Texans general manager Rick Smith held a press conference on Tuesday at Reliant Stadium, and answered questions from the media about the 2011 NFL Draft. The following is a transcript of his meeting with reporters.
Texans general manager Rick Smith(Opening statement) "It's good to have everybody here. We are obviously eagerly anticipating the events for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Guys have been working extremely hard, as they have done over the years that we've been here. I feel good about our preparation and I'm excited about this draft.
"Obviously, when you look back at the season last year, we fell short of our goals and when that happens you've got to look critically at why. I think we've been honest with ourselves in assessing the situation and taking steps to rectify that and certainly, the draft is a huge part of that. We understand that and that's why I think there is so much excitement in the organization about what we can get accomplished this weekend."
(On how the delay in free agency will affect how you approach the draft) "It doesn't. We've said for years, it's just my philosophy, that you've got to value the draft and rate players according to their ability as well as their contribution to your football team and where you think their value can go and what you think they can contribute to your team and then how they fit in. And then you put that value on players and then you take them in that order. There are two pools of players; there are free agents, whether they're restricted, whether they're unrestricted, whether they're college free agents, whatever. There's a pool of free agents and then there's a pool of drafted players; that's where we get our talent from. We will have both pools to select from. It doesn't matter what order you select from, as long as you are consistent in the way you evaluate them. I think that's how you stay true to your evaluation process and not make mistakes. So it does not factor into to what we are doing or how we are approaching the draft this year."
(On the judge's ruling in the NFL-NFLPA labor situation) "I am talking about the 2011 Draft, that's what I'm here for. I'm not going to discuss any matters related to our labor situation."
(On who he is going to pick) "Who do you want me to pick? (laughs)"
(On if he is more apprehensive with taking someone who has had a failed drug test or suspect he is involved in something bad away from the field, or if that is independent of how he would make a selection) "I don't think the latter has anything to do with the former part of your question. I think what we do is, we assess risk. A lot of what we do in this whole process is assessing risk and predicting and projecting. I've said a lot of times, we don't look for necessarily for guys that are just perfect citizens. You can make a mistake and not be a bad person. We don't want to penalize players or people or potential guys who can come in and help our football team because they made a mistake. Now what you look for, and what you're trying to predict from a risk standpoint, because past performance a lot of times predicts what you're going to have or what's going to happen in the future, so if you see repeated behavior, then to me you're much more inclined to say this guy is probably more apt to do it again, then in effect, he might find himself in trouble. But if it's a one-time occurrence or if it's something out of character and a guy makes a mistake, whether you're talking about a positive test, or a DUI or a legal matter, if it's not repeated behavior and you don't think that's who the guy is, then it certainly doesn't disqualify him from selection."
(On if having multiple picks is more important this year because of the uncertainty in free agency) "My philosophy is that I always value picks. This is the way that we've decided that we're going to build our football team. These picks are very valuable. They always have been and certainly they are now, to the degree that you can add impact players, number one; and players that are going to come in and really help your football team and then build depth along both sides of the ball. I think that's what this draft is all about."
(On if he can envision acquiring extra picks in later rounds to fill needs) "You can see that. The other piece of that is when you move back and acquire extra picks, not only do you acquire opportunities to add more players, but you also acquire more ammunition to perhaps even move back up again. So it's multi-layered and it's positive benefits of moving back, acquiring extra picks because of their value."
(On how he weighs getting a 3-4 linebacker to rush the passer as opposed to another cornerback, given the team's new defensive scheme) "I probably can't say this enough to where you will believe me: You don't draft for need. You assess value. If we feel like we've got a player at a particular position rated at that slot where we're picking and he fills a need, then it's a great deal. And that's not to say you don't draft for need. You can't reach for need because we're always drafting players at positions that we have needs for, but you don't reach for that. If a guy is at a spot that corresponds with that value, then you take him and you feel good about it. But you don't reach for need. So I don't think that's going to be a problem. I think we got our board set the right way. I think it's valued the right way. I think these coaches that have come in have done a really good job of identifying the players. I think our scouts, in the middle of a scouting season, really did a nice job of adjusting from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and that transition, in and of itself, is a difficult one and a challenging one. But I think our guys did an outstanding job of coming together and I think part of that was the fact that we were able to communicate and sit down and talk about what we were looking for, describe that to them. We've got bright football minds in the building and they understood that and that's why I think we've done a good job evaluating the board and have the right guys targeted."
(On if he envisions moving up or down in the draft) "I have said all along I am not opposed to moving up or back. I've got history that dictates or says that. We've done both. We've moved up, we moved down. I think what drives me on draft day, or draft days now; we're trying to go into these three days and we're trying to come out with the strongest team that we can come out with. We're going to have opportunities to add some more players at some point to the team, but as we sit now, our goal is to come out of this draft a much stronger football team. If that means that we move back and acquire more picks and that opportunity presents itself, then we'll do it. If the opportunity presents itself for us to move up to acquire a player that we think is worth that, then we'll consider that as well. We've always considered moves either way because, again, the goal is to come out of the weekend as strong as we can."
(On how concerned he is drafting a top player who missed his entire last year of college play due to suspension and if that player could start) "It has to be a big consideration in your evaluation process. As you know, I don't really comment on individual players, but as you talk about that in a whole, I think each case is an individual case. I think as much as we've done our homework in all of those instances, whether you're talking about a guy – the other thing I could lump into that category is a player who played two or three games and then was injured and missed the remaining part of the season – you still have to project what you think the guy's contribution is going to be to your football team. I don't think it precludes you from doing it – or prevents you from doing it, I should say – but it is a big part of the evaluation process. It just puts another thing that you've got to evaluate and try to assess."
(On how deep this draft class is at rush outside linebacker) "When I look at this draft, the depth part of that I see that just jumps out to me right away is really two positions: the defensive linemen, that group of players, and then the running backs. I think it's a good class of running backs in the middle rounds. I know there's not a whole bunch of guys at the top of the draft at the position in terms of running backs, but I do think that there's some value at the running back position in the middle parts of this draft, and certainly it's been well-documented the number of defensive linemen that are in this draft. I do think there is some ability for us to help ourselves in the pass-running department as well."
(On how he views the 3-4 nose tackle and how they fit into the Texans' scheme) "Well, I think you hit on it with the question. I don't think (defensive coordinator) Wade's (Phillips) locked in to any prototypical type of nose, and that gives you flexibility. I think that that's good. As you indicated, he's done it and played and had success with either type of guy, so I don't think that there is one type of player that we have to go get to be successful."
(On if there is an increased sense of urgency for this season) "I don't think so – at least I haven't sensed that. I don't have it and certainly haven't sensed it from anybody. I think everybody understands that in this business, every year is a must-win year because it doesn't matter. You've got to win. You've got to produce. We have always felt like that and always approached it that way, and we continue to approach it that way."
(On if he would be disappointed if he ended up with fewer defensive players than the team valued) "Probably not, because again, if that were the case then I would assume that I would have stayed true to our board and felt good about the selections that we had made. I sat up here, or maybe stood up here, a few years ago at the end of the draft where everybody said we had to get a running back and it just didn't work out. The board just didn't fall that way and we didn't sign a running back, but we signed Jeremiah Johnson and Arian (Foster), and we said at the end of that draft, 'Hey, we did sign two guys in free agency that might turn out to be pretty good,' and one of them did. So we're not going to reach. We're not going to do that. We're going to stay true to the board and if we find ourselves in that situation that you just mentioned, or outlined, after the draft on Saturday, I'm hopeful that I'll feel good about the picks that we took because they were corresponding to the value that we had put on them."
(On the team's mock draft and overall preparation processes leading up to draft day) "We met, gosh, I guess the first week of this month with the offensive staff and tweaked the board. We set our board in February with our scouts before the Combine, and then it's just a matter of fine-tuning and we add the coaches' input later in the process after the Combine. So the first time we get together as a group that way is in the beginning of the month. We did that at the beginning of this month and spent a week with the offense, spent a week with the defense, and last week spent another week with the coordinators and the individual position coaches coming back down and really drilling into the position groups and making sure that we had them ranked in order the way that we liked them, both from a scouting perspective and a coaching perspective. Then we spend this week just kind of mocking and trying to anticipate what people are doing and what teams are doing and trying to get a feel. That's what I do this week. This week, for me, is just all anticipation and trying to get prepared for the various different scenarios that might present themselves to us, whether you're talking about a move back and acquiring more picks or moving up, or you're talking about which guy you really like. So all of those discussions are happening and mocks are happening now for us. We're about ready now. It's getting close."
(On what it's been like working with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in preparing for the draft and Phillips' level of input) "It's been good to have him in there. Obviously, he knows better than anybody what he wants. It's like the guy who is scratching the back of his head and his buddy says, 'Why are you scratching the back of your head for so long?' And he says, 'I'm scratching my head because I'm the only one who knows where it itches.' That's just what it is. He has been good about it and explaining to us what he's looking for. He knows what he's looking for. And like you said, everybody does have a voice. What we do is, there is an enormous amount of information that we get on all of these players, and my way of looking at this thing is you have to have a system, a process in place that takes all of this information and guides you to a decision. So his voice has been big in this whole process in terms of trying to help guide us to what types of players we're looking for from a defensive perspective, and it will continue to be as we narrow this thing down and grab those cards off the boards and try to make those final decisions just like everybody else in the room. Everybody has a weighted opinion, they get weighted, and by the nature of his position, his has a bit more weight. The fact that he knows what he's doing, that's a little more weight. He's going to have an influence. He's been a welcomed addition and a big part of the process in terms of what we're doing and how we value these guys."
(On his philosophy drafting to replace potential free agents that may not re-sign once free agency begins) "You answered your own question. That's why you don't do that. That's why you don't put those things into the equation because first of all, you don't know what they're going to be. There's uncertainty there. So you've got to just stay true to your board because if you don't, then you're guessing. I don't think that guessing gives you a high probability of having success. You can be lucky at times, and sometimes you guess right. And that's a part of some of this. We sit here and talk about all this evaluation and information that we're doing, and at the end of the day, there is a little bit of luck involved in this deal. It just is."
(On whether players such as LB Brian Cushing, CB Glover Quin and DE Mario Williams are comfortable changing positions) "I think what's important about that is we've got to figure out the guys that we have on our team now and where they project in this defense. I think there's some flexibility there when you look at our football team, so we've got a bunch of professionals, a bunch of great guys, guys that want to play and guys that know that we fell short last year and I know are committed to making sure that we do everything that we can do to make sure that that doesn't happen again, so I don't anticipate any issues with respect to where we're going to line guys up. I think they'll be excited about what (defensive coordinator) Wade's (Phillips) going to do and I think they'll be ready to go."
(on the trend of turning cornerbacks into safeties and if there is a priority on finding a kick returner) "No, we've got a pretty good kick returner on the team right now in Trindon (Holliday). He missed the whole year last year. We've got another one that's on our team now in Jacoby (Jones). I don't know if finding a returner is a huge, huge priority for us. As it relates to the corner situation, you bring up some good points. I keep hearing conversations on how football has changed now with so much passing and so many teams throwing the ball so much. You do need safeties that have cover ability, especially if you want to try to bring pressure because you have to have guys that can cover those third wide receivers in the slot or the athletic tight ends that everybody has and employs. The transition from corner to safety, as long as you have a guy who is physical and who will tackle and has some football awareness, then you've got a chance. The guys that are out there that are just fast and can cover and really have tunnel vision, they don't make good safeties because obviously you have to have a guy that understands what you're asking everybody to do in the context of the whole defense. He has to be a smart guy and a guy who can tackle. If you've got that, then you have a good chance of getting a guy that can transition. I don't like moving guys down. The faster you go, you move that way, you move forward. I think you've got some probability of having a little bit of success if the guy will tackle and he's aware enough."
(on how he would assess the fullbacks in this draft) "Fullbacks, it just depends on how you define a position. It's a bit of a dying art because there are just not a lot of guys over the last few years at the position. There are some fullbacks in this draft that are good, some different kinds of guys—some H-back kind of guys if that's what your flavor is. There are some hammerheads, some iso-type guys, so there are a few."
(on if there are potential late-round picks he'll take regardless of team need) "Yeah, I think that's what you look for in those rounds. I think you look for dimensions. I think you look for things you like about guys. James Casey is a guy that comes to mind when you make an example that way. When you have a guy valued there, for whatever reason you value him, but you really, really like him and you can't put more value than what is there, but you sure like his chances. There are some guys that are late in the draft that way that we feel good about. Those guys really make up the balance of your football team. Sometimes you can hit on one and they become really, really good. More often than not, those are the guys that are your core special teams players. Those are the guys filling in when you have injuries, that you don't skip a beat. Those guys are very, very important to building a football team."
(on his philosophy bringing draft prospects in for visits) "First of all, you get a limited amount of visits from the league and it's our position that as thorough as we are and all encompassing as we try to be, I know that I would have a hard time turning a card in with a guy's name on it if in fact we had not vetted him from a health standpoint, from an interview standpoint, done as much personal interaction with him that we can do. More often than not, what I'll do is use those visits for guys that are non-combine guys because that gives us the opportunity to bring them in, sit down with them, talk to them, interview them, give them a physical and do those types of things. It just broadens my pool of potential players. That's not to say that we don't bring in guys that did go to the combine, because we will from time-to-time do that. If you're asking philosophically how I use the trips, that's how I use them."
(on if his successes or failures in past drafts has affected how he approaches this draft) "Yeah, I think I would probably be doing everybody a disservice if I didn't do that. I think you always have to critically analyze how you do stuff and why you do stuff. If you find examples that give you a reason to change, I don't think you can not do that. I think you have to. I talked last year about the fact that we had a group of guys and we were comfortable, because everyone understand their role. We had some continuity and I felt real good about that whole process because there was continuity and everybody knew what was expected. They knew the rhythm of their meetings. They knew what to anticipate and so I felt that was good for us. There are things this year that we have done in our processes that were a little different. My point to everybody when I rolled theses changes out is it's uncomfortable. You can't grow unless you're uncomfortable in my opinion. It could be good to just stay in your comfort zone and continue to do what you've done because I think our process was a good process and is a good process. When you've got something that you do that works, a lot of times it's not comfortable to change any part of it because the uncertainty gets people off the kilt. I don't believe in not doing something where we've looked at and analyzed it and think we can do it better, I don't believe in not making the change because it's uncomfortable. I'll do it. So we've tweaked things and absolutely as a result of what's happened in the past and we will continue to do that because we're always looking to try and get better. We've done a lot of that."
(on Vonta Leach's comments that the Texans don't want him back and if he'd draft a fullback) "Well I'll address the first part first. We've talked to Vonta and his representatives. He knows we want him back. We've communicated that to him. We're not talking to any of our players at this point obviously and what we're going to try and do is all of our players that are free or potentially free, we will sit down with them, talk to them. We were able to get a little bit of business done prior to the league year ending and got some things done. We will continue to work that process and that plan when we're able to do so. At the end of the day, it's like it is always. You sit down and you assess value and you talk about what the guy can do and you let him know that you want him. If you can get a deal done, you get a deal done. If he can get a deal somewhere else or if any of them can get a deal somewhere else that they feel better about, then we bless them. But we want Vonta back."
(on if Vonta Leach doesn't come back, which direction the team will go) "I think there are some options. Obviously we talked about the fullback position. We won't know anything about our ability to sign Vonta back prior to, but I don't think we're going into the draft saying we have to get a fullback or looking to. That's kind of a bit of a hypothetical."