FOXBORO -- Bill O'Brien can't help but be encouraged by what he's seen thus far from Deshaun Watson. Though the quarterback's rookie season was cut short due to injury, his on-the-field production was off-the-charts in key categories.
How Watson has handled his business off the field has been equally impressive for O'Brien, which became clear during an exchange O'Brien had with Patriots reporters during a conference call Tuesday.
First, the Texans coach was asked about Tom Brady and what he saw from Brady in terms of work ethic during O'Brien's five years in New England (three as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator).
"He works so hard at all the different parts of his game relative to mechanics and knowledge of the game, knowledge of his teammates," O'Brien said. "He’s always working at it. I can remember when I was there, phone calls in the offseason, you know, 'What’s happening here? Hey, I was thinking about this.' You know, always thinking about football and how to get the edge and that’s why he’s the player he is and he’s had the career that he’s had and that’s why he’s still playing. Because he’s found that edge and he continues to try to get better every single day."
O'Brien was later asked if he saw any of those same types of characteristics in his current quarterback. Not one to sugarcoat things, O'Brien didn't hesitate.
"I do, I do," he said. "Deshaun is in that regard, very passionate about football. Loves to watch tape, loves to talk about the game, come in early, stay late. Always has good suggestions, ideas on game plans or certain things that maybe our defense was doing in training camp, how can we take advantage of that, this, that and the other whether it was a preseason game or against our own defense. So he really loves the game and it shows every day."
Watson and Brady are, clearly, far different quarterbacks.
Though Brady has worked relentlessly on his mobility, and though he's a master manipulator of the pocket, Watson's athleticism and ability to extend plays made him a big-play threat every time he took a snap in 2017.
Brady, meanwhile, has been ridiculously accurate in recent seasons, while Watson has plenty of room to grow in that area.
While we have a good idea of what Brady is and will be as a quarterback, even at 41, there is still a great deal of unknown about Watson's game. In his second year, Watson could be in line for a statistical regression, and not just because he's coming off of a season-ending injury.
In seven games last season, Watson compiled a completion percentage of 61.8 -- an average-to-below-average mark for starters in today's NFL. His knack for big plays on risk-reward throws, though, made up for some of his misses as he checked in with 8.3 yards per attempt last year. That was second only to Jimmy Garoppolo among starters. Is that sustainable?
What about his touchdown percentage (a score on 9.31 percent of his attempts), which was second-best among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes since the NFL merger, according to Pro Football Focus? Can he possibly keep that up in Year 2?
In all likelihood, no. But what O'Brien has seen from Watson in their year together has given him confidence that he has a quarterback who can fend off a statistical regression thanks to his obsession over improvement.
"I think that obviously whatever happened last year, it was basically a six-game window into what he can do and that’s what obviously teams have been studying a lot of relative to us this year," O'Brien said when asked if he expected a regression from Watson from a productivity standpoint.
"You know, look, I think Deshaun works very hard. He is just not a guy that rests on any kind of laurels, he’s a guy that really works hard to get better every day. He talks about that a lot, he wants to try to get one percent, two percent better at something every single day."
In that way, Watson reminds O'Brien of another quarterback he's coached who has long fought back a statistical regression of his own -- the one typically induced by aging.