HOUSTON -- Texans coach Gary Kubiak faced the big question after Wednesday’s practice he’s probably asked himself several times over the past few days.
So, how’s this going to work?
Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates and rusty veterans Jake Delhomme and Kellen Clemens shared snaps for the Texans (8-3) as they scrambled to prepare for Sunday’s game against Atlanta (7-4). Yates, a fifth-round pick out of North Carolina, will start.
"Hopefully it’s going to work real good," Kubiak said with a smile. "It’s interesting. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never been through this. But I tell you what, this team is very upbeat and understands its challenges."
Houston is virtually starting from scratch after season-ending injuries to quarterbacks Matt Schaub (broken right foot) and Matt Leinart (broken left collarbone) in consecutive games.
Leinart was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. He’s due to have surgery Thursday on the same collarbone he broke in 2007, when he lost the starting job to Kurt Warner in Arizona.
Schaub had surgery on Wednesday, and Kubiak says he’ll return to the team Friday to help groom Yates.
The 24-year-old Yates was thrust into his first NFL action after Leinart went down late in the second quarter of Sunday’s 20-13 win at Jacksonville. Yates finished a drive that resulted in a field goal and he went 8 for 15 for 70 yards without an interception—a pro debut he didn’t think would come so quickly.
"But I’ve been preparing for it all season long, just in case something like this was going to happen," he said.
Quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp says Yates has developed about as quickly as a rookie could without the benefit of a full offseason, a drawback of the lockout. Knapp said Yates can accurately make all the throws required in Kubiak’s complex offense.
"He’s done a fine job with his knowledge of the offense," Knapp said. "He’s definitely prepared himself for this situation. The only thing we’re all going to have to go through is the learning curve he has, as a rookie.
"But we feel very confident that he’s going to have his mind and game ready to go on Sunday."
Yates started 44 games at North Carolina and set school records for career yards passing (9,377), single-season yards passing (3,418) and completion rate (62.3 percent). He caught Kubiak’s eye before the draft because he ran a similar offense in college under John Shoop, a former offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears (2001-03).
Yates also worked with Schaub and others in Houston over the summer, learning the playbook as the lockout lingered.
"A lot of the same terminology coming out of college," Yates said. "I got a head start, from being here with the guys. I didn’t just jump right into training camp, without having any idea what was going on."
Delhomme has been taking care of racehorses on his farm in Louisiana since he was cut by Cleveland before training camp. He arrived in Houston on Monday night after a 3 ½-hour drive from home.
"I really and truly wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play again," Delhomme said. "I was OK with that, I was at peace. But this opportunity came about, and when you can come and be a part of a team that’s making a push, there’s nothing like it. That’s why you play the game."
The 36-year-old Delhomme is 5-3 as a playoff starter, and he guided Carolina to the Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium following the 2003 season. Delhomme completed 16 of 33 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns in the Panthers’ 32-29 loss to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The Texans have a two-game lead in the AFC South as they close in on the franchise’s first postseason berth.
"With Jake, what was really nice to have in the room was his experience," Knapp said. "He’s played in many high-level competition games, whether it’d be playoffs or tight races down the stretch. We feel like he’ll bring a nice presence in the room to help T.J. during the game."
Delhomme played in only five games for the Browns last season, threw seven interceptions with only two TD passes, and rookie Colt McCoy eventually took over the starting role.
Delhomme and his family moved back to Louisiana in early August.
"I’ve been very blessed," he said. "I don’t have to go and play. I did enjoy it, I did miss it, but I watched every game on Sunday. It wasn’t like I tried to stay away from it."
The 28-year-old Clemens was one of five quarterbacks who tried out for the team last week. He already had some familiarity with Kubiak’s offense after spending the preseason with Washington and Mike Shanahan, Kubiak’s longtime mentor in Denver.
Clemens was a second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2006. He played in only 25 games for the Jets between 2006-10 and started only once in the past three seasons. Rex Ryan declared Mark Sanchez the starter before the 2009 season, and Clemens played in only two more games for New York before he was released after the 2010 season.