Columnist: Fitzpatrick is key to a Texans turnaround

Columnist: Fitzpatrick is key to a Texans turnaround

Columnist: Fitzpatrick is key to a Texans turnaround

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by Jarrett Bell / USA TODAY Sports

khou.com

Posted on June 21, 2014 at 2:31 PM

Updated Saturday, Jun 21 at 2:33 PM

HOUSTON — For a brief instant, Ryan Fitzpatrick was taken aback by the description.

Cowboy Mentality.

Someone asked Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien on Thursday whether that tag fits his newly-anointed starting quarterback.

When the exchange was relayed to Fitzpatrick, he seemed to process it as if he were scanning a defense at the line of scrimmage.

“What does that mean?” Fitzpatrick said.

Something about toughness.

“Oh,” he said. “I think that’s pretty funny.”

The description actually came from one of the young receivers Fitzpatrick has been working with all offseason, third-year pro DeVier Posey, praising the quarterback’s demeanor.

Then again, the same term might be interpreted as a bit dangerous. Wild and reckless. Too willing to take a chance.

Fitzpatrick, 31, is an NFL journeyman with his fifth team in his 10th season after the St. Louis Rams drafted him out of Harvard in 2005 with a seventh-round pick.

He’s had chances — with Buffalo and Tennessee — inspired by big-arm flashes of brilliance. But as much as anything the promise was doused by turnovers.

During the past three seasons, Fitzpatrick threw 51 picks and committed 18 fumbles.

Now he has another shot, after winning the job over third-year pro Case Keenum, rookie Tom Savage and just-traded T.J. Yates.

Until this week, O’Brien split the reps between the four quarterbacks, but it always seemed to be Fitzpatrick’s gig to lose.

His effectiveness in the job will likely hinge significantly on mastering O’Brien’s complex scheme — and protecting the football.

“A lot of my career and the experience, there’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Fitzpatrick told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday, when asked about his issues with turnovers. “Just being able to continuously learn from, especially, a lot of the bad things that happened and make them positives, that’s important.

“That’s a big step that I need to take this year, in terms of always putting the team first and having the team’s intentions in mind when I’m out there trying to make plays.”

The Texans, doomed by poor quarterbacking that included a meltdown by since-departed Matt Schaub during a 2-14 free-fall last season, have the makings of a team that could make a quick turnaround.

That might be debatable to all-pro receiver Andre Johnson, a no-show all offseason while reportedly weighing whether he wants to continue with a team in a rebuilding season.

Yet it’s not a stretch to think the Texans could become this year’s Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs made the leap from 2-14 in 2012 to an 11-5 wild-card berth last season, with a new coach, tough defense and a quarterback, Alex Smith, who commits few turnovers.

The Texans won back-to-back division titles in 2011 and 2012, and some key pieces remain in place. The defense is among the most talented in the league, led by arguably the league’s best defensive end, J.J. Watt. If Arian Foster can rebound physically, they will have the sparkplug for a rushing attack that could provide balance.

Fitzpatrick needs to be the steadying force for O’Brien’s system, which puts a heavy demand on its quarterbacks. In addition to charging quarterbacks to call line protections, O’Brien’s audible system is expected to be among the most sophisticated in the league.

“They put a lot on the quarterbacks in all aspects of the game — passing and running,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want to be a ‘situationally smart’ team. From Day 1, the expectations have been off the charts.”

O’Brien coached Tom Brady while on Bill Belichick’s staff, then resurrected the scandalized Penn State program. After signing Fitzpatrick, he didn’t seek another veteran quarterback.

He thinks Fitzpatrick’s total package, which begins with intelligence, is a good fit.

That package, for sure, includes ruggedness.

It remains to be seen whether Fitzpatrick is the bridge quarterback to the next one, or the seasoned pro who puts it all together while joined at the hip with O’Brien.

No doubt, the coach is looking for, well, a certain mentality. And it has everything to do with protecting the football.

“We talked to him about making good decisions based on pre-snap reads,” O’Brien told USA TODAY Sports. “We talked a lot about checking the ball off, instead of trying to throw the ball downfield. We talk a lot about making sure that he understands all the information that he can take in before the ball is snapped.”

Fitzpatrick knows what’s at stake. He’s got another shot. It might be the last one.

“I know these chances are far and few between,” he said. “I know there’s only a select number of jobs. I’m not a young guy anymore. When I was going through the process after getting cut by Tennessee, looking for another team, this one presented the most opportunity for me.”

With the offseason competition settled, Fitzpatrick now has exactly that.

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