Texans to start C.J. Stroud, play more against Dolphins

As he continues to exclusively run the first-team offense in practice, Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud will start his second consecutive preseason game Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins at NRG Stadium.

Stroud completed 2 of 4 passes for 13 yards with one interception on a late throw against the New England Patriots.

The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and second overall pick from Ohio State is expected to play more extensively against the Dolphins, more than the two series he did against the Patriots in his NFL debut last week.

“All of our players will see time in the game,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “That’s how we’ll go about it. C.J. will go out first ‚as he did last week and we’ll judge the game as it goes along.”

It was a rough initiation into the NFL for Stroud as he endured a learning experience while operating behind a makeshift offensive line missing starters Laremy Tunsil, Shaq Mason and Tytus Howard and Pro Bowl alternate running back Dameon Pierce also rested for precautionary reasons.

Before being replaced by Davis Mills, Stroud played two sputtering series as the offense failed to gain any traction. He had a substandard 17.7 passer rating. And he rushed twice for six yards, showing a willingness and capability to scramble when things broke down. Stroud was also sacked once, dropped to the ground by defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale. He played 11 plays, and the offense gained 13 yards in his two series.

“Natural thrower of the football,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “He has an aura of confidence.”

The pass protection was definitely shoddy for Stroud as he lined up in the backfield behind left tackle George Fant, who has been lining up at right tackle with Howard sidelined after undergoing surgery to repair two broken bones in his hand with metal hardware inserted, left guard Kenyon Green, rookie center Juice Scruggs, right guard Michael Deiter and right tackle Austin Deculus.

The Texans are doing everything they can to get Stroud ready for the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

While having the first-string offensive personnel will obviously provide a boost for Stroud, the California native will also need to absorb the lessons gained from this uneven debut. The Texans, including coach DeMeco Ryans and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, have recognized how Stroud doesn’t repeat mistakes.

The hope from the Texans organization is that Stroud will rebound strongly from this performance and reverse the fortunes of the offense

“He was awesome,” Slowik said. “His game mentality is phenomenal. He’s a competitor. He knew the plan we had for him going into it and he didn’t want to come out. He was begging for another series, which I understand. That’s what you want. You want someone really hungry that wants to play.

“He knew exactly what happened when he came off the field. He saw it, which is pretty good for a rookie quarterback, and he knew exactly what he had to do to fix it. He was ready to go. I couldn’t ask for anything other than that.”

While operating the starting offense at training camp, Stroud has displayed poise, accuracy, arm strength, composure and a resiliency when he’s made mistakes including a rough three-interception stretch in two days earlier in camp. The California native has also shown a thirst for knowledge, quizzing defensive players and coaches about coverage schemes and philosophies.

Stroud immediately recognized what he did wrong against the Patriots on the interception by Jalen Mills.

“Just trust my eyes,” Stroud said. “I saw a certain look to where I knew on film that they could run that to where the safety, if his man blocks that he’ll come off and really be locked into my eyes. Just lost track of that, and just forced it and should have just checked it down.

“But it was a great play, by kind of just hiding out, he was kind of ducking low, so I didn’t really see him. I thought I threw a good pass, but, of course, it wasn’t. Hell of a play and just put that in my back pocket and learn from it.”

From winning the starting job at Ohio State as he beat out several blue-chip recruits to replace Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields to matching wits with the eventual national champion Georgia Bulldogs and their ultra-talented defense in a playoff game to how he has handled the competition he’s clearly winning over Mills, nothing has been too big for Stroud at any stage of his football career.

Signed to a four-year, $36.3 million contract that includes a $23.3 million signing bonus all paid upfront, Stroud got off to a fast start at training camp.

The Texans had taken a lot of steps to prepare Stroud for this opportunity to start. They have downplayed expectations and not done anything to place undue pressure on the former Buckeyes star.

Stroud could still galvanize an offense that was overly dependent on Pierce a year ago. Mills was intercepted 15 times a year ago with three returned for touchdowns, 17 touchdowns, a 78.8 passer rating and a 3-10-1 record as a starter. He was replaced at one point by journeyman Kyle Allen. Mills has played well, for the most part, at camp. He hasn’t played to Stroud’s level, though.

“He’s a very competitive kid,” Slowik said of Stroud. “He didn’t want that to be the end, which I understand. But his demeanor was awesome. He was very calm. He was able to talk through the mistakes that happened. He was able to talk through other people’s mistakes that people may not know happened and he was ready to improve upon them if given the opportunity.”

The Texans have communicated that they want Stroud to earn the starting job and ascend to QB1 status. Nothing has been handed to him.

What Stroud hasn’t done is press. He wasn’t immediately named the starting quarterback the way that the Carolina Panthers did with top overall pick Bryce Young. If that bothers Stroud, it’s not evident in his words or body language. If anything, he’s exactly on the same page with the Texans’ coaching staff. The goal: get him ready to start on the road in the first game of the regular season against the Ravens.

The way that Stroud performed at Ohio State, the way he earned scholarship offers after excelling in Elite 11 competitions against Young, his friend. It all suggests that he’s ready to take the next step.

“It’s about accountability,” Stroud said. “Just being accountable for myself and my mistake and learning from it. I’ve thrown a couple interceptions and I’ve thrown a couple touchdowns, and you don’t ever want to ride the highs or ride the lows. You want to just stay even-keeled.

“That’s what I plan to do is just learn from everything, learn from the good and the bad. I have a bunch of vets in there to help me every day with that type of stuff, and all of them are having nothing but great things to say, that I handled it well. It’s not easy to come to New England as a rookie and go in there and try to execute, but they felt like I did a decent job at that, so I’ve just got to keep growing.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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