WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- It has always felt like something was standing in Tom Savage's way.
First, the injuries in 2014 and ‘15. He had recovered from his shoulder injury two years ago but was already on injured reserve because the Texans needed the roster spot.
He finally got his chance in 2016 when Texans coach Bill O'Brien benched Osweiler in Week 15 against Jacksonville, and after making two starts, he took a hit in a meaningless Week 17 game and suffered a concussion. Osweiler took over and started Houston's two playoff games, even after Savage had recovered.
After Osweiler was traded, there were rumors the Texans were interested in Tony Romo. After Romo retired, the job was Savage's -- and then the Texans traded up to draft former Clemson star Deshaun Watson in the first round.
"No matter where you are in your career, there's always someone behind you that's coming for that job," Savage told ESPN.com. "And you can never take your foot off the pedal there. So that's kind of how I've always been. That's always how I'm going to be. I don't care if we win five Super Bowls here. If I'm the starting quarterback, I'm going to think that every year, somebody's going to take my job, they're going to bring someone in to take it. And that's kind of how I always play."
Savage is not oblivious to the investment the Texans have in Watson, but that doesn't change the fact that he feels this is his time to shine as an NFL starting quarterback.
"I [am] ready to be the guy."
Savage doesn't remember the moment he found out the Texans traded Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns, leaving him next in line to be the starter.
"I think I was out in Arizona, actually, throwing," Savage said.
"It's not Deshaun's fault that he got drafted here. That's what [GM] Rick [Smith] and Bill [O'Brien] believe is going to help, so I'm going to be there for this team no matter what because I care about the 53 or 89 guys now. And they're my No. 1 priority." Tom Savage
The details don't matter to Savage. His focus was on the "honor and blessing" it was to be named the starter by O'Brien. "You know you're one of 32 in the world," Savage said.
A month later, Houston gave up two first-round picks to trade up to the No. 12 slot to draft Watson. That the Texans invested so much to go up and get Watson made a clear statement about how much the front office valued Watson and the team’s desire to find its first true franchise quarterback. The Texans’ belief in Watson may be the biggest obstacle yet for Savage to get a fair chance to prove he can be their quarterback for the entirety of the 2017 season.
Immediately after Watson was drafted, Savage sent him a text welcoming him to the team. The easy response was to be frustrated, but Savage wanted to make sure Watson knew he was welcome in the quarterback room, and there was no animosity toward the rookie.
"I just think life's too short to be pissed at a decision that a grown man's going to make to help his team out," Savage said. "And I knew they did that to help this team out. And that's what they think is in the best interest of this team.
"It's not Deshaun's fault that he got drafted here. That's what [general manager] Rick [Smith] and Bill [O'Brien] believe is going to help, so I'm going to be there for this team no matter what because I care about the 53 or 89 guys now. And they're my No. 1 priority."
The text worked. Watson said he has felt welcomed into the quarterback room and that Savage has been "supportive and helpful."
"He's kind of taken me under his wing and been helping me out with this whole system and everything," Watson said. "It's been good, and it's going to continue to be that way."
All three signal-callers have talked about how fun the quarterback room has been and that they want each other to succeed, even though they are, of course, competitive. Savage said the room has "give and take" between the quarterbacks, in which they help each other out when they see things.
"There's no doubt that Tom has brought out the best in Deshaun, and I think it's the same with Deshaun bringing out the best in Tom," O'Brien said. "I think it's a good room. They're good people, they're very competitive guys, but they root for each other. They really do. Tom has really helped Deshaun with learning this offense how he learned it when he was a rookie."
Watson has picked up the offense quickly, and he has put that on display during training camp and the Texans’ first preseason game. In his NFL debut, Watson was 15-of-25 for 179 yards and a rushing touchdown. O’Brien has praised Watson repeatedly during training camp, calling him one of the best rookie quarterbacks he has ever coached. And although most of the media attention has been on Watson, O’Brien has maintained that Savage has also had an excellent training camp, and he remains the starting quarterback.
"I think [Watson is] ahead of where some rookies I’ve been around have been," O’Brien said. "I’ve seen him be able to do that. I think he needs to do it more consistently, but he works very hard to get it right. If he doesn’t get it right away on the field, he goes into the meeting room and tries to fix it.
"Again, a lot of these questions are about Deshaun, which I understand. He was a great college player and he’s a rookie here, but Tom does the same thing. And I think Deshaun learns a lot from how Tom prepares and how Tom learns and how he watches tape and comes out to practice ready to go and things like that. I think it’s been very productive for both guys."
'We've got to score some points'
To say the Texans' passing game struggled last season is an understatement. Between Osweiler and Savage, the Texans ranked 30th, with a passer rating of 73.3 -- 29th in the NFL -- averaging 199 passing yards per game. Texans quarterbacks threw 15 interceptions -- all of which were from Osweiler -- which was tied for 30th in the league. And the quarterbacks were dead last in yards per attempt.
Savage knows that. And he knows how tough the Texans' defense is -- a unit so good, he believes, that if the offense can "protect the ball and score points," Houston will be a Super Bowl contender.
"Offensively, we know that we need to really step up and make some plays so we can give them some breathing room because they can only do so much," Savage said. "They can score points, but they can't score enough for them to win games. We've got to go out there and score touchdowns. We say that to the defense all the time.
"The offensive leaders, we go up and talk to the defense and say, 'Hey, we got you guys this year. We're going to do it.' I just think it's important for us offensively to not put them in bad situations because ... it's tough to drive the field on our defense.
"My goal is to do whatever I can to help this team to win a Super Bowl. And offensively, like I said, we've got to score more points. And I know I'll probably get criticized for saying that because it's so obvious, but we've got to protect the ball and we've got to score points. And I think if we do that, with this defense, we have a shot."
A simple equation
This season is not only huge for Savage because it is his first as a starter, but it's also a contract year as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. Savage said he, of course, knows the importance of playing well this year, but it's "ridiculous" for him to even think about playing for the next contract.
"I need to win this job and I need to play well. I mean, I've [started] two games in my NFL career," Savage said. "For me to think about contracts and stuff like that, it's just ridiculous. I've got to go out there and I've got to prove myself and play well and all that stuff will take care of itself. It's just a privilege to be on this team, let alone talk about a contract."
Savage could play very well and still not be in Houston next season. If everything goes according to plan for the Texans, Watson will be the Texans' starting quarterback at some point. If Savage plays well, he could delay that until 2018. Either way, a successful season means he can earn a big contract, whether it’s with Houston or another team.
"It's a pretty simple equation I think a lot of people overthink, especially in this league," Savage said. "If you go there and you win and you play well, they can't pull you. And if you go out there and you lose and the offense doesn't look good, they can pull you. So the goal is to go out there and play well and win games. And that's all you can really control."