HOUSTON -- Houston Texans rookie safety Jalen Pitre took a seat on the sideline in the first quarter Saturday night. He was frustrated the New Orleans Saints offense just waltzed down the field on a 10-play drive to make it 7-0.
Pitre, the No. 37 pick in April’s draft, just had his “welcome to the NFL moment." As running back Dwayne Washington tried to cut back toward the end zone, Pitre over pursued the play and was taken out by Saints linemen Erik McCoy and James Hurst.
Washington walked in for the 9-yard score, and the Texans headed back to the bench frustrated. Pitre spoke it out, let it go, and moved on to the next drive.
By the time his night was over in a 17-13 win over the Saints, Texans fans and coaches couldn’t stop talking of Pitre. A hard-hitter with the ability to make clean tackles in space? What’s not to like for a defense that ranked 29th in 2021?
“Jalen Pitre has been outstanding throughout camp,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said postgame. “This is just another thing he has to go through.”
Smith doesn’t need to sell Pitre to the fanbase. Since the start of OTAs, he’s worked his way up the ladder from scout team to starter. Last week, Smith was inclined to inform reporters that Pitre had earned the starting job at one safety spot two weeks into camp.
Smith used that exact wording for a reason. Pitre earned the job. It wasn’t because there's a lack of depth in Houston – the Texans have three veterans with starting reps on the roster. Pitre simply continued to make plays on the regular. Smith was sold to put him on the first-team defense.
Those highlight moments from practice were on display during Houston’s second defensive drive. Pitre dove for Washington’s leg, tripping him up for safety Jonathan Owens to deliver the finishing blow. Two plays later, the rookie hit the proper hole to meet Washington behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of two yards.
“I just had some fun out there with my teammates,” Pitre said. “It was good to be playing against another team and I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”
Safeties coach Joe Danna said Monday he’s been pleased with the development of Pitre but also said there’s more for him to learn. Pitre isn’t afraid to admit that he’s still growing, stating last week that he “hasn’t really reached any plateau yet.”
Four tackles and a tackle for loss is a start for Pitre’s career. It’s not the end. And while the Texans still have room for improvement, they also can realize there’s a foundational piece in the making on their defense.
That would be Pitre. And he’s just getting warmed up.
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