HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"Even though it's been over a week since we all lived through the tragedy, the massacre, whatever words you want to use, of innocent children down in Uvalde, whether it be a church, a grocery store, or a school, just seems like some places should be safe havens for us. Whether it be young White children from Sandy Hook, older Black grocers in Buffalo, or young Brown people, children, just seems like something has to be done. I don't have all the answers to what needs to be done but maybe it's just bringing awareness to gun violence. I'm not trying to make a political statement on what side of the fence, you know, we should be on but we should all be on the same side of safety for our young people. That definitely should be something that we concentrate on.
Our football team, a bunch of young men, wanted to make some type of statement. They got together, asked can you do in tough times like this? You can try to make people's lives a little bit better. Our football team got together, led by them, and raised over $200,000 to try to help the people, the community. We'll be giving that to the Robb School Memorial Fund down in Uvalde. Our organization, led by Cal and Hannah (McNair) will match that. So, we'll be donating $400,000 to the community of Uvalde. Again, money can only do so much. But as much as anything, we're going to bring awareness to gun violence. You see a lot of us in orange t-shirts today. I think back in like 2013, Hadiya Pendleton was killed south side of Chicago, and her friends, young people wanted to do something to bring awareness to that. So they started the Wear Orange foundation to bring awareness to it. For people that are hunters, orange is supposedly a color that says safety. So, we could talk an awful lot about it. Our country, we found a way to live with COVID. There's a lot of smart people here. Seemed like we should be able to find a way to deal with gun violence, also.
Football-wise, you know, we love what we do. It's a great country where we get a chance to do it. Our football team getting better. For the most part, we've had most of our guys here. I think the NFL season is about 99 days away. It's coming up on us. As you can see, there's great work being done. I made the statement, starting positions aren't given in the spring, but you could start getting in the front of line in the spring when you show up each day and we can start forming opinions. And before you know it as I told the team today, also, the coach practiced today, also. Sod we're not only doing one practice so we will continue to do it."
What have you seen from DL Jerry Hughes as a veteran pass rusher?
"Well, a veteran rusher but a veteran player that's done it the right way all his career. I remember when he came out of college at TCU, and he's played at a high level. To play at a high level, you have to take care of your body. You have to be a pro. These are all voluntary days and he's out here leading. You can't tell that he's not a rookie trying to make his first team, and we need that in our program, veteran leadership like that."
You added a defensive line coach and multiple defensive linemen that previously spent time in Buffalo. What do you appreciate about their defensive scheme?
"First off, there's a group. There are 3-4 teams, there are 4-3 teams and there are some that come up in our family of defense. Jacques Cesaire was one as a coach and Mario Addison, we signed him when I was up north with a former team, the Bears, over ten years ago. So, we know what they bring to the table. And they know what we are trying to accomplish down here, too. Some guys like to play in this system and we think they can help us as much as anything. You can never have too many good defensive linemen. We'll continue, if there's good defensive linemen out there, we'll continue to bring them in and look at them."
What have you seen from OL Charlie Heck and his growth from last year to this year?
"Progress. Charlie, you know, we're going to have two starting offensive tackles, but you need a lot more. We like our tackle position. There's depth there. Eventually, you know, (Laremy) Tunsil will be in and Tytus Howard has done an excellent job. But you need more than them, we want to be two-deep the every position on our football team. That's what we are trying to get accomplished and I think we are headed down that direction."
What have you seen from RB Marlon Mack?
"When we look at players, some people are like, let me see the bad plays. I like to see the good plays. When we are coaching up a guy, let's see his best and Marlon has been a productive player in the league and we look at his best years he's had. Sometimes you need a change, change of scenery, a new team. I know he's fit in well with our group. We feel like we have a plan for him and we like the running back position, not just him."
What did you see in newly acquired DB Fabian Moreau?
"Six feet (tall) corners, that like to tackle, that can jump, run, catch all that. We love. We have a place for them, too. Fabian has played well. High pick for the (Commanders). Played well. Started every game with the Falcons last year. Again, we weren't pleased with how we played at the corner position, so we'll continue to look at guys there. But we like our group. Steven Nelson has done some good things. We know Derek Stingley is going to play for us this year and will be a great player for us, so that position is getting a lot better."
You as a defensive coach, having not played defensively as well as you wanted to, how much better do you feel about what you have now?
"No position group on our team played as well as we needed to last year, but we feel like we have improved every position on our football team. We've talked about the secondary. We like what the safeties are doing. We like our linebacker group. There's a depth there. The guys have played a lot of football. We'll be a better ball club this year. We'll for sure be a better defensive team, also."
What are the benchmarks that WR John Metchie III needs to hit in terms of his recovery?
"We'll just keep getting him a little better each day and eventually he'll be ready to go and we'll put them out there then. Close enough."
What would you like him to do in the meantime?
"Not trying to run away from your question, but it's pretty much that. He's getting better every day, right? He's staying in the again mentally and that's what we are asking all of our injured players to do, stay in the game mentally. Jonathan Greenard has not taken a live team rep yet. So, we have injured guys but they are right on track to eventually be out there by training camp and that's when it really counts."
What have you seen from LB Garret Wallow?
"We've seen him get better. Garret is one of players that hasn't missed a day, I think since we drafted him. Every day we practice, Garret Wallow has been out there. So, if you do that and you have ability, he's a football guy. We'll find a place for him. And we have quite a few players that way. I keep track. Even though it's voluntary, we keep track every day of who shows up. And there's something about some players have never - every day this building has been open, they have been here. That says an awful lot. He's one of them."
Does attendance at these workouts play a factor in finding a role on special teams?
"I think it plays a big role of availability, being seen, getting reps every day. Eventually, it doesn't matter how long you're here, you have to perform. But the way to perform and to get an opportunity is to show up each day."
You said players got together to pool funds for a donation towards Uvalde relief efforts. What does that say about the group of players you have?
"Well, it said exactly what we know on the inside. We have real quality men that pay attention. I want our team to be involved in what's happening in our world, in our country. That's the way they show it. You know, seemed like some of us older people can't get some things done but seemed like the young generation, you know, they can. They are about action and our team did that. Guys, a lot of our players, they are parents, grandparents. So, it means something to us. But that's what we expected and for them to follow through that way says a lot."
What is it you're looking at from the wide receivers at this time?
"That's pretty much what we are looking for is just individual improvement. Some of the guy, Brandin Cooks, we kind of know who he is and what kind of player and what he's going to do for us. But there's so many other guys that we don't know, and then again, we're a new coaching staff. So, it's just us all getting on the same page. Offensively we have a new offensive coordinator. So, there's a lot of different things we're going through and we're getting to know each other. The way you get to know someone, I've been married 42 years and you know, time together helps an awful lot. Same way with guys showing up each day, time together, that's helped us an awful lot, evaluate, to figure out exactly who we put on the field."
Is there an aspect of the team that's surprised you?
"No, because I knew that our guys would come to work every day. I knew that they would take coaching. I knew we had good football players and I knew they were going to be excited about going through the process. There's no miracle pill. We can't skip a step or anything like that. So that's what we're going to do."
RB REX BURKHEAD
What do you think about what you and our teammates have done as far as raising funds to donate to relief efforts in Uvalde?
"You know, it's been a pleasure to be a part of. Just seeing the generosity of my teammates, not only my teammates, but the McNairs, the coaching staff, everyone doing whatever we can to help out the community in Uvalde. There's a lot of people hurting there. We have one staff member, (Texans Director of Player Care and Sports Medicine) Roland Ramirez, who this is really close to home for him. He went to that elementary school, he's from that town and knows some of the people affected by the tragedy. So, we're just doing this and showing our support and doing whatever we can to help those families there."
Lovie mentioned that this effort began with the players. How did you hear about it? What was your perception of how this originated?
"Yeah, a bunch of guys had been talking in the locker room and wanted to reach out. That's what's great about this organization, is there's so many caring people, people wanting to do good and what's best for this world. We reached out to (Texans Director of Team Development) Dylan Thompson, and of course Coach Lovie, to see what we can do. We know the funds and donations are going to go where they should be and used in the correct way."
What's it say about the character of the guys in this locker room that you guys as a group can push football aside temporarily and make this happen?
"Yeah, it's huge. We've got a lot of great guys on this team, a lot of veteran leadership and also a lot of young guys who also were very involved in the whole thing and wanting to help out. When you have those leaders that have been around a while, wanting to impact not only what they do on the field but off the field, as well, it helps kind of pave the way and show these young guys there's more to it than just football, and there's things you can do off the field to really give back to the community when those opportunities come."
What have you seen from RB Marlon Mack?
"Marlon is a hard worker, great guy, pleasure to be playing with him. I've watched him from another team the past few years, and so it's great to have him back there. He comes out, works hard, doesn't say much, gets the job done in the meeting room and out on the field."
What's been your impression of rookie RB Dameon Pierce?
"Yeah, a lot of energy, a lot of energy. You know, rookie coming in. He finishes plays. He's trying to learn as much as he can as quickly as possible, and that's what you've got to do as a rookie. You've got to learn it quick but also don't let it get all jumbled in your mind when you get out there on the field.
Every day he seems more confident, he's moving quicker, and the game is starting to slow down."
How would you describe the challenges of making that transition from college to pros?
"Yeah, there's a lot of big things. For me personally it was pass protection. College you have one or two pass protections and that's really it. You get to the NFL level and you've got multiple, you've got a ton.
And so he's doing a good job picking that up, picking off myself and some of the other veterans in the backfield to learn as quick as possible."
Can you tell the difference with Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton leading the offense versus the previous offense here? Is that something you've been able to notice so far?
"Yeah, you know, I don't want to give too many comparisons, but Pep has done a tremendous job so far making sure we're taking it day by day. With the new things he puts in the offense every single day, make sure we're really honed in on that day and we get it done. We're taking steps backwards, we're taking steps forward. Any new progression that we get to the next day, he wants to take advantage of it while we're out here on the field, and I think Davis (Mills) has done a great job making sure we're all in the right place. He's so comfortable this year in the spring and really with the playbook. It's kind of amazing. He knows where guys are lined up. Even myself coming out there, a new play, and he's like, you're right here, you've got this. I'm like, all right, that's pretty awesome for a second-year quarterback. Yeah, it's been a joy seeing him grow every single day especially in his leadership."
Without making comparisons, what do you like about the offense by itself?
"Very multiple, do a lot of different things. It's not just a one-track offense. It's been fun. He (Hamilton) knows how to use his guys and whatever skill sets they have, put them in the right positions to succeed.
Last week Lovie said there was about 95 percent of players on the roster were here for voluntary OTAs. What does that say about the core and what they're trying to do regardless of age or experience and what they're trying to learn in this new system?
"Yeah, it's huge. We want to take a step forward and we want to continue to get better. It shows great veteran leadership and guys wanting to compete and improve. We were a four-win team last year. We don't want to do that again. We want to continue to strive for greatness, and by being here every single day, coming together as a team, knowing your teammates, I think that's a big part of the whole thing because when you have those tough days, you get into training camp, that's what kind of carries you along, holding each other accountable, having that relationship with each other to keep pushing forward."
As a veteran, do you see anybody standing out in the practices so far?
"Yeah, I can't single out one guy. There's multiple guys doing well, guys who have taken steps forward and really detail oriented. I hate to say one person, but Pharaoh Brown, he's done a really good job, he really has. He's impressed me not only physically what he's done on the field, but mentally as well, just his day-by-day focus, attention to detail, and being ready to compete."
What are your goals and motivations at this point of your career as a guy that's been around for as long as you have? Do you still set goals and expectations for yourself?
"I do, absolutely. None individually that I would like to share, but as a team I want to help this team continue to grow, continue to get better. And being a veteran guy, I guess, a couple guys, rookies in the locker room, they're like, yeah, I grew up playing with you in Madden and stuff. I'm like, oh, gosh, don't tell me that. But it's just a cool place to be in because you can mentor those guys, bring them along, while continuing to get better. And myself and my details, especially with the new offense, picking it up and relaying that information to those guys."
Who has used you most in Madden out of your teammates?
"Oh, I can't give it away. But Dameon (Pierce) did say it the first day when he came in the first day."
LB CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY
"First and foremost, we send our condolences to the families, and also just want to just make sure that the world knows, and especially our fellow Texans know, that we're all in and we're able to help.
We're not just football players, we're role models, so we take our responsibility to make sure we extend a helping hand, and that's something that we want to make sure everybody knows, that it's important to us. We have a fellow staff member (Texans Director of Player Care and Sports Medicine) Roland (Ramirez) who is close to a bunch of people that are there. That's his hometown. So, it definitely hit home for us, too, just when one of our staff, that his family has to go through such a tragedy. I think it's unbelievable to know that stuff like this is still happening in 2022. We just want to do our part to be leaders in this community."
What are you noticing from the defense?
"You know, practice has been going well. One, we drafted really well. Those young guys, they're plugging in there. They're learning the defense fast. Older guys that came back, the veteran guys, anytime you have a second year of learning the defense, you feel more and more comfortable. So, guys are out there making plays, and we feel very good about the guys that we have on this defense. We're just flying around, guys playing different positions, guys learning different positions, and that will be good for us to mix and match different players and put the best 11 out on the field. This OTA has been going great. Lovie has been extremely well. Even though he's the head coach he's still down there on defense taking charge. We're progressing and we're definitely improving and we're excited to finish year two in this defense."
How do you go about building those relationships with those young players that you drafted, building those relationships and helping mentor them?
"Yeah, this is a brotherhood. We're a family. When we draft guys, we expect guys to play. We know this game of football has a lot to do with next man available because things happen and injuries, so we want to make sure these guys are prepared, so we bring them in, take them under our wing. We were all rookies once before, and I had a lot of vets and a lot of older guys that showed me the way, so we want to give that same knowledge and experience to the younger guys, whether it's on the field or off the field, teach them how to be a pro, what to expect. You want to make it as easy as possible for a transition for them. You've just got to get to know them, know where they're from, know their life experiences and just make them comfortable and make them feel welcome.
It's obviously an unbelievably tragic thing, but what was your reaction to Uvalde? You obviously had the connection with your trainer, but what was the genesis to really try to make an impact?
"You know, when I first heard the news, I was devastated by hearing that it's children. I'm a parent myself, and I can't imagine taking my child to school where they're supposed to be safe, that's the safest place they can be, and you get a phone call from a principal or a police officer saying that there's a shooting in the school. My heart just goes out to those families, to those parents. No words can help the parents. I know we're giving money and giving things and giving our support, but at the end of the day they're still hurting. It's going to take a while for them to get back to their regular life routines because their life has changed forever. They don't have their children anymore. Like I said, I'm a parent myself, and I can't imagine going through that and having to live with that the rest of my life. I was definitely hurt by hearing that, and it's in Texas, and that's right down the road. Just one of those things where it's like, we've got to keep God and we've got to keep praying and pray for the families' mind, however way we can giving them comfort and peace in this time. That's what we're here for. It just goes to show you, gun (awareness) is real important. It's a responsibility that comes with having guns. I think we've somehow got to find a way to get guns in responsible people's hands and not let guns get into the hands of the wrong people that don't need it and use it for the wrong things. Guns are meant to be for protection. I think people are out there using it wrong. However it is to find a way to limit that, we need to find that. But it's definitely a tragic happening, and my prayers just goes out to those families.
What does Garret Wallow bring to the locker room? What can you say about his maturity?
"I mean, he's only a year two, but he seems like he's been in the league for five, six years. He's very smart. He picks up the game fast. He plays fast. He can play any linebacker position on the field, whether it's Mike, Will or Sam. He can plug himself in and be of impact on this defense, so I'm very proud to see where he's came. I thought he had an extremely good rookie year, came in there and made plays when his number was called, and this year he's definitely taking those strides. He's definitely working. He showed me some of his off-season routines and workouts that he was doing, and just say that he was working his butt off, so I can't wait to see what's in store for him this season."
Lovie also said that the younger generation of players that are willing to take action off the field. What does that say about the maturity of this roster?
"Oh, you know, guys are not about just talking about it, they're actually doing it and showing that we care. I believe that as a player group, we came together with $200,000, and the McNair family, the organization, they were generous enough to match that donation, so in total $400,000, and that can definitely help the situation, but it doesn't shy away from the families' feelings. Like I said before, money and all that, it definitely helps for short-term, but long-term, I just can't imagine what those parents are going through and the children that was at the school and things like that. It's almost like what do you do to help. Like I said, it's a very sad moment. I can't imagine it. But we're doing everything we can in our power to show them that we care. It's going to take a while for them to, like I said, get back to just normal living. It's tough; their life is going to be changed forever. We've just got to stay with them and keep them in our prayers."
How special is it to wear that orange shirt? You see that shirt all over the place down here.
"Yeah, it's special. One thing, this Friday, we're going to all wear these orange shirts, just because, like I said, it's our responsibility to not just come out here and be on camera to play the game of football but be role models and be leaders, and when our voices can be heard, we're willing to show it, and we want to bring all the awareness to people that gun (violence) is a serious thing. Right now, gun (violence) is really affecting our nation, and we need to figure out how to stop the gun violence. Like I said, I don't want to take away people's rights from having guns, but you've got to be responsible. You've got to be responsible, and it has to be in the right people's hands."
On the football side of things, there's another Christian in the linebacker room. What are your early impressions of Christian Harris?
"Man, he's quiet. He doesn't say too much which is good because he's a sponge. He's soaking up all the knowledge he can and the kid is fast. He's athletic. Obviously coming from a great program in Alabama, I know that Nick Saban polished him well and got him ready to go, but I've seen flashes of him being able to go out there and contribute. Now, you don't see that all the time in a rookie, but he's picking it up fast, and I'm happy that he's here. Also, that's the third Christian; it's myself, him, and then my son, Christian Jr. So, there's a bunch of Christians all over the place, which is cool."
DL JERRY HUGHES
How special is it to wear that shirt and take part in what you guys are doing for Uvalde?
"It's very special. Not only the organization but my teammates as well to come out and to support a huge cause. You know, last week, 21 people lost their lives in a tragic event, and for us to come together as a team to kind of voice our concern but also want to be a part of what this orange shirt means and how we can do our part in the community around Texas, just to kind of make life better for everyone. So it was great that we had an open forum with Coach Smith. He led the topic in our team meeting and it was great for everyone to come together and figure out what we were going to do so we can come out and help those people, help that community because it was very tragic and very sad to see everything displayed for the Uvalde community as well as for the parents and family members."
What's it like to be playing this close to home and be back where it started?
"Oh, man, it feels great, honestly. I was telling my wife this last night, I feel like I'm back in high school, just to be back in the city driving around. We used to play high school games at the Astrodome. Very familiar with coming out this way and things like that. Just being part of this warm environment, football city, where everyone is looking for the Texans, even though it's baseball season, everybody still wants to know what we are going to do and how the team is looking. I get that just by through walking through H-E-B and things like that. It's been real cool, just being close to family, high school buddies, college coaches, things like that. Not being so far or being in a different time zone, it's been real relaxing for me being closer to family honestly."
Where do you see your game at this stage of your career and having this much productivity?
"Bring that sharp mentality to this team. We have got a very young defensive line, so myself as well as Mario Addison, we try to emphasize having that alpha-male mentality up front. We dictate what the offense is going to do, not really settling for just being in our gaps. We want to be able to go out there and make plays, be around the ball, causing turnovers. We understand the importance of the ball. Coach Smith talks about it every day during team meetings, so for us just being that game-changer, being that force on the field, I feel like that's something my game has been about my whole 12 years throughout the league. So just trying to show those guys that we can be a difference-maker on every down, really. If the offense is out there and we have four guys on the field, let's just go out there and let's hunt."
What can experienced veterans like yourself and Mario Addison impart to younger players?
"Just bringing that leadership mentality and also helping them understanding the whole grind of the season, how through preseason, first month of the season, you're going to get scout. How to change your game up. What little nuances to look for. How to do pre-snap reads. How to be able to take information from your coaches, data people. You know, this organization has so many people that are going to give us information. I think how to use it and play fast. I think that would be a real key point for the young guys. We have so much talent in that room, it's just getting them to understand how great they are.
What are the similarities between this scheme and Buffalo's?
"Just playing on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage is probably what's key right now and getting those guys to understand that we are not reading. We're fast, we are violent, we are up the field and we want to dictate what the offense is going to do. We are not really going to let them get settled or comfortable. I think that's been the whole main point and getting those guys to understand that by us playing fast and practicing fast, now it's just going to transition to the game so by us doing in this heat, I think it will be a payoff for us."
Being a native Texan probably played a major factor in where you wanted to finish out your career, but did Mario Addison and Jacques Cesaire play a factor in coming here?
"Absolutely. Mario signed probably about a week before me and then once I saw his news break across, I was watching one of the local channels here, just seeing his name, it threw me off. I gave him a call and he was talking scheme. I'm a big football guy. I love to hear the scheme and as far as what he was saying about Lovie was talking about, about how we get to play fast, we are not thinking, we're reading keys, getting off the ball, that's something that I wanted to be a part of. Then being home, being able to do that from home and still be a part of my kid's life where I can take them to the swim team practice and things like that, that's just like icing on the cake right now. So, I'm just having a great time.
Coming from Buffalo and watching that community go through the tragedy they recently experienced, what was it like seeing something similar happen here in Texas?
"Yeah, I mean, you know, it's tragic that we still have to deal with kind of gun issues. We have to still deal with people being reckless and not really thinking and being compassionate for others and things like that. I think for us as Americans, we've just got to really force our law makers to kind of come up with a decision where it comes back to what they signed up for, what their job detail is, is to serve and protect us. I believe that's why they got voted into office. That's why they are there doing their job. We just have to hold them accountable more. I don't have the answers as far as what that could be but I'm sure we've got 50 people who they are paid for a reason. I feel like if they can come together and put their differences aside and just focus on the kids; kids who are losing their lives at play grounds, losing their lives at schools due to guns, it shouldn't be that way. I think we should all be able to let our kids go outside and have fun and not worry about things like that. Going to school, I don't think you should have to shop around for a bulletproof backpack, I think this that's just ridiculous. So if there's any kind of answers or any kind of sovereigns that we can get from this, it's just that we need a change and we need a change fast."
Lovie said that this team has shown, more so the younger generation, has shown that they are willing to act and not wait for things to change. What does that say about the maturity of the roster and do everything they did and to dough mate the $200,000?
"I like it just because the younger generation doesn't mind asking questions. They do their research, their homework. They know who the policy and lawmakers are and what their jobs detail. For us to go out and raise $200,000, for the McNairs to match that offer and for us to find an organization in Uvalde that's actually working with the community, I'm talking like principals, mayors, superintendent who are heading up the Robb School Memorial Fund down there, who are putting everything together and for us to give that money to them so that way it goes directly to those families, directly to that community, doesn't get lost in the shuffle, I think that's huge. That's really great for our younger generation and it just shows you the direction in which our country going where people don't mind doing the research and putting in the extra time to get the right answers and make sure everything is right and justified. I think that's perfect.