For Bill O'Brien, a player's journey to get to the Texans isn't as important as what he does after he arrives in Houston.
The first NFL practice came and went for 41 rookies on Friday afternoon inside the Houston Methodist Training Center. Seven draft picks, from first round offensive tackle Tytus Howard to seventh round fullback Cullen Gillaspia, were judged against the 20 rookie free agents and 14 players in the building here for a tryout. O'Brien and company are evaluating them all, and the rookies share the proverbial 'clean slate', according to the head coach. O'Brien pointed out the makeup of the veterans on the roster, emphasizing the value of undrafted players.
"I talked to these guys last night," O'Brien said. "The 65 guys that are here right now, before we add these guys on Monday, 28 of those guys are undrafted. So think about that: 28 guys out of the 65 guys that are here right now were not drafted in their career."
O'Brien said he and his assistant coaches are checking out how the rookies do on the field and in the meeting rooms, the rate at which they get better.
"How do you improve on a daily basis," O'Brien said. "It’s all about improvement. We’ve had plenty guys over the years that were not drafted that made our football team that made big plays for us."
In 2018, receiver Vyncint Smith, punter Trevor Daniel, and special-teamers A.J. Moore and Buddy Howell all contributed as rookies after going undrafted last April. O'Brien pointed to them, and many others who've preceded them in Houston, in his talks with the crop of 2019 rookies.
"There were between 15 to 18 guys over the last couple of years on our 53 that were undrafted," O'Brien said. "So really, the message is, the draft is important. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s a small portion of the roster building. You have seven draft picks. You have 35 guys out here. So if you’re on the 90-man roster, I think we’ve proven as an organization, it’s what you do when you get here. It’s not how you got here."
The rookies practice again on Saturday, and meet again on Sunday morning. They'll work with the veterans beginning on Monday.
Check out the best shots from the 2019 J.J. Watt Charity Classic, which raised over $1 million for the J.J. Watt Foundation, a program that provides after-school opportunities for middle-school aged children in the community to become involved in athletics.