Head Coach Lovie Smith
"We've been waiting for this day for a long period of time, since I became the head football coach here. The offseason kind of starts and seems like it officially kicks off the next 2022 season, when you can really do something about it. Me preparing for that first meeting and doing that a while even though I've had a few first meetings before. Today (we) get a chance to see our football team. We've been talking on the telephone with the guys for a long period of time but haven't been able to see them. A lot of new faces, coaching staff, players, so we're able to do that today and start our offseason program. As you know, the offseason program is voluntary, but when you win four games you just assume everybody is a lot like me, that wants to get here and go to work to see what we can do to have better results this coming season, and that was absolutely the case. Attendance was really good, so that's kind of where we are. We have plenty more to go. This first phase will be the first two weeks and we'll be out here, we'll be practicing 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. each day for the next couple weeks and we'll go from there."
What are the most important principles you want to instill in this team as you get started?
"We have a long period of time to go before we play our first game and how we do things, but right now what we're trying to get to the guys as much as anything is just the importance of showing up. There's no magic pill on how we're going to do things, just hard work. At first just work, faith in what we're doing, faith with work is what we're talking about right now. That starts with just showing up for the offseason program. Letting our strength and conditioning guys coach them up, get bigger, stronger, faster. We have a lot experience, a lot of good coaches to start that process."
Is this offseason more important for this team than others around the league?
"I think the offseason is important for everyone, but yes. Speaking for us, we didn't play well enough. We need to get better. The way you get better is classroom, strength and conditioning, eventually on the field, it's a must. Every good football team I've been on took advantage of the offseason and every day they possibly could. I expect the same thing from our guys."
What do you see from LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and the defensive linemen on your roster?
"I think just the profile of our defensive linemen, athletic guys that can run, move, he would definitely fit that. He has a history of rushing the passer, history of ball in our state, all of those things. When we start recruiting him and getting to know him, he saw an opportunity, too. What we do defensively fits his skillset. He's quick, athletic, fast and can rush the passer. We have a spot for those kinds of guys."
What does it mean to see QB Davis Mills' initiative as a leader in these offseason workouts?
"Davis (Mills) is our quarterback, so that's one thing about leadership. In order to lead, you've got to show up. You've got to be here. They have to see you in every situation and not just on the football field. For Davis, for the team to get a chance to know him, just hanging out in the facility. Just him being around us. Yes, the skill guys, offensive guys, but the defensive guys, too. That's why you get so much done in the offseason. We're not going to play a game tomorrow, just get a chance to know each other, hang out a little bit and see there's a lot of common things we have."
What does this time period mean for the coaching staff as you try to all get on the same page?
"As far as getting on the same page, we've had a lot of times to do that. So, we feel good about what we're going to do in all three phases of our football team. What we've been doing it's great to see our guys coming in the building right now, but it's about our roster still. Free agency is ongoing, but the draft, we've been doing an awful lot with it and that continues. We have top college guys in our building right now. Again, free agency is still going on, getting ready for the college draft is going on, but our guys, too, are starting that process. We have a lot of video to watch, and that's what we're doing. We'll use all four hours each day."
What is the biggest thing you've learned about the draft process?
"I think it's just gathering information. Combine, you get a chance to talk a little bit, and then you get a chance to see them work out. You get some of the measurements and some of that. The pro day, of course, we're able to get a little bit more information from it. Combine, everybody's grabbing them. Pro workout, everybody's grabbing them. Whenever we get them in their building, we have them. There's a lot more we can get. The final dots we need to connect and all that, we can get done when they come into our building. Every step along the way is very important and we're able to do that."
With a long time between now and the first game, what do you want to see right now from the team?
"As I talked to the team today, you know a lot of the '-abilities.' Availability, coming into the building, showing up on time and let us coach you. Right now it's as simple as that. We have a customized plan for every athlete in our building. Come in, show up on time four days a week and let us start the process. For a lot of the guys, new coaches, don't know each other. There is a lot of things to get done in that way, but even though there's a long time before we play, we're getting processes started, and there's an awful lot for us to do."
How encouraged have you been by what you've seen from QB Davis Mills this offseason?
"You look at all of my comments about Davis, I am a believer in him and what he's going to do. Eventually he's got to do it all on the football field consistently where everybody loves him every snap and all of that. But before a guy has played enough to do all of that, he shows up everyday. Availability, he is available. He has recruited other players to come here, and what the guys see him doing is just working. When I say I believe in him, Pep Hamilton, second year in the system, all of these things. If you just go back and look at the plays he made throwing the ball down field last year, there are so many good things he did. And that's as a rookie. The improvement you see from year one to year two is normally a big improvement, and that's what we're going to get from him. Just like every other position, he's going to take a few hits, strengthen his body, all of that. That's what we're doing with him now."
How important is it to get second-year players like DL Maliek Collins, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill and DB Desmond King II back and continue to build on what they learned from last year?
"For them to want to come back, it is one thing when you go out in free agency, 'Hey, come here, this is how we're going to do it.' These are guys that have had the opportunity to go somewhere else, that's been through our system and chose to come back. They believe in us being able to turn it around and continue the process, and for us to know what we're getting in those guys. It was a marriage. They wanted to come, we wanted them based on what they did this past year. Some of the guys you mentioned, that's how we want to start it. We want those guys to be the leaders to show the rest of the guys how we do things. Again, four wins, not enough, but there are some things that you like. These guys you talked about, a lot of it is through them."
What more are you looking for from LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, and how do LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and LB Blake Cashman fit in to that position?
"First, (Kamu Grugier-Hill) did some good things last year. He's a guy that first day he could come in the building, he was there. He's done everything. He was a guy that whenever we were trying to get better, he was there. Smart, special teams, everything we ask him to do, all three positions, so we're going to get that from him. Injuries hurt him a little bit, so that's why the offseason is so important, him being here every day for that. I think we know what we're going to get from him. For us, it's about what position does he play since he can play all three. The other players that you mentioned, the two linebackers that we have coming in, they fit the profile. (Blake) Cashman, I'm familiar with him from his time at the University of Minnesota. I know what he's done. (Jalen) Reeves-Maybin, also same thing. Last year when we were going through the process, we liked what we saw from him. Those are guys that need to get in, go to work, we'll see exactly how they fit in."
What does it mean to know that WR Brandin Cooks was extended and is happy to be here for the foreseeable future?
"It means a lot. Brandin (Cooks) has been through an awful lot. He's a guy that's done it a few different places, but what I was able to see from a different position last year was just how he went to work every day, too. You have veterans that you want on the team to show the younger guys how to play, how to handle themselves as a pro. Brandin feels really good about being here. We talked about those other players wanting to be here, Brandin is another one that wanted to be here. He believes in that vision for our football team and what we can do. I'm excited to have him back."
What is the goal for your coaching staff in the offseason program regarding the customized offseason plans for each player?
"Just improvement from every guy, it's kind of as simple as that. Their knowledge. Physically, we have numbers. You kind of know whoever's starting sets the standard right here. You want them to get bigger, stronger, faster down there with it. But also just their football knowledge, it's about situational football. We have so many things. Just think about last year, being away you couldn't really get together, you're Zooming. There's just so much stuff that you get from being together and going to work every day from our players. We have a smart football team. Just to go through an offseason with them, we're going to find a lot out by just starting the process and working through this together. I know the guys down there in our meeting, they were locked in, ready to go, and you can see and feel that belief that they have in us being able to get it done."
What do you want to see from the secondary this offseason after the departure of Justin Reid?
"First off, Justin Reid is a good football player, lifetime friend, excited for him. As we go forward, Jonathan Owens did a few good things last year, he played. He fits the profile of what we're looking for. Eric Murray, same thing, did some good things. I believe in him. He's smart. We have a new safeties coach that loves him, also. Terrence Brooks, we're bringing back three guys that have played a lot of football that we feel good about. There is still free agency going on and there's a draft going on, and we're going to improve the club still with that. In an ideal world we're going to dress four safeties, have five safeties that you feel good about. That's the goal."
How much does your prior experience as a head coach help you entering this situation?
"I think all of us, I have a little bit more age than everybody in the room, I think every year you learn a little bit more. Every situation that you're in, and you can evaluate it and it should help you the next time around. Practice makes perfect, right? We've heard that. Getting three times to do this, I just know that every step along the way like the first day, I kind of knew what to expect today. I think I know what to expect tomorrow. Hopefully some of the mistakes that were made earlier on or things that I would've liked to do differently, I'm going to put our football team in a position where we do that a little bit differently this time. I'm excited about going through the process throughout it as much as anything."
How many unanswered questions do you have about the cornerback room, and how do you want to address that position group?
"We're looking at the roster right now and you see who we have there. You also see our play at the cornerback position. Our play at the cornerback position last year was not good enough, it's as simple as that. If we brought somebody back, we have faith in them. We think that they can fit into the mix some kind of way, but that's a position we'll continue to look to improve. We can't play the type of football that we want to play until we get better at the cornerback position, I will say that."
Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton
What have you seen in terms of growth and leadership from the offense this offseason?
"Well, today was the first day and it's good to have everybody back in the building. The good news is there were a small group of guys that stayed around over the course of the last month or so and took that time to work out together. As Coach (Lovie Smith) mentioned, it's really important that our guys spend time together and get to learn and just hold each other accountable and start working together."
What have you seen from QB Davis Mills heading into his second season?
"Heading into the second season, I think that the simple fact that we are talking about Davis as potentially being our starting quarterback, it's going to be really important that he brings a certain level of consistency every day in the meeting rooms, in the weight room, out on the field with our guys and the strength coaches. As well as continuing to work to understand NFL defenses so that he can go out and play faster and be a better decision maker with the football."
What are you trying to learn about the offense this offseason?
"Well, I think it's two-fold. Not only are we as coaches trying to learn about our guys, but we are also spending time to let our guys get to know us and understand what our expectations are. Coach (Lovie Smith) said that there is a high level of accountability throughout our building and without a doubt we are going to all hold each other to a certain standard and hope to improve our football team."
Do you feel players often take a big jump from year one to year two? Do you expect QB Davis Mills to make that jump?
"Yeah, we expect for some of our younger guys to take a step. We expect there to be a certain level of progress for the simple fact that you've had time on task. I think with any young player not just at the quarterback position, the more you have an understanding of what the opponent is attempting to do to you or how they are strategically trying to attack our offense or defend our offense, it's going to help us to make faster decisions and that's what it's all about. Just making faster decisions and executing at a high level."
Can you talk about what it means to get WR Brandin Cooks back for the whole offense and specifically QB Davis Mills?
"That means a lot. I think that when you look at just the production that Brandin has been able to have over the last few seasons, but also over the course of his career, he brings a certain level of paranoia for our opponents and that's going to open up the opportunity for us to balance out our attack. We have to improve our run game, but at the same time we go out with the objection to score. We want to outscore the opponent every game we play."
How important is it for you to improve the run game to know how good QB Davis Mills is?
"It's really important. We feel like at the end of the day, you want to present balance to your opponent. It's tough enough to defend the pass rushers that we face on a week-to-week basis in the National Football League, so you would like especially on first and second down to force the defenses to play us honest and you do that by having balance in your attack. So, we want to improve our run game."
What have you seen from RB Dare Ogunbowale and RB Marlon Mack on film? How will they help the offense?
"We feel like we have guys that are dynamic playmakers that can create yards after contact and create their own yards in the open field. That's going to be important for our run game. That's going to be important for our passing game when our quarterback checks the ball down to those guys."
What jump do you want to see WR Nico Collins and TE Brevin Jordan make going into year two?
"It's going to be important that Nico and Brevin and some of the other young pass receiving guys that we have work together with our quarterback to develop more of a sense of continuity and that level of trust that we are going to need to be able to play fast and anticipate our throws and attack our opponents with rhythm and timing in our passing game."
Generally speaking, what is something you want to see QB Davis Mills improve on this season?
"First and foremost, we have to speed up our drops. That's a big part of staying on schedule in the passing game. We have to continue to work on managing the pocket and keeping our eyes down field. There's a lot of times when we get off schedule and we moved off our spot. There is a spot that we typically set up at the top of our drops. Well, if you have to move off your spot, you just want to maintain your throwing posture, keep your eyes downfield and continue your progression and if it means finding your check down, we'll do just that."
Is that easier said than done with that mindset?
"It sounds like it's a lot more complex than what it really is. I think the thing that is the most challenging at times is just understanding that there is a clock associated with every time the ball is snapped and us making fast, effective, quick decisions with the football. It works together to help us stay on schedule and execute our plays."
How important was the addition of Offensive Line Coach George Warhop? How important are OL Laremy Tunsil and OL Tytus Howard when it comes to the run game?
"It all starts up front for us. It all starts up front and saying that is not just cliché, we really feel like our offensive lineman are play makers as well. Coach Warhop brings a ton of experience to that room along with Hal Hunter. I had the chance to work with Coach Warhop some time ago and Coach Hal at some previous spots and we feel like when you look at the guys we have in that room, some of those guys have skins on the wall and we should be able to go out and work together to develop a consistent run game."
How important is it having OL Justin Britt back with his leadership and field credibility?
"Field credibility it matters in our locker room. Justin Britt, he's a guy that has played a lot of snaps in this league and ultimately, he's a reference point for some of the younger players that have a chance to contribute to our offense and franchise. Having guys like Justin that have been around, who have had the chance to face some of the best defensive lineman in the league over the years, to bounce ideas off or just to watch and emulate is going to help our young guys."
Between you and Offensive Line Coach George Warhop, have you talked about OL Tytus Howard as a guard or a tackle?
"It's something that Coach (Lovie) Smith and our staff will continue to work through just to make sure we put the best five guys in a position for us to be successful offensively."
Can you talk about how important it is to have consistency on the offensive line?
"It's always important to have guys that are somewhat proven commodities, guys that you know what you are going to get on gameday, and you know what you are going to expect and that's what we feel like those guys bring to the table. Just a certain level of not just professionalism and experience but they can win their matchups and everything that we do offensively is driven by our ability to win matchups up front, on the perimeter, in the passing game. More importantly being able to execute at a high level and that starts with the guys up front."
Can talk about the importance of adding OL A.J. Cann?
"Once again, the familiarity of having a guy that you know what you should expect on a day-to-day basis, on gameday specifically. A.J. is a guy that's played a lot of good football. George (Warhop) is very familiar with A.J. We felt like he would have a chance to come in and compete and be a contributor upfront for us and we look forward to that group working together and being able to go out on gameday and play a good brand of football."
Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross
Can you talk about LS Jon Weeks and some of the veterans you are getting back?
"It's an honor to work with that guy, Jon Weeks. It's an exciting opportunity going into year two with three veterans who are perfectionists at their craft, guys that care about the little details. I'm a special teams coach, so you get to phase one, there's not a lot going on for those little intricacies. We're not putting a game plan together where a lot of the guys are going to say, 'hey, this is a safety, hey, you're a running back and you're all pairing in with a linebacker or a wideout and a tight end.' To have those guys, the specialists work the way they do makes it exciting for the offseason. There's a lot of times where a special teams coach during phase one, during phase two, we get excited. I was a bad athlete and an overachiever, so I make my money in the offseason working out extra hard and stuff like that. This stuff translates well for the kicking game. Guys like Jon Weeks, they buy into the everyday work and it's exciting to join those guys for year two."
How important is it to have DB Desmond King II and DB Tremon Smith back and bought into the culture?
"What I appreciate so much about those guys is the amount of work they're willing to put in. Having some sustained success is the goal. Having guys with experience in our system, hopefully we're able to, as a team, take step two in this season. Having those guys that already know our calls, and now it's again a little bit about making that next step of execution, but I'm excited to work with Des (King II). A lot of young guys coming onto the roster. Again, the more you can do, so you're talking about a cornerback that started how many games defensively for us. Whatever he can add to the team, in this case a punt returner role, I'm excited about that."
How much will having a normal offseason help you as a coach?
"I'm hoping this is what we call football moving forward. Meeting on an iPhone over Zoom and trying to install technique as a special teams coach or any football coach is difficult. I'm excited to eat, sleep, breathe Texans football here and start moving forward. It's going to be good."
What do you anticipate your workload to look like with your role in the offseason program?
"Really, this is where hopefully we're going to see the growth. Again, we're not game planning, we're not installing for a certain week. It is about not only injury prevention for high speed plays. You guys are talking about everybody on the field running 40 yards 18-plus miles an hour, so now we're talking about developing our bodies, training them the right way to be able to handle non-contact, then bracing and decelerating from full speed into contact. That stuff happens now, so this is when we train the techniques, the fundamentals, basic movements to make you a better space athlete. That's kind of the day one priority progression from the special teams phase perspective of how we're going to grow our athletes and our team to be able to play in space and physically handle that workload as we get into OTAs and then training camp, ready to go at that point. So really, that's our focus, developing the progression from all the fundamentals standpoint."
How beneficial is it for you to have someone like Head Coach Lovie Smith who puts an emphasis on being great on special teams?
"Any special teams coach in the league that's backed by the head coach or the defensive or offensive coordinator when you're trying to finalize that roster construction, that's going to make your football team better. Football players first. When you have a defensive coach, I'm a special teams coach. We like guys that can run fast and tackle. I'm sure Lovie Smith likes those same exact things, so I think it's going to be a good marriage there. Everywhere he's been he's had successful return units. He taught me a lot even a year ago, talking about the way we use a defensive end in the kicking game or a starting corner in the kicking game. That's only going to hopefully boost us moving forward."
You were encouraged with how special teams performed at the end of last season. How do you build on that in the offseason program?
"I think we definitely hit our stride toward the second half of the season. I think there's a little bit of you've got to look in the mirror and (think) 'What can we learn from?' The starting point is a little further down the river, but we do have to say, 'Okay, here's our baseline. It is day one. Here's a new entity, year one of players, rookies coming onto the roster, free agents that have just joined us that we're going to get to work with for the first time. How that puzzle is going to fit together, it's my job to get that together earlier in the season than as we did a year ago. But I'm excited for where the new launch point is. A vast majority of the guys know my terminology and what we're going to call things, so I'm excited for that."
Having worked with him in Indianapolis, what does RB Marlon Mack bring to the locker room?
"Marlon is a very consistent person, quiet guy, reserved, he's a good locker room player. I think this guy's ready to prove himself at any point. If you ask him to work as a kick returner, he will be willing to do that. I'm excited to see him for the first time again and work with Marlon again. Anybody that joins our roster, come here, prove it every single day. No different than when I walk into my office. I've got to prove my worth that day to everybody, and whether it's special teams, offense or defense, hopefully that'll make our Texans football team better moving forward."