OL JUSTIN BRITT
What were some of the things you liked from last season that you want to build on for this season?
"I like the guys in the locker room. I liked the O-line group and how we went about our business. Just kind of being in the building after being away, I was comfortable and I wanted to be here and grow as an individual, as a person, as a teammate, as a player. I felt like this place gives me the best chance to do that. With Lovie (Smith) being the head coach, I think that's a tremendous thing for this group, this team. I think we're going to work hard and go about our business the right way, and we're led right."
How does the team collectively view what you all did last season, and what can you do going into this season?
"For me, personally, it's just about staying healthy. Granted, things are out of my control sometimes, but the best that I can do is do what I can to be out there. I felt like last year wasn't my best foot forward as far as giving to the team, so I wanted to come back here and prove that I have more in me and that I can stay healthy, personally and professionally. My family's here. My kids are in school. You take that as a factor, too, whenever you're thinking about moving across the country. If you have a chance to kind of keep them in the same place for numerous years. Being a military kid, it didn't really affect me but I know it can affect them. Family played a big part of it, and obviously the contract was the best deal for everyone."
Have you changed anything this offseason, such as a diet or how you train?
"Kind of stayed the course. Last year, someone fell onto my knee. What I can do is wear that knee brace I was wearing the rest of the year and protect myself in that way. I've approached the weight room in a way to get my leg stronger and get it back to what it was. It's a daily grind, a daily battle, and nutrition's always part of it. Diet, sleep, you can't be in this league eight to nine years without that. You're kind of fighting father time and the inevitable sometimes."
What are you seeing in the growth of QB Davis Mills as a leader of this team?
"You could look back at the end of the year compared to whenever he came in in Cleveland. The way he went about it, the calmness he had toward the end of the year. Tennessee, we started the first half terribly. We come back and we should've won the game, I'd argue. Talk about his leadership, his calmness, his work ethic, his competitiveness, and that's just kind of what we all want to be offensively, defensively. Again, I think with Lovie (Smith) here, the way he goes about it, how consistent he is with his approach and his mindset is going to help us a lot. He knows a lot of ball. He's been around. He's won a lot of games and done it with a lot of great players. That was a big reason why I came back here, to be coached by him, to be coached by (George) Warhop and just grow as a person."
How do you see the offensive line operating differently under a new coach?
"We've got to see, it's day two. The offense is going to be a little different, I know that. With new coaches, a new OC, different terminology. Everyone's got a different way they do things. It's going to be exciting and interesting to see how Pep (Hamilton) kind of takes this and runs with it, because he was on the staff last year. He was in it last year and he knows how he wants to do it, so I think it's going to be a lot more crystal clear in our assignments. It's just up to us to go out there and execute it."
Have the coaches asked for your input?
"So far, no. I just get paid to play. They just give me the playbook. I'm sure as the season goes on, you make adjustments, they'll be like, 'Justin, how would you block this compared to someone else?' Because I can't block everything like Jimmy Morrissey does, and vice versa. We're built differently. We're different types of players. Tytus (Howard) is different than me. Everyone's kind of got their ins and outs, but at the end of the day, you've got to learn the playbook, learn the way the coaches want you to do things because they feel like it's the best way. Everyone's got a certain way they can tweak their assignment and their technique. At the end of the day, you're kind of universal."
What does having a lot of players re-sign here say about the culture you guys are trying to build under Head Coach Lovie Smith?
"The people that he signed back, the people that he brought in, you could look at them and they're just high-effort leaders who have won a lot of games and know what it takes. I can't speak for anyone else, but I can speak that I'll show up every day the same way. Whenever we get into camp, I'll try to beat Lovie (Smith) here every morning. Whether this is my last contract or not, last year really taught me, because I thought 2019 when I tore my ACL was a fluke, but then last year someone fell into my knee. So really, tomorrow's not guaranteed. You could get hurt tomorrow, today, so I'm going to approach every day as my last and just go about that. I want to win a lot of games and I want to do good things here in Houston."
What time do you think you have to be here to beat Head Coach Lovie Smith?
"I don't know. He was in at like 5-something during the OTAs, so camp, he might be like a 3 a.m. guy."
How does consistency at the quarterback position help you and the offensive line?
"Just build confidence, build poise, get comfortable with it all. Like I said, it's all about consistency. Showing up every day, hearing the same things from out of each other's mouths, the coaches and talking through it, learning through it, walking through it. It's just the reps, the days, kind of just stacking them and going from there. But knowing that right now, Davis (Mills) is back there and he's the guy. I thought he had a tremendous rookie season. The wins didn't add up to the season I felt like he had, but it's exciting to see what he's going to do his second year."
What do you sense about the feeling of the team?
"Today was our first real work day, like working out and all that. Playbook-wise, yesterday was kind of an introduction to everything. Everyone was really attentive and I thought the coaches, what they said had a purpose and was meaningful. Coach (George) Warhop is different than (James) Campen, so he's going to bring a different level of maybe intensity, a different way of learning. I got off-topic, but I just think there are a lot more guys here than I thought there would be. That makes me excited and hopeful that we all want to win, we all want to do great. Stack the days, keep working, keeping showing up, keep having a purpose."
LB KAMU GRUGIER-HILL
What does it mean to you to resign here and be back for this season?
"I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to be back. It's been a goal of mine since the beginning of last year, I wanted to make this place home. I'm just excited to be a part of the team. I love that Coach Lovie (Smith) is going to be the new head coach. We got a lot of the same guys from last year and we can continue to build off of our foundation."
What have you seen from Lovie Smith as he has made the transition to head coach?
"I just think he's excited. There is a very calm presence over him, like you said, he's done it before. He knows the guys he's got here and we're going to continue to add to that. I'm just excited for the whole year."
What is the biggest thing you think the team needs to improve on going into this season?
"I think we just need to score on both sides of the ball, offense and defense. I can only speak for the defense right now but eliminating big plays and just somehow getting the ball in the endzone. We had a lot of takeaways last year but if we can turn those into points, I think that would change a lot."
What are some things you are looking to improve in your game?
"I think for me just stepping into that leadership role more this year. I think last year was more of a prove it that I can be here, and this is what I want to do, kind of my spot. Now this year is kind of turning into a leadership role, helping the organization win. Last year was our foundation and we didn't win too many games so this year the emphasize I think is winning."
Did Lovie Smith becoming head coach and Miles Smith stay as linebackers coach impact your decision to come back?
"That was all of it for me, having them be here. If there was a different head coach, I don't know if that would have been the same thing. But for them to be back and have the same guys, Nick (Caserio), Lovie and all of those guys, I'm just excited."
What do you see from QB Davis Mills growing into a leader for this team?
"I can already see the confidence of him walking throughout the building, the way he is talking to other guys, the way he going to carry himself in and out of meetings, on and off the field. I think that is going to go a long way in itself. I think having Brandin Cooks back, Justin Britt and all those kind of guys around him is only going to help."
How different is the atmosphere around this team compared to last season?
"I don't really want to talk too much about last year. No disrespect to Coach (David) Culley. I thought he was a great coach. We just couldn't win so I think having a new start with Coach Lovie (Smith). I think for me I can't say that the same might be for the offensive guys because I know Coach Lovie and he was our defensive coordinator last season. So, the familiarity for me is I just know how he works, I know how he is, and I know what he can do."
Did you know this defense was a good fit for you when you signed here last season?
"People told me that but when I actually got to play it and actually live it out, then I realized yeah this is where I need to be."
Were there any specifics about this defense that makes it a good fit for you?
"Just the attack mentality of it. I think for the first time in my career last year, he (Lovie Smith) just let me play. He just took my strengths in the game. Letting me run and tackle and play in the pass a lot. He let me do that. Building off that this year is going to be big."
*You played well last season, start making plays and the appreciation comes your way. What was process like and how did that make you feel? *
"That was a big part of it. Even before the season even started, there was something about this city that I fell in love with immediately. Hard to explain but it's more of a feel. You go to certain places, and it doesn't feel like home and when I got here it definitely did, obviously, everything around that. This is a place I want to build off of and continue to grow a legacy, build my brand a little more here and make it home."
What have you done off the field to prepare for the season with your teammates?
"For us, with me and Christian Kirksey specifically, we talked about the things we need to do as a defense. We've talk to guys like Brandin Cooks and Davis (Mills) and all those guys from a team standpoint. But it's more about that we have so many leaders and vets on the team that we can all kind of our business on our defense. I'm going to handle the defensive side with Kirko (Christian Kirksey) and how to get guys bought in. I know last year, not everyone was bought in. It's hard to get a new system in here and it's not always going happen but this is our second year in the system and having guys bought in and all that stuff is huge."
Does it help having as many veterans as you guys do?
"Oh yeah, definitely. We're just so excited for what's going to come."
How are you feeling going into this season?
"I'm feeling good. I just did a little cleanup after the season, wasn't anything serious. I'm excited for the future."
*How much does things being different with COVID make a difference? *
"I think I can speak for the world right now, this no COVID is just amazing. I think everyone has a breath of fresh air, literally. We can all just be together. There is something to be said that you can tangibly be with each other in the building together and have that comradery and lift together, run together and all that kind of stuff. I think it's good."
Can you talk about the injury that you suffered last season?
"Last year, I got a knick early in the season that just kind of lingered for the whole year and I just played through a lot. Coming into this year, getting that correct and starting fresh again is going to be awesome."
What are some of the things as a defense you want to do to limit the big plays?
"I think everyone just getting on the same page. There are a lot of times where communication is common in first year systems and everyone is learning the system and being on the same page from a communication standpoint, signals, all that stuff. This year, I think that's a big emphasis for us is everyone being on the same page. I think we are going to do our meetings a little different, meeting together and getting the linebackers involved more with the DBs and vice versa."
Does that have to do with the veterans on the defense?
"Yeah, for sure."
What do you want to get out of the offseason workouts?
"Like I said, you can't put an emphasis on the comradery that you build. We're all grown men. Everyone has their own families and their own lives but being able to come in here and actually build bonds and hold each other accountable on a deeper level because you get to know each other personally, you get to know what people are like, their families, you get to hang out. I think it really kind of takes care of itself. I don't think anybody has to go out of there way and be like, 'Hey, I'm this big leader.' I'm definitely not like that. I live the way I live, and I try to just hang out with everyone and get to know everyone on a personal level so we can hold each other accountable."
How does having players like DL Maliek Collins, DB Desmond King and LB Christian Kirksey help create a culture and show that to the new players?
"Like I said before, you have the core guys that have been here. Maliek has been here. He's played every game. Des has been in it. Kirko's (Chrisitan Kirksey) done it. The guys who have truthfully bought in and understand how the defense should work and the standards that we hold. Just being able to pick people up and grind along with us and show them that it does work and if you buy in, that it's solid. I think that's the big thing."
LB CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY
What are you most looking forward to about next season?
"Going out there and having another chance to win some football games. I'm excited about the team that we're putting together. The offseason is off to a great start. You've got a lot of guys in the building, a lot of familiar faces and some faces that we're just meeting. This is a good time for us to see what we have right now, and then obviously leading up to the draft, see the additional picks that we're going to bring on this team and just get ready to rock. I'm just excited to play for Lovie (Smith). Obviously, he was our defensive coordinator last year. We built the relationship and now him being our head coach, I'm just excited to play for him."
After signing an extension this offseason, how does that impact how you approach next season?
"That showed me that they care about me as a person, myself and my family. Also, we built that relationship to where they trust how I play the game of football. I trust how they present themselves from a front office standpoint and from a coaching standpoint. I think that we built that relationship to where it's a lot of trust. It definitely speaks volumes to our relationship and where it's headed, so I was excited to sign back for another two years and just excited to be back in the city of Houston."
After a tough season like last year, what's the atmosphere around the building going into next season?
"I've been a part of losing seasons and losing really teaches you about yourself, teaches you about your character, what kind of guys you have in the locker room. Some people fold, some people quit. I look at it as an opportunity for us to get better, for us to really see what we're made of as a team, who we've got in this locker room that's going to be willing to go out there and put it all on the line, fight and get better. I think that's the type of team that Nick (Caserio) is trying to build: a bunch of guys who are selfless and put the team first and know what we had last year is not what we want to do this year, and what are we going to do about it? That starts in the offseason, and it's starting off good just to see the amount of faces that are here and are willing to work and put the time in, because everybody always says, 'I want to win, I want to be great, I want to go out there and make plays,' but this is where the playmakers build and get ready for the season. We got the bad taste in our mouth last year, and what are we going to do about it? That's the question."
Why was it important for you as a veteran to come back here this season? What do you think the defense can do this season?
"As you see, we had flashes last year. We had flashes of being a good team, but the good teams in this league do the right things consistently, and we weren't consistent last year. It's exciting to see those flashes and see what we can potentially be. I believe in the guys. I believe that we're a good group that meshes well on and off the field. I think we have a bunch of solid players that have their head on the correct way that's all about ball and that's all about getting better and working together to achieve a common goal, and that's to bring Houston football back to what we all know, and that's winning football. It's a challenge and it's a great opportunity, and that's what you want to be a part of when you're a football player. You want to put in that work, and we're all competitors. We were raised to grind, we were raised to go out there and prove people wrong and do things that some people may say is impossible. That is what drives you, and that's what drives me. I have total faith in this organization and this team. That's the competitiveness that's building the athlete, and that's what you enjoy and that's what you want to be a part of."
How do you take the next step from building the culture to getting wins?
"When you build the culture, it doesn't happen over night. It's a process that's put in place and the guys that are brought back on the team are part of that culture that Nick (Caserio) is trying to build. But the next step to me is trusting. We've got the right guys, now we've got to trust the system. We've got to trust what the coaches are saying. The coaches have to trust us to go out there and produce. I think that's the next part. Right now we're building that trust with one another. As you know, there are going to be more additions to the team in the draft, and now they have to hop on board to the culture that we set. Just because we had a (four-win) season doesn't mean that work wasn't done in that season last year. I think that we're stirring the pot. I think that we're continuing to put the right ingredients to what we want to be and who we want to be. We've just got to continue to trust it and things will happen."
If the Texans went another route with the coaching search, do you think there would have been as many players returning from last season?
"It's kind of hard to say. When you have a head coach, that's an important piece to the team. I think the relationship that was built with Lovie (Smith), even offensive guys, Lovie would talk to anybody, not just the defense. I think that's where it started. To see how guys meshed well with Lovie, and you know his track record. You know of him being in the league. In my opinion, he's a legend at coaching. We all know his resume. I think part of it is that Lovie came back and I have that relationship with him, and I really can only speak for myself, but I assume the other guys may think that as well, that he's a great person, great coach, and you want to be a part of that. And you want to be somewhere you're familiar with. You know that guys are going to put in work and guys are investing, and I think that the guys that Nick (Caserio) brought back, he knows that they're all about ball. Like I said, it's a fine line between winning and losing, and our record didn't show the work that we put in, but there was work that was put in and some positives that you can take away from the season. Now it's just time to put it all together. I think putting Lovie as our leader definitely made guys want to come back, but at the same time I think guys would've still been invested to come back if it wasn't Lovie just because of the type of locker room that we have."
Were you able to talk to some of your teammates this offseason about what you want to build? What has your offseason been like?
"Obviously, I had my son, CJ, in the offseason. I had him in January. It's been taking care of my family, so from that standpoint just all family, then obviously putting in the work. Just grinding to get personal goals that I want this season and talking to other players like, 'Hey, what is it like? Are you thinking of signing back? What's the communication with you and the organization?' So you have those small talks within close friends, some people that you may not talk to every day but you just want to see guys who are invested or want to come back and just see how it is. Once you do see how the roster is being formed, it's like, 'Where do we want to be? Where do we want to go for the 2022 season?' It's good when you see a lot of the same faces because you went through something together, and now you know how it feels to come in on the opposite side and seeing the success. It makes it that much sweeter. Those are just the conversations that we have, like 'Hey, we know what we did last year. Let's change it. Let's be about our business and let's keep building and building those relationships."
Were there a lot of sleepless nights after your son was born?
"Yeah, a lot of sleepless nights, but I wouldn't trade it for nothing in the world. I love my son. Obviously, I have my two-year-old daughter and my fiancée, so it's been a lot of good family time and it's been a lot of good football time for me."
How many players are here compared to other offseason programs you've been a part of?
"It's quite a few guys that are here. To be honest, in the past I've been a part of teams that are a close group of guys, so my experience has been a good group of guys that come in. I don't know the exact number or count of who's here, but it's just about everybody. Guys are willing to put in that work, so I'm happy with that. I'm just looking forward to it."
Where do you feel the defense can improve in the run game?
"I think where we can take strides as a defense is getting better at run defense, and I think that it starts now. Obviously, last year was a bunch of guys on a one-year deal, first time playing in that defense. You take that stride the second year when guys are more comfortable in the defense and scheme. They know how to play their position to the best of their ability. They know the ins and outs of the defense, they know the weaknesses of the defense, so I think that we're going to see the strides that we're looking for in year two of it. It just gives guys that confidence. You're not learning new faces as far as like, 'Oh, I've got to meet my new head coach.' It's the defensive coordinator that you've seen in the building all last year. It just gives guys that boost of confidence to go into our defense knowing like, 'Hey, we know this defense like the back of our hand. Now we can be the best version of ourselves and go out there and produce and understand what our weaknesses is and try to limit ways of getting exposed by that.' I think it's going to be a different story this year as far as defense. I can't speak on the offensive side of the ball because I don't play offense, but as far as defense, I think it's going to be a different story just because there are guys that are confident, and they know, 'Hey, we've been in this situation. Now we know how to master it.
What are some personal goals you want to accomplish? What are some things you think the defense can improve on from last year?
"I think Lovie (Smith) did a great job with us last year with putting a special emphasis on taking the ball away. Now we've got to take the ball away and score. That's our last piece that we really were trying to hone in on. But for myself, I just want to be the best version of myself. Stay healthy the whole course of the season. I know I've been battling with that for a few years now, but I just want to lead and be the best leader I can be for my teammates. Whatever my teammates need me to do, I'm going to show them through the example of how to lead and how to be a great football player. Obviously, you've got the accolades that you want to be All-Pro, Pro Bowler, all that stuff, but ultimately, I want to win a Super Bowl. When you win a Super Bowl, everybody wins individually. Those are my goals, and just to be the best version that Christian Kirksey can be."
QB DAVIS MILLS
What do you see your opportunity as this season?
"Same as it was last year. I just got to come in and compete every day. Obviously, we are in the offseason phase right now. It's all about building as a team but also building as individuals and putting in our best work this offseason to be the best player we can be once the season starts."
Where do you feel you've improved over last season? What do you want to improve going into year 2?
"I think a lot of the growth that I've made just comes with experience out there. Just getting those game reps in. Being able to react faster to different defensive looks. Had a better feel of the system at the end of last year. Obviously, we are in a new offensive scheme this year, but I've already seen a couple of the first installs and I'm looking forward to actually get out and running them on the field because it's familiar to me from what I did in college. I'm extremely excited and hope that the growth from the last year continues straight into the next one."
*What was the feedback you got from the coaching staff at the end of last season? *
"A lot of feedback. Like I said, came with growth after I got more game reps and got that experience. The biggest thing is continuing on that trajectory that I started to play better last year and take that into camp and continue to improve."
How do you look approach being a leader for this team? How comfortable are you with that role?
"I'm definitely comfortable. I think the biggest thing is being a leader for the team. It starts with showing up every day. Showing the team that you are here to put in work. I think people mention a lot that the quarterback's role is a vocal leader and I think that comes with the position. I've been doing that my whole life so I'm ready for that challenge and that standpoint of it. The biggest thing is going out and showing up every day in meeting rooms, weight room, on the field and gaining the respect of my teammates so I can take on that role."
What has it been like working this offseason with some of your teammates? How much has that helped?
"It was great. Recently, we had a handful of guys out in Atlanta at my high school. Just brought people together to get some work and really continue to build that chemistry and show everyone it's more than football. We are out here enjoying our time together and continuing to grow together."
How important is having WR Brandin Cooks back for next season for your development? How important is it that WR Nico Collins and TE Brevin Jordan continue to grow as well?
"To start with Brandin, it's huge that we signed him back. I'm extremely excited to continue working with him. He has a ton of talent and makes it really hard on defenses to game plan to go out there to stop him, so that's the biggest thing first. He's also a great leader for our team and for the younger guys in that room who are going to be catching passes, for Nico, for Brevin. Just setting the example of how they work and that's something that Nico and Brevin have fed on and looked at him to realize how a pro prepares and handles themselves week in and week out to continue to perform as the season goes on. I think those guys have taken that in last year and have really taken the next step going into this year."
What is it about the offense that you feel you do well?
"It's really a multitude of things. The biggest thing is that we are going to mix it up, run and pass. Obviously, run to open up the pass or pass to open up the run. Mix it in that way but also take advantage of big plays and vertical routes down the field. That will be one. A lot of it is just getting the ball to playmakers in space. Pep (Hamilton) has already thought of a lot of really good ways to do that and I'm excited to start running it and get the reps with our team."
What excites you most about getting ready for this upcoming season?
"The biggest thing is going out and being able to compete again. Love chasing competition. I think that's the most enjoyable thing about football is going out there and being able to compete Sundays, Mondays or Thursdays, so that's the big thing. I think we started playing our best football at the end of last year and I think everyone kind of felt that. Everyone came back hungrier this offseason, so we are ready to attack and go out and start strong once we get to camp and through OTA's until we get to the start of the season."
What things did you take from the end of the season to now?
"A lot of it is continuing to grow chemistry with the receivers and the guys that I'm throwing the ball to. So, personally continuing to stay quick at the start of the drops so I'm able to play ahead of the game and not be surprised by something. Something might pop before I'm ready for it footwork-wise. That's one big thing. Like I said, just continuing to build that chemistry and timing with the receivers."
Does it help to have some certainty here?
How would you describe your leadership style?
"The biggest cliché one is just leading by example. People say that's not a true form of leader because they aren't stepping up and being vocal for the team, but I think it starts by kind of leading by example and showing people you are there to work but when the moment presents itself, being able to step up and be a vocal leader. Hold someone accountable. Be able to be held accountable yourself and see how the team response and rallies around that."
What does it mean to you to have some stability with Lovie Smith becoming head coach and Pep Hamilton becoming the offensive coordinator?
"It's exciting. I know they are both very hungry and excited to get out there and attack just like we are as players. The goal for everyone is the same just to go out there and get a win every week. That's what we are all chasing."
What has it been like watching your tape from the past year?
"It's exciting. Obviously, there's a lot to learn from my first year in the NFL. Some mistakes, some good plays, and if you really try to just take those all in so you can build on them. I said it all the time last year, never make the same mistake twice, so that's cool that I'll have a little bit of experience to build off of rather than just getting thrown in there and hoping I do well last year. I'm just excited to build off what I did last year."
How important is it to be confident as a quarterback?
"I've always been a very confident player. I heard a quote back in the day, 'There's a fine line between confidence and cockiness,' and you kind of want to be on the conservative side of it. But I'm kind of dancing on that border, so I feel like I've done that well. I'm excited every day to go out and compete, so I think that's a big one. A lot of it is just going out there and having confidence in those guys around you, too, and that's what we're doing in the offseason right now is coming together as a team and putting the work in, and kind of showing everybody that we're here to work and we're here to work as a team to get wins."
Do you notice a difference in watching film and preparing for defenses compared to how you did it last season?
"You're just able to process everything a tiny bit faster. You don't have to spend time kind of getting something explained to you because that's already happened before. We had a ton of meeting time last year where we were doing those things, so now it's just kind of building on that. As Pep (Hamilton) always likes to say, the graduate level steps, I'm still getting there in some things, but some things I'm already at that point. I'm just excited to be continuing my improvement."
What does it mean for you to have the confidence of the head coach and the offensive coordinator that you can get the job done?
"It's pretty cool. We still have a lot of time before the season starts. Obviously, I'd like to continue building that confidence in myself from those people. A lot of it is just coming every day and getting to work, and gaining the confidence of my teammates as well so we can go out there and play as a confident unit."
How important is it to work on speeding up drawbacks and taking advantage of more opportunities downfield?
"A lot of the vertical passing game and the progression passing game is built off of timing. It starts with me, making sure I'm able to play ahead of the game, making sure my feet are in the ground at every moment, moving around the pocket at the top of drops so I'm able to get the ball out on time, so that plays a huge factor in the team's success."
What were some of the body adjustments you had to make after your first season?
"I think the biggest two were just overall strength and explosiveness. I've been working out here in Houston in the building all offseason, and Mike Eubanks has done a great job preparing us and the guys that have been working out here. I felt like I've made big steps in both of those areas. I'm excited to go out and test that against defenses."