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"He's the Leader We Need Him to Be": Stroud, Ryans reflect on growth since Week 1

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C.J. Stroud wasn't happy after his NFL debut.

The Texans had just lost to the Ravens and Stroud, who hadn't lost a lot of games in his career, was upset about "a lot of different things" from the game.

In stepped veteran DE Jonathan Greenard.

"He was really good for me in that moment just to calm me down and just tell me, 'Man, we can see these dudes again,'" Stroud said as the Texans prepare to face the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round.

"And lo and behold, we do."

In his NFL debut, Stroud went 28 for 44 for 242 yards and no scores.

Since then, the candidate for the 2023 Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Year Award has broken franchise records, surpassed the 4,000-yard mark through the air, accounted for 29 total touchdowns and has the Texans on the cusp of the franchise's first-ever AFC Championship appearance.

"I just think, overall, every aspect [of] kind of just operating as an NFL player," Stroud said about his growth since Week 1. "It's different than college, especially off the field. Just having more time on your hands and just really being a professional.

"I think my coaches have done a good job helping me along with my vets and things like that, so I've grown in a lot of different places."

Stroud was one of six finalists for the award announced on Tuesday along with Miami Dolphins running back De'Von Achane, Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions tight end Sam LaPorta, Los Angeles Rams receiver Puka Nacua and Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson.

As Stroud looked back to the beginning of the year compared to where this team is now, it hasn't just been his growth as the Texans signal-caller but the team's collective development that has landed them where they are now.

"I think we've grown in a multitude of areas," Stroud said. "I think at that point, we weren't really identified as who we are now, and we've grown in a lot of aspects. A lot more experience up front now, both offensively, defensively and special teams, so I think we've grown in a lot of places."

The growth of Stroud has been noticed by the coaches, including Head Coach DeMeco Ryans. But it hasn't been just in what he's been able to do on the field in his play.

Reflecting back to the Week 1 showdown with Baltimore, Ryans noted that Stroud made some big-time plays against the Ravens the first time around.

Stroud has grown just by getting experience under his belt, but Ryans focuses on some intangibles that can take players from good to great.

"I think just his demeanor and how he's grown as a leader has really, really stepped up big-time for us," Ryans said. "When we've needed it most, I feel like just throughout the entire season, and now in this moment, he's the leader we need him to be. He's the player that we need him to be.

"His demeanor on the field, off the field, is exactly what you want out of a starting quarterback."

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