HOUSTON – Derek Stingley Jr. was tested early and often Sunday by Denver Broncos veteran quarterback Russell Wilson.
Some of that may have been by design, but also by necessity as the Texans’ talented rookie cornerback was matching up against imposing Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton, a 6′4″, 216-pound Brenham native and former SMU stand out.
Wilson targeted Sutton 11 times, connecting seven times for 122 yards. That included a 35-yard completion in the fourth quarter that led to the game-winning touchdown as Sutton got behind the third overall pick of the draft and former LSU consensus All-American. Sutton caught the pass in an area as he split safety, Jonathan Owens and Stingley.
“They just had a good play called,” Stingley said of Sutton’s late reception.
On the 35-yard pass, the Texans were in a Cover 2 coverage scheme.
“Cover 2, we get reroutes on receivers,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “We have half-field back behind. They hit a spot in between. We didn’t play the coverage the way it should. That’s not a play that we should give up in that situation.
“A lot of times with Cover 2, you put a guy short and a guy deep. In that situation third-and-16, we moved them back. That’s not a play that should have happened. One of the major disappointments I’ll say from that game was that play.”
Earlier in the game, Stingley was flagged two times for pass interference. Stingley had tight coverage on Sutton on a touchdown that was overturned following an instant replay review.
The Texans brought Stingley along slowly due to a Lisfranc foot injury in college that required surgery, ramping up his activity level throughout training camp.
Smith outlined that process in evaluating Stingley’s performance.
“Every young player has to get put in some preseason. We took our time with him coming off a major injury, we’ve steadily increased his load a little bit,” Smith said. “Part of that continuing to increase his load was to put him in positions that we did yesterday. Matching him up a lot of the times and putting him in tough situations. I thought he competed well. When you’re a cornerback and you press, a one-on-one situation is a lot. You’re going to win some of the battles. Some of them you aren’t going to play as well. It is how you respond. He competed hard. He tackled well. He made some plays and we’re excited about that growth continuing. A lot of our younger players are getting good time and the time is warranted based on their play.”
Stingley was asked about the calls against him.
“It is what it is,” he said. “It’s their call, can’t do anything about it.
It was a challenging game for Stingley, but he wasn’t fazed by his encounter with well-established veteran players in Wilson, a former Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and Sutton, one of the biggest receivers in the league.
“I had fun out there playing everybody, my first away game,” Stingley said.
The Texans squandered a 9-6 lead in the fourth quarter and have been outscored 27-0 combined against the Broncos and Colts. They’re 0-1-1 heading into Sunday’s road game against the Denver Broncos.
“We just keep fighting,” Stingley said.
Veteran nickel back Desmond King was complimentary of Stingley’s play, saying: “He played a good, excellent game.”
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has the 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.”
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.
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.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com