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.
Ward has been with the Eagles on-and-off since signing with the team after going undrafted in 2017. His first two seasons consisted mostly of time on the practice squad. The former University of Houston quarterback then took a hiatus from the NFL to sign with the Alliance of American Football. When the AAF suspended operations, Ward re-joined the Eagles. He had a bit of a breakout year in 2020, catching 53 passes for 419 yards and six touchdowns, but took a bit of a backseat in Philadelphia’s offense last season.
The Texans are welcoming back a pair of veterans. After getting cut earlier this week, running back Royce Freeman and wide receiver Chris Conley are re-signing with Houston, reports NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter).
Conley was let go during final roster cuts on Tuesday. The veteran wideout joined the Texans last year, and he finished his first season in Houston with 22 receptions for 323 yards and two touchdowns. After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Chiefs, Conley spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons in Jacksonville. He had a career year with the Jaguars in 2019, hauling in 47 catches for 775 yards and five touchdowns.
Freeman was let go yesterday, but it took him less than 24 hours to land back on the active roster. After spending the first few months of the 2021 season with the Panthers, the veteran RB was claimed on waivers by Houston in November. He got into seven games for the Texans, collecting 154 yards from scrimmage on 42 touches.
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.
Freeman got into seven games for Houston last year, notching 92 yards off of 35 totes. He also added seven grabs for 62 yards, showing a little bit of the pass-catching skills he exhibited in 2019.
Freeman totaled 297 career carries for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns with the Broncos. On the whole, the Oregon product has struggled with consistency, but he’s still only 26 and can offer solid support for the Texans’ RB group.
Ahead of a key AFC matchup, the Browns have run into extensive trouble at running back. They attempted to aid a shorthanded group by putting in a waiver claim for Royce Freeman, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. But the Texans’ waiver priority prevented such a move.
In reuniting the Freeman-Phillip Lindsay tandem from Denver, Houston (1-8) stopped Cleveland (5-4) from bolstering a backfield missing not just its top two cogs but down backups as well. Going into Sunday’s game against the Patriots, the Browns have only D’Ernest Johnson on their active roster.
Nick Chubb tested positive for COVID-19 this week. So did fellow backs Demetric Felton and John Kelly. These three are part of a five-man Browns contingent on the team’s coronavirus list. Chubb is vaccinated, so he still has a chance to play Sunday. While he would need only to test negative twice in a two-day period, players who have tested positive during the week have almost unanimously not played in their respective team’s upcoming game.
Kareem Hunt remains on IR, and Kevin Stefanski said this will not be the week he returns from IR. Hunt could be down until December, per ESPN.com’s Kimberley Martin (on Twitter), adding the fifth-year running back likely will not be 100% again this season due to the knee and wrist injuries he was battling before the October calf issue sent him to IR. The Browns have not started Hunt’s 21-day IR-return clock.
The Browns now have Brian Hill and Dexter Williams on their practice squad. One of the two will be in line to serve as Johnson’s primary backup against New England. In Johnson’s lone other start, against the Broncos, he totaled 146 rushing yards on 22 carries.
As for Freeman, the Panthers gave him 21 totes this season before cutting him once Christian McCaffrey returned. Freeman has 77 rushing yards and no touchdowns; the former third-round pick has not scored a TD since 2019. Nevertheless, the Oregon alum has been a popular player on the wire. The Ravens and Raiders tried to claim Freeman in August, following his Broncos departure, and the Browns came up short during Freeman’s second waiver go-round.
Rough day for the Panthers. In addition to Matt Paradis, the Panthers have placed starting left tackle Cameron Erving on the injured reserve list. Meanwhile, they’ve also waived veteran running back Royce Freeman.
Erving previously missed time with a neck injury. This time around, it’s his calf. There’s no word yet on the severity or his timetable, but he’ll miss the next three games at minimum. Rookie Brady Christensen saw a couple starts earlier this year, so he could factor into the game plan more going forward.
The Panthers’ left tackle post has been a revolving door for nearly a decade. The hope was that Erving would bring stability after winning the job and becoming Carolina’s ninth LT in as many years. Unfortunately, injuries have been a recurring problem. Due to multiple knee injuries, he played in just six games (five starts) for the Cowboys last year.
Freeman totaled 297 career carries for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns with the Broncos. The Panthers claimed him in September and used him in eight games. he totaled just 77 yards off of 21 carries. The Ravens and Raiders entered claims for him a few months ago, so they could be among those with interest this time.
September 3rd, 2021 at 10:25am CST by Zachary Links
With J.K. Dobbins out for the season, the Ravens tried to claim Royce Freeman (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Ditto for the Raiders, Yates hears, but the Panthers ultimately nabbed Freeman on Thursday thanks to their higher waiver priority.
For the Ravens, it’s a sign that they’re not entirely confident in their current options. For now, their RB group consists of Gus Edwards with support from third-year scat-back Justice Hill and 2020 UDFA Ty’Son Williams. It’s possible that Williams would have been let go if Freeman was claimed, despite his strong summer. Edwards profiles as the team’s RB1 for now and his 5.2 career ypc shows that he can do damage. Still, he’s never carried an RB1 workload before.
The Raiders — the Ravens’ Week 1 opponent — would have slotted Freeman behind Josh Jacobs and newcomer Kenyan Drake. That role was ticketed for Jalen Richard, but he’ll start the year on IR thanks to a foot injury.
Instead of Baltimore or Vegas, Freeman will head to Carolina. He’ll slot behind Christian McCaffrey and rookie Chuba Hubbard as he takes Trenton Cannon‘s place on the team. Freeman wasn’t much of a factor last year, but he has 297 career carries to his credit for 1,187 yards and eight touchdowns.