Texans coach Bill O'Brien gives glimpse at how he evaluates QBs

HOUSTON -- Brian Hoyer smiled as he remembered teasing Tom Brady about his inability to run during their three seasons together in New England.

The Patriots quarterback isn’t mobile or fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.28 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in 2000.

But Brady’s lack of speed and objective athleticism never mattered -- not to his coaches nor to the offense in which he plays.

“We always talk about being an athlete in a 6-foot circle,” said Hoyer, now competing with Ryan Mallett, another New England transplant, to be the Texans’ starting quarterback.

Athleticism means something different for quarterbacks than any other position. The metrics change. Being fast isn't as important as being able to step over an out-stretched arm to avoid a sack.

Brady has it. Some faster quarterbacks don't. It's one of the qualities that have helped him become one of the greatest ever, even if most of the league didn't always appreciate the former sixth-rounder's talents.

Though careful not to compare anyone to Brady, the Texans seek such under-appreciated talents in their quarterbacks.

While they can scout other positions by size and strength and speed, so much more goes into finding their quarterbacks. Texans coach Bill O’Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey demand so much from that position mentally, it requires measuring the unmeasureables.

“You base it on the best players that you coached,” said O'Brien, who coached Brady from 2009 to 2011. “What made those guys winners? What made those teams win?”

Physical qualities matter, but when O’Brien and Godsey list what they want out of a quarterback, some of the physical traits can vary. The mental wish list does not.

“After that it’s all about up here,” Hoyer said, and then he tapped on the baseball cap sitting atop his head. “If physical is 30 percent, the mental part is 70 percent.”

How do the Texans find what they want in the most important position on the field? O'Brien and Godsey took ESPN.com inside their evaluation process.

When O’Brien became the Texans’ head coach in January of 2014, his first task was describing to general manager Rick Smith what kinds of players he wanted over hundreds of hours of meetings and film sessions.

“That’s a hard process,” O’Brien said. “… That’s a lot of give and take between the scouts and the coaches … there’s always going to be some differences of opinion. For the most part, you want the scouts and coaches to see the players the same way. Once you get to that point, now you’ve got something special.”

Smith declined to be interviewed for this story.

There are height and weight specifications for each position. At quarterback, though, height and weight weren’t among the most important physical attributes. Long arms, a quality critical on defense and the offensive line, don’t matter as much as hand size for quarterbacks.

“Looking at the size of their hand is big because of their grip on the ball,” O’Brien said. “They have to have bigger hands to be able to spin the ball properly and throw it accurately.”

They don’t see throwing motion as a fixable quality this late stage in a quarterback’s development. O’Brien doesn’t worry about release point, as long as a player’s release point isn’t causing balls to be batted down, but he does want a quarterback with a quick release.

“You can always develop fundamentals and make sure those are being efficient from a throwing standpoint, a faking standpoint, footwork,” Godsey said. “Just trying to be efficient with your mechanics.”

Those teachable skills include footwork, as the Texans’ offense requires precision in the pocket, touch -- something Mallett improved on since his rookie year -- and decision-making. They especially watch for a quarterback’s decision-making in critical situations. Did that decision-making lead to a fourth-quarter comeback victory?

It’s the mental side that can set a quarterback apart, and something O’Brien watched when bringing both Mallett and Hoyer into this year’s competition.

Brady is the impossible standard there.

“The thing that always stood out to me was his intelligence, his ability to process information and make quick decision,” O’Brien said. “He had an unbelievable memory. It always reminded me of a pro golfer. They’re like the third shot on the par 5, this is the club I used. Tom was the same way with football. He can remember plays from seven years ago in football. I was always impressed with his intelligence and memory.”

When he interviews them, O’Brien often asks quarterbacks about their knowledge of the game. Who are the top five quarterbacks in NFL history? Do they model their game after anyone? He wants to know how much they love the game.

Intelligence, competitiveness, leadership and communication skills are also not qualities that show up on film. But they’re imperative for a quarterback in this system.

“When you don’t work with a player, you can gather information, but you really don’t know until you work with them,” Godsey said.

As the Texans searched for the right mix of quarterbacks this offseason for a competition that would find their starter, they sought familiarity.

Hoyer was a rookie in the Patriots' system, undrafted, in 2009. Mallett was a third-round pick in 2011.

There was less to teach with two familiar quarterbacks. There was also less the coaching staff needed to learn before working with Hoyer and Mallett.

O’Brien remembered Hoyer’s competitiveness to stay on the roster in New England his rookie year. O’Brien said Mallett showed his competitive nature in hiding the extent of a pectoral injury after his first start last season. He wound up playing his second start with a torn pectoral muscle.

“We’ve coached both guys; we trust both guys,” O’Brien said. “We know both guys are competitors and care about the team.”

It’s the starting point for a process whose end goal is trust.