OL TYTUS HOWARD
How do you feel being back this offseason? What position do you expect to play this season?
"I feel pretty good these first couple weeks. We've been getting in some workouts and stuff like that. Everybody's getting back in football shape. I felt pretty good out there today. As far as position-wise, I'm really just going to playing wherever the team deems me the most valuable, whether it's guard or tackle. I've been working out this offseason to become a better player in both, so I feel pretty comfortable playing both."
What was it like being honored as Alabama State's highest draft pick ever? Do you reminisce about the moment you got drafted?
"It felt pretty good to be back. I got a chance to go back to college. When I was a freshman, like I was telling guys, I came in as a walk-on. We would always look at all the NFL draft picks, they had a mural on the wall and stuff like that. I always told myself that one day I wanted to be there. So, they called me and said, 'Hey, Tytus, we've got a surprise for you. We need you here for the spring game.' When I came down, they surprised me with the mural on the wall, and it was just such a huge accomplishment. It was just good to go back and kind of give back my knowledge (of what) my experience has been in the NFL to some of the players. They had recruits come in, I got a chance to speak to a couple of players coming out of high school. Just going back and let guys know that it really doesn't matter where you go, where you come from. If you put the work in, be consistent, the sky is the limit for you guys. It felt good to go back."
What are your memories of getting drafted in the first round? Will you watch the draft this year?
"I'll definitely be watching the draft. It felt good. I was in Georgia at the time of the draft. I remember my family at home, probably 25 people from my family together with me because I didn't go to the draft. My agent, we all just had a pretty good get-together. I'm just sitting out with family, having a good time, and I just got the phone call, 'Hey, Tytus, we're going to take you with the 23rd pick,' and I went down to tears because it's one of the most memorable, exciting times of my life. I'm completely grateful for the Texans giving me a chance to come here and play professional football, because you're getting paid to play a game that honestly I would play for free. Not saying I will play for free, let me put that out there. I love football, so I don't play it sometimes because of money, but I play it because I love the game. It's been pretty good. I always like to watch it because I like to see the reactions of the guys, see their families, their moms, the dad who spent all that time raising them the right way to see their kids take a step forward to get money and stuff that changes the whole generation. It's always a blessing for that to happen, so I like watching the draft."
How great is it to see the amount of HBCU prospects in the draft this year?
"It's been pretty good because I honestly think there might be a couple HBCU players drafted this year, because there are a lot of good prospects like the guys from Jackson State. There's a guy from FAMU, a corner from South Carolina State. I think it's only going to get better because, not just to point Deion Sanders out, but the mentality and standard he set at Jackson State, it made the whole of HBCU football and the SWAC, all of them take a step ahead. I think it's a positive impact. Alabama State, they just had a four-star quarterback commit to play there, and I don't think there's ever been a four-star quarterback in school history to come play there. I think it's a huge improvement and I think HBCU football is only going to get better and better by the year."
With you being the most recent first round draft pick by the Texans, what can the upcoming new first round picks expect when they walk in the building?
"I would tell them just come in and get as much knowledge as they can from the guys like me, or the guys who have already been here and just be yourself. When I came here, I would get a whole bunch of knowledge from all the guys who were around. But I prided (myself) on being myself and just learning from the older guys and trying to find a way to learn from them, but kind of create my own style of how I want to be, what type of player I wanted to be and the type of things I wanted to go about. Like I said, it's a high expectation. When you come in here, you've got to perform, especially as a first round pick. I would just tell those guys just come in, be themselves, stay focused. It's going to be a grind, but they're going to be okay."
What was the biggest difference between college and the NFL you learned as a rookie?
"For me, it probably had to be the speed of the game and the knowledge. I was pretty smart because I had switched positions three times in college until I finally started playing offensive line. I thought I was a know-it-all. I thought I knew a lot until I got to the NFL. I got in the classroom with guys who had already been in the NFL system. They knew so much more than me, so I had to get myself caught pretty quick. I think the knowledge of the game and the speed of the game would probably be the two biggest things that are different between college and the NFL."
What is the biggest change with Pep Hamilton as offensive coordinator and George Warhop as offensive line coach?
"I think the mentality of the offensive line with Coach George Warhop, we're going to be way more physical. Nothing against our past coach, but I think we're going to be physical up front. I think with Pep (Hamilton), his offense, we pride on being able to run the football. We didn't run the football well last year, so I look forward to being able to run the ball real well every game."
What does versatility in offensive linemen do for an offense?
"I think if you're versatile, I think it just gives the coaches more leeway to certain players they might want to bring in, or certain plays they want to run, thinking about me being versatile the way I am, being able to put me at guard or tackle. I think it just helps the team in general and it helps me because I get a chance to know all the plays and what everyone has to do, so it's only going to make me play faster when I'm out there."
DB DESMOND KING II
What was it like to be back on the field today after signing your new contract?
"It felt good being back on the field with a group of guys I'm familiar with and seeing new faces as well. I'm just welcoming the new guys in on both sides of the team. It's also a blessing to be back here with the team again, not having to go through that process again. I'm finally somewhere settled down, familiar with the organization, familiar with the playbook, familiar with the team, coaches and everybody in the building. All around it just felt great today being out there."
What went into your decision to come back to Houston? What does it mean to have Lovie Smith back as your head coach this season as well as Dino Vasso remaining as cornerbacks coach?
"Just having that confidence and that trust in the team, I believe that we definitely had a good team last year. It didn't show by the record, but me being on the field, I could feel that playing with those guys that they were willing to fight, willing to play hard, willing to go out there and win each and every week. That based my decision on coming back here. Then seeing Coach Lovie (Smith) become the head coach, it showed the bright spot of our team that he was our D-coordinator, knowing that he's going to try and revamp this team and kind of lead it in the right way and take us somewhere we need to be."
What were some improvements you saw throughout last season that you think you can build on this season?
"I would just say being resilient. There were times where we were down in games and then we fought back. There were games where people were saying that we couldn't do this, couldn't do that. Then we go out there and show them different. Like I said, I feel like we had that confidence but our record just didn't show it. Knowing that we're bringing some of these guys back that we had last year plus the new faces, we're building it in the right direction. Just knowing that we've got something special definitely coming up this year."
Head Coach Lovie Smith said this team can't play to the level it needs to without better play at cornerback. What kind of challenges has he given you and the group, and what needs to be done to improve?
"Three things he talked about today was just playing smart, playing tough and playing physical. I think that's three things that Coach Lovie (Smith), those are his statements. Those are three things he believes in, playing tough, smart and physical. That's what he wants especially on his defensive side, but all around as a team collectively."
What's the mood of the locker room as you realize you have a chance to add some premium talent in the draft?
"Locker room, I feel like the energy there right now is in a positive way. Like I said, we've got new faces in the building as well, so we're just trying to build that relationship as a family and not just as a team, because that's how your play is going to be better on the field. As long as you all believe in each other as brothers, you go out there, you trust one another, I think that's what's going to make everything turn around."
Do you have a sense of what position you will play this season? Do you have a preference of where you feel most comfortable?
"Wherever they need me at is where I'm going to contribute. That's how I go."
How do you think you handled changing positions last year?
"I felt like I handled it the right way. We want to get guys on the field that are tough, that are going to play smart and create turnovers. He (Lovie Smith) wanted to get more guys on the field like that, and I think that's where Tavierre (Thomas) came in. We got another tough guy that's willing to go and create turnovers, so making that move to corner, it added more value to our players on the team, that we can move around and play different positions. Like I said, I think I handled that position well."
What kind of culture will the new draft picks be walking into? What do you expect from the players that are going to come in?
"The culture that we want to build here right now is come in here, do your job, be willing to play and play hard and win. You've got to want to win. I think that's of course Lovie (Smith)'s No. 1 rule, you've got to want to win. When you get here, just be prepared, love football and just come win."
What do you think went wrong for the team last season?
"It's really nothing that I could honestly pick out. It showed from the record. That's what I say. It was the record that showed. Just me being on the field with those guys, it felt different. I felt like that shouldn't have been our record because we went out there each and every day and competed. I just felt like our record didn't show what our capability was. That's why I said I feel like we have something special going into this year."
What type of players do you want to see coming into the locker room from the draft?
"For me, I just want to see guys come in here hungry. Those are the types of guys I want around me. Guys that want to go out there and compete against each other, hungry, and be willing to win. That's the No. 1 rule of playing this game, you've got to want to win. That's all I know."
Through last season, how did you maintain your desire to win and what did you learn about what that means to this team?
"Me personally, it's just what I was raised off of. I've been through a lot. That's just adversity. That's knowing how to fight through adversity and be resilient because you're going to be down. You just can't want that for yourself. Myself, I just felt like I've got to go out there and if I want to win and I want to lead the right way, I've got to do it myself first instead of trying to make someone else do it. You've got to show it yourself first, and then I think guys will take notice and do it."
DB TAVIERRE THOMAS
What does it mean to have the camaraderie that the defense has and the chance to build off of what you guys did last season?
"It's great to be back with a lot of the guys. This is the first year that I will be playing with the same defensive staff, defensive coordinator. Now, he's the head coach. It's a blessing just to not have to go through that situation again with changing everything around me. I've always had to continue to grind and learn new playbooks and now I'm coming back to the same playbook with some of the same guys. It's a blessing."
How much will you pay attention to the draft this weekend?
"I really don't pay attention to that type of stuff. I just keep my head down, continue to work and whoever I'm with I'm just going to ball out and lead by example on the field."
What are you seeing from the secondary going into the same system this year?
"Most of us, we're always together outside of the football field. We know each other more. A lot of us, we are on the game, out at each other's house, with each other's family, so we are learning about each other. We know what a person can do and what a person can't do, and we always have each other's back. We'll continue going down that route. We'll continue to get better on the field if we get better off the field.
What are some of your own personal goals to take your game to the next level?
"Just getting the ball more. I have a lot of tackles and what not, but personally I just want to get the ball more. Start punching the ball out more. That's going to be my focus, getting the ball. So, if I get the ball and get the ball back to Davis (Mills), everyone knows what he is capable of. As long as we get him the ball, then we can score points."
How important is it to have the same players back in the same system?
"That's very important because we know what Lovie Smith wants and if we continue to do that on the practice field, no matter who we bring in with the draft or what new guys we got coming here, they are going to know that's what he wants. As long as we continue to do it on the field and off the field, we just have to continue to keep doing what he wants. That's what we are going to continue to preach and do on the field. Everyone else is going to continue to buy into it. If you aren't going to try to take the ball, I know Lovie isn't going to want you around."
Lovie Smith says that they want tough, smart, physical corners. What does that mean and how does play out in what you try to do defensively?
"We play a lot of cover two so if you're not tough and don't want to tackle, he (Lovie Smith) isn't going to want to play you anyways. You got to want to be out there and want to win. Like Des (Desmond King II) said, you have to want to win. If you are not a tough guy and not smart, that's not in the winning recipe. If you just continue to do the things that he's (Lovie Smith) telling us because he's been doing it for years and years, so that's what I bought into. There's nothing Lovie can tell me on the field or off the field that I'm not going to listen to. I feel like if everyone bought into how Lovie wants us, then we are going to win a lot of football games because he showed it multiple years that's what he does."
How does the potential addition of a defensive back add to the competition? How would you guys react to that?
"I'll go in thinking there is competition every day with all the guys. Whoever they bring in, like I said, I'm going to keep my head down, play how I play and listen to Lovie Smith. The sky is the limit."