HOUSTON -- Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre laughed when asked about his teammate Dameon Pierce. It was jhree padded practices into training camp, but already Pitre knew what the former Florida running back was capable of doing between the tackles.
"If you’re in his way, he’s going to run you over," Pitre said. "That’s the one tidbit I can give about him.”
Pierce needed five plays to show his potential Saturday night in Houston's 17-13 win against the New Orleans Saints. Really, he only needed one carry for Texans coach Lovie Smith to see that he might be the best bet for success on the ground entering the regular season.
"Dameon Pierce definitely caught my eye and everybody watching him," Smith said. "It's what we've been seeing in training camp."
During the second quarter, Pierce took a handoff up the middle from quarterback Jeff Driskel. Everything needed for a lead runner — speed, power, vision, elusiveness — were on display as he broke free for a 20-yard run.
Pierce didn't play in the second half. He didn't need to, either. A 49-yard night on the ground was enough for the Texans to feel content resting him entering Week 2 of the preseason. His 9.8 yards per carry adds fuel to the idea of him challenging vet newcomer Marlon Mack for first-team reps.
Each play was different, but all provided positive net gains. A 20-yard run was followed by a gain of six. A drive later, Pierce pushed his way forward for a gain of nine. Then came seven more.
As for the "run you over" moment, that came on his final carry of the night. Lowering his head to truck safety T.J. Gray, Pierce picked up the first down and then some. A helmet-to-helmet penalty tacked on an extra 15 yards and put Houston at its own 46 yard line.
"If he can keep doing stuff like that, it's going to open up the offense in a big way," quarterback Davis Mills said.
Much remains unknown with Pierce. During his four seasons at Florida, he never was utilized as a feature back, often seeing a majority of carries inside the red zone. Last season, he flourished in the role, recording 11 of 13 touchdowns from inside 20-yard line.
Pierce enters the year with fresh legs as well. In a running back-by-committee offense, the 5-10, 218-pound runner never recorded more than 106 carries in a season. His best year came last fall when recorded 574 yards on 100 snaps.
The Texans' run game reached new lows in 2021 when they finished dead last with 3.4 yards per play. The offense hasn't featured a 1,000-yard runner since Carlos Hyde in 2019. They haven't had a franchise running back since Arian Foster’s final season with the team in 2015.
Does Pierce have the skills be that franchise guy? It's too soon to tell, but runs like Saturday's strengthen his case.
"Every time you go out and watch them practice or play, they tell you something," Smith said. "Dameon has been impressive in practice and we expected him to come tonight, do the thing she did and just keep fighting through."
Houston is giving all three running backs a chance to be the team’s focal point on the ground. Mack rushed for six yards on three carries. Old-timer Rex Burkhead, who led Houston in rushing last season, was inactive.
And Pierce? Two more yards and he would've outrun all other Texans combined.
Think the coaching staff is paying attention?
"Dameon wasn't going down on first touch tonight," Driskel said. "He was running the ball extremely well, hitting those cutback lanes.
"He a really good player and really good teammate."
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