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McClain: Lassiter's versatility could make him a shooting star on his way to the starting lineup

An image from the May 31, 2024 OTA practice at NRG stadium in Houston, TX.
An image from the May 31, 2024 OTA practice at NRG stadium in Houston, TX.

John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

When the Texans kick off the regular season against AFC South-rival Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, don't be surprised if rookie cornerback Kamari Lassiter is in the starting lineup. If Lassiter picks up in training camp where he left off in the offseason program, he could become one of five new starters on Head Coach DeMeco Ryans' defense.

Barring injuries, Lassiter should be the only new starter in the secondary, joining cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safeties Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward. As the Texans' top draft choice – selected 42nd overall – Lassiter impressed his coaches and teammates during the offseason program.

"Kamari is a guy that's been locked in since he got here," Ryans said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's very competitive and very instinctive and doesn't make the same mistake twice. I think a lot of guys have been fired up to see what he's been able to do. I'm excited to see (him) in training camp."

Lassiter, who played three seasons at Georgia, helped the Bulldogs win two national championships. He was a two-year starter and team captain who showed NFL scouts he can play outside or inside. That kind of versatility – combined with his productivity -- appealed to Ryans and defensive coordinator Matt Burke. That helped convince Executive Vice President/General Manager Nick Caserio to use the Texans' first pick on the Alabama native.

"He's a very sharp young man," Ryans said. "Whatever the day calls for, we'll put him (outside), or we'll put him at nickel, and we'll see what happens."

At 6-0, 186, Lassiter has decent size for his position. The Texans overlooked his 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine. They knew he was faster when they watched his tape at Georgia.

Ryans, Caserio and the defensive coaches like the way he sticks with receivers, shows quickness when he has to turn and run and plays the physical brand of football they demand. And Lassiter plays that way whether he's outside or inside.

"He's got length, and he's a pretty stout corner, really well-built through his lower body," Burke said. "Versatility is probably the starting point for Kamari. We're talking about those interchangeable pieces: Can we move him inside? Can we play him outside? Are there matchups we like better? He's a smart player that grasps things pretty well. He's absorbed everything we've thrown at him pretty well."

Ryans is eager to see how Lassiter performs when training camp begins. Rookies won't get babied. They'll play the way the coaches want, or they won't play except for special teams.

"The things that allow me to see when a rookie's ready to go, you see it through those grueling days of training camp," Ryans said. "You see how much they can handle. You see how mentally strong those guys are in training camp. Are they continuing to progress? Some guys stick out better than the vets, and it's just each guy on an individual basis – you see if they can still play well while handling the things we just covered in the classroom.

"The guys that can apply it quickly without wavering, those guys seem to always rise to the top. It's very noticeable, and that's what I love about ball: Whether you're a rookie or a vet, everything's always about competition. Competition always forces everyone around you to get better. And Kamari loves competition."

Lassiter used the offseason program to get acclimated to the Texans, the city of Houston and the heat and humidity. His goal was to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as possible from anyone who could help him in the meeting rooms as well as on the practice field.

"I feel like I always want to prove myself," he said. "I always thought I could play at the highest level in college. It's always about proving ourselves, right? Everything I do is to prove myself to make sure I know I'm here for a reason.

"It felt great to just play football – learning, competing and having fun. I want to earn the respect of my teammates and my coaches. I want to help us be successful. I'm trying to put my best foot forward and learn something new every day. It's been a great ride, and it's just getting started."

Lassiter knows he's got to excel outside and inside to earn a spot in the starting lineup.

"I play defense wherever they put me," he said. "It doesn't matter. I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. That was instilled in me at a young age. The best ability is availability – just being able to be versatile and do whatever the team needs you to do.

"This is a high culture program. The standard is the standard here. You have a bunch of guys who want to get better, a bunch of guys who have the right mentality, a group of guys who really want to win."

Lassiter explained why his nickname is "K3." It's not his uniform number. Tank Dell wears No. 3. Lassiter is No. 14.

"All my guys call me that," he said about K3. "Growing up, my nickname was 'Mari.' I was always 'Lil Mari.' Now my family calls me 'K3.' They call my mom 'K1,' my pops 'K2' and I'm 'K3.' That's always going to be with me."

K3 was asked if he had a wow moment during the offseason program.

"Yeah, I had a wow moment," he said. "I was getting some water, and I was like, 'Dang, I'm really playing for the Houston Texans.' This was my dream. I'm getting to play football at the highest level (and) it's a great feeling."

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