McClain: C.J. Stroud’s eagerness to learn impresses Texans coaches and teammates


Bobby Slowik is a first-time offensive coordinator and play-caller who’s mastering the art of answering a question about a specific player by making it about the position.

The specific player Slowik was asked about this week was rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, and he wanted to show respect for Davis Mills and Case Keenum by including them in his response. Mills has been the starter for most of his first two seasons.

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Keenum keeps coming back to Houston like bluebonnets in the spring, returning to the Texans for a third time since setting national passing records at the University of Houston.

With all due respect to Mills and Keenum – and they’re smart enough to know what’s what – fans and media want to know about Stroud. After all, he was the second overall pick, the second-highest quarterback drafted in team history behind David Carr 22 years ago, and he’s destined to be the starter from Day One, or something’s happened to impede his development.

Slowik, who’s enthusiastic and energetic about his offense, was asked about Stroud and said, “One of the coolest things to see with C.J. is -- it's not just him alone, they’re all doing it together – he’s been awesome. He's been putting the work in. They've all been coming in for some extra work and doing stuff on their own when they're away from here. They've been doing great.”

But what about Stroud, selected one spot behind Carolina quarterback Bryce Young?

“All the rookies came in from the get-go with a mindset of they were going to attack this thing,” Slowik said. “They've been buying into what we're telling them to do on the field. There's a lot of fundamentals and techniques that go along with that at every position. They've attacked it as a group.

“(Stroud) wants to have command of what's going on, as anyone who's in that position should. They want to feel comfortable in what they're doing, what direction they have to go, what answers to have on every play, and every play is a little different.

“For him, being able to tie things back to other experiences that are the same, is kind of what we grind through over and over again as we do the minutiae, branch out from it, and then kind of point back to things we've already talked about and say, ‘This is the same as something else you've already done.’”

Jerrod Johnson, a Houston native who played at Texas A&M, is the new quarterback coach. By the time the season is over, he’ll spend more time with Stroud than anyone on the staff.

“I met C.J. when he was 17,” said Johnson, who came to the Texans from the Vikings. “Watching him go through the draft process with all the other quarterbacks and seeing him as a mature kid who’s been through a lot on and off the field and seeing the man he’s become, it’s good to have that reference point. I’m excited for his future.”

Stroud’s coaches and teammates watch him every day in the classroom and on the practice field. They see how devoted he is to learning Slowik’s system and developing the kind of relationships quarterbacks need to become team leaders.

“We want him to be comfortable and confident with what we’re asking him to do,” Johnson said. “We want him to be the best version of himself. That’s what this spring’s about – guys getting reps, learning the system and feeling confident with how they operate in our system so we can get out of the spring with a good base.”

Johnson is quick to point out other coaches who are playing instrumental roles in Stroud’s development. Coach DeMeco Ryans hired veteran offensive assistants Bill Lazor and Shane Day to help Slowik with the offense.

“Anytime you can get a talent like C.J. in the room, you’re excited to coach him,” Johnson said. “We have a good group. It’s not just me. It’s Bobby and Shane Day and Bill Lazor. We’re all with the quarterbacks. We all have different backgrounds and things we pull from to coach the players. It’s good to have those guys around him. It’s a team effort.”

New defensive coordinator Matt Burke was asked this week about Stroud, and he had an interesting story to share.

“We did a two-minute drive at the end of practice last week, and he threw into  a coverage we hadn't shown,” Burke said. “It was the first day we put the coverage in, and it was a throw he probably wanted back. The first thing he did when I was walking off the field was to grab me (and) spend about 10 minutes asking me about the coverage, what he saw and how we set it up, and we talked through that.”

Burke was impressed with Stroud’s hunger to learn so he can improve.

“His deliberateness and intent to try to get better, and he's literally grabbing everybody he can on the field,” Burke said. “He's been very intentional about learning (offense) and learning defense, too. Like, what did you call there, what was that coverage or what did you do here?’ I respect that from him.”

The message is so far, so good with Stroud’s progress going into the last four OTAs and heading for the mandatory minicamp June 13-14. His eagerness to learn has been impressive, but his head must be spinning during this early part of his NFL career. At some point, it’ll slow down for Stroud, but nobody knows exactly when that’ll be.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He writes three columns a week and does two Houtopia Football Podcasts for

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