Rookie running back Dameon Pierce’s emotions could have been all over the place this past weekend as he got set to make his NFL debut – as a starter no less – in the Houston Texans backfield.
But the University of Florida product did his best to rely on the experience gained in the preseason as the season opener against Indianapolis approached.
“Compared to the last three weeks they were way more calm because I had a couple of games under my belt,” Pierce said. “But this game, I just took it for what it was. I was just having fun.”
Truth be told, Pierce has been having fun since he arrived this offseason as an unheralded fourth-round draft pick (107th overall). And he has turned heads and made quite an impression since.
Pierce really turned it out in training camp and during the first two preseason games with his burst, ability to break tackles while running downfield and versatility catching the ball out of the backfield. The coaching staff was so impressed with Pierce that Marlon Mack, the veteran free agent back the Texans brought in during the offseason to be the starter, suddenly became expendable.
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the Texans had seen enough of Pierce to know the hard-running rookie could be their immediate starter.
“We’ve seen everything you need to see from a good running back,” said Texans coach Lovie Smith. “He can catch the ball. He can run in between tackles. He’ll make you miss in the open field. Pads down low, there are a lot of things to like about Dameon.”
His teammates and coaches have all been impressed with his approach to not just playing, but being a student of the game and a sponge soaking up the knowledge. It wasn’t long before everyone around the organization realized the team had gotten more than it bargained for from the second-day draft pick.
“He comes into the room, you start talking to him, he’s got a little confidence,” Smith said. “Then, he went to the field, special teams, `what do I need to do coach,’ every day. He loves football.
“I did know a little bit about some of his highlights before, run the football. Thought he would meet our personality that we’d like to be and that’s what we’ve seen. Then he starts playing in games and we’ve seen every step along the way. We’ve seen the same thing from him. We’re excited about him being on the team and that running back room is a lot stronger with him in it.”
Receiver Brandin Cooks, the Texans veteran offensive leader, has also been impressed.
“The way he’s been coming to work from the moment he has stepped into this building, you can see he’s about his business,” Cooks said. “He’s been running at a high level. One thing I continue to tell him is to never get comfortable, always find ways to improve, and I think he took that to heart because you see him go out there every day working on something.”
And the culmination of his work came this past weekend he took the field as the starter against the Colts. Pierce finished with 33 yards on 11 carries and had one reception for 6 yards, but his ability to find holes and to fight through tackles was obvious.
It was also obvious that he is still learning some of the nuances of the game, which was why veteran back Rex Burkhead carried more of the load, especially toward the end when the Texans needed another score in a game that ultimately ended in a 20-20 tie in overtime.
Pierce understood why he was watching from the sideline during crunch time of his first game. But best believe he was taking mental notes.
“I feel like this was a learning point for me to see how the vets do it so that when I am there I will know how to handle it, I will know how to play situational football,” Pierce said. “And I want to be comfortable going out there so seeing Rex, I will get to see on film how he attacks presses. So it was a learning standpoint for me.”