WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia -- If you judged the Houston Texans by their words and actions this summer, you could convince yourself that there isn't a quarterback competition. As of Friday, Tom Savage had taken every first-team rep in practice throughout training camp, while rookie first-round pick Deshaun Watson had worked exclusively with the second team. Top receiver DeAndre Hopkins told ESPN on Friday that he "put his stamp on Savage," and coach Bill O'Brien has called Savage his No. 1 quarterback.
But ... it's not that simple, right? Watson is the first-round pick for whom the Texans traded up. He's almost certainly the future. He's the national college champion who knocked off Alabama in a stunning comeback seven months ago. He's the darling of the non-Texans decision-makers around the league. Coaches and general managers in various training camps have told me that they expect Watson to take the job and run with it, based on what they know of him.
So as of now, it's Savage, but ...
"The other kid is doing a good job, though," O'Brien said after practice Friday. "He really has picked up the offense really well and kind of exceeded my expectations, as far as being able to pick up things that we do. He's a really diligent worker. He's got a good demeanor, and he's had a good camp, too. So it's a good position."
Multiple Texans people with whom I spoke praised the quarterback room in general, saying that Savage and Watson both had "calming" presences. Although no one's going to go there, the implication seemed to be that the brief and messy Brock Osweiler era of 2016 was not a calm time at the quarterback position for Houston. Now the Texans are in good shape no matter who wins it, and if it takes Watson time to wrest the job from Savage, they feel comfortable with Savage in the meantime.
"He's a smart guy," O'Brien said of Savage. "He's got good command. He's been in our offense now for four years, got a really good arm, great arm talent. Really has good command of what we're doing. And those games that he came in at the end of [last] year, he managed the game well. Cincinnati, we had to win that game to win the division, and he helped us win it. So he's done a good job in the four years he's been here, and we're giving him the shot. He's been here for four years."
Four years from now, it has to be Watson, or else the Texans will have messed up their 2017 draft in disastrous fashion. If he's the future, O'Brien feels it is in good hands.
"I tell you what. I'd love to sit down with all the scouts that said he had a bad arm or he was inaccurate or whatever," O'Brien said of Watson. "He's got a good arm. He's very accurate. Just like with any rookie, I think the biggest thing is, everything that he's seeing, especially on third down and in the red area, is for the first time. So turnovers become a key, just like it is for any rookie quarterback. And lately, he's done a very good job of taking care of the ball. I think that's going to be a big thing for him as he moves forward this year and gets into these preseason games -- making good decisions with the ball. But he's got a lot of great qualities."
Most likely to start Week 1: Switching up from the last time we did this to pick Savage, assuming he doesn't throw a bunch of preseason interceptions. Practice observers say he hasn't turned the ball over much, if at all, in camp practices.
Most likely to lead the team in 2017 starts: Watson. O'Brien changes quarterbacks all the time. I predict each QB will start at least five games.
Here's a look at the other big quarterback battles around the league this summer:
Although Osweiler has been announced as the starter for the first preseason game, the drum beat out of Cleveland seems to be heralding a surprise winner in this competition: rookie second-rounder DeShone Kizer. He has looked better than Osweiler and Cody Kessler in camp, according to many who have watched them, and why not? One source close to the situation said the Browns really like their offensive line with the additions of Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter and plan to be a run-heavy offense around Isaiah Crowell anyway. If Kizer's the guy for the future, why not throw him in there now, as long as they feel they can protect him? They might be showcasing Osweiler for a trade this week.
Most likely to start Week 1: Kizer
Most likely to lead team in 2017 starts: Kizer
Two people inside the Bears' building have told me that rookie Mitchell Trubisky has looked better than expected in terms of picking up the offense and running it. In the next breath, both insisted that Mike Glennon will be the guy Week 1 and for the whole season unless he blows it. The Bears are committed to Glennon financially this season and can be patient with Trubisky's development while expectations for success are low. The complicating factor is the uncertainty of the status of John Fox and the coaching staff, who might not survive in time to see the results of the rebuild.
Most likely to start Week 1: Glennon
Most likely to lead team in 2017 starts: Glennon, but I predict Trubisky gets one or two by the end of the season, once the Bears are out of it.
Sources who have followed Denver's quarterback competition this summer tell me that Paxton Lynch hasn't done anything to take the job from Trevor Siemian. The team's belief is that the ceiling is higher for Lynch, the 2016 first-round pick, but he hasn't yet translated his talent into on-field success. Some wonder whether he ever will, but while it's way too early to speculate on that, Siemian is handling his business in the low-key, professional way he did as Denver's starter last season. Lynch would have to dazzle in preseason games to close the gap.
Most likely to start Week 1: Siemian
Most likely to lead team in 2017 starts: Siemian, and by the end of the season, Broncos fans will be in a full-blown panic about Lynch's development.
At the start of the offseason, this was set up as a competition between Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Hoyer, who had some success with Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland in 2014 before he got injured, moved quickly into the lead and solidified his hold on the job. There's chatter in San Francisco about whether rookie C.J. Beathard can win the No. 2 job from Barkley. Obviously, the elephant in the room is Kirk Cousins' impending 2018 free agency. For now, it's Hoyer time if he can stay healthy.
Most likely to start Week 1: Hoyer
Most likely to lead team in 2017 starts: Hoyer, though his health history leaves open the chance that it's someone else.
Josh McCown seems to be the veteran who is here to play until the Jets believe they can put Christian Hackenberg on the field without wrecking his development. The Jets need to see Hackenberg at some point so they can figure out what they have in him. When that point will arrive is the question. It seems like it won't be by Week 1.
Most likely to start Week 1: McCown
Most likely to lead team in 2017 starts: Hackenberg