HOUSTON – Ryan Mallett’s wait to be a starter is over.
After toiling in the shadow of Tom Brady for three seasons in New England and backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick for nine games this year, coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday that the Houston Texans will bench Fitzpatrick and start Mallett at Cleveland on Nov. 16.
“I’ve been waiting four years for this,” Mallett said. “Now it’s my time to have an opportunity to show what I can do.”
O’Brien made the announcement as the Texans prepare to take time off during their bye week. He lauded Fitzpatrick for his hard work, but said the team needed a change.
“I might be wrong,” O’Brien said of the move, “but I think this might be the thing that helps our team.”
The coach made it clear that this isn’t a one-game experiment and that Mallett will be Houston’s starter for the rest of the season.
“We’re going to give Ryan a shot to play,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to make sure that he’s given a good opportunity to lead this football team.”
Fitzpatrick joined the team in the offseason after the Texans traded Matt Schaub and he started the first nine games. But he struggled to move the offense as the team fell to 4-5.
He wasn’t happy with the move.
“I didn’t like it,” he said. “I don’t really agree with it, but I respect the (heck) out of coach O’Brien.”
The Texans traded for Mallett on Aug. 31, reuniting him with O’Brien, who was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots when he was a rookie in 2011. Mallett didn’t see much action in New England, and didn’t take a single snap in two of his three seasons there. He appeared in four games in 2012, but completed just one of four passes for 17 yards with an interception.
O’Brien insisted that he isn’t concerned about Mallett’s lack of experience and said he’s been impressed with Mallett’s development and maturity since joining the Texans.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” he said when questioned about his inexperience. “It’s his turn to get a shot and let’s see how he does.”
Mallett was a third-round draft pick after throwing for 7,493 yards with 62 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his career at Arkansas. He was an eager student in his time spent with Brady, soaking up everything he could from the nine-time Pro Bowler.
“I learned how to be a professional,” Mallett said. “How to work with your teammates, how to communicate. It’s not a one guy thing. It’s all 11 guys on offense doing what we want to do to be successful. You can’t have one guy not doing the right thing and 10 other guys doing it, because that can hurt the offense.”
Despite his strong ties to Brady, the Texans are careful not to place too much pressure on Mallett by expecting him to be something he’s not.
“We are not asking him to go out there and be Tom Brady,” O’Brien said. “We are asking him to go out there and be Ryan Mallett and be the best Ryan Mallett he can be, which is trying to go out there and be the best quarterback he can be for our team.”
Mallett thinks some people might underestimate him, but that’s OK with him.
“My football IQ is a lot higher than a lot of people give me credit for,” he said. “I like that. If you think I’m a dumb player, fine. My advantage there.”
Though O’Brien hopes this move helps turn things around for the offense, he is also looking for everyone on the unit to improve after the break to help Mallett be successful. The first-year coach also noted that he and the rest of the coaching staff need to get better, too.
He doesn’t expect a lot of changes with Mallett under center, but did note one of his deficiencies.
“I wouldn’t call him a speed demon,” O’Brien said with a laugh. “He’s 6-foot-7, he’s a pocket passer. So, there’s certainly some things that we’re going to have to do that are a little bit different, but at the end of the day our system is what it is.”
Receiver Andre Johnson said he feels comfortable with both quarterbacks, but otherwise didn’t have much to say about the move. The team has talked often about needing a spark on an offense that is 28th in the league in yards passing a game. Could this be that spark?
“We’ll see what happens,” Johnson said.