HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans addressed their safety concerns on Day 2 of the NFL Draft when selecting Baylor's Jalen Pitre. He might be a second-day prospect, but entering the weekend, he's a member of the first-team defense.
No, that's not speculation. Pitre has blossomed since the start of OTAs back in June. Because of his success, Texans coach Lovie Smith made it known that the second-rounder is starting Week 1 against the Colts.
“What we should notice about Jalen is he's just blending in now," Smith said Friday after practice. "Of course, he's one of our starting safeties.
"He's intelligent, smart, everything we're looking for in a safety, he has. Can't wait for him to actually play his first game.”
Drafted 37th overall, Pitre did it all under both Matt Rhule and Dave Aranda. In Rhule's defense, he played a traditional box safety role. Under Aranda, Pitre was asked to play the "STAR" position — a hybrid combination of both outside linebacker and strong safety.
Things finally clicked in 2021 on the way to Baylor winning the Big 12 title. In large part, Pitre was the team's defensive x-factor. The 5-11 defensive back led the Bears with 18 tackles for losses, three sacks and 76 total tackles. He also tallied a pair of interceptions, seven pass deflections and three fumble recoveries on his way to winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
"That's one of the smartest guys I've seen coming in, me going on my fifth year," defensive back Tavierre Thomas said earlier this week. "He's very smart. You wouldn't know that he's a rookie.
"When he's not in, he's calling out plays, calling out formations, so he knows the game. As long as he continues to do that, he's going to be real good in the league.”
Pitre has consistently been flying to the football in practice, but Friday was a day where fans saw his ball skills. During 7-on-7 drills in the red zone, second-year quarterback Davis Mills tried to find receiver Chris Conley, only to have the ball ricochet off the receiver's body. Nearby, Pitre drove for the ball, making the nose didn't touch the turf for the interception.
Safety is one of the more valuable positions for Smith's defense, and he knew Pitre could be special on the back end in time.
And while he might have been selected on Day 2, Pitre is the first Texans rookie to be given the starter title.
Greenard Channels Inner J.J. Watt
In 2015 against the Buffalo Bills, Texans legend J.J. Watt flew off the edge to bat down a pass from quarterback E.J. Manuel. Instead of falling to the ground, the ball landed in Watt's hands, leading to an 87-yard touchdown return.
History has a way of repeating itself. On Friday, third-year defensive end Jonathan Greenard basically duplicated the snap.
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Greenard won his rep against the offensive tackle during red zone drills and deflected a pass from Mills. Much like Watt, the ball landed in Grennard's hands as he took off running in the opposite direction. The whistle blew, but there wasn't an offensive player in sight to even try to make a play.
That would have been roughly an 85-yard touchdown return in a live game.
"We expect great players to make great plays," Smith said. "Last year he had limited amount of time on the field, but he was productive, so it's time for him to take a step."
The Texans are looking for their first 10-plus sack artist since Watt's 2018 season. Smith believes Greenard would've broken the mark last season if not for injuries limiting him to 12 games. He's banking on Greenard making it happen come Week 18.
Said Smith: "We need a few of our guys to take that next step to where you're really talking about them, and Jonathan (Greenard) has the ability to do that.”
Offensive Line Troubles?
Two projected starters for the Texans' offensive line are expected to miss the next several practices. Rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green and offensive tackle Tytus Howard did not practice on Friday and will not practice “for a period of time."
According to Pro Football Network, Howard tested positive for COVID-19 and will quarantine for at least five days. As for Green, Houston's first-round pick, the severity of his injury remains a question. During the early session of Wednesday's practice, the No. 15 pick walked off the field under his own power and did not return.
Houston played fourth-year pro Max Scharping at left guard and third-year lineman Charlie Heck at right tackle. Sixth-round rookie Austin Deculus also worked with the first-team offense at right tackle, as did former first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi.
Smith said neither player was expected to miss the remainder of the season, but the timetable for Green's return remains a mystery. One thing Texans general manager Nick Caserio has preached is his belief in investing long-term in the recent draft class.
Green, who shined at Texas A&M as a run blocker, might not be ready for the team's first preseason matchup against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 13.
"We like everything Kenyon Green has done," Smith said. "As you can see, he's been working with the ones some. He's a big, athletic man that's going to help us win a lot of games. Again, it's nothing serious. He'll eventually be back out there.”
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