Apr 28, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; From left to right, Houston Texans quarterback CJ Stroud (left), second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and Texans linebacker Will Anderson Jr., third overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, pose for a photo at a press conference at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
John McClain: Led by C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr., DeMeco Ryans eager to see his players at rookie minicamp
There’s nothing like getting a franchise quarterback to create a buzz among fans and media. C.J. Stroud, the second overall pick in the draft, is the second-highest quarterback selected by the Texans behind David Carr, the first pick in franchise history in 2002.
When a team is able to draft a franchise quarterback like Stroud and a franchise defensive player like defensive end Will Anderson Jr., the third overall pick, the excitement increases and expectations skyrocket. General manager Nick Caserio’s wheeling and dealing during the draft elevated the fans’ enthusiasm even more. Nobody is predicting playoffs next season, but doubling the victory total from three to six doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Stroud, Anderson, and the other picks from DeMeco Ryans’ first draft as head coach will be on the practice field Friday for the first day of the two-day rookie minicamp. Stroud, who was drafted 10 picks higher than Deshaun Watson in 2017, will be the focus of attention because he gives the team hope at the most important position on the team.
“Throughout the process, we continued to grow more in love with the guy,” Ryans said about Stroud at the 20th Houston Texans Charity Golf Classic. “He’s an outstanding young man, a smart guy, a competitive guy. We’re excited to start to work with him.”
Stroud, Davis Mills, Case Keenum, and E.J. Perry are the team’s quarterbacks.
“We’re excited about our quarterback room,” Ryans said. “The guys that have been here are getting better. We expect C.J. to come in and do the same things – continue to improve – and we’ll see where things go in August.”
Nobody in the organization will admit the Texans expect Stroud to make enough progress during the offseason program, training camp, and preseason to be the first-game starter. That decision will be up to Ryans, with strong input from new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and new quarterback coach Jerrod Johnson. It’s a decision that may not be announced until before the first game of the regular season. Watson didn’t start until the second game of his rookie year.
“That’s up to him (Stroud) and how (he) plays and the coaches and how they see him,” chairman and CEO Cal McNair said. “He’ll earn his spot, wherever that is, and he’ll feel like he’s earned it, and the team will know he’s earned wherever he ends up.”
Which should be as the starter. The excitement level created by the hiring of Ryans and the drafting of players like Stroud, Anderson, and receiver Tank Dell, who played at the University of Houston, is the highest since 2006, the first season with Gary Kubiak as coach and Ryans as a second-round pick who’d be voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“There’s a lot of great energy and excitement,” McNair said. “You can feel it in the fan base. I think it’s a better roster. It’s very competitive. You want to have competition at each spot. I see a lot of good progress. Every day we’re trying to get better.
“We think we’ve had a good offseason. They’re (Caserio, Ryans, and assistant coaches) working every day to make the team better and to continue that journey. We’re ready to get all the guys on the grass. The rookies are coming, and it’ll be great to get these young guys in a uniform and helmet and watch them go. It’s going to be fun.”
Ryans remembers his first rookie minicamp in 2006 when Kubiak also was a rookie head coach. Ryans’ defensive coordinator was Richard Smith, and his linebackers coach was Johnny Holland. Also on that staff were two – Mike Sherman (Texas A&M) and Troy Calhoun (Air Force) – who would become college head coaches. Kyle Shanahan (receivers), Mike McDaniel (offensive assistant), and Robert Saleh (defensive assistant) are NFL head coaches.
“Going into my rookie minicamp, I remember all the guys were nervous,” Ryans said. “You try to see where you fit. My biggest message to the players is to continue to be who you are. What you did in college allowed you to get to the point where you are now. Just have fun playing.”
All eyes will be on Stroud because he’s a quarterback, but Anderson should be a leading contender to be voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He excelled for three years under Nick Saban at Alabama and was the highest-rated defensive prospect in the draft.
“Building a defense starts with your line,” Ryans said. “How well can the second-level guys play off of what the D-line does? Those guys (back seven) have to be instinctive and fast and physical. It starts up front by allowing the D-line to attack.
“I feel like we did a good job with the draft. We utilized the draft capital we had to add good talent. The next phase is to get them adapted to what we do and allow them to compete. We’ll access what they can do well. They may have some weaknesses. It’s our job to understand those weaknesses and show them where they can improve, teach them fundamentals so they can get better. We want to accentuate their strengths and to make sure we play to those strengths.”
As a first-time head coach, everything is new to Ryans. He has different responsibilities as a head coach than he had as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. He’s getting on-the-job training.
“For me, the biggest thing is overseeing everyone and not just one group,” he said. “Part of my job is to coach coaches to make sure we’re doing our best job of helping our players do their best. I want to lead those guys wherever they need me. They can lean on me. I’m here to be of service to everyone in our organization. We want to have a team our organization and fans can be proud of.”
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).