Tremon Smith got low before uncoiling his upper body to lift Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster into the air, body-slamming him to the ground for a forced fumble.
Compact and athletic at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, the Texans’ cornerback plays the game with a gritty, physical style.
That’s been on display the last two games as the core special-teams contributor stepped into an expanded role as a starting cornerback with veteran Steven Nelson sidelined with foot and knee injuries. Smith had a career-high 11 tackles against the Chiefs, the team that drafted him in the sixth round out of Central Arkansas. He had a tackle for a loss and one pass defensed one week after intercepting the first two passes of his career against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
One of defensive back Tavierre Thomas’ closest friends and a participant in his wedding, Smith is capitalizing on the chance to play more on defense.
Thomas had an inkling that Smith would make some big plays.
“He was just waiting on his opportunity, and his opportunity came,” Thomas said. “Now he’s balling out. I’m happy for him. He’s one of my closest friends. It’s crazy, I was in the sauna. That week he got two interceptions. I got out of the sauna, and I called him. I was like, ‘Bro, I don’t know why, but I feel like you’re going to play.’ You can ask him this question if you think I’m telling a fib.
“He was like, ‘I’m not going to play, bro.’ I said, ‘Yes you are, bro. Just stay locked in.’ And he said, ‘I’m always going to be ready.’ I was like, ‘I’m telling you Tre, you’re going to get in.’ The first play, he made a tackle. The second play, he had a pick. He came up to me and said, ‘Bro, you’re like That’s So Raven.’ I’m happy he’s balling out, and I’m happy he’s got his opportunity. Hopefully, he just keeps it up and keeps making plays. He’s going to have a big payday coming soon.”
Smith signed a one-year, $1.11 million extension last December that included a $90,000 signing bonus and $290,000 total guaranteed.
This season, Smith has averaged 13.3 yards per punt return and 21 yards per kickoff return after returning a kickoff for a touchdown last season against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has 18 tackles this season.
Being on a 1-12-1 team is difficult, but Smith has endured the losing and maintained his high standard of play.
“It’s tough, but we feel like we can play with anybody,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep on coming. The guys in here, we really respect each other no matter what people say on the outside. At the end of the day, you want to play offense or defense and you’ve got to play special teams to make your way.”
Texans special teams coordinator Frank Ross, who coached Smith with the Indianapolis Colts and recommended him to Texans general manager Nick Caserio, has watched one of his mainstays on kick coverage and the return game emerge with a larger role on defene.
“We’re excited for any Texans making big plays, of course,” Ross said. “It definitely has a special place for you, especially as a special teams coach when those guys are getting their chances and making the most of their opportunities. You know, I try to stay level-headed and just give them a high-five or a pat on the helmet because I want him to go out there and keep playing ball.
“But, man, I was raving. Super excited for Tremon (Smith). I want him to continue to do that. I would say the only thing is my dry sense of humor, I walked up to him and said, ‘Don’t forget about us now. Please come back and play on special teams and stay hungry with that Texans special teams attitude.’”
The Texans have three remaining games, all against AFC South opponents, starting with Saturday’s game against the Tennessee Titans.
“I can’t wait,” Smith said. “We can finish the season strong.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com