GENERAL MANAGER NICK CASERIO
"Good morning, appreciate everybody being here. Before we kind of get into football, I know it's football season, but we're in a baseball town, fortunately. Best of luck to the Astros as they get started this afternoon. I'm sure everybody will be tuning into the television. Credit to ownership, Mr. (Jim) Crane, Dusty (Baker), what he's done. Obviously, Dusty and Lovie (Smith) have a relationship that goes back. James Click (Astros General Manager), their consistency year-to-year is second to none. Quite frankly it probably reminds me of an organization I used to be with. Anyway, it speaks to what they've done to win however many games, 100 games a year, for however many years. Excited for the city. I think everybody is excited to watch baseball even though it's football season. Credit to them. Certainly wish them luck and a tip of the cap to what they've done. This week, lighter week for us as a team. Players are in today, couple days of work. They'll be off Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then kind of get ready to go here for the next I'd say phase of the season. Really when we come back, once we play Vegas (Raiders), you're talking about three games in 11 days. So, getting prepared physically, emotionally, mentally for the tax that they're going to go through here. I think it's important for the players to understand what's in front of them. In the interim, we talked about this last week, I know Lovie talked about this last week, but the recognition of Founder's Day. So we have an event that can commemorate that. It's always a philanthropic effort that the team, the organization does, so we have Family Houston here today to focus on mental health with youth, so players and staff will be involved in that. It's a great way for the organization to give back to commemorate what Mr. McNair did and the importance of when the organization was founded. Players will be involved in that here today. Try to get some football work in here over the next few days like we talked about and kind of get ready to go for the next phase. Reality is you get what you earn in this league and we've earned 1-3-1, so it's not good enough. We've got a lot of work in front of us. I think everyone is accountable of that. In the end, all of us have to be better, we need to be better. The only way to do that is to come in each day with the right attitude, the right mindset and put in the work and go out there and try and execute on a consistent basis. One of the things that stands out not only this week but if you go back to last week, it might've been the week before, 70-75-percent of the games have been once score games, so what does that mean. It means every play is critical, and we've talked about this here as a group. I've mentioned this, handful of plays in each game are going to be the difference of winning and losing. I think we've seen that in some of that in our games. I think when you watch the Vegas game, which is relevant because it's our next opponent, that was the difference last night. 20-7 at halftime vs. 20-7 at the end of the half, kickoff with 10 seconds left, have a completion, have a penalty, kick a field goal, a 60-yard field goal, the longest at Arrowhead Stadium. 20-10, so one possession game, to get the ball to start the second half, so Kansas City has a two-for-one there. Score at the end of half, score on the first possession, 20-17. Kind of goes back and forth there in the fourth quarter. Get the penalty on the field goal attempt by Kansas City, miss the field goal, get the pull and shoot call, they score. Vegas goes down, scores a touchdown, misses the two-point conversion and in the end it's a one-point game and it comes down to a fourth-and-1 at the end of the game. That's the NFL. That's reality of what we face. We see it in our game, we've seen it in our games. In the end, we haven't executed well enough and we've earned 1-3-1. We have some opportunity in front of us to get better. There's certainly some things we can improve and fix, and that's got to be the commitment to each other and the team. This league is about identifying problems and finding solutions. The quicker we can do that, the better off we'll be and that will translate hopefully into more wins and less losses. That's where we're at."
Can you evaluate your rookie class, including the undrafted guys?
"I think they've come in and had the right attitude. They've worked hard and they have varying levels of production. The rookie class, it kind of starts with a tip of the cap to Liip (James Liipfert), (Mozique McCurtis), John Ritcher, Baille (Brown), Brad (Mathews), Najja (Johnson), George (Panagiotopoulos), that group. They're intimately involved in that process in terms of identifying those players. They've (the rookies) have come in with the right attitude. Really, we're only five games in.. I don't think we can get too excited about where we are, just got to be realistic. It's really about repetitive behavior over the course of time. Anybody can go out there and do it in a short period of time. Can you sustain that performance week after week, month after month and season after season, and ultimately your longevity is going to be based on that. We've gotten decent production out of that group but I think the attitude and the mindset probably stands out more than anything. We'll use (Dameon) Pierce as an example. So Monday is the off day for players and yesterday, he's in squatting 425. People wonder why is he successful on the field? Well he's successful because he works hard, he's got the right attitude, he's a good teammate, he trusts the people around him, he gives credit to his teammates, the offensive line, to the tight ends, doesn't make it about himself. I think more players with that attitude, more players with that mindset collectively in this building and in this program. Ultimately, that's what it takes. It's not about one player, it's never going to be about player or one person or one draft class or anything like that. It's a collective effort of over the course of time. When those guys have had opportunities, they've done some good things. There's plenty of room for improvement from those players. I would say the other thing that's taken place is now we have five games and everyone has kind of seen our team and our players. It's a personnel driven league. It's about strengths and weaknesses, being able to identify strengths and weaknesses in the opponent who you're playing against. Whatever you do well, you try to extenuate that and maintain that, whatever you're not doing well, teams are going to find it. You have to figure out a way to fix the perceived weakness so that it doesn't become a bigger problem as a team. Overall, they've had a good attitude, worked hard, including the guys that weren't drafted, including the guys on the practice squad. We'll see if we can kind of continue that. I would save that mindset moving forward."
How would you describe the challenge of your cap situation right now?
"Yeah really not a challenge at all. It's really not that tight. I mean we're not really that different. There are some teams that have a little bit more, some teams have a little bit less. It's just about managing the year during the season. Quite frankly there's really not much movement. You're managing week-to-week, you're managing the practice squad, players are going to come on and off the roster. Financially, you have to look at salary. If you're doing a trade, obviously a player's salary for the duration of the year or whatever the paragraph-five salary is at the beginning of the season. It's 12 weeks, prorate that. Does it makes sense? What's the cost of doing that? We don't want to feel constrained by anything. If there's an opportunity to add a player that makes sense, we'll look at it. If not, then we won't. It's very simple. I would say really it's not that much different from where we were last year. We'll manage the season, we'll manage the team. Guys are going to be going on and off the roster, guys will be going on and off the practice squad, guys will be going on and off injured reserve so it's the cost of doing business. Every team's got to deal with it, we're no different. Once the season is over, then we'll recalibrate and look at 2023 in terms of where we stand."
What have you seen from QB Davis Mills so far this season?
"I think overall as a team we just need to be more consistent with our performance. There's been some good things, there's been some things that we can certainly do better. To put Davis (Mills) in that category, I think it's more emblematic of the team more than anything else and making it about one player. Had some moments as a team. We could have better moments. If we do that, hopefully that'll lead to more wins."
You're five games into the season, at what point do you and your scouts start to elevate the needs of the team?
"We're a long way from that. I think the focus is one week-to-week. Really it's let's focus on the Texans this week, the bye week. Really our week to focus on the Texans and then next week we'll transition to the Raiders. Once we get to the Raiders, get to Tennessee, get to Philadelphia, so that's where the focus is week-to-week. Kind of have separate buckets. Kind of have the week-to-week team and the opponent, and our scouts, the group that I mentioned in there earlier, they're going their process as well. Basically since August and up until this point they've been to practices, seen live games. It's not like we're going to a certain game to see certain players. We're going to see as many as players as possible. That information is going to come into our system. I get an update every Monday from a group, the players they've seen each week, kind of. Here's this player, here's that player, here's his strengths, here's his weaknesses, here's what we think this player is going to be. I process that information and put that into master documents so that's one separate bucket, kind of focus on our team and opponent, and that's another bucket. Once we get through the season, then we'll kind of evaluate where are needs are or whatever we think we need to improve the team. Everybody has a responsibility in the organization. The best thing they can do is to their job to the best of their ability and focus on the things they can control. I'd say we're pretty fortunate as a group that Liip (James Liipfert) oversees. It's a great group of guys. They're very team oriented, they work their ass off, they care about the team, they understand some of things we're looking for. Part of my responsibility, is to articulate, 'here's some of things that we're doing, here's some of things we're doing with this player, here's some of things that are important,' so they can incorporate it into an evaluation they're doing on a particular player and then say this player could potentially fill this role and here's why, and being able to create a clear vision for that player. I'd say that information is pretty fluid. That will really go up to the end of November or beginning of December when the games end. Then we'll kind of put that to bed. Then in the middle of December we'll get together and have an initial run through of one group. Then let's call it mid-December to January, it's underclassmen to All-Star game evaluation. We get through that and then it's the combine. I mean, we have a wide array and vast amount of information that's going to come through before we get to need, draft and those kind of things."
Have you and head coach Lovie Smith always been aligned on the usage of the rookie class this season?
"Yeah, we've talked about the players since we drafted them through training camp to this point. In the end, we're going to do what we feel is best for the team. Lovie (Smith) is going to make decisions that are best for the team relative to who is on the field, if we have to make an adjustment. Understanding that young players are young players, and there are things that they haven't done, things that they haven't seen. They're going to have to go through and understand the why behind it. 'Here's why this particular play happened' or 'Here's why this happened on this play.' Then try to make the correction. That's where coaching comes into play. There are individual position coaches, but I'd say specific to those two players (Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre), I'd say Dino (Vasso) and Joe Danna, Ben (Bolling) and Ilir (Emini) to a certain extent. Ilir works with Des (Desmond) King and the nickels. Each week is going to be different, each player is going to be different, each receiver is going to be different, each offensive scheme is going to be different, how we need to play is going to be different. Understanding, 'Here's what we need to do. Here's some of the things that we can do better, you can do better. Both individually and collectively.' All of those discussions are very fluid, very organic and very consistent. I think everybody's embraced having young players in the building. There's no timetable on anything. If it's the best thing for the team, then they'll be on the field and they'll play. If it's not, then it'll be somebody else. That'll be the same between now and the end of the season. I'm sure there will be a lot that changes between now and Week 18 whenever that is for a myriad of reasons."
How much do you rely on James Liipfert and what does he bring to the organization?
"James (Liipfert) is a smart guy. We hired him as a scouting assistant in New England basically fresh out of playing linebacker at Georgia Tech. He would probably tell you he wasn't going to play in the NFL because he wasn't a good enough linebacker. But we knew he was a smart kid, and he worked his way through the system. I think how we evaluate players and some of the things that are important, he understood that. He's able to manage the group of scouts and communicate with them on a regular basis. I think part of my responsibility is to give people in positions the opportunity to do their job and you trust them. James and I have a background that goes back a number of years. Now, we have transitioned systematically some of the things that we're doing offensively and defensively relative to our experience in previous systems and previous organizations. Part of that is learning and growing and being receptive to new ideas and thoughts and trust the people you have in the position to do their job. I have a lot of respect for Lip (James Liiperft) and how he does his job, how he handles himself both personally and professionally. The group is really a reflection of him, and all of them individually in terms of their make up. Like I said, we've got a lot of great people. I have a lot of respect for them and a lot of trust and faith in what they are doing. My responsibility is to try to teach and educate as best I can and make sure there is constant communication to understand why we are doing things, understanding every decision that we make. They may not understand why but try to give them some background so they have an understanding, and if there's an application they can use to help their growth. You know part of my job is to help them grow in their job. If we can help their growth, then we can overall grow as an organization. A lot of steps are involved. A long-winded answer to say I have a lot of respect and appreciation of the work that James does."
What has been your assessment of TE Jordan Akins and bringing him up to the active roster?
"The rules are the rules, so we'll have to work within the confines of the rules. We'll have to make a decision at some point. I wouldn't say there is anything definitive. Jordan (Akins) has returned, had a good attitude. When a player leaves and comes back, you're not really sure how that's going to go, but Jordan has done a good job, had a good attitude. He's taken advantage of his opportunities when he's played. Berb (Tim Berbenich) has done a good job with him. It's been good to have Akins back in the building. We'll kind of recalibrate this week, understanding we don't have a game to play. We'll probably have some things to get that position, Brevin (Jordan) is going to be back here at some point. TQ (Teagan Quitoriano) could potentially be back here at some point as well. Jordan has done a good job with his opportunities. O.J. (Howard) has done a good job with his opportunities. Mason (Schreck) gone in there and helped us here a little bit. You know, we'll look at that and try to make the right decision, the best decision relative to what we think helps us in the game."
What did you think of RB Dameon Pierce's big run against the Jaguars breaking tackles? Has he brought what you expected to the team?
"It was a good play. In the context of the drive, we were able to get the ball in the right area, the ball on the goal line, get the ball in a scoring situation. I think collectively as an offense, we had an opportunity to get the play started, and then once you get into the second level, being able to make tackles miss. (Dameon Pierce) has good lower body strength, good toughness, he's got good playing strength, and I think you saw some of those things on that particular play. There is a certain level of want-to to finish plays. We talk about this, coach (George) Warhop talks about this, just straining on the offensive line, straining to finish. I think it's a good example of DP (Dameon Pierce) straining to finish and really doing everything in his power just to try to keep the ball moving forward. I'd say the best thing about that play, I mean the next play wasn't as good, but the best part about that play was the ball security with all the traffic, with breaking tackles, being able to secure the ball. The next play we were near the goal line, we were fortunate that his ass was on the ground by about that much before the ball came out. Nothing is more important than ball security. Especially down near the goal line, you want to make sure you take care of the football. Because taking care of the football hopefully leads to points. It was a great effort on his behalf, and hopefully we can take more of that as a team."
What has been your overall assessment of your practice squad in general?
"We talked about this at the beginning of the year and Lovie (Smith) articulated this at different points. We've got to look at it beyond the 53 players that are on our roster, understanding that you have more players eligible on a week-to-week basis. What we try to do is look at, 'What are our needs? What do we think our needs are for the game? How are we at each position? How many players at each position do we want to take to the game? And then what are our options?' Whether it's a role offensively, whether it's a role defensively, the kicking game is a big part of that as well. The rules are the rules, so you have three opportunities with one particular player to elevate them, and once you use the three elevations, at some point you're going to have to make a decision. We have been very purposeful about the players that are on the practice squad. We've tried to solidify our depth off the roster, so you have depth on the roster, and you have depth off the roster, and how you utilize your depth. Every team goes through that. When you go through the elevations, you look what different teams are doing. We're probably one of the few teams that's had two every week. Other teams it's kind of one. Most teams have at least one, and you're just trying to figure out your options. Maybe if it's health related, 'this guy is not ready to play.' The good thing about the practice squad, which is why you want to resort to that group, is that they are in the building all week. A lot of these guys, in our particular situation, have been here since the beginning of the year. We've brought in some players externally from other places that have familiarity with our system, with our coaches, what the assignments are, what the job description is. Grayland (Arnold) is another great example. Grayland has been here since last year, goes through training camp, is close to making the team, on the practice squad, then we bring him back to the roster and he's been able to help us a little bit in the kicking game. I would say that situation is always going to be pretty fluid. There are probably other players that we're not even talking about right now that maybe at some point will be in the same position as (Jordan) Akins has been in, Grayland has been in, and Mason (Schreck) has been in. It's week-to-week, and we'll kind of look at where we are as a team, what do we need for that week and just try to make the right decision for us."
What was your vision when you were constructing the scouting department and how would you describe James Liipfert's position?
"For anybody within an organization, it's just understanding what your role is and understanding what your job is. You provide value to your organization and serve the people in your organization by doing your job to the best of your abilities. James (Liipfert) has good experience in terms of seeing players. He's seen a lot of players. He probably has a little better understanding on the college side but trying to broaden that out here a little bit. The understanding of our team and our league. One of the things we try to do is when the rookies transition from being drafted to other teams in the league, trying to evaluate their progress. Then go back and say, 'Alright, here's a player we graded at a certain level. And okay, here's how he's played, here's what happened. Alright, where were we on our evaluation? Alright, we were close.' And then we use that information to go back and watch groups of players – first year, second year, 'Here's where we were. Here's what we were thinking.' And just be able to have a big picture understanding of players. Player evaluation and player analysis is constantly changing and constantly evolving. You have your root system in place. Then one of the things I alluded to schematically, just relative to our background was three or four roots and kind of a variable system. Now we kind of transitioning here a little bit to more of a four-man front and some of those different things. I would say is really more about how we're playing than anything else. Being able to rearrange the grading scale, player profiles. Certain positions, maybe we have less of this position and more of this position. 'Okay, these players kind of fit into this profile.' Being able to kind of adapt and adjust, I would say is a big part of it. One of James' (Liipfert) strengths is his ability to adjust and adapt and bring creative ideas to the equation."
After watching the tape, how close do you feel this team is to turning that corner and finishing games?
"Nobody can question the effort of our players. The effort has been there since day one. They played our asses off, we played with our hair on fire. The effort is there, really it's about the execution. Just executing the critical plays in critical situations, which that equates to finishing games. We did it here in the Jacksonville game, other games we weren't able to do that. It comes down to play execution and going back to these handful of plays. I think the reality is, none of us know when those plays are going to take place. You don't know if this play is going to be the play that makes the difference in the game. Understanding each play, running the play the right way, executing the assignment the proper way. If you're supposed to be in this gap, be in this gap. If you're supposed to have this assignment, then execute that assignment. When you don't do those things, it compromises the rest of the play and the rest of the defense and puts other players in a bad spot. Correspondingly, leads to inability to execute the play and inability to finish the way we all hoped. Each week is going to be its own entity. We learn from what happened in those previous opportunities. What can we do to change it? What can we do to get it fixed? If that situation comes up again, here's how we handled it last time. Let's see if we can handle it a bit differently. The game is going to evolve and unfold as we go. The game usually declares by the end of the first quarter, into the second quarter. What they're doing offensively, which I'd say Jacksonville, going back to how they played, the game declared pretty early, whether it was formational, whether it was some of the things they're doing schematically. Your overall awareness as a team, understanding what's going on during the course of the game is important. What shows up in the second quarter, inevitably is going to show up in the fourth quarter. Let's make sure we don't make the same mistake. (Derek) Stingley's play is a good example of, there's a play that has hurt us over the last two to three weeks. Made a little bit of adjustment, played a little bit better, and had a better result. Stingley, and he knows this, made poor decision leaving the end zone because the smart play is staying in the end zone so we gain 20 yards in field position, not start at the 2-yard line. Fortunately for us, we take from the 2, get to midfield, punt, flip the field a little bit. In the end, it didn't end up hurting us. In the end, all these factors we have to just do a better job as a team understanding why those things are important. The players care. They play hard, effort is never going to be a question. The players understand that. We just have to see all the way through and be able to execute it completely in the end."
Do you need somebody besides RB Dameon Pierce to carry the ball in HC Lovie Smith's 'run-first offense'?
"I think we're comfortable with the players that are on the team. We really have five backs called in the building, two on the practice squad. Royce (Freeman) has played for us, played in the NFL. Dare (Ogunbowale) has had opportunities in Jacksonville when he's had to carry the ball. (Dameon) Pierce has gotten the ball, carries. Rex (Burkhead) has a good role, but not afraid to use Dare or to your early question, Royce on the practice squad. At some point, Royce might become and option. We're going to need everybody here from now until the end of the season. Just making sure that we have the right people that we feel comfortable with. I think there's a reason the players that are in the building are here because we're comfortable with them and because we have confidence that if we have to put them in the game and play, they'll be able to give us some level of production."
Was this the vision you and OC Pep Hamilton had for the quarterback, with QB Davis Mills leading the team?
"Offensive football is whatever you have to do win, move the ball and score more points. Let's not oversimplify it. In the end, that's what it comes down to. Whatever you have to do to get that point, I'd say there's somethings we've done. We're looking at it here this week, there were some things that we've been better than others. If there ways we can improve in some of those areas that we're not as good, it will help the overall ability to continue to move the ball and score points. Third down could certainly be better. Third down is really first down, so early down production equates to third down. It's all tied together. In the end, offensive football is about moving the ball and scoring points. How do you do that? Every team has their philosophy. Every team has a different approach. Quarterback position, I don't care who the quarterback is, what team you're talking about, we have to make the right decision, take care of the football, throw the ball accurately, and then be able to execute in critical situations. Pick a winner. That's what your quarterback has to be able to do. Tell me the scheme, doesn't matter the offense, doesn't matter what you're running. Those are things that are important. Offensively, move the ball, score points and get the ball in the end zone. In the end, it's about points and that's what matters."
How much progress do you see from the team this year compared to where this franchise was last year?
"I don't really look at it that way. Last year is last year. It really has no bearing on what goes on this year. We look at our team, we know where we are as a team. We know who the players are on the team. If there's an opportunity for us to improve the team, we'll look at that. If not, we know what we have. We know what we have to do each week. Each opponent presents a different challenge. The challenges that Jacksonville presented to us are going to be different than the challenges (Las) Vegas (Raiders) presents, totally different way of playing defense, totally different players. Understanding what are they doing on the other side of the ball, who are we playing and what do we need to do as a team. It's really about week-to-week. What want we do that week to prepare ourselves as much as possible, get ready for the opportunity? I know it's a cliché, but you're really trying to go 1-and-0 that week. We're not really worried about what happened in the previous week. We're not really worried about what happened in previous year. Have to focus on this week. What do we need to do to win? What are our challenges? What are the obstacles in front of us? What do the Raiders do that we need to prepare for, that we need to be able to handle? I would put (Maxx) Crosby at the top of the list. On defense, if we don't talk care of Crosby, we're not going to move the ball and do anything. Offensively, they're a very scheme, use a bunch of 21-personnel last night with the jumbo tight end because (Darren) Waller got hurt and (Josh) Jacobs runs for 150 yards. Is that going to be the same game plan that they bring in here against us? I don't know. They have three good receivers, two good quarterback, good tight ends and one of the best offensively play callers in the NFL. His thing is, 'Let's figure out what we need to do win that week'. We just have to prepare for whatever those challenges the other team presents to us. That's how we have to approach it."
What initial progress are you seeing from DB Jalen Pitre and DB Derek Stingley Jr. as they learn on the job?
"They've played a lot of football prior to arriving here in Houston. I know it's college, I know it was at Baylor, but they've played a lot of football. I think they're learning a lot. I think there's certain things that they can do better. They'll admit that. I think one of the things Joe's (Danna) talked to Jalen (Pitre) about, Jalen is a good football player, but he's missed a lot of tackles. If tackling is something you can certainly improve, we've talked to Jalen about that. Over the last couple of weeks, he's certainly gotten better. Finding areas that you can improve as a football player, it's not just about all the splash. It's about being consistent and improving areas that maybe you're not performing as well. He's got the right attitude. He's got as good as a routine as any young players from the time he walks in the building in the morning. Before practice, he's in the weight room, he's stretching, he's going through his preparation. Being a good player is about having the routine, having preparation, being committed to that week-after-week, day-after-day. That's what's going to make you a good player and then having a requisite physical skill behind it. All those factors go into it. Those who players in particular (Jalen Pitre and Derek Stingley Jr.), which I would say is emblematic most of the rookies, have that mind set and approach."
What went into the decision to sign DB Grayland Arnold to the active roster after starting on the practice squad?
"Some of this is really just roster management, what you think makes the most sense and does it make more sense to keep that play on the practice squad or if you have a roster spot. I think at the time, we might have had a roster spot or something that was going on that we knew this was a player that we feel good about, has a good role. This makes sense to put him on the roster. Each situation, each case is probably going to be a little different. Grayland (Arnold) and his particular case, he earned the opportunity because of his performance. It's not like we just handed him a bunch of cookies and said, 'Here you go'. He earned the opportunity, his performance. He was close to making the roster, didn't make the initial roster, but stays prepared, stays ready, had the right attitude and had an opportunity when we elevated him to the roster. The roster situation is always very fluid with players like that. It's credit to the way he handled himself, his approach, work ethic and attitude."