HOUSTON (AP) — C.J. Stroud lost just one road game in two seasons as a starter at Ohio State.
After thriving in hostile environments in college, he isn’t intimidated to be making his NFL debut for the Houston Texans on Sunday at Baltimore.
“It was something that back in school and took very, very seriously,” he said Wednesday. “We always say we like being the villains. Put on your mask and just ride with the guys that you came in with. It’s only y’all.”
Stroud, who was the second overall pick in this year’s draft, takes over at quarterback for a team that hasn’t had success at the position in the two seasons since Deshaun Watson sat out after requesting a trade before being dealt to Cleveland before last season.
The Texans didn't just hand the starting job to Stroud. They made him compete throughout camp with Davis Mills, who started most of Houston’s games for the past two seasons. But after the team’s last preseason game against New Orleans, new coach DeMeco Ryans announced what seemed inevitable when he said Stroud was his starting quarterback.
He’ll try and turn around a franchise that has fallen into the NFL’s basement over the past three seasons after winning the AFC South title the two seasons before that.
Ryans is careful not to place undue pressure on the 21-year-old Stroud. Though he knows that all eyes will be on the rookie quarterback, he stresses the importance of everyone pitching in to help him be successful.
“The No. 1 thing for me with a rookie quarterback is to not make it a big deal mentally,” Ryans said. “I think a lot of rookies come in, and you can be consumed and overwhelmed with their job, but I think for any rookie, you have to have good help amongst those other guys who are out there with you. It’s being surrounded with good help, don’t make the game bigger than what it is. Go out and do what got you here.”
What got him to Houston was a stellar career with the Buckeyes where he threw for 8,123 yards with 85 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions as the Buckeyes went 21-4. His 85 touchdowns over two seasons broke a Big Ten record held by Drew Brees.
His only loss on the road as a Buckeye came in a 49-34 loss at Michigan in 2021, his first season as a starter.
He’s already established himself as a leader on this young team and was one of four players — and the only rookie — to be selected team captain this week. Players and coaches have often commented on his focus and work ethic throughout camp and are eager to see how he performs in his first game.
Asked a big picture question about if he’s taken a moment to reflect on the journey that brought him here, he discusses practice before getting to the answer.
“Most importantly, just focusing on practice and getting those game-like reps,” he said. “I definitely think that’s probably more important. But at the same time, you do have to remember the dreams and remember that you put in a lot of work to get to these special moments. Whatever happens I know that I worked really, really hard to get to where I’m at now. Excited to just keep going.”
He’ll have to play Sunday behind a makeshift offensive line after the unit was decimated by injuries this preseason. Star veteran left tackle Laremy Tunsil will be there to protect Stroud’s blind side, but the rest of the group will be new after four starters sustained injuries in camp.
Left guard Kenyon Green, a first-round pick last season, sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in the last preseason game after center Scott Quessenberry tore two knee ligaments early in camp and is also done for the season.
Rookie Juice Scruggs moved into the starting lineup after Quessenberry was injured, but he injured his hamstring against New Orleans and will miss at least the first four games.
The group took another blow Wednesday when the team announced that right tackle Tytus Howard, who signed a $56 million extension before camp, had a broken right hand. He was placed on injured reserve and will also miss at least four games.
The Texans added Josh Jones and Kendrick Green in trades during training camp to help make up for the injuries. Jones is expected to start at right tackle and Green will be the starting center.
Ryans admitted it’s been challenging dealing with so many injuries in one area, but said they have to find a way to move forward.
“Injuries happen all the time in football, so you have to be ready to adjust … it happens every week, and for us, unfortunately it’s happened sooner, before the start of the season,” Ryans said. “But it’s something we have to deal with and we’re not whining about it, we’re not complaining. We’re going to push through. We’re all professionals, and guys have to go play football.”
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