John McClain: Caserio might not praise them, but his rookie class is looking strong

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gary McCullough/AP/Shutterstock (13452188iw) Houston Texans defensive back Jalen Pitre (5) leaving the field after an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, in Jacksonville, Fla Texans Jaguars Football, Jacksonville, United States – 09 Oct 2022

John McClain: Caserio might not praise them, but his rookie class is looking strong

General manager Nick Caserio is a noted killjoy when it comes to discussing rookies.

It’s not in Caserio’s DNA to go overboard in his praise of rookies, so we’ll let others pay tribute to the Texans’ draft class through the first five games of the season.

The Texans are 1-3-1 in their bye week, and it’s no secret how well four draft choices – running back Dameon Pierce (fourth round), safety Jalen Pitre (second), cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (first) and guard Kenyon Green (first) – have played at times.

They’ve made mistakes, of course, but they’ve showed so much promise it’s difficult to not get excited about watching them over the last 12 games of the season.

Last week, before the Texans defeated the Jaguars for their first victory, The Athletic selected an All-Rookie Team over the first four games. Pierce, Pitre, Stingley and Green were included.

This week, ESPN asked four of its NFL experts to pick the 10-best rookies through five games. Pierce was third and Pitre 10th.

“We’re only five games in,” Caserio said Tuesday when asked about his draft class. “I don’t think we can get too excited about where we are. (We’ve) just got to be realistic. I think they’ve come in and had the right attitude. They’ve worked hard, and they have varying levels of production.”

When talking about the rookies, Caserio went on to praise his personnel staff, including his right-hand man, James Liipfert, the assistant director of player personnel and college scouting director who’s in his fifth season with the Texans. Caserio is the first to admit that without his personnel staff that scouted the rookies, the Texans would be in trouble.

“We’ve gotten decent production out of that group,” Caserio said about the rookies, “but I think the attitude and the mindset probably stand out more than anything.”

The Texans also have gotten production from three other rookies, including defensive tackle Thomas Booker (fifth round) and fullback Troy Hairston and defensive tackle Kurt Hinish, both undrafted rookies.

Fans are eager to see outside linebacker Christian Harris, a third-round pick who’s been injured but is ready to kick off his playing career. Don’t be surprised if Harris gets a lot of playing time as the season wears on.

Wide receiver John Metchie III, a second-round pick, is being treated for Leukemia. He’s expected to recover and play next season. He’ll be like an additional second-round draft choice.

Tight end Teagan Quitoriano (fifth round) is on injured reserve. Austin Deculus (sixth) is a backup right tackle.

Pierce is getting the most attention because of the position he plays and the highlight-reel runs he makes. Pierce is moving up the NFL’s rushing charts. He’s fourth in the league with 412 yards on 86 carries. He’s averaged 115 yards in his last two games.

Pierce, who averages 4.8 yards a carry and has scored three touchdowns, is on a pace to rush for 1,167 yards. His 20-yard run to set up the only touchdown in the Jacksonville game went viral on social media because he broke seven tackles before being pulled down at the 2. He finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.

Caserio wants rookies with what he calls the right attitude and used Pierce as an example.

“Monday is the off day for players, and he’s in squatting 425,” Caserio said. “People wonder why is he successful on the field? Well, he’s successful because he works hard, has the right attitude, is a good teammate, trusts the people around him, gives credit to his teammates — the offensive line (and) the tight ends. (He) doesn’t make it about himself.

“Ultimately, that’s what it takes. It’s not about one player. It’s a collective effort. When those guys (rookies) have had opportunities, they’ve done some good things. There’s plenty of room for improvement.”

Coach Lovie Smith is starting five rookies – Pierce, Green, Stingley, Pitre and Hairston when he uses a fullback. At some point, that number could increase to six with Harris.

“Lovie’s going to make decisions that are best for the team relative to who’s on the field,” Caserio said. “Understanding young players are young players, and there are things they haven’t done, things they haven’t seen. They’re going to have to go through it and understand the why behind it, then try to make the correction. That’s where coaching comes into play.

“I think everybody’s embraced having young players in the building. There’s no timetable on anything. If it’s the best thing for the team, then they’ll be on the field. If it’s not, then it’ll be somebody else. That’ll be the same between now and the end of the season.”

Five games is a small sample size. When the Texans return from their bye week and prepare for the next game at Las Vegas, fans will start to get a better perspective on how much the rookies are going to improve and what the prospects will be for them going into their second season.

At this early stage of the season, though, the Texans are getting enough out of their rookie class to bode well for the 2023 draft. As it stands now, Caserio has 12 draft choices, including two picks in the first round.

By the way, the Texans need for the Browns (2-3) to lose as many games as possible since they have Cleveland’s first-round pick as part of the trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

(John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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