Say this for Bill O'Brien: For a quarterback guru, the new Houston Texans coach is hardly stuck up on having the prettiest QB of the bunch.
O'Brien seems set to head toward training camp with a seventh round pick from Harvard, a fifth-round pick from North Carolina, an undrafted free agent and a fourth round rookie battling it out to be the Texans' starting quarterback. One thing appears certain — O'Brien is not going to coach by-the-book scared.
There's nothing traditional about the combatants in the Texans' most important position fight of all.
Tom Savage, the University of Pittsburgh quarterback who Houston took in the fourth round of the NFL Draft Saturday, is the newest entrant in what's shaping up (at least for now) as a four-man quarterback battle. When a reporter directly asks if Savage would have to wait a while to get into the mix of competing for the job and maybe even have to sit for an entire season, O'Brien immediately dismisses that notion.
"We’ll just add Tom to the mix and let him get in there and see what he does."
“I don’t know if we think that way . . . " O'Brien says. "When we begin the full minicamps, when the whole team is here, there will be competition at every single position. Quarterback is definitely one of them. The guys that were here last week, they know that.
"They’re competing and they’ve been a great bunch of guys to work with. We’ll just add Tom to the mix and let him get in there and see what he does.”
Savage's certainly taken the long, winding road to competing for an NFL starting job. The 24-year-old attended three different colleges, transferring twice from programs because he wasn't happy with his playing situation. He went 1,024 days without taking a college football snap in the middle of the odyssey.
Now Savage admits those trials and tribulations were largely of his own doing.
It's hard to fault him for the second transfer from Arizona University to the University of Pittsburgh. The coaching staff he went to play for at Arizona got fired before he could play a game (The unforgiving NCAA should allow free transfers in cases of a coaching change.) But the first bolt, leaving Rutgers University after he lost his starting quarterback job, that's on Savage.
"At that time I was just a young, 19-year-old bitter kid who thought that I was entitled to some things," Savage says in a conference call with Houston reporters.
Now he's an experienced college football vet who owns the distinction of being the first quarterback drafted in the Bill O'Brien era.
In the end, Savage could find himself competing against Case Keenum for a job, even The Job. Interestingly, the 26-year-old Keenum recorded a much higher completion percentage (69.4 percent) for his entire college career at the University of Houston than Savage did in the one season at Pittsburgh (61.2 percent) that impressed O'Brien so.
Keenum found himself criticized for holding the ball too long in his half season NFL baptism last season, which is something Savage was also knocked for at Pittsburgh (he got sacked a whopping 43 times last season, most of any quarterback in the FBS). Heck, Keenum and Savage even wear the same number (7). Though presumably as the rookie, Savage will have to change to a different number with the Texans.
Of course, the difference is Savage looks like the NFL's often narrow definition of a quarterback. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 228 pounds. Keenum does not. He's still fighting the senseless QB size obsession in a game where Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are two of the most effective quarterbacks in pro football.
Another departure point between the two No. 7s is that O'Brien and his staff scouted and chose Tom Savage. That might prove to be the most important telling point of all.
Houston Texans Quarterback School
Still, it figures to be a fascinating quarterback battle. With veteran $7.5 million free agent signee Ryan Fitzpatrick (The Harvard Man) arguably the leader in the clubhouse (though O'Brien hasn't said anything publicly indicating that) and the long forgotten T.J. Yates also at least technically still in the mix, there are no shortage of interesting candidates.
And not a pretty boy, Golden Boy quarterback among them.
In the end, Savage could find himself competing against Case Keenum for a job, even The Job.
After a draft in which the Texans clearly became a bigger, stronger, more physical team with general manager Rick Smith, another truth has emerged. No quarterback is going to be anointed and given an easy pass to the starting job by O'Brien. It's almost comical to hear anyone call a draft in which a once-in-a-generation defensive force like Jadeveon Clowney was secured as anything but a resounding success.
The Texans are a much more dangerous team this Sunday morning than they were Thursday afternoon. The absence of a Golden Boy quarterback doesn't erase that. O'Brien's going to make his first quarterback work as hard as everyone else and emerge from a battle. There just might be something to that.
"You look at quarterbacks and what makes a quarterback successful — the ones I have been around are the ones that are able to keep their eyes downfield when the proverbial all heck is breaking loose around them," O'Brien says.
"People are diving at their feet. People are rushing at their shoulders. Or at their heads. I think it’s so important for a guy to be able to hang in the pocket and deliver the football on time with accuracy. That’s a big part of the NFL game: A guy that’s able to do that.
"As we move forward that is something we will be looking for out of all of our quarterbacks.”
If it's a real open competition — if the best quarterback is truly guaranteed to win whether he's an O'Brien era addition or not — the Texans are not in such a bad place. Who says your quarterback can't be an ugly duckling who had to scrape his way up out of the pond?