Derek Stingley Jr. envisions ‘fun’ second season: ‘I’ve improved and seeing the whole field at a faster rate’

Texans second-year cornerback, drafted third overall a year ago, is bigger, stronger and confident in his preparations. ‘It’s been really fun because every day the next practice you can see everybody just understanding a little bit more, fly around a little bit faster. It’s starting to look real good. It’s fun.’

Houston Texans cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (24) 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 – Derek Stingley Jr. instinctively reacted to a deep pass launched by rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. He adeptly shadowed Nico Collins in recovery mode, hustling backward after the wide receiver initially gained a step on him.

Once he gained position in a blur of athletic movement by mirroring the pattern and running step for step with the imposing wide receiver, Stingley Jr. leapt high into the air to disrupt the path of the football as he batted it away for an incomplete pass.

It was a snapshot of how the Texans’ talented cornerback can transform a difficult play into a routine one and yet another example of how Stingley Jr. is emerging as a popular defensive breakout candidate heading into his second NFL season after being selected with the third overall pick in the first round a year ago.

Beyond his speed, polished cover skills and strong fit within new coach DeMeco Ryans’ aggressive defensive scheme, there’s also a constant thirst for more knowledge and a desire for self-improvement. In particular, Stingley Jr. has made strides in his vision and understanding of how the offense is trying to attack each level of the defense. At 6-foot and a chiseled 190 pounds, Stingley possesses every tool to become a true lockdown corner.

“Oh, I feel like I’ve improved and I’m seeing the whole field at a faster rate,” Stingley Jr. told KPRC 2 during an interview at NRG Stadium. “I could kind of see it last year and in the years before that, but Year One to Year Two, you can see the pace a little bit more. Nothing’s really unexpected. Nothing really catches you off-guard anymore. I mean, it’s nice.”

Stingley Jr. didn’t allow a touchdown pass as a rookie, displaying the athleticism and coverage skills the Texans envisioned when they selected him instead of cornerback Sauce Gardner, who was named All-Pro as a rookie with the New York Jets after being drafted fourth overall.

Stingley Jr. embraces the pressure of playing an unforgiving position where every step is on display while isolated in single coverage. As a top corner, Stingley Jr. is tasked with matching wits and footwork with some of the best athletes in the game.

That includes wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a fellow former LSU star, in the regular-season opener on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals and former college teammates Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, a home game against Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and a December road matchup against New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season.

How Stingley Jr. plays and approaches the game is built through a dedication and love for football nurtured through his father and longtime personal coach.

Derek Stingley Sr., a longtime Arena Football League coach and player who intercepted 19 career passes and played for the Philadelphia Phillies in their minor league system, hasn’t seen an uninterrupted, healthy offseason like this one from his son, the youngest of four siblings, since a stellar true freshman year at LSU.

After enrolling early at LSU as a blue-chip recruit, Stingley Jr. made an immediate impact as a consensus All-American for the national champion Tigers as he led the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions and 21 passes defended. This offseason, a healthy one after ending last season on injured reserve after nine starts, has been an extremely positive experience. And that has Stingley Jr. and his family energized and optimistic heading into training camp.

“I’m feeling good about this offseason for sure,” Stingley Sr. said. “Naturally, he went into it healthy and it kind of reminds of his offseason going into LSU his first year. He enrolled and was able to get into the weight room as younger going going into college. This is a new experience with a new coaching staff and being able to be full-tilt. It’s been a while since he was full-tilt, ever since his freshman year when he was exactly himself. That makes a huge difference in how he can perform. He can get comfortable and settle into everything right from the start this season.”

Stingley Jr. made a full recovery from a Lisfranc foot injury last year after being limited him to three games as a junior before declaring early for the draft. He had previously dealt with an ankle injury and an illness as a sophomore while excelling and being named first-team All-Southeastern Conference for the second time. Stingley Jr. intercepted 27 passes during his high school career. He was a five-star recruit and ranked first overall by Rivals and a finalist for the National Gatorade Player of the Year.

Although Stingley Jr. was still on the mend from the foot injury at his campus Pro Day workout last spring, he still managed to run a 4.37 40-yard dash and had a 38 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 10-2 broad jump as he displayed his explosiveness.

“Going into last offseason, the Texans were being very cautious with him,” Stingley Sr. said. “This offseason, it’s almost mirroring when he had one of the best college performances as a corner in football and he was an All-American. He couldn’t get into a real rhythm last year at first. Now, he’s able to be present for everything and he’s mentally sharp.

“He’s not only seeing it in meeting rooms, he’s getting in that extra work with him being at the Texans facility and the things him and I do on the weekends. He’s even more prepared. It reminds me of what he’s always been. I think this offseason has been good, one of the best he’s had.”

Stingley Jr. has devoted this offseason to working at his craft, honing his skills as he prepares for his second NFL season.

And Stingley Jr. has spent a lot of time in the weight room at NRG Stadium with head strength and conditioning coach Mike Eubanks, hoisting heavy metal to strengthen his body for the rigors of football.

The difference in Stingley Jr. is noticeable, especially in his upper body. He’s visibly bigger and stronger.

“I put in a lot of work every day with coach Mike,” said Stingley Jr., who celebrated his 22nd birthday Tuesday. “I didn’t even realize it until I started seeing everybody saying, ‘You got big, you got swole.’ Even when I was in high school, I always had muscle. It is a little different now.”

What hasn’t changed about Stingley Jr., though, is his speed. If anything, he’s moving faster and is just as fluid as he was during his rookie season.

“I think that weight gain has a bad connotation,” Texans cornerbacks coach Dino Vasso said. “He’s put on some muscle. By every metric, he’s still as explosive and fast as he’s always been, so encouraged by that.

Although Stingley was ultimately shut down for the final portion of the season with a strained hamstring, he made an impression with how effectively he covered talented wide receivers before he got hurt. Stingley’s growing reputation precedes him, includes with retired All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who played for the Chargers, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts and intercepted 31 career passes.

“Love him, I don’t think he gets enough credit because he’s not in a bigger market,” Cromartie told KPRC 2 after overseeing a workout of several college players at Ollin Athletics and Sports Medicine. “I think if Sting was in New York, it would be a whole different spiel. I think Stingley had a great rookie season and I think it’s going to be even better as he goes on. The kid is phenomenal.”

Ryans took notice of Stingley Jr. during the scouting process as he blazed a trail to be drafted in the first round.

Stingley Jr. displayed speed, explosiveness and technique, prompting Texans general manager Nick Caserio to draft him.

“Stingley has outstanding talent,” Ryans said. “Scouted him the last year, and I know the talent that he has. I know the competitor that he is. Going to put him in position to make a lot of plays for us. Put him in a position where he can excel and showcase his talents.”

Stingley Jr. proved to be a willing tackler and was ultra-competitive in pass coverage, not backing down an inch in single-coverage situations as a rookie, including a matchup against Denver Broncos standout wide receiver Courtland Sutton.

While Sutton finished with seven catches for 122 yards, he had six receptions for 87 yards against Stingley Jr.. There were some holes that Broncos veteran quarterback Russell Wilson exploited in former coach Lovie Smith’s traditional Cover 2 zone scheme.

Stingley Jr. got better and better as the season went on, including a key interception of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the end zone during a road victory.

Targeted 54 times overall, Stingley allowed 34 completions for 409 yards.

“Football IQ is high, and athletic ability can’t take that away from him,” Cromartie said. “I think he’s a game-changer who can do the things he needs to do on the back end and he’s going to have another good season this year.”

Stingley Jr. and his father have been preparing for these moments for his entire life.

He comes from a football family steeped in tradition and accomplishments.

Derek Stingley Sr. played in the Arena Football League for nine seasons after concluding his minor league baseball career. He played for everyone from the Albany Firebirds to the Chicago Rush, Arizona Rattlers, Carolina Cobras and Dallas Desperados and was an all-league selection in 1999 and won one championship. He was briefly with the New York Jets.

Stingley’s grandfather is the late Darryl Stingley, a former New England Patriots wide receiver who became a quadriplegic in 1978 after suffering a spinal cord injury on a hit by Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum. Stingley died in 2007 from heart disease and pneumonia complicated by his spinal injury.

As a coach, Stingley Sr. has worked for multiple teams, including the New Orleans VooDoo, Pittsburgh Power, Philadelphia Soul and the Georgia Doom.

Having that kind of deep football background in his home has been extremely beneficial for Stingley Jr. in his development.

“It’s great,” Stingley Jr. said. “I know everybody wishes they had somebody like my dad around them growing up, and I had that my whole life. Without him, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. So, blessed situation for real.”

Naturally, the conversations between a father and a son run the gamut. It’s not all football, all the time, but they do spend a lot of time discussing the intricacies and nuances of the game. They go over his performances, both as father and son and coach and player. While both are ultra-serious about football, the emphasis is built on how to keep getting better, encouraging and maintaining the highest standards.

Getting an honest, forthright opinion from someone who knows him and his game so well is invaluable.

“When Derek and I do talk, it’s all layman’s terms,” Stingley Sr. said. “I’ve been around the game long enough and coached him and seen a lot of defenses. When I start looking at the technical part of it and help him through those things, it makes sense. When it doesn’t make sense, I can bring it to our level. The way we talk about it, it’s relatable: ‘I see what you’re saying. What could I have done perfectly on that play?’

“When we have those talks, when it’s something pressing, it’s more so after the game, I’ll have mental notes. I can see it in my mind’s eye. After the game, he’ll be like, ‘All right, lay it on me. What you got to say about this play or that play?’ I will talk him through the play. The coach in me will come out. The dad in me will be like, ‘I can’t be too critical.’ Even when you make a play, it’s good, but, at the same time, there’s always things you can do better. It’s never aggressive. I don’t come at him unless I see something that’s not football, that’s entirely out of character like, ‘You don’t do that.’ I’ve never had to say that in college, maybe once or twice back in high school.”

Stingley Jr. doesn’t make football more complicated than it needs to be.

His breakdown of what he did against Collins, the Texans’ biggest wide receiver at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, was a portrait of brevity: “Deep ball, check the ball and knocked it away. It feels good.”

That’s how Stingley Jr. approaches things. He follows the adage of keeping the main thing the main thing rather than get bogged down by distractions. It’s all about maintaining focus and concentration.

And that shows on the field and away from the field. Stingley Jr. has a low-key, friendly personality. He’s never outspoken or cocky and shows respect to his opponents, teammates and coaches.

“When it comes to football, he’s business as usual,” Stingley Sr. said. “It sounds simple, but it’s all about football. It’s all about the confines of football. If he’s doing something and it’s not football-related, it’s out of whack. It’s not about the play. It’s not about the game. Why waste our time? You don’t see him talking, yakking on the field. He might get excited. He might make a play and he shows he’s happy.

“It’s an unforgiving position. You can stop a first down or a touchdown and, in the next few plays, you can give up a touchdown. He doesn’t have time to boast or beat our chest. We leave that to the other players. That’s their energy. His energy is conservative. It’s a tough position. He puts the time into it. I’ve been training him his entire life. Even when I make certain drills, I have to make everything relatable. It can’t just be for Instagram. We like to use everything to be second nature and muscle memory.”

That kind of trust in himself extends to his teammates in the Texans’ secondary.

They helped the Texans rank 10th in total pass defense a year ago.

Besides Stingley Jr., the Texans’ secondary includes safeties Jalen Pitre, a second-round pick from Baylor who intercepted five passes and led the defense in tackles last season, and Jimmie Ward, and cornerbacks Steve Nelson, Shaq Griffin and Jacobi Francis.

“I know with Jalen on my side, I can trust him,” said Stingley Jr., who’s playing under a $34.657 million fully guaranteed contract that includes a $22.385 million signing bonus and is represented by Rick Roberts, Martin Fischman and Don Weatherell of Ballengee Group. “He’s going to do what he’s going to do, and I’m sure he can trust me, too, to take care of my job. Everybody, we all trust each other. We’re all communicating and we’re making sure we’re good from the front end to the back end.”

The Texans have been making concerted efforts to upgrade on both sides of the football. Since hiring Ryans, the Texans signed defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in free agency along with Ward, Pro Bowl linebacker Denzel Perryman, Griffin, tight end Dalton Schultz, wide receiver Robert Woods and running back Devin Singletary. They traded for offensive guard Shaq Mason. They signed Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil to a three-year, $75 million extension and extended Mason to a three-year, $36 million deal and defensive tackle Maliek Collins for two years and $23 million. They drafted Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson Jr. in the first round second overall and third overall, respectively.

“I think Nick is a mastermind with the moves that he’s made,” Stingley Sr. said. “I think Nick has done a good job turning the team around. As a parent, I look at it like this. The Texans, we do remember, were a playoff team at one point. They lost so much in terms of draft picks that it was hard for them to build for a while in the draft and they had to get free agents to want to come to Houston. They had too much going on outside of football. It was a tough build. It was unfortunate, but we’re past that now. They had an opportunity to do a draft this year with high picks and they hit it out of the park.

“With Pitre, with Dameon Pierce, with Christian Harris and this year’s draft and the coaching search, everything is going so good and they go into the season with hope with young players who are homegrown. Now, they’re putting some pieces together. They drafted a good young quarterback in C.J. They shored up the front lines. They have speed at linebacker. We feel real confident about the secondary. The sky is the limit for the defense. It’s still going to take some time. We want them to win now, but I think we’ll be much better. This is still a young team, but I believe in DeMeco and his knowledge of defense and how he is with his players. I think we’re going to shock a lot of people.”

Learning from Ryans, a 38-year-old former Pro Bowl linebacker and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Texans, provides a leader for the rebuilding AFC South franchise who understands what the players go through to play the game.

“That’s nice because he can relate,” Stingley Jr. said. “He’s younger, so he knows.”

When Stingley Jr. isn’t playing football, his preferred pastimes are based on relaxation. If he’s not with family, he’s usually at home with an occasional John Madden video game. He’ll try his hand at cooking as long as he has a recipe to work from.

“When I’m done here, I get back to my crib and I sit on the couch,” Stingley Jr. said. “I don’t do too much. If you can play, we’ll play a game.”

Stingley Jr. has been described as an old soul, a football purist and just a regular guy. His teammates love him. To his family, he’s simply Derek, a respectful young man who’s focused on his goals.

“Off the field. Derek likes to get away from it all every now and then,” Stingley Sr. said. “When he needs to take time away, he enjoys doing that. Outside of football, it’s video games and eating and clowning with his friends on FaceTime. He’s a guy who stays in a lot.

“He’s a young man who may have some fun, but he’s being careful with it. When he’s in Houston, he’s on the couch playing his video games. When he’s in Baton Rouge, he can hang out with his high school friends like old times.”

The time for relaxation will be over soon enough. After enduring more losing than he’s accustomed to as a rookie, Stingley Jr. has designs on a big season and improvement for himself and everyone around him.

“I really just see everybody having fun the whole year,” Stingley Jr. said. “I feel like when we’re having fun that’s what leads to everybody flying around and communicating. We’re going to be good as a defense. That’s my goal right there and, of course, always win.”

Stingley Jr. injured his leg against the New York Giants in November. His hamstring injury was more severe than the Texans acknowledged initially for competitive reasons. Before he got hurt, Stingley recorded one interception, one sack, five pass breakups, no touchdowns, an opposing passer rating of 78.4 and a 63-percent completion percentage against him. He played 97 percent of the Texans’ defensive snaps before getting hurt.

The Texans are enthusiastic about his progress this offseason during organized team activities and a full-team minicamp.

‘Derek is doing fine,” Ryans said. “He’s had a few good weeks of practice. He continues to improve. He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do. I love where he’s progressing. He’s doing a really good job of just being consistent that’s what Derek has done in that regard leading in his own way.”

Stingley proved to be a willing tackler and ultra-competitive in pass coverage, not backing down an inch in single-coverage situations, including a matchup against Denver Broncos standout wide receiver Courtland Sutton in his second NFL game.

While Sutton finished with seven catches for 122 yards, he had six receptions for 87 yards against Stingley. There were some holes that Broncos veteran quarterback Russell Wilson exploited in former coach Lovie Smith’s traditional Cover 2 zone scheme.

Stingley got better and better as the season went on, including intercepting Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the end zone during a road victory, one of three wins for the Texans during a 3-13-1 season.

Targeted 54 times, Stingley allowed 34 completions for 409 yards and no scores.

“Football IQ is high, and athletic ability can’t take that away from him,” Cromartie said. “I think he’s a game-changer who can do the things he needs to do on the back end and he’s going to have another good season this year.”

If there’s any ebb and flow to Stingley’s confidence, it’s not evident. He keeps a quiet belief in himself at all times and isn’t prone to bold pronouncements.

It’s about actions, not words.

“I mean, it’s been pretty much the same,” Stingley said. “I don’t really change the way I feel. I feel like I’m always just here every day. Nothing changes.”

Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and

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