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HOUSTON (AP)With just one win after five games, the Houston Texans appear destined for a third straight dismal season.

There is, however, some good news about this year’s team that should give fans hope. Houston (1-3-1) has a great rookie class featuring several players who have already made an impact.

”Our young players are getting better weekly, and they haven’t reached their potential yet,” coach Lovie Smith said.

Leading that group is running back Dameon Pierce. The fourth-round pick from Florida has 412 yards rushing, which is the most by a rookie in franchise history through five games and ranks fifth in the NFL. It’s the third most by any player in team history, trailing two years by Texans career leading rusher Arian Foster, who had 546 yards through five games in 2010 and 532 in 2012.

General manager Nick Caserio has been impressed with Pierce’s early production but said what has stood out to him the most is the player’s work ethic.

The Texans, who have a bye this week before hosting Las Vegas on Oct. 23, give their players every Monday off. This Monday, a day after running for 99 yards and the team’s only touchdown to lead Houston to its first win, Pierce was at the stadium working. Caserio saw him in the weight room squatting 425 pounds.

”People wonder why is he successful on the field,” Caserio said. ”Well, he’s successful because he works hard, he’s got the right attitude, he’s a good teammate, he trusts the people around him, he gives credit to his teammates, the offensive line, to the tight ends, doesn’t make it about himself.”

His performance has helped the Texans average 99.2 yards rushing per game, which is tied for 22nd in the league. That might not seem like much, but it’s a major improvement for a team whose running game ranked last in the NFL in 2021 and 31st two years ago.

Smith, who’s in his first season as Houston’s head coach after being promoted from defensive coordinator, was asked how Pierce is stacking up in the rookie of the year race.

”I haven’t seen all of the rookies out there,” Smith said. ”I just know that our rookie, we’ve loved him from the start. It’s not a bandwagon-type thing. We believed in this guy and what he can do. He’s letting other people kind of see it a little bit.”

Two of Houston’s other top rookies are cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safety Jalen Pitre. Stingley, taken third overall, and Pitre, a second-round pick, have both started each game this season and made big contributions.

Pitre has two interceptions and a sack, and his 39 tackles are second-most by a rookie in the NFL and most by a rookie in franchise history through five weeks.

Stingley has 30 tackles and made his first career interception last Sunday, picking off Trevor Lawrence in the end zone in the win over Jacksonville.

Caserio likes what he’s seen from the two, but knows they still have a long way to go.

”They’ve played a lot of football prior to arriving here in Houston,” he said. ”I know it’s college … but they’ve played a lot of football. I think they’re learning a lot. I think there’s certain things that they can do better. They’ll admit that.”

Offensive lineman Kenyon Green, the 15th overall pick, has also been coming along after missing significant time in camp after sustaining a concussion. He came off the bench in the opener but has started the last four games and has improved each week.

”For Dameon Pierce to run like that, Kenyon Green needs to do something pretty good up front, which we continue to do,” Smith said.

While the rookies have provided bright spots, the team has struggled overall. Quarterback Davis Mills hasn’t progressed in his second year and has failed to finish several close games. He has just five touchdown passes with four interceptions.

Caserio said Mills must improve but has also challenged each player to take it upon themselves to do more after the break to help turn things around.

”Reality is you get what you earn in this league, and we’ve earned 1-3-1, so it’s not good enough,” he said. ”We’ve got a lot of work in front of us. I think everyone is accountable of that. In the end, all of us have to be better, we need to be better.”

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