WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Tom Savage is Houston’s starting quarterback for now, but coach Bill O’Brien is keeping a keen eye on rookie Deshaun Watson, charting his progress as the Texans prepare for their season opener.
When the Texans traded up 13 picks to take Watson 12th overall in this year’s draft many assumed that the Clemson standout would immediately move into the starting role.
Instead the Texans insisted that Savage was their starter and have operated that way throughout training camp with the third-year player getting the bulk of the snaps with the first team.
That hasn’t stopped coach Bill O’Brien from being questioned about Watson and his progress every day.
Sometimes he’ll talk about the rookie quarterback, but often he steers his comments back to his starting quarterback.
“I think we have a really good situation here,” O’Brien said. “We have Tom. He’s had a good camp. He’s thrown the ball well, he’s done some good things ... but Deshaun’s had a good camp, too, so it’s been very productive for both guys.”
The interest in Watson was already high after he became the first quarterback the Texans drafted in the first round since taking David Carr with the first overall pick in their first season.
But interest got even higher after he threw for 179 yards and ran for a touchdown after taking over for Savage in Houston’s preseason opener against the Panthers last week.
While O’Brien often deflects questions about Watson, he did admit that he was one of the best rookie quarterbacks he’s coached and said he often does the little things a quarterback needs to do to be successful.
“He’s ahead of where some rookies I’ve been around have been,” O’Brien said. “I’ve seen him be able to do that. I think he needs to do it more consistently, but he works very hard to get it right. If he doesn’t get it right away on the field, he goes into the meeting room and tries to fix it.”
Watson, who threw for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns last season to lead Clemson to a national title, believes he’s made a lot of progress since joining the Texans, but is still looking to get much better.
“Honestly, in the spring I knew what I was doing but at the same time my head was swimming,” he said.
“But whenever I step on the field today, I can go out there and control the offense and do what they ask me to do and make good decisions, fast. I’m just trying to improve in all areas and continue to do that.”
Whether it’s Savage or Watson who starts, the Texans are looking for consistency at the position after starting eight different players there since 2014.
They thought they’d found the solution to their quarterback woes when they signed Brock Osweiler to a $72 million contract before last season, but he was benched for Savage late in the season before being traded to Cleveland in March.
Savage has shown potential in limited action, but it’s hard to know exactly what he can do after he’s appeared in just five games with two starts in his two-year career.
He likes the way his offense, led by receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running back Lamar Miller, is coming together and knows getting most of the snaps with the first team in camp has helped him improve.
“It’s different just because I’m getting the reps against the ones, with the ones. That’s been huge for me,” he said. “Just knowing that I can go out there and I can do this and I can take over for this team and handle it.”
Savage, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass in a regular-season game, is certainly aware that many people outside of the organization would like to see Watson under center when Houston opens the season on Sept. 10 against the Jaguars. But he has too many other things to think about to worry about that.
“I’m out there competing and that makes both of us better,” he said. “So, we just have to keep going with that. At the end of the day, both of us, we want to win, so we let the coaches handle the rest and we’ll go out there and focus on what we can control.”