EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS AND GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH**
What are the challenges or concerns when you're scouting or thinking about trading for a quarterback who doesn't have much pro experience?
"Well, I would tell you this: you get a couple of different ways to acquire talent in this league. You have the draft process and then the free agency process. The free agency part does involve trades and that kind of thing. From my perspective, what we do is we try to exhaust ourselves in the effort to improve our football team, not just at that position but at every position. So, you're right. There are different types of evaluations and different risks that you have to manage in terms of how you acquire players. But that's just a part of player acquisition and a part of roster building."
Is it all film based?
"Well, no. It's comprehensive. You look at the environment that we're in now, in terms of the draft process, it's film based, it's live exposures, going to games, it's the interviews, it's medical. There are all kinds of different things, obviously, that impact that decision, and it's never just one particular metric."
How do you feel about your salary cap situation now that it's been set?
"I think we're in good shape cap-wise. I really do. I think Chris Olsen, our VP of Football Administration, and Kevin Krajcovic, those guys do a great job of managing our salary cap and negotiating our contracts. I do feel like we'll be able to do whatever we want to do."
Head Coach Bill O'Brien said improvement at the quarterback position starts by looking at what the coaches can improve. How do you get more out of the quarterback positon?
"Well, I think he's right. I mean, he's the head football coach and he's the expert that way. Those things that he talked about are the things that you do. You've got to go back and you've got to study and you've got to figure out what are you asking a guy to do? What is he doing? What is he capable of doing? What is he good at? What is he not so good at? The balance of the football team. I look at our team and obviously we had a lot of new parts and pieces on the offensive side of the football last year – new quarterback, new running back, new guard, new wideouts. So, it takes time for all of that to come together, and we knew that. We felt like we could be pretty good on defense again, and obviously we played pretty good on defense and finished with the No. 1 ranked defense in football. That offensive piece has to continue to jell. We spent a lot of time, effort and energy on the defensive side of the ball and we did that with some acquisitions last year on offense, but it takes time. We recognize that. We understand that. It also takes a lot of work. We understand that and recognize it. Our guys are committed to doing that, and that's what we're working on now."
How do you feel about QB Brock Osweiler right now?
"It's no real difference in what we've talked about before during the offseason. It's the same thing. He's got to go back and look at what he can do better. We've got to look at that as a group. We've got to improve as a whole, our entire football team. That's the thing I love about the sport of football. It really is the ultimate team sport and it requires that everyone's on the same page and that everybody executes together. That's the way that things happen successfully and that's what we all understand and that's what we're working toward."
What qualities do you look for in an offensive lineman?
"Well, any time that you talk about – whether you're talking about physical characteristics, there are what we call 'position parameters.' So, you look for a certain size, a height-weight, speed, strength, vertical explosion, lateral explosion. Some of those things that you look for just by position because of what you will ask each position group to do. That's not just isolated to offensive line play. That's across all positions. What you have to do as a group – and it starts with the coaches. What are we going to ask these guys to do and how are we going to ask them to execute? Then we have to look at it from a personnel perspective and say, 'What are the physical characteristics and traits he needs to have in order to execute that particular scheme?' So, that's a lot of communication, it's a lot of film evaluation. But I do think our group has done a nice job. I think if you look at our football team and the way we've built our team, the communication and understanding between our coaching staff and personnel staffs, I think, gives us the chance to acquire players, whether it's in the draft or whether it's in college free agency or free agency that can come in and do what we're going to ask them to do. There's a lot of examples on our team of that. It varies from positon to position."
How much do you look at the school a player comes from?
"Yeah, I mean, I'm a Big Ten guy so obviously I have a little bit of bias that way right up here in the Midwest being from Purdue up the road. But I think really what you're speaking to as much as anything is the level of competition. So, the level of competition, where a guy is raised and how he's trained and the competition and what environment he's used to playing in, it matters. It's not the end-all, the be-all. There's certainly numerous and countless examples of players who have come from smaller schools that have not had the benefit of being in the big-time programs that are just as good in terms of playing football as those guys from other programs. It is something that we look at, but again, it's not anything that's the end-all, be-all to any evaluation."
How difficult is it to evaluate an offensive player who comes from a spread offense?
"Yeah, it becomes a little bit more of a projection. Again, it goes back to the whole idea and the concept of what are we going to ask the guy to do? Then, in those evaluative opportunities, whether it's in a game situation or here at the combine as he's moving around athletically, you've got to determine what you're looking for and what you're going to ask the guy to do. Then you've got to project in some instances, especially when you're talking about spread offenses or things guys are doing that aren't necessarily indicative of what you're going to ask him to do in your scheme, but you have to be able to project in terms of what he's doing and what you're going to ask him to do, and that is a little difficult. It's easy when you can see a guy go do exactly what you're going to ask him to do and you can evaluate that, judge that. It becomes a little bit more interesting when you have to project, and that's part of our business. To the degree that you can do that because of so many teams that are running those types of offenses, you better know how to project a little bit to be able to find players that fit into the schemes and the things you're going to ask them to do offensively and defensively."
What are your thoughts on the combine being later this year and just a few days away from free agency?
"The thing I like about it, though, I think we've had an opportunity to really prepare. We've had an extra week to get our coaches really introduced to the draft class. So, I think we're more prepared. I think we worked through our evaluations for our football team, we looked at the free agent class. I've had a chance to introduce them to the draft class, so I think everybody's a little bit more prepared. But you're right, on the back end, we'll leave here next week and all of a sudden free agency is going to be on you pretty quick, but I think we're prepared. I think if you use your time wisely and you prepare, I don't know that it matters much."
How good do you feel about your chances of retaining some of your own guys?
"Well, I feel pretty good about it. If you look at our team, I think nine-of-ten of our first round picks are still on our football team, so we've had some success at keeping our guys. That's the way that we've decided to build our football team. That's through the draft. We've identified the good, young players. It's not only first round picks, it's other players that have performed. Again, I will tell you that – and I don't say this lightly – about the job that Chris Olsen does in managing our salary cap, putting us in a positon to have the chance to keep those players. That's a big part of what we do and how we've decided to manage our football team. I'm confident in that. Listen, the reality is that you can't keep all your good, young players. But the balance of your football team is made up of players that you draft and then that core group, hopefully, are players that you drafted and you've developed and they are arrow-up-type players and that you can get those players under contract long-term and continue to build your football team."
How do you feel about what DE Jadeveon Clowney did this season and could continue to do?
"I think everybody knew what he was capable of from an athletic perspective. I mean, the guy is just gifted. I don't know that anybody doubted that. I think it was a function and a product of the fact that he was injured that he didn't produce the way we all anticipated and knew that he could. I think what you saw this year was a function of his availability. He was healthy. He has still got a long way to go. I think he recognizes that, but I think his appetite is wet for it because he can see how good he can be. I think he can see how good our defense and our team can be with his production. He fit and he worked and he has worked to get himself in this position through a lot of injury and it was just good to see him have the production and success that he had. He has a long way to go, though."
What sold you on QB Brock Osweiler and former QB Matt Schaub despite such little film?
"I'm going to go back to what we talked about. There are some types of evaluations that are a little bit more definitive than others in the sense that sometimes you have a lot. Whether it's a guy playing a spread offense and he's not doing the things that you're going to ask him to do or whether it's a case where there's not a lot of tape to evaluate at this level. But, there was tape to evaluate in both cases. Even less in the case of Matt in terms of NFL play, but that's what we do. We project. We evaluate. That's how we do our jobs."
Is your goal to get WR DeAndre Hopkins an extension this offseason?
"Our goal is to keep all of our good, young players and DeAndre is a good, young player. So, yes. We are absolutely intent on resigning him. When that happens is up for debate, but he's definitely in our plans. He's an excellent young football player and I think he's one of those guys that we just talked about that's an arrow-up player. We certainly want to continue to build around him."
How are the Texans planning to target Hispanic fans in Houston and in Mexico City?
"Well, I think we have a really strong Hispanic fan base in Houston. I think we have a diverse population in Houston and it was good to go down to Mexico City and play. Unfortunately, the game didn't end the way we wanted it to end from a win-loss perspective. But, I thought our team played well. I thought the experience was good. I think the NFL will continue to invest in Mexico City. I think it's a good thing for the NFL and for Mexico City."
Do you have the salary cap flexibility to allocate more money to the quarterback position?
"What we try to do from a salary cap management perspective is we try to write contracts that do a couple of things – that are good deals for both sides, that allow the team to maintain our flexibility to continue to improve because we're constantly trying to improve our football team and that's the bottom line. That's what we do. So, what we're trying to do is write contracts that give us flexibility to do anything that we're trying to do. We don't want to be handicapped by salary cap constraints. Now, the truth of the matter is that's the way that it is. You can't pay everybody. We just talked about that. So, that's one of the reasons why you can't keep all of your players because you have to allocate resources and dollars in areas and places where you think are most important. That's just a part of salary cap management and roster building and that's just what we do."