HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN
With how much you've practiced and played against the Patriots in recent years, do you ever feel like there's too much information to try to study?
"There's a lot of information nowadays with all of the different – the EXOS system that we work off of and then other systems that we have – Russell Joyner and his crew, Timmy Brog and his crew, they give us a ton of information. I think you have to, as a coach, you have to do a great job of paring that information down so that your players can play fast. Going back to your original question, yeah, there's certain things about the two teams that I'm sure we're familiar with each other, obviously, certain players. We've played against certain players over the years many, many times. Some of us have coached those players. So, yeah, there's certain things, but every year I do think it's different. Every year, overall, in the big picture of things, teams are different. We're different, they're different and we have to understand that, too."
How do you determine what's too much information?
"I think when you present information to your players when you're a younger coach or maybe you're just starting out and you're wanting to just overload your players with information, you can almost feel yourself talking too much, giving them too much information. It's got to be short and to the point so that they can go out there on the field, and then you have to understand each player. How much information can each individual player basically take? Obviously, the quarterbacks get a lot more information than anybody else on the team. That's just the nature of the position. So, they have to be able to take in a bunch of information relative to some other position that maybe doesn't need that. They just need to be able to go out there and know two or three things and go play fast."
How important is it to get New England Patriots QB Tom Brady off his mark?
"I think you have to look at the offense as a whole. There's so many different things that you have to deal with. You have to deal with tempo. They play very fast. You have to deal with different personnel groupings. You have to deal with, obviously, Tom's ability to get them into the right play in a very quick manner. You have to go back to the basics of what you really believe in, which is stopping the run and understanding that you have to stop the run. If you don't stop the run, you're going to be in a big problem. I think there's a lot of different things you have to deal with in their offense. It just comes down to making sure that you can execute the keys to your game to the best of your ability and then see what happens."
Can DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney play the entire game this weekend?
Does this game have more importance for you given the prior success of your opponent?
"I think any time you're playing an AFC opponent, especially this opponent that, like you said, was in the Super Bowl last year, it's a huge challenge. Our players understand that. They're excited about it. I do think, though, that I always try to emphasize this with everybody is that every game is big. There's only 16 of them. I was looking at the Astros the other night. I mean, they play 162 games. Basketball plays 82 games. Football is once a week. You prepare for five, six days, whatever it is, for that one Sunday. It's one game per week. So, every game, it's really 16 one-game seasons. That's kind of how we look at it, so I think every game is really important. Obviously, this one's an important game."
You've been close the last few times to beating the New England Patriots. Is that enough of a motivator or do you have to drill in the idea of playing all four quarters?
"They don't make many mistakes, if any. They don't commit penalties in critical moments of the game. They don't turn the ball over. They play very, very well on special teams, very consistent on special teams. That's been their M.O. for a lot of years. That's why they're so successful. They're very, very well-coached. They have excellent players, an excellent coaching staff and that's a challenge for anybody that goes in there. Our players understand that, our coaches do, and we're working hard to make sure that we go in there and play as good and coach as good as we can."
Are you eager to see what QB Deshaun Watson can do with a full season?
"I'm very excited for Deshaun. Obviously, when you look at last year, those are plays that we studied and we tried to look at those individually with him and say, 'Hey, look. Here's some things that you did well. Here's some things that you can get better at.' The reason why I'm excited for him is because of how he's approached the offseason. I don't think it's very easy to be injured in your rookie year. I don't think that's easy at all. I think when you get injured as a rookie, that's a tough deal. He approached it in a very professional manner. He got his rehab done. He would study tape. He's been with us out on the field ever since the offseason program started on April 18. He's worked diligently to get back to where he is right now. He's a very humble guy. He's the same guy every day, very consistent guy and that's why I'm excited for him to be able to go out and play in a game."
Given your prior experience coaching him, does New England Patriots QB Tom Brady ever do anything that still surprises you?
"I don't know about that. Nothing that he does surprises me. He's a great player. He's a Hall of Fame player. He's been to eight Super Bowls, he's won five of them. He's got great coaching around him. He's a great competitor. Somebody asked me yesterday, 'Has he gotten better?' He tries to improve in certain areas every single year. He's a great player."
Do you anticipate to have DE J.J. Watt perform the way he did a few seasons ago?
"J.J.'s just an unbelievable guy to be around. To be able to have the fortune to coach him. Obviously, I'm the head coach and Romeo (Crennel) and Anthony Weaver, they work with him a lot closer than I do, but to be around this guy, to know what he's gone through and then to see what he's been able to do coming back from injury in this training camp and where he's at right now, I'm excited to see him play. I think he's had a really good offseason and I think he's excited to get back out on the field."
Does that identity change once the 53-man roster is solidified and when does that change?
"I think there's no doubt that early in the season it's hard to say like, 'Hey, this is exactly what you're going to be in all three phases.' I think that's something that you have to quickly determine in this game and moving forward. You have an idea of what you've seen. I know from our team, what I've seen in training camp, a very hardworking team, a very competitive team, tough football team. Now, that has to show up, obviously, in the beginning of the season. I think to say, 'This is exactly the type of team we're going to be,' it's hard to say that relative to personnel and things like that, but I know those three things that I said a minute ago, I know that about this team."
What do you remember thinking after last year's game against the New England Patriots when QB Deshaun Watson threw for more than 300 yards?
"I just knew from the time that he arrived here that he had really good poise, very smart guy. This guy had beaten Alabama in the national championship game in front of 100,000 people on national television and almost did it the year before if I'm correct. I don't think there was ever going to be any stage too big for him. That's what we've seen. He's a very poised young man. He's very professional in his approach every single day. There's a lot of things that he hasn't seen yet in professional football just because he hasn't been out there a ton. He's going to learn. He learns from everything that he sees. He has a short memory. When things go bad, he's able to deal with adversity. He's dealt with adversity his whole life and he's excited to get back out on the field and get going this weekend."
What does having a receiver like WR DeAndre Hopkins do for an offense?
"He's an excellent competitor. He competes day in and day out on the practice field and on Sundays especially. He really believes that every ball thrown his way is his. He's got a really good catch radius. He's got excellent hands. He's a tough guy. He's got an excellent ability to keep his feet in on the sidelines. We've seen that through training camp and hopefully we can continue to see that throughout the season."
What have you thought on your special teams throughout training camp and the preseason?
"The proof will be in the pudding on Sunday. I've seen some really good things. I've seen guys, some veteran players and some younger players, really improve throughout training camp, which is good. I like the coaching. I think the coaching has been real good from Brad (Seely) and Tracy (Smith). I'm excited for these guys to be able to get out there and do it. Now, the Patriots, I think the last 15 years in a row, they've been in the top 15 special teams rankings in this league. They are a very, very difficult challenge. They do a great job in all phases of special teams, so it's a big challenge for us starting off the season with them. We need to show up and play well."
Does New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski change the way you scheme your defense differently than anyone else in the league?
"I think every great player in this league requires you to come up with a game plan that does what's best for your players within that game. He's an excellent player. He's been doing it, now this is his ninth year. They've been together for nine years, Tom (Brady) and him, but every opponent presents a challenge in that way. We just have to do our jobs, make sure we're communicating well and everybody's recognizing the same things and go out there and play to the best of our ability."
S JUSTIN REID
What did you think of Nike's new ad with Colin Kaepernick?
"One of the biggest issues that we're having right now is the narrative of the story is getting hijacked. People are trying to make it about the anthem, people are trying to make it about the military. It's not about the anthem, it's not about the military. I have family that were deployed in the military, so I have all the respect in the world for everyone who puts on a uniform. The point of the topic is police brutality and that type of thing. The narrative has been hijacked for people trying to pull the story in all types of different directions. The battle right now is control of the narrative and keeping it relevant. What Nike did to keep everything relevant is huge. I have all of the respect in the world for Nike as an organization for putting Colin as the face of their new line of apparel and to keep the topic modern and relevant."
Given the feedback you've gotten on social media and what you experienced with what your brother went through, how strong do you feel on the message of equality and how important this really is?
"I feel like I've lived through this before being so close to my older brother and seeing him go through it whenever he was with the 49ers. I've come here – and I come here to play football and do my best – but I have feelings about certain things and certain topics and I have a right to express them the same way that those people who had backlash at me have a right to express their opinion. I didn't say anything there, but everyone has a right to their own opinion and to express themselves how they want to. As for me, I support Colin (Kaepernick), I support my brother, I support the stance that he's taking."
When you saw the Nike ad with QB Colin Kaepernick's face on it, what did you think initially?
"When I first saw that ad, it made me happy to see it because it was unexpected. I had no idea that this was coming the same way I don't think anybody else expected that this ad was coming from. To be able to see his face – because I know Colin personally – to be able to see him continue to be that symbol of change that we're trying to bring to the country, it was very cool to see."
QB DESHAUN WATSON
What was the biggest takeaway from playing in New England last year?
"Probably, against those guys you can't make too many mistakes. You have to capitalize on redzone points, score touchdowns rather than field goals and be able to play mistake-free as much as you can."
What do you remember after that game?
"Really how we had the opportunity to put the game away and we didn't. Left too much time for Tom Brady. The interception I threw early on in the game. That was pretty much it. I was aiming for the win even though the stats seems like it was pretty cool, but at the same time I always want to win, regardless of the stat."
After watching the film from last year, what do you think you have learned since then?
"I've learned a lot, just being able to see different looks from different opponents, be able to see different professional athletes and go against different competition. And, just grow in knowledge and just become a better football player."
After everything that you've been through, how much are you looking forward to playing in a real game?
"I'm very excited. To Just be able to get back in action where everything is – you know, everything matters, but this is the start of the season. So, we can start the season off right, go up there Sunday. But, right now we just have to focus on today and be able to prepare. Then, once Sunday gets here, just cut it loose and play free."
After your injury you remained very involved with everything here, do you think that will help you when you get back on to the field?
"For sure. Every opportunity I get to be able to learn and build my knowledge and build my game is always very important. So, those times where I wasn't physically on the field, but mentally I was in the meetings and being able to continue to build my craft and build my knowledge of this offense and this team is going to come in very, very helpful this season."
You played in a few series here and there, but are you looking forward to playing in an entire game and be able to work things out while you go?
"For sure. Preseason is – of course it's different from the regular season. Preseason you're just trying to get all the basic information in, trying to find your team, trying to get the team down to a 53 roster and find out what's the best fit for the team. So, a lot of people have to play and they want to make sure that everyone is getting healthy for the regular season. Now, being able to get a full game and more opportunities is always important. So, it's important for me to take advantage of all the opportunities I get, all the snaps that we get on Sunday and try to play the best I can."
You and Patriots QB Tom Brady connected a bit at camp last year. How special is it to play against him and that team Sunday?
"It's pretty cool. Last year was kind of a surprise, seeing all the athletes that I've looked up (to) and have been watching for a long time, but now I've been through that stage of just kind of being star struck. But, right now the guy that you look up to becomes your rivals at times, and you have to just be able to go out there and compete and try to beat him."
If you had to name a couple things you have to do this season in order to be successful, what would they be?
"Really just one thing, be me. That's it. Just be me and follow what the coaches are saying and just stay that. Stay on course, stay in my own lane and focus on this team."
A year ago, TE Ryan Griffin had one of his best games against the Patriots. How important could he be in this offense?
"Griff – all the tight ends – but Ryan Griffin has been in this offense for a while now and he knows the ins and outs. He's a great, not just a tight end and a player, but just a great person. So, he makes everyone else around him a lot better. He's a guy that's not selfish. He wants everyone to be able to be successful and be able to succeed and a guy that's very important to this offense. So, he's teaching the younger guys how to play tight end at this level and he's going to be very, very impactful every game this year."
How do you avoid thinking about your injury and all the hard work it took to come back?
"Just go out and play. Don't worry about it. I trust my preparation that I've put in, trust the rehab and the things I did over the summer to get back to this point and just go out there and cut it loose. Can't think about it."
DE J.J. WATT
What does it mean to get back out there against an opponent like the New England Patriots?
"It's obviously, probably, the best quarterback of all time, one of the best coaches of all time, great team. Obviously, their track record speaks for itself. They're phenomenal. They've been doing things for a long time at a very high level, so, it's always exciting to get out there on the field and be able to play against a team of that caliber. Very much looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to get back on the field myself."
Do you share the city's excitement to see you back on the field?
"I'm very excited. I'm sure there are a lot of people who are cautiously optimistic. Obviously the last two years we've said the same thing. So, I'm just looking forward to going out there and playing football, letting it loose, having fun and letting the chips fall where they may. It's been a long road, it's been a grind, it's been a lot of ups and downs over the last couple of years, obviously. But, I love this game, I love my teammates, I love these guys and I love coming to work every day. So, I've said all offseason, but the thing I'm most looking forward to is today's practice. Little things – I love practice, I love the meetings, I love focusing on an opponent, going out there with my guys and trying to figure out the best plan and just the game of football. I just love being a part of it."
Do like proving people wrong when they doubt you?
"Yeah, I think my mindset has probably changed on that a little bit over the years, too. I mean, I've realized there's people that doubt the best players in the history of the game. I'm sure there's people that doubt Tom (Brady), which, he's the best quarterback of all-time. I've learned that peoples' opinion doesn't really matter. The peoples' opinion that I care about are my family, my friends, my teammates, my coaches, my girlfriend. Whatever everyone else thinks doesn't affect my day-to-day life but I'm going to go out there and try and make those people I mentioned proud."
Would it mean a little more to start the season with a win up in New England?
"I think that they're an extremely good football team, and you want to obviously play your best in that type of situation and it's – yes, it's another game on the schedule, but it's also a very high quality opponent that we want to go up there and we want to put our best foot forward. We're really looking forward to it. Their track record, like I said, speaks for itself. So, we're looking forward to going up there and competing and having fun and playing a great game."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said you're a player who seems to play his best on the most important downs. What does that mean to you coming from him?
"He's the best coach of all-time. You look at his record, look at what he's been able to do. The guy's incredible, so, any praise that comes my way from him, I'm extremely fortunate and respectful and I think I would give it back to him tenfold. He's an incredible coach. He's obviously put together an incredible team. I have nothing but respect for what he's been able to accomplish in this league."
What makes you the better uncle over Steelers LB T.J. Watt?
"I'm older. I'm going to buy better gifts. I'm going to buy better, I'm going to buy cooler clothes. I'm going to take him for ice cream. So, it'll be fun come February when we have a next generation of Watt. It'll be different. It'll be a lot different. The best part about being an uncle is you take the kid for a couple hours and then you give it back."
Was it frustrating to pressure Patriots QB Tom Brady so much last year and still lose?
"Losing is always frustrating. Any loss is frustrating. But, if there's one thing that Tom Brady knows how to do, it's win and find a way to win. So, that's our goal, that's our task for ourselves, to find a way to win, no matter what the situation, no matter what happens. There's always going to be adversity. You have to find a way to overcome it and come out with the victory. So, that's obviously what we're looking forward to doing on Sunday."
You guys have had a few really close games up in New England. Is that a reminder of what it takes to reach that next level as a team to be able to win on the road against a team like that?
"Yeah, of course. I mean, obviously when you have a team that's been the perennial powerhouse of the conference for a long time, you can't really take over until you take them. They've earned that spot, they are rightfully in that position, but every year's a new year in this league. So, I think you have to go out there and prove it on a week-to-week basis, and it's Week One. Nobody's proven anything yet. So, it's our job to go out there and prove the type of team we want to be and who we want to be and we've been working hard to do that. But, like I said, the offseason and the preseason, none of it really means a lot until you go out there on the first game and prove what you got."
Have do you ensure the defense gels quickly having had a few new guys or guys out with injuries?
"Well, I can't ensure it. I can't ensure anything. All I can say is that we've been working very hard in practices and in the locker room. I think we've had great chemistry. I think we have a lot of great guys. I think that's the biggest thing you can have, is have a good locker room, have guys that know what they're doing, have guys that trust each other, believe in each other, and we have that. But, until you go out there in the first game and you have live action coming your way and you have to deal with everything, the adversity and everything that comes with it, you're not going to know. But, I think we have some great pieces and I think we have a lot of great guys who work very hard and we're looking forward to going out there and seeing what we got on Sunday."
What does S Tyrann Mathieu and his energy mean to this defense?
"Ty has been great. Ty's obviously an unbelievable player. I think he's also been great in the locker room. He's been great for some of the younger guys and been great to have around, so we've really enjoyed having Ty. We can't wait to play with him out there on Sunday and have him be a part of this team. I think, like I just talked about, the chemistry that we have, not only on the defense but on the team as a whole has been really good and I think he's been a great addition and we're very glad to have him on our side."