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T.J. Yates back as starter for Texans after injuries

Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates scrambles as San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner pressures him. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates scrambles as San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner pressures him. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
By Kristie Rieken Associated Press

HOUSTON – Third-string quarterback T.J. Yates will get his first start this season for Houston on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars with Deshaun Watson out for the season with a knee injury and backup Tom Savage recovering from a concussion.

But Yates already has plenty of history with the Texans, starting nine games for them including leading the franchise to its first playoff win in the 2011 season.

Yates was a rookie that season when injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart thrust him into action.

Linebacker Brian Cushing, one of the few players remaining from that team, recalled what he thought of Yates after he led Houston to that playoff victory.

“Calm (even) under pressure,” Cushing said. “Nothing seemed to rattle him and I always respected him for that … he stepped up during that playoff run and did a great job.

“Nothing really bothers him. He has a lot of composure sitting back there and really does exactly what we needed him to do.”

Cushing saw the same qualities in Yates when he took over in the second quarter last week after Savage was injured.

“Just stepped right in and it didn’t seem like he even missed a beat,” he said.

Yates, who hadn’t played since November 2015, threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 loss to the 49ers. He said he was so in the moment that he didn’t even consider his long layoff when he entered Sunday’s game.

“Just like normal,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much and it was kind of good that I was thrust right into like a two-minute drill. You don’t have to think much, you just go out there and play and read and react.”

Yates is in his third stint with the Texans after spending 2011-13 and 2015 in Houston before being re-signed in the days after Watson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Coach Bill O’Brien thought Yates did some good things against San Francisco and is looking for him to play even better on Sunday with an entire week of practice as the starter under his belt.

“He’s got a good command out there and he’s got a good idea of what we want to do,” O’Brien said. “He doesn’t hold the ball. I think he’s got pretty good anticipation. I think he throws the ball at all levels pretty well. So, I’m glad we have him.”

Yates relied heavily on star receiver DeAndre Hopkins last week, with 110 of his yards passing going to him. He also found him on both of his TD passes – one for 7 yards and one for 29 yards.

“He’s incredible … he’s a security blanket and he’s one of the best receivers in the league and he makes it easy on me,” Yates said. “Obviously we’re going to try to give him the ball as much as possible, but we’re going up against a tough defense that knows that, too, and they’ve got some great guys in the secondary. We’re going to have to scheme up our best work to try to get everybody the ball.”

Along with figuring out ways to target Hopkins, another focus for Yates this week will be getting rid of the ball quickly as the Texans try to snap a three-game skid.

The Jaguars lead the NFL with 47 sacks this season and had 10 in the season opener against the Texans, including a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown.

“It’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis for us,” Yates said. “We know what type of defense we’re going up against and how talented they are up front and in the back end, so we have to be sharp. Definitely the ball has to come out quick.”

O’Brien wouldn’t give away any specifics about how he hopes to slow down Jacksonville’s pass rush. But he did acknowledge that Houston will make a lot of adjustments this week.

“You have to change it,” he said. “You can’t do what you did in the first game. I don’t want to get into that, but you have to change up how you protect the edge of the front. You have to change up how you run the ball. You have to change up your routes. You have to change everything because nothing we did in the first game was any good.”

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