HOUSTON -- At 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, Deshaun Watson was as big as most linebackers he found himself running at in college. In the NFL, he's had to adjust accordingly.
"In college, I could run over some linebackers and some [defensive backs], but at this level these are grown men, so you always want to take the less hits," Watson said. "The less hits you take, maybe the longer your career can be."
Now, with larger defensive players running toward him, the Houston Texans have been focusing on protecting their rookie quarterback, who in three weeks has shown NFL teams how dangerous he can be on the ground. Watson leads all NFL quarterbacks with 124 rushing yards, 103 scramble yards and 8.3 yards per rush. In the Texans' Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Watson ran for a 49-yard touchdown.
"I absolutely talk to him about [protecting himself]," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "I show him tapes of different guys over the last, let's just say, 10 years. I show him his own plays. We drill it in practice. But at the end of the day, he has a very good instinct for it.
"He's got to understand that being able to slide or maybe duck it out of bounds before he takes a hit, that's important for the team. He's got to be out there for the team. I think he'll get better and better at that. I thought he did a really good job of that in the New England game."
Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan pointed to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott as signal-callers who do a good job of protecting themselves in the pocket and on the run. He uses both as teaching examples when working with Watson.
"It's a combination of us showing him film of other quarterbacks who are doing a good job, other quarterbacks who stayed up too long in certain situations and didn't go down and it resulted in a hit that was unnecessary," Ryan said. "So you definitely have to have the instincts, you have to have the intuition, but you also have to make them aware and keep working it and keep drilling it into his head and keep pointing out whenever you get a chance on film, this is good and this is not what we're looking for."
"I trust the guy's instincts. I think when he does leave the pocket, he's got a good feel for knowing when the play is over and when to get out of bounds and when to get down."
Along with being bigger than college athletes, NFL players are also much faster. Ryan said he has preached the importance of realizing that "things are going to close on him faster than they did when he was in college ball."
"I wouldn't say it's slowing down," Watson said. "Each play, each time I'm out there is fast. I'm starting to realize and recognize things a lot quicker. But as far as the game speed, it's still fast to me. Each week, each rep is always another step for myself to play fast because I know what's going on out there."
The Texans practice sliding -- although nothing as fun as what Watson experienced at Clemson, when the coaches had a slip-and-slide to practice on -- and Watson said it was an easy transition to get used to sliding instead of trying to keep going in the NFL.
"I'm trying to live another day," Watson said with a smile. "I'm not trying to get hit at this level."