Linebackers coach Reggie Herring joined the Texans this offseason after working with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in Dallas from 2008-10.
Herring, 51, previously coached the Texans' linebackers under Dom Capers in 2002-03. He spent 25 years coaching at the collegiate level, including stints as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas (2005-07), North Carolina State (2004), Clemson (1994-2001) and TCU (1992-93).
A native of Titusville, Fla., Herring was a three-year starting linebacker at Florida State from 1978-80. He led the Seminoles in tackles all three years and was selected to the FSU Hall of Fame in 1989.
HoustonTexans.com sat down with Herring to discuss his thoughts on returning to Houston and on the linebackers already on the Texans' roster.
Eight years later after your last stint here, what's it like to return to the Texans?
"For me personally, the first thing I noticed was there's better players here. One of the reasons that you have hope here as a defensive coach is you've got to first off have a tremendous respect for Coach (Gary) Kubiak and his offense and Rick (Dennison) and knowing what they've done here offensively, and having gone against them, is the fact that you feel confident going into every game that you have a chance to score some points. And as a defensive coach, that's very reassuring. It bodes well as far as confidence goes. If we can do what we need to do here with Coach Phillips and the defensive scheme and get the right pieces in the puzzle, I think for one thing it would give us a chance to have an opportunity to win every game.
"Having said that, from Bob McNair to really the administration, the people, all the familiar faces, it's made for a very easy transition for me. And it's like coming back home. When we first started the first two years, it was raw. The franchise was raw. The players were somewhat unproven. We had a few guys that were through free agency; we just didn't have enough of them. But this franchise has matured, and it's time to take it to the next level, and I assume that's why we're here is to get the defense up to the same par as the offense. And having worked with Coach Phillips, I believe in the system. I've seen it work. It's proven. Has been proven over the time that he's been in the league, which is over 30 years of experience in the NFL. It's been a proven package, and along with everybody, we're going to hope to get it done."
When you first found out that Phillips got the job in Houston, how badly did you want to be a part of his staff?
"Well, you hate to leave anywhere. I've moved a lot in my career as a coach, and it's just part of the business. If I was going to leave Dallas and go somewhere, it was for the right reasons. And the reasons were the familiarity with Bob McNair and the franchise, the admiration or respect of the franchise and how far it's come, along with the fact that it's a chance to coach a defense and a philosophy that you know and believe in like Coach Phillips'. So that made for an easy transition as well as an exciting (one). It's a challenge, but it was still exciting. It made for an easy move, if you were going to move, back to a place you enjoyed living, you know the people, and you have a chance."
What do you think about some of the linebacker talent currently on the roster?
"When you've got Brian Cushing and you've got DeMeco Ryans, those type of guys, a young Connor Barwin, I don't think there's any doubt that those names give you hope. It's a chance to develop them within this system where they can flourish. You know they're talented, they're driven, they still have youth on their side, and therefore the hungriness and the competitiveness and the consistency that you're always searching for in this league. It's a while before they should start slipping, so they still have their edge, and that makes for an exciting transition. Now, we still haven't gotten all the pieces to the puzzle. We've still got a few more 'backers to be picking up. And that's not to shorten anybody on this team already; we just don't know much about them. But those we do know, and that's a heck of a foundation to start with, and we'll have to build from there. But we're really excited about having the opportunity to coach those guys."
You went against Ryans in college in 2005 when he was a senior at Alabama and you were the defensive coordinator at Arkansas. What do you remember about him from back then?
"Coaching in the SEC and having watched DeMeco play on the other side of the field, I knew he was an excellent football player with great instincts, a tremendous competitor and a leader. Watching Cushing as well, and then having evaluated Brian Cushing in the draft, we wanted him in Dallas just as bad as y'all wanted him. I knew where we were picking, we wouldn't have the opportunity to coach him, but I know what he's capable of. Both those guys coming out in the draft, I can assure you, were two of the top inside linebackers, or outside, that anybody would want. So, good players, great future."
Cushing played outside in the 4-3 and has been used on a lot of blitzes here in the past. What do you have planned for him?
"Well, I think the first rule of thumb is don't get locked into a thought and put yourself in a position where you say, 'This is the only place they can play.' We have to have flexibility, and initially until we work out the kinks and find the proper places for everybody, where they can be the most productive for this team, we're probably going to take a look at Brian inside at the Mike 'backer position, strongside on the tight end, and then DeMeco will be the weakside Mo inside 'backer. (They'll be) the Mike and the Mo, two inside guys. We've got to take advantage of what we see in Brian Cushing as a tremendous anchor on the tight end side as far as securing the box physically in the run game, and then using him in our package to pressure and blitz him on the inside. At Dallas, Bradie James, same position, led the NFL in inside linebackers in sacks. He had eight in one year in this package from blitzing inside. So the numbers are there, the opportunities will be there.
"I feel like starting out there with those two guys inside gives us a solid anchor point, and now we've got to work to the outside and find some guys that can rush the passer, which is probably the biggest, most important position. They're all important, but as far as this package goes, the outside 'backer is the premier position where we're going to rely on a lot of sacks and a lot of pressure on the quarterback. So, pass rush is a priority. Connor Barwin and Jesse Nading we've moved outside. Between the draft and free agency, we hope to fill out some pieces here of the puzzle that are real important to this defense, and that's the pass rush on the outside."
What excites you about Barwin?
"Coming out of college, the little bit I know about him was I thought he was very athletic. Fast, very talented young man. Diverse. Played basketball in college, played tight end in college. His senior year, they moved him to outside 'backer and defensive end. So the good thing about him is he probably doesn't know much, but he's very talented. And that makes for excitement for a coach. We feel like we've got some good techniques and things to teach these guys to be effective pass rushers. Sometimes dealing with guys that have it locked in their head, they're not as apt to listen or learn. So at the end of the day, we thought he was a guy that had tremendous potential at outside, and we're really looking forward to getting on the practice field with him and trying to develop those skills."
You coached Mario Williams at North Carolina State in 2004. Can you talk about his transition to the 3-4?
"I think Mario falls into the same category of we'll start him out at defensive end and then see where he goes. Hopefully that'll work out there, and if it doesn't, then we'll find another place to put him. But right now, I know Coach (Phillips) is wanting to try him at defensive end. And he's had a lot of success with guys in the past. You've heard of Bruce Smith, who is the all-time sack leader in the NFL, and he did it from that position. And then there's Reggie White and other guys he had at the Eagles and whatnot. Coach has been around, and he knows players. He knows where they'll fit in this package and be the most productive. The player's got to meet us halfway. They've got to meet us halfway, and if they do that with a great attitude, they'll flourish. But we're not locked into anything whatsoever.
"We do know this: When we go to third-down, long-yardage situations, Mario is going to be playing defensive end outside, what he did here all day before. When we go to our sub package, he's going to be (a) hand-down outside pass rusher. So nothing's going to change there. And then we'll go from there and see where we're at. He's a tremendous player. He has assets, and those assets need to be used. Therefore, he's productive, we'll win and everybody's happy, everybody wins. So that's our goal, and hopefully that's what we'll achieve."