McClain: Dameon Pierce looks for contact, likes to inflict pain on defenders


If rookie C.J. Stroud becomes the franchise quarterback, he’ll be the face of the Texans’ offense. But until he earns that distinction, that role will be filled by second-year running back Dameon Pierce.

As a rookie last season, Pierce became a fan favorite because of his physical running style that impressed teammates, coaches and, of course, opposing defenses.

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Pierce has no plans to change his philosophy. He has no intention of running out of bounds when defenders are closing in. He’ll look for contact and try to inflict pain.

“I don’t like to take contact – I’d rather be the one delivering it,” Pierce said on Tuesday.

New coach DeMeco Ryans will make sure the running game is a pivotal part of the Texans’ offense, the same way it was at San Francisco, where he served on the staff for six years, including the last two at defensive coordinator. As a 10-year linebacker in the NFL – the first six with the Texans – Ryans knows how a runner like Pierce can wear down a defense physically and mentally.

“His physical style, the speed he plays with (and) the way he’s been improving his pass protection (have) been fun to watch,” Ryans said. “Dameon has been consistent all offseason. He’s been upbeat. He brings tremendous energy, not only to our offense but to our entire team. (He) always has a smile on his face, always working hard (and) improving the little things he has to work on. I’m excited for the season that’s ahead of him (but) Dameon doesn’t have to do it all on his own.”

Pierce, 5-10, 218, has a punishing style that’s a big reason general manager Nick Caserio signed Devin Singletary to back him up. Caserio made moves to improve the depth at running back, beginning with Singletary, who started 3 ½ seasons in his four years with Buffalo and brought a 4.7-yard career average per carry to Houston.

After starting eight games as a rookie, Singletary started 16 in each of the last three seasons. He ran for 870 yards and seven touchdowns in 2021 and 819 yards and five touchdowns last season. He caught 116 passes over his last three seasons.

“Every time we talk, we’re always talking ball,” Pierce said about Singletary. “I’m not asking him what he’s doing, I’m asking, ‘What are you thinking when you’re doing it?’ He’s a very intentional player. The more I get to pick his brain, the more I get into his mindset of how he sees the game, how he sees the play develop. He’s been a great help, a great mentor, and I look forward to keep picking his brain.”

Pierce has an engaging personality that can entertain his teammates on and off the field. He’s eager to learn after a rookie season that ended with four games remaining because of an ankle injury. He was on a pace to rush for 1,228 yards but finished with 939.

Looking back, the injury might have been a blessing. Pierce’s carries were increasing because he was the best player on offense. He didn’t get overworked as a rookie. He used his first season as a learning experience.

“Staying consistent, trying to stack days, get one percent better every day because it’s a long, long season,” he said about what he learned the most. “Try to get more yards, more touchdowns. (Play) a bigger role in this offense. Get better (and) be a better leader.”

Pierce likes playing for Ryans and new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who’s installing the 49ers’ offense. That means a focus on the running game to set up the pass, with every player on the field required to block or they won’t get on the field.

“I’d say it’s running back-friendly,” Pierce said. “That’s one thing that excites me. I like the dynamic that coach Slowik brings. He likes to attack the defense in every way possible. If he sees a weakness, he’s going to pull that thread until the whole ball of yarn comes loose. He’s going to pick at the defense (and) he’s going to put the defense in positions where they have to think and not where they can react.”

Slowik’s offense has a lot of moving parts. He’ll utilize a lot of motion. The idea is to keep the defense off balance.

“Yeah, he likes a lot of movement (and) motions,” Pierce said. “Once you get the intent behind his offense, it’s easy to adapt to, but I think right now he’s just making sure we’re putting our emphasis on the ‘why we’re doing it’ more than ‘what we’re doing.’ When we get to training camp, we’re going to rev it up some more.”

When the Texans finished 3-13-1 last season, they almost pulled off a shocking upset on the road against the Cowboys. Dallas won 27-23 in what would be the last game of Pierce’s season. He ran 22 times for 78 yards and a touchdown before suffering the ankle injury.

New tight end Dalton Schultz, who caught six passes for 87 yards for the Cowboys, got a good look at Pierce in that game and has been even more impressed since signing with the Texans.

“That kid can run hard,” Schultz said. “I remember coming out of the game, and I was like, ‘Damn! Who’s this (No.) 31? He’s just gashing us.’ He’s a great player, a ball of energy. I asked him, ‘What year is this for you,’ because he carries himself like a vet.

“I was listening to a kid who’s a second-year guy in the league and kind of surprises me because he definitely gives off a veteran’s established leadership style. Having him be at the head of the running back room is big time.”

That kind of praise from a six-year veteran like Schultz excites Pierce and motivates him even more.

“That’s one of the things I really, really try to do is impress the vets wherever I go,” Pierce said. “I know they know what it takes to stay in this league and sustain at a high level. Anytime a vet is saying good things about a young guy like myself gives me confidence. It kind of reassures me I’m doing the right thing, handling it the right way and that I’m doing vet-like things that are going to contribute later in my career.

“I have a lot of vets to emulate, and I have a lot of vets from last year that showed me the right way to do stuff. Despite the record, there’s still some great things learned internally that we went through (and) helped me grow and prepared me for the leadership role that I’m about to take on. There’s different ways to lead. I’m trying to find the right way that fits my personality and playstyle.”

John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He writes three columns a week and does two Houtopia Football Podcasts for

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