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Jalen Pitre Plus: Who'll Be Texans 'Other' Starting Safety?

Jalen Pitre likely will start Week 1, but who is his running mate at safety?

HOUSTON -- Young players drafted by the Houston Texans at this point in franchise history aren't joining the roster to sit for a season. After back-to-back four-win campaigns, Houston is looking for its young core to build a foundation. 

Safety Jalen Pitre is one prospect who already has caught the attention of first-year coach Lovie Smith. Drafted 37th overall, the Baylor alum has quickly adapted to the playing style Smith and general manager Nick Caserio envisioned him bringing to the defense in April. 

"Pitre, for one, he's been outstanding. Knack for the football," Smith said last month. "Has done a lot of good things." 

In Smith's Tampa 2 defense, Pitre won't be limited to playing the "free" or "strong" safety. Houston will often run a two-high set, meaning both safeties will have to be willing to tackle while excelling in coverage. 

Barring a setback in training camp, Pitre likely starts at one safety. Who'll win the to be his "partner in crime'' on the back end? 

The Texans have been high on Jonathan Owens' potential since he arrived in 2019. He's bounced from practice squad to active roster, often making himself a presence on special teams. 

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Last season, Owens started in place of Justin Reid against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16. His interception of Justin Herbert helped seal a massive 41-29 upset at home, thus factoring into Los Angeles' late-season downfall. 

Smith praised Owens last season, stating he saw a “potential star” in the making. During team drills in minicamp, Owens would often work with the first-team defense, switching out with former Cleveland Browns starter M.J. Stewart

Stewart is another intriguing option due to his aggressive play style. Smith often has preached about the physicality that must come with playing defensive back, but in that regard, Stewart and Pitre possess similar traits. Both have relied on their tackling abilities against the run as a selling point while trying to improve in coverage. 

Veteran Eric Murray could get the first crack due to experience. Murray started 11 games last fall and recorded 76 tackles, third-most among defensive backs. The coaching staff believed that he was one of the more improved players toward season's end, especially in coverage. 

Murray's role this offseason has been limited as he underwent shoulder surgery prior to the start of OTAs. 

Houston has options at safety, but the question is who brings what to the table. Pitre's run-first mentality should allow him to working closer to the line of scrimmage. Owens might have the upside in terms of coverage. 

Time will tell who wins the other safety spot. For now,  Pitre should be the only player expecting a significant role starting Week 1.