Dameon Pierce Brings Unshakeable Confidence to Texans’ No. 1 Role — How Rookie Believers Are Finally Making Pro Football in Houston Fun Again

Houston's Still a Long Ways From Winning, But a Young Rebuild is Showing Early Signs of Hope

BY Chris Baldwin // 08.26.22

Dameon Pierce really shouldn’t have been able to supplant Marlon Mack and prove he clearly should be the Houston Texans’ No. 1 running back in about the time to takes to watch a TikTok video. A fourth round pick whose college coach showed little belief in him really shouldn’t be this sure of himself.

But that is how Dameon Pierce is doing it. He always believed he could be an NFL difference maker. No matter what anyone else — often almost everyone else — thought.

“I don’t ever doubt myself,” Pierce says when I ask him if his belief ever wavered. “Don’t ever say that. I just come in, work every day and learn from everybody. That’s one thing everybody got to understand. You still got to take information from other players and be willing to learn. And not think that you know everything.

“Especially as a rookie. As a rookie, I try to take as much information as I can and get it in every direction so I can help myself.”

By helping himself, the rookie is giving the Texans, the team with the most anonymous roster in the entire NFL, a real jolt. Only sports franchises as woe begotten as the Sacramento Kings celebrate preseason “titles.” (And thankfully, the Texans haven’t stooped that low.) So yes, this 17-0 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Amazon’s Thursday night debut and Lovie Smith’s team going 3-0 in the preseason doesn’t mean anything.

How a few of the young Texans, including Pierce, have played could, though.

The Texans still figured to be one of the least talented teams in the league. Which is all right at this stage of general manager Nick Caserio’s longterm rebuild. But they’re getting more talented and younger at the same time, which is no easy feat.

And the young Texans are already bonding, doing their best to push each other to be better.

“We put pride in that,” Pierce says. “We make sure when we go out there on the field, we make plays. Bro, we’ve been together probably since our first 40 (yard dash at practice). This whole rookie class, we all brothers.

“. . . That’s what we’ve been talking about. We’ve got our own goals. As rookies, we want to contribute early. Just be some guys at the end of the day.”

The Houston Texans beat the San Francisco 49ers 17-0 in the final preseason game at NRG Stadium
Rookie running back Dameon Pierce always believed in himself. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Pierce already looks like The Guy, and he runs for 37 yards and a touchdown on six carries against the 49ers. And then the Texans smartly pull him from this meaningless exhibition after only nine plays of action. This rookie running back has already shown more than enough.

“Dameon Pierce has been that way every time we’ve given him the ball,” Texans coach Lovie Smith says. “He’s a good football player.”

“I don’t ever doubt myself. Don’t ever say that.” — Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce

On this night, Pierce has some rookie company. First round pick Kenyon Green, the big offensive lineman from Texas A&M, turns his first game of the preseason into a display of the power and physicality that could make him a longtime starter. Green plays with the second team so he doesn’t face the 49ers defensive starters. But he still flattens linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles on one block and helps make Marlon Mack look much better than did in the first game of the preseason.

Houston Texans rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green made a good first impression. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Rookie safety Jalen Pitre also already looks like a playmaker. Then, there’s rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. the high-profile LSU standout who looks set to be made a starter from game one (ready or not), and undrafted Notre Dame rookie Kurt Hinish, who made 49ers quarterback Trey Lance’s life miserable from the nose guard spot. Hinish is proving he’s much more than just a guy who really loves eye black.

And this Texans defense seems to creating an identity for itself too. Together. With plenty of youth.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are willing and eager to do the right thing to make this organization a winning organization,” says defensive end Jerry Hughes, the Buffalo Bills import who’s the old guy in the group at 34. “When you got young guys who are behind it now and doing multiple right steps, it’s going to be an fun season.

“I can’t wait to see what’s to come.”

Dameon Pierce is already there in many ways.

Pierce has become one of the stories of the NFL in August. He’s the one Texan getting some of the national buzz that Texans quarterback Davis Mills inexplicably complained about no one receiving. Al Michaels is even in NRG Stadium on this Thursday night, probably asking himself but he’s gotten himself into with this Amazon deal.

Needless to say, Houston isn’t going to be a prime stop for the national media during this season. With the exception of the early December week Deshaun Watson comes into town, eligible to play for the first time. But that doesn’t Lovie Smith’s team can’t be interesting. Dameon Pierce gives the Texans something good to promote.

Sure many August stories have become September flops, but the Texans franchise cannot afford to sneer at any hope. And why would you?

Pierce is fun. And even if Davis Mills, the second year Stanford quarterback is not exactly easing anyone’s concerns, fun is a start. It’s been a long time since you could call anything around the Texans legitimately fun.

Dameon Pierce and the Fun Texans

These young Texans, all these rookies who should have big roles, have been fun in this preseason. It’s enough to even get an old vet going.

“The guys in this locker room, they making this entire transition so easy,” says Hughes, who may have been robbed of a Super Bowl shot last season by the NFL’s overtime rules. “Just because they’re young and they like to have fun. And they play football fast.

“Those are three things I like to do.”

Of course, Hughes also likes to win. He got awfully used to that in Buffalo. That is still very much a work in progress for this Texans franchise, completion date seemingly far off. But that’s not stopping Jerry Hughes from trying to get all those young players around him to dream.

“I told them that we haven’t seen an AFC South championship banner in a couple of years,” Hughes says. “And a couple of years is too long. If they want to be great, if we want to be what we say we are, what we’re working towards, we’ve got to get T-shirts and hats at the end of the year.”

Dameon Pierce would be happy to lead any future parade. First, he needs to seize his chance to continue to make plays and bring the fun when it actually counts.

“Overall, that’s a role I’d love to take,” Pierce says when asked what it would mean to be a big contributor.

In reality, it’s a role he’s already taken.

“They show you who should start, who should play,” Lovie Smith says of the players when asked about starters.

Let the kids play. For these Texans, that’s a worthy modest mantra that could bring the fun back.

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