Texans want C.J. Stroud to 'earn' starting job

C.J. Stroud won’t throw his first official NFL pass until later this week during the Texans’ rookie minicamp.

And the first-round draft pick and former Ohio State consensus All-American won’t really start competing in earnest for the starting quarterback job before he’s joined on the practice field by veteran passers Davis Mills, last year’s starter, and experienced backup Case Keenum.

Before Stroud, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, can achieve QB1 status, he’ll need to prove he deserves to run the first-string offense. Although it’s regarded as only a matter of time for that ascension, Stroud won’t simply be handed the opportunity as the Texans start their rookie minicamp Friday.

“I think that’s up to him and how he plays and the coaches, how they see him,” chairman and CEO Cal McNair said during the Texans’ 20th annual charity golf tournament as more than $415,000 was raised for charities the team supports, including the Boys & Girls Club, Houston Food Bank and YMCA. “He’ll earn his spot, wherever that is. And he’ll feel like he’s earned it, and the team will feel like he’s earned wherever he winds up.”

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Rancho Cucamonga native succeeded Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields as the Buckeyes’ starter and he emerged as an All-Big Ten Conference selection after beating out Quinn Ewers, who transferred to Texas, and other blue-chip quarterback prospects.

In two seasons for Ohio Stawte, Stroud went 21-4 as the starter and passed for 8,123 yards, 85 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He passed for 3,340 yards, 37 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. In his first season as the starter, he passed for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and six interceptions. 

Drafted second overall, one spot before the Texans selected Alabama star pass rusher Will Anderson Jr., Stroud emerged as the pick after being regarded as a long shot to join the AFC South franchise for the majority of the draft process. The Texans conducted significant due diligence on Stroud in the final days and weeks before the draft, according to league sources, before deciding on the California native, and had a collaborative process.

They don’t regret their decision. There’s a lot of excitement surround Stroud’s arrival.

“Throughout the entire process, you just continue to grow more and more in love with the guy,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “It’s just who he is as an outstanding young man: smart guy, competitive guy. I’m excited to start to work with him.

By adding a potential franchise quarterback and a defensive cornerstone, the Texans are optimistic they’ve obtained foundational pieces to their rebuild.

McNair reiterated Monday what he said during the draft, emphasizing that he and his wife, Texans foundation vice president Hannah McNair, didn’t influence the selection process. They relied on Texans general manager Nick Caserio and personnel department executive James Liipfert, the team’s assistant director of player personnel and director of college scouting.

“Hannah and I don’t make the picks, we’ll make it clear there,” Cal McNair said “We have a great group of scouts led by Nick and James Liipfert, and they did a lot of work on the draft board. Then, they followed that on draft day, and they moved up when they saw the value was there and moved back.”

During the draft, McNair was emphatic that there was autonomy from Caserio and Ryans in the evaluation and decision-making process.

“I was a little less involved than in the coaching search,” McNair said. “That’s real specialized. It wasn’t in the last month they woke up and started looking at Will Anderson or C.J. They’ve been watching them, literally, for years.

“They know them so well, know their teammates, know their coaches, know their high school coaches probably. There’s so much that goes into it that you have to let these guys do their job and they did it.”

For Stroud to win the job, he’ll have to beat out Mills, who struggled at times last season and was replaced for two games by Kyle Allen before winning the position back, and Keenum, a former University of Houston standout who has played sparingly in recent years.

“I think all the guys that have been here are improving and getting better,” Ryans said “C.J., we expect him to come in and do the same thing: continue to improve and get better. And we’ll see where things go come August.”

When new Texans starting right offensive guard Shaq Mason was playing for the New England Patriots, they had a rookie starter. Just as Mac Jones had to beat out Cam Newton to win the position, it’s up to Newton to prove himself to his new teammates.

“One thing I can take from that and pass along to C.J. is that rookie (quarterbacks) have to put in a little more than everybody else on the team,” Mason said. “That’s just kind of how that worked out. Mac had a good amount of success his rookie year. I think C.J. will have a good amount of success, and I know he’s willing to put the time and effort in.”

When Stroud was a freshman at Ohio State, the former three-star recruit beat out Ewers, now the University of Texas starter. He wasn’t the favorite to win the job initially.

Along with Anderson, Stroud is looking forward to earning his playing time.

“Will hit it on the nail,” Stroud said. “What we want to do, we want to start from the ground up. Everything that we’re going to get, it’s going to be earned. We’re going to put our head down and work, and make sure that we grind and we show dues and we’re willing to listen before we talk. 

“We want to definitely be of course a big part of this rebuild, which I wouldn’t even say that because you look at this team, you see a lot of guys who fight their tails off every game, and I watched all last season. I’m definitely excited to get started with these boys.”

For the Texans, it’s been a difficult past few seasons. They’ve gone a combined 11-38-1 during that span in the past three seasons under coaches Lovie Smith, David Culley, Bill O’Brien and interim coach Romeo Crennel.

The Texans have invested in free agents, including tight end Dalton Schultz, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and free safety Jimmie Ward this offseason.

“I think it’s a better roster this year, very competitive,” McNair said. “They want to have competition spots on the roster. So, I see a lot of progress, a lot of good things.”

Turning serious during the draft, Hannah McNair captured the upbeat mood surrounding the franchise in the building and on social media.

“The buzz is so incredible,” Hannah McNair said. “The energy is great, can’t wait to see the stadium full. I know it seems like it just turned a corner today, but we have been working on this for quite some time. It’s just nice to see it all come to fruition.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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