HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans aren't sure who will start at quarterback for the New England Patriots on Thursday night after starter Jimmy Garoppolo left Sunday's game against the Dolphins with a shoulder injury.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said Houston has to prepare for both possible starting quarterbacks, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, as well as tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
“To me, we have to get ready for Jimmy, we have to get ready for Jacoby and we have to get ready for Gronkowski," O'Brien said. "We just need to do a really good job of being really focused over the next three days here. There may not be a lot of physical work, but there will be a lot of mental work."
O'Brien praised both quarterbacks from the film he has watched and what he saw from Brissett while evaluating him during the pre-draft process.
"[Garoppolo's] two games against Arizona and Miami were very impressive," O'Brien said. "This guy is a really good quarterback, smart, quick release, accurate, can run, tough guy.
"When Jacoby went in there (Sunday), I thought he handled the game really well, good poise. We will continue to study. We will work hard, just like they are working hard, and try to do the best we can to put together a good game plan.”
Here are six players to watch, courtesy of ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss:
QB Jacoby Brissett: The 2016 third-round pick from NC State (91st overall) looks like he’ll be thrust into a starting role in just his third career NFL game. One of the first things that stands out is his size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds). He is tough to tackle, somewhat similar to Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. Teammates and coaches have praised his poise, saying he is not easily rattled. He initially committed to the University of Florida before transferring to NC State and is mentored by Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Parcells.
RB LeGarrette Blount: The last time Texans fans saw the bruising 250-pound power back was Dec. 13, 2015 when he left the Patriots-Texans game in Houston with a hip ailment that landed him on injured reserve. Blount has run hard through two games this season (51 carries, 193 yards, 2 TDs), with coach Bill Belichick saying one of the big differences between 2015 and 2016 for Blount is that he has more space to run as a result of better blocking up front.
TE Martellus Bennett: A nine-year NFL veteran, he was acquired from the Bears in a March trade after making waves in Chicago as he didn’t mix well with quarterback Jay Cutler. He has bought into the Patriots’ hard-driving culture and said after Sunday’s win that he hasn’t had this much fun playing football in some time. Bennett played 69 of 71 snaps in the opener and then was on for all 80 snaps in Week 2 as he’ll filled in for Rob Gronkowski and made major contributions as a blocker and pass-catcher.
DE Chris Long: After eight seasons with the Rams, the 2008 first-round draft choice signed a modest one-year deal to join the Patriots in the offseason and has quickly emerged as a top performer and emotional leader of sorts. Long battled injuries in 2014 and 2015, which contributed to his drop in production, and a return to health has been cited as a critical factor in him regaining some of his old explosion. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said, “Chris is just a true professional, a very coachable guy and a great addition to the team as far as being a great teammate. I think for him and for us, it’s just been a good kind of fresh start to have him here.”
LB Jamie Collins: The 2013 second-round pick is one of the NFL’s most athletic players at the position and was asked to do more in Sunday’s win with fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower out with a knee injury. Collins wore the green dot on his helmet as the primary communicator and leader of the huddle. One of his highlight plays came in 2015 when he leaped over the line of scrimmage to block an extra point against the Colts, which showcased the type of athleticism he has. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season.
CB Malcolm Butler: The Super Bowl XLIX hero built off his his interception against Seattle to put together a Pro Bowl season in 2015. One thing to watch for Thursday night is how an ankle injury affects him, as he had some struggles in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. At his best, his reactive athleticism to mirror opposing receivers is one of the top assets, as he is a feisty competitor who sometimes draws the opponent’s top receiver. He is scheduled to be a restricted free agent after the season.