanor,” said Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who regularly stays after practice for extra work mentoring Stingley. “He reminds me of a guy that I played with. Not going to say any names, but that guy was special. Quiet guy, come out here and he’s about business.”
The early reviews on Stingley have been extremely positive. The Texans regard the Louisiana native as advertised.
“Just cut on the tape,” Texans cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso said. “He’s big. He can run. He’s fluid. He’s explosive. He’s got great feet. He doesn’t really have a glaring weakness in his game. The traits, you could see that in individual drills. You could see that.”
Vasso emphasized that the mental aspect is another area where Stingley shines. He’s regarded as a student of the game with a thirst for knowledge about every aspect of football.
“We’re just excited about the player, mentally,” Vasso said. “He’s extremely conscientious. He’s got a football mind that’s constantly working. He wants to know why we’re doing things. He wants to know the inner workings of why we do things, and I can appreciate that.”
A two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former five-star recruit who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
“I mean, I think it was the best thing that could have happened,” Stingley said after the Rams game. “Obviously, I wanted to be out there way sooner. They know what they’re doing. Everyone involved with the Texans, they know what they’re doing.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com