What made you want to make this trade and go get QB Deshaun Watson?
Rick Smith: “I just think when you look at the young man and you study his history and the things that he has had to work through, the adversity that he’s worked through, the human being that he is first of all. And then when you look at his history as an athlete, you have a guy who, he’s a winner. He has that winning gene. He was a high school Gatorade Player of the Year, he’s a state champion in high school. He’s a multi-time conference champion. He’s a national champion. He recorded 33-5 or something like that. He throws for almost 70 percent of his passes. He just has a gene. Then when you watched him, or at least when we watched him in the building here around our players, it was pretty apparent that that leadership trait that he has, it’s infectious. We had the conversations all throughout the day with respect to possible moves and what that might look like. As the draft unfolded, Bill (O’Brien) and I kept talking about the possibility of doing it at various points and decided to make the move.”
What was it about QB Deshaun Watson that you liked?
Bill O’Brien: “There’s many things. He’s a winner. 33-5 as a college quarterback, national champion. When he came in here – well, I’ll go back to the combine when I met him at the combine. Very poised guy. I felt like he was a guy that answered the questions very honestly, had a good memory, a good recall of specific plays that happened in his college career. When he came here to meet with us here, he met with our whole offensive staff and it was impressive. He was able to learn plays, teach the plays back to us, talk about his own, like Rick (Smith) said, his history, his own ability to overcome adversity. He’s a very impressive guy. He’s a very impressive guy and we are excited about being able to add him to the team.”
What stands out to you about his ability with the ball in his hand?
Bill O’Brien: “I thought he was very instinctive. Good touch on the ball and various throws that he had to make. Can make all the throws. Look, I think all these guys, regardless of who they are, I think just generally speaking as a rookie quarterback, it’s a big jump. Tom (Savage) is our starter and Deshaun (Watson) will come in and he’s going to work hard and we are going to teach him and feed him a lot of information and he will work at it. The coverages are different, all the things are different, but when you watch the college tape, there were so many things that he did well throughout his career. One of the things that stood out to me was how well he played in clutch moments. In clutch moments, in big games, in games that really meant everything – national championship games, big ACC games. The guy came through. When the chips were down, he was able to lead his team to victory. I think that says a lot about a quarterback. In the end, one of the things that we always look at is, is the guy a winner? This guy is a winner. I don’t think anyone can argue that. He’s a winner. That’s one of the things that stood out to me the most.”
This is the gutsiest move you’ve made in the first round. When did you know you had a chance to do this?
Rick Smith: “You are right. You have to have conviction. I’ve had conviction on this young man for quite some time. He’s an impressive young man and when you watch the tape, there are things like Bill (O’Brien) mentioned. All of these college quarterbacks as they transition to our league, they have things to work on and things to improve, but the things that are important about that position in my opinion, this guy possesses, so I had conviction on him. As Bill talked about, we felt good about him. It meant something to me, too, when he came to our building and I watched him sit and talk for 30 minutes with different players and players continue to come up to the table and talk to him and he engaged. It seemed to me to be a really good fit and just really solidified what I felt about the young man in my mind.”
Do you have to harness his ability escape the pocket? How did he play at Clemson in comparison to how you want your quarterbacks to play?
Bill O’Brien: “He did a lot of different things at Clemson. They had a diverse offense. There’s a lot of different types of spread offenses. There’s not just one type of spread offense. He threw from the pocket, he threw from the perimeter, he ran the football. He made great plays out of plays that you wouldn’t think (would) be so good. He was able to make something out of nothing. As far as harnessing and things like that, I would never use that word with a quarterback. I think it’s more about teaching him our system, teaching him what we are all about here relative to playing quarterback to this team, making the best decisions he can make for the team. That’s the big thing about the quarterback in our system is making great decisions based on what’s best for the team in different situations of the game. He can do a lot of different things, and the biggest thing he’s going to have to do coming in right away, which I know he is going to do, is to really just put his head down and go to work and really start to learn what we do and what it’s all about in the NFL.”
Did the talk of him being the kind of guy who can change a culture factor into the decision at all?
Rick Smith: “I don’t know about a rookie changing a culture.”
Bill O’Brien: “We have a pretty good culture here. We play hard. There is no question that one of the things that stands out to you about this guy is his character. What he has overcome in his life and what he was able to do, like Rick (Smith) said in high school and then obviously at Clemson, his leadership qualities, all those different things. But I think in the end, just like every rookie, he’s going to have to step in here on day one and begin to earn the respect of a locker room that has a lot of great leaders in it. We are proud of our culture here as far as how we approach every day here with our football team. We work very hard. We have great attendance at our offseason program right now. These guys are working extremely hard. He’ll become a part of that. I think one of the big things for him is he will learn about our culture. I think he will be a great fit in our culture.”
Rick Smith: “That’s one of the things I do talk to these prospects about, is about that and how it’s important as we add young men to our football team that they fit into our group. That’s important. We spend a lot of time talking about that and investigating those types of qualities.”
You’ve talked about your relationship with Cleveland Browns Executive Vice President, Football Operations Sashi Brown. Did you talk with him about possibly moving up, especially with Chicago and San Francisco trading up to get quarterbacks?
Rick Smith: “Yeah, those are the things as a general manager you’re doing in the last couple days. You’re trying to anticipate what’s going to happen. So, yeah, the foundation for this move was laid earlier with Sashi. You’ve got all kinds of scenarios that you have to run to be prepared, because as much as you think you’re prepared when the draft starts, it’s such a fluid process that you have to be able to react. The only way to really to that is to be, in some respects, prepared. So, we had had some conversations earlier, yes.”
When did you realize this was possible and how did this unfold? Was it as soon as pick 10?
Rick Smith: “We started talking about it around then – around pick 10 – to really think about doing something, and whether or not we wanted to do it. And so you have those conversations over and over again in the draft, and then you’re trying to make a decision. Once New Orleans made the pick, I picked up the phone and called Sashi and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it.’ That’s kind of how it played out.”
What stood out to you about his family, his upbringing and his character that makes him so different or unique?
Rick Smith: “I think one of the things that impressed me about the story as much as anything is when his mom had to battle cancer, and she actually had to go and do treatment in Atlanta. He had to step up as a young guy and help manage the household, and he did that. He did that. I think that whether it’s down by a certain amount of points with not a lot of time in the fourth quarter, or whether it’s a situation with his family, this guy finds a way to speak to the situation and do what’s necessary to accomplish the goal. That was impressive about him.”
Given what you gave up, at what point is QB Deshaun Watson expected to challenge for the starting job and will he compete for the job in training camp?
Rick Smith: “I don’t know that people really believe us, but we’re comfortable Tom Savage as quarterback. We’ve been saying that for the last several months. He comes in and he does exactly what Bill just described. He learns, he puts his head down and goes to work, and starts to try to earn the respect of his teammates and try to learn how to play quarterback in pro football. Right now, we’re very comfortable with where we are with the quarterback position with Tom. I like Tom’s potential in this offense, like I said the other day.”
Are there any advantages to teaching a rookie who comes in with a blank slate and no bad habits?
Bill O’Brien: “I do think it gives you the opportunity to develop a guy. I think that’s similar to what we’re saying about Tom. We’ve developed Tom now going on four years. He’s had some injuries to deal with and things like that, but he’s very knowledgeable of our system. He’s had a real good start to the offseason program, and I think now with Deshaun (Watson) coming in, you have a chance to really develop a guy as to how you see the NFL and how to play quarterback in our system, and the opponents we’re playing, the coverages he has to learn, how our system adapts from week to week and things like that. I think there’s definitely something to that. I know this, I’ve had a lot of fun personally the last two weeks going in there and coaching these guys. These guys are working extremely hard. I’m talking about the whole team. The quarterbacks have been here every day. It’s been a lot of fun. I think Deshaun is going to come in there, and that’s the type of guy he is. He’s going to add to that mix, and we’ll compete. Going to the last question, the whole thing here is about competition. We compete a lot every single day, whether it’s in the weight room or on the practice field. Everybody is given an opportunity to compete, we have a number of guys on our roster right now that weren’t even drafted that have been up on our 53-man roster in the past, just to give you an example how we view competition. Everybody will be given a chance to compete, but there’s got to be a starting point, and the starting point is that Tom is our starter. We’re moving forward with that, and then Brandon (Weeden) is there and then Deshaun comes in and he begins to learn our offense and add to that competition.”
How difficult is the learning curve for a young quarterback in this offense?
Bill O’Brien: “First of all, I guess people think that our offense is hard to learn, but every guy has come in here and really done a good job of learning the offense. It’s really about what happens out on the field on Sunday. It’s the execution. We have to do a better job relative to last year of executing with our offense. As far as learning curve, there’s definitely a learning curve with any rookie quarterback that comes in to this league. It’s just a different game. The rules are different, the field dimensions are different relative to the hash marks and things like that. There’s a lot of differences in coverages that you see in our league. The big difference is now you’re playing against grown men and things like that. There are many, many differences, but we do, I believe, a good job of teaching these guys and bringing them along at the pace that they can come along at, the pace they can retain information and go out there and be able to execute on the practice field. To me, it’s all about us making sure that we do a good job of teaching and they do a good job of retaining the information and being able to go out on the practice field and execute.”
What are your thoughts on QB Deshaun Watson’s elevated interception total last year? What’s your perspective on his arm strength?
Bill O’Brien: “First on the interceptions, I think he threw 41 touchdowns and I think he had 17 interceptions. They threw the ball a lot. Are there throws he wish he could have back? Certainly. We talked about that. There are certain interceptions that happen – they happen. The ball was batted in the air, whatever it might be. Look, quarterbacks, they throw interceptions. It’s not something you want to see a lot of, obviously, but he’ll do a good job of understanding his mistakes in practice here. He’ll understand what we’re teaching. He’s a very, very knowledgeable guy just as far as being able to retain the things that we taught him in his meeting here. We had him for three hours here. He did a really good job of understanding what we’re doing. I think the big thing about it is, like I said, is really doing a good job of him understanding, us doing a good job of teaching situational football. When is the time to take a chance in practice with that throw relative to checking it down and being smart and making a good decision for the team? All those things will start to happen when he arrives here next week.”
CONFERENCE CALL WITH QB DESHAUN WATSON
What were your first thought when you had heard the Texans traded up to get you?
“It was just surreal. I couldn’t really think about anything. I just started crying and balling out. It was amazing.”
Did you think it was a possibility after the way your pre-draft visit went and after you NFL Combine meeting with Head Coach Bill O’Brien went?
“I thought it was a big possibility. I knew that they were very interested, but I didn’t with the draft there’s so much uncertainty and not really knowing what’s going on. I didn’t know what they were doing. I didn’t know if they were going offensive tackle, defense or quarterback, so I was just trying to keep an open mind.”
How excited are you to play with WR DeAndre Hopkins?
“I’m very excited to not just play with DeAndre ‘Nuk’ (Hopkins), but to be able to play with all the guys and have that defense and just be able to get in there and start working.”
Talk about your character and being a winner. Head Coach Bill O’Brien and Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Rick Smith talked highly about your character and your ability to win in close games. Talk about your leadership skills.
“I guess it just came natural to me. The way that I was raised by my mother, the way she raised me and made sure I went through situations off the field and on the field. I just kind of stayed poised and continued to lead the group that I’m with, my teammates. It just comes with the person that I am.”
Your mom provided a lot of leadership and inspiration for you as a cancer survivor and what she did for you all. Just your thoughts on your mom and kind of what you owe to her to get to this moment?
“I owe everything to her. Her birthday is Saturday. I’m going to spoil her for sure. It’s surreal. It’s just amazing.”
I met and interviewed you last year. You said whether you come out this year or your senior year, you would be confident you would be one of the first quarterbacks taken. What gave you that confidence just as a sophomore?
“I just knew that type of player I am and I knew the type of work I was putting in. I just felt comfortable with myself. I know who I am. I just knew that one day I was going to become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL Draft.”
Compare the moment you won the National Championship to this moment right now?
“This moment is just a little bit over that National Championship because I’m actually living my dream and I can officially call myself a National Football player.”
Can you tell us about the inside of your suit jacket? Was that meaningful?
“It was. The 815 is the neighborhood I was born and raised in, where I’m from. And memo, like people get the memo how I was raised and how I go about my business.”
What was the inspiration behind the Deion Sanders t-shirt prior to the draft?
“I know Deion Sanders’ son very well. Having that Deion Sanders, that was the move for today. Getting that phone call and being excited like he was.”
Can you talk about your emotions going through tonight, seeing the picks come off the board, kind of how you felt until it got to when you were selected?
“My emotions were good. I was keeping hope. I was having fun with the family, laughing, giggling. Whenever my name was called, that’s when my tears started coming down. I’m still crying right now. This is pretty crazy.”
You mentioned before the draft that you would be surprised if some of the other quarterbacks were taken before you. You hoped to be one of the first ones taken. Does that provide any extra motivation for you and what are your thoughts on being the third quarterback taken?
“I don’t have any real big thoughts on that. I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on trying to get my interviews, get back to the hotel, celebrate with my family and get to Houston and get to work, get my head down and work. It’s the right situation to be in. The Lord blessed me with this situation. It’s awesome.”
Can you talk about this being right situation? A lot of your pro career is going to depend on your talent, your qualities, stuff depending on you. How do you think that the Texans play to your strengths? How do you think you play to theirs?
“They have a lot of weapons. They can spread you out. There’s so many different things you can do from what I’ve seen and I’ve learned from Coach (Bill) O’Brien over the visits. They have a great defense. A great O-line, great weapons around me. For me, all I need to do is keep my head down, don’t say anything, learn from all the veteran guys, learn from Tom Savage, learn from Brandon Weeden and just play my role, whatever role that is, play it well and help the team out, win.”
What is it about the clutch moments, the end of the game, big games, that you want the football in your hands and the chance to effect the outcome?
“I feel like I’m a confident player. I feel like I can do the things that a lot of people can’t do. If I have that leadership, the confidence spread throughout the team and I feel like I can get the job done whenever it’s needed, especially in those pressure situations.”
There’s been talk about your arm strength, some interceptions you threw last season. What would you say to your critics and doubters about the velocity and about some of the mistakes you made your last season at Clemson?
“Just watch the film. The film doesn’t lie. If you really break down the mistakes, half of the mistakes were kind of petty, tipped balls, miscommunication on the receiver and quarterback. Some guys made better plays. You cut that in half and then the arm strength, that speaks for itself. All of that stuff is just something they can talk about. The Texans know the type of player and the quarterback that I am.”