In a preseason game generally reserved for starters, the Texans rookies made big plays in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams, in the 34-24 win over Arizona.
First-round draft pick Will Fuller led the wide receivers with three catches for 67 yards and a touchdown. Fuller, who caught a 26-yard score in the second quarter, has scored in back-to-back preseason games and has led the wide receivers in yards receiving.
"Fuller is a good player, he's a smart player," head coach Bill O'Brien said after the game. "He understands route running. He understands coverage."
Braxton Miller also had three receptions, including back-to-back catches on the first offensive series for five and 18 yards to give the Texans possession on Arizona's one-yard line.
"I think he (Fuller) was very well coached at Notre Dame, as was Braxton Miller at Ohio State," O'Brien said. "Those guys were very well coached. I think that says a lot. When you get guys from those types of college programs that have been exposed to some really good coaching, that helps you when you get them as rookies."
On special teams, Tyler Ervin had two kickoff returns for 78 yards. His 58-yard return in the second quarter marked the longest kickoff return by the Texans this preseason. The short field set up Brock Osweiler's touchdown pass to Fuller just four plays later. Ervin also rushed for 13 yards on two carries and caught one pass for 20 yards.
Drafted because of his contributions on special teams and versatility on offense, Ervin has worked his way back after missing time earlier this offseason.
"I was happy to see, that because I told the coaches last night that I really wanted to see him more," O'Brien said. "I think, here's a guy that was injured during the spring. He had a quad pull, so he missed all of OTAs, so this is really kind of his OTA, if that makes sense, because he missed the whole spring. I thought it was good to see him really go out there and do a couple things tonight that were pretty decent."
Safety K.J. Dillon led the team with eight tackles on defense, a preseason single-game high for the Texans. The fifth-round pick out of West Virginia has also made big improvements since OTAs, focusing on his playbook and taking care of his body, he said.
"In the spring when you're not wearing pads, those players don't always stand out to you," O'Brien said. "But when the pads come on sometimes certain players like a K.J., that's the type of player he is. He's a padded player. He's a contact player, so I thought that there were some good tackles that he made out there today."
Three undrafted rookies were involved in plays resulting in takeaways. Defensive end Joel Heath recovered a fumble in the third quarter. The turnover was a result of a strip sack by linebacker Brennan Scarlett on Matt Barkley deep in Arizona territory.
Cornerback Terrance Mitchell intercepted Barkley in the fourth quarter to give Houston its third interception of the game and fourth takeaway. The ensuing drive resulted in 42-yard field goal to give the Texans a ten-point lead.
"I think everybody coaches it – I'm not saying we have the market cornered on taking the ball away – but we spend a lot of time talking about that," O'Brien said. "We show a lot of clips from around the league and we really are big believers in the turnover/takeaway margin. That really equals winning and losing. If you can win that battle, the field position battle, the turnover/takeaway battle, the penalty battle, the third down battle, you've got a real shot to win games."
The (3-0) Texans will travel to AT&T Stadium to face the Dallas Cowboys in the final game of the 2016 preseason on Thursday night.
Check out the best photos during #TexansGameday vs. the Cardinals.