HOUSTON (AP)With DeAndre Hopkins dealt to Arizona during the offseason, Deshaun Watson is the undisputed star of the Texans’ offense.
The quarterback will be leading a team intent on atoning for last year’s playoff collapse against Kansas City. But rather than seeing that responsibility as a burden, the 24-year-old Watson sees it as an opportunity.
”I know it’s a lot of pressure to play quarterback, especially for this organization, we want to achieve things that this organization hasn’t done, and I feel like I have the mindset and I have the work ethic and the pieces around me to be able to do that,” Watson said. ”If I just (take) it one day at a time, if I can just focus on that and not put too much unnecessary pressure on myself, I think things will just go as they should.”
Coach Bill O’Brien has been impressed with Watson since the moment he met him, and his admiration has only grown as he has gotten to know him better.
”Deshaun is really focused,” O’Brien said. ”He’s locked in during practice. And as long as he keeps doing that, he will definitely take the next step and then the next step and, like he always has, he’ll be a great player for our team.”
The Texans are intent on reaching their first Super Bowl this season, but for that to happen they’ll have to reach a lesser goal that the franchise has never attained by getting to the AFC title game. It looked as though they were finally heading there last season early against the Chiefs, but they squandered a 24-point lead in a 51-31 loss in the divisional round to the eventual Super Bowl champions.
O’Brien, who is also the team’s general manager, then sent Hopkins to the Cardinals in a stunning deal that changed the complexion of this team and thrust Watson even further into the spotlight. Many have questioned how Houston’s offense will run without Hopkins, who piled up 4,115 yards receiving in Watson’s first three seasons.
Last season, Watson was asked what his favorite play was, and he answered without hesitation.
”Go route to Hop for 6,” Watson said.
So, with Hopkins gone, what will be the quarterback’s go-to now? The simple answer is that there isn’t just one answer. The Texans know that no one player can replace Hopkins and they’ll instead rely on a bevy of receivers, including Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, to pick up the slack.
”Just spreading the ball around,” Watson said. ”Being able to find the open man. Take my game to another level and just spread the wealth.”
For years, a revolving door at quarterback seemed to be the main hurdle keeping the Texans from becoming an elite team. After watching his growth in his first three NFL seasons, they’re confident that Watson is the franchise quarterback they’ve been waiting for and the man that will finally get them to that next level.
Coaches and teammates alike have noticed his growth as a player and leader, and marvel at how he’s always looking to do more.
”He’s come in every day willing to learn and willing to get better at simple things that we think can elevate his game,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Kelly said. ”It’s been a joy to coach him. He comes in with a great mindset. He’s a great example to the other players in the locker room.”
Watson often shrugs off such compliments. And when asked to explain how he developed into such a strong leader, the quarterback said it’s a quality he has always had.
”That’s just in my DNA,” he said. ”Leadership comes with responsibility and putting the work first and people just follow. That’s how I lead.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL