HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"We've gone through a lot, all season, training camp. Then you get down to the last practice before the guys throughout the league have three days off. In my time in sports, a lot of times this hasn't been our best practice, where guys are one foot in the car, thinking about the weekend. Complete opposite today. Maybe our best practice we've had. It was a grind. It was hard and padded and they've done the way they've done throughout everything we've asked them to do. We feel like we're in pretty good shape, got a few bumps and bruises. You have an idea of what our roster is going to look like right now. A lot has been said about the 53-man roster, but it's really about the 69-person roster. That's what we were trying to do, whatever we were trying to do to get those 69 guys together. Some of our guys are vested, we ask them to come in a little bit different way, whether it's practice squad or whatever. We're choosing for the Indianapolis game, from that entire group and we like what we're choosing from."
Can you talk about DL Kurt Hinish, the undrafted free agent?
"Everybody loves an underdog. He earned this spot. I knew a little bit about him before he got here. We told the guys early on, you come in first round, free agent, we're going to put you all together in drills. Show us, make us put you on this roster and that's what Kurt (Hinish) did. He worked hard in practices and when we got to games, he showed up then too, definitely showed out. I'm excited for him, Jake Hansen, Troy (Hairston). Whenever you see an undrafted player that makes the roster, it's pretty special."
Are you afraid about throwing the ball to FB Troy Hairston?
"We're not afraid at all. He's a good athlete. Being a linebacker, D-lineman, whatever you want to call him, but what we saw is that he's a knee-bender. He's an athlete. He'll hit. He's physical. He's tough, then he can catch. In practice we've seen him do that. It's just not if he's out there in the fullback position, out there in that group, that he can only do this. He's a pretty versatile guy that can do a few different things."
What went into the decision to keep eight linebackers on the active roster?
"You try to keep the players that you think can play and you can work different ways, when you say the active roster. Keep in mind, I think we need to start looking past the active, 69 could be active. When we choose from that, 48 will dress. That's what went into it. We kept letting guys play and they told us they should be on the roster."
What were the ultimate factors when it came to building your running back room?
"First, as we came in was our one running back. That's what we wanted to sort out. Who's going to be our lead? From there, if the lead goes down, guy with a similar skill set. You need a third-down guy that's maybe a little bit better with protection. Most third running backs, you like them to play a little bit of special teams too. All these things we felt like going in, we had a group where a lot of guys had highlights to their game that we thought would fit eventually. That's how we went with that group."
What have you seen from LB Jake Hansen from his college days when you first met him to now?
"When you have a history with somebody, it's my first year, of course, being a head football coach here. For some of the guys that don't know, I've been with Jake (Hansen), knowing him and seeing him play for four years. If he hadn't gotten hurt one year at Illinois, I think he would have set the record for the defender taking the ball away. We understand what we are trying to get accomplished defensively. I like some of the plays he's made. He's like Kurt (Hinish) and other guys, told us he needs to be around."
After addressing the tight end position during training camp, do you feel confident in the personnel you have now?
"I think you all talked to Nick (Caserio) yesterday. As a general rule, we never stop looking to upgrade our roster, tight end position, all positions. I can understand we've had a few injuries. That's the one position (tight end) that injuries have taken a toll a little bit. We still like the people that we have right now and we're going to dress at least three guys on game day. We'll feel good about the three that we dress."
Can you talk about claiming WR Tyler Johnson off of waivers?
"Waiver wire, when it comes out, we look at all of our players and as you go through the process, through the draft, you see a lot of guys. You can't get them all. Tyler is a player that we like for a period of time and he was available. We continue to look to upgrade the roster, it made sense. Excited about him coming here"
Does it not worry you that WR Tyler Johnson didn't make the Buccaneers team because he didn't play special teams?
"It does. In an ideal world, we'd like for at least one of our positions, as you look at our receivers now. If we dress four, at least one needs to play special teams. We can find a spot for a guy that's an excellent receiver."
Are you planning on keeping three running backs for Week 1 or are you looking to add more?
"Those are flexible numbers. I'd say at least three. You look at what we did last year, I think we had three-plus every game and I don't see that changing much."
What lead to the decision to reunite with TE Jordan Akins?
"Sometimes you go your separate ways and if we get a chance to work together again, we'd like that. That's the case with Jordan (Akins). We talked about the tight end position and where we are with it. He was available and it made sense to us. It made sense to him too. Again, we're always try to improve, and we thought he'd been a good fit for us. We're excited about him being back."
Is TE Pharaoh Brown coming along with his injury?
"Yes. All of our players, the ones that missed time, for the most part, most of them are pretty much back. Absolutely, he's getting better."
Going into 2022, what are your expectations for this team?
"I understand most head coaches are going to say the same thing right now. I like ours. Every step along the way, we've evaluated in detail. We've liked a lot of the things we've seen. I know we need to get to the game and play it, but I like where we are right now. We'll be able to tell in a little over a week exactly where we are, but we feel like we've improved over last year's team. That's what we wanted to do, start with that. I know we've done that."
Will OL Kenyon Green see reps on first team offense?
"I can say that Kenyon Green will play for us quickly this year."
How close is LB Christian Harris to being ready to play?
"He's not as close. Hamstrings can be tricky. He's making a lot of progress but he's not there yet."
When did you first see that RB Dameon Pierce was a special player?
"I think it's a lot of all the things you've said, off the field first off. He comes into the room, you start talking to him, he's got a little confidence. Then, he went to the field, special teams, what do I need to do coach, everyday. He loves football. I did know a little bit about some of his highlights before, run the football. Thought he would meet our personality that we'd like to be and that's what we've seen. Then he starts playing in games and we've seen every step along the way. We've seen the same thing from him. We're excited about him being on the team and that running back room is a lot stronger with him in it."
How difficult was it to cut down that linebacker room?
"With the amount we have on our roster right now, you can see it was tough because everyone that stayed we've seen them do good things and feel like we can win with all of them. That was tough, but in an ideal world, you want every decision to be a hard one based on guys doing something that you've liked. I'm going to say that for most of our positions, it came down to that. I think we had one of our players, Max (Scharping), that was picked once up by someone else (Cincinnati). He's a good football player. We talk about our roster and we're feeling like we had great competition throughout. I think the numbers say that."
What was the conversation like with DL Derek Rivers after his great preseason?
"It's tough but you know Derek (Rivers) has been around awhile and the injuries are a part of it, but you look at what he did in the preseason. We're talking about him right now because he showed out. He made plays. It's not like he had a career-ending injury. Eventually, you'll see him off the edge, making plays again."
Do you have a timetable for DL Derek Rivers right now?
"Not that I know, that I can tell you at least. Later on, we'll get a little closer. Right now, he's out. Unfortunately, he won't be able to play right away."
FB TROY HAIRSTON
How did it feel to learn that you had made this team?
"Making the team was a blessing. Probably the first person I called was my dad. They really don't tell you when you make the team, so I waited a good amount of that day. I ended up calling my dad at like 5 o'clock and let him know that I'm good. I'm cool. I'm here. It was a very emotional time for him. He was a little teary-eyed, a lot of pride. It was a blessing. There's no place I'd rather be."
Did you have a feeling of which teams liked you through college and the draft process?
"To be honest, I didn't really have any clue where or who really liked me or didn't. I was just going through the process and just trying to achieve my dreams. I wasn't really aware of everybody. I just kind of did my best and worked hard and grinded like I know how to do. Just kind of let the process put itself in place."
What kind of mindset did you need to have going from the defensive side to the offensive side of the ball?
"It's a grind mentality. It's a tough mentality. For me, I know I'm willing to do anything to play this game and play as long as I can. It's really a tough mentality of how much you really want it. It's what you're willing to do to win and what you're willing to do for your team. It's a physical position but the dude behind me needs it. The dude with the ball, needs it. Whatever I've got to do to make sure he can gain as many yards as he can."
How emotional did you get when you found out you had made the team?
"It was emotional, but for me, I don't think it really clicked in. I don't think I really realized what I've done. For me, it's football. It's work for me. My mentality was more like, I just can't wait to get right back to work, get back with my boys and grind, get ready to win some games. It's still slowly setting in because a lot of times, I have to pinch myself to realize where I'm at. Sometimes, it doesn't feel real. I'm just taking it day-by-day and moving forwards."
Did you talk to your teammates after not getting a call and realizing you made the team?
"To be honest, I called a couple of the rookies to see what's up. 'You good? How are you doing?'. We're all like, 'We're good. We made it. We're here.' Now, it's time to turn it up. That doesn't mean just because we're here that we start to be okay or be comfortable with where we're at. That means we've got to turn it up more. Just because you're here doesn't mean you're here forever."
Did you have a plan over the last couple of days?
"I didn't have a plan to be honest with you. Whatever decision that coach made, I was okay with it because I felt like I told my story the way I play football. You want to know who I am? Just watch me play ball. I didn't really have a plan and I was proud of myself regardless of all I've done through this preseason, the hard work I've put in and what I've done to help my team. Wasn't really a plan, I was just blessed to be here and just really appreciative and thankful."
Was your dad emotional over FaceTime or a phone call?
"I wasn't FaceTiming him. He has an Android. I'm trying to get him caught up. It is what it is. I've been trying to get him, so maybe he'll change now. You could hear it in his voice. My dad is not a super emotional dude, but you could hear that's what he wanted from me. That's what he wanted. I can imagine what it's like to see your son go through this process and hear him come out the way that I've come out. I hope I get to experience that one day. I know that it was a proud moment for him, and I hope I can experience something like that one day."
When they approached you about switching to fullback, what was your reaction to that? Was it a surprise to you?
"It wasn't really a surprise. It was something I was aware of. Whatever I had to do to get where I need to go, I was willing to do. When they approached me, that was almost my mentality or expectation, that it was going to be brought up. When it happened, I just told myself it's go time. You're getting a shot."
HC Lovie Smith said that his favorite play from the preseason was when you were blocking for RB Dameon Pierce. Does that offer you any affirmation?
"He said that was his favorite play? Really? The defensive guy? I think that's dope. I think that's super cool. I'm speechless, I didn't know that. I personally thought it was one of the coolest things, to block for Dameon Pierce and to turn around and see him going tough-nosed football, just run nine yards, eight yards, and run somebody over. I thought that was the coolest thing, that I got to lead block for him. Keep going up and around, and he's still running down the field. I'm honored. I didn't know that. That's awesome."
What were the biggest things you had to change going from offense to defense?
"Two things. One, under control. I have to be under control a lot more on the offense. Second thing is extension. On defense you want to get extension, especially playing D-End on the college level. I have to get extension, set blocks. Get off the block I don't want that guy getting close. Where as fullback, you want him in close because that guy can get around you and make the play. You have to be under control, hold him in, get close, and make sure you drive your feet. It's different making contact."
DL KURT HINISH
What was it like when you realized you made the team?
"It was a great feeling. Everything I worked for and the hours I put in on the field during training camp and OTAs, it all kind of came to fruition. It was a great feeling but it's just the start."
What is it like to be part of this rookie class that looks to be a big part of the Texans future?
"I'm just ready to just help out this team anyway that I can and go to the Super Bowl. Hopefully it's what we all have hopes for. I'm really excited."
Did FB Troy Hairston call you yesterday after you made the team?
"Troy (Hairston) didn't call me, no. I actually saw him though. They said final cuts were made at 3 o'clock and I was in the lobby at 3:15. I saw Troy and he saw me, and we both just smiled and gave each other a big hug. We both knew we were both undrafted dudes and we both made it, so we were just happy. It was a cool moment."
How much did the veteran presence on the defensive line help you out this preseason?
"Like I said in an interview the other day, I attribute most of my success to them. The way they've pushed me, the way they've helped me out is nothing that I have ever seen before, and it's incredible the way they have taken me under their wing, supported me and not only that but believed in me. Coming in as an undrafted guy everyone kind of thinks this is going to be a camp body, they took me under their wing, they believed in me, they believed that I could make this team and make this team better."
From being an undrafted guy to making this roster, is it about just having pride within yourself?
"Still to myself, I'm still an undrafted free agent. I'm still making this team every single day. I don't show up to the facility thinking just because I made the 53 I can relax. I'm here to work every single day. I've got to earn my spot here everyday, just like everyone else here."
How do you think your consistency and time at Notre Dame helped you through this process and what really drives you?
"Like I said the other day, my coaches and everyone else really helped me prepare for this opportunity. I know I'm undersized for my position but I'm going to show up and punch you in the face every single snap from start to finish. That's the way I am, that's the way I've always been and how I'm going to be."
With your mindset, how do you and the coaches approach that and how can it be used in the defense?
"Just manning the middle. We always joke around and call it the jungle. If you're going to be in the jungle, you've got to be a bad dude. You've got to show up and bring it every single snap. Every snap could be your last and you've got to treat it as such."
What was it like waking up on cut day? Were you confident?
"I was nervous because you never know. Stuff happens. You could be cut and picked up to another team. My biggest worry was that I was going to get cut and go to another team and not be with these guys because my coach (Jacques Cesaire) has been one of the best coaches I've ever been around. And the way he's developed my game, specifically in the pass rush and being relentless, has been second to none. He's incredible. I was taking to my dad and was like 'If I get cut and get picked up somewhere else, I'll be more upset because I'm leaving the guys in this room.' The older dudes that have helped me out so much, I want to be in this environment. This is the environment I want to be in. I want to be on this team. I believe in this team. I believe in this mission. I believe in our front office. I believe in all our support staff. I believe in everything and I want to be a part of this."
Is DL Roy Lopez the blueprint for you?
"Yep, 100%. Roy (Lopez) is a bad dude. Kind of the same as me, an undersized guy. Like I said, we're going to show up, punch you in the mouth every play. That's the way we're going to do it."
What has a guy like DL Thomas Booker done to make you get better?
"Thomas Booker is a freak athlete and he works extremely hard. We push each other every single day with the rooks (rookies). Like today for example, we're giving a scout team look, every single scout team look. We go to our side of the ball, we get a chance to go on defense and we're just dog tired. But we just kind of look at each other, push each other and help each other out."
LB JAKE HANSEN
What's it like to play for HC Lovie Smith again?
"It's exciting. It's a blessing. Coach Smith is a great coach and great leader so working for him and playing for him is a dream come true for me."
How has having a lot of veterans on defense helped you out this season?
"It helped me out a ton. I didn't know what to expect coming in but all the vets have been super embracive and super supportive of everyone. So everyone wants to see each other do well and it's been good."
How is HC Lovie Smith's style different from college to the pros?
"Honestly, to me he's been pretty similar. He has a pretty similar coaching style. He's obviously softer spoken, but when guys need to step it up he'll let you know. It's just little stuff. Like in college you have guys fail a test. It's different babysitting stuff compared to college to the NFL, it's the next man up if you don't do your job."
Did he recruit you?
"He did not recruit me, no."
Did you wake up confident that you'd make the team? After you didn't get the phone call, what was the first thought?
"I didn't know. I was nervous the whole time. I don't think you can ever feel super safe depending on your contract and things like that. But especially as an undrafted guy, I don't think you ever feel safe that you're a lock for the roster. I was pretty nervous and never ended up receiving a phone call so I showed up for business the next day and can hopefully stay active for the whole year."
How much did playing in HC Lovie Smith's system at Illinois help you get ready for the NFL?
"It helped me out a ton. I didn't do anything in OTAs so being able to sit back and watch how everything works, not be thrown in the fire right away and having that knowledge of the system made that transition a lot easier. It allowed me to get a little more sleep at night. It's made that transition a lot easier for me."
How would you describe the relationship HC Lovie Smith has between the coach and player?
"His office is always open and preaches that to us. We can go in and talk to him about what we can get better at or what we did well and things like that. He's always good about having his doors open to teach and learn from him."
What does HC Lovie Smith's coaching style do for a player?
"He's one of the better defensive minds in football currently and one of the best there has been in a while. I think having someone that knows football that well and being able to learn for him every day definitely translates to the field and helps you make plays, quick reads and things like that."
It is weird to wait the entire day to hope and not get a phone call?
"It's definitely really weird. On draft day, you're praying for a phone call that might not come and you don't know. It's like the opposite, and you're praying you don't get a phone call on final cut day. It's funny how it works. I would say the opposite from what I experienced on draft day when I didn't get a phone call."
Has it hit you that you're here?
"I was able to enjoy it that night but then I woke up the next day and kept doing what I'm doing by working hard every single day."
What are the similarities between HC Lovie Smith and his son Miles Smith (Linebackers coach)?
"Coach Miles (Smith) grew up in that defense so he knows it better than anyone. He coaches us hard and he coaches as well. I had a little experience with him at Illinois so I knew what he was about and knew what he stood for so coming here was an easy decision for me as an undrafted free agent. There are similarities, they both know the system super well. They have a little bit different coaching style. He's (Miles Smith) is a little bit younger so we can relate to him. He's a great coach."
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make coming from college to the NFL?
"I would say for me, not having OTAs didn't set me back, it was something that I needed to slow down. I wanted to go make a play and show everyone I could make a play. It caused me to be a little bit all over the place. Just letting the game come to you and not try to do too much or make too many plays. I would say not letting the game come to me and not being overly anxious to go out and do everything."
What's it like being one of the rookies to make this roster and helping HC Lovie Smith get this team back on track?
"It means a lot. I feel like being able to make the 53, it shows that they have trust in me for at least right now and I'll continue to build that trust. I really appreciate the opportunities they've given me so I'm excited about the opportunity."
How much has your dad and his background in football helped you play the linebacker position?
"He's really helped me out a ton. Really it was youth and going into high school. He was a coach for me in youth football and we'd talk about things in high school. Once I got to college, it was weird getting a lot of coaching. It's very similar to the coaching you're getting at this level. He backed off a little and was more of a fan but it felt natural. I learned a lot from him going up and it was helpful."
FB Troy Hairston said he called a couple of guys after they made the team. Did you guys speak to each other?
"Yeah we spoke. It's like having a buddy, a fellow undrafted rookie, like every day showing yourself and proving that you belong. Having Troy (Hairston), having Kurt (Hinish), some of the guys make it was cool to experience that moment with them."
Do you have a closer relationship with them because you were undrafted as opposed to being drafted?
"Honestly, I would say it's a little different. Everyone has different experiences and I would say ours was more similar. I think it does make it a little bit of a different relationship."