HOUSTON — Texans coach Bill O’Brien is in no hurry to rush his starters back for preseason games. That’s giving rookies ample time to impress and many did Saturday night in a 32-7 victory over Atlanta.
J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing were among the Houston starters who did not play. O’Brien will decide later in the week how much time, if any, each regular will see Saturday night in Denver. The Texans will practice with the Broncos starting today and O’Brien said those workouts could provide all the snaps the starters need.
Top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney headlined the standout performances by the rookies, making two highlight-reel hits behind the line of scrimmage. Sixth-round pick Alfred Blue scored Houston’s first touchdown of the preseason and seventh-round pick Andre Hal returned an interception for a touchdown.
“You’re talking about some guys that have come in here and worked very hard and been very coachable,” O’Brien said Sunday. “They’ve got a long way to go, but to this point, we’re pleased with their progress.”
Undrafted tight end Anthony Denham blocked a punt and undrafted linebacker Max Bullough intercepted a pass. Second-round pick Xavier Su’a-Filo started at right guard and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, a third-round pick, made two catches for 14 yards.
“Whether it’s Clowney or Andre Hal getting a pick-6, I feel like all the rookies did a great job,” Fiedorowicz said. “We take pride in it. We come out here and grind all day in this heat. When it pays off, it feels good.”
Rookie Tom Savage was the first quarterback off the bench and completed 4 of 5 passes. O’Brien said Savage is still slightly behind Case Keenum in the competition for the backup role behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“He’s s got a long way to go, just like most rookie quarterbacks have a long to go,” O’Brien said. “In the preseason, for any rookie quarterback, you’re not seeing anywhere near what you’re going to see if you’re going to play in the regular season. You’re not seeing anywhere near what you’re going to see from a defensive schematic standpoint, so he understands that. He’s got to get better at the basics of it.”
Keenum played the second half and completed 6 of 12 passes. He had the Texans on the move in the third quarter, only to throw an interception near the goal line.
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, bounced back from a bad preseason opener, completing 9 of 12 passes for 97 yards. He also had two rushes for 25 yards as well, scrambling for a first down as he guided the Texans for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the first half.
“I feel like that’s how he has to play for us,” O’Brien said. “I felt like he took a big step, especially relative to how he had played the week before.”
The Texans were whistled for 15 penalties against the Falcons, two on safety D.J. Swearinger for unsportsmanlike conduct. On one of them, Swearinger merely smacked hands with cornerback Josh Victorian after breaking up a pass in the second quarter.
O’Brien chalked that penalty up to the emotions of the game.
“You don’t want guys to be penalized in ways that obviously hurt the team,” O’Brien said. “But our guys were juiced up, they were excited, they couldn’t wait to play.”
O’Brien said rookie nose tackle Louis Nix III is on pace to play in Denver this week. Nix had arthroscopic knee surgery before training camp and was added to the active roster on Tuesday. O’Brien wasn’t so sure about the status of Brandon Brooks, who started 15 games at right guard last season but has missed all of training camp with an undisclosed injury.
“He’s got a lot to do to catch up,” O’Brien said.