"He is a smart and distinctive player," O'Brien told reporters after Houston's 27-17 loss to the Panthers on Wednesday. "First game out there I thought he did some big things. It is a big jump from college to the NFL. I thought he handled it pretty well. There are probably a couple of things that we could've done differently. He could've played a little bit better on certain plays, but overall I thought he handled himself pretty well for his first time out."
After checking out the game tape, O'Brien offered more to reporters Thursday about Watson's first game.
"Obviously nothing's too big for him," O'Brien said. "He's been in big games. For his first NFL game -- I'm sure he was slightly nervous but it didn't show. Now, with that being said, there's a lot to build on. I mean, there's a lot to correct. He knows that. I'd say he was about 50-50 on some of the schemes that we run, right or wrong. He was right 50 percent of the time, wrong 50 percent of the time, and that's to be expected with a rookie."
A look back at each of Watson's snaps shows exactly what one would expect from a rookie in terms of errors. Over excited, he overthrew a pair of receivers early and tended to rely on his mobility a bit too much. The reason O'Brien is probably happy? These are mostly the product of nerves. Watson made some professional-grade throws as he eased himself into the game and seemed to look more comfortable with each snap. Some of his escape maneuvers out of the pocket were Russell Wilson-esque. He set the bar reasonably high for a group of rookie quarterbacks making their preseason debuts this weekend.
"This is professional football," Watson said. "The highest level of this sport. It's a lot faster, bigger guys, smarter guys. At the same time, I am doing the same thing they're doing. I'm watching film, trying to play fast also. At the end of the day, it's still football. You have to go out there, operate, and do your job."
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if Watson plays well enough to open up the competition. Presumptive starter Tom Savage was efficient, going 9 of 11 for 69 yards in his time against Carolina's starters. As I've noted in the past, the Texans would not have drafted Watson if they didn't think there was something else he could give the Texans that Savage simply could not. This was on display against second and third-string defenders Wednesday night, but one has to wonder if O'Brien will want to see it against a first-team defense before the start of the regular season.