Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/1/11
HOUSTON -- It is a near certainty that the person who has watched Super Bowl XLIV the most is an Atlanta Falcons fan who went to college in North Carolina. That was the one with Drew Brees in it, and Brees' lasting contribution to football, it appears, will be inspiring an entire generation of smallish quarterbacks to succeed in nontraditional ways. T.J. Yates isn't smallish (he is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds), but he is one of those quarterbacks who marvels at Brees not for his ability but for his intricacy. The question Yates and his North Carolina position coach, John Shoop, would ask themselves during those film sessions was both simple and complex: What makes Drew Brees great? The answer, they felt, would be the same for Yates. So over and over they watched, and they learned something. "We must have watched it 100 times," Shoop said. "There wasn't one pass in that Super Bowl T.J. couldn't have completed. Not one. There wasn't one play that was like a Dan Marino laser." And if you understand that, you understand how Yates will try to play when he makes his first NFL start Sunday for the Houston Texans against the Atlanta Falcons. It sounds so simple. Brees just completed passes. Thirty-two of them, actually, which tied a Super Bowl record. And yet none of them were remarkable throws. This is why Yates watched that film so many times. He wanted to learn how to complete 32 passes in the Super Bowl without being the most talented guy on the field. In four seasons at North Carolina, he got pretty good at it. "He doesn't always make the splash plays," Shoop said. "You didn't always see a 40-yard bullet or something like that. His splash always came at the end of a game. You'd say, son of a gun, that sucker was 28 of 35 for 300 yards, you know?" Yates was a four-year starter at North Carolina. His best season was his last, when he completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,418 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He completed 62 percent of his passes over four years, but in two of his seasons had more interceptions than touchdowns. According to Shoop, this has nothing to do with his ability to understand or prepare. "He's as smart as any quarterback I've ever been around," Shoop said. "And I coached 12 years in the NFL." The splash always showed up in the mundane. Sunday was the day the Tar Heels reviewed the film from the Saturday game. At 8 a.m. Monday, Yates would show up in the meeting room, drop off 10 or 12 pages worth of notes and preferred plays for the next week's game plan, announce he'd be back in the afternoon after class and leave. "You know what? They were doggone good notes, too," Shoop said. "Most of those appeared in the game plan." Yates' splashes didn't come on third-and-9, they came on Saturday nights and Monday mornings. Shoop describes Yates as one of those guys who actually enjoys the process. After beginning the season as the Houston Texans' third-string quarterback, he will start on Sunday against his hometown Atlanta Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan, who also threw a lot of interceptions in the ACC. Yates is trying to keep focused on the little things, even as his coach, Gary Kubiak, is invoking the names Brady and Warner. "I'm trying my best not to talk to too many outside sources that will get my head in the wrong place," Yates said. Matt Schaub, the regular Texans starter who is out for the season, said recently Yates had learned Houston's offense more quickly than anybody he had ever seen. This is partially because the terminology is so similar it is sometimes identical to things UNC runs. But Shoop thinks there is another reason for it. "He was always the smartest guy in the room, here," he said. Yates maybe projects that a little, but the main thing he exudes is a lack of excitability. It could be called poise, and often is. It manifested itself last week, when Matt Leinart got hurt in the second quarter. Yates was about to go into the game, and he was standing on the sideline all cool-like when linebacker Brian Cushing, who is to serenity what an errant cigarette butt is to a fireworks warehouse, came over and detonated in Yates' face. The goal was to fire him up. Yates recalls the moment and smirks. "Who knows what Cush said," he said. "It was some form of pumping me up." Yates didn't need to be pumped up, and didn't want to be. Which is something a linebacker would never truly understand. Yates wanted to think about the little nuances. The footwork, the touch, taking the easy play. Just complete passes, and the splash will show up later. "People keep talking about T.J.," Texans receiver Andre Johnson said. "T.J.'s gonna be fine."
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