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Texans Exclusive: How Jerrod Johnson Instilled This Elite Trait in C.J. Stroud

Jerrod Johnson's first meeting with Houston Texans' C.J. Stroud helped him instill one of the most important attributes as a quarterback.

HOUSTON — Shaq Griffin walked off the field of NRG Stadium on Oct. 5 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the Houston Texans 37-33 with 46 seconds left in the fourth quarter

He was one of 11 defensive players who believed they blew an opportunity by allowing quarterback Baker Mayfield to throw a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton. 

Griffin knew the Texans still had a slim chance to come away victorious. After all, he spent the first four years of his career watching future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson lead the Seattle Seahawks in 13 game-winning drives. However, Wilson was an MVP-caliber player in the middle of his prime.

When Griffin returned to the sideline, he noticed that C.J. Stroud had the same demeanor and confidence as Wilson. The former Pro Bowl cornerback did not think much of it, given that Stroud was seven games into his career.

"That’s what is different about C.J.,” Griffin said. “You never see a guy that young with that much maturity, who can bring a team alone and bring them together. To have every single person believe in what you are saying, knowing you can get that done. That doesn't happen. There is no rookie quarterback who can get everyone in an organization to believe that — besides C.J."

Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) scrambles with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (45) applies defensive pressure during the first quarter at NRG Stadium.

Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) scrambles with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (45) applies defensive pressure during the first quarter at NRG Stadium.

Stroud led the Texans on his first game-winning drive as Houston took a 39-37 victory in the final seconds. He executed a 75-yard drive that ended with a game-winning touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Tank Dell.

Throughout the season, Stroud credited several former and current coaches for molding him into a quarterback capable of leading the Texans to a comeback victory.

However, when he ran off the field full of excitement, he did so next to quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson, who instilled arguably the most noteworthy characteristic amid Stroud's development — confidence. 

"You really don't know how good a player can be until you get into the thick of things," Johnson told Texans Daily. "For me, it has always been the consistency of his ability to process, stay within the moment and play with a plan. That's the thing about this league, a lot of guys can play well. But how many times can you play well and become the standard of how you play."

Johnson began working with Stroud in 2019 as part of Nike's Elite 11 camp for high school quarterbacks. The event allows players to simulate Division 1 play before moving on to their respective college programs.

At that time, Stroud was a self-doubting student-athlete from Rancho Cucamonga High School who was not the highest prospect ranked coming into the program. He was a late addition to the camp after D.J. Uiagalelei had to rescind his invitation due to scheduling conflicts.

Johnson instantly believed Stroud had a systematic way of playing football at a young age, which held up during his first season at the helm in Houston.

Stroud had all the attributes that made Johnson believe he was special. He was astonished by the way Stroud was able to process the game while noticing his love and desire to be great. However, confidence was the only trait he lacked during his Elite 11 visit.

Instilling confidence became Johnson's top objective when working with Stroud. Each time they broke up into circle groups, Johnson's message to Stroud was to be confident.

The new profound belief led to Stroud winning MVP honors over draftmate and childhood friend Bryce Young.

Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) attempts a pass during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NRG Stadium.

Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) attempts a pass during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at NRG Stadium.

"One thing that I can say about Jerrod, you talk about someone who knows how to play the position of quarterback and knows how to relay something, but also just a great person," Stroud said. "Jerrod is someone I looked up to. When he was like, ‘Man, you need to be more confident,’ it changed my life. From there, fast forward and now I’m here with him my rookie year, it’s been just a blessing to work with him."

The two reunited four years later in Houston after their first encounter. Johnson has seen how the confidence he instilled in Stroud at the Nike World Headquarters in Oregon has him on an early trajectory to a Hall of Fame career.

Before taking the field with the Texans trailing Tampa Bay by four points, Stroud, oozing with confidence, looked at his teammates and said, "hey, bro, I've got you."

"There are a lot of quarterbacks who can play good for 59 minutes, but when in crunch time, there are a lot of guys who really cannot do that at that high of a level," Sheldon Rankins said. "To watch his maturation every week has been special. It's crazy to say that he still has room to grow. I am blessed to watch it and be a part of it."

Stroud's confidence allowed him to lead Houston to an exceptional comeback. By the end of his first year, it helped him put together arguably the greatest season by a rookie quarterback in league history.

He finished his first year with 4,557 total passing yards, including the postseason, the second-most in NFL history by a rookie quarterback — trailing only Andrew Luck (4,662) in 2012.

The Texans won 11 games with Stroud, which included leading the organization to the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

"I think that kid is special," Johnson said. "He works hard enough to take this game as far as he wants to take it. As long as he keeps the main thing the main thing, he loves football. He's an elite and accurate passer. With those two traits, the sky is the limit for him."