Rancho Cucamonga’s C.J. Stroud is thriving deep in the hearts of Texans fans
In one respect, C.J. Stroud cares very deeply. Witness his success as a record-breaking rookie quarterback for the Houston Texans.
In another respect, Stroud cares not at all.
“Some people develop it at a young age, where you’re not concerned with other people’s opinions,” said Jordan Palmer, widely regarded as a top quarterback coach, who first met Stroud at the Elite 11 camp in 2019.
“Some guys are naturally like that. Some guys work hard with performance psychologists and therapy to get there, and a lot of guys arrive there through their faith. That’s what C.J. is made of. He’s not concerned with anybody’s opinion of him right now.”
If there were any time to revel in reputation, this would be it for Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick, who attempted 186 passes before his first interception. That broke the NFL record of Dallas’ Dak Prescott (176) for the most pass attempts to begin a career without an interception.
It was but one of the many rookie highlights for Stroud, the Rancho Cucamonga High and Ohio State standout whose team will play host to surging Denver on Sunday. The Broncos, whose defense is smothering, have won five in a row after a 1-5 start.
The Texans, tied for second in the AFC South, are 6-5 and have doubled their win total from last season.
The preternaturally poised Stroud is a big reason for that. When given ample protection — no small consideration in light of Houston’s constantly reshuffled offensive line — the 22-year-old quarterback almost always puts the ball in the right place. It’s as if the game already has slowed for him.
“Sometimes rookies, it takes them a while to figure it out,” said DeMeco Ryans, first-year coach of the Texans. “He’s been impressive to where if you give him a coaching point, he’s a very coachable young man. He takes that coaching point to heart, and he goes out and shows that improvement the next week.”
Before their three-point loss to Jacksonville last week, the Texans had won three in a row. That began with a 39-37 victory over Tampa Bay in which Stroud threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“Just taking steps and strides every week has definitely been a goal of mine,” Stroud said. “I feel like I’ve done a decent job of that, and just controlled aggression has definitely been the two words I use. Just being aggressive when it’s there, but being smart and controlling whenever it’s not.”
At this point, he’s the toast of Houston.
“He can do no wrong in that city right now,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who spent part of his career with the Houston Oilers. “He could run for mayor if he wanted to.”
Surely, some people are surprised Stroud has so much success so early in his pro career. Punching holes in prospects is a rite of spring, and Stroud certainly had his detractors heading into the draft.
First, Ohio State does not have a strong record of producing good NFL quarterbacks.
Second, Stroud reportedly scored an 18% on the S2 Cognition test, which aims to measure how quickly players can process information. By comparison, quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick of the Carolina Panthers, reportedly scored a 98%.
Clearly, processing information quickly is not a problem for Stroud.
A hallmark of Stroud is his dedication to the smallest of details. Palmer recalls one of the coaches from that 2019 Elite 11 describing a situation to him that involved Mater Dei’s Young, the star of that camp, and Stroud, the last of roughly two dozen invitees.
As agreeable and coachable as Young was, he wasn’t adhering to the structured footwork that the coaches wanted to see in the seven-on-seven games.
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“It wasn’t an ego thing,” Palmer recalled. “He wasn’t saying, `I’m not going to do that, Coach.’ It’s just that when they got in the game, he was just kind of taking one shuffle, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, and then dropping a dime.”
Stroud, however, was staying after practice to perfect his footwork. He had won the accuracy challenge at camp, although he wasn’t getting much playing time. Impressed by his dedication, coaches decided to give him a chance, and Stroud wound up with most-valuable-player honors.
Among Stroud’s coaches at that camp was Jarrod James, now a Texans offensive assistant who works with him every day.
Palmer noted Stroud’s ability to focus on the task at hand and mute the outside chatter.
“I believe this is so important at the quarterback position, now more than ever,” Palmer said. “You have to develop that at a young age, especially with social media and everything, that you truly down deep inside don’t care what anybody else thinks. I actually think it’s a superpower.”