Some won't put too much of an emphasis on summer practices or seven-on-seven drills in mini camp. That's not the case for the Houston Texans' coaching staff as they watch quarterback Davis Mills deliver strikes across the middle of the field.
Every step-back, every decision, every throw — it's all under the microscope for the second-year passer. Houston finished 4-13 in its first season with the new regime, while Mills posted a 2-9 record as a starter - and the build continues.
The franchise isn't looking for just production with Mills. He needs wins to prove that there's potential for him running the show long-term at NRG Drive.
"You expect from Year 1 to Year 2, any player or any quarterback in particular to have a better sense of an NFL defense," Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "That's going to allow him to process information faster, and ultimately make better decisions, or be more consistent in making good decisions."
There's two parts to Mills' rookie campaign that the Texans can take into consideration. When asked to replace Tyrod Taylor in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, the Stanford product was far from capable of commanding a huddle, let alone stabilizing an offense that lacked weapons and a supportive run game. It showed in performances against the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.
Of course, not everything was a dud for the third-rounder. Mills led all rookies in 300-plus passing games (four) while averaging 7.2 yards per air attempt. He also improved when playing at NRG Stadium, throwing just one interception against 12 touchdowns while completing just under 70 percent of his throws.
"I'm at a good spot," Mills said. "Obviously there's still a lot of room to grow, but more confident, more comfortable out there with the offense and my teammates around me. Ready to keep progressing and head into the season.”
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The final five starts are what earned Mills a second chance. He posted a 102.4 quarterback rating — eighth-highest among all active quarterbacks in that span with nine touchdowns against two interceptions. He also picked up a pair of wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers.
Another solid quarter in the season finale against the Tennessee Titans and perhaps he ends with a 3-2 record down the stretch instead of 2-3. In large part, Mills credited Hamilton's experience at the position as a factor to his development.
"He's been coaching the quarterback position for years now, so he really understands what we see back there and how we can react to things and how we can progress forward after bad plays," Mills said. "We've only been together for a year now, but he's known about me since before I was even at Stanford. We have a really good connection in that regard."
Texans coach Lovie Smith said promoting Hamilton was a "must" if Houston would be sticking with Mills. His West Coast offense will differ from what former coordinator Tim Kelly ran last fall. Perhaps that's a positive since Houston finished dead last in total offense and rushing under his watch.
Mills can only do so much. Houston upgraded its attack by singing running back Marlon Mack and extending Brandin Cooks in the offseason. It also added more weaponry in the draft with Alabama receiver John Metchie III, Florida running back Dameon Pierce and Oregon State tight end Teagan Quitoriano.
Everything, however. starts and ends with the quarterback position. The productivity of an offense often is dictated on the decisions made by the offensive coordinator and the execution of the quarterback. That puts pressure on Mills and Hamilton to be on the same page from the start and build off the late success from last year.
Mills' uphill climb was caused in part by a lackluster supporting cast. Texans general manager Nick Caserio addressed the woes to an extent in the offseason, giving his quarterback at least a fighting chance come September.
"It’s a great opportunity for us to atone for some of the things that happened over the course of last season,” Hamilton said. “Just to be able to go out and show that we can play a high level of football more consistently. We had times where we played good football offensively. But there were times when we also tended to just make mistakes and create issues for ourselves.”