EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS AND GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH
What do you look for in a quarterback that you would draft? You obviously need one since you only have two on the roster.
“Well, I’ve been asked that question a lot. I think there are a lot of variables that go into successful quarterback play. Leadership is one. If you start with the intangibles, there’s the work ethic, there’s the leadership, there’s the ability to rally people, there’s the ability to be able to command a room, the ability to handle adversity – all of those intangible things you look for. Then, the physical skillset. The arm strength, the athletic ability. There’s certain size – height, weight and speed – parameters that ideally we look for. There’s any number of – there’s his playing history, the style of offense that he has come from. All of those things go into an obvious comprehensive evaluation of the position because it’s so important. Those are some of the things that we look for.”
How tough is it to do what Cowboys QB Dak Prescott did last year and how much do you expect that to be outside the norm?
“I think they were very fortunate. Their situation – I mean, I think he did an outstanding job. I think they did an outstanding job collectively of putting him in a position to be successful, to execute and do the things that they wanted him to do and execute. So, to the degree that I’m surprised about that or that was expected, you don’t know. What I think you’re speaking to is the assumption that it’s very difficult, and I think it’s true, that it’s difficult to play quarterback year one in this league because there’s so many different things that a guy has to learn how to process that he didn’t have to do, regardless of the offensive scheme that he played in. There is just a significant amount of additional things that he has to process at our level. That’s one of the things that makes it difficult to play the position early in our league because guys have to learn how to do those things. It’s rare that you get a guy to come in and play at a high level at the position early, but it’s certainly possible. I think he proved that last year.”
Can you walk us through how the QB Brock Osweiler trade happened and who approached who about making it?
“There’s been a lot of conversation about whose idea it was and who wants to take ownership of that. I think they’re just ideas that are floating around and if you’re open to them I think they just kind of land in the right spots. Sashi (Brown) are obviously friends and have had conversations, just theoretical conversations about building football teams. So, when you start with a relationship that way, you can have some conversation and you can explore ideas that may not be popular or may not have ever been done before in the case of this one. It was something that we talked about and had a lot of conversation about and decided that we would get together in Indy (Indianapolis) at the combine. We had breakfast, we had dinner and just kept talking and it worked out. That’s basically how it happened.”
How does this team improve the offense next season, especially with QB Tom Savage potentially at quarterback?
“I think when you go back and look at what we did last year in free agency for example, we went out and we signed Brock (Osweiler), we went out and we got Lamar Miller, we went out and we got Jeff Allen, we went out and we signed Tony (Bergstrom). So, we addressed the offense. Then, in the draft we draft Will (Fuller V) in the first round. Unfortunately our center was hurt, the second-round pick, but an offensive center there. Then you look at what we did in the third round with Braxton (Miller), then we needed a returner so we go get Tyler (Ervin) in the fourth round. That’s a lot of offensive firepower that we added to the football team last year. I maintain that it takes time for all of that to jell. One of the things that I’m excited about Tom (Savage) is Tom’s been here. Tom understands the offense, he’s been around these players, he knows the players. I think another year in this system with all of those new parts that we added last year and an additional year of experience in the offense, understanding what the play call is designed to do, understanding what the options are in those particular play calls, and then everyone seeing the play, the defense and the adjustments from the same set of eyes, I think that’s important to our offensive philosophy and to our offensive execution. So, I think that we will be better because of that.”
Are you comfortable with QB Tom Savage being the starter and do you like everything about him except his injury history?
“I do. I think he has proven that he understands this offense. I think he has proven that he can play at a high level in the offense. He’s been injured, so he hasn’t had an extended amount of time to do that, but I am comfortable with that.”
Do you have to judge offensive linemen differently than you used to now that the spread offense is so popular?
“I don’t know that it’s any different than any other positon. I think there is, and I would agree with you, there is more projection, as it is for the quarterback, at other positions because of the style of college football. You used to be able to turn the tape on when more colleges were playing in more pro-style offenses (and) you could see the athletes executing the same things you were going to ask them to do when they got here. You don’t see that as much at certain positions. So, very much like the quarterback position, some of those projections are a little bit more. But you’re still looking for the skillset, and if you see the skillset then it’s our job when we get them here to develop them and to get them to do the things that we’re going to ask them to do that they didn’t have to do in their collegiate schemes.”
You guys picked up the fifth-year option on DE Jadeveon Clowney. What are your thoughts on his development and your plans for him in the future?
“I was proud of J.D. last year. I’ve said that. I think that everyone has always recognized his talent. The explosiveness, his football instincts – all those things that make him the great player that he is. He just had not had the opportunity again to have the extended play because of unfortunate injuries. So, I think last year what we saw was a glimpse of what he can be because he was available. I think he will continue. I think he’s hungry, I think he had a taste of it and what it looks like and what it feels like, and I think it’s important to him and I think he works. I’m expecting big things from him moving forward.”
Do you feel any pressure to draft a quarterback in the first round? If not, do you expect that you’ll draft one at some point this year?
“The answer to your first question is I don’t feel pressure. The answer to your second question is we have two quarterbacks on the roster and our intention is to go to camp with three. So, at some point we’re going to add a quarterback. We’ll get that done before we report to training camp.”
Why haven’t the Texans signed an outside free agent?
“Well, I think it goes in cycles. I think the first thing you do is you look at your football team. You try to get your guys under contract, and we were successful in a few of those guys, re-signing some of our guys. We lost a couple other guys. So, that’s the first thing you look at. Then, as it relates to acquiring free agents from other teams, we were in the game on a couple of guys that maybe didn’t make it to the public domain, but that we were and we weren’t successful at signing. But, you look at last year – I just went through all of the things we did last year in free agency. So, we always said that we would build through this process and augment via free agency, and I think if you look at the history, we’ve done that. Very aggressively last year. It just so happened that we didn’t do it this year. I don’t think it’s indicative of anything other than the fact that we had targeted who we targeted and some of them worked out and getting some of our guys back. That’s just kind of where we were with it this year.”
Do compensatory picks factor into your decision to pursue free agents or not?
“That’s an ancillary benefit. That’s a function of the system. So, if you lose free agents, the system is designed to help clubs. We’re always trying to maintain competitive balance in our league and it’s very important and our rules are written as such that you try to reward the teams that performed poorly the year before with draft positioning, and another way that that’s done is via free agency with the comp picks. So, it is something that we’re aware of. It’s not something that we set out to sit down and say, ‘We’re not going to do this so we get comp picks.’ That’s just not the way it works. We’re aware of it, obviously, and the way that the system works and to the degree that you can benefit from that, you benefit from it. But that’s not a designed thing that you do. At least that we do.”
Do you feel pressure to draft specific guys based on the lack of free agent signings?
“No, I don’t. I’ve said for years that we try not to do anything in our draft evaluation and in this process that is reflective of need, because I think when you do that, you end up overvaluing or misrepresenting a player’s value because you are factoring in what your roster looks like. We try to evaluate the draft process strictly on talent and we try to do that in a vacuum so that you don’t overvalue players because of what your roster looks like. These are long-term decisions that we’re going to make next week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Hopefully these players come and they contribute to our team. Some of them earlier than others. But, certainly we would hope that these young players that we add to the football team next week are here for the long haul and so you want to make sure that the value that you place on them and when you take them relative to what you think their contribution is going to be to the team is accurate. I think you open yourself up to not being as accurate if you don’t do it that way.”
What are your thoughts on the schedule that came out yesterday?
“Well, I’ll tell you what, we have to go play them, right? So, it doesn’t really matter how they line up. You have to go play. I like playing at home, to open up at home. And really, that’s only one I really think about is that first one. It’s nice to have the players back in the building. So, they came back in the building and so there’s energy here. I think there’s some excitement from our team and our players and we’ll look forward to having a great process next weekend and adding those players in a few weeks and getting after it to get going on that first week here at home.”
Is your plan to replace S Quintin Demps in the draft or are you looking at a player already on the roster?
“Well, we have guys on the roster now. I will say this about this particular draft class at that position: it’s probably one of the strongest safety classes that I can remember. And I like the board in general. I think there’s some positions that are a little light. There’s some positions, like I mentioned at safety, that are heavier than others. The entire board, it’s a very balanced board in the sense that both offensively and defensively, there is some depth throughout the draft and throughout each round. So, I like that about the board and certainly about the safety position as well. And I will say this: I typically start with applauding the efforts of the group and I don’t do that lightly. I think it’s important to recognize, we have an outstanding staff, in my opinion, of scouts and folks who work in this process and prepare for the draft. I mean our scouts and I even mean our administrative folks – Amber Davies. I never talk about her or Haley Kovar, (who are) our administrative assistants in college and pro scouting. With all of the coordination and all of the meetings and all of the calls to the agents to get everything organized and the way that our process runs, we’ve had some time to develop it, to refine it. I think it’s running pretty smoothly but I just applaud the efforts of all of our scouts and folks that work in this process because I do think that it’s been a good process again this year and I’m looking forward to next weekend because of it.”
How important is it to the Texans organization to have both scouts and coaches out looking at prospects together?
“Well, it’s extremely important because if scouts bring in players that don’t fit the scheme, it’s not a winning solution. So, scouts and coaches have to have conversations. They have to understand. The scouts have to understand what the coaches are going to ask the guys to do and they have to understand the skillsets and the traits and characteristics that are predictors of success so that the coaches can get the best out of the athlete. So, it has to be a combined effort and our coaches have done a nice job. We introduced the draft class to them in February before the combine and they jump right in and some of them need to go out and do some additional work with some of these players, whether it’s classroom work to make sure that they have a good idea of what the mental capacity is or what the football acumen is from players or sometimes it’s work on the field that they need to do to further solidify what they think the vision for the player is, because that’s the one thing that we really try to do is we try to get specific with respect to what we think the guy’s vision is for our football team. So, the more communication that happens between coaches, scouts, the better we can all get. Again, seeing the thing from the same lens, from the same set of eyes, and understanding what we’re asking them to do and making sure that we’re all on the same page about what that looks like.”
Is there an anticipation that you still need to add current NFL players before the season starts?
“I don’t know that there’s a need for that. No. I don’t feel that at all. We had a meeting this morning to kind of just fine-tune and look at the board and have some scenarios and talk through some things, one of which was a roster discussion about numbers and kind of where we are in anticipation of rookie minicamps and anticipation of training camp. So, I don’t feel a need to do anything other than add how we’re adding – organically, what looks right for what we’re doing to trying and get accomplished.”
Have you spoken with NT Vince Wilfork definitively about his plans for the future?
“I have not talked to Vince since last season. My expectation is that Vince is not playing anymore. But, I have not specifically talked to Vince. No.”
What do you think about the quarterback class in the 2017 draft?
“I think it’s a good quarterback class. I mean, the numbers are what they are and I think as you look through the group, there are – a lot of this draft, it’s an interesting class in my opinion because like I mentioned before, there’s some depth across the board at various positions. But, in those positions, there are different kinds of players. It’s you pick your flavor now. Whatever type of player you like at most positions, there’s an example of that kind of player. There’s a lot of diversity in this draft and it’s just a matter of, in a lot of respects in this draft, it’s going to be beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Again, what is that vision for that player that we think he can come in and do for our football team and that’s a part of the evaluation process. But, really for this particular draft class, I see that at multiple positions.”
Are there enough quality offensive linemen in this draft?
“I would probably characterize the offensive line group as a little light. Just as I talked about the safety group being heavy, I think I would tell you that I’d say the opposite about the O-line group.”
How do you feel Head Coach Bill O’Brien has done in his first three years on the job and how is your relationship with him at this point? Is everything a work in progress?
“Yeah, it’s a work in progress. I just think, generally speaking, you look at our organization and what we are attempting to do is to be a consistent winner and to be a team that represents the City of Houston in a way that everybody can be proud of and to win a championship. So, I think we have done a lot of that. We’ve been consistently winning here. We’ve won two division championships. We won four out of the last six, so we’re doing that. We haven’t won the championship, and that’s what everybody expects. That’s what we expect and that’s what we’re working to do. I think that’s the context of how we look at it. Bill and I, I think when you look at what we’ve done together over the last three years, I think it’s a part of that success. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination enough because the championship is the end-all, the be-all and that’s why we’re in this business and that’s what were committed to do. We’re working every day to do that. We don’t pay a lot of attention to what other folks are saying. I think it’s just important to be consistent in the building and to work, to be in concert and making sure that our coaches and scouts understand what we’re looking for and that our folks that are executing all of these processes, whether they be what we’re doing in the weight room or how we’re developing our draft process and preparing for that, everybody is on the same page moving forward and everyone has a vision of what we’re looking for and what we’re trying to get accomplished. I think we do a good job of that.”
With the offseason you’ve had so far, can you honestly say you feel closer to a championship now than you did after the last game?
“I will tell you this, we haven’t walked out on the field. We just started our offseason program. I think we finished with the top defense in football. We’ve got most of those guys coming back. I think, as I mentioned before, we added a bunch of talent on the offensive side of the ball last year that I think takes time, so I think we will be better. But last year doesn’t matter in this business, and that’s the thing about it. Each year is an entity unto itself so what I will tell you is that I think I see a committed group of players working right now to make sure that we are better. But relative to what we did last year doesn’t matter. It’s every year – this league, and we’ve had 30 guys come in over the last month or so, and one of the things I talk to these draft prospects about is about how it works in this league. This league is not about how you get in, it’s not about what you did last year. It is about working every day, stacking good days on top of good days on top of good days and good decisions on top of good decisions on top of good decisions. That’s how you do it in this league. So, it doesn’t matter about last year. It matters about this year. But I’m confident that this group will work that way and I’m confident that we’ll be better (and) we’ll play better.”
So you feel like the additions next weekend in the NFL Draft will be enough to say you have a championship-level team?
“I do. I think we’ll be good and I think we’ll continue to look to add. We are always looking to add talent to this football team. It’s not just reduced to free agency and the draft. We’re constantly looking at what’s available, whether it is what’s available on the street or what’s available via trade. We’re constantly trying to retool and look at this roster to improve it. But I think we’ve got a good football team, yes.”
Do you have any players or position groups in mind for the draft that you are targeting?
“We have the board value and stacked based on value. So, we’ll see how the draft unfolds. There are players that we like at certain positions and certain values. That’s just kind of the function of how the thing plays out. When you’re in the 20s, it has to kind of clear itself out for a little bit before you even get an idea of what it looks like. We have it valued and we feel pretty good about the way we have it valued and the way we have it stacked. We’ll see how it unfolds on Thursday night as it relates to the first round.”
You’ve been successful drafting in the first round. What’s the key to having consistent production out of your first-round picks?
“I don’t know if there is anything different. Obviously the value of the first round is significant. It represents, obviously, the highest value so you want to be very diligent about your decisions in the first round and you want to be very clear about, again, what that vision looks like and what that player is going to do for your football team. You want to mitigate as many risks as possible with your first-round picks because of the value being where it is. I like to think that’s consistent throughout the entire draft. Obviously it isn’t so first rounders are important. You’re right, we’ve been fortunate that way and hopefully we’ll continue that trend here next week.”
What have your impressions been of the quarterbacks from the draft you have met with? Do you feel they have a good understanding of the game?
“I don’t do much of that. I don’t really comment on specific prospects. We’ve talked to them and we’ve talked to a bunch of these guys, not just the quarterbacks. I think there’s some good football players that are available and hopefully we add seven, eight, six of them, however many we end up with next week, and they’re all productive players for us.”
How has the role of Head Coach Bill O’Brien and his staff changed in the draft process since you’ve been working together?
“I guess the most impactful way that it has evolved is, again, the understanding of what coaches look for and our scouts understanding that so that we are identifying the right players. I think that’s the thing that is probably the most valuable thing that you have with experience together. Those conversations and that communication gets more and more tight so the scouts understand really exactly what the coaches are talking about. So, the longer that you can be together, the longer that you can have those conversations and people start to get on the same page that way, the more productive your drafts can be.”
What is your philosophy about the value of trading up in the draft and how difficult that can be?
“Number one, we value picks. So, if you’re moving up, you have to have a couple things. You have to have a specific player targeted and you have to be willing to give up picks to acquire that player. So, just philosophically speaking, I think that’s really the way you look at it. You’re right, we haven’t done that very often. I wanted to make sure we got Will (Fuller V) last year so, again, I had a player targeted last year so I moved up. I haven’t had the occasion to do that very often. Now, in other parts of the draft I have and we’ve done that. We’ve been more aggressive in other places in the draft. That’s really philosophically speaking what it amounts to. If you’ve got a player that you think can provide a specific thing for your football team and you know that you’ve identified that and you know that he’s the guy and the only guy that can do it that way then I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with packaging picks and whatever you need to package to go get the guy, so long as it doesn’t on the back end – you never want to acquire something and then all of a sudden you’re less in another area because you just don’t want to do that. There’s a balancing act with all of that.”
How important has it been to have good coaches who can develop your draft picks over the years?
“It’s vitally important. Player development is something that I don’t think gets talked about enough. That’s not only just in the coaching, that is in the athletic training, that’s in the strength and conditioning, that’s in the nutrition. That is mentally and psychology. That speaks to the total player. We spend a lot of time thinking about that. We spend a lot of time talking about that, trying to develop those processes to help players evolve and develop. Whether you’re talking about as a football player or also as a man. One of the things that I really enjoy about our first-round picks, I’ve watched these men develop and grow as men and watched them and their families and just watched them kind of come into themselves, not only on the football field but in life. That’s been fun, to be a part of that process as well. It’s important. I think our coaches do a nice job of developing players. We talk about the collective bargaining agreement and some of the limitations that are placed on our coaches with respect to the time that they have during the offseason to work with these guys, but I think we maximize that time that we do have.”