Culture / Sporting Life

Tank Dell Proves He’s All That and More — and Case Keenum Gets In On the UH Dominance For The Texans

DeMeco Ryans' Encouraging Start Turns Into a Cougar Party

BY // 08.10.23

Nathaniel “Tank” Dell has already removed any doubts. About his size. About his ability to do the same things in the NFL he did at the University of Houston. Even before his juggling, on-his-back, off-his-thigh catch in the end zone that will dominate the highlights for a week, Dell stole the show in the new look Houston Texans’ 20-9 preseason opening win over the vanilla New England Patriots on Thursday night.

Dell keeps getting open again and again, just like he did with Dana Holgorsen scheming things up for him at UH. The rookie who already acts like a proven vet even implores Texans quarterback Davis Mills to get the ball up and stop throwing it so low a few times.

Yes, no one ever doubts if Tank Dell feels like he belongs.

Dell was only helping Mills out too, giving the embattled (third string to be?) quarterback the best chance to look good. For if you hit Dell in stride, he’ll do something with it after the catch. That tenant is already NFL true too.

Dell finishes with five catches for 65 yards and that circus touchdown (where he makes Mills look better again) in one half of action, He turns a simple route over the middle into a 24 yard catch-and-run that shows off his speed and escapability. He makes the New England Patriots’ defensive backs look silly by sticking with that ball in the end zone. More importantly, he jumps 0ut. Just like he always did at UH.

You can’t keep your eyes off No. 13. Tank Dell looks like the most dangerous player on the field. All 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds of him.

“He’s great, electrifying,” Mills says of Dell in his postgame comments. “I think that’s the best way to describe him.”

That — and an absolute steal.

Tank Dell is already building up the type of universal support among Texans fans that Taylor Swift has among. . . well, everyone. Who doesn’t love Tank? Even the hosts on 610 AM who’ve largely ignored or dismissed the University of Houston over the years are already all in this little receiver with giant skills.

“It was good to see Tank make some plays,” first-year Texans coach DeMeco Ryans says in his postgame press conference. “We’ve seen him make a lot of plays throughout training camp, some of these same plays, so it was good to see him do the same thing here in a game. He can be an explosive playmaker for us.”

It is not early to declare that grabbing Dell in the third round is among Texans general manager Nick Caserio’s best NFL Draft moves. The early trade to add Will Anderson Jr. to quarterback CJ Stroud was much more headline grabbing (but also much more questionable). Nabbing Tank is already a clear win, one that probably left Patriots coach Bill Belichick wondering why he didn’t think of it.

For Nathaniel Dell is the type of unconventional, outside the NFL’s rigid box playmaker Belichick usually loves. Dell even, rather uncharacteristically for a player who usually oozes personality, breaks into the type of coach speak that Belichick loves his own players to use after this game.

“I think the offense is special,” Dell says in his own postgame comments via the Patriots-provided transcript. “I think we started a little slow and then we got rolling as we got going. I think it is going to be really special. We have a really good running game and a well-balanced passing game.”

You can’t keep your eyes off No. 13. Tank Dell looks like the most dangerous player on the field. All 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds of him.

The University of Houston football team, led by head coach Dana Holgersen, held practice in their bubble.
Former University of Houston receiver Nathaniel Dell is almost unguardable in the slot. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

On this night, which turns into another promising early sign of DeMeco Ryans’ regime, Tank Dell isn’t the only former University of Houston player who shows his worth. UH legend Case Keenum, who is still playing well 11 NFL seasons in, having started games for six different teams after many tried to dismiss him as a college-only star who’d never be a factor in pro football, leads two second half touchdown drives.

Keenum always seems to be in control, just efficiently leading the Texans’ backups down the field. He is a steady constant on a team with quarterback uncertainty, one whose season success will largely be determined by the hyped Stroud develops.

It is a good night for the UH guys, who are already starting to make things better — and much more interesting — around the Texans.

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