Rookies Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre also tapped as starters in defensive backfield vs. Indianapolis Colts.
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With the Deshaun Watson-sized weight officially off their shoulders, at least until Week 13, the Houston Texans can move into a new era with little expectation but unlimited potential for the future.
Here are some storylines to keep in mind as the 2022 team heads into its Week 1 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
Houston officially cut Marlon Mack, an offseason pickup, making fourth-round rookie Dameon Pierce the starting running back for Pep Hamilton's first year as the Texans' offensive coordinator.
The 22-year-old out of the University of Florida, who turned in impressive performances in the preseason, should loom large in head coach Lovie Smith's mission to improve a rushing attack that came in dead last in yards per attempt last season.
Eyewitness News sports director Greg Bailey and Oilers great Spencer Tillman break down the keys to the Texans-Colts matchup on "Houston Texans: Inside the Game," Sunday at 10:35 p.m. on ABC13.
Smith expects Hamilton, whom he collaborated with in Chicago, as a coach who's all about details, trusting his OC with creating a more rugged offense with Pierce, whom ESPN ranked as the No. 32 fantasy football running back for opening week.
"When I say he's an offensive coach with a defensive mentality, I'm talking about, yeah, all offensive guys want to pass the ball, but who are you?" Smith said back in February. "For Pep, it's about being a tough football team. To say you're a tough football team, you have to be able to run the football."
Most importantly, it will be crucial for the Texans to establish the run under second-year quarterback Davis Mills and a reloaded offense, which brings us to the next storyline.
Mills' targets just expanded after the final preseason cutdown to 53 players.
Two notable acquisitions are tight end OJ Howard and wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who are both members of the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers from two seasons ago.
It should be noted that both NFL veterans were cut from teams in the last few weeks, allowing the Texans to try out the pair.
Both are expected to play in reserve roles while established Texans stars like Brandin Cooks and Pharoah Brown start.
Every NFL QB would salivate at attacking a side of the field being protected by a rookie cornerback. After all, the expectation is for new Colts play-caller Matt Ryan to exploit any first-game weaknesses.
With that said, though, the Texans are banking that third-overall pick Derek Stingley Jr. and second-round selection Jalen Pitre buck any rookie assumptions.
Stingley and Pitre are Coach Smith's projected starters at right cornerback and free safety, respectively.
Texans fans should know almost immediately on Indy's first offensive drive whether the rookie pair is cut out for NFL-level speed, but the fact that these were two picks within the first 37 selections of the latest draft is hard to ignore.
The Texans kick off their 21st season on Sunday, Sept. 11 at noon against their AFC South rivals, the Colts.
Plenty of seats are still available for the Week 1 contest at NRG Stadium, starting at $64, according to the team's website.
The team is selling tickets without fees for the Liberty Whiteout-themed matchup, where fans will receive a complimentary digital commemorative ticket NFT. All you pay is the face value of the seat.
In addition, the Texans are hosting Uvalde High School football players and coaches after the team visited the grief-stricken town.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Texans are a seven-point underdog against Indianapolis with an over/under at 46.5 points, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Houston is also at a +270 money line, which means if you bet $100 on the money line for a straight-up Texans victory, you win your bet back and $270.
If you love long odds and even bigger payouts, the Texans' odds of winning the Super Bowl this season are at +30000, the longest odds of all 32 teams. In addition, Houston is +15000 to win the AFC title and +3000 to win the division.
Disclaimer: Betting odds are for informational/entertainment purposes.
Here are the Texans next five games after Week 1. All times are CST: