ROOKIE QB WAT­SON IMPRESSES TEX­ANS

O’Brien says work ethic shines through

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - NFL - Lorenzo Reyes “It’s very early, but he’s a good, smart guy,” Tex­ans coach Bill O’Brien says of rookie quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son, above.

WHITE SUL­PHUR SPRINGS, W.VA Fri­day was the first full­padded prac­tice of the year for the Hous­ton Tex­ans, and coach Bill O’Brien had some­thing he wanted to see.

He scripted a full-team, goalline pe­riod and placed the ball at the 3-yard line.

“I know we have padded drills where we don’t bring guys to the ground,” O’Brien shouted as he stood at the line of scrim­mage, sand­wiched be­tween the of­fense and the de­fense. “This is not that. This is L-I-V-E.”

This was the first ac­tion that re­sem­bled NFL game speed for rookie quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son.

“That was fast,” Wat­son said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, when asked what his big­gest sur­prise has been. “Things were mov­ing.”

The big ques­tion fac­ing the Tex­ans as they con­duct train­ing camp at The Green­brier re­sort re­volves around speed, but of a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety. Just how quickly will Wat­son blos­som into the fran­chise quar­ter­back the team en­vi­sions he will be­come?

“I just play my role,” the rookie said. “Be the best that I can be, and when the op­por­tu­nity comes up, take ad­van­tage of it.”

Wat­son’s sur­prise at how swift live ac­tion was served as a re­minder he has a long way to go. And as he has done since he was drafted, Wat­son’s com­ments about his sta­tus on the team have been per­fectly scripted to elim­i­nate drama.

Still, Hous­ton is a team com­ing off con­sec­u­tive AFC South ti­tles, and, equipped with one of the top de­fenses in the NFL, the Tex­ans should again com­pete for a play­off berth. So though O’Brien has re­peat­edly said in­cum­bent fourth-year pro Tom Sav­age will be the starter, it’s un­cer­tain how long his leash will be with a tal­ented young backup on the bench.

When asked di­rectly if he felt he was com­pet­ing for the start­ing job, Wat­son re­peated the same an­swer about play­ing his role, al­most ver­ba­tim.

“It’s very early, but he’s a good, smart guy,” O’Brien said of Wat­son on Fri­day. “He works hard, good com­mu­ni­ca­tor, loves foot­ball, in here all the time. He gets his food, goes up to the meet­ing room to watch tape on his own. So does Tom. But for a young player, he’s a ma­ture guy.”

Sav­age re­placed for­mer Tex­ans quar­ter­back Brock Osweiler in a Week 15 game last sea­son against the Jack­sonville Jaguars af­ter Osweiler threw his sec­ond first-half in­ter­cep­tion. Sav­age led the Tex­ans to a 21-20 come­from-be­hind vic­tory. He then be­came the starter for the last two weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son but suf­fered a con­cus­sion in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale that kept him out of Hous­ton’s two play­off games.

“I’m not go­ing to re­ally sit back and say it’s real spe­cial, be­cause I have to go out there and I have to earn it,” Sav­age said Wed­nes­day of his cur­rent spot as a starter. “I know how fast this can be taken from me, and you have to earn it every day, all the way un­til the last game.”

And though the play­ers have dif­fer­ent skill sets, the one thing O’Brien vowed not to do dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son was to shuf­fle them in and out in a two-quar­ter­back sys­tem.

“No, I’m not go­ing to do that,” he told USA TO­DAY Sports on Sat­ur­day. “I’ve done that be­fore. I’m not go­ing to al­ter­nate quar­ter­backs in and out of there.

“I don’t think that’s good for the team. I think Tom is hav­ing a re­ally good camp. He’s got good com­mand of our of­fense. He’s throw­ing the ball re­ally well, good con­nec­tion with our re­ceivers right now.

“And De­shaun, for a rookie, has re­ally come a long way. He has got­ten bet­ter every day, and I think that room is just a re­ally good com­pet­i­tive room right now.”

MICHAEL SHROYER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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