Texans general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak spoke with ringing optimism about the team's 2008 draft class at the annual Texans Draft Luncehon at the Westin Galleria.
At the Texans' 2008 Draft Luncheon at the Westin Galleria on Tuesday, April 29, Texans general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak spoke to fans about the players acquired in the recent draft and the overall state of the team.
In addition, team MVP DeMeco Ryans, rookie of the year Fred Bennett and Mickey Herskowitz Award winner for media friendliness Ephraim Salaam spoke to the media after receiving their respective awards.
General manager Rick Smith(on the 2008 draft class) "We feel good about this draft class. I think as you look at what we were trying to accomplish, you always here about the conversations leading up to the draft – is it value or is it need? How do you make those determinations? How do you make those decisions? I feel like we were able to accomplish filling some of the needs that we had on our football time, as well as getting good value in this draft. It starts, of course, in the first round with the big left tackle Duane Brown, a very athletic kid, good-sized, 6-4 and 315 pounds, a very athletic and explosive player. He's got great feet, speed and quickness – all the things you look for in the offensive tackle position.
"I think a lot was made of this particular year's draft class and how many tackles there were in this draft class. A record number, if I'm not mistaken, eight offensive tackles were taken in the first round. I think everybody would agree, if you talk to various clubs around the league, on the first one. He's the one who went with the first pick. After that, I think if you talk to different people, you would get a different opinion. Certainly, the guy that we had targeted as one of the guys that we really wanted to have an opportunity to work with was Duane. We were extremely pleased to be able to back up a couple of spots and grab an extra couple of picks and get a guy like him to come in and work in the offensive line with that group. So we are very excited about him.
"In the third round, Marc (Vandermeer) talked about our young corner from Eastern Kentucky and he also mentioned Fred Bennett. We like big corners. Fred came in last year – he's a big guy who can run fast with long arms. We are looking for those type players and this kid is over six feet, he's close to 200 pounds, he's a 4.4 40 guy and had over 40 inches in the vertical jump. He's extremely athletic and we feel like coming in and joining up with Fred and the rest of our defensive backs he has a chance to develop into a solid NFL corner. We're excited about him.
"Of course, with the extra pick that we acquired in the third round we were able to get Steve Slaton from West Virginia. He's an explosive, dynamic type of running back. You need playmakers in this league. I think it's evident that you need people who can do things with the football in their hands. And we certainly feel like with Steve and the success he had in college, he had an extremely productive college career in West Virginia, we feel like he can take those skills and they will transfer very favorably here in our league. We are excited about adding him to our offense.
"One of my favorite players in this whole class is a kid we took in the fourth round, Xavier Adibi from Virginia Tech. (He's) a little bit undersized as you talk about ideal size for linebackers. He's about 225 pounds or so and just under 6-2, but this kid is an instinctive and aggressive tackler and football player at the linebacker position. When you talk about athleticism and length and speed and all those things you look for in the position, I'm excited about him. He plays the game in the way that you enjoy watching. I'm sure you will enjoy watching him play as you see his career evolve.
"In the fifth round, we took a big guy from Texas, Frank Okam. Very rarely do you find human being who are as big as he is and as quick as he is. So that is certainly something we look for at the defensive line position. Frank's an extremely intelligent guy. Football is very important to him. I think being here in Houston is important to him. I think he's going to want to play extremely hard for us, as well as for you, so we are excited about him.
"In the sixth round, we take a kid who is as much a football player as the guy we got in the fourth round. We really like the selection of Dominique Barber. He's got good bloodlines. His father played in the NFL; his brother plays currently. When you talk about pro-typical size, you look for safeties who are 4.4's and 6-2 and 200 pounds. This guy's not the typical size or speed, but he's an excellent football player with great instincts. The kid diagnoses well; he's got ball skills – all the things that you look at when you look at safeties who have productive NFL careers. What they are made of, this kid's made of those qualities. We are excited about him to add to that group. We've got a great group of safeties with a lot of competition at that position, so we are excited about him.
"And then the quarterback in the seventh round – we were looking for a kid we could develop and maybe bring in and we were talking about maybe adding three quarterbacks to the roster this year instead of two. You know, the previous couple of years we've carried two on the roster, so we're entertaining those types of ideas. This kid is a competitive, good guy who we think can develop into a quality NFL quarterback. Again, not the pro-typical 6-4, but we think he can develop, too. He's an extremely athletic kid with a big arm and smarts. He's very competitive and had a successful collegiate career. So we like what we see out of him.
"So as you look at the class in its entirety, I think we were able to do a couple of things. I think we were able to address some need and I also think we were able to add some quality men to our football team, which is important to us. In a moment, you are going to get a chance to hear from some of these guys, and the type of men that we are assembling with this group are good, smart, character guys that do the right thing, that care about each other, that are going to lay it on the line for you on Sunday. We feel like these kids we are bringing in and indoctrinating them into the locker room, they are going to fit into this group. We feel good about that. We feel good about the value that we got them, the positions of need – all those things that you look for when you go into the draft process. So we are excited. We think the process went extremely well. We think the preparation was good. We feel like we were successful as acquiring the players that we were interested in and feel great about them joining our group.
"I appreciate you being here today. I appreciate the enthusiasm and the excitement that's generated here. I'll say to you about this guy over here to my left (head coach Gary Kubiak), we are extremely committed and dedicated to bringing a consistent winner to this city. It takes some time and we feel good about the progress that we've made over the last couple of years. We will continue to do that and we will continue to be diligent to that end and I feel really comfortable and confident that we will be successful at that. I think we work hard and we work smart and we are getting there. It's all about what these guys do on the football field on Sunday, but we are committed to doing it and I feel extremely good about our chances. So thank you for being here and thank you for all your support."
Head coach Gary Kubiak
"Hi Houston, how's everybody doing today? It's hard to believe it's been three years already, that we're fixing to get going here with my third season here. Time has really flown by. It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been a lot of fun. First off, I'd like to just like Rick (Smith) did, I'd like to congratulate the young men and women receiving the awards today. You're special kids, you really are. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Georgia speaking at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame for kind of the same situation, and I tell ya, you're special. And I go back, I'll always remember something that jack elway told me. this is john's dad. Years ago, he was the head coach at Stanford, and Il remember as a guy who wanted to be a coach, a head coach some day, I asked him how he balanced the academic side, the athletic side, being the head coach at Stanford, and he said something to me that day I'll never forget. He said, 'You know, these are kids that have basically chosen two ones in their life.' He said, 'I know the academic side is the most important. They're going to have tremendous demands upon them. But when they come over to the field or they go to the court or whatever they choose to do, I'm going to have the same demands.' And they're special people, and isn't it nice to see kids that are doing things the right way? So congratulations to you.
"You know, we've also got some award winners from our football team up here and these are all great guys, but there's one award that's given amongst this group every year that's always interesting to me. As a coach, you spend a lot of time with your football team. You're in a lot of meetings – a lot of good ones, a lot of tough ones – and one of the things you're always preaching to your football team is you say, 'What we talk about in this room, stays in this room.' So you've got a lot of little secrets we discuss, a lot of strategies, I chew a lot of guys out in that room, that we don't want anybody to find out about. A lot of things go on in that room, and so as a coach, you want to make sure they stay in that room. Well sometimes, as a coach, you also pick up the paper the next day, and I have tremendous respect for (Houston Chronicle columnist) John (McClain) and his articles that he writes, and you read articles and you say, 'How in the heck did John find that out?' Well, I don't know who's getting the media award today, but DeMeco (Ryans), Fred (Bennett) and Anthony (Weaver), I think we've got our guy down there. Ephraim (Salaam), is it you? Is it you? Anyway, we'll let him slide. But no, I'm very proud of these men. They're not only great players but they're great men also.
"Rick talked about the draft class. Real quick, I'll just mention a couple things. I want to talk about the health of our football team real quick. I know I've had a few people ask me today as I walked in about a few players. I'll mention them. (T) Charles Spencer, how's he doing? He's doing great. Just watched him run here over the course of the last half-hour. He's a young man that we had tremendous hopes for and was playing extremely well. Started for us at left tackle as a rookie. Got hurt, had a very serious injury, has missed basically a year and a half, and there's a question of whether or not he'll be back. I don't have any doubt that he will be back. I think the question is does Charles go inside and work at guard, but it's really amazing the progress he's made, so I want everybody to know he's doing well.
"(CB) Dunta (Robinson), Dunta's doing exceptional. As the old saying goes, he's way ahead of schedule. It's amazing to watch him run today. Of course, he's not with the team yet from a work standpoint, but it is amazing to see the progress that he's made. We sure hope that he will be available as we're expecting him (to be) at some point. Hopefully week six, week seven, week eight, somewhere in that area. (G/C) Chris White's back to 100 percent, doing well. (RB) Chris Taylor, I think a lot of y'all know in this town how much I think of this young man and what he can bring to our football team. He got hurt during the preseason last year, missed the whole season, but he is fine, he's 100 percent. Of course, (QB) Matt (Schaub) had his shoulder worked on but he's back with the football team. He's doing fine. He'll be working with the team full speed as we go to mini-camp next weekend. And then N.D. Kalu had a little work done to clean up his knee, but should be back to full force on June 1. So I would say, as a football team, we're doing pretty well right now. I mean, we've got our issues and the guys that are nicked up, but other than Dunta, all these guys should be with us as we approach training camp.
"But you know, interesting, this weekend the draft. First off, this guy right here Rick Smith has done a tremendous job, not only with our players but with our draft. He knows what we're looking for. He did a great job this weekend of turning a five-player draft into a seven-player draft, which is very helpful to our football team. But something happened on Sunday when I was sitting in the draft room, and he doesn't know about this and I haven't had time to talk to our players about this, but you know, as we sit in the draft room, you know we have the TV's just like y'all do at home. We've got them all over the room. So we're watching Mel Kiper and we're watching, we're listening to everything so if we catch some scoop that might help us, it's a good thing. So we're watching the TV set just as well as anybody else. Well anyway, Sunday, as the draft was winding down, we had made one of our last picks and the experts were talking about our football team. And they were talking about the good draft. They were talking about the positive things that have happened over the course of the last couple years. And then the last statement to come out of this guy's mouth, which I'm not going to give you his name, he said, 'They are celebrating the best season in Houston Texan history right now.' Well, what I want to tell you today at lunch is we are not celebrating. Ok? There has been no celebration. If there has been, I wasn't invited. Ok? Alright? We're going to celebrate when we achieve our goal, and our goal is to become a playoff football team that has a chance to win a championship some day. That's when we'll celebrate. You know, in the past couple of hours I was out watching the players run and I'm sure had they heard that remark, too, they were not celebrating today. They were working.
"But our offseason's going tremendous. (Strength and conditioning coach) Dan Riley does a great job with our players. They're working extremely hard. And you find out a lot about your team and how they work in the offseason. The offseason's a voluntary program in the National Football League. But if you want to be good, it's not very voluntary, to be honest with you. You've got to work, and they've got to be there. And it's my job to put pressure on them to be there, but in all honesty, the pressure comes from the players to work. The peer pressure that, 'Hey, you better be here busting your tail just like me, or you're not going to be a part of this football team.' And I'll give you an example of how well ours is going right now. My first year here, throughout the offseason, I probably battled about 15 or 20 kids. You know, 'Why'd you miss Tuesday? Why'd you miss this?' 'Coach, I had this, I had that.' You know, that's part of our business. Last year I probably battled 10 or 12. I've had two meetings in six weeks this year. Our guys are doing it the right way, and if they'll keep working that way, then we will find that other two or three wins that we're looking for to put us in the position that we all want to be in.
"I want to talk about our additions real quick to our football team. Of course, with Dunta's injury, we added Jacques Reeves from the Dallas Cowboys as a corner. We're very excited about him. A lot of speed, expecting big things from him. We added (Kevin) Bentley, (Chaun) Thompson at linebacker. I really think our football team can make tremendous improvement at the linebacker position. I think that DeMeco (Ryans) and Morlon (Greenwood) have played a great deal of football in the last two years. I don't know if they've missed a snap, and they need some help. And we went out and got them some help in the draft and these two young men are going to help them also.
"We add Chris Brown at the running back position. We understand how important it is to have those veteran guys around, especially when we lost Ahman (Green) last year, how difficult that was, so adding Chris Brown was a bonus. (S) Nick Ferguson's played in a lot of big football games. And then, of course, we added (Quinn) Gray at the quarterback position who's played some good football in some big games; did it as recently as last year for Jacksonville. So we have some good additions to our football team, and these additions have fit in extremely well and our working extremely hard.
"But the last two additions I want to talk about that I think are extremely important as we move forward, I want to talk about a couple of coaches that we added. You know, at the end of each season you evaluate. The first thing I want to do is evaluate myself. You know, what can I do better for the football team? How do we get better as a coaching staff? How do we go find guys that we can do a better job for our players? We had an opportunity this year, we added two coaches to our staff. The assistant head coach on the offensive side of the ball is Alex Gibbs, and the assistant defensive back coach is Ray Rhodes. Between these two coaches, they've had 10 Super Bowls, seven wins, 59 playoff games and over 450 victories in the National Football League. And it's been written that I was able to talk to these two guys out of retirement. Well I'm going to let y'all in on a little secret: these two guys called me. These two guys called me. Alex called me back in December. Ray called me sometime in early January, because they wanted to become part of what's going on in the city of Houston with our football team. They like what's going on and they want to be a part of it. And both of those two guys called me and asked me if I could let a couple of old guys come and help out, and I said, 'You bet I can.'
"But it's important that we all get better. That's the key. My message to the players – I have not met with them yet this offseason, I'll meet with them next weekend. But these guys can tell you right now what I'm going to tell them. I'm not going to talk about how we have to do this or have to win this many games or we have to achieve this in our division. All I'm going to talk about is getting better. Because if we get better, if I get better, if I do a better job with these guys, if DeMeco gets better, if Ephraim gets better, Fred gets better, Mark gets better, if we all get better, then we're going to go find two or three more (wins). And if we go find two or three more wins, then our football team will be in the same position that you saw a team like the Giants this year, a 10-6 football team get on a run and win a championship, and that's what we're all trying to achieve. So we'll hold off on the celebration, but I appreciate everybody being here. That means it's time for football. I'm looking forward to it. And y'all get better; y'all be a little louder for us this year. How about that? Thank you so much. Thank you."
LB DeMeco Ryans - Most Valuable Player
(on receiving the team MVP award) "It means a great deal to me to receive the MVP award when it was voted on by my teammates because we were out there together, sweating and grinding it out together on the field, so it means a lot coming from those guys."
(on the young help coming in through the draft) "We know that there's help on the way. I think we did a good job with this draft class. (I'm) just looking forward to seeing these guys come in next week and seeing what kind of ability they have and how can they really help us out on the field."
(on if he has talked to any of the new draft picks) "No, I haven't talked to any of them."
(on his offseason) "It's been going good, man. We've been hitting the weights, running hard and just trying to stay in shape, stay fit, get ready for our upcoming minicamps and get ready for training camp."
(on his health) "I'm feeling good. My knee is fine. I'm 100 percent, so I'm out there doing everything that everyone else is doing. There's nothing that's holding me back."
T Ephraim Salaam – Micky Herskowitz Award winner (most media-friendly player)
(on being media friendly) "I am media-friendly. You know why I'm media-friendly? Because if I am not media-friendly, if I am not the voice of my teammates, then you guys just get out of control. Ok? I try to keep an even keel, keep the marriage between us a good marriage. You know, divorce rates are high. I don't want us to be divorced, now. As soon as y'all step out of line, then we have to divorce y'all. So that's why I try to be the liaison between you guys and the players."
(on if he plans on mentoring rookie T Duane Brown) "Yes. He's going to have to work hard, man, because I'm hitting my stride now. I've been working hard myself this offseason to come out and have my best year as a pro. I'm excited about it. Whenever we can get youth to help us at a position where in the past we've had our problems – we lost a lot of guys to injury last year, so depth is always something that you need on the offensive line and whenever we can get a young guy in there who has the potential and the talent to be a good player in this league, it helps us all as a team."
(on if the selection of Brown sends a "red light" message to him) "No. I don't believe in red lights. You only get red lights when you believe in them, and I'm all green, baby. I'm all gold. I've been in the league 11 years; this is definitely not the first time offensive tackles have been drafted in the first round when I was there, and it hasn't affected me, so I'm not worried about it. But I'm excited about it, because he is a great prospect, a good young talent and, like I said, anything that he brings to the table is definitely something that we will be able to use."
(on if his first lesson for Brown will be in how to deal with the media) "No, that'll come later. Just being a pro, man, taking care of yourself and doing what it takes off the field to give yourself the best chance to be successful on the field."
(on if he will share his media award with G Chester Pitts) "No, I'm good. I've been doing this for a long time, and Chester, well, he's under my wing right now. But he's coming along. He's a quick study, he's a great pupil, and before it's over, we're going to take Houston over."
CB Fred Bennett – Rookie of the Year
(on his award) "It's a great honor, you know. Having those guys go out and vote for me as for me as rookie of the year being a fourth-rounder, this is a very good accomplishment."
(on if he can put rookies in place this season) "Yes, I can let them know a little something. I'm still a work in progress. I'm still learning. I'm still young, so I'll go from there."
(on getting help on defense through the draft) "I think a lot of our draft. We've got a lot of young great talent coming in. From watching that tape (draft highlight tape presented at the Draft Day Luncheon), that was my first time kind of seeing these guys in action a little bit, but I'm pretty pleased. I think we went out and got ourselves some quality guys."
(on his health status) "I feel great. Nothing's hurting. I'm injury free right now, so I'm just trying to work my way back in shape and hopefully go do what I did last year next season."
(on coming in as a veteran instead of as a rookie) "It's a lot different. Last year, I was kind of under the Dunta Robinson pressure. He mentored me through college and when I first came in, and I think going into this year it's more about me, Fred Bennett the NFL football player, the defensive back for the Houston Texans, and I'm ready to accept that title right now."
(on CB Antwaun Molden) "Today, that was my first time seeing him, but he looks pretty impressive. I talked to my coaches some about him a little bit. He's sort of like me coming in, needs a little work on certain things, but with our coaching staff that we have, I think he'll be a great player."
(on coaches citing him during draft weekend as an example of a later-round success story) "That makes me feel good. Like I said, I was a fourth-rounder. A lot of teams didn't believe in my abilities, but those two guys (general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak), they believed in me. They gave me a chance, and that's all I really wanted. I wasn't kind of nitpicking about where I would go or what round; all I wanted was a chance, and this organization gave me a chance. And I thought I went out there and did what I needed to do to be successful."