Mind games

It's late April, which usually means you can trust what an NFL general manager says about as much as you can trust the public musings of the now-infamous Iraqi information minister.

"Quarterback? We have no interest in a quarterback," one GM might say as he puts the top-rated quarterback's agent on hold. "It is all lies, lies, lies!"

Let's face it: Nobody wants to tip their collective hand as the NFL draft looms. Public statements are carefully worded and smoke screens are sometimes floated to the media. After 24 seasons in this league, Texans general manager Charley Casserly knows the game well.

But as the Texans enter this weekend's draft, you can trust Casserly more than most when he addresses Houston's draft strategy.

It's not that he's not giving away any secrets. It's just that his plan still hasn't deviated from last year -- take the top-rated player on your board. When you're coming off an expansion season, you still need plenty of players.

"We will always take the best player available," Casserly said Tuesday during a break from the team's draft room.

The Texans have 13 total picks, including the third overall selection. Most mock drafts filtering through the mainstream media have the Texans taking either Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson, Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman or Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs, if they keep the pick. That now seems more likely with Cincinnati reportedly targeting USC quarterback Carson Palmer with the first overall selection and Detroit zeroing in on Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers at No. 2.

"At this point in time, we have settled on a couple of players," Casserly said. "We're just kind of talking it out with the coaches and scouts, as to what way we think we should go. Right now, to be honest, we could go any number of ways. I think in the end it could be need.

"If you have two or three players rated together, then you take the need. In the first round you can tend to take based on need, because you have all the top players rated together. Perhaps in the second round teams can fit in a little bit more. After that, players can separate a lot more. Some guys are rated way ahead of other guys."

With the reports coming out of Cincinnati, Casserly doesn't foresee an onslaught of calls from teams looking to move up to the third slot.

"That slows down the calls," he said. "I don't see a lot of teams trying to jump way up now. There was more interest early, but I think now people will look to make short jumps. That's just my feeling at this point in time. No one is calling at the moment. I think it's going to be draft day when you'll get calls.

"We have a value in mind. There is a point that we are not going to trade back to."

While most of the interest centers around Houston's first-round selection, Casserly is more concerned with the draft as a whole. Houston posted a very respectable 4-12 record last season but the Texans are still shackled by the usual expansion issues -- primarily a lack of depth at this early stage.

"The important thing to do in year two is to have a solid draft class and continue to build the foundation of this football team," Casserly said. "We certainly could use depth across the board.

"Offensively, obviously we need to get better. Part of that improvement will come from within, though. We started six rookies, so when you start six rookies, you make an investment and so I would not necessarily assume that the focus of this draft would be on the offense, the focus will be on good football players."

This particular draft is strong at defensive tackle and wide receiver, weak at running back and linebacker. Casserly also likes the tight end crop, as well as cornerbacks and interior offensive linemen.

"The strongest position is interior defensive line, where five guys could go in the first round there," he said. "There's a potential of four (wide receivers) in the first round."

Don't be surprised if the Texans move around in the latter rounds to acquire picks for next year, as they did in 2002 to snag an extra third-round selection for this year.

"We'll entertain trades on draft day, we'll just see what the value of the trade is," Casserly said. "Traditionally, you view a future second rounder as a first this year or a future third as a second this year. Last season we traded our fourth round pick to Atlanta and got a future third.

"What happens in that draft dictates that day on the value for picks."

This is just his second draft with the Texans, but counting his years in Washington, Casserly is going on his 25th draft. The preparation remains the same -- as does the knowledge that anything could happen come Saturday morning.

         "As
         we sit here today, I have no idea which way this things going to
         go," Casserly said. "But at the end of it, we want to have
         a good nucleus of players that we can build upon."
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