C.J. Stroud looked extremely natural as he dropped back from under center, executing a crisp play-action fake before finding rookie wide receiver Tank Dell for a sideline completion and first down.
There weren’t any signs of true awkwardness from a quarterback who spent the majority of his college career operating out of the shotgun formation.
In his second full-team practice in the NFL, the Texans’ rookie quarterback definitely shows he belonged. While the Texans and Stroud want him to earn the starting job as he ran the second-team offense Tuesday while incumbent Davis Mills worked with the starters, the second overall pick of the draft from Ohio State is expected to ultimately ascending to QB1 status.
That day is likely coming, perhaps even before the first game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens. For now, though, it’s all about the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist absorbing the offense, continuing to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches and finding his way in the NFL.
“This team has been very accepting of me, very honest, and very transparent,” Stroud said. “What I love about it, man, nothing has been given to me. I have to earn everything, which I love. It’s been like that my whole career, so it’s nothing new.”
Stroud had his moments during the Texans’ organized team activity. He also had a pass batted away by veteran safety Eric Murray. He didn’t throw any interceptions.
Process and progress are more important right now than Stroud’s place on the depth chart.
“For me, I’m trying to get better,” Stroud said. “It’s not about being with the ones, being with the twos, just getting better. That’s what spring is for. Getting the timing down. Learning my receivers.
“That’s what I’ve been on. It’s not about ones and twos right now, just getting better as a whole and getting ready for training camp. Som that’s been a blessing.”
And Stroud, drafted by the Texan one selection after Alabama quarterback Bryce Young went to the Carolina Panthers first overall, has made a great first impression on the Texans.
They like what they’re seeing from him so far and are eager to chart his growth.
“C.J. has been the same from the draft process to now,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “Hard worker, very intelligent guy and a true competitor. He’s been the exact same guy. Nothing has changed. Excited to see him out on the field working with his teammates. C.J. has been doing an excellent job these past couple days.
“The process with all our players is to come out, improve, and get better each day. When the fall comes, that’s when we’ll talk about starters and who are the best 11 men to go out there and help us win games.”
After practice, Stroud approached the defensive backs, including second-year safety Jalen Pitre. He was seeking their advice, wanting to learn about what he can do better.
“A real professional,” Pitre said. “Every day he’s looking for something to get better at. Asking different things we’re seeing and different ways he can get better. It’s a real professional in C.J., and you could see why he was drafted so high because he really cares about the game of football.”
For Stroud, a 21-year-old native of Rancho Cucamonga, California, it’s about proving himself all over again at a higher level.
Just as he beat out blue-chip recruits like Quinn Ewers for the Buckeyes’ coveted starting job, he’s competing once again for his spot.
“Of course, it’s a dream come true, and of course I’ve been working for it my whole life, but I feel like I’m built for this,” Stroud said. “I’m made not just to play football, but to use football to help inspire people and lead people to God. That’s what I plan to do.
“It’s just a stepping stone. I have a lot more goals and a lot more plans to accomplish what I want to accomplish on and off the field, and I’m excited to do that with this great organization.”
Because the Texans are still in install mode with first-time offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s version of the Kyle Shanahan-Gary Kubiak offensive system, it’s difficult to make lasting impressions from one practice.
Stroud primarily threw short to intermediate passes. He flashed his trademark accuracy that allowed him to complete 69.3 percent of his throws for Ohio State.
“I would say a good leader already coming in, vocal, speaking up in meetings, being able to sit with him at times in the quarterback meetings and hearing him ask some great questions, trying to pick apart the offense and grasp it pretty early,” veteran wide receiver Robert Woods said. “Out on the field, making some strong throws, good reads, good decisions. That’s really a good thing to start with a rookie quarterback coming in, being able to make the right decisions, know when to throw it, know when to pull it down. Good decisions on timing and accuracy with the football.”
Stroud passed for 8,123 yards, 85 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions for the Buckeyes, going 21-14 in two seasons as the starter.
Now, he could become the Texans’ most dynamic quarterback since they traded Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns.
“I’ve done a decent job so far, but I’ve got to keep growing every day,” Stroud said. “It’s not going to be overnight. I’m going to have growing pains and things like that, but I think they’re putting things around… the quarterbacks to be successful and lead this team to win.”
Stroud has been building his relationship with Ryans, a former Pro Bowl linebacker with the Texans and NFL Assistant Coach of the Year with the San Francisco 49ers.
“He’s just been great, very vocal,” Stroud said. “He’s really funny, too. It’s cool to have a coach who’s not all stuck up all the time or like super mad. He’s been amazing, though. Very transparent. Communication has been great. He’s going to be a great head coach.”
And Stroud has been learning a lot from Slowik and quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson, who coached him previously at Elite 11.
“They’ve been very methodical and want to get me to learn it step by step, just like how they would teach anybody else,” Stroud said. “I feel like I’ve tried to do a lot of work on my own, so when I come back the next day, I have that to put in the bank to be able to move on to the next install, whatever it is.
“Bobby and Jerrod have done a great job. Coach Slow is a great young mind and an amazing play caller. Excited to work with him and Jerrod, who, of course, I worked with before. It’s exciting to be back and see a similar face and just get more in depth with what he knows about the game and the knowledge he brings.”
Stroud attended the NFL Players Association Rookie Premiere last weekend. That included spending time with businessman Michael Rubin, legendary quarterback Tom Brady and musician Travis Scott.
“It was amazing,” Stroud said. “It was a blessing.”
The best advice Stroud has received is beautiful in its simplicity.
‘The one thing that kind of sticks out for me is keep the main thing the main thing,” Stroud said. “If you take care of football, then everything will take care of itself.”
NOTES: Several players didn’t practice, including wide receiver John Metchie III (strained hamstring), defensive tackle Thomas Booker (groin), defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway (hamstring), linebacker Denzel Perryman (labrum surgery) and offensive guard Kenyon Green (arthroscopic knee surgery, shoulder). Not attending the voluntary workouts: offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, offensive tackle Greg Little, cornerback Steven Nelson, defensive tackles Maliek Collins and Sheldon Rankins, tight end Dalton Schultz. “He’s doing well,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said of Green. “Getting stronger day by day, so encouraged with where Kenyon is.” Metchie is expected to make a full recovery by training camp. “Metchie is doing great, Metchie is working on his goal to get back by training camp,” Ryans said. “Get him back to football. We’re right on the correct path with him.” ..... Rookie wide receiver Tank Dell, a third-round draft pick from the University of Houston, is making a big impression with his explosive routes. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone get in and out of cuts like Tank before,”r quarterback Davis Mills said. “He’s very explosive.” ... Ryans was noncommittal on whether the team will pursue free agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a former Texans top overall pick. “We always look at any players that can help us win,” Ryans said. “We’ll explore all options. I’ll never thrown anyone off the table. Everything is an option for me.” .
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.