HOUSTON – Pierce rapidly builds and maintains his momentum with his classic downhill running style, displaying a blend of power and explosiveness. That same statement can be accurately made regarding the Texans’ rookie running back’s impressive bid for a starting job.
On the heels of Pierce’s impressive NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints, started against the San Francisco 49ers and rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown on six carries in one series Thursday night during a 17-0 preseason victory at NRG Stadium. Pierce displayed an aggressive, ultra-physical demeanor against the NFC West franchise.
“I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity,” Pierce said after the game inside the Texans’ locker room. “I’m grateful to be in this position. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You’ve got to find that happy medium. Once you find that as an athlete, it’s easy to navigate. At the end of the day, you’re going to learn from it and get better from it.”
For a Texans team that had the worst running game statistically in the NFL a year ago, the arrival of a runner with bad intentions couldn’t be more welcome. The fourth-round draft pick from Florida is firmly in the conversation to emerge as the Texans’ primary running back.
He’s clearly been the most impressive back in practice sessions and games, including a 49-yard rushing performance on five carries against the Saints. With Pierce, though, it’s more about the kind of crisp runs he’s manufacturing and his ultra-physical approach more so than fancy statistics.
He rushed for 86 yards and one touchdown on 11 preseason carries. Pierce kept the football from his first touchdown run.
“It means a lot,” Pierce said. “It’s a great organization, a great family atmosphere around here. It’s a good feeling when you walk into the building. Everybody is pulling in the same direction. It’s making it easy to buy in.”
Pierce, in his lone series, helped the Texans manufacture an 11-play, 65-yard drive that included seven first downs and his score as he bulled into the end zone from one yard out to cap the march. Without him on the next ensuing series, they had nine yards, no first downs, and two punts.
The Texans sound more than convinced about Pierce’s upside. Ever since he rumbled for 20 yards on his first carry against the Saints, the excitement surrounding Pierce has been growing.
“Dameon Pierce has been that way every time we’ve given him the ball,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s a good football player. We’ll be announcing starting lineups and all that, but our plan through the preseason was to let all the guys play, and then normally you let players play. They show you who should start, who should play.
“Dameon has taken advantage of every opportunity he’s gotten. I think everybody that’s seen him play, the few games he’s played, you’ve been impressed. I thought Marlon Mack did some good things, too, carrying the ball. We have a strong running back room. We started camp that way, and they’ve confirmed everything we thought before camp.”
Pierce is competing for playing time with Mack. Mack, a former two-time 1,000-yard rusher with the Indianapolis Colts, tore his Achilles two seasons ago and is still working to regain his old form. Mack rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries in his best performance of the preseason.
The Texans’ running game improved, rushing for 156 yards on 36 carries and nine first downs.
“Play better,” Smith said before the game when asked what the other running backs need to do to set themselves apart. “It is that simple, really. It’s about production when you get opportunities, flash. Show us your best. At the end of training camp, the best of everyone is what we should’ve seen.”
Pierce was held out of the Texans’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Houston had seen enough out of him against New Orleans.
They’re sold on the Georgia native’s potential as a tackle-breaking, 5-foot-10, 218-pounder who attacks linebackers with his aggressive style. The Texans’ punishing rookie displayed why he’s earning a reputation as a hard-nosed back with some wiggle in the open field during his preseason debut.
The hustle Pierce displayed when he made the tackle on a Jeff Driskel interception was noteworthy as well.
“I tried to sprinkle a little bit of magic in there,” Pierce said after the Saints game. “I don’t run with good intentions, to answer your question. I won’t be angry, just really passionate about what I do.”
Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season in an offensive system that platooned running backs. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 156 yards and one score. Now, Pierce is off to a fast start at the NFL level.
“Early on, we did a lot of work on him coming in,” Smith said. “We’ve seen his highlights, the best of him in college we saw. That’s on your mind. Then when he gets here, he was just eager. Every time the special teams work and you see him out here working, and then when he started playing. Early on there were signs, but you had to get in pads.
“Then, we liked some things he did in pads. Training camp, we’re not doing a lot of live work. You get to the first game and you see what a player is like, live-action. We’ve liked him every step along the way.”
What is becoming evident is that the Texans have found a young running back worth investing time and resources into developing.
Pierce once scored a touchdown for the Gators after getting his helmet knocked off. At the Senior Bowl, Pierce literally made a lot of noise with how many contacts he generated against blitzing linebackers in pass-protection drills.
“Dameon is going to do a lot of special things for this team,” Texans right offensive tackle Tytus Howard said. “I remember being on the sidelines. I wasn’t in when he made those runs in the first week. I was excited. We haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher here since 2019 with Carlos Hyde. To see a rookie come in and make those types of plays the first time he got the ball it’s going to be something special.”
Pierce has run the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds with a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times. The Georgia native rushed for 6,779 yards and scored 92 touchdowns in high school.
“I took bits and pieces of everybody’s game and molded it to my own style, which is violent,” Pierce said. “I like to fight for my yards. I like to punish the defense. I don’t like taking hits. I like giving hits.”
Texans general manager Nick Caserio didn’t hide his enthusiasm when the AFC South franchise landed Pierce.
“He plays with a lot of joy,” Caserio said. “He plays with a lot of fight. He plays with a lot of toughness, and his personality, I would say, transfers over to the football field.”
Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre thoroughly enjoyed what he saw from Pierce.
“It was great to see him get his first touchdown,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more of those.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.