The great Chris Wesseling used to remind me every preseason: We look for standout traits, not team results.
The point was simple. Analyzing teams in preseason action is folly. With clubs not scheming versus opponents and most veterans rarely playing much, if at all, we won't get a good gauge of how a team will truly function. But every year, a few players, particularly rookies, stick out like a sore thumb as they run with backups.
Last year, it was Denver's Javonte Williams who flashed in exhibition action, foreshadowing his ability as a tackle-breaking maven.
Through the first week of preseason action, the player who stood out for me was Houston Texans rookie running back Dameon Pierce.
Entering the game with the backups Saturday against New Orleans, Pierce shined from his first carry, sticking his foot in the ground, cutting it up and dashing for a 20-yard gain. On five carries, the rookie earned 49 yards (9.8 YPC), displaying burst through the hole, excellent balance and vision and power through tackles.
"Dameon Pierce definitely caught my eye and everybody's eye that was watching him," coach Lovie Smith said after the game, via the team's transcript. "And that's what we've seen in training camp also. He's a good football player."
Pierce has generated hype during Texans camp and has the potential to push starter Marlon Mack for reps if he continues to shine.
"I think (Pierce) ran the ball extremely well tonight," quarterback Davis Mills said. "His average was over nine yards or something, per carry. If he can keep doing things like that, it will open up our offense in a big way."
At Florida, Pierce wasn't a featured back, netting just 206 carries in his final two college seasons, but was used heavily in the red zone, earning 13 rushing TDs in 2021. There are still aspects of his game the rookie will need to improve, including receiving -- a hot pass from Jeff Driskel caromed off his hands for an INT Saturday. But as far as being a pure runner, Pierce owns the talent to make noise in his first season.
"I think it's a little early. It will work itself out," Smith said when asked about Pierce pushing for starting reps. "Every time you go out and you practice a play, they tell you something. We're in no big hurry. It's a while before Indy gets here. Dameon has been impressive in practice. And we expected him to come tonight and do some of the things that he did. We'll just keep fighting through. Next week, another guy may have a good game. But it's safe to say that we like Dameon for sure."
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