HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN**
"I'll start with this, J.J. Watt was put on Injured Reserve this morning. Look, you can never replace the best player in the NFL. When someone like that goes down, it's a tough thing obviously, but at the same time, this is a football team. This is a team. A team made up of some really good veteran leaders. Some really good young players. We've got a lot of good players in that locker room. We're looking forward to the challenges that are ahead. J.J., as it relates to him personally, obviously, we all feel bad for him. He and I are very close, we've developed a great relationship over the last three years. J.J. did everything, absolutely everything he could do to get back on the field after surgery this summer. He followed his doctor's orders. He played it smart. He passed every test before being cleared to play. He felt good in the Kansas City game. He felt like he was starting to play like himself again. I have no idea when his back injury re-occurred, so I have no idea about that. It's flared up to a point where he can't continue to play right now. Going on IR will give J.J. all the time that he needs to make sure he's 100 percent healthy and back to being himself the next time he steps on the football field. This decision made by the organization is in the best interest of J.J.'s long-term health and that's what is most important to us, this organization and this team, is obviously the health of the player. There is nothing more important than the health of the player. I'll take a couple questions on it, but really I'm here to talk about Tennessee, so if we're going down the road of asking a bunch of J.J. Watt questions, it's going to be a short conference."
Do you think the short week hurt DE J.J. Watt since he didn't have as much time to get ready?
"Again, he was cleared to play. Every player that plays in the game each game is cleared to play medically if they're coming off an injury. Cleared to play, he played."
Do you expect DE J.J. Watt to have another surgery?
Is it the same disk in DE J.J. Watt's back that he hurt in the offseason?
How do you go about replacing DE J.J. Watt in the lineup when you just talked about how hard it will be?
"I said that we are a team and we have a number of good players in all three phases of the game. So that's what we're going to do. We also have a good, strong coaching staff that understands the game of football. Everybody is going to have to do their job, just like they have to do every single week in this league."
How much do you expect OLB Whitney Mercilus and OLB Jadeveon Clowney to step up with DE J.J. Watt out?
"Good players, very good players. Working hard to play well against Tennessee."
What about getting ILB Brian Cushing back today?
"It's really good to get him back. He looked good today. Moving around and looks like he's ramping it up to be able to play in the game."
What do you expect out of DE Antonio Smith?
"I'm not going to get into the specifics of basically what we're looking at with him. I will tell you that just being around him for a little bit when I first got here and now being around him for a day or so over the past 24 hours, what a good guy. Good team guy. He's got juice left. We're excited to have him on our team."
What kind of shape is DE Antonio Smith in physically?
"Obviously, he hasn't played football in a while, no question about it. We're going to work hard to work with him to help him get back into football conditioning. But that'll be a big part of how much he plays and things like that."
What have you seen from the young quarterback group in the AFC South?
"I think these guys are really talented guys. Starting with obviously Marcus (Mariota), who we play this week. We interviewed him coming out when he was getting ready for the draft. Really bright kid. You can tell football is very important to him. He has leadership qualities. Very talented passer. Obviously when he's outside the pocket, a very dangerous player. He's a guy that is a big challenge for us on Sunday."
How do you make sure the team is focused on the task at hand when a guy like DE J.J. Watt goes down?
"It's the National Football League. Sixteen one-game seasons. This is Week 4. Injuries occur. Everybody's got to chip in. Next guy has to step up. Coaches have to do their job. Players have to do their job. Everybody is paid to do their job in this league."
Is it possible to cobble two or three players together and replace the production DE J.J. Watt brings to the team?
"Yeah, it's possible. I don't know if I will use the word 'cobble' in front of my team. That rhymes with hobble and that's not really where we want to go. But I think you can cobble some things together and have a good game plan. Again, a very challenging opponent in Tennessee. They run the ball really well. We just talked about Marcus (Mariota), excellent player. Obviously, the receivers there. We're very familiar with Andre (Johnson). The rookie (Tajae) Sharpe is an excellent player. Delanie Walker, the two backs. DeMarco Murray is playing really well. (Derrick) Henry, the young back, is a very good player. It's a big challenge. We'll practice hard each day this week and get ready for the game on Sunday."
What does it mean to the defense to have ILB Brian Cushing back?
"It's probably better to ask those guys that, but I know just from my experience here. Brian Cushing, I've often described to you what a leader he is on our team and how important he is to our football team. His intensity. His ability to go out to practice every single day and practice hard. His ability to overcome adversity in his career. Just a great guy. Having coached for a while and having been around some really top players, he's right up there. He's a great guy to coach."
Is the expectation ILB Brian Cushing will play against the Titans this weekend?
"The expectation is that he's going to practice tomorrow and we're going to see where that is. Then he'll practice Friday and we'll see where that is."
Now that you've had more time to watch film, are there things QB Brock Osweiler needs to do better moving forward?
"First of all, I think I said this the other day, I think the guy is playing pretty well. I know he's had some interceptions and obviously that's not good and we have to stop doing that. But when you watch the tape, based on what we've asked him to do, it's been pretty decent. There's always things with every player that they need to work on to improve. We talk about that every day. We're around these guys all the time. They really work hard to improve on the things that we ask them to improve on."
How is T Duane Brown progressing?
"He did a little bit today. He's ramping up towards possibly playing in this game. If not, I would assume he'll be ready for Minnesota."
ILB Brian Cushing has returned from his injury much earlier than anticipated. Was he rushed back at all after hearing about DE J.J. Watt's injury?
"No. I'm a coach. I go by what the doctors tell me. The doctors clear a player to play then we play them. I don't force anybody to do anything."
Were you surprised ILB Brian Cushing got clearance to practice today?
"No. Again, I go by what the doctors tell me. When the doctors tell me a guy is ready to practice, then he goes out there and practices."
How is DE Antonio Smith's conditioning level?
"He hasn't played football in long time. It's not great. We're going to work at it. He's going to work at it and we're going to get him ready to play."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
What's the toughest thing about losing a player of DE J.J. Watt's magnitude?
"When you have that kind of ability and that kind of playmaking, it's hard to replace with one guy. So, we're going to ask all the guys on defense to pick it up, to put a little bit extra in it and see if we can gain some of those plays that J.J. used to make. That's what we have to do. I think that, defensively, we always talk to the guys about being a team, being a unit. It's not just one guy, it's everybody doing their job and fitting, and that makes the defense really good. Then when you have a player like J.J., that also makes the defense really good. We're going to try to ask everybody else to tighten their belts and then go play the best game that they've played."
What do you expect from OLB Jadeveon Clowney and OLB Whitney Mercilus with DE J.J. Watt out?
"I think Whitney has proven, you know, what he can get done. What will happen is, how will they try to protect us now that they don't have to worry about J.J.? A lot of teams, when they have to worry about J.J., it creates opportunities for other guys. Now we have to figure out how they're going to protect us, and then we're going to have to try to take advantage of that protection once we see it. Guys like Whitney, guys like Jadeveon, who has tremendous ability, we expect them all to show up. John Simon is a very consistent player. I don't think they can really underestimate our guys since we don't have J.J."
Do you expect more of DE Christian Covington in the base defense at left defensive end with DE J.J. Watt out?
"There's a possibility that he will see a little bit more playing time but we try to play all of them a little bit. A lot of it sometimes depends on what offense we're facing and what they're trying to do to us and what kind of success they're having with that offense."
What is it going to mean to the defense to have ILB Brian Cushing back?
"Cushing is a leader to the unit. He has some physicalness and some toughness. If he's able to be there for us on Sunday, then I think that would be helpful, particularly when you lose J.J. (Watt). Having that leadership in there will be good."
Did you notice if DE J.J. Watt was slow at all during the Patriots game?
"I knew he was recovering, coming back from a back injury. None of us did great in the Patriot game. What we're trying to do this week is we're trying to improve, get better and play a lot better against Tennessee."
Do you see this week being pivotal with the kind of running backs they have?
"With their running game, it's a big strong, physical running game. Like I said, everybody is going to have to play good but a linebacker like Benardrick McKinney, he's going to have to continue what he's been doing. Last week he made a lot of plays. That has to continue. Those guys up front allow him to make some of those plays. The guys up front have to do good so that he can improve."
What do you know about DE Antonio Smith? You haven't crossed paths with him as a coach.
"No, no, not as a coach. I know Antonio has a good reputation, he comes well recommended and he has good veteran experience. So, we feel like that experience will be able to help us, losing someone like J.J. (Watt), so you bring a veteran in who knows how to play the game, who gives you some inside pass rush. That's what we're looking for from him."
Have you talked to DE Devon Still?
"Of course. I talked to Devon about having an opportunity and taking advantage of the opportunity when he gets in there. I think that this unit is a good unit. You have good, young guys, you have some veteran guys. They all work very hard. I've been excited all year about what we have and what we have to work with. Now we just have to get back on track and put good games on the field and put victories on the scoreboard."
Do you attribute some of the trust that teammates have in each other to the success a lot of these individuals have had through the first three games?
"Sure. That and the guys have been in the system a little bit longer. They know and can trust the guy in front of them and the guy beside them and the guys behind them. When you have that kind of trust, it's easy to do your job first before you try to help out and make a play. When you don't trust the guys then you feel like you have to do it all and you get out of position, which creates seams in the defense, and then good runners like the ones we're going to face, they find those seams in the defense and then it becomes big gains. We have to count on everybody doing their job before they try to help out. If we do that then I think we'll be a competitive unit."
Is it like a chess match to try to figure out how offenses are going to block you with DE J.J. Watt out? How much do you have to know the offensive coordinators you go against?
"Yeah, you kind of know a little bit about how they're going to try to protect some things and what they may try to do. Then what you do is you try to devise fronts that impact their protection. If they're going to release the back, maybe you try to take advantage of that or you try to give them a front where you kind of force the back to stay in and then try to take advantage of that. It is a chess match and we're going to have to see what they're going to try to do and then we will try to counter it."
What have you seen from Titans QB Marcus Mariota and some of the other young quarterbacks in the AFC South as they try to assimilate to the NFL?
"You know, the young quarterbacks, it's a learning phase they have to go through, and sometimes in that learning phase they are not all-world like everyone wants them to be. But Mariota, he has good, strong arm, he has great running ability and he can throw it in. If you give him clear passing lanes, he sticks it in whether the guy is covered or not. I think a lot of the turnover things is because he will pull the ball down and run with it some. They're not used to getting hit a lot, particularly him because he's so fast and he hasn't been getting hit a lot. But when he does get hit, if he doesn't have it tucked away then the ball has a tendency to come out."
Can you discuss your options for who you're looking at to replace J.J. at that left defensive end spot?
"I really can't do that until game time because I don't want those other guys knowing what I'm thinking."
T DUANE BROWN
What does it mean to lose DE J.J. Watt?
"To lose somebody of that caliber, it sucks. He's the best player in the NFL, a huge part of our locker room. His spirit will always be here. We will definitely do what we can to pick up the slack. I'm working hard to get back. Guys around here are working hard to prepare themselves for Tennessee."
Is it kind of a thing, no one person can replace him so everyone just has to do a little bit more to help out?
"Yes, everybody just has to do a little bit more. That's the case at all times. We are all just trying to do a little bit more to improve this team. To have him go like that, you have to dig a little bit deeper."
Is it kind of weird seeing DE Antonio Smith back around here?
"It's very weird. Antonio (Smith) is a good friend of mine and I'm happy to have him back. It's unfortunate circumstances. I think he can add a good element to this team as well as another level of toughness to this locker room."
Arguably the three biggest leaders in the locker room, you, ILB Brian Cushing and DE J.J. Watt have all been hurt recently. Do you think maybe things aren't going to work out or is it the opposite feeling that you have to make things work out?
"We are all professionals in this league. We all know we have a job to do no matter what happens to anyone on this team. Everyone looks at themselves to see what they can do more of. The same as when I went down, when Cush (Brian Cushing) went down, when J.J. goes down. It sucks for that guy and you feel for him, but as a competitor and a member of this organization, you all try and look at yourself in the mirror to see what you can do more of and just try to do a little bit more each and every Sunday."
Did you have a chance to reach out to DE J.J. Watt at all?
"Yes, I talked to him. He knows I support him to the fullest, same as he did when I had my injury. I know he will fight back and be stronger than before. That's just the kind of cloth he is cut from. He's the ultimate competitor. He just has to take his time and when he's ready to go, he'll be ready to go."
How does DE J.J. Watt feel? Do you have to tell him to keep his head up?
"Like I said, he's a great man, a great competitor. He's going to look at adversity in the face and take it head on. I'm sure his spirits are high. I know he will want to be here whether he's cheering us on. He'll be ready to go when it's time."
OLB JADEVEON CLOWNEY
What is it going to take for you all to make up for the loss of DE J.J. Watt?
"Just keep doing what we're doing. We're playing well together. Get back on track this week, obviously we're playing against Tennessee. We have to come out there with a good game plan and play well."
How weird is it going to be without DE J.J. Watt on the field?
"It's going to be very weird. That's one of our leaders on defense and of the team. Everybody was looking forward to him playing this season. Other guys have to step up, including myself. I need to step up to help replace him. I'm looking for big things out of our front. Other guys around will have to pick it up for him."
Do you take it as a challenge to make up for DE J.J. Watt being out?
"I took it as a challenge all along. I needed to come into this season playing well and I did. It's always been a challenge, with him on the field or not."
Will the defense be able to recover with DE J.J. Watt out?
"I think so. We all play together well. We just have to do our job and everything else will work out."
Was it disappointing to hear about the injury to DE J.J. Watt now that you're finally healthy?
"Yeah, that's a big part of our defense. With that guy down, it hurts the team. Other guys around him have to pick it up and step in for him."
Do you expect to be used in different ways on the field?
"I don't know. I just let them do all that. I just go out there and play."
Are you prepared to do whatever you can?
"Yeah. Whatever I can."
Do you think about how the team is going to use you at all?
"I just go out and play. Don't have any say so. Wherever they line me up, do my job."
How important is it for guys on the defense to not try and do too much?
"Oh yeah, that's the thing. You still have to do your job. Don't try to do other people's job. That's when you end up messing up your job. It's big to just go out there and play sound football. If everybody does their job, I think we'll be all right."
How helpful was it to play without DE J.J. Watt all preseason and did it help you prepare for now?
"I thought we played pretty well without him. That was preseason. This is the regular season. We're getting everybody's best right now. Other guys have to step it up. I think we're going to do that, come out and play well."
What are your impressions of DE Antonio Smith?
"He's a cool guy. He's a laid back guy. He came and talked to me today. I met him before this, before I met him here. He can be a good help to the team, coming in and playing well."
Has Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel talked about what the team needs to do in DE J.J. Watt's absence?
"No. Just keep doing what we've been doing. Next man up. Do your job."
Are injuries just a part of the game that the team needs to work through?
"Yeah, I went through it. Everybody goes through it. I went through it my first two years, hurting and injuries. It happens to everybody. It's how you do when you come back that's the big part. We're going to stay behind him, hope he gets well and hope he gets back with us soon. But everybody else has to do their job and keep playing football."
What is your message to the people who are counting the Texans out now?
"I don't have anything to say. They can think what they want. I just worry about what's happening inside these walls. We're going to do all right. We're going to keep playing football. We have a long season left. We're trying to make the playoffs and do big things. We have to keep playing."
Is there any reason you shouldn't continue to be a great defense?
"I don't think there's any reason we shouldn't. We have a lot of good players on this team. A lot of good guys who are doing well and doing their job. We just have to keep playing well and keep playing."
DE CHRISTIAN COVINGTON
With DE J.J. Watt being out, do you feel pressure to do more on defense outside of the scheme?
"No. Just stick to the game plan. You got to stick to the game plan, trust each other, trust the coaching staff, trust the game plan that gets set in each week for each opponent."
How ready do you feel for more snaps?
"I'm going to do my job. Whenever my number is called, I'll be out there. I'll be ready. I'll just do my job."
How is the team doing emotionally right now with the loss of DE J.J. Watt?
"It is what it is. He's one of the best players in the league, so obviously you're going to feel something. Especially to see a teammate go down. At the end of the day, he has our back, we have his. Next man up and everybody has to come together, continue to build on the young season that we have right now."
Do you feel that your role might increase?
"Talk to coach about that. I'm going to be out there doing my job. Whatever they ask me to do."
Do you think that things were already going in a certain direction for the defense that allows you to work through not having DE J.J. Watt on the field?
"We knew he was trying to come back from such a thing with regards to his back. We just entered each week with a different game plan for each opponent. We're going to continue to do the same."
Do you feel that there's any reason this defense won't be where you were last season and at the start of this season?
"No. As long as we continue to do what's asked of us, do our jobs and not try to overcompensate for each other, especially not overcompensate for people that aren't going to be playing. We just have to be able to continue to trust each other, continue to trust the game plan that's set before us."
What were your thoughts when you heard the news about DE J.J. Watt?
"He's a good friend. He's a teammate. Anytime you have a teammate that goes down, you're going to feel something. You're going to feel hurt. At the end of the day, it's that mentality that we've been talking about. Next man up. Our prayers are with him as he recovers."
What are your thoughts on DE Antonio Smith after what you've seen so far?
"Great player. His reputation comes along with the person that he is. I look forward to playing with him."
Does DE Antonio Smith's personality stand out?
"It's my first day meeting him so I haven't really gotten a chance to truly get to know him that much."
You have had injuries in the past. Can you relate to what DE J.J. Watt is going through?
"I can't relate to what he's going through. All my major injuries have been through college. He's been going through things and he's gone through some things, he's overcome things that a lot of the other guys in the league haven't done. I know he's a resilient guy. He's going to get better."
ILB BRIAN CUSHING
How were you able to come back in three weeks?
"It was actually two."
How were you able to come back in two weeks?
"I don't know, just a lot of hard work. I didn't want to believe it would be four to six. I'm not saying I'm all the way back yet. I'm not saying for sure what I'm doing, but I know I practiced today. I know I felt good. I'm happy about the progress – that's for sure. I've been hurt too much in my career, in my opinion. It's something that I don't want to do anymore, or want to be, so anything I can do to get back and get out there as soon as I possibly can and be healthy and be effective, I'll do. Just excited to be back out there with the guys."
Is there a possibility that you can play this week?
"There's a possibility. There's a possibility, but we are just taking it day-by-day. This is the first day. Obviously, we all know there's a big difference between practice and a full game. We'll see where we get. At the same time, that's the goal and that's the end goal. That's something that I would really enjoy and want to do. But, there's some more work to do that."
When you heard the news about DE J.J. Watt, what did you think?
"Just try and support him as much as I can. Just as someone who has been on IR twice and been through it and knowing how much this game means to him, trying to give all support I can to him. Obviously, I'm upset for him. I know how frustrated he is, but I know he will be back. I know he will back and I know he will be back as good as he was before. I think we all know that determination and work ethic he has and I think he all believe in him."
You know your body better than anybody. You are back early today and nothing to do with DE J.J. Watt getting hurt. You wouldn't be here if you weren't ready to be here, correct?
"Yes, this has nothing to do with him. This was pretty well determined. I had a pretty set date in my mind from really when I was sitting on the table right after the Chicago game. I was told an estimation about how long it would take and I kind of targeted a certain game, a certain time when I thought I could do it. We are right on target. We are moving in the right direction."
Officially, that day they told us four to six weeks which means today you cut your time in half. Is it because it wasn't as bad as it looked that day?
"It could have been. It could have been. There's obviously difference in opinions and reading an MRI and estimated time out and all of that. Certain guys can tolerate a lot more than others."
Unfortunately, you know way too much about this. Can you talk us through your mindset as you are sitting on the table in there having this chat?
"I was frustrated, but I knew it wasn't nearly as bad as I first thought. It wasn't anything compared to the previous two knee injuries. In a way, I felt fortunate and knew I would be back eventually, not exactly when, but I knew it wasn't a season ending kind of deal."
How did it feel out on the practice field today?
"It felt good. It felt good. The more I practiced, the better I felt. I practiced more than I thought. It felt really good. I was a little tentative at first. You think about it and obviously the first time being out and we had pads on so there was some contact stuff. As practice went on, it wasn't even thought about. It was just one of those things that I was getting back into the groove, making plays, making the calls. It felt good."
Is this more of a pain thing than anything structural?
"It's a sprain. It's a sprain, so as far as structurally, everything's good. Structurally, everything is great actually. It's just one of those things where obviously you want to get it as solid as you possibly can. The last little bit is just getting over that pain. If it's something that I can deal with, if it's something that I feel I can do, but like I said, we are still just taking it day-by-day."
Coming off of the loss to New England and DE J.J. Watt getting hurt, what's the attitude you have to take into this week's game?
"Very upbeat, very upbeat. This is the National Football League. You have to get over stuff quick. With this team, there's a ton of talent. We prepared really the whole preseason without J.J. We know what it's like. Obviously, we are losing a key player, but other guys have to step up. It's not going to be one guy. It's collectively going to be a group effort. Everyone has to pick up their game a little bit. We feel we have a very good defense and we will continue to go forward with that. As far as last week, we are over that already. We were over that Friday morning. That's just one of those things you have to turn the page. That's the beauty of it. You play a game the next week and you can get the taste out of your mouth and go get a win."
Titans QB Marcus Mariota had a tough week last week. You know what kind of talent he has. Can you talk about what he brings to the game?
"Obviously a dual threat, someone that you have to be very aware of at all times as you are playing the pass and he can take off at any given time, too. It's another guy we have to account for in that offense. This will also be the first time playing him as the Texans. First time seeing him. Very explosive, he has a lot of weapons around him too and he can make a lot of plays."
What are your reaction to seeing DE Antonio Smith back in the locker room?
"Excited. Excited, happy. It's always cool to see a familiar face in a guy that you have played with before, especially when he is back on the team. Just to see him coming in here kind of brought everyone's spirits up. He's just one of those guys that makes everyone happy around him. Obviously, he can still play."
What did you see from ILB Benardrick McKinney while you were out, particularly the Patriots game?
"Stepped up. Stepped up big time. He made a lot of plays, had a lot of tackles and overall just played two very good games in Kansas City and New England back to back. A lot of growth and development in Benardrick and I think just continue to get better."
WR DeANDRE HOPKINS
What are your initial thoughts about losing DE J.J. Watt and how much pressure does that put on the offense to pick up the slack?
"The offense is going to go out there and do what we do. We don't try to factor in other things outside of what we have to focus on to win a football game. J.J. is one heck of a player. I'm pretty sure he's going to do what he has to do to come back and help this team."
As a teammate, how do you feel about losing DE J.J. Watt?
"He's a friend more than just a teammate. Anytime a friend can't do what they love to do, you feel for them."
QB Brock Osweiler has been in the league a few years but he only has 10 starts. How much is he still growing as a quarterback?
"Everybody is growing as a player, not just Brock. I've played four years and I'm still growing. That's a question you have to ask Brock but I'm pretty sure he would say he's still growing also."
What have you seen from him this year as he tries to assimilate to your offense?
"He's doing the best he can. He's leading us on and off the field. He's the same guy that he was from the day he stepped in the building."
How will you withstand the loss of DE J.J. Watt this year the way you did last year with RB Arian Foster?
"That's last year. I don't like to talk about last year, personally. This is a new team. A lot of new faces, a lot of new guys, a lot of new talent in the locker room. We're focusing on Tennessee this week and not what happened last year."
Has it been frustrating to only have three touchdowns in the first two games as a team even though you have two of them yourself?
"No, it's not frustrating at all. The team's success, for me, comes first and all the accolades come after that. So, whatever I have to do, if it's me drawing a double team, that means one of my other teammates are open. That's not on the stat book, drawing a double team – people just see touchdowns – but, to me, my team's success comes first."
With a couple extra days off, did you think a lot about the Thursday night game and can you talk about how anxious you are to get back on the field on Sunday?
"Tennessee is a good team. We have to come out and play our A game because that's a division rival for us. Just have to come out and be on our A game, focus on Tennessee."
CB CHARLES JAMES
Was getting ILB Brian Cushing back on the field a positive thing today?
"No question. That was a big positive. Big positive. Cush is a leader. A defensive threat. Every time he's on the field, he makes plays. Having him back, having his leadership back out there. Him flying around, hearing his voice making calls and things like that is big and I think it's definitely going to help us on Sunday."
Was there any moment when you asked yourself how the team is going to replace DE J.J. Watt?
"No, not exactly. It's a team effort. It's never just a one-man thing as dominant as he is. You have to have it as a team effort. All the guys are counting on each other in the front end and the back end. We just all have to come together as a unit and play well."
What do you think you can improve upon in special teams during the upcoming game against the Titans?
"Definitely not our best game. I know speaking for myself, definitely wasn't my best game. Just got to focus and improve on the little things that we can. The schemes that they're teaching us and the things that we're practicing on every day. We just have to want to get better as a unit and we will."
CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH
What does it mean to have ILB Brian Cushing back?
"It means a lot. He's a defensive leader over here. Heart and soul of the defense. Gets everybody pumped up and involved and just to see a guy come back on a short notice like that from that type of injury."
Did you tell any of the other players what it's like to have a guy like DE Antonio Smith on the field?
"I've been trying to explain it and get it across, but having a guy like him back on this team says a lot. A guy that went over to Denver, won a championship, so he can bring some of that pedigree. He's always been a leader when he was here before he went to Denver, so having a guy like that back with us is only going to pick us up more on the defensive side."
How does not having DE J.J. Watt affect what we will see from the team early and late in the game?
"It'll definitely be interesting, but I think when you have other guys, you know (Jadeveon) Clowney, (Whitney) Mercilus, (John) Simon, (Vince) Wilfork, (Christian) Covington, all those guys up front, I think that it kind of still creates opportunities for those guys because sometimes, they pay so much attention to J.J. that some of those guys, not necessarily will be overlooked, but what they can do in a game goes unnoticed sometimes. I think some of those guys will probably get some favorable matchups. One on ones and being able to win. Things like that."
Was there any moment when you asked yourself how the team is going to replace DE J.J. Watt?
"I never really thought about it that way. I felt for him more than anything. Obviously him having to go through it one time and then fighting his way back and having to go through it again. That sucks for him. But for us as a team, there's nothing that you can do about it. You have to kind of block that side out of it and just continue to go out there and whoever is on the field with you, you got to go out there and take that mentality to what we want to have the same type of defense."
Is the mindset of going out there and playing to the best of your ability regardless of who is on the field easier said than done?
"It's the nature of the beast. You have no choice. He's not going to show up tomorrow or Sunday and be out there with us, so you have to have that mentality and you have to really believe it."
How will DE J.J. Watt being out effect the defense on the back end since you've talked about how much the pass rush has helped the team?
"We just have to do more. Obviously, get tighter in coverage. Just do the same thing we've been doing. Obviously teams are going to do what they're going to do and game plan for certain situations and certain things. So for us in the back end, we can't change our mentality, all have to still be aggressive, still take our chances and just play within the defense."
It doesn't seem like DE Antonio Smith has changed. The first thing he said was "I bet you think you see a ghost."
"No doubt. He's a veteran guy, been a great player in this league for a while. I'm excited to have him back on this defense, part of what we have going here."
Are you guys still a pretty good defense without DE J.J. Watt?
"Of course. I think we got seven, eight first-rounders over here on the defensive side, so I think we'll be okay. Obviously, you can't replace him like I said, but having that type of talent on the defensive side, we'll be okay."
Did playing without DE J.J. Watt in the preseason help you prepare for what you will face now?
"I guess maybe - yeah and no - because obviously we weren't thinking that that was going to happen, but not having him out there, you were able to get some looks on some guys that wouldn't be out there as much. We have a feel for what it's like to go out there without him."
Does DE J.J. Watt's absence change any of your goals for this season for the team?
"Not at all. You just look around the league you see the other teams lose guys at key positions and things like that. I think that doesn't really change their team goals or their team mentality, so for us, it shouldn't be any different."
What do you see from Titans QB Marcus Mariota?
"Playmaker at the quarterback position. Guy with a strong arm. He's able to get out there on the perimeter and make plays with his legs also and I think he's been smart with it. Being careful from taking big hits to where he could be ending up out of the game and things like that. Obviously he got injured last year, but I think for now he's doing a great job of moving the offense up and down the field and keeping the game to where they have a chance to win each and every ball game."
QB BROCK OSWEILER
All the talk has been about defense. You guys play as big of a role making up for DE J.J. Watt being out as anyone. Can you talk about that?
"I don't think anything changes offensively now that the news of J.J. (Watt) going on IR has come out. Bottom line, we need to score points. We need to score a lot of them. We knew that whether he was put on IR or not. There's been a great focus on that. I think Monday in practice we came out, we had a really good day. I think today was a little bit better and I hope that the rest of the week keeps getting better and better because we know we need to do our part offensively. I think the defense has done a tremendous job this year through the first three games. Now it's time for the offense to step up as a unit, finish drives, score points, protect the football and do our part of the deal."
Titans QB Marcus Mariota said he's been trying too hard and it's leading to mistakes. How do you avoid that?
"It's easier said than done, but you focus on what's relevant. You focus on what really matters and really that boils down to doing your job, only your job, to the best of your ability one play at a time. As soon as that one play is done, good or bad, move onto the next one. I think if you can keep a narrow focus, a lazer focus that small, a lot of doing your job one play at a time little by little, all those plays will add up and hopefully it results in a lot of points scored."
Can you talk about the progress you've made through your first 10 NFL starts?
"I don't think – in fact, I know for a fact - I don't use my lack of starts as an excuse for anything. I expect myself to play at an extremely high level. I have great confidence in my abilities and what I can do and I have great confidence in the teammates around me to help me do my job. I'm never going to use my lack of starts for an excuse or say 'I'll figure it out eventually' or anything like that. Bottom line, I expect to play at an extremely high level and an extremely high level right now."
When you look at the film from last week, what did you take from the game at New England to help you prepare for Tennessee?
"There's a lot of things, but bottom line, I think it just boils down to decision making and decision making that results in scoring points."
Not making decisions quickly enough or just making the wrong decisions?
"Making better decisions that end in scoring points."
At this early point in the season, there's a lot of young quarterbacks playing really well, more than usually. What do you attribute that to?
"Oh boy. It's too hard. You would really have to look at every individual case. I think a lot depends - There's so much that goes into it. It starts with the offense that you are running; it starts with how your teams playing. There's a lot that goes into it. To be honest with you, I have been so consumed with what we're doing, trying to fix the issues that we currently have, game planning for defenses, watching film, I haven't really been able to watch too much other football at this point."
Colleges have been throwing the ball like crazy. Do you think that has anything to do with it?
"It might. I do know for a fact that it seems like there's camps for all ages starting almost at seven, eight years old, there's a quarterback camp. There's a receiver camp. There's seven-on-seven that goes on year round and that goes all the way through high school. There's competitive leagues. You're right. There are some schools that throw it 65 times a game. I'm a firm believer that there's nothing that replaces game reps. So, it seems like a lot of quarterbacks are getting a lot of game reps and that could certainly be part of why guys are playing so well."
What is your reaction to losing DE J.J. Watt?
"J.J. (Watt) is a guy that you can't replace. His body of work is second to none. Obviously, he is a tremendous football player, but he is an even better teammate. He will certainly be missed, but bottom line, this is the National Football League. Big time players get put on IR every single year. Every single team will face adversity at some point in their season. It really just boils down to the next man up mentality. We have a ton of really good football players in that locker room across the hallway. We have a ton of great football players on defense, and that defensive line in particular, that I know are ready to step up. They will step up and they will have a great year."
Was it good to have a couple of days off or was it bad to have a couple of extra days off because of what happened Thursday night?
"Any time something like that happens, you always want to learn from it and move forward as fast as you possibly can. We weren't able to control our schedule. I think we had a great weekend off. We got refreshed. We got healthy for the most part. We were able to get a bonus practice on Monday. I think we've had great work heading into this Tennessee game."
Even though you haven't played with T Duane Brown, what do you think it will mean to the offense when he is able to come back?
"I think it will be tremendous. I really do. Duane (Brown) has been a brick wall, if you will, on that left side of the line for a long time. He's certainly the leader in that room and he is one of the leaders of this football team. So, to get him healthy, to get him back in the lineup, I know it will mean a great deal to a lot of people, it will mean a great deal to him and anytime you can get a player back of that caliber with that type of leadership, it will be huge for your football team."
What do you see in Tennessee's defense?
"Tennessee's defense. Wow. I see a group that are tough, they are physical and they fly around. I think it starts with their front and their linebackers. If you turn on the tape and you watch those guys play, they are getting after it. Those linebackers aren't afraid to stick their nose in anywhere. The defensive front is fast, they are physical, they are moving around, they are twisting, they are splitting gaps. I know we have a great challenge ahead of us stopping their front and their linebackers. In the secondary, you have a fairly veteran group back there. You have some guys who have played a lot of football in this league. They recognize route concepts and patterns and they make great plays on the ball. I expect a great challenge on Sunday. I know we have a lot of work to do to be prepared for the Tennessee Titans and I know it's going to be a hell of game."
OLB JOHN SIMON
What was your reaction when you heard the news about DE J.J. Watt?
"Well, it's tough. We lost a great leader and it's next man up."
How do you feel about how the team is adjusting to the news regarding DE J.J. Watt?
"We just got to play our game. Everyone has to do their job on the defensive side of the ball and I think today we took a good step in that direction and we got to carry it out the rest of the week."
Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel talked about the chess match with the Titans offensive coordinator and how they have to deploy certain players to try and control DE J.J. Watt. How is the team adjusting and how do you feel about the adjustments?
"We just game plan and like I said, we'll go out there and compete to the best of our abilities and we got a lot of good guys on this defense who are able to get the job done."
Does everyone on defense have to make themselves a "friend" on the offense to make sure that everyone is covered?
"I think if everyone just does their job and does their assignment on the play. Everyone does their one eleventh, we're usually a pretty good defense."
With DE J.J. Watt being out, is a player trying to do more than their assignment and be a hero a danger to the defense now?
"I think anytime, if anyone tries to be a hero and just leaves their gap unattended or things like that, the teams we play on Sunday's are good enough to exploit it. Like I was saying, if everyone does their one eleventh, we're usually a pretty good defense."
What do you see from Titans QB Marcus Mariota?
"He's a very talented guy. He's a threat in the pass and the run game. He's a big key for us. We want to stop him."
What do you see from their two big backs?
"They got a lot of offensive threats, so we have a lot of guys we have to worry about and game plan towards. (Derrick) Henry and (DeMarco) Murray are great running backs and they deserve all the recognition they get."
You talked about people just doing their own job. Isn't that a lot of what you've already done and isn't that what makes the defense successful?
"Yeah. We just have to keep going. We stumbled a little bit last week and then we've been working hard all week. Like I said, we had a good practice today. A couple more practices before Sunday, so we're just trying to stack days right now."
Is the trust factor between you and your defensive teammates pretty high?
"Yeah. We've been with each other for a couple years now, so I think we have good chemistry overall and that's just something we continue to build throughout the year."
DE ANTONIO SMITH
What kind of football shape are you in now and how fast can you get up to speed?
"I'm going to get up to speed by any means necessary. The harder I have to break myself early on, the better I'll be."
Did you think you were done or did you feel like you'd get another shot somewhere?
"Early on, when I walked off the field at the Super Bowl, I'm like, 'I'm done. Yeah, it's over.' And then as the time kind of went by, you start seeing the guys going back to practice, you're talking to your friends and then you start seeing the games. It's always still there. Kind of always still there. I knew then I wasn't done. Thought I was, but I wasn't."
So you thought about actually retiring after you got the Super Bowl ring?
"Yeah. You know, I think it's like a Jedi mind trick. You spend your whole career trying to get that ring and then as soon as you get it, the air goes out. Then you be like, 'Now what?' But I still love the game, I still love to compete, I still can rush the passer. There came a point to where I missed it too much."
What's the process going to be like for you to learn this defense and how long do you think it will take to be able to get on the field and contribute?
"I mean, in my opinion, I feel like once you get the terminology down on any defense, it should be – I wouldn't say simple, but it should be pretty smooth picking everything up. I just have to get the terminology down."
Does it feel like you're coming into a good situation here?
"Definitely. Definitely. It feels like I'm coming to a good situation. It feels like I'm coming home. I'm just excited about helping the team in any way I can."
Was it Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Rick Smith that called you?
"(Yeah). Well, no. My agent called. You know how they do it through the third party."
Did they tell you DE J.J. Watt was hurt and they needed you?
"They didn't tell me none of that. I learned that the same time everybody else learned it, through the wire. I think the first thing I heard when I talked to Rick (Smith), 'What kind of shape are you in?' and I was like, 'I've been working out here lately. I kind of pushed it up a little harder because of some things I was trying to do with pass rushing.' The conversation kind of went from there, and he said, 'We're thinking about bringing you in and working you out.' He said, 'See what you can do for us.' I said, 'I'll come out there and give you my all.'"
How special is it to have that Texans insignia back on your shirt?
"It's very special to me. Like I said, this home. This is home."
Can you share some thoughts on coming in and replacing DE J.J. Watt?
"Definitely not a replacement, man. Man, I love that kid. I don't think he even knows how much I love him. No replacement at all. I'm just here to help the team out as best I can. That's how I've always seen the game. That's how I've always seen my role, my responsibility, whether it's a bigger role or a smaller role. I just have to come in and do the best I can."
Have you spoken to DE J.J. Watt?
"I haven't got a chance to speak to him. I just heard about it last night. I was just like everybody else, 'There's no way J.J. is out.' You know? I believe in him that much. When I heard the news last night it was kind of like, devastating, but I'm definitely going to give him a call and check and see how he's doing."
When did you work out for the Texans?
How did your offseason workouts this year compare to previous years?
"Definitely different. You start off kind of relaxed and then you kind of just stay relaxed until I decided I needed to ramp it up. It was totally different. Definitely nothing like you would do in OTAs and training camps and different stuff like that."
Were you keeping in shape just to begin the rest of your life?
Is it kind of weird being back here? Did you ever think you were ever going to come back to the Texans?
"No, it's not weird. I always knew."
Did you tell Head Coach Bill O'Brien about the ninja assassin mask? Will you be able to break that out here?
"I got that like put up, kind of like a grave shrine type of thing. I put it in the case."
So you haven't retired but the ninja has retired?
"I can't say that now because it's back home, you know what I'm saying? I don't know. I don't know."
DE DEVON STILL
What do you think about DE J.J. Watt being out again?
"Like you said, when you have a player like that go down, everybody wants to step up, but some people may want to do other things outside of their job. But we have to understand that we have to do our job every game that the coaches put us in a position to win. The only thing we have to do is focus on us."
Is it exciting to have ILB Brian Cushing and DE Antonio Smith back on the field?
"Yeah. You go through training camp with these guys. You bust your butts in training camp and sometimes guys go down during the season, but to have everybody back and to be able to play as a unit is going to be fun."
Can you talk about seizing the opportunity and stepping up while DE J.J. Watt is out?
"Definitely. In the NFL, when one man goes down, the next man has to step up, so everybody has to seize the opportunity because it's going to open this up for our defense. J.J. was responsible for a lot of production on our defense, so people are going to have to step up all across the board."
CONFERENCE CALL WITH TITANS HEAD COACH MIKE MULARKEY
Looking at the Texans, what are some things that stick out to you?
"Defensively, playing really well. Obviously, that's been the history of that defense. The scheme that Romeo (Crennel) does, the personnel that does it and the effort from the guys that are running it. Pretty stout."
When you hear news that DE J.J. Watt is going on Injured Reserve, what kind of thoughts do you have?
"Disappointed for the player. We had that with (Teddy) Bridgewater in the first game that we faced the Vikings. It's disappointing. You don't want to see anybody get hurt in this business."
If ILB Brian Cushing plays this week, how much does that add to the Texans defense?
"He's a good football player. He really kind of runs the ship there. I know they'd be happy to have him back but he's a good football player and has been for a long time."
How does OLB Jadeveon Clowney look on film?
"Disruptive. I know he's in a new world there being inside as an end and playing in some of the things that Romeo (Crennel) is asking him to do. It's not his first time inside and Romeo does a nice job of moving people around. They've got a lot of moving pieces trying to find mismatches. But extremely disruptive inside and playing very well."
There are a lot of young quarterbacks in this division. What do you see from Texans QB Brock Osweiler and how tough is it for these guys, including Titans QB Marcus Mariota?
"I just think it is tough for younger guys, especially with the defenses of today. Look at the two defenses that are facing each other this week with ours and you guys, very complex, especially when it gets to third down. There's a lot of different things that the quarterbacks have to recognize, making sure you're in the proper protections, making sure really everybody is where they're supposed to be. Experience is certainly a factor in that. There's no better experience than facing it. The more you can, the more you get comfortable and confident in what you're doing. I think that's the case for both of these guys, both quarterbacks."
Titans QB Marcus Mariota says he needs to cut down on turnovers. What are you seeing from him in committing the turnovers?
"Well, a couple things we've been working on, especially his pocket presence. He's obviously a dangerous threat when he's out of the pocket. He's just got to do a better job putting the ball away and that's been addressed since the season's been over with. The whole offseason we've been drilling him. Until he does it consistently, we're going to have issues with it. Nobody knows it better than he does. It is worked on daily. Some of the interceptions I think the earlier ones may have been more trying to make something happen. He's very confident in his arm, he's confident in our guys. The ones as of late, the receivers can help him with those turnovers. It's more them than it is him."
What are your thoughts on the Texans wide receivers?
"Very good. We've faced some very good receivers the last few weeks. It's no different this week. I've been really impressed with Will Fuller for being a young rookie and putting a lot of pressure on him being picked where he was picked. He's proven that he can be a game wrecker with that speed. Just a nice complement to (DeAndre) Hopkins. I think you've got a really good thing going there with some young guys."
What are the challenges in facing someone so quick like Texans WR Will Fuller V?
"The coverage, trying to get pressure on the quarterback, make sure you got to get rid of the ball quickly. I think it's as much up front as it is with our cover guys. Dick LeBeau does a good job. He knows where and who we have to try to manhandle and stop in order for us to be successful. He's done that for the most part with the guys we have faced the last couple weeks."
What jumps out to you about Texans QB Brock Osweiler as a tall pocket quarterback?
"Just size, being able to see the field, arm strength. He's a young quarterback. Again, like Marcus (Mariota), the more experience he's going to get, he's going to get better but he's got a really good pocket presence."
What has Titans WR Andre Johnson brought to your team?
"How to be a professional. How to do things the right way from when you walk into the building to when you walk out. He's just a consummate pro, very detailed. Everything he does is important to him. Even at his age, he wants to improve, wants to get better, never good enough. I could go on and on about him."
How do you think Titans WR Andre Johnson views this game, coming back to Houston?
"Well, when we first sat down when we signed him, we talked about it. I don't know if it's as big as people are going to make it out to be for him. He's a quiet guy. I'm sure it's important to him. It's not going to be to the extent that some guys I've been around. I'm sure it's important to him but you won't see that. He's just going to bear down and play his game."
CONFERENCE CALL WITH TITANS QB MARCUS MARIOTA
What's it going to be like playing against the Texans for the first time?
"I'm excited. This is an opportunity, a division game. We're excited to go out there and play. We're going to prepare and hopefully we'll be able to execute on Sunday."
How big of an impact is it for the Texans to not have DE J.J. Watt out there?
"Yeah, you said it. To lose someone like that of his caliber, it's tough for them. You never want to see anybody go down. Truly you just wish the best for him. For us, we've just got to continue to game plan, focus on what we can control and do our best to execute whatever is asked of us."
In terms of your development, what do you think you need to work on and what do you attribute the turnovers this year to?
"Well, you said it. I've got to find ways to be better at taking care of the football. I can't put our team in those types of situations. I can't keep turning the ball over. For me, it's a process. I'm learning that I don't necessarily have to win the game on every throw. Sometimes punting is the best in that situation. I'm just learning not to force things and just making good decisions."
There are a lot of young quarterbacks in this division. How tough is it for all of you guys?
"For me personally, I learn best through experience. Being able to be out there with the guys, learning as I go through repetitions, makes me a better player. I think for all of us, it's an awesome opportunity to even get a chance to play in this league, one that we won't take for granted and we're going to do our best to make the most of it."
What's it like to have that kind of running game with the backs that you have?
"It's been incredibly helpful. To have the playmakers that we do back there, guys that run the football with intensity and passion, we're very fortunate to have it and it really helps us kind of open up the pass game and do some different things."
What do you think you need to do to take the next step to be a successful quarterback and get back to doing some of the things that you were accustomed to doing in college?
"Just eliminating the turnovers, making sound decisions, things that I felt that I excelled at in college. Just trusting what I see and making sure that every decision I do is a good one and one that will keep us going, keep the rhythm of the drive going or just taking care of the football. Those are things that I'm learning as I go. It is a process but I look forward to hopefully getting better at those things."
What's it like having Titans WR Andre Johnson to lean on as a wise older player?
"To have Andre is truly a blessing. A veteran player of his stature, someone who's played at a high level in this league for a long time. A lot of guys can look to him for leadership and just kind of see how he does his daily business, how he holds himself, things that we can all learn from. To have him on our team is really helping us young guys grow."
With a young receiving core, it seems like you have some guys with talent and some guys to work with.
"Absolutely. To have some of the vets that are in there, including Andre (Johnson) and Harry (Douglas), it helps us young guys see how it is or what it means to do the right thing."
HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN CONFERENCE CALL WITH TENNESSEE MEDIA (Transcribed by Titans PR)
(on having a few extra days to recover following the New England game)
Good. Yeah, we came back to work on Monday, had a good practice Monday. Just a challenging team that we're playing and we're just trying to do a good job in practice of getting ready to go.
(on what losing J.J. Watt means to the defense and the team as a whole)
Yeah, I just read a statement earlier. Hopefully you guys get a copy of that. Look, injuries happen in this league. Obviously, J.J. (Watt) is a great player. We've got a lot of good players on defense. Our players play hard, they play together and everyone in the league at some point in time is dealing with injury. That's part of the business in this league. It's just time for the next guy to step up—next guys. It will be different people that will take on different roles and go from there.
(on which players he looks to fill J.J. Watt's role)
Well, there's a number of guys. I'm not going to down the list of guys with you guys. No, I'm not doing that, but there's plenty of different guys that can do different things for us and help us in different ways.
(on how losing a star player can cause the team to rally together and play well)
I mean I was in New England in '08 when Tom (Brady) was hurt, and that team went 11-5. I've been around teams where a top player goes down and the mentality of the team, which needs to be the mentality of a team, is that if a good player goes down—if any player goes down—the next guy has to step up. That's the mentality of this team.
(on Matt Cassel, who stepped in for the Patriots in 2008 when Tom Brady was injured)
Yeah, Matt (Cassel) is a great guy, very smart guy, a lot of fun to be around, great teammate, excellent guy in the locker room, and he did a great job that year.
(on facing Marcus Mariota for the first time and the challenge he presents to the Texans' defense)
Yeah, that's true. It's the first time we've played him. We did not play against him last year because he was out. It's a big challenge. I mean the guy is very athletic, he's a good passer of the football, smart. There's a number of different things they do with him and so it's a big, big challenge because when he gets out on the perimeter and he's able to use his skill as a runner, it's tough. And then even, like I said earlier, he's doing a good job throwing the ball from the pocket. He's definitely a dual-threat quarterback.
(on how Jadeveon Clowney has progressed over the last two seasons)
Yeah, I think he's doing well. He's been disruptive this year. He's been out at practice every day, which was important for him. That's how you get better, any player. He's had a good year so far for us.
(on if the extra time to prepare for the Titans is a benefit or they would have liked to get back on the field sooner following a loss)
I don't know. I don't know the answer to that, I really don't. I know that we've had a couple good days of practice here and we've got a very challenging opponent ahead of us—an AFC South opponent and this is our first game in the division, so it's an important game.
(on if he likes Brian Cushing's chance to play Sunday and the impact he has on defense)
Well, I think he's going to try to keep continuing to practice all week. Anytime he's in the lineup, it's good for us. He brings a lot of intelligence, intensity. He's one of the leaders of our team, one of our captains. He's just a great guy.
(on how Brock Osweiler has integrated into the offense)
He's doing well. He's had some interceptions. He's got to cut down on those, but when I put the tape on, I see a guy that's making, for the most part, good decisions, doing what we're asking him to do and now we all have to play better around him and coach better around him.
(on the difference Will Fuller has made in the offense)
He's done a good job of route running. He's got good speed. Like any rookie, he's had his struggles here and there, and hopefully he can improve from those and continue to be a consistent player.
(on if having a good record against a team in recent years provides confidence)
I think every game is different. We don't even think about what the record is last year, two years ago, 10 years ago. That doesn't even enter our mind. Every game is a different game.
(on Andre Hal)
He's doing a good job. Yeah, he's a very bright player, great teammate. He's a good tackler. Over the last couple years, he's had some big takeaways for us. He's doing a nice job.
(on what the offense can do better following the loss to the Patriots)
(on specific ways the offense can improve)
We've got to convert on third down. We've got to run better routes. We've got to block better. We've got to coach better. We've got to do it all better.
(on coaching Ben Jones the last few years)
Yeah, Ben's (Jones) an awesome guy. He's a very fun guy to coach, tough guy, smart guy. We really have a lot of respect for Ben.
QB BROCK OSWEILER CONFERENCE CALL WITH TENNESSEE MEDIA (Transcribed by Titans PR)
(on if the Texans had time off after their Thursday Night game)
Yeah, we did, and it was needed. It was greatly appreciated. We got back late Friday night—I shouldn't even say Friday night. It was Friday morning, and then we had the weekend off and then we came in and we had a great practice on Monday.
(on the impact the news of J.J. Watt's injury has on the team)
Well, I think the team is taking it as the next man up mentality. Obviously J.J. (Watt) is a tremendous football player. He's an even better teammate. He will certainly be missed, but at the end of the day, we need to move forward. That really seems to be the beat in the locker room. I know there's a lot of great players on the defensive side of the ball who are ready to step up and play very hard on Sunday.
(on if the news of J.J. Watt's injury was a shock)
Well, obviously anytime a great player goes on IR, it certainly grabs your attention. But bottom line, this is football and this is the National Football League. Great players go on IR all the time. There's never been a season that a team didn't face adversity. Now it's time, like I said, to have the next man up mentality. There's a lot of great players on our defense, and I know they're ready to step up and play very well on Sunday.
(on his adjustment to a new team and new system)
I feel very comfortable. I would say the adjustment period is over. Obviously, coming in in the spring and training camp, there was a lot of new terminology, there was new plays, new teammates, new coaches, new system—everything was brand new. But bottom line, just through a lot of nights and days of studying extremely hard, a lot of meetings with teammates, with coaches and a lot of hard work, I feel extremely comfortable and I love what we're doing here in Houston.
(on how to keep the loss to New England from lingering during a long preparation week)
Well, I think you just have to be a pro about the deal. You need to come back and you need to learn from the tape, just like we did on Friday. You watch it, you evaluate what we did as a team, you evaluate what you did as an individual, you learn from it, you become a better football player because of it and you move forward. That's exactly what we did. It's one game. It's in the past. We're 100 percent focused on the Tennessee Titans. We know we have a great challenge in them coming to Houston on Sunday. We have a lot of work to get done to be ready.
(on how he embraced becoming the leader of the team and a face of the franchise)
You know, I love it. You're exactly right, there is a lot of responsibility with that. I love everything about this opportunity and this situation. At the end of the day, I think it just boils down to a lot of hard work. From the moment I signed as a Houston Texan, that's all it's been. It's been a lot of phone calls with coaches, with teammates and a lot of offsite work with teammates in the spring and summer. To be honest with you, it's really a dream come true. I'm playing quarterback in the National Football League. I'm able to lead a franchise every single day. And really, the biggest thing is I just want to be a great teammate, I want to be known as a hard worker and I want to win a lot of football games here. So really it just boils down to just working hard every single day, trying to be a great teammate and really trying to make the most of every single opportunity.
(on the caliber of teams in the AFC South and the Texans' ability to win the division again)
Well, obviously I think every team's goal is to win their division. With winning the division, you get an automatic bid into the playoffs. We're not talking about that. We're taking it one game at a time. Coach always says that we have 16 one-game seasons. That's the exact approach we're taking right now. We have laser focus, and that laser focus is solely on the Tennessee Titans and preparing to play a great team on Sunday.
(on how the offense hopes to improve from the loss to New England)
I think it starts with scoring points, and I think that boils down to really me playing better. I think anytime you don't score points, that's on the quarterback, no matter what anybody says. It starts with me playing better. I will play better on Sunday. I think it boils down to better situational football, third downs, making good decision in the red area, protecting the ball, having ball security, and like I said, it really boils down to me playing better. I think it starts in practice. We had a great practice on Monday. We had a great practice today, and I expect the same for the rest of the week.
(on what jumps out about the Titans' defense in his first time facing Tennessee)
Yeah, I really think it starts with the aggressive nature of the blitz package that the Titans' defense has. When you look at their third downs, there's a lot of different things that you can see. You can see a lot of different fronts. You can see a lot of different coverages. You can see a lot of different blitzes. I think one is really focusing in on third down and trying to get a good beat for what coach is going to call. And then when you look at the defense as a whole, I think it starts with the front and the linebackers. There's a very active front. They're big, strong guys. They get a lot of movement. The linebackers are very fast, very athletic. They're tough players. They're not afraid to stick their nose in anywhere and make a play. And then obviously, the secondary has made some plays, as well. I see a very talented, hard-nosed, tough defense, and I know we have a great challenge on Sunday going against them.
(on if it is frustrating for an offense to face a defense that allows them to move the ball but not score points)
Absolutely, it's tough. Anytime you're able to move the football 60, 70 yards and then you're forced to kick field goals, eventually that becomes frustrating. There is a saying that in the National Football League, any points are good points, but at the same time, you do want to score touchdowns when you get to the red area, especially after a long drive. It's very difficult to drive the football the length of the field in the National Football League, so on Sunday, like I said, you're happy with any points, but we'll be much happier with touchdowns in the red area.
(on the impact of Will Fuller on the offense)
Will (Fuller)—he's a very dynamic player. He's a tremendous athlete. Like you said, his speed is second to none, but he's also a great teammate. He brings a lot to the locker room, brings a lot to the meeting room, he works hard every single day. He's one of those guys that he doesn't rely on his talents. He's consistently working to get better. He really wants to be great. He really wants to perfect his craft, and you can see that on a daily basis. Just to have him out there on the field, he's making big plays for us. Obviously, the vertical threat has been great, but if you really break down the field, he's done some really good things for us all over the field.
(on DeAndre Hopkins)
Yeah, I love playing with Hop (DeAndre Hopkins). He's a tremendous athlete. There's not a football that he can't catch, and I think he's proven that for a couple years now. The great thing about playing football with Hop is he plays with a lot of fire. He wants the football every single play. He's working extremely hard to get open every single play. That's not easy to do, especially for him, because a lot of the time, he's being double-covered. But some times, just because of his work ethic and the fire he has, he's finding ways to beat those double teams and still get open for us.
(on the addition of Lamar Miller to the run game)
Same thing there. Lamar (Miller) is a tremendous football player, and he's an even better teammate. He's a great guy to be around in the locker room. He brings a great mentality to the football team every single day. He's very consistency. But it's not just Lamar. It's all those running backs—Alfred Blue and Tyler Ervin and all those guys. Same thing goes with the rest of the receivers. I think we have a very special, talented skill position group here in Houston. The most impressive thing is how those guys come to work every single day and the consistency that they bring with it.
(on if he has seen Marcus Mariota play much and his thought on his future in the NFL)
You know, I really haven't seen much of Marcus (Mariota). I've been in separate divisions from him. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to watch him play, and this week I've only seen the Titans' defense. But I do know he's a tremendous talent. I remember watching him at Oregon, and I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.
(on if facing teams for the first time in a new division requires more preparation)
Yeah, I would say so. There's a lot of studying that needs to be done. There's a lot of research that needs to be done. I think the more you study an opponent and the harder you work, the more you're going to know about them and the more comfortable you will feel about opponents. Really that's what it's been since the New England game. It's just been watching a lot of tape, studying as much as I can, having as many conversations as I can with people about the Titans and their personnel, and just really trying to dive head-first into everything Tennessee.
(on how starting seven games in Denver last season prepared him for being a full-time starter)
Well, I think the biggest thing is it just gave me confidence. I think every player, until they have to start games, until they're thrown into the fire under the bright lights—you know, Sunday Night games, Monday Night games—you don't really know what you're going to have in a player. So I think being able to win some ballgames last year and helping Denver get into the playoffs and win some games, I really think it just gave me confidence moving forward with my career.