Texans rookie C.J. Stroud accuracy draws praise

When C.J. Stroud smoothly rolled out on a bootleg and delivered a perfectly placed spiral to wide receiver Noah Brown for a sideline completion and first down a week ago, it signaled more than just a nice play from the Texans rookie quarterback.

The strike from the California native against the Miami Dolphins displayed one of his top qualities as a quarterback: accuracy.

As the Texans’ projected and soon to be official QB1, the second overall pick from Ohio State can make throws other passers aren’t capable of. That’s what sets him apart. And it’s one of the reasons why he was so successful for the Buckeyes as a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist as one of the most accurate quarterbacks in college football.

That ability to place the football exactly where it has to be is a special trait. And how Stroud did that against the Miami Dolphins on his connection to Brown is a textbook example of making a winning throw. Another sterling example: his completion to Robert Woods for another first down as one of five consecutive completions after a rough start that included a delay of game penalty.

“Does the ball go exactly where he wants it to go? In C.J.’s case, it usually does,” Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik said. “Something as little as if we’re sitting down on an over route and the ball is at our chest compared to at our facemask, in the NFL, that’s a big difference.

“I would say even the throw he had to Noah on the third down, where he spun out of the pocket in that last game, I thought that was an excellent throw. He kept it low in case there were any traffic issues, the guys showing up and it was still catchable. They were pinpoint throws.”

In college, Stroud went 21-4 in two seasons as the starter as he completed 69.3 percent of his throws for 8,123 yards, 85 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a 187.2 passer rating.

“The ability to see things before they’re happening, to anticipate, that’s something that I pride myself on is putting the ball where it needs to be and having my receivers do little to no work to catch it,” Stroud said. “Most of that comes with timing and chemistry. Just trying to build that lately.

“I feel like every day, every week, we’re making strides. Progress from (organized team activities) to now is night and day. I think that they’ve done a great job of putting a lot on my plate early so I can be comfortable. I’m making a lot of great strides. It’s a million-step journey.”

After completing 2 of 4 passes for 13 yards with one interception as he stared down rookie wide receiver Tank Dell and threw it far too late against the New England Patriots, Stroud rebounded strongly against the Dolphins. In a 28-3 loss, he was a bright spot along with rookie defensive end and fellow first-round draft pick Will Anderson Jr. Stroud completed 7 of 12 passes for 60 yards. Most importantly, he took care of the football.

“Yeah, it was definitely steps,” Slowik said. “You could see the body still was moving fast. The mind definitely slowed down compared to the first game, which is what you need to have at the quarterback position. He was able to go through his reads, go through his progressions. He still had an aggressive mindset, which we want at that position.

“He was reading, seeing the field well. He commanded the huddle well. It was definitely a step in the right direction. As always, in the preseason, there’s stuff we have to fix, there’s stuff we have to clean up, but significantly improved. Even just mentally.”

For the Texans coaching staff, what has stood out about Stroud is how he makes consistently impressive throws. Although he’s still a work in progress, they can see a lot of signs about his ability and skills.

That includes defensive coordinator Matt Burke accounting for Stroud in practice.

These are the finer points about the game of football and playing the quarterback position.

“He’s a very accurate passer, the ball goes where he wants it to go,” Burke said after listening to Slowik discuss Stroud. The nuances just showing up of, ‘Is it placed here versus here? It’s literally the difference between putting the ball on a chest and putting the ball on a shoulder, which sort of leads that runner away from wherever the pressure is coming from.

“Our job on defense is to try to tighten up those windows as much as possible. It’s always frustrating if you feel like you’re executing a call and you’re in good coverage and everyone is tight and that play is still made. He’s done a really good job of making some throws. There’s a couple in practice where you’re just scratching your head like, ‘Man, can’t do much about that.’”

The accuracy is something Stroud has worked diligently on since the first time he picked up a football.

“A lot of it is kind of where I was naturally talented at it, I always had touch,” Stroud said. “I always use drills. I just try to push myself in weird ways that people probably think is crazy, but it’s been what I’ve been doing since I was a baby.”

The Texans, unlike the Carolina Panthers with Bryce Young, the top overall pick, and the Indianapolis Colts with Anthony Richardson, have yet to name their rookie quarterback officially as their starter for a regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. The Texans will be the last team in the NFL to officially name their starting quarterback.

That is expected to happen before the opening game. Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said that Stroud will start his third consecutive preseason game. Stroud takes all of the first-team offensive snaps exclusively in practice. The Texans are not shifting gears at this stage of the preseason and going with Davis Mills again as the starter.

Ryans has held off on formally announcing that Stroud will be the opening-game starter, repeatedly said that the identity of the starter will be revealed by the time the Texans begin the season.

“In everybody’s case, we’ll see who earns what,” Ryans said. “And you’ll see our starters in Baltimore.”

It’s a matter of time before Stroud is officially named as the starter. Stroud is patiently waiting, and staying focused on his daily responsibilities.

“I ain’t tripping, just do what’s on my plate,” Stroud said. “I’m not worried about anybody else’s plate. I’ve got to focus on what we’ve got going on in this locker room. And just getting better every day. It’s not about any of that stuff. It’s about competing every day and just getting better. That’s not my job. My job is to go out there and play. I’ve got the fun stuff to do.”

Texans quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson likes what he’s seeing from the second overall pick from Ohio State. Especially the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist’s demeanor and reaction to mistakes.

“Absolutely, he’s a super mature kid,” Johnson told KPRC 2 after the Patriots game. “He has a great foundation. He played a lot of big-time football in college, and it doesn’t seem too big for him.”

Slowik emphasized that the Texans simply want to see continual growth from Stroud. They want him to keep progressing in every facet of the position.

“Keep the mind at a constant state,” Slowik said. “We don’t want a lot of fluctuations, and that’s kind of what I referenced when I said his mind is slowing down and the defensive players slow down and the field just becomes clearer.

“That really happened to him after about play five or play six in this last game. He was able to see and articulate everything that happened on the field immediately after and was very aware, and usually that’s a very big indicator of, ‘Oh, the game has slowed down for him. And the more constant we have that, the more he can put his skills to use.”

Overall, Stroud has completed 56 percent of his throws for 73 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. Mills has completed 55 percent of his passes for 193 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions running the second-team offense.

How he performed against the Dolphins marked a major departure from how Stroud struggled in his NFL debut. It also showed why the Texans will ultimately name him their official starting quarterback.

“The sky is the limit for him,” running back Dameon Pierce said.

This was clearly an encouraging performance for the Texans, especially with the defense unable to stop the Dolphins’ running game and the offense having a sputtering ground attack. It was a solid, albeit unspectacular outing for Stroud, but it’s a foundation he can build on.

“I’m on a million-step journey,” Stroud said. “I’ve got to keep going, accept my faults and keep growing. We have shown some flashes of what we can be. The chemistry and connection are coming together.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Miami Dolphins v Houston Texans

Photo: Logan Riely / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

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