Houston Texans General Manager Nick Caserio met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the initial 2022 roster after what he calls a "fairly busy and productive 24 to 48 hours." Around the league, NFL Teams trimmed their rosters from 80 to 53 players on Tuesday and began the process of signing practice squad players on Wednesday.
"Bringing players into your program, trying to identify traits and characteristics that you like in those players, and then when they get here, everybody has an equal opportunity," Caserio said. "It's equal competition. We'll keep the best 53 plus 16, however it goes, and then we'll have to do that I'd say on a year-to-year basis."
Here are eight things we learned from Caserio's press conference:
1. RB Depth and Marlon Mack
Head Coach Lovie Smith has stated that the identity of the Texans is to be a physical team that can run the ball. With rookie Dameon Pierce looking like a starter after his preseason performances, Caserio addressed the Texans depth at running back. The Texans cut veteran Marlon Mack on Tuesday and signed him to the practice squad.
"Yeah, you can carry X number of players on a roster, so I would say Marlon has had a good training camp," Caserio said. "He's a player we wanted to continue to work with in some capacity. There was an opportunity for him to come back to the practice squad. He's had a good attitude. He's worked really hard in the preseason. He's been productive with his opportunity."
That leaves the position group with Pierce, Rex Burkhead and Dare Ogunbowale on the 53-man roster.
"Yeah, I think the players that are on the team, we're comfortable with them, otherwise they wouldn't be here," Caserio said. "If there's an opportunity for us to improve the situation, we kind of have to look at it in totality."
2. The Ross Blacklock Trade
The Texans traded their 2020 second-round draft pick DL Ross Blacklock to the Minnesota Vikings this week. In two seasons with the Texans, Blacklock played totaled 36 tackles, 2.0 sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble in 29 games with three starts.
"That was a tough decision," Caserio said. "I mean, Ross was a good player for the organization for a number of years, local kid, has a lot of good athletic traits and attributes. We had pretty good competition at that position, at the defensive tackle position, so we ended up keeping I think it was five, including (Kurt) Hinish, (Michael) Dwumfour and Book (Thomas Booker) and then Maliek (Collins) and Roy (Lopez). In the end, we just felt that it was the best decision for the team and there was an opportunity for him in Minnesota. They had expressed an interest, so we thought that it made sense for us to give him that opportunity."
3. Undrafted rookies FB Troy Hairston and DL Kurt Hinish make the roster
The Cinderella stories of roster cuts usually involve undrafted rookies edging out the competition to make a 53-man roster. This year, the Texans had two players that went from underdog to 53-man roster, FB Troy Hairston and DL Kurt Hinish.
Hairston, a former Central Michigan DL/LB, was asked to change positions to fullback this offseason. Caserio gave examples of other successful fullbacks, such as New England Patriots All-Pro James Develin, who switched from defensive end, stating that "very few fullbacks were fullbacks." Hairston made the most of his opportunity to stay on the field by switching positions.
"I think it was a good example of the process and kind of how we work through that process," Caserio said. "And I think there was a hope and an expectation based on his physical attributes and characteristics. He would have an opportunity to compete in a kicking game. So if you start with a kicking game, which I would say players have their best chance, especially early on, to make an impact in the kicking game. Then you work backwards, then you try to figure out what their role might be offensively."
Hinish, a three-year starter at Notre Dame, earned a spot on the 53-man roster in a competitive and deep defensive line group.
4. WR Chris Conley will likely be back
"He was a pretty instinctive player," Caserio said. "I'd say he's not the tallest, he's not the strongest, but he knows how to play football. We're in the business of acquiring good football players, regardless of what they look like or how big or small they might be. But he does a good job using his hands, playing with leverage, and he was on the field."
The Texans cut WR Chris Conley, but he won't be gone for long. Conley, an eight-year veteran, appeared in 16 games last season with 10 starts and caught 22 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns.
"I'd say there's a pretty good shot Chris is going to be back on the team," Caserio said. "I think Chris has been a professional since the day that he got here. He's got a good attitude. He's got a good approach. He's well-respected by his teammates, well-respected by the coaching staff. I would expect Chris to probably be back around here probably sooner rather than later."
5. Adding adding new WR Tyler Johnson
The Texans have claimed WR Tyler Johnson off the waiver wire. Johnson, cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a fifth-round draft pick in 2020. He recorded Johnson appeared in 31 regular season games and six postseason contests for the Bucs after being drafted in the fifth round in 2020. He had 48 catches for 529 yards and two touchdowns in the 31 regular season games. He also saw action in six postseason contests, recording seven catches for 76 yards.
"We don't really have a big commitment to him, but he has some size, has decent playing strength, he has decent run after catch, has decent hands," Caserio said. "When we get him here, we'll see what it looks like relative to the rest of the group. Again, it's about him taking advantage of an opportunity, and if it's good enough, he'll be around; if it's not, then we'll look for somebody else."
6. Expectations of draft class, rookies
Rookies may get more playing time this year, but that wasn't necessarily how Caserio envisioned things during the draft process. He's been pleased with the work put in by Derek Stingley Jr., Kenyon Green, Pierce and the others, but there is still plenty of learning curve ahead once the regular season starts. A good attitude, a good approach and consistency will go a long way, Caserio adds.
"You bring new players in every year," Caserio said. "You evaluate your team. You evaluate your situation, and you try to make the right decision. You really don't have a crystal ball about how it's going to go. I mean, look, if a player gets picked higher than some of the others, there's probably a certain expectation and level of performance that you're hoping, but it doesn't always work out. I mean, we've seen plenty of situations, players around the league drafted in the first round, let's use Leatherwood as an example, there's a guy who's a good player, drafted in the first round, and he's cut. So it happens. So it's just the reality of what we deal with."
7. Did the Texans improve their team?
Caserio says the outside world places expectations on the 2022 Texans. Internally, the team is focused on performing on a consistent level, working hard each day and then stacking those days. How good of a job has he done in his roster changes? Caserio says, ultimately, wins and losses come down to eight or ten situational plays each game and execution so the answer is TBD.
"So are we a better football team than we were last year? I mean, I don't know," Caserio said. "We'll find out here come Sunday or a week from Sunday. But I think it's -- as long as we get the right players with the right mindset that have the right attitude and go about work the right way, then we'll give ourselves a chance."