Smith: Nick Caserio investing in Dameon Pierce

Arian Foster isn’t on this roster. Ben Tate isn’t on this roster. Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue and Steve Slaton aren’t on Nick Caserio’s second-year roster as the Texans continue a rebuild with no set breakthrough date.

So what’s that tell you as September begins and Houston’s NFL team prepares for the start of another long season?

Caserio, who’s a big stock market guy, is investing heavily in Pierce.

Did Caserio admit that Wednesday inside NRG Stadium?

Of course not.

The fast-talking, tight-lipped GM used a ton of words to let everyone know that rookies are rookies — even when the rebuilding Texans possess a promising 2022 class — the preseason is the preseason, and Indianapolis kicked his team’s butt (twice) when it mattered last year.

But even with Mack, an ex-Colt who was a yard away from running for 2,000 combined in 2018-19, re-signed to the Texans’ practice squad, it’s clearer than ever that Pep Hamilton, Davis Mills, Brandin Cooks, Laremy Tunsil and Co. are going to be heavily relying on Pierce in the early weeks of 2022.

The Texans released running back Royce Freeman on Wednesday. 

That leaves Mills and the offense down to veteran Rex Burkhead, Dare Ogunbowale — who has 299 career rushing yards in five seasons and is on his fourth team — and Pierce. 

Only one of those three running backs is a rookie who lit it up during the preseason.

Only one of those three averaged an electric 7.8 yards per carry and scored a touchdown in pro exhibition play while being the 107th overall pick of the 2022 draft.

Only Pierce has been elevated, then elevated again by a Texans team badly in need of new, recognizable names and young stars whom fans can buy into.

This will all be a little silly in a couple months if Pierce disappoints or gets injured or is just average while the Texans lose, lose and lose again.

But Caserio went out of his way to play it straight while discussing Pierce, and the no-fluff GM still praised the rookie RB who could be the offensive key to the Texans’ season.

“He’s got a good attitude. He’s got a good work ethic. Football is important to him,” Caserio said. “When you go back and look at, whether it was Florida, whether it was the Senior Bowl, whether it was the combine, our different interactions with him, it’s been pretty consistent.”

Then Caserio explained how Pierce ended up in the Texans’ hands at No. 107 despite averaging 5.5 yards per rush and 9.4 yards per reception with 28 total TDs while playing in the SEC.

“They split the carries at Florida,” the GM said. “I mean, they had some good backs there.”

Jalen Pitre is already a rookie name to watch for these Texans. Derek Stingley Jr. and Kenyon Green were the moment they became first-round picks forever attached to year two of the rebuild. 

Pierce became more interesting as soon as he was selected by the Texans. Then his name kept reverberating as the scorching camp days piled up and Week 1 approached.

“He has good lower body strength,” Caserio said. “Good body balance. Pretty instinctive, has good vision.”

Then the GM stopped reading his mental scouting report and placed the runner back in the rookie folder.

“It’s been a small sample, I would say, just on the field,” Caserio said. “I certainly think he’s got a lot of work ahead of him.”

They all do, right?

Caserio rightfully pointed out that the Texans won eight combined games the last two years and mentioned the Colts kicking their butt twice in 2021 for a reason.

But during a time when the organization is cutting, releasing and filling up the practice squad, Pierce’s rookie spotlight is only getting brighter on a team that badly needs an improved running game in a potential make-or-break year for Mills.

The market is all over the place as September begins.

Caserio, with the buzz of Week 1 days away, keeps investing in Pierce.