WHITE Sulphur Springs, W.Va. — The Houston Texans are facing an interesting quarterback decision.
Which is actually a heck of a lot better than dealing with a quarterback void, which has been the predicament for them too often in recent seasons.
Coach Bill O’Brien must pick between Tom Savage and rookie Deshaun Watson as the team’s starter. It is an intriguing choice for O’Brien between the relative safety of going with Savage and the wider range of possibilities — both good and bad — of making Watson a starter from his very first NFL opening day.
“Watching him play, he’s got a great future,” New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said after the Patriots and Texans had joint practices over two days here this week. “He’s got all the ability. It was great to meet him. I’ve watched him have so many great games. Pro football players watch a lot of college players because Saturday nights we’re at the hotel and Clemson was on a lot. Obviously they won a lot of big games.”
Brady spoke with Watson following Wednesday’s practice. It remains to be seen if they will meet again on the field in Week 3 of the regular season, when the Patriots and Texans play in Foxborough, Mass.
“The progress since camp has been very, very good,” Watson said this week. “Honestly, in the spring, I knew what I was doing. But at the same time, my head was swimming. But whenever I step on the field today, I can go out there and control the offense and do what he asks me to do and make good decisions fast. So I’m just trying to improve in all areas and continue to do that.”
The safe and easy thing for O’Brien to do would be to go with Savage as the starter to begin the season. O’Brien went to Savage last season when he benched Brock Osweiler late in the regular season, only to go back to Osweiler for the AFC playoffs after Savage suffered a concussion.
Savage would be a fine, middle-of-the-road to somewhat-below-average, non-embarrassing choice as the starter. He would manage the game and allow the Texans’ powerful defense, which ranked first in the league last season even without J.J. Watt and now welcomes back the three-time NFL defensive player of the year, to do the heavy lifting. He probably would be good enough for the Texans to win the AFC South, then make a relatively quick playoff exit.
He would not be good enough for the Texans to compete with the Patriots in a postseason game or vie for AFC supremacy.
Would the Texans reach that level with Watson at quarterback? There’s no certainty that they would, particularly not this season.
But having Watson in the lineup at least would give the Texans a chance to reach elite status, to be a team capable of ousting the Patriots from the playoffs sometime in the next few years. Watson would give the Houston offense a playmaker with the ability to improvise when needed and turn a negative situation into a positive gain. He was a big-game performer in college at Clemson, prospering in consecutive national-championship games against Alabama (the second of which was a victory for the Tigers).
Things could go badly if the Texans make Watson their starter and it turns out that he isn’t up to the task as a rookie, particularly as a pocket passer. They could have the sort of disappointing season that could cost a coach his job. That’s why it’s not an easy, obvious choice for O’Brien. Things could work out splendidly with Watson. Or not so much.
The greatest upside comes with handing the job to Watson as soon as possible and giving him the opportunity to grow and develop into, maybe, the quarterback this franchise long has sought. Too much of Watt’s brilliant career has been wasted playing with offenses led by not-good-enough quarterbacks that couldn’t do their part.
That’s why the Texans signed Osweiler last offseason to a hefty contract in free agency. That’s why they, after the Osweiler gamble failed miserably, were in line to be the landing spot for Tony Romo. That’s why they, after Romo chose retirement and the CBS broadcast booth over the quarterback job in Houston or Denver, traded up in this year’s draft to select Watson 12th overall.
How will you know when Watson is ready to start?
“Honestly I have no idea,” Watson said. “It’s just one of those things where it just kind of clicks and everyone sees it. I’ll feel it. Coach will feel it. But right now I’m just being patient, taking it one day at a time, learning as much as I can.”
That’s the thing. It might not be quite so obvious. O’Brien might have to take a leap of faith. In the meantime, Watson and Savage will duel it out in what they describe as an amicable quarterback competition.
“It’s been awesome,” Savage said this week. “I say it all the time. But it’s just the give and take that we all have. We’re all helping each other out. We want this team to win, and that’s our main focus. We all know that we all could be out there starting. We’re just gonna help each other out and may the best man win.”
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