Two days before his fourth draft with the Texans, general manager Rick Smith espoused several familiar philosophies during a Tuesday press conference at Reliant Stadium.
He wouldn't talk about specific players before the draft, but he said that he expects his first-round picks to be starters and impact players. Smith also said that he's open to the possibility of trading back in the first round but that he likes the Texans' chances of landing a good player if they stay put.
"I'm on the phone and I'm talking to a bunch of different clubs about the potential of moving," Smith said. "You never know. You can't really predict that, so you've got to be ready to pick if, in fact, the phone doesn't ring."
This year's draft is regarded as one of the deepest in years. And the two deepest positions are widely believed to be running back and cornerback, which most analysts have pegged as the Texans' top two needs as the draft approaches.
"Obviously, there are some players in this draft at the places where we're going to pick that we're going to have some opportunities to fill some areas that we feel like we need to improve on our football team, so I do feel good about that," Smith said.
The Texans added a physical presence to each level of their defense last season – free agent Antonio Smith on the defensive line, rookie Brian Cushing in the linebacker corps and free agent safety Bernard Pollard and rookie cornerback Glover Quin to the secondary.
Smith referenced those players as he discussed what the team hopes to add in this year's draft.
"If you can not only add a physical presence but also playmakers, guys who can make plays with the ball in their hands, that's how you win in this league," Smith said. "So we look to add smart, physical players – competitive players that are passionate about football and enjoy playing the game and are strong and will get after you as well. That's the type of player that we look for across the board."
Five of the Texans' eight draft picks in 2009 were team captains in college. Smith said that character will continue to be an important factor in the Texans' draft-day evaluations.
"Football, this game and this league, it's hard – and when things are hard, people revert back to what they innately are," Smith said. "So in the fourth quarter when it's the toughest point in the game, it's our feeling that a guy who does things the right way, who is a good person and a hard worker and football's important to him and he has passion and all those things, he will execute in those crunch times better than the other guy. We just feel like those guys are more apt to execute and perform properly."
Smith said that with cornerback Dunta Robinson leaving in free agency, the Texans aren't necessarily looking for a similarly physical corner to take his place. Smith listed speed, hip movement and transition ability as some of the top physical attributes that the Texans look for in cornerback prospects.
The Texans are believed to be looking for more playmakers in the secondary to help create more interceptions.
"Ball skills are important at any position," Smith said. "I talked about that on the offensive side where you look for guys who can make plays with the ball in their hand. Conversely, on the defensive side of the ball, if you've got guys who make plays on the ball and have good ball skills and can come up with those turnovers... I think those guys are very valuable."
Many mock drafts have predicted that the the Texans will take a cornerback, such as Boise State's Kyle Wilson or Rutgers' Devin McCourty, with their first-round pick at No. 20 overall.
Another player commonly linked to the Texans in mock drafts is running back Ryan Mathews of Fresno State. Clemson running back C.J. Spiller is also a first-round prospect, though many expect him to be long gone by the time the Texans are on the clock.
Smith said that the Texans' evaluation of running backs and offensive linemen will not change in light of zone blocking guru Alex Gibbs departing for the Seattle Seahawks this offseason.
"I think what you've got to do is evaluate each player individually, and then as you look at the scheme that you play, as best a guy can fit into that scheme, those are the guys that you target," Smith said. "From an overall standpoint of the type of players we're looking for, we haven't changed philosophically because Alex is gone. We're looking for the same kind of guys. The most important thing is their football character and how they play the game."
Smith also said that he liked the new format of the draft, which will take place over a three-day span for the first time this year. The first round will be on Thursday night, the second and third rounds will be on Friday night and rounds four through seven will begin on Saturday morning.
"I like the fact that you get a chance to regroup a couple times after the first round," Smith said. "You may see some activity a little more early in the second round, maybe, as teams regroup Thursday night and say, 'Well, we had this guy rated as a first-rounder and he's sitting there, maybe we make a move to go get him.' And maybe the same thing happens at the end of Friday night a little bit more.
"I think it's great for our league. I think the draft is such a big deal and (generates) so much interest for our league and for our game, I think it's a good thing and I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be fun."