By all accounts, Tom Savage has what it takes to be an NFL quarterback
The odyssey of strong-armed Texans quarterback Tom Savage can be traced to a grainy highlight video that still graces the website of the Cardinal O'Hara football program.
It provides an extended snapshot of rare velocity and torque on his throws, along with a gritty toughness as Savage embraced absorbing and dishing out contact.
Savage displayed a willingness to hang in the pocket under pressure, delivering spirals with poise. He showed off a cannon for an arm that still stands out as his top attribute.
"He's got the look of an NFL quarterback; his talent is undeniable," NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell said. "There's a lot to like about Savage; he throws it really well. He's a natural thrower, a natural pocket passer with poise and comfort back there.
"He's a big, strong guy. He definitely looks the part. I liked him a lot coming out of college. Being this type of quarterback who can stand in there and deliver the football is in his DNA."
However, Savage's maturation has involved a peripatetic journey for the former blue-chip Rutgers recruit to finally become an NFL starting quarterback in his third NFL season as he's preparing to make his first regular-season start Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Savage rescued the Texans' playoff contender status by playing a mistake-free game as he led the offense on five scoring drives for a 21-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coach Bill O'Brien benched $72 million starting quarterback Brock Osweiler after he threw a pair of first-half interceptions.
With the game on the line in the fourth quarter Sunday, quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) could merely watch from the sidelines as Tom Savage directed the Texans' offense. Quarterbacks rarely rebound after being benched like Brock Sept. 9, 2007 at Houston: Texans 20, Chiefs 3
In his first start with the Texans, quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 225 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson. The Texans' defense, meanwhile, forced four turnovers. Texans QBs under Bill O'Brien: Before and after Philadelphia Eagles' Nelson Agholor celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, in Philadelphia. Eagles prevent Giants from clinching playoff spot Yes, it's true, Romeo Crennel's Texans defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL this week. Romeo Crennel the Texans' MVP this season Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) caught eight passes from quarterback Tom Savage for 87 yards in the win over Jacksonville on Sunday. DeAndre Hopkins, Tom Savage hook up may be a keeper for Texans Texans report: Secondary coach John Butler answers the call for
Frustrated when he was replaced by Chas Dodd as Rutgers' starting quarterback during a sophomore year marred by injuries after he passed for 2,211 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a freshman, Savage bounced around the college ranks. He transferred to Arizona, sat out a year under the NCAA transfer rules, and left campus when Mike Stoops was fired and replaced by Rich Rodriguez, a proponent of a spread offense that didn't suit Savage's pocket-passer talents.
After enrolling at Pittsburgh, Savage hit his stride in his lone season of eligibility with 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions before being drafted by the Texans in the fourth round. Years later, Savage acknowledged that patience wasn't his strong suit as a teenager when he bolted from Rutgers.
Savage struggled during his most significant appearance as a rookie in 2014, throwing an interception and fumbling a handoff as he passed for 127 yards after starter Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg. Savage hurt his knee during that game. Then Savage spent all of last season on injured reserve with a sprained shoulder.
"Yeah, it's been a long journey," Savage said. "It's not really a sob story or anything. I had a longer journey to get to the NFL, obviously transferring twice, but I think it kind of made me the man I am today. Never take these things for granted.
"Just go out there and have fun and enjoy each day and enjoy the locker room. It's a great opportunity to go out there and kind of show what I can do. Really, I have to go out there and execute… I'm going to have some fun doing it and just go rip it."
Savage's calm, confident demeanor has resonated in the Texans' locker room and during other stops throughout his career.
'Tom has the right demeanor'
Playing for the late Dan Algeo in Springfield, Pa., Savage was the third-ranked QB recruit in the nation. He ran a wing-T offense but got enough opportunities to show off his passing skills that he was named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and the Big 33 Football Classic. He threw for 2,547 yards and 20 TDs as a three-year starter.
Savage isn't the only NFL quarterback from the Philadelphia region, a group that includes former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco and the New York Giants' Ryan Nassib.
There's a considerable amount of excitement at his Catholic League high school, which Savage and his wife visited during the Texans' open week this fall.
"It was exciting to see Tommy jump in there when he got his number called, and the buzz up here has been great," said Cardinal O'Hara football coach B.J. Hogan, who didn't coach Savage. "We just hope he continues to play well. He's got a great opportunity. He made some big-time throws Sunday.
"That's what has people fired up, but it's also because of the kind of person he is. He's humble. When people talk about Tommy in the building, the teachers always say, 'First-class guy, good kid, the type you want to represent your school and football program.' He's not a knucklehead."
As a rookie, the dead ringer for actor Nicolas Cage made it a point to listen more than he spoke.
Learning behind Fitzpatrick, Savage tried to glean as much knowledge as possible from him, O'Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey.
Savage's low-key personality quickly won over veterans like Fitzpatrick and has continued to make him a popular man at the Texans' training facility.
"I think Tom has the right demeanor," said Fitzpatrick, who's now playing for the New York Jets. "He was a really laid-back guy. He had great habits, showing up early and staying late trying to get better every day. I think his laid-back demeanor, the way he's able to draw people to him as teammates and friends, are important qualities to have as a quarterback.
"Tom is a big, strong kid with a strong arm. Definitely a huge competitor. When he got into game mode, he had the right look in his eye. I know coach O'Brien and coach Godsey will put him in a great opportunity and have him well-coached up, and Tom will put in the time to understand the game plan… I'm excited to see how he does, and I think he'll take advantage of it."
At 6-4, 230 pounds that he has restructured over the past few seasons by getting into much better shape in the weight room, Savage completed 23 of 36 passes for 260 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a respectable 85.4 passer rating to rally the Texans past the Jaguars.
It was a quantum leap for the 26-year-old Savage compared with how relatively raw and unpolished he once was.
"I mean, it's not even close," O'Brien said. "He took advantage of his year last year when he was on injured reserve. He prepped every week like he was really a part of the game plan, like he was going to play, even though he was on injured reserve… He's a much improved player relative to that time when he played as a rookie."
Even-keeled and not prone to bragging, Savage has a quiet swagger. He doesn't seek attention, but he doesn't shy away from it, either.
"He's got a good personality," O'Brien said. "You've got to give credit to his family. I know his wife. I met his dad and his brother a few years ago. They were thinking about transferring to Penn State when I was the head football coach there. Good family. I think he's got a lot of positive traits when it comes to poise and being a consistent person."
Rather than pout about his setback last season, Savage dedicated himself to putting in extra work.
Savage spent a ton of hours with offensive assistant Pat O'Hara, a former NFL quarterback who played at USC.
"Just to stay motivated because I knew this opportunity was going to come back eventually, and I wasn't going to miss it," Savage said. "Pat, I mean, shoot, I owe him my whole career, to be honest with you. He's been there. He's quizzed me every day, even last year."
Boiling down Savage's game isn't complicated. Savage quickly scans the field, going through his progressions to identify his read and decisively find receivers in stride with the football before the defense can react. His timing and chemistry were remarkable Sunday considering his lack of experience in game situations.
"I think just getting the ball out of my hands and putting it into the athletes' hands," Savage said. "A lot of times as a young guy, you kind of hold on to the ball. And that's not what you want to do, especially against this (Cincinnati) defense. They have a great front four and fast defensive backs, so you just have to go out there and get the ball out of your hands and anticipate it.
"These coaches do a heck of a job of just building that foundation. They do a great job of just helping me go through these reads and stay in the pocket and get the ball out of your hands quick, because obviously, I'm not a burner by any means. So (I've) got to get the ball out and give it to the faster guys."
Latest in a long line
The ability to quickly assimilate information and apply that on the fly doesn't come as a surprise to Bengals rookie wide receiver Tyler Boyd, a former teammate at Pitt.
When Savage was a senior at Pitt in 2013, Boyd caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman to break Larry Fitzgerald's records.
Now with the Bengals, Boyd will compete against Savage on Saturday night at NRG Stadium.
"He was a real great player," Boyd said. "He got me up in the rankings, got my yards up. He was very accurate, a strong-armed guy. Our chemistry was clicking ever since I got there. He trusted me, and I trusted him.
"He's just a guy that knows the game, studies it a lot. … When I was getting recruited, I felt he was probably the most mature and most NFL-ready based off what I had seen."
Savage has seen the Texans' quarterback carousel keep turning over the past two seasons. He becomes the sixth starting quarterback in that span, joining Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden and Osweiler, who struggled mightily this season with 16 interceptions and a poor 71.5 passer rating.
Savage is determined not to squander this opportunity to join the 32-man fraternity of NFL starting quarterbacks and perhaps solidify his future, the Texans' playoff outlook, and the big picture for an inconsistent offense that ranks 26th overall and 30th in passing offense.
"At a young time in my career, I learned that this opportunity can be taken away from you pretty quick," Savage said. "It's an awesome opportunity. I'm really excited about it, but right now I'm trying to stay away from the Kool-Aid a little bit and just go out there and execute my job and have some fun."
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