For the second consecutive year, HoustonTexans.com is offering fans exclusive one-on-one interviews with key figures in the Texans' NFL draft process in our "Draft Pass" series.
In the fourth segment, Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison talks with Drew Dougherty of Texans TV about the newest additions to the high-powered Houston offense.
Drew Dougherty: You've seen some great running backs in your time. Does Ben Tate remind you of anybody you've ever coached against or played against, or is that a weird question to try and answer?
Rick Dennison: (Laughter) That's a little weird. You hate to have comparisons. I think Ben is his own guy. He's got great size. He's got good speed. He looked good at the combine. He's done some great things for Auburn. It's a package we thought would bring us a good, quality guy and a chance to do some good things on offense.
Dougherty: He's another in a long line of Auburn running backs that have gone on to the NFL. Might his knowledge of four different offenses in his time there help him in the pros?
Dennison: Some of that is true. Particularly when you think about how much he's had to learn over four years. He graduated early. He graduated high school early. So those things kind of played into some of the factors that we looked at. But I think, more or less, his talent and his attitude…you know, he plays hard. That's the kind of thing we're looking for.
Dougherty: When you talked with him, what was the most attractive part of the interview, from your standpoint?
Dennison: I don't think there was any one particular thing. He was a pretty calm guy. Pretty bright guy. His demeanor was good. It didn't look like anything was too big for him, and I think that's kind of what you look for in an individual when he goes out there on Sunday and performs. You don't want the game to be too big for him.
Dougherty: What role do you see tight end Garrett Graham having, starting with OTA's in two weeks?
Dennison: Well, we have a couple guys that are dinged right now and will recover but maybe not right away. So he'll get some reps and see what he does. He brings to the table a lot of what the guys we have, a good combination of things. He can catch the ball. He can block. A good combination player. A smart guy. Again, a guy who does his job and plays hard.
Dougherty: Some folks have said he's the truest form of a tight end on the squad in terms of blocking and catching. How true or untrue is that?
Dennison: Well, I think it's a little bit early to say anything about what they will do. He reminds us a lot of the guys we have on our team. So that's a good thing to be, because we have good players at that position.
Dougherty: What sort of impact does offensive lineman Shelley Smith make in the short term, in the long term, and how hard to handicap is that?
Dennison: Again, it's hard to tell. We're going to put him out there and give him some reps. With him, you saw a good athlete. He does some good things. In the vertical, he was one of the most explosive offensive linemen at the combine when you look at those numbers. I think it's a chance for us to have him come in and show us, and get that athletic ability to translate to the football field.
Dougherty: He's also a pretty tough guy, isn't he?
Dennison: Yes, he is. He is. And it never hurts to have another Ram in the building.
Dougherty: He had to play through a sprained ankle for much of the season, didn't he?
Dennison: Yeah, he did. You could see him limping around, but it didn't look like he asked for any favors. He just kept playing and doing the best he could.
Dougherty: Trindon Holliday of LSU is going to come to this team, and Coach Kubiak said he's going to return kicks and punts and maybe down the line, you might have some roles for him in the offense. There's probably a lot of people out there whose ears perk up when they think about what might he be doing down there.
Dennison: Well, that's what we're going to see, too. We'll see when we get him in here. He is an explosive guy. He can run very, very fast. It's one of those things we'll see where his role gets, how much he earns, how much he deserves. He certainly will help us in the return game, we hope, and what role he has on offense, we'll just have to feel that one out.
Dougherty: What was the most attractive part of Dorin Dickerson's game when you guys were evaluating him?
Dennison: You couldn't really tell what he was on film, but he was a good athlete. That's what you could tell, and I think that's the attraction. When you get down to the seventh round, there are some good picks here and there, but to see a guy that can run that fast and is that big and can do the things that he did, it was too much for us to forego. We thought we'd give it a shot because he is such a good athlete, get him in, train him a little bit, see what he can do on (special) teams, see what he can do for us as a wide receiver.
Dougherty: On the grander scale of things, what was this like and how different was it for you going through an evaluation process from starting back in January, February, with a new team as opposed to where you've been before?
Dennison: Well, it was similar to what we did when Gary was with us in Denver and shortly thereafter when he left with Mike (Shanahan). A lot of the same. I was evaluating more or less one position at that time, so this was different in the aspect that I had to look at everybody and help in that role. I think that was different, and (it was) a little bit different because of coming back into the system. I still have some learning to do, so I was trying to do two things at one time. But it was a process that I really enjoyed, and I think we benefitted from putting everybody's input into it. I think that's one of the best ways to do that.
Dougherty: Do you sometimes feel like you might be a kid in a candy shop with the weapons at your disposal?
Dennison: Oh, sure. They had a great year on offense. They did a very good job moving the ball, throwing the ball. We've got to get better running. We all know that. Hopefully, we can all come together and all take strides. We're not saying we're there throwing the ball yet. We still can do some very good things. All of the skill positions and the guys up front, I think they are ready to go play and play hard.