Houston Texans training camp observations: Jalen Pitre poised to start, Davis Mills has up-and-down day

Jalen Pitre looks poised to start in the Houston Texans secondary while Davis Mills has an up-and-down practice in today's training camp observations.

HOUSTON — Jalen Pitre saw the collision unfolding in front of him as cornerback Tavierre Thomas and linebacker Neville Hewitt converged on wide receiver Chris Conley, popping the football into the air. And the Houston Texans rookie safety pounced on the opportunity, diving forward for his first interception of training camp Friday morning. It was a big play by the instinctive second-round draft pick from Baylor, but it didn’t come as a surprise.

The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year has been around the football since the start of camp, reacting smoothly to routes and closing quickly.

Jalen Pitre impressing at Houston Texans training camp

Signed to an $8.95 million contract that includes a $3.692 million signing bonus, Pitre is firmly in the Texans’ plans. He’s already one of their starting safeties.

“What we should notice about Jalen is he’s just blending in now,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said of the Houston native. “Of course, he’s one of our starting safeties. We aren’t giving out any starting spots, but he’s been working with the ones. But 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.”

Pitre models his game after New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu, a former All-Pro selection and Texans defensive captain, along with Arizona Cardinals standout safety Budda Baker. A former consensus All-American, Pitre led Baylor with 18 tackles for losses and had three sacks. He finished with 76 total tackles, intercepting two passes, breaking up seven more, with three fumble recoveries.

Pitre had 60 tackles as a junior and was an All-Big 12 selection with 60 tackles, 13 for loss, two interceptions that were both returned for touchdowns, and 2 1/2 sacks. He’s a converted linebacker who started as a true freshman before redshirting the following season with a shoulder injury. He lined up as a hybrid linebacker-safety in a position called the Star in a 4-2-5 defense under Dave Aranda after Matt Rhule was hired by the Carolina Panthers.

“Tyrann Mathieu is definitely No. 1 on my list of players I try to model my game after,” Pitre said after being selected 37th overall by his hometown team. “I try to take different things from his game to add to mine. His versatility, his knack for being around the ball, his instincts, they’re all things I try to add to my game. I try to mix in some Budda Baker as well. You hit it on the head with the two players I try to model my game after.”

The Texans like Pitre’s aggressive, fired-up style of play and his versatility.

“He plays with his hair on fire,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “Versatile player. They used him a little bit inside in the slot. He played safety, so he has some position versatility. I think he might have a role in the kicking game. Tough, instinctive football player, loves playing football. His energy was infectious when he was in the building.

“I would say Jalen falls in the category of embodying the types of people and players that we want to have in this building. Kind of their vigor and joy playing football. You see it in the way that he plays. He plays with his hair on fire.”

Rough day for Davis Mills and the offense

Starting quarterback Davis Mills has done a nice job of taking care of the football for the majority of training camp, but defensive end Jonathan Greenard had other ideas Friday.

Greenard batted a Mills pass into the air to himself for an interception, one of two interceptions thrown by Mills. A third interception was thrown by quarterback Jeff Driskel and picked off by defensive back Jacobi Francis.

Mills also took a sack in a two-minute drill and misfired on a third-down throw to Chris Conley. He also didn’t pick up the first down on a fourth-down throw to Brandin Cooks.

Since the start of camp, Mills has excelled. This wasn’t one of his better practices, though.

Greenard, who had a career-high eight sacks last season, is taking a step forward in camp after undergoing offseason foot surgery.

“Absolutely, that was a great play he made today,” Smith said. “But we expect great players to make great plays. 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. We need a few of our guys to take that next step to where you’re really talking about them, and Jonathan has the ability to do that.”

Tytus Howard tests positive for COVID-19

Texans starting right offensive tackle Tytus Howard tested positive for COVID-19, according to a league source. He is expected to return to practice early next week.

A former first-round draft pick from Alabama State drafted in 2019, Howard has established himself as an athletic, aggressive blocker. Now, he’s under contract for next season on a fully guaranteed $13.2 million salary on a fifth-year option.

It’s a statement of confidence from general manager Nick Caserio and the entire organization in Howard.

“Yes, sir. They picked up my fifth year, just give me another chance to put more on film to get extended even longer, another year to hone in on my skills and use my potential to be the best I can be,” Howard said earlier in camp. “I think that showed me that the team believed in me as a player and I’ve just got to go out there and do my job.”

A former high school quarterback and walk-on who gained 100 pounds to emerge as an NFL draft prospect and Senior Bowl all-star game standout, Howard is a former all-rookie selection.

With Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil healthy again after missing the majority of last season following his thumb surgery, Howard has shifted back to his natural right tackle spot. He never looked truly comfortable at left guard despite having the power and size to line up as an interior lineman at 6-foot-5, 322 pounds.

“That feels good knowing I’m playing one position,” Howard said. “Yes, I’m playing right tackle. Feels good to be back out there, that’s where I played most of my whole career. Feel comfortable. I’m getting better every day. I look at this year as a big year to take another step up and be one of the best right tackles in the NFL.”

Pharaoh Brown named starting tight end

The Texans named veteran tight end Pharaoh Brown as their starter. He was signed this offseason to a one-year, $3 million fully guaranteed contract. The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus, with a $2 million guaranteed salary, $500,000 in per-game active roster bonuses, and playtime incentives to reach up to $4 million.

Last season, Brown caught 23 passes for 171 yards on 39 targets. He has 39 career receptions for 361 yards and two touchdowns.

A former undrafted free agent from Oregon, Brown has outstanding size at 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, but he had some issues with penalties last season. Nevertheless, Brown is off to a fast start at training camp, catching several touchdown passes.

“Well just I’m talking about just Pharaoh in general, he’s our starting tight end, and he’s a Y tight end,” Smith said. “He can block, big body. You see him make catches every day. We’ll have a big role for him.”

Brevin Jordan poised for bigger role

Tight end Brevin Jordan caught a TD pass from backup Kyle Allen during red-zone drills. Jordan, heading into his second NFL season, is poised for a larger role in the offense.

Jordan caught 20 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie after being drafted in the fifth round last year out of the University of Miami.

“I love what he did in year one of being a young football player,” Smith said. “He’s listed as a tight end, but he can play in-line, he can move out. It’s a tough matchup because he has big wide receiver skills. Just another weapon that we have to be able to use.”

Christian Harris’ speed is eye-catching

Christian Harris’ speed is a significant factor in the promising Texans rookie linebacker’s game, and in his ability to make an impact as a rookie.

Signed to a four-year, $5.34 million contract that includes a $1.069 million contract, the third-round pick from Alabama has turned heads at training camp with his ability to run and diagnose plays. The former blue-chip recruit from Baton Rouge, La., is competing for a starting job and has worked with the first-team defense.

“You saw, we were working Christian Harris with the one group a little bit,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “So, we’ll keep those different combinations going.”

With a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash, Harris has speed to burn as a versatile sideline-to-sideline defender. The converted safety is off to a fast start with the Texans.

“I think he probably is the fastest linebacker in the room,” Texans veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “This kid can fly. He’s smart. He’s bright. He’s super athletic. When we’re in the weight room, I think that he’s like in every competition, whether it’s the vertical, speed, he’s at least top 5. This kid is super talented, young, fresh, and he’s ready to learn. When you have a guy of that caliber, he’s going to go a long way. He’s going to have a great career in the league.”

Harris, who aced the NFL Scouting Combine with a 9.06 Relative Athletic Score, had 80 tackles last season, 12 1/2 for losses, and 5 1/2 sacks. The former freshman All-American and freshman All-SEC selection had two forced fumbles and was a semifinalist for the Butkus and Lombardi awards.

“I would say first and foremost he is an elite athlete,” Texans linebackers coach Miles Smith said. Obviously, we all know that. We saw the combine. We saw what he’s able to do. I’ve been most impressed with his ability to grasp the defense and learn the mental aspects of the game. He’s attacked it every day with good work ethic and couldn’t be more impressed.

“We always say the best attribute for a player in our defense is speed. So, just bringing that element, 4.4 speed every down I think is going to show dividends when we get to the season. He’s able to make some plays that others aren’t just because of his raw athletic ability. Now, it’s our job just to teach him the defense and allow him to play fast.”

Rookie Kenyon Green sits out practice with knee injury

Texans rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green didn’t practice Friday due to a knee injury. He is expected to return soon, but the team is being cautious with him after he underwent surgery on his knee this offseason.

The first-round draft pick from Texas A&M has been plugged in as the starting left guard next to Tunsil.

“A part of getting ready for a season is injuries are going to happen,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “You’re going to be out for a period of time. You get as much mental work as you can. You rehab your injury.

“We like everything Kenyon Green has done. 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.”

Green was signed to a four-year, fully guaranteed $15.9 million contract that includes a fifth-year club option. A former consensus All-American and All-SEC selection, Green is a former Houston Touchdown Club Offensive Player of the Year.

“The rook is doing pretty good,” Tytus Howard said. “I think Kenyon is doing a pretty good job of when he was not in the ones, watching what he needs to be able to do to keep up with the ones. Today, he stepped up and did a pretty good job and [is] only going to improve from now on.”

A former All-SEC freshman selection at right guard, Green moved to left guard in 2020 and started every game. He was named a second-team All-American and second-team All-SEC selection. Green was a finalist for the Lombardi Award last season.

Other Texans’ injury updates

  • Tight end Antony Auclair remains sidelined with a right knee injury.
  • Defensive end Obo Okoronkwo didn’t practice Friday.
  • Defensive end Jordan Jenkins remains on the physically unable to perform list with an ankle injury.
  • Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett is fully recovering from an injury that sidelined him for over a week.

“Of some of the things that needed to happen, that’s one of them,” Smith said. “Phillip has missed a lot of time. He’s a part of what we want to do. He brings a skill set, quickness, makes you miss in the open field. It’s good to get him back out there. He’s back in the mix now.”

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