HOUSTON – Walking off the NRG Stadium field, Eli Harold's white jersey was covered in grass stains and field paint.
The San Francisco 49ers rookie looked very much like someone who played extensively in an NFL game.
In fact, Harold played a significant amount of Saturday night's 23-10 loss to the Houston Texans. The outside linebacker was also invovled in one of the top defensive sequences of the game.
Despite the final outcome, the young linebacker was pleased to get the experience under his belt. Getting his first preseason game out of the way was a good thing.
"The biggest takeaway is to go hard all the time," the third-round draft pick said in the visiting locker room. "You can't let the last play get to your head, you have to move on."
Harold saw extensive action in the second and third quarters. When veteran Ahmad Brooks came off the field for Houston's second series, Harold entered the game for what turned out to be a crucial goal-line stand.
The Texans were turned away from the goal-line multiple times in the second quarter. The sequence included goal-line stops on third and fourth downs from the 1-yard line. Harold teamed up with veteran safety Antoine Bethea to make the third-down tackle. It was one of five stops for the rookie linebacker on Saturday.
"I'm so thankful that I was in when it happened," Harold said. "That was arguably the sweetest thing I've ever been a part of. A goal-line stand like that, it defintely goes at the top of my list. That was just amazing for me."
Harold was later in position to sack Texans quarterback Tom Savage, but the 49ers rookie could not quite finish the play.
Even so, Harold said he learned a lot from that particular experience.
"I was so gassed and I felt sorry for myself," the rookie explained. "At the last second I was like, 'Oh, I can get him, I can get him!' If I started the down like how I tried to finish it, then I would have made the play."
Harold said he'll look at the game tape to get better idea of how he could do better next time. Defensive tackle Lawrence Okoye did a good job of collapsing Savage's pocket, stalling the quarterback from making his initial reads. That's when Harold swooped around from the outside and was close to bringing down Houston's third-string signal-caller for a sack.
Although San Francisco finished the game with no sacks on 29 pass attempts, Harold's introduction to NFL football will help him make adjustments before the team's Week 2 preseason matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.
"The physicality was what I expected," Harold said. "Their threes are just as tough as their ones – we're all in the NFL. I expected those guys to come off the ball and be tough, so that was a good experience to start the preseason."