What was it like to practice in the rain?
“It’s good to practice in the elements. We’re going to play some outdoor games. It’s good to get out there and handle the wet football. Those are the things that come up in those rain games, whether it’s in special teams, in the return game, or the passing game on offense. We just need to continue to do a better job of that when it is like this. I thought the guys battled hard today.”
Can you just talk about going up against WR DeAndre Hopkins in practice and how that makes everyone better?
“Yeah, Hop’s having a good camp. We have a good secondary. They’re having a good camp. It’s a very competitive battle every day between Hopkins, Will Fuller (V), Braxton (Miller) and Jaelen Strong. There’s some young receivers doing a good job. Then, obviously our DBs, we have a group of DBs that compete every single day and give us a challenge, so it’s good. It makes our team better.”
What have you noticed out of Defensive Coordinator Mike Vrabel in his new role?
“It’s been a seamless transition. Having RAC (Romeo Crennel) here still is a big help, but Mike’s doing a good job. Like I said in the offseason, he’s ready for this. He brings a great energy and passion and leadership to the field, knowledge of our scheme, players have a lot of respect for him. So, it’s going well.”
What has happened in these first three days that’s gotten you fired up the most about practice?
“I just like the way this team competes. I think usually the mark of a good team is when the offense wins some battles (and) the defense wins some battles. It’s not one side or the other is not dominating, and I think that’s what you’re seeing out there. You’re seeing the offense make some plays, you’re seeing the defense make some plays, and I think on special teams, we’re better. We’re more organized, we’re a little simpler and guys are competing hard on special teams. I love the competitiveness of this team.”
How has NT D.J. Reader come along?
“He’s a good player. He’s hard to move inside. I think he’s an underrated pass rusher. He’s a guy that really knows our system now. He’s a great guy, fun to be around, fun to coach, brings a good energy to the field every day. He’s a really good player.”
What improvements have you seen WR Braxton Miller make from last year to now?
“I think all those guys that are going into their second year are much improved from what I see on the practice field. Obviously that’s got to carry over into the games but Braxton’s become a better route runner. He knows our system better, so now he can really concentrate on technique and not have to think about the plays all the time. He’s worked really hard. He came on strong at the end of OTAs and he’s having a good camp here.”
You gave some veterans the day off. How do you decide that?
“I think about it in three-day blocks. So, maybe one out of three, I’ll give them a day off here and there. Guys that are 10-plus years or certain players that need a break, that take a lot of reps in practice. So, we just kind of manage that as best we can.”
Do any other players lobby you to get a day off, too?
“No. I mean, the guys that I feel need that type of rest, they know who they are. There’s not many of them so nobody lobbies me for days off. Some of the coaches do.”
Does the rain impact what you do at all?
“As long as there’s not lightning, it’s really important to practice in the rain because – when we go to Seattle, which is way down the road, but there’s potential that it could rain there. So, we need to handle the elements better, especially offensively, then we did today. We’ve got to catch the ball better, throw the ball better, just overall handle the ball better. So, I think it’s good to be out in the rain.”
Do you welcome it?
“Yeah, I do welcome it. I like when it’s a different element and it’s not just sunny, blue skies. I think it’s good. That’s football. We have to practice in it when we can.”
Do you worry about slipping or anything like that?
“No, I try not to worry about things like that because when you start to worry about things like that, they happen. It’s important to make sure you coach the guys up on getting their feet up underneath them, and like I said earlier, handling a wet ball and those types of things. It’s an important thing.”
We ask you about DE J.J. Watt all the time on the field. Off the field, is he comfortable being a leader?
“Absolutely. I mean he’s – going into our fourth year now coaching him – he’s become, I would say, a great leader. I think he’s really good with the younger players. You see him in the locker room all the time communicating with the younger players, talking about things they can do to practice better, to take care of their bodies better, he gives them good advice. Sometimes when guys are that good, they’re hard to approach, and I think he’s a very approachable guy. He’s a very approachable guy. He eats with different guys every day. He does a lot of different things to help lead this team.
Do you guys like practicing in the rain, when it’s cold? Or do you prefer it to be dry?
“I’m sure every team prefers it to be dry, but at the same time you never know what conditions you’re going to have in an outside game, considering where you’re playing. We just got to be ready to go in all conditions, whether it’s raining or whether it’s dry.”
Could you talk about the defense overall? What do you guys have to do to be better than last year?
“One of the things we talked about as soon as we got back for OTAs is creating turnovers. We feel like as a defense unit, that’s our job, to create turnovers. If we can improve on that as well as continue to get better in some of the other defensive categories and situational football and continue to progress as a group. Like I said, we definitely want to be the best unit in football.”
What has Defensive Coordinator Mike Vrabel brought to this defense?
“A lot of enthusiasm every day. He brings that every day and we just kind of feed off of his energy. He’s been in the situations that we’ve been in and some big-time ball games. So, we’re definitely going to follow him. He’s going to be our leader and he’s a great leader for us. Like I said, we’re definitely going to follow him.”
Can you talk about how you guys are going to replace CB A.J. Bouye and S Quintin Demps?
“Those two guys were definitely great for us last year. It’ll definitely be tough to replace what they did for us last year, but we got some great guys in the room. Getting Kevin (Johnson) back is definitely huge for us as a defense. Corey Moore played a ton of ball for us last year as well. So, with those two guys out there I think we can definitely the job done.”
How does the challenge of going up against WR DeAndre Hopkins every day in practice help you when you get to the regular season?
“Going against Hop every day definitely makes you better as a player. He’s definitely one of the best in this league. You just think about his all-around game and one of the things that he does better than anybody I’ve seen in a long time is making the tough catches. So, getting the chance to go against him every day, the particular style of offense that we play, is definitely getting us ready for the season.”
What does it mean to get DE J.J. Watt back? Not just on the field, but having him around?
“It means a lot to us as a team, not just defensively. He’s a vocal leader and he leads by example as well. He’s a huge piece to our defense and to have him back healthy out there on the field, definitely means a lot to us as a team and as a defense. Any time we have him out there and we got (No.) 90 (Jadeveon Clowney) and Whit (Whitney Mercilus), we know it’ll definitely make our job easier as a secondary. Those guys are definitely going to do any and everything they can do to get to the quarterback so it only helps us as a team.”
With DE J.J. Watt out there and DE Jadeveon Clowney, can you envision that?
“Definitely. It’s going to be really exciting just to see those guys. You don’t really get a chance to see it much during the game, but once you go back and watch film and see some of the things that they do, every play is just exciting.”
What does it mean to you and CB Johnathan Joseph, you guys are still together and how rare that is in the era of free agency?
“It means a lot. Like you said, for us to be together this long – we know each other inside and out. Like I said, it’s a testament to how hard we work. We come in every day and we put the work in. We try to do everything right so we get a chance to continue to play together.”
Do you like the isolation of being out here in West Virginia?
“Yeah, you kind of get used to it, but it’s day four. We’re here to get work, to do our jobs and have fun as a team. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re not really thinking about any of the outside stuff. It’s camp so either way, if we would have been in Houston, we still would have been isolated. So, at the end of the day, we’re here to get our job done and that’s to get ready for the season.”
What do you think of RB D’Onta Foreman?
“I think he’s doing a great job. He’s being decisive. He did a great job yesterday in goal-line and then today in he did a great job of just hitting the hole, being decisive and getting that tough yardage.”
Has he asked for your help and advice?
“Yes. All the running backs, we’re as one. We want to be good as a group, so I think he’s been doing a great job learning the offense, knowing his assignment and just playing fast.”
With RB D’Onta Foreman potentially giving you less of a workload, how will that help you?
“I think it will help me out a lot, just keep me fresh throughout the whole season. Once I get the opportunity, I got to make plays when my number is called. I’m pretty sure (Alfred) Blue, Foreman, Tyler (Ervin), all the other guys, I think they’ll do a great job of taking advantage of their opportunity as well.”
Do you remember a time ever having a training camp that got a little chilly?
“No, not at all. I’ve been in the heat for five years. This is my first time having a little breeze during training camp. It’s a good thing.”
Do you like it?
“Yeah, I love it. You’re not really sweating that much, but you’re getting a good little workout. It’s good.”
How do you feel about the run game overall and do you expect to run the ball as much as you have in the past?
“Yes. I think Coach (Bill) O’Brien, he does a great job emphasizing that we’re a physical team. Us as running backs, we take pride in that and we just try to help the quarterback be in manageable third-downs. We just try to keep the chains moving, so we take pride in that. We just got to keep working every day.”
Does anybody know how to pronounce RB Dare Ogunbowale’s last name?
“No, I call him ‘D.’’
What do you think about RB Dare Ogunbowale?
“He’s doing a good job. Coming in as a free agent, learning the offense. He’s very elusive, so I think he’s been doing a great job in one-on-ones and making it hard on the linebackers and he’s been doing a great job on special teams. That’s always a plus. ”
There seems to be a lot of competition at running back. How is that good for you guys?
“I think it’s good overall. We have a talented group. Everybody has their own talent. Us just coming out here every day, competing, trying to get each other better, it’s always a good thing. We take pride in that every day and our whole mindset is to be great, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”