*This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.
INDIANAPOLIS –Texans general manager Rick Smith spoke to the media on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the NFL Scouting Combine.
Here's a transcript of his entire interview:
Texans general manager Rick Smith(on if the experience with Arian Foster has changed his thinking at all with drafting running backs) "It doesn't change our approach at all. I think we're very fortunate that we were able to find a guy like that as a college free agent. If you go back to that draft, I think that was a position that we felt like we needed some help at, but what we try to do is stay true to our board. We try to rank guys and value guys, and we try to draft for need but not reach for need. And so we didn't have a chance to address the running back position in that draft, but obviously at the end of that draft, I think I even said that we had signed two college free agents that I thought had a chance, and the other one was Jeremiah Johnson from Oregon. So we were just fortunate to get him. And boy, he's worked hard, and it was really fun to watch him have the success that he had this year."
(on if when the time comes, they'll be more active in free agency) "I think we'll do what we always do. I think we have an opportunity to improve our football team essentially two ways, and that's via free agency and the draft. We work extremely hard in both areas, and so we'll look to every opportunity that we have, whether it's free agency or the draft or college free agency or even guys that are on the street, veterans that are on the street. We'll look to every avenue to improve."
(on finding solid free agents like G Wade Smith) "I think you've got to find some value guys like that. I was really impressed with Wade. I've been watching Wade for a number of years and saw him improve over the course of his career. He's been a guy that we've targeted several times throughout his career as a potential free agent acquisition. The thing that was interesting to me about Wade, at the end of the year, I meet with all the players. And to a man, all of our offensive linemen said, 'Hey, we were a better unit, and a lot of it had to do with Wade's addition.'"
(on how disappointing it is that the Texans haven't been able to get over the hump) "That was the frustrating thing about this season. We've been working pretty hard over the last few years, and we really felt like we had a chance, a real opportunity to have some success last year. When you don't do it, you've got to look critically at what you're doing and your processes. And so if you go back to last year, I think coming off of the two 8-8 years and then 9-7, finally having a winning season and having gone through some things as a football team, we really felt like we were forged to have some success. And obviously, we fell short. So we're studying what we did wrong and areas we feel like we need to improve our football team. We started obviously on the coaching staff. So to sit here and say that we've got it totally identified in terms of what happened, I think we've got a pretty good idea of where we fell short and we're trying to address those things this offseason."
(on how much the scouts need to reshape their thinking with the transition to a 3-4) "It's an impact. Obviously, when you switch systems, you're looking for different types of players. I think the thing that's probably the easiest to say is that we've really opened ourselves up to some potential options that were not there before, some guys who may not be the great defensive ends or the great athletes, may have a little bit more stiffness but have some pass-rushing ability or a knack that fit in the 3-4 system and don't necessarily fit in the 4-3. So I think we've opened ourselves up to a pool of players that otherwise we wouldn't. And you're right. We had to get in the room and educate our scouts about what we're looking for. I met with them in Mobile. We had a chance to get together in Mobile as a group and talk and kind of describe what it is that we are now looking for. Those guys know football, and so it's not too difficult to get them caught up to speed in terms of what we're looking for."
(on how they predict whether 'track speed' at the combine will correlate to football speed) "I think that's just one element. When you look at these players and evaluate these players, it's easy to get caught up in height/weight/speed measurables and ratios and those kind of things. And that's just one element to us. We look for certain position parameters, by position, of what we look for. But then it's a player's playing history, it's what he produces on the football field. It's what kind of character he has. So it's all of these different things that we look for, and certainly speed is one thing you can't coach and it's attractive to everybody, but it's a total package (that) I think you've got to look at and evaluate."
(on the difference being fast and playing fast on the field) "Yeah, there's what we call functional speed. You can have a guy who has track speed but doesn't necessarily play as fast as that. That's just different vernacular, different ways that scouts will describe how a guy plays. How fast do you think he plays on grass? Is he a faster guy on a different surface? So we look at all those things and try to judge all those things and get an idea of how fast the guy plays the game of football, because that's the most important thing."
(on the risks of drafting a defensive tackle high and his philosophy at that position) "It's tough because they're pushing and fighting against grown men. And that is a position that typically takes a little bit longer to mature into. They're hard to find. Big ol' strong guys who can run, who have body quickness, who have pass rush ability and all of those things that those special defensive tackles have are hard to find, and so if you want them and they're available, you have to take them high. But then there's an awareness and an understanding that it may take a guy a little bit longer to develop and produce the way that you would expect a very, very high pick to come in and do."
(on what he's looking for as he reshapes the safety position)"We've got some options there. I think what we look for is what we look for with all positions. We're looking for good football players who are athletic and have speed and range and make plays on the ball. We need to make more plays on the ball from a defensive perspective, and so we're looking for those kind of guys and smart guys and guys that will put the team first and do all those things that we're looking for."
(on how much could quality play from the safeties could help the cornerbacks) "I think it's significant. You're looking at a former safety, so I value the position significantly. It's important."
(on what position of the front seven is most important moving forward) "I would say just in general, you guys are talking to coaches and general managers and player personnel guys up here, and I think if you ask, I think traditionally speaking what you will hear is a debate between a pass rusher and a corner. Some people will say the corner is more important. Some people will say the pass rusher is more important. I think if you talk to most people, they'll identify those two positions as what's most important. You've got to get after the quarterback and you've got to have some guys that can run and cover."
(on what he thinks about Auburn QB Cam Newton) "You know what, I try to keep my opinions about guys that are in the current draft close to the vest, and so I typically don't comment on players and I'm going to probably keep that tradition."
(on the safety pool in the draft) "That's the other thing I don't like. I don't like comparing draft classes to other draft classes. There is some talent. Put it this way: I think what we're charged to do is figure out because again, we've got two opportunities to get better. There's a free agent class and a draft class, and so what we've got to do is we've got to identify the guys who have the characteristics that we're looking for, who can fit into the schemes that we're employing, and we've got to go get those guys. And I think that we have some guys available in this class to do that."
(on if it'll be more tempting to draft for need if the draft comes before free agency) "That's something that I think we're certainly conscious of, and I think you have to be conscious of. I think you've got to stay true to whatever your philosophy is. Again, I was talking to some guys over the last couple of days about that very subject, about (whether) you talk about drafting for need or not. We've been historically consistent with setting our board, assessing value and letting the board dictate where we go. Now again, I've said it a lot of times, if you can draft at a position at the value that you have a need, you hit the home run. But you can't do that. You've got to draft for value, I think."
(on if not having free agency first would increase the need factor) "I think if you're not careful, you could make that mistake. We're conscious not to do that. I think again, you can draft for need. So if you set your board and you've got a guy at a position of need at the value, you can draft for need, but you can't reach for it."
(on LB Brian Cushing moving to play inside in the 3-4) "First of all, last year's move was a little different than I think this one is. I think what you can get from Brian is you've got a very physical player who's got instincts. You always talk about in the 3-4 the rushers outside. But I think if you've got a guy inside who can add some value that way, I think Brian will be able to do that. I think he's a physical player, so I think he's a good fit inside. There is a possibility that he could play outside. We're going to start him in there at the MIKE spot. It just depends on how we add players to our football team, guys that we can add. But we're going to put the best 11 players on the field. But I do think and I get excited with the thought process of where we have him now at the MIKE spot because I think he can do some things both against the run and in some pass-rush situations."
(on if Cushing is different than Packers LB Clay Matthews) "I think they're different types of athletes, yeah. Absolutely."
(on if he gets gun-shy to keep trying to find a guy opposite DE Mario Williams) "No, not really. I think what we're trying to do is we're trying to man a team at all positions with the best players that we can find. So I don't know if we're looking for a guy who's opposite Mario as much as we're just looking for good players who can help us in our pass rush situation, if that's what you're referring to. It doesn't get frustrating. We've just got to stay on the grind and continue to look for good players who can help us. I think Mark Anderson's addition last year was good for us. I think he came in and helped. I think you've just got to keep working to find those players."
(on if he thinks there is a true nose tackle on the team right now) "Well yeah, I do. I think if you listen to him (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) and the way that he describes what he's done in the past with his defenses, there isn't a template of a guy, one certain size, height/weight ratio. He's done it with guys who are the big, massive guys. He's done it with guys and had success with guys who are a little bit undersized or smaller. And I think Earl Mitchell is a guy who can play the nose for us. I think his development last year was good. Very pleased with what he did and expecting him to take a jump that you expect guys to make from year open to year two. And so I think we do."
(on what he expects from CB Kareem Jackson this year) "Again, it's very similar to what I was just talking about. The jump from year one to year two, in general, has to be exponential, has to be significant. Certainly, I don't think anybody could argue that Kareem did not perform as well as we think he's capable of performing last year. And so he understands that, we understand that, and we've got to do everything we can do to get him to play at that level, and I expect that he will."
(on the quarterback class in this year's draft) "As I said earlier, I don't really comment – I try to keep those things close to the vest as it relates to this year's draft."