Houston Texans training camp observations: Derek Stingley Jr. on schedule for first game, Davis Mills taking command

At Houston Texans training camp Friday, rookie DBs Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre impressed, while QB Davis Mills showed a command of the offense.

HOUSTON — Derek Stingley Jr. broke on the football cleanly while shadowing veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks, arriving just a tad too late to deflect the pass. Overall, it was an encouraging training camp performance from the Texans’ first-round rookie cornerback.

Stingley, whose activity is being ramped up incrementally before he participates in full-team drills because he underwent surgery to repair a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot, looked explosive and sure-footed in his movements. He covered ground quickly, backpedaling and cutting with confidence. He looked as advertised as the third overall pick during 7-on-7 drills. He also caught a few punts during special-teams work.

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Derek Stingley off to fast start at Houston Texans training camp

Texans veteran cornerback Steven Nelson mentioned that Stingley intercepted a pass this week during a practice that was closed to the media.

Although the Texans won’t have Stingley practice every time during training camp toward the goal of having him play every game as a shutdown corner, they are upbeat about his outlook. And Texans coach Lovie Smith anticipates Stingley being ready to go for the first game of the regular season against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Yes, I do,” Smith said. “Whenever a player is coming out with a major injury, this ramp-up period, that’s what it’s for. We’re going to ease him into it. He’s healthy, seeing him run around. We had him doing a few plays. He’s got in some plays each day. He’s on schedule.”

The Texans limited Stingley to individual drills during organized team activities and minicamp, but they’re excited about his potential, and they aren’t worried about his medical outlook.

“Derek’s status has been what it has been from the beginning,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “He’s out here working. Derek’s attitude has been good. He’s gotten some really good work in here over the last five to six weeks. He’s been able to get some work done here in the last few days as well. We’re not speculating about what a player can and can’t do.

“Derek has done a lot of stuff. Some of his testing stuff and metrics are better than anybody else. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s limited. There are just certain things he hasn’t experienced yet that he’s going to have to go through. Like any player, you have to reacclimate the body and the mind.”

At 6’0″, 190 pounds, with a recorded 4.37 40-yard dash, Stingley has speed to burn. The Texans identified him as the top cornerback on their draft board and thus, selected him one pick before the New York Jets drafted Cincinnati All-American corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. Then, Stingley signed a fully guaranteed, four-year, $34.6 million contract that includes a $22.3 million signing bonus and a fifth-year club option.

“Great start,” Nelson said of Stingley’s early returns. “It’s limitless to me. His potential is through the roof.”

A former freshman All-American and two-time All-SEC selection, Stingley is a former five-star, blue-chip recruit who finished his college career with 73 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

“Stingley got that demeanor,” Cooks said. “He reminds me of a guy that I played with — not going to say any names — but that guy was special. Quiet guy, come out here, and he’s about business.”

Texans quarterback Davis Mills taking control

Davis Mills delivered a hard spiral, connecting with veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks on a deep pass over the middle.

It was a sharp throw that falls in line with how the second-year Texans quarterback has performed throughout the offseason as he has continued his upward trend since a successful end to his rookie season.

Mills has drawn a lot of praise from coach Lovie Smith and his teammates. The strong-armed former third-round draft pick from Stanford organized workouts this offseason, including one in his hometown of Atlanta at his high school. He also traveled to Portland, Oregon, with other teammates to work out near Cooks’ offseason home.

“I am excited about what Davis Mills is going to do for us,” Smith said. “He has taken that role: ‘I’m the leader of the football team, follow me.’ All the things Pep Hamilton and the rest of our offensive staff would like to do, we feel like he can lead us down that path.”

The rough moments: a few botched snaps during a full-team drill with starting center Justin Britt not participating due to a foot injury from the spring. Mills overthrew Cooks on a few deep throws, including one errant sideline pass.

While Mills went 2-9 in 11 starts as the replacement for veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, he also had his moments. He completed 66.8% of his throws for a franchise rookie record 2,664 yards to surpass former top overall pick David Carr. Mills threw 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a respectable 88.8 passer rating.

In the final four games of the season, Mills completed 68.9% of his throws to go 2-2. He passed for 927 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 106.1 passer rating during that span. In eight home games at NRG Stadium, Mills passed for 12 touchdowns with one interception. He had four games with 100+ passer ratings, including 141.7 in a loss to the Patriots, 130.6 in an upset victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, 128.5 against the Tennessee Titans, and 106.2 against the Los Angeles Rams.

“Good attitude, was in good shape, improved his lower body strength,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said of Mills. “He was able to work on some things mechanically.”

Smith likes the upside and intangibles Mills brings. He views him as a leading candidate to be voted team captain.

“Showing up, every time we open up the building, he’s been there,” Smith said. “He leads everything. You see him first to do everything and then making plays.

“We are going to vote for captains Monday of the week of the first game. I’m going to vote just like everybody for one special teams, one offense, one defensive guy. Davis Mills is getting my vote for captain.”

Jalen Pitre making early impact

The Texans envision rookie safety Jalen Pitre operating in a versatile role and contributing immediately.

Signed to an $8.95 million contract that includes a $3.692 million signing bonus, the second-round draft pick from Baylor models his game after New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu and Arizona Cardinals standout safety Budda Baker.

A former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American, Pitre can play either safety spot, nickel, or as a quasi-linebacker playing close to the line of scrimmage. Depending on how quickly he transitions to the NFL, Pitre could push for a starting job right away. He’s that talented.

“You saw Jalen Pitre lining up early, love what he has done,” Smith said.

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

“He plays with his hair on fire,” Caserio explained. “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.”

Pitre led Baylor with 18 tackles for losses and generated three sacks, 76 total tackles, two INTs, seven PBUs, and three fumble recoveries. He’s a converted linebacker who started as a true freshman before redshirting the following season with a shoulder injury. Pitre lined up as a hybrid linebacker/safety in a position called the STAR in Dave Aranda’s 4-2-5 defense after Matt Rhule was hired by the Carolina Panthers.

“Coach Rhule’s defense gave me the backbone of my development early on,” Pitre said. “He taught me the ins and out of offense and defense. With coach Aranda, he gave me the nuances of how to play with that knowledge. Both coaches were great, and they played a big part in the development of my career.”

Legal update on running back Darius Anderson

Texans running back Darius “Jet” Anderson continues to practice with his teammates after being arrested and charged with burglary with intent to assault as a woman, a former girlfriend, accused him of breaking into her home and threatening her. The case is in the process of being resolved.

“I would  say it’s an ongoing investigation,” Nick Caserio said. “I would say there’s a lot of misinformation that’s been out there from the beginning, so really don’t want to get into a lot of speculation. Darius has cooperated every step of the way, so at some point, there will be a resolution. We don’t have any additional comment.”

Anderson was assigned a Sept. 20 court date, and his bond was reduced to $20,000 from $50,000.

“He’s innocent,” attorney Kelly Benavides said in a telephone interview. “He denies any allegations. We look forward to investigating and presenting our case in court and clearing his name.”

Texans’ injury updates

Tight end Antony Auclair, a rugged blocker and Canada native, was carted off the field with an ice bag on his right knee.

Several players didn’t practice or were limited Friday morning. That includes the following players who are on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list: DE Jordan Jenkins (ankle), TE Teagan Quitoriano (foot), and DB Tristin McCollum (shoulder).

DE Jon Greenard (offseason foot surgery), LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (knee surgery), center Justin Britt (foot), and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (undisclosed) didn’t practice.

“Jonathan Greenard is coming off a major injury,” Smith said. “Justin Britt is coming off an injury. Some of those players that we are watching their reps a little bit, but you’ll see them for the most part. This is a big year for Jonathan Greenard. He is healthy now. In order for us to have success, I talk about playing better defense, it starts with our defensive line.

Quick hits from Texans training camp

  • Wide receiver Nico Collins has made strides this offseason since his rookie year last season. He looks much more comfortable and polished running routes.
  • Rookie running back Dameon Pierce has caught the football well out of the backfield. He’s working behind veterans Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead, but the expectation is that Pierce will show more once the Texans begin contact drills. Mack has displayed a definite burst in drills and has a chance to be the primary back two years after tearing his Achilles while playing for the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Texans general manager Nick Caserio said that the team had 95% participation in the offseason training program, with 35-40 players regularly working out at the training facility over the summer. “Their commitment speaks to their attitude,” Caserio said. “The effort, the commitment to work has been good. The Texans will practice in full pads for the first time of training camp on Monday.
  • The Texans are encouraged by the progress of first-round offensive guard Kenyon Green. He was limited during the spring but appears to be fully healthy now and getting up to speed. He’s a candidate to start at left guard next to Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil. “Kenyon Green is going to help us win a lot of games,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re going to get him into the mix as soon as we can.”

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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