HOUSTON – It was an extremely tough assignment for Texans rookie defensive tackles Thomas Booker and Kurt Hinish.
In their NFL starting debut Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, they were tasked with trying to contain All-Pro running back Derrick Henry.
With veteran defensive tackle Maliek Collins out with a chest injury, Hinish, an undrafted rookie free agent from Notre Dame, stepped in for him as the Texans’ primary three-technique.
And Booker, a fifth-round draft pick from Stanford, replaced regular starting defensive tackle Roy Lopez Jr.
During the Texans’ 17-10 loss at NRG Stadium, the run-stopping woes continued. Henry exposed the Texans’ porous run defense for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. The Titans finished with 314 rushing yards, a season-high yielded by the 1-5-1 Texans.
Although it wasn’t an ideal debut, Booker and Hinish came away encouraged generally by their progression in elevated roles and took it as a learning experience heading into a Thursday night game against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.
“It was definitely exciting,” Booker said. “The way I look at it, anytime you’re getting to play in the game you have to prepare like you’re a starter. You get the reps. You’re on the field. They have confidence in you to maintain the level of play. I look at it as an opportunity for me. It was definitely a cool moment.”
Booker (6-foot-3, 301 pounds), a finalist for the William V. Campbell award, the academic Heisman, at Stanford, had 59 tackles, five for losses and a sack in his final college season. He recorded 159 career tackles, 20 1/2 for losses, 9 1/2 sacks, one interception, eight passes defensed and a forced fumble. At the NFL scouting combine, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds and bench-pressed 225 pounds 31 times.
Booker recorded two tackles in his fifth NFL game. He played 20 snaps overall, 34 percent of the defensive playing time. For the season, he has played 110 snaps for 35 percent of the Texans’ total defensive snaps while operating in a rotation.
“I think I played solid,” Booker said. “You look at it and you have to find ways to improve. There were a couple of plays I absolutely wanted back. Sometimes, you’re going to get beat and come back from that and respond to the adversity. When you look at the tape, it was a decent outing.”
Hinish made the Texans’ 53-man roster on the same day former second-round defensive tackle Ross Blacklock was traded to the Minnesota Vikings. Hinish recorded seven tackles, four for losses and two sacks in three preseason games, including a sack of San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Trey Lance. Hinish plays the game with relentless hustle.
“I know I’m undersized for my position but I’m going to show up and punch you in the face every single snap from start to finish,” Hinish said. “That’s the way I am, that’s the way I’ve always been and how I’m going to be. Just manning the middle, we always joke around and call it the jungle. If you’re going to be in the jungle, you’ve got to be a bad dude. You’ve got to show up and bring it every single snap. Every snap could be your last and you’ve got to treat it as such.”
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.
For the season, Hinish has seven tackles, one for a loss, in six games, and one start.
The setback against Henry was the latest the Texans’ last-ranked run defense has absorbed. Hinish was unfazed by the outcome. He just keeps going.
“He’s a good running back,” Hinish said of Henry, who has rushed for 200 yards or more in four consecutive games against the Texans. “Just missed tackles, got to clean that up. Show up and keep throwing punches every day.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com