Dameon Pierce‘s season has come to an end. The Texans have placed the rookie running back on injured reserve, reports ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter).
Pierce suffered a high ankle sprain during Houston’s Week 14 loss to the Cowboys, although initial reports indicated that the injury was mild. It was believed that the rookie RB may only have to miss a game or two, which wouldn’t necessitate a move to IR. Instead, the Texans decided to shut down Pierce for the year.
The fourth-round rookie has quickly established himself as an offensive focal point in Houston. He’s started all 13 games for the Texans, and he leads all rookies with 939 rushing yards. In total, the Florida product has contributed 1,104 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. With Pierce out for the final four games, the Texans will likely turn to Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale to lead their RB room. Royce Freeman will also be signed to the active roster, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter).
Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth are also heading to IR, per Yates. Stingley, the third-overall pick in this year’s draft, hasn’t played since Week 10 while recovering from a hamstring injury. He started each of his nine appearances for the Texans this season, collecting 43 tackles and one interception. After starting the season in Kansas City, Stallworth got into one game for Houston in 2022.
There is some good news on the injury front. According to Wilson (on Twitter), the Texans have also activated defensive lineman Jon Greenard from IR. Greenard had eight sacks in 12 starts last season, and he started each of Houston’s first four games this year before landing on IR. To round out their moves, the Texans signed defensive back Jacobi Francis to the 53-man roster and have promoted defensive back Will Redmond and tight end Mason Schreck from the practice squad.
December 13th, 2022 at 11:10am CST by Adam La Rose
Week 14 nearly saw the Texans pull off a major upset of the Cowboys, but the more prominent storyline from the game was the exit of running back Dameon Pierce. The standout rookie is likely to miss time as a result of the ankle injury he suffered during the contest.
Pierce went down with a high ankle sprain, as detailed by Aaron Wilson of KPRC2. The injury is believed to be relatively mild, which could shorten his recovery time. Wilson reports that Pierce could miss one or two games, which would of course constitute a significant portion of the remaining schedule, but still less than the usual timeframe for high ankle sprains. A three-game absence should not be ruled out, per Fox 26’s Mark Berman (on Twitter). That would introduce a shutdown into the equation, given that four games remain.
Any missed time from the Florida product would be acutely felt by the Texans. Pierce leads all rookies with 939 rushing yards, having started each contest this season and quickly establishing himself as Houston’s most consistent offensive contributor. Despite missing some of the game against the Cowboys, the fourth-rounder still managed to record 78 yards on the ground and score his fourth touchdown of the campaign.
Head coach Lovie Smith declined to provide specifics on the extent of Pierce’s injury when speaking to the media. “It will take an awful lot for him not to play, but, if it’s an injury, of course it can,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s short-term. We’ll see.”
Sitting at 1-11-1 on the year, the Texans have no reason to rush their top producer back in the waning stages of the season. They also made a pair of moves relating to the tailbacks which will fill in for him should he miss time. One is the decision to waive Eno Benjamin, as first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). That comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the fact that Houston claimed the former Cardinal less than one month ago, seemingly giving him a chance at increased playing time. Instead, Benjamin saw the field for just 12 snaps in his two games as a Texan.
Meanwhile, Houston is adding another back in Gerrid Doaks(Twitter link via Wilson). A seventh-round pick of the Dolphins in 2021, the Cincinnati alum has yet to appear in a regular season game. He will join veteran Rex Burkheadand journeyman Dare Ogunbowalein the backfield until Pierce is able to return.
The Texans finished the 2021 NFL season ranked dead-last in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per carry. Houston has made some moves to address the position and the room will look fairly different at camp this summer.
Last year saw four Texans’ running backs start games. Three of those running backs are no longer on the roster. Mark Ingram returned to New Orleans midway through last season, Phillip Lindsay signed this offseason with the Colts, and David Johnson hit the free agent market and has yet to sign with a new team. While losing three players who started games may sound significant, the three backs combined last year to rush for only 652 yards and 2 touchdowns while averaging only 3.12 yards per carry.
Houston returns their leading rusher last year, Rex Burkhead. Burkhead, who turns 32 next month, racked up the highest rushing total of his career last year in his ninth season, totaling 427 yards on the ground. Burkhead has been a third-down type of running back throughout his career, recording more receiving yards than rushing in tw0 of his nine years. The Texans also return Royce Freeman, who was claimed off waivers in early-November last year.
To address the struggling run-game, Houston made two big moves. The first move they made was to sign free agent running back Marlon Mack in the weeks leading up to the Draft. Mack spent five seasons in Indianapolis, starting as a backup to Frank Gore. Once Gore left in free agency, Mack took the starting job and, despite missing six games in the next two years, was 92 yards away from two-consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. In 2020, a torn Achilles in Week 1 ended Mack’s season and opened the door for then-rookie Jonathan Taylor to take the reins. Taylor quickly took over, finishing second in Offensive Player of the Year voting last year. In his final year with the Colts, Mack took a backseat to Taylor and Nyheim Hines as he was only active in six games.
The second move Houston made was drafting Florida running back Dameon Pierce in the fourth-round of the Draft. Pierce had the best year of his career in his senior season while splitting carries with Malik Davis and Nay’quan Wright. Pierce only rushed for 574 yards in his final season as a Gator, but his physical playing-style led to him leading the team with 16 touchdowns from scrimmage, 13 of those being on the ground.
So who is taking the lead for Houston next season? According to Aaron Wilson of Pro Football Network, the Texans will have a committee-approach at running back this year. They have built a room that holds quite a few skill sets necessary for a successful position group. Mack is expected to take the lead back role, as he’s the only one with experience and success in that role. Although Mack runs with the same physical, attacking style as Pierce, Pierce’s presence should allow Mack a bit of a reprieve in those short-yardage and goal-line situations. Burkhead should be able to return to his role as a receiving, third-down back. Freeman has experience spelling starters as a reliable backup, and can continue to do so in any role asked of him. Houston also brought in former-Jaguar Dare Ogunbowale who has plenty of experience as a backup, as well. They also roster Darius Anderson, who will likely serve as a camp body this summer.
With Mack, Pierce, and Burkhead, Houston has specialists for three different situations. If they need or want more bodies on the 53-man roster, Freeman, Ogunbowale, and the young Anderson can compete for that fourth slot. The improvements needed for the run-game need to come from several areas: offensive line make-up, success in the passing-game to take pressure off, down-field blocking from receivers and tight ends, etc. The first-step, though, is to have players who can run, and Houston has drastically renovated their running backs room in an attempt to get out of the basement of rushing offenses.
The Texans wrapped up their nine-man draft class today when they were able to reach an agreement with third-round pick Christian Harris. The Power Five-heavy class includes a plethora of Day 1 and 2 picks and brings home three Houston-natives in guard Kenyon Green, safety Jalen Pitre, and offensive lineman Austin Deculus.
The Texans started their haul with four selections in the 2022 NFL Draft’s first 44 picks. Their first addition was cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who will immediately improve a group that currently includes Steven Nelson, Lonnie Johnson Jr., and Desmond King II. The Texans’ secondary struggled greatly at times last year, and defensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach Lovie Smith decided that addressing that weakness was a top priority. Their addition of Pitre in the second round further addresses that need. While listed as a safety, Pitre spent the majority of his career with the Bears in the slot. Whether at safety or slot cornerback, Pitre is a strong addition alongside Stingley to a struggling defense.
Green was the next selection, midway through the first round, and his ability to play on the inside of the line should allow Houston to establish Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard at the tackle positions. The later addition of the swing tackle, Deculus, continued the Texans’ efforts at improving the protection in front of second-year quarterback Davis Mills.
In terms of weapons for Mills, after extending leading receiver Brandin Cooks, Houston added another weapon in slot receiver John Metchie III. The Alabama alum tore his ACL in December, but is assumed to be ready to return to the field sometime this summer.