*This article is part of our 2012 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply
Texans general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak spoke at the NFL Scouting Combine Friday in Indianapolis. The following is a transcript of their respective press conferences.
Executive vice president/General manager Rick Smith
Head coach Gary Kubiak
Houston Texans Executive Vice President/General Manager Rick Smith
(on the Texans' biggest needs heading into 2012) "First of all, coming off the season that we came off, and having the success that we had for the first time for an organization, you go back to the drawing board again no different than you did every year before. It's a very honest assessment of where we are, where we feel like we're strong, where we think we need to improve. And when you look at those areas, I think the wide receiver position is a position where we might strengthen our team. You can never have enough corners. I know I always say that. Pass rushing is a premium. I mean, it's pretty standard. We look for guys that make plays, that impact the game. We can never find or have too many players that impact the game, whether you're talking about a pass-rusher or guy who can take the ball and make a play with the ball in his hands."
(on if he will draft with the best-player-available approach) "We always do. We stay true to our board and that's not a philosophy that we're going to alter because I think it gives you the best chance to have success. If you assess value and you follow the value of your board and don't stretch for need, because I think that's where people make mistakes. We've not done that before and I would suspect that we stay true to that philosophy and not do that in the future."
(on if it is impossible to align the team's priorities until figures out what it's going to do with OLB Mario Williams) "No, it's not impossible. Not at all. We've assessed our team. Obviously, there are variables that you always have to adjust to but I think we understand what we have and where we need to go and then you adjust as the process plays itself out."
(on how he approaches players who have issues off the field) "It's a function of research and trying to get to know the player. We take a position that we don't penalize a player or kill a player because he made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. What you don't want, you don't want repeat offenders because that will indicate something that's maybe a deeper issues. We won't just take a player off of our board for character reasons if he makes a single mistake. If there is repeated, repetitive behavior that suggests something different than that, then we become a little bit more concerned and that's what this process is about. That's what the process that our scouts have been evaluating these players over the last few months, so we'll take all that information and assess how comfortable we feel or where we feel that there is a risk more so than another. Character is important. It's always been important. I think again, I've said a lot, where you see that is in the fourth quarter. When you've got players that (have) quote en quote 'character,' what does that mean? That means that they're disciplined, they execute when they're supposed to execute. If you've got a team full of players who have that discipline in the fourth quarter, in the big time in the game where the pressure is at its height, those guys with discipline tend to continue to do the things that they need to do in order to perform and execute and continue to be successful."
(on if he takes a hard look at someone with first-round talent who has had two or three transgressions rather than discarding that player) "In my opinion, it's all about the value. It's how assess the risk. How much value are you going to place on a player or how much risk are you willing to take compared to where you think his behavior (is)."
(on if he's reluctant to put the franchise tag on RB Arian Foster and if he thinks more restricted free agents will now get the franchise tag with the new CBA rules) "Obviously, it's way too early to determine or to predict a trend. We are having all of those conversations and discussions, without revealing too much of what our thought process is. We will use every available option that we have and try to do, we'll try to make the decisions that give us the best chance to impact our team overall. Whether we're talking about a Mario (Williams), an Arian (Foster) or a Chris Myers or whoever we're talking about with respect to our guys that we would like to sign back that are in some form of free agency, whether it's restricted or unrestricted. What we're trying to do is put together a game plan together that gives us the best chance to have the best overall football team."
(on if there's any regret that the franchise tag number is so big with the new CBA deal) "No. First of all, I don't live in regret that way. I didn't write the deal. It's function of the first pick in the draft. It's a function of the timing of going into the last cap year. There's a number of nuances and variables that impacted and affected that deal. It was what it was and we had to deal with it. Mario (Wiliams) is a great player and we want him to be a part of our football team and our organization, so we're working hard to figure out a way to get that done."
(on if he anticipates more contract restructuring to help with the team's salary cap situation) "Yeah. We have to. That's what we've got to do. We've got to look at some deals and restructure some contracts and try to get as creative…I've challenged (vice president of football administration) Chris Olsen to come up with as many available opportunities that we have. The goal is to build the best football team that we can build."
(on the process of restructuring the Texans' defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4) "In the sense of a transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, it started actually a couple weeks ago a year ago, when we hired (defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips). Meeting with our scouts, sitting down with Wade and talking to him and getting a real idea of what he was looking for; watching a ton of tape with him and the defensive coaches and gaining some insight as to what type of player fit into the defense and then going to the Senior Bowl and corralling the scouts and talking to them. Making sure that everybody understood what we were looking for. And then just going through the process and again, staying true to the value that we placed on players. We were fortunate. We were fortunate that J.J. Watt turned out to be an excellent football player. I think he made more impact plays than anybody thought he would. We knew he would be a great player but I don't think anybody knew that he would make an impact on a game as much as he did. That was certainly something that was nice and then the second round pick with Brooks (Reed). So we did some things. We were able to come together as a group and identify the players that fit the system and the scheme. And then we were fortunate as the Draft kind of fell that we were able to pick some players that were good for our system."
(on what he looks for in developing a college player into a 3-4 outside linebacker) "I think the first thing is pass rush. Is there some sort of natural pass-rush ability is what you look for. Then you look at the athleticism. Then you look at what type of football instincts and all the other things that kind of come on. One of the things we put a premium on is pass rush. And you mentioned the projection; when we made this transition last year, we did not have one linebacker on our team, whether you talk about a Brooks Reed or any other player, or Mario (Williams), any of them that had played in that position. They were all projections. We were fortunate. Even projecting (Brian) Cushing inside was a projection. It worked out for us. I think have to say that in that context of our defense and the way that they performed, in light of how we handled adversity and injury through the year, I cannot say how effective a job our coaching staff did. I mean, it was impressive to watch those guys week-in and week-out get the team ready regardless of who was going on the field and had them out there executing on a high level. That's a testament to the job Gary (Kubiak) and his staff did."
(on if he'd be more aggressive trading up in the Draft if the opportunity arose now that his roster depth is as strong as it's been) "Yeah, all of those things. Just because we haven't done it doesn't mean we haven't run the exercise and thought about it and all of those kinds of things. It's just that we have not been in the situation where it was proven to do it. We will still entertain any, and I've always said this, we will entertain any opportunity we can, whether it's moving up or moving back to better our football team. Those moves, as you know, are expensive. You've got to make sure that if you're going to do something, whether you're talking about moving up 10 spots or however far, you've got to make sure that you've got a player that's worth whatever the value is of the move. The last time we had this pick, we didn't start the Draft with the 26th pick. We started I think at 20 and we moved back with Baltimore and traded back to 26 and picked up an extra third round pick. So we're always moving and we're always entertaining those options and if it's something that we think will help us, then we'll do it."
(on this year's draft class) "I tend to stay away from overall evaluations of the classes. I think that when you look at players, what we look for in that group, I guess I'll stay specific to that, is guys that make plays on the ball. I think that that's a premium. Turnovers are a premium in this League to the degree that you have a group of players in your secondary that can make plays on the ball. I think that's what Johnathan Joseph, one of the things he added; Danieal Manning, they added that element to our secondary. And there are some players in this class that have that ability."
(on if there is a level of influence from an assistant coach that can be too much in a draft selection regarding a player's success or failure because he put his name on the line) "I think that's the responsibility of whoever is in charge of running the draft. I don't think that's specific to coaches. I think scouts will have the same type of affinity for a player. You want that. You want conviction in the draft room. You want people to step up and say 'This guy can makes plays for us.' It's a matter of the decision-making process at that point to weight the opinion, to weight how significant that drives the decision. But you want people with conviction in your draft room and then it's just a matter of making sure your process is set up such that like you said, it's not skewed, but it falls into line with everything else that you make a good decision."
(on if he had to push the envelope with injuries playing OLBs Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed as much as the Texans did and how much the Texans need a third outside linebacker) "Pass rushers are premiums. You need as many as you can get, so we were fortunate in the sense that both of those guys were healthy the entire year and we had some production from both of them. But you can never have too many pass rushers. You can't."
(on wanting OLB Mario Williams to remain a Texans) "Yeah. I think we've been very clear. They've been very clear that we would love to have him here. And I don't talk a whole bunch about negotiations publicly, but I think that there is no doubt that all the parties involved know what the desire is and that's for him to be here."
(on the chances that the Texans make moves in free agency as big as they did last year) "You know what, and again, this goes back to philosophy; we feel like it's prudent to build through the draft and that's our philosophy, and then you supplement via free agency. I think you've seen that over the years in what we've done. I think we were obviously a major player in free agency last year and so if we are staying true to form, I would anticipate that we would not be as active this year. Again, if there's an opportunity for us to get better and we think that it's by free-agent acquisition, we're not going to be shy about doing it. I would not expect that we would be as active as we were last year unless an opportunity presents itself that way."
(on if there is something you can gain from watching "throwing quarterbacks" at the Combine, as the Texans did with QB T.J. Yates last year) "I think what you get here is you get an athletic grade and you get an opportunity to talk and get to know the guy a little bit better in an interview setting and all the testing. The body of work is what he does on tape, especially at that position. But you can see his arm live. You can do some things if you hadn't had a live exposure or any kind of view. You can see some of those athletic things. But really, you've got to use the body of work, a guy's playing resume on tape. That's where we put the most emphasis on our evaluation process."
(on if something stood out about QB T.J. Yates at last year's Combine) "First of all, you look at the offense that he ran and how similar it was to ours. You looked at the competitive way he led his football team in the face of a ton of adversity. You looked at his ability to be accurate with the football, his ability to make all the throws. He doesn't have a super gun, but he's got a strong enough arm to make all the throws. You start to look at all those factors and you got excited about the guy and we really did. We're fortunate and the job that he did was pretty incredible for a young guy to come in and lead the football team like that in the games late in the year and win a playoff game and to go on the road the way that he did and compete. Those are some of the things that you saw from him just from a competitive standpoint and a playing standpoint and what he could do physically that you said, 'Hey, this guy might have a chance to be pretty good in our system."
(on not drafting for need but making his first five draft picks defensive players last year) "Yeah, but again, when you hit the homerun, and I guess I would consider J.J. (Watt) to be a homerun, where you hit the homerun is as you stack your board and assess value. If you can pick a player at the corresponding spot that is a position of need, that's a homerun. So you don't go into the Draft saying 'I've got to get this. I've got to get that,' because, in my opinion, if you do that, you are inclined to reach and take a player that doesn't meet the value. It's not that you don't select players in positions that you need. The key is that they have the corresponding value at the point where you are picking and if you do that, and you can hit a player at a position of need at the value spot, then you are good."
Head Coach Gary Kubiak
(on how important it is to address the wide receiver situation and if it makes him think he needs a No. 2 receiver who could become a No. 1) "Andre Johnson missed 10 games last year, it was a very difficult time for us not only losing our quarterback, but losing Andre.I thought Kevin Walter and Jacoby (Jones) played very well for our football team. But I do think it's important that we continue to develop young players. That is one position where we can do a little better job from that standpoint. I've got a lot of confidence in Kevin. I think he's a solid two in this league. And has been for me since I've been in Houston. And I think Jacoby made some strides last year as well. You're always trying to get better. And hopefully we'll continue to do that at that position.''
(QB Matt Schaub's progress and his timetable) "He's doing great. He actually asked me to play golf last weekend. So that tells you he's doing well. He's out of his boot. He's walking. He's doing everything he can do while he's in there every morning. I think our expectations for him once we get to OTAs, Iis he will do everything. He'll probably be excluded out of teamwork just to keep him out of harm's way. But all indications are he will be full speed sometime in May and he'll be ready to go in camp.''
(on the importance of free agent C Chris Meyers and RG Mike Brisiel) "They mean a great deal. We've been able to play the same five guys up front for almost two, three years in a row and I think that's why we've made so much progress. Chris (Myers) is the leader of the group. He makes all the calls. He's been exceptional for us. We got Chris for a sixth round draft choice a few years ago. And (offensive line coach) John Benton's done a great job of developing him; Mike Brisiel as well. Mike was a free agent John did a great job of developing. The key in this business to being good in the long haul is holding people together. We've got that situation on our hands with those two players. And we're going to do everything we can to keep that group together moving forward.
(on how good it was to see former teammate John Elway have success in Denver this season) "It was really good. We talked quite a bit throughout the course of the season. It's great to have John (Elway) back in the National Football League. That's what I've been so excited about. It just so happens to be right back where he played and did so many great things. John loves this game. And he's got a new passion for this game from a standpoint of what he's doing with players and evaluations and those type of things and working with the football team. I've seen him last year really get a fire back burning in this business. I think it's good for all of us. (I'm) happy for him. He did a great job, coach (Jon) Fox did a great job and John's been doing it for a long time.''
(on QB Andrew Luck) "He's been a great player. I had a chance to watch quite a few guys before I came here. Obviously, he's been an exceptional player throughout his course. I watched him in high school as well. He and my son played in the same district in Houston. He's got a great start. He's been coached very well. The system he's been running is similar to what most people do in pro football. He's doing a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage. Obviously he's got a chance to be a great, great player in this league.''
(on the quarterbacks like himself, Vince Young and now the top three quarterbacks in the draft coming from Texas) "That was a gap between me and Vince Young. I don't know that answer. I know you're right, there are three exceptional players coming out. You throw (Texas A&M QB Ryan) Tannehill in there who I've obviously had a chance to watch. He went to a school that was pretty important to me. They are some great players. And it's just good to see it happening. Why it's happening this year, I don't know. But all three of those guys have a chance to have great careers.'"
(on if there has been a change in philosophy in Texans high school football benefitting quarterbacks) "A lot of the 7-on-7 stuff I know in Texas. I know it's going on all over the country but Texas' program has gotten exceptional over the last five, 10 years that I've had to watch it. That adds to it. But you take those three players, take the job Jim (Harbaugh) did with Andrew (Luck) and the job that Art (Briles) has done and the job that Mike Sherman did with Ryan Tannehill, you're going to great coaches there, too. That has a lot to do with it. It's good to see. Hopefully, it continues."
(on Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill) "Well, the first thing that jumps to me with him is the fact he's only been playing quarterback a year and a half. In our business when you're evaluating players, obviously, you're evaluating what they're doing. But you're also trying to evaluate what they're capable of doing moving forward. The upside with him is tremendous. And something everybody is going to take into account."
(on the importance of re-signing OLB Mario Williams and RB Arian Foster) "They mean a great deal. First off, I'll start with Mario (Williams). Mario is part of the growth of this organization when it started back at the bottom six years ago. He was a great draft choice for our organization. He's played extremely well. He was playing at the top of his game playing under Wade's (Phillips) system, playing the outside linebacker position. We think a great deal of Mario as a player and even more so as a person. He's been wonderful for our team and for our city. Arian (Foster) to go from a (undrafted) free agent to what he's done, led the league two years ago, last year he missed a month of football and what was he second or third (rushing), Arian's been exceptional for our football team and yet he's been unselfish, too. Without talking numbers and contract, Arian held up his end of the bargain as a player. There's a lot to be said for that the way
he stepped in and did his job. Two very important pieces of the puzzle as we move forward."
(on if T.J. Yates or Matt Leinart is the Texans' No. 2 quarterback going into next season) "If I had to go camp tomorrow, I got all three of those guys back in line. I know who my No. 1 is . What I would do is let T.J. (Yates) and Matt (Leinart) go back and battle for the backup
spot behind Schaubby (Matt Schaub). I think those guys both did a good job with their opportunity. It's hard to fault Leinart with what happened to him. He played a half of football and was playing very well. They're both still young players making their way back up to the top. And T.J. of course still a young player. I think we'd just line them both up side by side and they'd go in there to battle to be the back up to Matt (Schaub)."
(on this year's wide receivers class) "Yeah, I just had a brief look at them. Obviously, it looks like there's quantity. I mean, there's a lot of guys, a lot of good players. I mean, you've got to go find those guys late in the draft. Obviously, the guys early in the draft, everybody kind of knows who those guys are but you're able to find some good guys late in the draft at that position. So we'll have to do our homework. We'd like to add some playmakers to our offensive football team and obviously that would help.''
(on if there are physical dimensions at wide receiver that are baselines that you have to have) "No, I don't think so. I think there is a certain size where you may struggle outside a little bit. I've seen some great players that are 5-10. You talk about (Carolina Panthers WR) Steve Smith. I was at the Pro Bowl and watched him on the other side of the ball and what he did to us during the season. He's a great player, not a big guy and can play anywhere. I think you're looking for great players. You go do what they do best. I don't think size eliminates guys, if that's what you're asking me."
(on why RB Arian Foster isn't a product of the zone system) "The first thing is that Arian's (Foster) a three-down player. It's hard to find guys these days who never leave the field. A lot of guys play first (and) second down. Then you have third-down backs that can catch a ball better, do those type of things. What he can do catching the ball can be just as dangerous as what he can running it in a lot of ways. He's very smart, excellent in protection schemes. Arian is just a very well-rounded player. I think uur team fits what he does and yet we've added gap schemes to what we do just because of his talent. He's been special. And he's been there every week and been very consistent for us."
(on how important it is to have RB Ben Tate available to spell RB Arian Foster) "Ben (Tate) brought a lot of big-play ability to our football team. Arian (Foster) is a big, physical runner. Ben is more of a speed-type guy. When I went back and watched some of our cut-ups last week before I came out here, it was obvious some of the big plays he made for our team. I think the key for Ben is his opportunity to get so much better. He's missed a lot of time with nicks and stuff, his first year the ankle, if Ben stays healthy, has a good offseason, camp, here's a player who can break out and become a top player in this League also. So I think there's excellent upside with Ben."
(on if CB Kareem Jackson has reached a level of expected consistency and if he'll be pushed more by other teammates) "I think he got pushed last year by Jason Allen very much so. It was his best year. He responded to (defensive backs) coach (Vance) Joseph, who came in here with (defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips). He was more consistent as a player last year. He was pretty much the same player from opening week to the end of the season. We're excited about the progress he made. And remember, he was an early-out junior, early player so he should only get better. I think Jason pushing him week-in and week-out should only help him get better. We've been pleased with his progress."
(on Baylor QB Robert Griffin III) "I just watched a few of his big games last week. He's exceptional. Athletically, he's as good as I've seen. He's tremendous from that standpoint. With Art's (Briles) scheme and what they do, they're very complicated to deal with. It looks like he can handle a great deal. His throwing motion is excellent. He makes all the throws, the big throws, the small throws. He's just a very impressive young man. I think there are different schemes in college that we have to try to evaluate and how's he going to fit what we do. One thing about that young man, he'll fit in anything he wants to do. He's been exceptional.''
(on if there is a trend of moving to more two-tight end formations) "I think it all depends how your team is structured. There are some teams that carry three backs on a roster, sometimes carry four, sometimes five tight ends. We're structured a little bit differently offensively because we do start with a two-back scheme. We do use our tight ends. Our three guys have played very well for us. Our first two have been very consistent in Joel (Dreessen) and OD (Owen Daniels). Tight ends, those guys, with that size that can run when you can keep the base defense on the field with safeties should be an advantage offensively. A lot of teams take advantage of that and we're no different if we have the ability to do that. It just kind of depends on how we come out of camp and structure what we're doing and where our strengths are."
(on if there is a trend of going after bigger cornerbacks given all the receiving tight ends in the League now) "I think so. Glover (Quin) was our best corner two years ago. We moved him to safety. It allows you defensively to keep your base defense on the field when people are going to two- or three-wide sets or when they're playing the two tight ends to try and get mismatches on you. It does give you a lot of freedom as a defense playcaller. I know it was a big help to (defensive coordinator) Wade (Phillips). I think you'll going to probably see more movement that way. A lot of it has to do with your division, too. Sometimes, how's your division built? Do you play a lot of three-wide teams? Do you play two-back teams. It just kind of all depends."
(on the not know what the Colts will be like with all the changes going on there) "There's been a lot of change in our division. I don't think we'll know until we get closer to the season. Everything you do in this business starts with your division and trying to be successful in your division because that's six games right there. So we'll have to wait and see and at the same time, the most important thing is that we get better as well."
(on how competitive the AFC South is from top to bottom) "I think it's very competitive. There's been a lot of change this year so that remains to be seen scheme-wise as what everybody's gonna do as we move forward. We know each other's coaches but I don't think you know until teams are built and those type of things. It's always been a very good division. This is a very tough place to play and this year was no different. So we've got our challenges."