After starring at Stafford High School and later at Baylor, Jalen Pitre had no idea where his football career would take him as the NFL Draft loomed this past spring.
As luck would have it, he wouldn’t have to travel far. The Texans grabbed one of the most versatile defensive players in the draft in the second round (37th overall) to bolster their beleaguered secondary.
“It’s really close, but I feel like football is football anywhere,” Pitre said of being with the Texans. “I’m very thankful to be home, but I’m just happy to be on a team again and just be able to play football.”
With training camp less than a month away, Pitre has already impressed the Texans’ coaching staff with his work ethic, tenacity and capacity to pick up head coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defensive scheme. Pitre, who is lining up primarily at safety after playing a hybrid safety/linebacker position at Baylor the last two seasons, performed well during OTAs and minicamp and as a result saw some reps with the Texans’ first-team defense.
“Jalen, he’s a sponge, he’s picking up quickly,” Smith said. “Very bright, athletic, all those things, but he needs reps. Offseason work helps those guys so much, and that local flavor is good also.”
Perhaps the 6-foot Pitre benefited most from his time under defensive guru Dave Aranda during their time together at Baylor. Pitre, who played linebacker during his first two seasons with the Bears, quickly became Aranda’s prized pupil when he arrived as Baylor’s head coach.
Aranda elevated Pitre to his “star” position as a hybrid safety/linebacker where he was given the freedom to roam all levels of the defense. The result was not only did Pitre evolve into a star player – two-time All-Big 12, Big 12 Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American – but he grew into the Bears’ unquestioned leader.
“I learned a lot from Coach Aranda,” said Pitre, who finished his senior year with 76 tackles, 18 tackles for loss (three sacks), two interceptions, seven pass breakups and three fumble recoveries. “The biggest thing that I learned was just to be patient with things and just to wait on my turn. Coach Aranda is a very patient individual. That’s something I’ve been trying to work on.”
Pitre has shifted from one talented defensive-minded coach to one of the most respected defensive coaches in all of the NFL. Pitre and Smith have already seemed to develop a special connection.
Smith has been pleased with Pitre’s progress, which is essential as he and first-round pick Derek Stingley Jr. will almost certainly be looked at to fill immediate holes in the secondary after the departures of Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Justin Reid this offseason.
“Pitre, for one, he’s been outstanding,” Smith said. “Knack for the football. Has done a lot of good things.”
Pitre has taken to heart Smith’s mantra that he and the other rookies must do things the Texans way.
“It’s all about being a professional and doing things the right way, making sure you are being respectful to all of those around you and just of your space,” Pitre said. “I think when you do that you end up being successful in wherever you are and whatever you are doing. That’s kind of the main things that Coach is preaching right now.”