HOUSTON (AP)A rookie coach and quarterback have the Houston Texans on the road to respectability after three awful seasons.

Coach DeMeco Ryans, a former linebacker on the team, and quarterback C.J. Stroud are leading the way as the Texans have made a huge improvement from last season. They enter their bye this week at 3-3, already matching their win total from last season when they had the NFL’s second-worst record at 3-13-1.

“I’m feeling good about our team and where we are,” Ryans said. “As we continue to grow and work together, we’re learning who we are – our strengths, our weaknesses, what we do well, and things we need to lean into more.”

General manager Nick Caserio, who has helped to hire three head coaches in the last three offseasons, raved about Ryans.

“DeMeco and the coaching staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what we’ve done and where we are,” he said. “I’d say just specifically DeMeco; he’s everything that I think we hoped and thought he would be. As good of a coach as he is, he’s a better person and human being. Players love playing for him. Players want to be here.”

Stroud, the second overall pick in the draft, took over after Houston had two ineffective seasons with Davis Mills at quarterback. The former Ohio State standout has completely transformed Houston’s passing game, making it one of the strengths of the team.

Stroud ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,660 yards passing and has nine touchdown passes with just one interception. He’s thoroughly outplayed Bryce Young, who was chosen ahead of him in the draft.

Young has thrown for just 967 yards and has six touchdown passes with four interceptions for the Panthers (0-6), who will host Houston after the Texans’ bye.

Stroud, who didn’t turn 22 until Oct. 3, has shown poise on the field and has already developed into a leader for this young team. He and a fellow rookie, defensive end Will Anderson, were named team captains at the beginning of the season.

“The big thing with (Stroud) is just his confidence, his belief in himself, his competitiveness, his pride, and the respect that he’s earned with his performance from his teammates,” Caserio said. “Being a captain is not a popularity contest, but when you’re a captain as a rookie, which both he and Will are, it’s really more about what you do and how you handle your job necessarily than what you say.”

“But he cares a lot,” Caserio continued. “He has a lot of pride, and he wants to go out there and perform well and do the best thing and the right thing for the team, and he’s shown the propensity to do that.”

Stroud, an admitted perfectionist, said his progress has been helped by the steady guidance Ryans has provided.

“His thing is next play, next drive … and that means a lot, especially being a young quarterback,” Stroud said. “When I do make mistakes, (I) always come back to the sideline, and he’s got a smile on his face. He always tells me how good I’m doing, always gives me advice and tips. I appreciate him for just his demeanor, his attitude and his positivity that he brings to this culture and this brand of football. And I think as we’re winning, we’re buying in more and more.”

While Stroud has been the star of Houston’s rookie class, Anderson has also shined. The Texans traded up to select the former Alabama star with the third pick in the draft.

He has started each game this season and has 24 tackles, including two for losses, a sack and eight quarterback hits.

“Will has been doing good throughout the season,” Ryans said. “He continues to grow as a young player, continues to improve his game each and every week as well. It’s great to see the growth of Will and what he’s able to do for us defensively.”

The Texans have also gotten big contributions from another rookie, third-round pick Tank Dell. Some questioned if the former University of Houston star, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound receiver, could play at this level.

So far, he’s shown that he can. Dell played in the first five games before missing Sunday’s game with a concussion. He ranks second on the team with 324 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He’s shown a knack for extending plays and has 97 yards after catches.

Caserio is encouraged by the work of his team thus far, but he was quick to point out the being .500 in won’t get you that far and the Texans need to do much more to return to contention.

“Half the league is 3-3 or 3-2, right? Like nobody has done anything to this point,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t done anything. We’ve earned what we’ve earned. A lot of work in front of us. Players have done a good job to this point, but 11 games left, so it’s a week-to-week endeavor in this league, and that’s how we’re approaching it. Nothing more, nothing less.”

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