Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us today. I have just departed The Greenbrier where I spent two days watching Texans-Patriots and specifically Deshaun Watson and Tom Savage. This now makes three times I've seen Deshaun play at this level, but you all watch him nearly every day so I'm glad you're joining us.
Let's get started with the obvious question. Bill O'Brien has said a few times now that Watson is ahead of where most, if not all, rookie quarterbacks are by now. Did you think he'd be this good, this quickly?
The thing that has surprised me the most is the extent to which he looks like he fully belongs on the field. Watson appears calm, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Bill O'Brien has mentioned a few times that Watson doesn't make the same mistake twice.
Watson looks like a natural rolling out on the bootleg, play-action type of stuff. He can help out a shaky Texans offensive line by extending plays, which isn't really in Tom Savage's toolbox.
I still want to continue to watch Watson progress, both in practice and in preseason games, to get a full sense of how close he is to starting.
I have watched Watson since he arrived - during rookie mini camp, OTAs, mandatory mini-camp through the first two weeks of camp plus the preseason opener.
One thing I try and do is stay away from Bill O'Brien quotes to influence my thought process and what I see with Watson on the field.
With that said, I compare Watson to other quarterbacks in their first year with the offense. That group includes Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage, and it is clear Watson is ahead of the curve. (I don't count Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett due to them being in the system in New England.)
Feel, decision making and just control of the offense is clear when he is on the practice field. His accuracy can get a little off at times but that is expected. To me, the one thing that has stood out since Watson arrived is how much cleaner his mechanics look with his footwork in the pocket.
Quarterbacks coach, Sean Ryan, and offensive assistant, Pat O'Hara, work endless hours with the quarterback group. The involvement of O'Brien is the biggest difference and coaching the quarterback group the way it should be for the first time since he arrived.
Watson's own ability plus the environment the Texans have made for him has his arrow pointing up.
I'm at a disadvantage this year as though I've followed the team closely from its inception, this is the first year camp has been held away from NRG Stadium and given my schedule, I couldn't make WV work this year. I saw Watson in my own study, OTAs and minicamp and the first preseason game, so this is a bit different for me.
With those caveats, I can say he has some attributes where you can tell he is sharp, hard-working, poised and moves well, not just for a quarterback but for a football player. You get a sense of his game feel. I pay enough attention to pressers to know that he says the things that O'Brien wants him to say, and O'Brien is saying the things that suggest that he is on the right track. That seems like a minor thing but isn't true with some of the revolving door of quarterbacks people wanted to see over the last couple of years.
What I observed is that the Texans are trying to get both him ready and the offense ready, and giving Watson more control as he shows he understands what is required. When prepping your offense, you don't want your rookie quarterback to hold back the practice of the entire offense because he can't call protections right or make the right reads. In practice sessions I saw, a lot of time, the coaches had Watson in Savage's hip pocket, shadowing what Savage was doing. Obviously, they are different players, but the more that Watson can show he can protect his teammates, himself and the ball, the earlier he gets to play.
Ultimately, his skill sets look like something that can win, even with an unsettled offensive line. You saw that some against backups in the first preseason game. Safe. Take some shots. Keep defense honest. It's hard to find good comparables to Watson given his attributes, but setting up the offense similar to what Seattle did paired with their dominant defense seems like a reasonable blueprint. Can he learn enough while having the ability not to get hurt in the process from what he doesn't know yet is the task developing any young quarterback.
Thank you for the invitation to take part in this enlightening and entertaining debate. I'm in a unique situation as I grew up in Florence, SC as a Clemson fan. Over the last decade I've had to allow my allegiance to every professional sports team to die so that I could cover the sports with an unbiased eye. However, Clemson fell in a "gray area" and by "gray area" I mean I'm not giving up my first sports crush, the Clemson Tigers.
All that being said, to point to the fact that I've watched every pass Deshaun Watson threw in college and maybe just as important, I saw how he handled the competition when he arrived at Clemson. Jim Kelly's nephew, Chad Kelly was suppose to be the heir apparent following the Tajh Boyd years. In April of 2014, Kelly was dismissed from Clemson, Watson had arrived to Clemson in January of 2014. Throughout the entire process, Watson went the extra mile to be a part of the QB competition. He was calm, collected and determined.
I also remember Deshaun Watson returning to play Clemson's chief rival the South Carolina Gamecocks...with a torn ACL. This kid will do whatever it takes to be great. I don't believe 2017 is prime for Watson. Let him learn, develop and reward Tom Savage for having more knowledge in this offense than anyone in Houston not named Bill O'Brien. Best case scenario, Savage has a great season, Texans can look at franchise and trade value if Savage boosts his stock that high or they could let him walk and receive upwards of a third round comp pick in 2019.
The Texans have one of the best contingency plans in the NFL at the quarterback position. You lose that if you start Watson week 1. There's no going back to Savage in 2017 if he's benched for Watson. O'Brien was sold as a QB guru, why would the guys who hired O'Brien not see if there was truth to the reasoning behind his hiring? O'Brien personally worked out Savage his first year as the Texans head coach at Pitt's pro day. He's groomed him for three years for this moment.
Oh, some will say that a 4th round pick that was selected 135th overall isn't high enough in the draft to truly gauge how well O'Brien developed his ability due to lack of upside. First off, Dak Prescott was drafted in the 4th round, and to be more specific, he was also the 135th pick overall. Second, Savage was billed as the prototypical, big arm quarterback that will stand in the pocket and look down the barrel of the gun and deliver. He's also seen the coming and going of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett and Brock Osweiler. What did that quartet have in common besides playing in Houston with Savage? They were turnover machines. Savage saw in QB meetings how O'Brien treats turnovers from his QBs. Savage can run the Texans offense exactly the way O'Brien wants him to. Ball control, run first, limit turnovers and chances. Watson is more in a developmental phase with an almost unlimited upside.
So with all that said, what do you consider to be the under/over on when Watson becomes the starting quarterback? Is it Week 5? Week 2? Will he overtake Tom Savage as the Week 1 starter by the end of the preseason?
Personally, I think Watson is Bill O'Brien's Week 1 starter. I didn't believe that in the spring when they took him, because I think that could ruin a young quarterback. But the more I watch Savage pat the ball and be late on decisions and throws, the more I think they're better off to put Watson into the fire and give him the team now.
I know everyone wants this to be a quarterback competition and that is far from what it is. This is about Watson chasing down Savage but this is more than just physical ability. The quarterback in this offense has to get protections set, get in and out of plays, plus makes the reads against NFL defenses.
There is nothing in practice I have seen with my eyes that says it is Deshaun Watson week one. Now that can change but there is no accelerated time table to get Watson on the field for the start of the season.
The Texans need to see what exactly they have in Tom Savage and just a little over 2 games of game snaps is not enough of a sample size. It is clear Savage needs to speed up his internal clock which seems to be his biggest hang up running the offense. There is nothing wrong with rolling with Savage because once Watson gets on the field there is no turning back.
Bill O'Brien will not jeopardize the offense for an unprepared quarterback not knowing adjustments at the line of scrimmage. That is where Savage has the clear advantage over Watson. Savage should, and it is a three year head start in the offense.
I hear it everyday on what the Texans should do with Watson and that is play him. O'Brien will put Watson on the field when he has a complete grasp of the offense. It will happen but I do not think as quick as people want it too.
Patience remains a virtue.
My expectations are that Tom Savage will be the starter week 1 and the expectations will be for him to hold that role for the entire season. That said, if he struggles, gets hurt or Deshaun Watson's continues to display this incredible ability to pick up and learn things so quickly, then his floor becomes higher than Savage's ceiling in 2017.
O'Brien still hasn't received that extension in Houston. He's taken note of other coaches hired at the same time that haven't had three straight winning seasons (all 9-7) with a QB group that was far inferior to those other coaches. O'Brien needs to win in 2017 and if he feels Savage can "Alex Smith" his way to more victories than Watson in 2017, then he'll stick with Savage.
After speaking with a former NFL QB yesterday after he studied Savage and Watson's film, he noted some of the same things I did - Watson is most comfortable playing fast and empty. This was what he played so well in at Clemson. He's a high capacity guy. Quick one-read, timing passes make him look so much more fluid than Savage, but actually, Savage stands in the pocket and gets thru his progressions so much quicker than Watson. This will sound odd to some as the knock on Savage has been holding onto the ball too long. That's in Savage's head. There's times when he goes out there and plays free. Gets cleanly to the 1st, 2nd, and then 3rd read. Other times, like when he was first named starter this offseason and last season, he didn't play free. After a few practices this offseason, he was back to letting it go in practice. Then in the first preseason game we all saw him hold on too long in the pocket. He'll have to show consistency to remain the starter.
Watson is a "read-n-bail" quarterback at this stage. He doesn't move to his 2nd read until he leaves the pocket, predominantly. In my opinion, if Watson's rare ability to pick things up quickly continues, specifically in how it relates to making reads from the pocket and not bailing before he has to, then all of what I said is thrown out the window and he'll be starting in the first quarter of the season (4 games).
My over under would be 3.5 (in between Weeks 3 and 4). I have to admit that I'm a little on the conservative side, but also don't want to completely miss on Watson starting Week 1, which I do believe is a possibility.
The biggest issue with Tom Savage, as Jonathan mentioned, is his internal clock. Watching him in the first preseason game and for three days at the Greenbrier this week, I still find myself often feeling like the ball needs to be out sooner. If Savage has had the entire offseason (and the 3 seasons before that) to learn the offense and work on this, why will it be better in three weeks? This is what I'm wondering.
The Texans offense ranked 30th in Football Outsiders DVOA rankings in 2016, just ahead of the Jets and Rams. In a way, you could argue that this works in Watson's favor. He's good on the run, and will scramble out of sacks, creating the type of plays that aren't necessarily in Bill O'Brien's playbook. His mobility will aid an offensive line that may or may not have Duane Brown at left tackle, and has question marks at LG, RG, and RT.
On the other hand, Houston has a fairly challenging early slate. The Jaguars have a good defense, and should be difficult to throw against, with Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye on the outside. The Texans have a short week, playing the Bengals on the road four days later. Cincinnati's defensive line has given Houston some fits up front, including in their last meeting in Week 16. Ten days later, the Texans are at the Patriots, who have an exceptionally talented secondary and superb coaching. If O'Brien isn't certain about sending Watson out against this type of schedule, he could wait for a likely softer landing ground with TEN/KC/CLE (all home games) before the Texans take a trip to Seattle in Week 8.
To respond to Meltser's question about why to expect it getting better for Savage:
He's thrown less than 100 NFL passes (92). If I remember correctly, when I looked up Peyton Manning's first 100 passes in the NFL he had 3 TDs and 8 INTs. I'm not saying Savage is Peyton Manning, but he doesn't have to be. Can he be the Jets Mark Sanchez during his first two years in the NFL? Took the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championships. During those two postseason runs, Sanchez quarterbacked a team to wins over Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. In 2009, he did it while only averaging 180 passing yards per game. In 2010, he did it while averaging only 205 passing yards.
This Texans defense is built for a run-first, protect-the-ball type of offense, similar to the Jets in 2009-2010.
Savage's time on the field has been slowed in part because of bad decision making. We knew he was not ready his rookie season and he was forced into a Colts game after Ryan Fitzpatrick went down with a broken leg.
His second second, Savage was injured in the final preseason game after a missed block and the Texans made a huge mistake by placing him on the injured reserve and that was clear when it happened. That move left a lot or people scratching their heads. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett imploded that season which would have been the perfect time to see what he had.
I know Jayson and I have had the conversation about Savage last camp with Brock Osweiler. Savage was the best quarterback in training camp but the free agency plunge made the Texans play Osweiler. We know how that story played out and add in a questionable quarterback sneak in a meaningless week 17 game, it has been just a string of bad things happening.
The Texans owe it to themselves to see what Savage is as a player. That is good business for the Texans especially with as much time they have invested in Savage since 2014.
My view is similar to Jayson's.
Every year, Bill O'Brien has had a new quarterback starter. Some came to the offensive scheme cold. None were expected to be great or had a history of greatness. Some prepared in the New England system which is similar. None were familiar with the personnel and system before this year in Tom Savage. You would not expect a player like Savage with less than 100 passes to be a complete work but the calculus of starting changes with Watson being the only quarterback under contract for next year. It is awkward, but ultimately if both play and practice their best it is best for all.
Because O'Brien's offenses with the near do-over each year have become progressively worse, fans are desperate for entertaining offensive football. So showing patience through both Savage's and Watson's learning experiences, particularly with what is projected to be a great defense is hard. Watching Watson's preseason game was wow wow WOW DON'T DIE DON'T DIE WOW.
The things he does the best may not show up as much on the more on-schedule environment of practice. Because in practice you don't know when he would take more risks or be hit because he held on too long. You can guess with all quarterbacks, but the processing is a little different when the stakes are different. I would like to see more of Watson in preseason against better competition. It's hard to manage preseason reps, particularly when even the starting offensive line has question marks. Playing behind a wholly compromised line, in part, got Savage hurt in 2015.
Today at practice, both Savage and Watson faced similar third-and-medium plays. Savage, working with the 1s, found his running back a few yards short of the sticks and threw the ball to the wrong shoulder, almost behind the RB so that he had to stop, and the Pats defender came up for what would have been an easy tackle and force Houston to punt. Later, Watson faced the same down and distance and also had to punt the next play. But in the case of Watson, he threw the ball just in front of his receiver, who was right at the sticks. So he waited for the receiver to get his distance and then tried to lead him. I didn't like Savage taking the easy way out for the completion but what amounted to the end of the series. At least Watson was trying to make a play. Maybe it doesn't mean anything.
Two plays don't make a decision on a quarterback battle, though. But let's not forget the Texans are in this spot after mangling the QB situation last year with that horrendous contract to Brock Osweiler. Now the Texans have had to give away their first- and second-round picks for 2018 to rid themselves of that bad decision and find the guy they want. You can't win in this league without a quarterback--there's no doubt about that. But just how much harm did the Texans do to their long-term future (if any at all) by trading their top picks next year to (hopefully) get this right?
I try not to worry about what they gave up to get out from Brock Osweiler. Heck, they might have given the retractable roof off of NRG Stadium to move Osweiler. The Texans knew they had a problem, tried to solve it with free agency and missed. Instead of waiting to figure it out, they tried again by moving Osweiler and landing the most decorated quarterback in recent college football history.
One note on the picks, the Texans appear to be in position to have three to four compensatory picks for unrestricted free agents leaving for other teams this past season. They will not be a 1st or 2nd rounder but it appears they will have 7-8 picks this next draft and could move up if needed.
The picks situation it took to move Osweiler and land Watson is irrelevant especially if Watson does what everyone expects him to.
Jonathan, I believe the plays you laid out state perfectly how the two will be used differently. Tom Savage would come in as the starter and manage the game. Make the throws he needs to but most importantly, he protects the ball and allows the defense to win the field position battle and give Savage another shot. Savage also throws with incredible anticipation which allows the receivers, mainly DeAndre Hopkins to get the YAC that was left on the field with Brock Osweiler's inaccuracies.
If Watson is named the starter, they are going to use every ounce of his ability. So what's the downside to start him now. If I projected both QBs over a 16-game season in 2017, those projections would have Watson with 10+ more interceptions. Watson can beat defenses at all 3 levels, he's the future, but don't rush the polish.
Pat makes excellent points about the picks. Expecting the highest to be a 3rd rounder for AJ Bouye's departure in free agency. While it hurts any team to not have a first or second rounder, teams can overcome it without a franchise setback. I felt the Rams did that exact thing this year in the draft.
The league is divided up into aging good quarterbacks, promising inconsistent quarterbacks, quarterbacks you do not want to pay to watch. If developing a QB were easy, there would be 32 watchable ones. The mistake the Texans made was years ago with an aging Matt Schaub, not drafting and developing a legitimate, project-to-the-NFL quarterback as a backup. I am certain that Bill O'Brien would like a do-over with the way the quarterback situation was a revolving door since he became head coach.
There are many different probability plays on how to get a franchise quarterback, and some like the Russell Wilson and Tom Brady stories were shades of improbable. There's the view that you keep trying and creating competition until you hit, and then you keep trying because they get injured.
The Osweiler acquisition was just money not draft picks when it was made before the draft. Last year's draft had few ideal QB options for what O'Brien theoretically would like in his quarterbacks. Even so, the extremely poor outcome makes it fair to wonder about process issues in the way that the Texans make some of their free agent and draft evaluations.
Ultimately, the Texans have enough on-going needs they would like those picks back, but the cap flexibility is something they are going to want, given some contracts they are going to need to pay. For me, I try not to think too much about the draft or free agent history of players when evaluating their play on the field. Sunk costs.
Back to the original point about the decision making and how the offense is run with the two current options for the Texans.
O'Brien has shown in the preseason opener he knows the strengths of each quarterback. Savage was asked to operate the offense from the pocket and there was a boot play on the first play of the third series of the preseason opener to settle Savage down.
While the throws created for Watson were ones he was successful with at Clemson. Watson was much more comfortable from the gun and a moving pocket.
They are running the same offense but asked to play to their strengths. There were plenty of questions on whether or not O'Brien could adjust the offense to fit Watson. He actually did more, he adjusted his offense to fit the styles of Savage and Watson.
I feel certain we could all talk about these two and this decision for a while longer, but the fun has to stop at some point. Let me say I really appreciate the insight and depth of knowledge you all offered. I think Houston is going to be a really interesting team this year, and this QB battle is just one piece of it all.
I want to thank all of you for participating, and thank you to all the readers, as well. I'm currently shotgun driving through the West Virginia mountains so before I get sick(er), I'll wrap this up. Cheers!
Truly enjoyed it. Jonathan and Matt, thanks for the invite.
Steph, Mike and Pat, see you this weekend!
Thank you all, this was enjoyable.
My quick last response to Jonathan's last question is that while the Texans did the right thing and invested fully into Deshaun Watson, it took too long to get to this point. I agree with something that Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders has written: Osweiler's deal was the last penalty the Texans paid for not investing much into the QB position in the 2014 NFL Draft. Watson aside, and hopefully he succeeds and wipes all of this out, but this team's process at QB was a combination of bizarre/not nearly good enough from 2013-2016.
Thanks! We'll send you an update as soon as a new conversation starts.