As the Texans come to terms with their flaws, playing quarterback in Houston won't be about chasing miracles anymore
THE BEST NEWS Texans coach Gary Kubiak can give quarterback Matt Schaub isn't that he's finally a starter after sitting behind Michael Vick in Atlanta for three seasons. It's that, unlike his predecessor, David Carr, Schaub isn't expected to be the savior of the franchise.
A 2004 third-round pick out of Virginia, Schaub had been the league's most coveted backup until last month, when Houston acquired him for second-round picks in 2007 and '08 and a swap of this year's first-round selections. (The Falcons now will choose eighth, the Texans 10th.) While Houston fans may have images of another former Atlanta backup who achieved greatness elsewhere—Brett Favre—Kubiak wants to temper expectations. He knows there's still work to do to solve the problems that plagued Carr, the No. 1 pick in '02, who was cut two days after the Falcons deal.
In his five seasons in Texas, Carr suffered 249 sacks, 44 more than any other QB in that span. Beyond Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson, his receiving corps was weak, and before Kubiak's arrival last year the coaching he got was lousy. As much as Carr's limitations contributed to his 22--53 record as a starter—though strong-armed, he was prone to bad decisions—it's fair to say he never had much of a chance. Nevertheless, Kubiak and second-year G.M. Rick Smith figured it was time for a fresh start with Schaub.
"Our supporting cast isn't good enough right now, and we're not going to put everything on Matt," Kubiak says. "We feel good about our recent draft and our off-season moves, but we still need a couple more [good] drafts and off-seasons before we're a playoff-caliber team. We see Matt as one piece of the puzzle."
The high hopes in Schaub are justified. He has impressed scouts with his accuracy and decision-making in preseason appearances and his two NFL starts. "He's more mobile and has better arm strength than people realize," says one NFC personnel director. "He's also got a moxie to him that all good quarterbacks have. He's going to make some mistakes, but he's the type of player who will make more smart decisions than bad ones." He's also an ideal fit for Kubiak's West Coast offense, the scheme Schaub played in Atlanta and at Virginia, where he set every significant school passing mark. Kubiak says the 6'5", 237-pound Schaub could step into practice and run the offense, which will make it easier for him to master the other responsibilities of his position, such as earning his teammates' confidence and asserting his leadership.
But just as critical as Schaub's talent is the Texans' blueprint for improvement. This off-season they've signed five free agents, most notably veteran running back Ahman Green (four years, $23 million) to bolster the backfield and take some defensive attention away from Houston's main threat, Johnson. A nine-year veteran, Green rushed for more than 1,000 yards in six of the past seven seasons and is a good receiver out of the backfield. For the offensive line, perhaps the team's biggest weakness, Smith signed free-agent left tackle Jordan Black, a starter for the Chiefs last season, to a two-year, $3.5 million contract and will undoubtedly be looking for more help in the draft. Says Kubiak, "We need to make sure the people up front can take care of our quarterback."
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Backups to the Future
Like Matt Schaub, these promising young second-stringers would be intriguing to a team in need of a new quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers (right), Packers
Brett Favre's and Green Bay's 2005 first-round pick from Cal has been the subject of trade rumors in the lead-up to this month's draft.
Kellen Clemens, Jets
Chad Pennington's return from shoulder surgery last year means this '06 second-rounder from Oregon will have to wait for his shot.
Charlie Whitehurst, Chargers
A third-round choice from Clemson in 2006, Philip Rivers's backup has a strong arm and good size (6'4" and 227 pounds).
AL TIELEMANS (SCHAUB)
READY TO GO As an Atlanta sub, Schaub ran a West Coast offense similar to the Texans'.
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JEFF HANISCH/US PRESSWIRE (RODGERS)