HOUSTON — Dameon Pierce has a classic, downhill running style, blending power and explosiveness with decisive, quick cuts, and an aggressive demeanor.
For a Houston Texans team that had the worst running game statistically in the NFL a year ago, the arrival of a rookie running back who runs with bad intentions couldn’t be more welcome.
The fourth-round draft pick from Florida is firmly in the conversation to emerge as the Texans’ primary running back. He’s clearly been the most impressive back in practice sessions and games, including a 49-yard rushing performance on five carries in his NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints. With Pierce, though, it’s more about the kind of crisp runs he’s manufacturing and his ultra-physical approach more so than the immediate returns.
Excitement surrounding Dameon Pierce continues to grow
The Texans sound more than convinced about Pierce’s upside. Ever since he rumbled for 20 yards on his first carry, the excitement surrounding Pierce has been growing.
“We’ve seen everything you need to see from a good running back,” coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday morning. “He can catch the ball. He can run in between tackles. He’ll make you miss in the open field. Pads down low, there’s a lot of things to like about Dameon.”
Pierce is competing for playing time with veteran Marlon Mack. Mack, a former two-time 1,000-yard rusher, tore his Achilles two seasons ago and is still working to regain his old form. This preseason, Mack has rushed for 35 yards on 11 carries. Rex Burkhead, meanwhile, has rushed for five yards on two carries with a fumble. And Royce Freeman has gained a team-high 55 yards on 21 carries, but is only averaging 2.6 yards per run.
“Play better,” Smith said when asked what the other running backs need to do to set themselves apart. “It is that simple, really. It’s about production when you get opportunities, flash. Show us your best. At the end of training camp, the best of everyone is what we should’ve seen. If not, one last time to show us.”
No need for Pierce to play in Preseason Week 2
Pierce was held out of the Texans’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. Houston had seen enough out of him against New Orleans. They’re sold on the Georgia native’s potential as a tackle-breaking, 5-foot-10, 218-pounder who attacks linebackers with his aggressive style.
The Texans’ punishing rookie displayed why he’s earning a reputation as a hard-nosed back with some wiggle in the open field during his preseason debut. The hustle Pierce displayed when he made the tackle on a Jeff Driskel interception was noteworthy as well.
“I tried to sprinkle a little bit of magic in there,” Pierce said after the Saints game. “I don’t run with good intentions, to answer your question. I don’t be angry, just real passionate about what I do.”
Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season in an offensive system that platooned running backs. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 156 yards and one score.
Now, Pierce is off to a fast start at the NFL level.
“Early on, we did a lot of work on him coming in,” Smith said. “We’ve seen his highlights, the best of him in college we saw. That’s on your mind. Then when he gets here, he was just eager. Every time the special teams work and you see him out here working, and then when he started playing. Early on there were signs, but you had to get in pads.
“Then, we liked some things he did in pads. Training camp, we’re not doing a lot of live work. You get to the first game and you see what a player is like, live action. We’ve liked him every step along the way. We’re talking a lot about Dameon, but I’m going to say the same thing for, we like what Marlon has done, Royce, Rex, Dare (Ogunbowale). We have a good group. We have a good strong running back room.”
That remains to be seen. What is becoming more evident is that the Texans have found a young RB worth investing time and resources into developing.
Pierce once scored a touchdown for the Gators after getting his helmet knocked off. At the Senior Bowl, Pierce literally made a lot of noise with how much contact he generated against blitzing linebackers in pass-protection drills.
‘Dameon is going to do special things’
“Dameon is going to do a lot of special things for this team,” Texans right offensive tackle Tytus Howard said. “I remember being on the sidelines. I wasn’t in when he made those runs in the first week. I was excited. We haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher here since 2019 with Carlos Hyde. To see a rookie come in and make those type of plays the first time he got the ball it’s going to be something special.”
Pierce has run the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds with a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 21 times. The Georgia native rushed for 6,779 yards and scored 92 touchdowns in high school.
“I took bits and pieces of everybody’s game and molded it to my own style, which is violent,” Pierce said. “I like to fight for my yards. I like to punish the defense. I don’t like taking hits. I like giving hits.”
Texans general manager Nick Caserio didn’t hide his enthusiasm when the AFC South franchise landed Pierce.
“He plays with a lot of joy,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. “He plays with a lot of fight. He plays with a lot of toughness, and his personality, I would say, transfers over to the football field.”