The quarterback story for the Houston Texans this offseason has been the battle between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett for the starting position. For the past several months all the focus has been on those two players, and third string quarterback Tom Savage has had little media focus, despite being drafted in the 4th round in 2014. In his team’s fourth and final preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, Savage finally had a chance to start and played almost the entire game, as he attempted to show coaches and fans alike that he is continuing to improve as an NFL quarterback.
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To start, I’ll have to point out that Savage did in fact leave the game early after suffering a shoulder injury on a hit in the fourth quarter, and was replaced by Ryan Mallett. In typical Bill O’Brien fashion, the Texans head coach responded to questions about Savage’s injury after the game:
"“I’m not a doctor, I have no idea,” O’Brien said (via Drew Dougherty of HoustonTexans.com). “I’ll know better probably at some point tomorrow.”"
There’s no way to know what the extent of the injury is, but Savage was able to play the majority of the game before going down. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 135 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
The first thing that can be pointed out about Savage’s performance is something that has long been lauded about the former Pitt star: his toughness. Several times in the game he was willing to fight for a few extra yards (or to lose less yards on a sack) despite knowing he would be hit. He also sat in the pocket and took a big hit from a Dallas defender in order to get the ball to running back Chris Polk for a touchdown right near the end of the 2nd quarter.
This second quarter drive which ended in a touchdown may have been the most impressive thing Savage did all preseason. After starting on his own 46 with 2:54 left in the 2nd quarter, Savage led the Texans down the field, completing seven straight passes, including the touchdown toss to Chris Polk which gave Houston a 7-0 lead heading into halftime.
Head coach Bill O’Brien praised this drive with the media after the game, per CBS Houston:
"“He did some good things in the game,” said O’Brien of Savage. “He had the one interception. We had a tough time blocking for him. But I thought he a good two minute drive at the end of the half. A good touchdown pass to Keshawn. So there were some very positive things in the game.”"
It was true that the team couldn’t keep Savage protected very well, as he often found himself with pressure in his face. He was sacked 3 times, but took even more hits, including the 4th quarter shot that cost him the rest of the game.
That comes from playing with backup-caliber players, many of whom were fighting simply to make the roster. Luckily for Savage, however, his offensive weapons were also playing with that level of desperation.
Running back Chris Polk was particularly impressive in the passing game, as was Keshawn Martin, the other beneficiary of a Tom Savage touchdown pass. Savage dropped a nice pass in over the defenders head to Martin who held on for the score.
Savage’s worst play of the night also occurred in the end zone, but this time it was on the opposite end of the field. Backed up on their own 1 yard line after an excellent punt by Dallas punter Chris Jones, the Texans decided to throw the ball. Savage dropped back and seemed to throw it directly at Corey White, who easily returned it the three yards for a touchdown.
Savage committed another turnover on the next drive, as he had the ball knocked out of his hand by Dallas rookie defensive end Ryan Russell. There was little Savage could do to prevent this one, but it still doesn’t look good to be giving the ball to the other team.
Overall, Tom Savage had a fairly decent outing. He looked much crisper than his counterpart, Dallas third-string quarterback Dustin Vaughan. However, he showed his youth and inexperience through the interception, as it was simply due to a panicked throw when backed up into his own end zone.
Savage showed us that he can make plays, even when alongside the rest of his team’s backup players. He has the arm to make some great throws, and when he had tim in the pocket he delivered more often than not. He’s still young though, and showed us that he is certainly not ready to be thrown in as an NFL starter, even if he may have the tools to be one some day.
Savage is getting something often rare for young NFL quarterbacks: the ability to learn from a few experienced players at the position, as well as an excellent coach in Bill O’Brien, without being thrown to the wolves as a starter. Hopefully he can continue to get this experience, practice, and learning time so that he can fully develop as a passer, and show us that his flashes of excellence could become more consistent.