Pep Hamilton sees vision, toughness from Texans rookie Dameon Pierce

Texans, Rams meet Friday night in Los Angeles

Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) runs for a gain against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (David J. Phillip, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

HOUSTON – Dameon Pierce runs with bad intentions, bulldozing through tacklers with a violent style as a classic downhill-style runner.

The Texans’ punishing rookie running back aggressively attacks the defense.

And the fourth-round draft pick from Florida was impressive enough in his NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints that he’s being discussed as a candidate for the starting job currently held by veteran running back Marlon Mack.

This is a 2022 photo of Dameon Pierce of the Houston Texans NFL football team. This image reflects the Houston Texans active roster as of Sunday, May 15, 2022 when this image was taken. (AP Photo) (Associated Press)

The Texans need someone to step up and galvanize a running game that was the worst statistically in the NFL last season. Pierce could be that guy.

As Pierce builds a reputation as a hard-nosed back with some wiggle in the open field after rushing for 49 yards on five carries, including a 20-yard run on his first NFL run, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has developed a growing confidence in the Georgia native.

“You knocked it out of the park,” Hamilton said Tuesday when asked about the vision and power that Pierce showed off against the Saints during a 17-13 win at NRG Stadium. “Exactly, that’s what we saw the other night. Just a guy that can create his own yards. And he’s a tough runner.”

Pierce’s cutback ability, balance -- keeping himself from falling by placing his hand on the ground and not losing forward momentum -- and deceptive speed were all obvious against the Saints.

Pierce ran through an arm tackle by a 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle to bust into the secondary for 20 yards. Capable of bouncing off tacklers and maintaining his balance after the initial hit, Pierce averaged 9.8 yards per run.

“I tried to sprinkle a little bit of magic in there,” Pierce said inside the Texans’ locker room. “I don’t run with good intentions, to answer your question. I don’t be angry, just real passionate about what I do.”

Pierce smacked his chest to show how emotional he felt waiting for his turn. Heading into kickoff, Pierce said that his feelings ran the gamut because there was so much anticipation building inside him.

“I got my thoughts together and did what I’ve been doing my whole life, just playing ball, just try to have fun with it,” said Pierce, who got advice from veteran running back Rex Burkhead on how to calm down. “Man, if ya’ll only knew what these last 24 hours were like for me. My head was racing. I’ve been jittery since last night. As the game got closer, I started letting loose. I started relaxing.”

Pierce is a legitimate tough guy who also hustled through traffic to make the tackle after an interception by quarterback Jeff Driskel on a pass that was intended for him downfield.

“Man, that’s hustle and trying to make the best of a bad situation,” Pierce said. “You never want to turn the ball over.”

Pierce is off to a fast start at the NFL level, but his development isn’t done in a vacuum. He has help from his coaches and teammates.

“My progress is not only a testament to me, but I think our whole running back room, they really took me in,” Pierce said. “I’m the youngest guy in there. They’ve really been treating me like a little brother. I know I’m going to aggravate them because I’m asking questions. They don’t mind answering. They just laugh and they get me right. They’re taking care of me. As long as I got them in my back pocket, I feel like I’m going to be all right.”

Pierce rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as 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. He played in a platoon system for the Gators.

“I think the focus was more so, this was a decision that Nick Caserio and our personnel staff made,” Hamilton said. “You’re looking at what players can do. There’s a ton of different offenses in college football and it’s hard to, at times, try and predict how a player that plays within a scheme is going to be able to adjust and adapt to the pro game. But we do know that certain skill sets have a better chance of adapting to our game.”

Added quarterback Davis Mills: “I think he ran the ball extremely well. If he can keep doing things like that, it will open up our offense in a big way.”

At 5-foot-10, 218 pounds, Pierce plays faster than his stopwatch time of 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He has posted 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.

“Dameon Pierce definitely caught my eye,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “He’s a good football player. He can run with power. He can cut on a dime. He can do something that you expect a good running back in the NFL to do. That was big for him.”

Smith was asked what it will take for Pierce to earn the starting job but emphasized that it’s premature to make that determination.

“Dameon has been impressive in practice,” Smith said. “We expected him to do some of the things that he did. It’s safe to say we like Dameon a lot.”

Drafted as the seventh running back selected overall in 2022, Pierce is competing with Marlon Mack for the starting job to revitalize a dormant Houston running game that ranked last in the NFL last season.

Mack, who tore his Achilles two seasons ago and has emphasized he now trusts his surgically repaired leg, didn’t get to show much in two drives as he rushed for six yards on three carries. Mack didn’t appear hesitant, but he didn’t have a lot of opportunities in this first preseason game. Clearly, he wasn’t nearly as impressive as Pierce.

“Yes, I was excited to see him bounce back from the very first play of the game where the linebacker ran through the A gap and tackled us in the backfield,” Hamilton said. “But nevertheless he’s had a good camp. We’re excited to see him continue to develop in our system.”

A former 1,000-yard rusher with the Indianapolis Colts supplanted by Pro Bowl runner Jonathan Taylor, Mack has expressed confidence in his leg. He’s had his moments during practice sessions, showing off his speed.

“I definitely feel like I’m there again,” Mack said recently. “Last year, I didn’t get that chance to show myself. But in the few games that I did, I felt that confidence in myself. But now, I’ve actually just got to go out there and do it again. I feel good, man.

“Every day I’m showing that explosion. I feel it in my cuts, and every day I keep going out there and keep doing it. I feel like my trust has always been 100% since last year. Just always had that trust, just didn’t get the chance to show it again. But now, I’m actually going to keep on it, keep that trust in it.”


Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com