HOUSTON – The Texans switched quarterbacks Wednesday without any formal or public announcement, doing so through their actions and internal communication as Kyle Allen was simply inserted as the new starter with the first-team offense during practice as Davis Mills was benched, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
Mills will still be active and will operate as the backup Sunday for a road game against the Miami Dolphins.
“I do not announce who is starting through the week,” Smith said. “We have a starting lineup, the last one that we have. When it changes, we’ll let you know. But during the week, of course we’re not going to announce anything like that.
“I think that would give the opponent an advantage. Our starting lineup, as far as you are concerned, and I would have said the same thing three weeks ago, it’s the same one until told otherwise.”
The Texans didn’t have Mills or any quarterback address the media Wednesday, but are expected to have Allen talk with reporters Friday.
Like Smith, Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was involved in the decision, declined to acknowledge that Allen has been named the quarterback.
“No, we haven’t made any changes,” Hamilton said. “I will stay away from hypotheticals. I think all the guys on our gameday roster, we feel like they give us a chance to go and play competitive football.”
When asked if Mills still gives the Texans their best chance of winning, as he has previously, Smith didn’t back the former third-round draft pick: “The guys that are going to play are the guys I think give us the best chance to win.”
When asked why not make an announcement as the New York Jets did Wednesday when coach Robert Saleh publicly benched Zach Wilson and replaced him with Mike White, Smith replied: “It doesn’t matter how the Jets do it. What I’ve said, and all I’m going to say about it, is that this is how we do it. I don’t publicly go out and talk about any of those things until the team is out there (on Sunday). I think I said that early on, and I haven’t changed. I couldn’t care less what anybody else does. So, we’re not even going to go down that road.”
Smith was much more definitive when asked if Hamilton has been replaced as the play-caller, saying: “Absolutely not. Have I considered a change at play caller? No. All of our coaches are working their butt off. Are we getting the results? No. So, all those kind of questions like that, I think you know the answer. It’s no.”
Smith was noncommittal Monday on having Mills remain the starting quarterback and foreshadowed potential change at the position one day after indicating the second-year passer wasn’t being replaced.
Smith didn’t indicate anything definitively, citing the need to inform players before making public announcements, but hinted strongly that change is coming.
And Mills’ shortcomings provided another snapshot of his season-long struggles and the problems facing an unproductive offense engineered by Hamilton. The Texans mustered just five yards of total offense in the first half, their fewest net yards in a half in franchise history, during a 23-10 loss to the Washington Commanders. They had eight yards in the first half of a 40-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills last season. This marked the fewest net yards by an NFL team in a half since the Raiders’ minus-12 yards in a win over the Denver Broncos in 2015.
When asked for his evaluation of Mills, Smith reiterated that it would be difficult for any quarterback to perform well while being sacked five times. However, he didn’t attribute all of Mills’ issues to the heavy pressure generated by a talented Commanders defensive line.
“I think he’s grown,” Smith said of Mills.”It’s pretty hard when you talk about how much someone has grown after (Sunday) You look at the game, at the quarterback position, didn’t play as well.”
Mills stared down his primary read, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and was intercepted by Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller as he undercut the telegraphed pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown on the second offensive play of the game. The miscue, a pick-six, was the first of Mills’ two interceptions Sunday. Although the game was sparsely attended, the Texans’ ineptitude was repeatedly met with loud boos.
“I have watched that video a few times,” Smith said. “It’s tough for any quarterback, it would have been tough for them perform. With some of the pressure, we got. Not always, though. We’re evaluating what we’re doing, what plays we’re calling and if the quarterback isn’t having success throwing the football. Most of the day that wasn’t the case.”
Mills completed 19 of 33 passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 46.1 passer rating. He rushed for a late touchdown, the first rushing score of his career.
Mills has 11 interceptions this season and 11 touchdown passes. He has clearly regressed since his rookie season when he had nine touchdowns and two interceptions during the final five games of last year.
Allen, a former University of Houston and Texas A&M quarterback who has previously played for the Washington franchise and the Carolina Panthers, has a 7-10 career record. He has passed for 4,318 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions with a 63.1 completion percentage.
Allen was signed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a maximum value of $3 million during the offseason. He played in two games last season and completed 12 of 19 passes for 120 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He rushed for 11 yards on two carries.
“Kyle can make all of the throws,” Smith said. “He has a history of good play in the NFL. He’s a veteran who’s been in situations. He gets rid of the ball quickly. There’s a lot of things to like about what Kyle has done. When he played in the preseason, with a limited amount of time, I thought he did a pretty good job.”
Smith was asked if he believes a team can get a spark from a personnel change. He sounded like a coach who’s ready to try something new with the Texans off to a 1-8-1 start.
“When you’ve lost as many games as we have, you’re searching for ways and things that may get the best out of maybe that person or the team in general,” Smith said. “I think there’s a place for that. Whether that’s a spark or not, if the effort isn’t what you want it to be, you look and see if there’s a better option.
“Sometimes, we looked at a better option earlier than others. That’s a part of the process. We’re in the second half of the season. We should know about what’s been put on video is probably who we are now. I acknowledge that.”
Texans left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, defended Mills on Sunday and emphasized his resiliency after mistakes.
“That’s one thing about Davis, he gets ready for the next one,” Tunsil said. “That’s one thing we appreciate about him. I don’t think no change should happen. It’s just growing pains.”
The pick-six was an example of Mills’ lack of progress.
For the season, Mills has completed 61.9 percent of his throws for 2,144 yards for a 78.1 passer rating. He’s averaging an interception on 3.4 percent of his throws.
When asked to discuss the process for selecting a starting quarterback, Smith was intentionally vague on the situation.
“Picking a quarterback?” he said. “We had a quarterback last week. What do you mean, ‘picking’? Guys, we want to go down this road. We’re not going anywhere with this, alright? We have the guys in place.
“You’re here to start a press conference, right? That’s what it is. There’s not going to be any other announcements. We hold everybody to a high standard. Our play this past week was not what it needs to be. I think we’re going to get better. If we don’t, we’ll always look for our best option. Whether you agree with the best option or not, you have a right to that.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com