Texans notebook: Starters to play extensively in preseason finale against 49ers

Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) throws a pass during an NFL football training camp practice Friday, July 29, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (David J. Phillip, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Texans coach Lovie Smith intends to utilize a preseason finale Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers as something of a traditional dress rehearsal to get ready for the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

That means that quarterback Davis Mills will play extensively in his final action before the regular season.

And several players who haven’t played at all this preseason, including veteran defensive tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Jerry Hughes, will play for the first time this preseason.

The Texans are also expected to play rookie running back Dameon Pierce against the 49ers at NRG Stadium.. Pierce has been the most impressive runner on the roster and was held out against the Los Angeles Rams after rushing for 49 yards on five carries against the New Orleans Saints.

Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) runs for a gain against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“As far as playing time for them, we’re going to play the guys a lot more this week,” Smith said. “This is the game we’ve kind of been shooting for to play the guys. I’m not going to say exactly how long right now, but a lot more.”

The first-team offense got off to a shaky start against the Los Angeles Rams.

They haven’t played with Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil or wide receiver Brandin Cooks for the entire preseason.

“You’ve got to keep in mind that we haven’t played our entire offense together,” Smith said. “We’ve had two, three linemen out, tight end not in there, running back wasn’t in there this week, wide receiver wasn’t there. I wouldn’t put too much into it. We like what we’re getting in practice. Those guys are healthy, will be ready to go when we need to go.”

New emergency kicker

Texans running back Dare Ogunbowale made a field goal to end practice. Ogunbowale is a former soccer player.

Ogunbowale could be the Texans’ new emergency kicker in a role that former Texans safety Justin Reid, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, fulfilled last season. Reid, who grew up playing soccer in Louisiana, made an extra point with the Chiefs in a preseason game.

“It’s a long time since Justin has been here, but we have a couple guys,” Lovie Smith said. “Normally, your punter can kick a little bit, too, so you have a couple of options. Dare, the soccer player, most of those soccer players can boot it through when you need them to.”

Safety shines

Former Baylor standout Grayland Arnold is pushing for a spot on the roster.

Arnold’s versatility and ability to blitz could provide a boost in his bid to make the team.

Arnold blitzed off the edge for a sack, one of six against the Rams along with 11 quarterback hits.

“He’s gotten our attention,” Lovie Smith said. “For young players that haven’t gotten a lot of time, it’s about taking advantage of the opportunities that you get. Grayland did some good things for us last year at the end of the year. He’s been productive.

“We played him a little bit at the safety position, both safety positions, and he can also play the nickel position. He made some good plays on the special teams. That’s what training camp is about, guys getting an opportunity and then producing.”

Kenyon Green to make his debut

Texans rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green will make his NFL debut Thursday night.

Lovie Smith said he won’t start, but the first-round draft pick will play.

Green was cleared last week under the NFL concussion protocol, returning to practice Wednesday after being sidelined for two weeks.

This is a 2022 photo of Kenyon Green of the Houston Texans NFL football team. This image reflects the Houston Texans active roster as of Sunday, May 15, 2022 when this image was taken. (AP Photo) (NFLPV-AP)

The former blue-chip recruit from Atascocita High School is free of symptoms and will play against the 49ers.

He’s been practicing since last week. If there are no setbacks, Green, who had offseason lateral collateral ligament surgery, should be good to go.

“He’s missed a lot of time, but getting him back out there, just in a group, was big for us,” Lovie Smith said. “I think the last couple days he’s practiced with us, he’s done well. No lingering effects from the previous injury.”

Smith previously declared that Green is a starter at left guard.

“We’re not naming many starters,” Smith said. “Normally a first-round draft pick eventually is going to move into that role, but it’ll play itself out.”

Defensive tackle Ross Blacklock (leg) is out for this game, as is tight end Antony Auclair (knee), linebackers Garret Wallow (ankle) and Christian Harris (hamstring), cornerback Tavierre Thomas (quadriceps)

Pierce’s stock on the rise

Dameon Pierce’s bruising running style and explosive cuts were on full display against the Saints. In his first NFL game, the fourth-round draft pick from Florida rushed for 49 yards on five carries. His downhill running style paid dividends as his decisive cuts and deceptive speed helped him gain 20 yards on his first NFL run.

Why not play him against the Los Angeles Rams? Pierce already showed what he can do and knew he wasn’t going to play against Los Angeles. With more strong performances, he could overtake veterans Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead on the depth chart.

“Just what we saw against the Saints,” Lovie Smith said when asked why Pierce didn’t play in the second preseason game. “On training camp, once you see a little bit from one guy, when you have a lot of running backs you’ve got to let them all have an opportunity. So, don’t look too much into it. We’ve seen some good things from Dameon, but some good things from the other guys, too.”'

Okoronkwo injured

Texans defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo injured his biceps and is not slated to play against the 49ers and should be back for the Colts game, according to a league source.

The Alief Taylor graduate didn’t practice Monday along with several other players, including tight ends Pharaoh Brown (hamstring) and Antony Auclair (right knee), linebackers Christian Harris (hamstring) and Garret Wallow (ankle) and nickel back Tavierre Thomas (pulled quadriceps). Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis and wide receiver Drew Estrada (leg) returned to practice.

“He has an injury right now,” Lovie Smith said of Okoronkwo. “We don’t think it’s anything too serious, but we’ll see. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to go this week, but eventually he’ll be out there.”

Harris, a third-round draft pick from Alabama, has been out the past few weeks with a strained hamstring. He has been ruled out for the 49ers game.

“He’s closer, but they’re all a little closer,” Smith said. “He’s not going to play this week. He’s not practicing yet. Whenever you have a soft tissue injury it takes a while. He eventually will be out there. It’s not anything that’s going to be season-ending or anything like that. He was making a lot of progress. Whenever you have an injury on a young player it’s not an ideal situation, but eventually he’ll be out there. We can’t wait. He’s going to help us win a lot of games eventually.”

Converted defensive end Troy Hairston making his move at fullback

Rookie fullback Troy Hairston, an undrafted free agent and converted defensive end and linebacker from Central Michigan, is making his bid for a roster spot.

Hairston (5-foot-11, 245 pounds) is extremely physical as a lead blocker and on special teams.

The Texans cut veteran fullback Andy Janovich on Sunday, leaving Hairston to compete with fullback Paul Quessenberry. Quessenberry has gotten the bulk of the work with the first-team offense in I-formation alignments.

The brother of former Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry and current Texans center Scott Quessenberry, Paul Quessenberry can also play tight end.

Hairston is applying his defensive background (129 tackles, 15 sacks, 33 tackles for losses) at his new position after lining up at linebacker during the offseason. He ran for two yards against the Saints and had a four-yard reception against the Rams.

“He’s caught our eye throughout camp,” Lovie Smith said. “Versatile player and was a defensive lineman in college, linebacker. Normally, those guys can transition over to the fullback position. Brings a lot of athletic ability. He’s an excellent special teams player, also good lead blocker. We like a lot of things that he’s done.”


Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com