'Gym Rat' Ryan Mallett returns to Texans

Gym Rat.

It's the term often used for basketball players that never leave the gym. Shoot buckets all night. Have a key to the building. Open it up and close it down. The player that just can't get enough.

Now, there's no analogous term for football so I've used that term to describe Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett. If there's a guy that loves football more than him, I haven't met him. I realized this from afar, then saw it up close last year in his first year with the Texans.

Following Mallett's stellar junior season at Arkansas, he broke his foot during a conditioning drill. That injury sidelined him for the rest of spring practice leading up to his hyped-filled senior campaign.

But, it didn't end his spring practice participation. He never missed a practice, watching from behind the huddle, calling out plays and figuring out what he would do against the defense. He didn't miss a day. Former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said he was the consummate leader.

Flash forward to 2014.

On Wednesday heading into the team's bye week, Bill O'Brien named Mallett the Texans new starting quarterback. Two nights later, I was hosting Texans radio on a Friday night from 6-8 PM from the studio across from the team's locker room and it was a lonely building.

Suffice it to say, thousandaire/millionaire football players had better places to be during the bye week than NRG Stadium. During the show, I walked down to the cafeteria for a water and on my way back I saw someone wearing a backpack, coming out of the locker room. As I got closer, I realized it was Mallett just leaving the locker room.

At 7:30 PM.

On a Friday night.

On the team's bye weekend.

Gym rat.

Those qualities endeared Mallett to the Texans brass that stated it wanted him back even though he only had two starts in 2014. One start was with a torn pectoral muscle against Cincinnati. The other was the first start of his career against Cleveland. After that game, I did some research.

The stat sheet said Mallett completed 20 of 30 passes for 211 yards with two TD and one INT, but dive deeper into the REAL stats and Mallett was 25 of 32 for 230 yards with two TD and two INT. Let me explain...

I studied every pass Mallett made vs. Cleveland, which included two completed passes that didn't register because a defensive penalty negated the completion and the corresponding gain. The other thing I did was define "Quality completion". I defined a quality completion as a completed pass or a pass dropped that should've been caught. Likewise, I gave him an incompletion for a bad throw that was still caught or an interception that was dropped. That's how he ended up with two interceptions - the one Joe Haden picked off and the one that Paul Kruger dropped.

Here's what I found.

On throws beyond the line of scrimmage up to and including 20 yards
20 of 25 (80%), 1 TD and 1 INT.

He completed two quick screens behind the line of scrimmage which I didn't count in this metric, but he completed 80 % of the 25 other throws beyond the LOS. That's an impressive number, but the next one is even more so.

On throws between 10-20 yards
6-7 (86%), 1 TD.

How often have you heard analysts say that a quarterback can only succeed if he can make those 15-17 yard intermediate throws in the NFL? I've heard it a thousand times if I've heard it once. Eighty...Six...percent?!? In his first start? Outstanding.

His best throw, in my opinion, all day was on third down. Coach O'Brien and I broke this down in our weekly telestrator segment.

So, then I thought about what typically ails many first-time starting quarterbacks. Blitz and pressure. As such, I looked at the number of rushers for each throw he made. A couple of them I eliminated from the computation because those were throws down on the goal line or 3rd and 1 throws. In essence, I was looking for five and six man pressure situations. There were plenty of complex four man zone dogs but I didn't account for them in this metric.

Against five man pressure
7-9 (78%), 1 Int

Against six man pressure
0-1 (0%)...arguably

I say arguably because the only instance I found where the Browns brought six rushers, two Browns beared down on Mallett forcing him to sling it earlier than he wanted. The throw was in the receiver's hands and you could argue that it could've been caught down the field.

Regardless, against five or six man pressure in his first start, Mallett completed 70% of his passes, which was perhaps the most impressive stat I dug up watching the film. Think back to other first-time starting quarterbacks and the struggles they all had when opposing defensive coordinators dialed up pressure. Let me repeat, 70%. Wow.

Was it beginner's luck? Many thought so after he struggled against Cincinnati the following week and a pectoral injury complicated a true, clear assessment of Mallett as an NFL starting QB.

Now, I've seen nearly every one of Mallett's games from his true freshman season at Michigan and I know something's there. I'll put it this way, I would've loved to play alongside him or, better yet, coach him. Watch him on the sideline, whether he's playing or not. He loves his teammates. He loves to compete. He loves this game. He's tough. He's waited long enough.

The penultimate gym rat is back and that's good. I need some company in the studio on Friday nights.

Quarterback Ryan Mallett's 2014 with the Texans, in photos.

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