HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN
Could you please start off talking about the first day of pads and specifically the goal line?
“It was a good start to the first day in pads. I thought that both sides of the ball had their moments. I think we’re a lot more physical on special teams, which is good to see. Goal-line period – look, defense came out and did a nice job on the goal line, but I thought that the offense responded well during practice. So, I was pleased with the first day here of pads.”
How much do you like the enthusiasm on that goal line? Both sides’ energy levels were up, there was some talking on both sides, do you like that?
“Yeah, I really like this team. I think these guys are a fun bunch of guys. They have a great work ethic. They love to practice football. They love everything about football, and you can see that. There’s no more intense period than a goal-line period and those guys were fired up for it.”
What did you think about QB Tom Savage in his first practice in the pads?
“Good. He did a good job – led us down the field there in a competitive situation, connected with Hopkins a few times. Looked good. Deshaun did a good job too – led us down the field on a drive that he had. So, I thought it was a good day for both guys.”
What do you think about the last two days, the way WR DeAndre Hopkins has caught the ball?
“Yeah, he’s been good. He’s a dynamic player. He can make great catches. He’s got incredible hands. He can jump. He knows our system, we can move him around a lot. He ran some really nice routes today.”
Is there an underrated part to his game?
“I don’t think people talk about his hands enough. This guy’s got great hands. He’s got good feet on the sideline. He’s got a lot of good things going for him.”
What are you specifically looking for out of these guys when you get pads on? How is it different from a practice like yesterday’s?
“The big thing is football shape. You can run around a track all you want during the summertime with no pads on, but when you get the pads on and you’re still playing at a high level, speed-wise, it’s different. So, I just want to make sure that these guys are working back into football shape, and I think we have a team that’s in very, very good condition for this time of the year, but we have to keep that. That’s the big thing you’re looking for on the first day of pads.”
What do you expect of ILB Brian Cushing and training camp and this season?
“Cushing’s been here for a long time. He’s the heart and soul, like I say, of our defense – middle linebacker, tackler, tough guy, leader on the team. We’ll give him days off here and there but we need him out there on the practice field. He’s a leader, he does a lot for us and just expecting him to have his usual tough training camp.”
Who stood out to you in pads today?
“Again, like you guys ask me about the standouts, I think a lot of guys did well. Like I said, the goal line, the whole defense did well on the goal line. Guys ask me about (DeAndre) Hopkins, he had a good day in the passing game. I thought Tom (Savage) and Deshaun (Watson) had good days. I thought our offensive line blocked pretty good in the running game. So, there were some good things. The rookies have to come along. The rookies have a long way to go but I thought our first two teams did pretty well.”
How is QB Deshaun Watson progressing at this point?
“Good. Very early, but he’s good. He’s a good, smart guy who works hard. Good communicator. Loves football. In here all the time. Gets his food, goes up to the meeting room, watches the tape on his own – so does Tom, but for a young player, Deshaun’s a mature guy.”
ILB BRIAN CUSHING
How was it out there?
“Good. Good. I mean, it’s the first day in pads. Obviously there’s some good things, some bad things. I think the biggest thing that we’re looking for is competition, and with this team you’ll always have it. There’s a lot of guys that love to play football. It’s really enjoyable to play with them.”
Can you talk a little bit about the goal-line work you guys did? That’s fun, isn’t it?
“For our defense, yeah it is. No, it’s a very competitive period. Like I said, it’s the first day in pads so you’re just really trying to set the tone, but at the same time you’re going against your own team so you want to be smart and protect them. It was a good day. Obviously we have a lot to build upon and continue to work, and we will. It’s something, like I said, that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. You have all your OTAs, all your minicamps, your gym-short practices, but this is real football and this is something that anyone who loves it really enjoys coming back out and doing.”
Is it hard to hold back when you get in pads?
“I don’t think so. I think, like I said, we’re competitive but we’re smart at the same time and we’re taking care of each other. Now, the first game of preseason is a little tough and it’s not usually our best game because we’re a little too amped up. But like I said, it’s a competitive environment, but at the same time we’re all trying to get better collectively. We understand that.”
What were your goals this offseason?
“Get healthy and continue to raise my game. I feel like, ninth year, I can continue to get better. The fire is still very much there. Just trying to get this team as far as possible. I know it’s early for me to say that but I think we all know what the end goal is, and we won’t be happy unless we get that.”
Is it harder to stay healthy now than earlier in your career?
“I don’t think so. I’ve understood a lot more and learned a lot more as I’ve gotten older. You take care of your body a lot better, you learn a lot more techniques and things out there, you get in a better routine and you kind of stick to that. It’s one of those things you get older but you get wiser.”
Does it help you to be here in West Virginia with cooler temperatures?
“I think that’s the main goal for everyone. I think there’s obviously some method behind that, and we understand that. It’s definitely going to help.”
Do the veterans pick the music that plays during practice?
Would you like to?
“Sure. I wouldn’t mind it.”
What would you choose?
“I mean, I’m fine with what we play. I’m fine with what we play. If the guys are all happy and hyped up then that’s cool with me. Music or no music, I’ll play the same. No big deal.”
You and ILB Benardrick McKinney seem to communicate a lot on the field. Is he picking your brain?
“I think it’s a lot of back-and-forth. He was really picking my brain more his first year and even last year but he’s coming into his own. Obviously, you guys see he’s a hell of a football player and a lot of fun to play with. He’s done a great job and he’s really developed. Last year he took leaps and bounds in his game as far as mentally and physically. I’m just looking for more improvement, even this year. I think we all are, and he is out of himself as well. It’s going to be a great year for him and it’s a lot of fun to keep working back and forth together.”
What’s it like having DE J.J. Watt back?
“It’s obviously a huge plus. We had a good year last year without him and to bring him back is just going to boost us that much more. But we have to continue to work and get after it. I know he’s excited. We’re excited to have him back and it’s only going to help us that much more.”
CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH
How does it feel? Pads, goal line, all that stuff?
“It feels just like being back around football again. Obviously the first couple of days you got just helmets on, and it’s pretty much air-show offense throwing the ball around everywhere. I think the defense is just anticipating that first day they get the pads on and to get down to the goal-line defense and kind of compete a bit and get the pads popping.”
As expected though.
“Yeah, of course. I think that it’s the start of the training camp. Once you get the pads on everything is serious. Guys get a chance to go out and tackle. You get to see how physical your football team is. Offense gets to obviously run the ball because OTAs, you pretty much pass the ball the whole time, so you get to see the aspect of the game also.”
The music during stretching, who chooses that? Do you have a say in that?
“I have no idea. I just complain all the time. I don’t have any say in it, but if it’s something I feel like doesn’t get the juices flowing, I’m definitely complaining over there.”
How does it feel to have CB Kevin Johnson back on the other side?
“It’s great. Just being a friend off the field and being through that earlier in my career – broke my foot two or three times when I was in Cincinnati – I can feel his pain. Just to see him back out there, being the type of player he is – competing, making plays on the ball – is really big for us as a defense and big for him as an individual also.”
How do you feel coming into this season?
“I feel great, actually. Obviously came back, ran the conditioning tests, in great shape. I’m out here running around with the guys. I think the coach is kind looking out for me, and this weather that we’re in out here also is doing us a big time favor. So, I think all in all I’m feeling good as an individual. Can’t complain.”
Did you notice a big difference in the temperature?
“Yeah, it’s funny that you say that, I tell you guys all the time you never really take into account how much the sun goes into, factors in, until you’re conditioned and to everything else until you get into weather like this. Out here today and the last couple of days, it’s hard to break up a sweat, so you kind of got to watch yourself on the breaks – you can’t eat too much.”
Did you see the banana split back at the hotel?
“No, I haven’t heard about it. I’m sure they’re mixing it up over there pretty good. I’ve seen that they had collard greens yesterday. I’ve seen that for breakfast this morning they even had country ham in there.”
QB DESHAUN WATSON
How have these first few days been for you?
“It’s been a blast. It’s been good learning from all of the great guys, like Tom (Savage) and Brandon (Weeden) and just kind of take it one day at a time.”
Anything jump out about what you’ve seen from the quarterback group so far?
“Just great, it’s a great environment. All of us are just trying to find ways to get better, teaching each other, rooting for each other and just trying to take it one day at a time and not get ahead of ourselves and just try to learn as much as we can.”
How do you feel you’re progressing in this offense?
“It’s coming along. It’s a thick playbook, of course. It’s something new, something different, but as far as for me, I’m just taking it one day at a time, one step at a time and just try to not overwhelm myself but just try to have a process in between it.”
What is your mindset for this quarterback competition?
“Just play my role, be the best I can be and whenever my opportunity comes up, take advantage of it.”
Did things speed up for you today or are you feeling comfortable this early in camp?
“Things were – each and every day is getting better. So, I just try to find a way – it doesn’t have to be a lot – just one percent better in whatever I’m doing. That’s my processing information, making a good decision, ball-handling, throwing, being more accurate. Just find a way to get better each and every day.”
Was there a difference in intensity with the pads on today?
“Of course. This is the first day with pads, so everyone’s hyped up, jacked up and ready to go. We’re back to real football, so it was fun.”
Did you worry about wearing yourself out with how much work you put into the offseason?
“Not for me. I’m young, so I can go all day. But I try to manage myself and take care of my body and take care of my mind.”
What was your focus in the time between OTAs and training camp?
“Like I said, just take care of my body, get some away time with my family and friends and just try to get myself regrouped because it’s going to be a grind, it’s going to be a long year. That was pretty much it.”
Who are you leaning on in this process?
“Guys like Tom Savage, Brandon Weeden. They’ve been through this situation before as a rookie coming into this type of – coming from college to the NFL is totally different, especially as a quarterback. So, just trying to ask them questions, how they went through it and a lot of the other veteran guys, offense and defense, and just trying to find ways to get through this process.”
What does it mean to hear praise from Head Coach Bill O’Brien?
“It’s cool, but that’s just me, that’s my culture. I’m always trying to find a way to get better as a player, as a person and it’s in my DNA so that’s the way I operate.”
What has been the most surprising part of camp so far?
“If I had to pick one thing, probably today on the goal-line, how fast things are moving. Inside the five (yard-line), defense is coming, offense is getting off the ball so you really have to be mentally sharp and fundamentally sharp down there.”
What do you think of the speed of the NFL compared to college?
“It’s faster. Guys are knowing what to do. They’re operating and communicating better so they’re being able to react quicker. But for me, it’s just football. I’m just going out there having fun. This is what I love to do so I don’t worry about the speed or anything. I just worry about my job.”
What are you trying to get most comfortable with on the field?
“I’m just trying to get comfortable in all ways, just comfortable with this offense. It’s brand new so I’m just trying to find ways so I can be myself and do the things that Coach OB (Bill O’Brien) asks me to do.”
Did controlling the line of scrimmage in college help in your adjustment to the NFL?
“I think so, just because I learned so much at Clemson University and having to take control of the line of scrimmage was very key in that offense and you’ve got to do the same thing here and take it to another level. I’m still learning. There’s still going to be ways to improve. I’m always going to try to find ways to get better and be more smooth at the line of scrimmage, but it’s a good start.”
How good has this quarterback room been for you?
“It’s amazing. It’s good, not just for me but for those guys, too. We’re all pretty much growing to be best friends and we’re always hanging with each other. On the practice field, we’re rooting for each other. We’re always communicating and finding ways – even outside of football – we’re always hanging out, talking about golf, cars, watches, different things outside of football. It’s a great environment.”
How does it feel to be challenged at the NFL level and how much do you embrace that?
“It’s good. It brings out the true competition, the true fight and just the will inside of you and inside of a person when you’re being able to be challenged like I am now. It’s good to have the challenges because I love resistance. I love to try to push through that.”
Did you see the Clemson fans at practice?
“I did. I’ve seen some every day, so that’s cool too.”
What are the challenges of this transition to the NFL?
“Pretty much everything. It’s a new environment, it’s a new lifestyle. So, on and off the field, just everything’s been a challenge and I have to find a routine and find a way to make myself better.”
Do you feel like you’re competing for the starting job?
“I’m just playing my role, and like I said before, (when) my opportunity comes, I’m going to take advantage of it.