HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"There's nothing like game week, been doing it awhile. The excitement for this Wednesday practice where we can pretty much only practice in pads once a week now, so this is an important day for us. We were able to get a lot of good work done. As you start the season, we kind of had the Monday before the first game pinpointed as far as selecting captains. Whenever you get to selecting captains, we started the process way back when, first meeting. Teammates have gotten an opportunity to see guys they want representing them on and off the football field for a long period of time. That's why for offensive captains, which will be Davis Mills and Brandin Cooks, that's saying an awful lot about them. They do it the right way. They lead the right way on and off the football field. Defensively, it says a lot when your Jerry Hughes, which will be one of defensive captains, when you've only been in the building for less than a year, to have that kind of impact on your teammates, and of course Christian Kirksey. Teams I've been on, if your quarterback and your mike linebacker is not selected as captain, it's tougher. Luckily for us, we have guys that really lead that way. Special teams-wise, Jon Weeks has been good at his position for a long period of time. I like those five guys for representing us. Also, the amount of other teammates that got votes that I could easily have seen in those leadership roles, that's another step along the way. As I said, it was good today. For the most part, we're healthy, too. You want to be healthy going into the first game. We realize what's at stake. A division game at home, doesn't get any bigger, any better than that. Our fans in the preseason were really excited. I know they're going to be excited about the first regular game at NRG Stadium."
What does it mean to you to see your picture taken with the Houston coaches like Dusty Baker and Stephen Silas?
"We feel like Houston is a special place to live. There's something about H-Town and the guys that lead the different programs. I'm a big college basketball, college football fan, and of course our professional sports. Dusty Baker has been a friend for a long period of time. Getting to know Stephen, so that was good. The guys have a busy schedule, but we all came together, and it turned out well."
Can you talk about the challenge it will be going against Colts CB Stephon Gilmore?
"It's just that. It's a challenge. He's been a good player a lot of different places. Everywhere he's been he's played the same way, one of the best corners in the game. I remember when he came out of college. It seems like he's been manning that position for a long period of time, so it's a challenge. If you're a receiver, you want to go against guys like that that you know are going to be at their best."
Could TE O.J. Howard contribute immediately in Week 1?
"I'm excited about getting through practice. We've practiced two times with him so far, all has gone well. He has a history and it's one thing when you're a rookie coming in, feeling your way through. He's played good football in the league. Enjoyed the little bit of time we've had the chance to spend with him so far and we'll see. That's why this week is important."
What do you expect from Colts QB Matt Ryan in his first game with a new team?
"I expect him to continue to play the way he's played and that's outstanding football. Played against him quite a few times and he's been one of the best quarterbacks in our league, and that's based on performance on the football field. He can make all the throws. They're not going to be running a whole lot of read options with him. All of the throws he can make, he knows the game, smart. It's not like we're going to trick him an awful lot. Again, that's the challenge for us defensively. First off, be able to control the run because Matt (Ryan) can make all the throws but their offense goes based on their running back, their tailback who's an outstanding player (Jonathan Taylor)."
How difficult will play action be because of Colts RB Jonathan Taylor and the run game impact?
"Very. The easiest thing to do is just hand the ball off and they run the ball down the field. You have to make a commitment to the run. The only way to make a commitment to the run is to be isolated on the outside. It's a reason why you go and draft a guy with the third pick in the draft (DB Derek Stingley Jr.) and you bring another guy in that you like, cornerback-wise. It's going to come down to that. I know everybody assumes we play cover-2 every snap. We do a little bit more. It's hard to stop the run when you're playing cover-2, so have to be able to do it all. The play action definitely gives us trouble."
Going up against the Colts offensive line, will that give you an evaluation on what you have on your defensive line?
"I think the first game is going to give everybody an evaluation of exactly where we are. All we can go on right now is what we've done in training camp, preseason games, where we're going against another opponent. We've liked a lot of the things we've seen, but we start from scratch right now. They don't carry the stats over from the preseason or training camp. I'm anxious to see all positions, to see how we compare, how we match up against one of the teams that has been one of the better ones in our division for a long period of time."
What have you seen from the Colts defensive unit including DE DeForest Buckner?
"We talk about a player than can do multiple things is big. I'm going to say our entire font four, they're committed. They not coming in a team that's saying we're a blitz team, we're going to blitz every snap. The engine of their defense is their front four that's what Gus Bradley's (Colt's defensive coordinator) history says. In order for that to work, you have to be good inside, it's as simple as that. For us, Maliek Collins needs to play good football, Roy Lopez. It starts with those guys, closest ones to the ball. That's definitely the case with them."
Can you talk about the bond and pride you share with Dusty Baker and Stephen Silas as African Americans representing this city?
"I realize that that's the case. That doesn't happen very often, especially in a major city, probably the only city in the country where that's the case. It's one thing to have three black men leading the professional franchise but, what I know about those men is pretty special too. Getting to know Stephen (Silas), he's probably the youngest basketball coach in the NBA, one other. Look what he's been able to do. That's outstanding. It's about the example you set. Young people who look like us, they see a young man leading a professional franchise like that. I've been a fan of Dusty Baker for a long period of time. When I first got a chance to know him, and just to see his history on what he's done as a player and a coach, to be in that group is pretty special for me.
Why was it so important to you to make that coaches photo happen?
"As you said, how often does that happen? When you see something that's happening for the first time, you want to have something to always remember it by, as much as anything. You're right, busy schedules but you can normally make time for things that are important. For me personally, that was our off day. It worked out for us. I'm a fan and I live in Houston so supporting other sports is very important to me. We all were talking about each other's sports. They know exactly what's getting ready to happen here, this week. And I know exactly where they are in their programs too."
Who was the best storyteller?
"Some of the stuff we have to keep within the family a little bit. We'll just leave it at that."
What was your reaction when Kelvin Sampson (University of Houston basketball coach) said he was impressed with your knowledge of his program?
"When I say I'm a fan, I am a fan. How could you not be a fan of Kelvin Sampson? Look at what he's done, where he's been, Indiana. What we're trying to build is a consistent winner. Right now, talking with Kelvin a little bit, I know that they're going to be a winner. It's just exactly how far they can go. It's one thing to take a picture, but I'm looking forward to getting to know the guys, sharing stories, information. That's what's going to help all of us."
What has your experience told you about the gap between preseason speed and regular season speed? How do you help rookies navigate that jump?
"First off, there is a difference. We have veteran players too. We have to lean on them, but you have to get to this week and you start practicing that way. There's no way to really get ready for it. You have to get to game speed. You look at what every team does. For us, most of our stars have played. We had a few guys who didn't play in the preseason. You look across the NFL, there's a lot of stars that haven't played. You go from zero to 70 plays. That in itself, for the young players, is one thing. Even for the older players, that transition we go through every year and guys seem to find a way to handle it. That will be the case for us. I just know that our team is in excellent shape and we grind. We practice hard. History told me that's the way you get ready for it."
Is there blanket advice that you give to all rookies going into their first NFL game or is individual?
"It's individual but there's some blanket things too that you give. It just doesn't start right now. We've been prepping the guys for this week for forever. First day, first meeting we got together and I talked to the team about who we need to catch in our division. To be able to play a team that dominated us, if that can't get you motivated, what can? A lot of that is we didn't play our best ball. They were on and we didn't play our best ball. All we're trying to do is play the best version of ourselves. That's what we want to show our fans this weekend."
Of all the personalities you've been around as a coach, where does RB Dameon Pierce fit in?
"I hate comparing because I've been doing it awhile. Earlier in my career I used to compare, this was the best guy I've been around, and you always get a call from one of those guys. I try to stay away from that. I'll just say that Dameon (Pierce), you're asking that question based on talking with him. He is a unique person that has energy and I'm just anxious to see him take this next step. As a rookie, he's come into the building, and asked 'What do I need to do coach?' First day, 'What do I need to do?', and then gone to work, doing it, showing up, hasn't missed anything, hasn't worried about practice squad. We had him on the special teams doing work. All different things we've asked him to do. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. He's earned an opportunity to lead us. It was asked, is he our starting running back? He's earned the right to line up there with the one's, the first snap and I'm anxious to see him play."
What have you been able to see from Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. and the two new rookies WR Alec Pierce and TE Jelani Woods?
"First off with (Michael) Pittman, excellent size, speed. He was productive last year. I would say they've added speed to go along with it. Look at what they've done with their passing game. You bring in one of the all-time great quarterbacks and you've added speed at the other two positions. The tight end position has always been a big part of their offense. That's why we're so excited. We think we've made improvements. We get a chance to see it right away."
How do you prepare for Colts LB Shaquille Leonard?
"You tell me. I don't know. As we see it, a lot of great players we're going to play each week. We practice hard too. That's how we're going to do it. I'm going to go back to the best version of ourselves is what we have to do. Especially the first game of the year, you have to concentrate on yourselves and do the best that you possible can, whether that be ball security on one side of the ball or taking the ball away, penalties. All of those things that you talk about opening game of the year is where we are. We're going to concentrate on that. We know that the opponent on the other side has good players at every position."
Is the depth chart official?
"We released it. It came from us. The team put out a depth chart. Somethings you just can't go into detail in everything. The true one that you're going to see is when we show up Sunday. Injuries happen throughout the week. Omar told me we had to put something out, so we put something out."
QB DAVIS MILLS
What does it mean to you that you're one of the team's offensive captains?
"It's extremely humbling. The rest of the team voted me up there. Ready to attack this season as one of the leaders of this team. I guess it goes to show how hard I've worked this offseason and training camp so far. Being voted captain doesn't change anything. We've got to come in with the same mentality every day and put our head down and get to work."
What has it been like to watch RB Dameon Pierce emerge as the starting running back?
"It's been great. He's been one of the hardest workers all camp in the building. He's one of the earliest guys here and last ones to leave. He's ready for the opportunity. From what we've seen in the preseason and throughout camp so far, everybody is excited for what he's going to be able to do. We're all fired up for him."
What is it going to be like having the entire offense out there for the first time?
"It's going to be fun. I think we have a lot to work with. Pep (Hamilton) has mixed a bunch of stuff up and we're excited about we can do. We've all seen it throughout practice and we've been excited for what we're capable of and ready to go there and perform it and display it out on Sunday."
How would you describe the energy that RB Dameon Pierce brings every day?
"I haven't seen someone recently with that much juice. Maybe that last guy you can compare him too is Mark Ingram. When he was here last season, you kind of feel that same energy, how he changes that mood of everybody around him every day. He's always very positive, energetic. He displays that when he's out on the football field making plays, so we are excited to see what he can do."
During training camp, what was the biggest thing you learned about this team?
"Everyone is bought in to what we want to do here. We want to be a winning program, a winning franchise, and everyone has bought in to do what they can to be a winning program, do what they can to sacrifice and have that person next to them rely on them an do their job. Everyone has really bought into that, so we're excited to go out there play and have fun winning games together."
What are your thoughts on TE O.J. Howard?
"He's looked great so far. Obviously it's tough to learn in one week. What he's done and displayed so far out there, he's been handling everything extremely well. I'm excited for when he gets his first opportunity to go out there. I'm excited to see what he can do."
What's it been like game planning for the Colts and what have you seen from them?
"It's a lot of collaboration, obviously. Pep (Hamilton) has been the helm of it. (Pep) went up against Gus Bradley a lot. Coached with him, played against him for years from the same division when he was in the Indy and Gus was in Jacksonville. A lot of history between the two and we're excited to go against that defense. We have prepared well and we have a lot of not tricks we're going to pull out of a bag, but a lot of stuff that we think is going to be really efficient out there. I think on Sunday, once we start moving that ball, it's going to be really exciting."
Since your time from last year, what do you think you've been able to improve the most?
"The biggest thing I want to emphasize this season is quick decision making and protecting the football. If I'm able to spread the ball around efficiently to my playmakers on the edge with protecting it, limiting turnovers, then I think it gives us a chance to win every game, and I'm excited for it."
How do you prepare for the Colts given what happened from last season?
"You've got to look back to last year. We lost both games. I think it was 31-0, 31-3. We've got to come back, get back, make it feel right again and go get win a game this weekend. Then you think, we've got a whole new team over here, they've got a new coach, new players, new pieces out there, so you've got to look back at last year to kind of get some energy. I wouldn't say revenge game but hold a little bit of a grudge so you can go out there and play fast on Sunday. Treat it like it's a new game because everything is different. It's not going to be the same as it was last year so it's old and new at the same time."
You mentioned those scores right off the top of your head. Have those scores been sitting in the back of your mind from last year?
"Definitely. I played in both games. I'm ready to go out and change the outcome this year."
With a sense of stability as the starter, how is that going to help you with your development?
"I don't think too much changes. When you didn't know you were starting last year, you still need to prepare as the starter. On that term, nothing has changed. I'm still working as hard as I did. You're just in that position this year so there's a lot thrown at you, a lot more you have to do for your teammates so they can count on you. I'm ready for the opportunity and ready to see what we can do on Sunday."
WR BRANDIN COOKS
Can you talk about your matchup this week going against Colts DB Stephon Gilmore?
"We all know Gilly (Stephon Gilmore) is a great player, been playing this game at a high level from the moment he's stepped into this league. I don't necessarily look at it like that. I look at it like we're going against a great defense with a bunch of guys who can play ball. That's what we're going to work for today and we look forward to all the matchups."
How anxious are you to see what this offense can do on the field?
"I look forward to it. Obviously, there's been a lot of work that's been put in and continuing to be put in. At the end of the day, just got to go out there and play. All the things that we've learned over the summer and this training camp, you get to put it to life."
How excited are you to see what OC Pep Hamilton can do now that the preseason is over?
"I've got a lot of respect for Pep (Hamilton) and everything he's been bringing to this offense over the summer and in training camp. You know, preseason is one thing like you said, but you look forward to actually getting out there, where it truly matters, and putting this thing together. That's for sure."
What's it been like watching RB Dameon Pierce emerge as your starting running back?
"It's been awesome. The way he's been coming to work from the moment he has stepped into this building, you can see he's about his business. He's been running at a high level. One thing I continue to tell him is to never get comfortable, always find ways to improve, and I think he took that to heart because you see him go out there every day working on something."
How special is it to be named a team captain?
"It's an honor. Anytime your peers look at you in that light, it's definitely an honor and I don't take that lightly. I want to do everything I can to help lead this team, not just on the field and off the field as well. A lot of respect to the guys who voted me that, so I'm definitely humbled and honored."
What's your biggest takeaway so far from this rookie class?
"One of things I told a lot of the rookies, especially the ones that are going to contribute right away, is that you're here for a reason. They (the rookies) come from championship programs, a lot of them, so bring that winning mentality. No matter how young you are, at the end of the day, they know how to win and that's what we want in this building, winners. That's what you see from them when they practice and get out there and play."
How have you seen DB Derek Stingley Jr. evolve from the start of training camp until now?
"I continue to see him get better every day, but really, just not thinking so much. When you come in as a rookie, there's a lot to learn. Now, he's just starting to free up in his own mind and be able to play the game at a high level like he's used to playing."
What is one thing you've noticed from Gus Bradley's defense and what's it going to look like?
"When you look at Gus Bradley's defense, the Colts in general, is their takeaways. Last year, they were so huge on takeaways. Every guy is really punching at the ball or trying to make an attempt at the ball. I think Gus Bradley being able to be in that zone allows guys to do that, be able to have all eyes on the ball. They fly around and they're a well-coached defense. Gus has been doing it at a high level as a defensive coordinator for so long, so I've got a lot of respect for what he does on that side of the ball."
As a veteran, do you still get excited for the first game of the season?
"No question. It's a blessing to still be playing this game. You don't take that for granted because some day you won't be out there for the first game. I love it as much as I did when I was a rookie."
Do you remember your first NFL game?
"No question, versus Atlanta in the old dome. Unfortunately, we didn't win but I remember my first game like it was yesterday."
There's a little grudge from the results last year against the Colts. How do you approach that with a new team and new coaching staff?
"You don't forget. You don't forget those types of games. At the end of the day, it's a divisional game. Your opener is against a team that really embarrassed you last year. You don't forget, but you don't let that cloud and gray affect what you have to get done. You still have to focus on the details and don't get too carried away on necessarily revenge."
Do you have advice for the rookies going to play in their first NFL game?
"My biggest thing is always try to go out there, take those deep breaths, soak it in, but at the same time, remember why you're here. It's not too big. There's a reason why you're in this locker room. As we all know, naturally those jitters come. You've got to get that first hit or take that first hit and keep it pushing."
What's the biggest thing about Colts QB Matt Ryan that can elevate an offense?
"The biggest thing I think about is anytime you play that game for that long, obviously you've got incredible leadership skills, especially for a guy that's the quarterback, the guy behind the center. He just looks like a leader from afar. I never played with him, but he can play this game at a high level and I have a lot of respect for what he does and how he goes about his business."
Your locker is next to WR John Metchie III's. Do you ever look up at his picture and realize it's about football but it's also about life?
"No question. Absolutely. Thankful to be able to continue to go. Obviously he's going through what he's going through. You know check in on him. The blessing is how he sees it. He keeps a smile on his face and just knowing him the little bit I got to over the summer, he's built for it. He's going to come out of this stronger. I definitely look up at that picture with a thankful attitude that I'm still able to play this game, because what he's going through is bigger than ball."
Even though you didn't take any preseason game reps with him, do you think the chemistry you developed with QB Davis Mills is going to help early on?
"Absolutely. That's why you take practice so seriously. The preparation, that's what it's all about. You win the game during the week, not on Sunday. All this work we've been putting through the spring, summer and training camp, I think a lot of those reps were more valuable than really playing a couple snaps."