HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN
How did you come through today injury-wise?
"I think it looked all right, yeah. Looked good to me. It's football, contact sport, but pretty good start relative to being in full pads for the first time."
What's your plan with bringing DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney back into the mix?
"Just increase his workload incrementally."
What do you want to see out of your players on the first day of full pads?
"Really today the big thing is to really play on your feet. No diving, no throwing guys to the ground. Just use good technique, good pad level, using your hands properly. One of the things that's going to be a lot different this year is the new helmet rule. So, teaching them to really see what they hit. Leading with their hands, watching what they hit, not ducking their head. That's going to be a big, big change in this league. We've shown film on it. We worked on it a lot today. We'll continue to work on it tomorrow because, like I said, that's a big change."
What does it mean to have C Nick Martin back and how would it help having him for the whole season?
"That's big. He's, unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he's had a couple of injuries his first couple of years, but he's a really good player. Tough guy, really smart guy, loves the team. Really good teammate. So, it's really good to have him in there."
What are your expectations for T Julién Davenport?
"I thought he really progressed well during OTAs. I think out here for the first three practices really has improved a lot in some of the techniques we've asked him to improve on. I think as long as he has the attitude of getting better every single day, which I know he does, he'll be fine."
Can you talk about the challenges a young guy faces at that spot?
"I mean, you know, it's a tough spot, but Coach (Mike) Devlin and I talk about this all the time. There's really not a lot of difference. The right tackle is tough, too. You're blocking a great player on the left side, you're blocking a great player on the right side. There's two guys on most defenses on the edge of the defense that are pretty good at getting after the quarterback. So, you know, it's just the nature of the business and those guys have a great attitude. They try to get better every single day."
Can you talk about what you have seen from WR Will Fuller V and the improvements he's made?
"That's one of the big things is he's improved his strength level, his body weight. Again, I think again it takes time. You come from college to the pros and everything's new relative to nutrition and the weight room and things like that. So, I think he's really done a good job of buying into what Luke (Richesson)'s talking about in the weight room. You can see out here, I think he's definitely an improved player. Just like it always is with Will, it'll be health. Health is the key. If he can stay healthy, take care of his body, he's a really good player."
Has QB Deshaun Watson spent time in the weight room getting bigger?
"Deshaun spends a lot of time in the weight room. Everybody's in the weight room. Each position group has a different category of lifts that they do or workouts that they do, but no, Deshaun's in the weight room quite a bit."
Is it important to get QB Deshaun Watson bigger physically?
"I think durability at the quarterback position has a lot to do with how you train during the offseason with the weight room being a part of that. No doubt about it."
How have you seen QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins sync up?
"They have really good chemistry. Obviously, their Clemson background where I know they didn't play together, but I mean, if you know anybody from Clemson, they bleed orange. So, they have that going for them. They definitely understand and have the same type of instincts when it comes to offensive football. And they work at it. They talk football all the time. They watch film together, and I would say that about (Will) Fuller (V), they've brought (Keke) Coutee into the fold, (Bruce) Ellington, Braxton (Miller), Sammie Coates (Jr.) is in there. I think it's a good group. They work well together."
How has WR DeAndre Hopkins evolved to understand what it takes to compete at a high level on a consistent basis?
"He's come a long way in the years we've had him. He's a much better route runner. He really understands how to study film. He's out here all the time practicing. He understands how important practice is to having that chemistry with the quarterback. He's such a competitive guy. He's the type of guy you definitely want in your offense because he's competitive in practice and then on gameday, he's even more competitive. He's come a long way and he's a real good pro."
WR DeAndre Hopkins was saying yesterday he believes he's the best WR in the NFL.
"They all do. And he's good."
Is WR DeAndre Hopkins underrated in some way because you have QB Deshaun Watson and DE J.J. Watt?
"I think all we care about is winning. We were talking about this last night. Everybody gets taken care of when you win. I think it's all about winning. I think whatever it takes to win. I think DeAndre believes in that and when we really can turn this thing into a winner, that's how you're rated, probably."
Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni was at practice today.
"I love the Rockets. Being a head coach is fun. I know he feels the same way. They pay us to coach football, be around these guys every day, these coaches, these scouts. It's a lot of fun. We're at The Greenbrier. When I see Coach D'Antoni, I have so much respect for the way he carries himself, how he coaches his team. I know they're close to a championship. I know they're fighting for it and we're all behind him."
Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni said the Astros are where they want to be, and now we have three teams working to compete at a high level.
"Yeah, the Astros did a great job. A.J. (Hinch) did a great job. They're doing another great job this year. They've got a really good team with a lot of great players. Houston's behind them, too. It's a fun summer back there when you're in a pennant race. We have a great sports town in Houston. It really is. Fans are passionate and that's what it's all about and we're looking forward to when we get back there playing in front of our home fans."
You talk a lot about the impact that these players have on the community, what makes a good player engagement program?
"That's a great question. I think the biggest goal for a player engagement program is what he can do for the younger players. The rookies that are making the transition from college to professional football, both from a social standpoint and a financial standpoint. You know, where to live, the nutrition we were talking about with the younger players. The consistent daily approach to the professional football player. You don't have a graduate assistant knocking on your door to get you up in the morning. You're on your own. You're a grown up now. I think the player engagement role, the primary function is to really do a great job with the younger players of helping them transition to the professional ranks. Then, there's other things. Obviously, the community, but we have a great community relations department back in Houston. Amy's (Palcic) involved in that, Jennifer Davenport – we have a lot of great people involved in that department. I think it's a little bit of both but I think the transition is the big thing for the younger players."
When it comes to player engagement, does Director of Player Engagement JJ Moses take a softer approach than a coach on the field?
"I wouldn't describe it as softer. I think he has probably a little more patience, and that's his primary function to make sure that these guys transition. Where to live, how to get into a routine. He does a good job of that. He played pro football, obviously here in Houston. Great guy, has great energy, so he's a really good addition."
Because QB Deshaun Watson is coming back from a torn ACL, have you stressed the importance of the offensive linemen protecting him?
"I think that the way that we coach our guys, and the mentality of our offensive line is that they know who's back there, they know how important that guy is to our football team. We have really good guys up front. When we added (Seantrel) Henderson and (Senio) Kelemete and (Zach) Fulton, we added some really good guys. Nick Martin is still in there, Greg Mancz in there, (Julién) Davenport coming along. They're good teammates, they're winners, they practice hard, they hang together and they understand the importance of what their job is."
How much does C/G Zach Fulton upgrade your roster in terms of toughness and physicality?
"Big guy, tough guy, a versatile guy and a smart guy. So, he's been a good addition. He's got some leadership qualities and he's been in big games. He's played in a great offense in Kansas City so he understands offensive football and what it's all about. He's been a good addition."
Did you get some juice back with DE Christian Covington being back?
"Christian is another guy that people don't ask me enough about. He's a great guy, and when we lost him last year that was tough because he was really an improved player. Making a lot of plays both in the run and the passing game, and I think that having him back will help us, no doubt."
Can you tell me what Secondary Coach Anthony Midget has meant to you?
"Yeah, Midg has been with me for a while now. He joined us at Penn State after my first year there. Very bright guy, excellent young coach, promoted him to be the secondary coach and there was really no doubt in our mind about that. He's done a really good job. He's good with the players. He has a great demeanor and he's very, very smart. So, I think he's a really good young coach."
T JULIÉN DAVENPORT
What do you think about being trusted at the position of left tackle?
"It's a big role for every team and every single aspect of football, high school, college, NFL. You just have to work hard and do your best to protect your quarterback because you know everything revolves around the quarterback."
What are the challenges that come with that role?
"Like I said, protecting that No. 1 guy, working with the guys next to you on the O-line and just being able to be technically sound and good every single play. You can't take a play off."
How tough was it for you to adjust to all the different guys playing offensive line last year?
"There's always some adjustments coming in there, different type of players I was playing against. I feel like I adjusted very well. Once I get into the groove of things, it was just natural for me."
How do you start to build chemistry on the offensive line with so many new guys?
"We started back in OTAs. I would say we have real good chemistry right now and it's only getting better. With Senio (Kelemete), Seantrel (Henderson), Zach Fulton and already have Nick (Martin) and even just everybody on the line – Greg Mancz, Kendall Lamm, everybody. We all kind of have a real good group where we all mesh together. We are always with each other, we sit with each other at lunch, we crack jokes with each other, so that plays all into us getting on the field and knowing how each and every person plays."
What are some of the personalities like? How would you describe yourself and some of the other guys?
"Everybody is real laid back. We love to laugh. Like I said, we're always cracking jokes. It's little friendly things in the meeting rooms sometimes. We may have a little quick one, but get back to film and study. Just always kind of chill."
Who is the funniest guy?
"Funniest guy? Probably Seantrel (Henderson). Big Trel is hilarious."
Have you surprised yourself with where you are now?
"I wouldn't say surprised myself. I had high expectations for myself as I always do. I just come and execute."
How much do you guys pay attention leading into camp and the top question marks for the team?
"We don't pay attention to it. That's just the things that float around. We can't do anything but control ourselves. We work on everything we can to become better and be possibly one of the best O-lines in the NFL."
So you accept it as a challenge to really show people that the offensive line isn't a question?
"Oh yeah, no doubt."
WR WILL FULLER V
What are some of your goals for this season?
"Whatever it takes to help my team win. I know one of those things is just staying healthy. That's the big thing for me this year, just staying healthy. That's what I want to do."
Can you talk about your offseason and why you felt you needed to build muscle in the weight room?
"Like I said, staying healthy is a big thing. So, putting on a couple pounds will help me with that. It's working out with the new guys we have here, Luke Richesson and Ladd (Harris), the nutrition and stuff, it helped me a lot."
How much have you grown since you got here?
"Since I first met Luke (Richesson), I've gained about 15 to 20 pounds."
What do you weigh now?
How much have you grown as a player since you got to Houston?
"I've learned a lot. My rookie year with Sean Ryan, I learned a lot with him. He's been in the league coaching for a long time. Now, with Coach (John) Perry, he's been coaching for a long time too. Just learning little things here and there along the way. I'm just a lot more comfortable with the game now. Especially having a leader like Hop (DeAndre Hopkins) being here with me for these three years. I've learned a lot from him, too."
How has WR DeAndre Hopkins helped you?
"He's real competitive, so it just gives me that mindset getting ready every day for practice or a game. He just has that competitive mindset. So, it's good being around him."
Can you envision WR DeAndre Hopkins and you being healthy for an entire season and how much damage you could do as a duo?
"I think about that every day, waking up, coming in here, seeing Deshaun (Watson), seeing Hop, seeing Lamar (Miller), seeing our whole offense and just thinking what we can be if we all stay healthy."
Was it hard to gain weight?
"It's always been hard for me to gain weight but this offseason I've actually gained it easier than I thought. I actually feel good, too."
What did you eat to bulk up?
"It's not as far as what I eat, it's just eating consistently and lifting consistently."
Did you eat more frequent meals?
"Yeah, more frequent."
Are you lifting more in the weight room?
"Whatever they have me in there doing. I'm not trying to go too heavy, just whatever I need. Those guys know that better than I do."
How will the extra muscle help you when you're playing?
"Just another coat so I can take those hits and I can be more versatile."
What have you seen in the growth of QB Deshaun Watson?
"He's a great leader for us. Just being out there communicating. He's a real good communicator. If he wants something done his way, then he'll let us know. Like I said, we all communicate a lot so we're on the same page with a lot of things. He's a great leader for us."
Does QB Deshaun Watson have good presence and the 'it factor' in the huddle?
"It just feels good being around him. When he's in the huddle, I always said this last year, he just has his own swag. He gets the job done."
Do you feel that you've maintained your speed while adding the muscle?
"That's just something you have to keep working with your speed as you're gaining weight. I'm not fat now, so I'm still fast."
What's it like having a guy like S Tyrann Mathieu here?
"He's a veteran. He's real smart. He's a safety so he's on the tight ends a lot, but just seeing how he goes about his everyday business – he's always here and he's always doing a good job."
CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH
What drives you and keeps you going after all of these years?
"Just being around this team, being around the guys in this locker room. Just that feeling. It's a brotherhood. A lot of these guys I've been around since they've been rookies, a lot of new guys that I've met over these past couple months. Then, you know, the ultimate goal is to win the championship. So, that's what drives me now."
What are your thoughts on the challenges S Kareem Jackson might face making the transition from corner to safety?
"That's part of the game, man. He's up for it. I've been with him for eight years now and every challenge that has been thrown his way. From his first year when they had him rotating in and out, he stepped up and took the challenge and became a full-time starter to earning him a contract extension. So, it's no different from this time right here."
Is S Tyrann Mathieu already a leader?
"I think he's a natural leader. His game speaks for itself. He brings guys around him because he has a lot of confidence in his abilities, and I think that rubs off on other guys. I think that's the type of guy you need back in the backend on this team."
S Tyrann Mathieu says he's not going to do a whole lot of talking and that he's going to ease himself in, what is your take on that?
"That's his personality. When he's playing out there, there's definitely a switch that gets flipped on, but I think overall he's a quiet guy. He kind of fits in where he fits in. But, when it's time to put the bullets out there on the field, he's leading guys, pointing guys in the right direction and leading by example."
Does his energy keep you young?
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's the best part about it, man. You get to hear all of these stories about all of this different type of stuff that I have no idea about. I listen to these guys and he just comes out here and takes it to the locker room and to the practice field. Joke and laugh, you don't even think about your age or anything else. It's just about being out here playing football."
What keeps you wanting to come back out here?
"Just competing. I love the competing. All season. I play pick-up basketball here and there. You'd think it was a Super Bowl for me. I'm competing in their face, press man-to-man, playing and that's what keeps me excited for football. It carries over into football. Guys like J.J. (Watt), same common goal, Hop (DeAndre Hopkins), all those guys and then you throw in the young guys that we have here, Deshaun (Watson) and all those guys on the offense. Just the team that we have, I know we have a bright future."
With Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel running the defense again, what does that mean?
"It's big. Any time we have Romeo out there, his credentials speak for itself. He's been here before, so it's not like it's something new for him. Obviously, he has some new players to kind of catch up to speed and things like that. I wouldn't say we'll be right back up there. It's a challenge, also every year is different but I think he has the credentials and has the players, we just have to execute."
Do you know how much longer you want to play?
"No, man. Every time I get out there and they keep offering me contracts, I'm going to sign them. Seriously though, as long as I'm healthy and I'm fine, I'm going to go out there and compete and contribute to the team. I'll never play this game just to be playing and out there taking checks and stuff like that. So, if I'm able to be out there playing winning football, I'll always play."
What do you think of the comeback DE J.J. Watt is making?
"I don't really get caught up too much in the practice. It's the other small stuff. I saw the battle he had to come back and to come out there and crush the conditioning test, to run around. I'm excited to see him happy again. I've had three injuries back-to-back, three foot surgeries back-to-back, then came here and popped my turf toe, so I know what type of place he was in. To be at the top of your game in this league and then have it taken away from you, I'm just excited to see him happy again, back out there playing football."
What do you think about where DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney is?
"Same thing, man. Any time you have injuries, they kind of – I was reading an article by Kawhi Leonard. When you have injuries they separate you from your teammates a lot so you're in this dark place because they have everything going on (and) you have your own schedule. So, just to come back and fit in, it's all new for you again. It's a brand new feeling. I'm sure those guys are just as excited as we are to have them back."
General Manager Brian Gaine said he expects this team to be hungry and humble going into this season. Do you agree?
"Absolutely. You could say injuries – you could say a lot of different things – but injuries are one part of it, giving up plays, not playing well up to expectations. Whatever it is, it didn't go our way. We were 4-12, it's behind us and it should be a learning lesson for everybody who was involved."
When you look at the film from last season what do you see as one thing the secondary needs to improve upon?
"Big plays. Any time you give up big plays you can't win in this league because, in a 65-play game, hold a team 60 plays to great defense and give up three or four big plays that decide the game, so you can't give up those plays. It sounds cliché but you can't."
Do you see improvement from CB Kevin Johnson?
"I think every year you're in this league, the more you've been thrown at, you're going to get better. It's just about experience, about being comfortable, learning the defense, knowing how the offense is trying to attack you, film study and all those things. He has special gifts and traits. I think he studies really well so I he'll be OK."
C NICK MARTIN
Are you ready for the season?
"Oh, absolutely. Being out there again, it's awesome. I love the game and love being out there with everyone."
This was a big offseason for you. Congratulations on getting married.
"Oh yeah, I got married. It's nice. She's coming down. She already wants to paint the house, you know, put the woman's touch on it so it's a little less of a bachelor pad but it's nice."
In terms of your durability, how much do you feel like this could be your year?
"Absolutely. You have to control what you can control. It's awesome being back out there but first day in pads is not going to be perfect. You have to learn from it, one or two things every day, and get better."
How much do you communicate with your brother, Cowboys G Zack Martin, and how much has it helped having a great player in your family?
"A lot. Obviously, if you're not really in it, it's hard to get, especially the grind in camp and everything. So we talk, talk about ball and talk about what we're going through all the time."
Is it different being with a group of new guys on the offensive line?
"Yeah, absolutely, but we try every day to build that cohesiveness. It really starts off the field. We're a close group – laughing – and that translates on the field with just trusting each other, really."
People have said the offensive line was a weakness last year. Do you accept the challenge of trying to prove yourself?
"Yeah, absolutely. You take it one day at a time and prove one or two things but play hard every play."
What do you think about T Julién Davenport playing left tackle?
"I think it's great. Julién is a smart player, he's a hard player. He's going to do a great job."
What have you seen from QB Deshaun Watson and his growth heading into year two?
"He's a special player. I think everyone can see that with the way he plays. The one thing with him, he's very poised, he has pride and, like I said, every play he's poised and knows what he's doing."
Where do you think your game is right now in terms of strength and technique?
"Obviously in the offseason, that was one of the points of emphasis, get stronger, keep the weight on, get better day-by-day and now I can translate it. Now we're on the field, full pads, full go, 100 percent and you just take it day-by-day."
What have you seen from C/G Zach Fulton?
"He's a nasty player. He's going to play hard and I can't wait to play next to him."