HEAD COACH DAVID CULLEY
How did it feel to wrap up your first season as head coach, and what did you take away from the exit interviews with players?
"The exit interviews went well. Basically what that is, is just to meet with everyone individually. But we just talked about the season and what we expect of them in the offseason, kind of make sure that everything is set for the offseason with them and know that we're here. If any kind of issues or anything comes up, we're always here for them. Plus, I talked to them, too, about how I was appreciative of the way they stayed the course with me all year long, with all the ups and downs that we went through."
Have you heard anything further about your future?
"As far as I know, I'm the head coach of the Texans right now, and am moving forward with that."
How do you feel about your players voicing their support for you?
"I'd hope they would, and expect them too. But I'm not surprised with that. They've been all in from the word 'go'."
Have you spoken to General Manager Nick Caserio or Chair/Chief Executive Officer Cal McNair about your future?
"Not at all, and I will not speak to them, they'll speak to me."
Do you know when you'll talk to them?
"I haven't had anything scheduled."
Can you talk about your first season as a head coach, what you thought of the experience?
"I enjoyed every minute of it. Learned a lot, a lot of things, like I said before earlier, in that coaching manual I had to go through that weren't in there, but that's okay. I was told that was going to happen. But again, from start to finish, each game was different. Always something new happening that was a learning experience for me, but for the most part I just kind of used all the experience that I've got working with all the different head coaches, all the situations they've been through. I ended up having to go through a bunch of those, and I just kind of used the stuff that I've learned from them to handle those particular situations. Other than that, as the season went along, any mistakes that you made that you feel like you really needed to not do, or do this better, you make sure you do that the next time. The same thing with our players, as far as (not) being a repeat offender. I was hoping I wasn't a repeat offender in some of the things that I did early that happened later on in the season."
What kind of jump are you expecting in year two?
"We'll expect a big jump. Very disappointed in the fact that we only won four ballgames. Expected to win more, thought we should have won more. We didn't. But you always expect a big jump, and it's no different than with players. Like the rookies, you expect a big jump for a rookie going into the second year, especially with the rookies that we've had that played a bunch. It's the same way with this football team. We'll add some more pieces through the draft, and obviously Nick (Caserio) will add some people through free agency. We kind of know what we need to do to keep moving forward, and just looking forward to doing that."
You had a lot of players playing on one-year contracts this season. How do you think worked out, and how did that come up in exit interviews?
"Well I think it worked well, because a lot of those guys that were on those contracts were veteran guys that were very influential in keeping this locker room the way it was. I felt like having those guys here, whether they were on one-year contracts or what, that I didn't even know exactly who was on one year, two years or whatever. I just coached whoever was there and treated it that way all year, never talked about it. But I do know that a lot of those veteran guys that we had have been very influential in how things have gone for us this year. I respect that and am glad that I had them here."
Have you spoken to Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Pep Hamilton about the Panthers' interest in him as an offensive coordinator, and what do you think about the job he did this season?
"Well, I think Pep and a number of guys on this staff are qualified to move on and become coordinators or head coaches."
How do you ensure consistency from season to season with so many players on one-year contracts?
"There's going to be the draft, there's going to be some guys that have been here with us this past year that were on one-year deals that may still be with us this year. There's some continuity there, because they've been in the program with us for a year. That's where the continuity is going to come from, and we're just going to add to that. I felt like after the bye week, I started to see that continuity with those guys that were here, whatever their contract situation was. I started to see that continuity start to unfold for us, and I expect that moving forward with those guys that will be returning and for the guys that we'll be adding."
Even though you didn't have the results that you wanted, are you encouraged that you've laid a foundation for success in the future?
"Very encouraged. And then last night, the end of that ballgame in the second half, made me even more encouraged about the way they went out and did what they did. It wasn't anything that I did or said at halftime, they just went out as pros and understood the situation and played good football. Gave us a chance to win the football game."
How has this experience as a first-year head coach challenged you as a leader? Did you learn anything about yourself?
"I knew there were going to be challenges when I first came here. Again, I've told people this, and not in a negative way: if everything was alright before I got here, I wouldn't be here. The point was, I knew going in that there were going to be things that I'd have to deal with, and that we dealt with. I felt like, again, from my experience that I've been with some very good head coaches and have gone through some things that were similar to this when we were building the program. Those things helped me along the way. But there wasn't anything that I think happened during the course of the year that I haven't seen happen before, or something similar, that I kind of had an idea of how I wanted to deal with or how I should deal with that."
Do you feel like you improved as a coach as the season went along?
"Most definitely. Most definitely. I mean, I go back and I'm as hard on myself as anybody from that standpoint, because of my responsibility to this football team, with being the leader of this football team and them looking to me to get things right when they're not right. I felt like they had the utmost confidence in me to do that, simply because when those things came up, we corrected things and we went forward."
How fair do you think it is to judge you off of one year of results?
"Well, you're judged every year. Basically, you're judged on wins and losses, and if you judge it on wins and losses I'm not happy with four wins at all. I expected to get more than four wins and felt like we should have got more than four wins. This is a bottom-line business, and I wasn't happy with the number of wins we got. But, expect to get more."
Did you have a conversation with General Manager Nick Caserio before the season to establish what the expectations for the team were this year?
"The expectations were to win as many football games as possible. We went in with that. We knew the situation with all the new people coming in, but the expectation was to go out and win. This is the NFL, and you're expected to go out and win. I've said this all the time and I say it to our players: the beauty of coaching in the National Football League, that 'any given Sunday' thing is so true if you play the game right that particular day. It doesn't matter who the opponent is. I don't mean this negatively, but an example from yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts playing Jacksonville in Jacksonville with a 'win-and-in' game. I'm not surprised that Jacksonville won the game. They played better. That's what happens in this league, it doesn't matter who you play. If you play better than the opponent that you're playing against and play the game the right way, you're going to have a chance to win. It doesn't matter who it is you're playing."
How typical is it for you that there are questions about your job status after just one season?
"I don't even think about questions about my status."
What did being a head coach for the first time teach you about the game and yourself?
"The first thing was, I used to always make suggestions. I had to make decisions this time. When I made those decisions, that decision affected a whole bunch of people, affected an entire football team. I learned that before I made those decisions, or whatever they might have been, that I had to see the big picture. It wasn't about a particular guy or it wasn't about a particular coach, it was about the football team. That's the big thing as far as me making decisions, being able to understand that every decision you make affects what happens with this football team."
What are some suggestions from players that you feel like you can build on?
"All of those conversations were positive. Basically, those conversations are for the most part between me and them. But they were all positive, and it's always a good thing at the end of the year when you have these. I've had these before, but I've only had them with a position group. It's always a positive thing."
What needs to happen for the offense to improve next season?
"We've got to coach that better. I think, too, as we went along we kind of found out that obviously, I want to run the football, but we weren't able to run the football very well. Obviously, there's different reasons why that happens. That has nothing to do with Tim (Kelly) or the play caller, but the point we found out as we went along, there were times where probably the best thing to do was throw the ball more in these particular situations. A good example of that was just making adjustments. Yesterday was a classic example of that. We weren't very good in the first half of that ball game, and my gut feeling was we had to change up something. I didn't know what, and the thing was the tempo. Well, I find out that obviously when I look back on it that there were times that I should have used to tempo in some of these other ballgames that we had before. You asked me earlier about what did I learn, those are some of the things that I've learned as I make decisions and you go back and say, 'That's something that I maybe could have done or should have done earlier.'"
How much does Davis Mills' development over the course of the season contribute to the ability to play up-tempo?
"It contributes a lot. As I said before, yesterday, the guy (Mills) has been very good in two-minute situations where we didn't huddle and when the clock wasn't an issue. He did a very, very good job of commanding everything. Tim (Kelly) was still calling plays in to him, he was making the checks, he was doing everything that we needed to do. That's just something that he's actually done very well when he was at Stanford. But I'm happy with his progress and I think we found out something about him moving forward that is something that we can do to help us offensively, because that's something that he was comfortable with and did very well against a good football team in a very big ball game."
You said you approached QB Davis Mills in the second half against the Titans and asked him if he was ready to go up-tempo?
"Actually, I actually already made the decision to do it, I was just making sure. If he had said he wasn't ready, I would have said, 'Well, you better get ready, because we're doing it.'"
Were there times earlier in the season where QB Davis Mills wasn't ready for something like that, and was there a moment where you decided he was ready for it?
"I don' think there were ever any moments that I felt like he would be uncomfortable, and that's why I didn't do it. It was just something that I didn't think about doing at that time. But with him, when I went up to him and told him that's what we're going to do, his eyes lit up, like 'okay'. He knew we needed to make a change. He knew we needed to do something else to get ourselves doing."
If you had to give yourself a grade for this season, what would it be?
"I don't give grades. I'll let the higher-to-be's give me the grade."
What's next for you and your team in the immediate future?
"We will take a little break. As a matter of fact, we just talked to our team about needing to get away for a little while. You need to recharge and refresh, whether we were 12-4 or 4-12, whatever the record was, you got to get away and get recharged and get refreshed. As coaches, we don't do it for very long, but we do it. I'm not going to leave the country to refresh or to do something. I'm just going to chill. I do know that I don't watch a whole bunch of football when I do that, simply because it's kind of frustrating when you know that there's a possibility that it could be you. But for the most part, we'll just recharge, and when we come back we'll start our self-scout, we'll start the offseason, we'll start with free agency and we'll get ready for the draft. It never ends."
Will you move your Friday movies to every-other-day movies?
"I don't know if I'll go every other day, but if it's a good movie coming out, I mean I'll go see it, because I got time now. I'm not as tired now, and I'm not having to worry about that opponent on Sunday."
Through it all, were you able to have fun this season?
"I loved every minute of it. I mean, every minute. I did not like the losses, nobody likes the losses, but I loved this job. Again, like I said, I don't consider this work. I know sometimes whenever you don't win enough ballgames, people start, and I had people tell me that they feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for me? Do you know what I do? I'm the head coach of the Houston Texans, regardless of what the record is, and that's a beautiful thing."
Do you have a timeline of when the rest of your coaching staff will know what their future is?
"As far as I'm concerned, their future is now. They're here, and they'll be coaching with me."
QB DAVIS MILLS
Is there anything you take away from this season?
"I think the biggest thing was probably that I know I'm able to compete at a really high level in the NFL. I think it took a couple games at the start of the season for me to get a really good grasp of the game at this level. But I think really ever since I came back into the starting role in the second half of the season, the game started to slow down a little bit for me. The better I knew the offense, I just felt more confident out there playing with all my teammates. I think some of the wins later in the season showed that. Also, I think we started to find our identity as an offense when we're out there really just having a great time on the field competing together."
What would you attribute your development over the course of the season to?
"I think just being in the offense, in the scheme for longer, I was able to get a better understanding for it. Really focused on what we needed to do on specific plays and certain situations in the game. There were things that I learned, in-game experience that I was able to kind of pull from later in the season when making decisions and kind of managing the clock, managing the whole game. I think just the experience from those reps early in the season allowed me to grow as a player."
What did the coaches mean to you in terms of your development?
"A ton. They're hand-in-hand with my growth. I definitely learned a lot from all the guys on our coaching staff who have really done a great job of helping me develop and putting all their confidence in me to go out there and perform each and every week."
What has Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Pep Hamilton done for your development, and what do you think about him as a prospect for other jobs?
"Obviously, Pep's taught me a ton this year. He's been a great quarterback coach and helped me really learn this offense fast and perform it at a high level. I can understand why teams would want him to coach their team, but he's been great and I hope he's back with us next year."
At what point in your growth did you realize you were moving on from learning the offense to learning other defenses?
"I think I was trying to do the best I could at focusing on both at the same time early in the season, but I was still at that point learning our offense. Now it's later in the season, I have a lot better understanding so I can focus more of my brain on the other. It just allowed me to go out there and make quick decisions on the field and obviously perform better."
What would you tell a rookie coming into the situation you were in last year? Would you do it the same way again?
"I don't think there are any other ways around it. I think experience helps a lot, getting those full game reps. Also, just do as much as you can in the film room and take every single rep at practice like you're in a game. Obviously, you can't simulate it to the exact, but I think really just going out there and taking mental reps and making sure that you're locked in 100 percent of the time so you can grow as fast as possible."
What was it like for you to figure out a balance between trying not to turn the ball over and not hindering yourself from being aggressive? Did your ability to do that improve over the course of the season?
"Yeah, I think it was the experience. I think, obviously, protecting the football is kind of in the back of your head at all times. You never want to give the ball away, but I think you also need to go out there and be aggressive at the same time. I think just a better understanding of our offense and better chemistry with the receivers around me, I was able to kind of depict what is a smart decision versus a bad decision a lot faster. Also, you can anticipate throws and stuff like that when you know where a receiver's going to end up. The more reps you had in a certain concept or a certain play, you can pull from that memory bank that I've talked about before. When you see a certain look, you know that somebody might be able to come open off that one or you need to progress past it throughout the play. Just things like that allow you to help."
Would you say you were pulling things from your memory bank in the game yesterday?
"Yeah, it comes up in every game. The more reps I've had in the past, the easier it is to do that each and every rep after."
Are there specific things in your first few games that you mastered in the last few games?
"I don't know if I'm at mastery level of anything yet. I think I definitely have improved. I hope I get to that mastery level at some point. I think a lot of it, just being more efficient breaking the huddle, getting up to the line and making sure we're in the right protection, pointing to the correct person, things like that where I'm able to see maybe the linebackers are bossed one way, but the safeties are showing that they're in a two-high shell, but being able to anticipate that a safety might roll down and add into the box. Just kind of being able to work all that in your brain a lot quicker because you've seen it before, a bunch of different stuff like that has really allowed me to improve later in the season."
When you're walking up to the line in your first few games, were there too many things going on in your head and did that clear up in your last few games?
"Yeah, that's something like Coach (Pep) Hamilton always talks about, shaping your thoughts. It's an acronym, but a lot of it is just kind of having that same pre-snap routine every time and making sure it's ingrained in your memory so you don't have to think of it. It's more so a habit once you break the huddle. I think once I started to realize that, it allowed me to kind of play faster and make decisions faster, and ultimately we were more successful as an offense, so it was good."
What is the acronym?
"It's just like a mental checklist of the steps you take once you break the huddle and need to see on the defense."
With so many guys on one one-year deals and having the familiarity with WR Nico Collins and TE Brevin Jordan back, does that give you confidence going into the offseason?
"I think so. And yeah, I've talked to those guys trying to keep them here in Houston for the offseason so we can all train together and continue to build and grow on what we already started working on this year. So, I'm excited for what we can do in the future."
Do you want to see more up-tempo offense in the future?
"Definitely. I think having a mix of the methodical, thought-out approach of the offense where you can slow it down and attack and set up certain plays works well. Also, that up-tempo is a really good thing you can use as a mix-up, not only just to kind of make your way back into the game, but also go out there and get started in the first half, and then at the start of games to go out there and just switch it up and keep the defense guessing."
Do you see yourself being able to make your own decisions being in an up-tempo offense?
"Definitely. Going out there and just playing fast and making good decisions is what we always try to do."
What are your thoughts on the future of this team?
"We're excited for it. I think everyone knows that we can improve in a lot of ways. Everyone's working their butt off to do that, so I'm really looking forward to this future."
What was the hardest part of learning this offense?
"I think the start of it was the bridge from my previous knowledge of offense that I learned in college and in high school versus the new verbiage and schemes we use here. I think the first part was just kind of being able to conceptualize it and tie it back to what I already knew. I think it was just learning it and putting the work in on the front end."
Finishing the season in a game where you thought you were one drive away from winning, how do you take that into next year?
"I think ending it like that where you were playing really good football at the end of the game kind of leaves that hunger and the feeling that we're hopeful for the ability to go out there and play successful football next year, and pull from that feeling of going out there and feeling like you can't be stopped as an offense. I think everyone felt that at the end of the game that we were firing on all cylinders. We're just ready to attack this offseason and come back and do the same thing next year."
Are you considering trying to get WR Danny Amendola to come back next year?
"I'd like to. I think that decision, though, is completely up to him. He's played football for a long time, and obviously he's really good at it. I think he's experienced enough for him to make that decision for himself."
Would you like getting WR Danny Amendola back?
"Of course, I'd love to have him back."
What are you going to do in the offseason in terms of relaxing?
"A lot of golf and video games."
OL JUSTIN BRITT
Would you like to sign here as a free agent if possible?
"I had a blast this year. The wins and losses obviously speak for themselves, but aside from that, this group of guys, this staff, I had an enjoyable time coming off a year away from football. This is kind of everything I would want other than wins. Coming to work every week with this group of guys and to see how we grew and the steps we took, would I come back here? Yeah, if everything was right and the way it needed to be, I would love to come back here and be around these men again."
What was it like to play for Head Coach David Culley? If you're back here, how much would you want to play for him again?
"I thought Coach (David) Culley did a great job his first year as a head coach. Kind of the situation we had here in Houston wouldn't have been easy for anybody. I feel like his leadership was consistent and who he was was consistent, and that's what we needed here as a leader, someone to run this team. I hope he gets another shot. I hope he gets to kind of showcase who he is, what he does, how he does it here, because it would be really interesting to see the jump he takes with the team next year. If everything was right, it would be cool to come back."
If Head Coach David Culley doesn't get a second season here, what would you take away from that?
"I don't know. Kind of like myself, I'm heading into this next few months kind of with uncertainty. It's going to be interesting to see what happens with my future, so I don't know what I would think about it. I'm kind of focusing on my future and what I'm going to do with my family. I think, in this profession, professional sports, if you're not someone who's locked up with a big contract, there's always a level of uncertainty. If you didn't have a really good year, you never know what could happen. That kind of will take care of itself for all of us, all around."
What things do you think Head Coach David Culley could make a jump in next season if given a second year, and what would be interesting about that?
"I don't know any particular thing, just kind of the aspect of him coming in and being a first-year head coach, and building his stamp and getting the players he wants in here, and the mindset and how he goes about it. Just another year to develop that and integrate that in the system with the players. It can make a huge difference."
What have you seen from your position group and Offensive Line Coach James Campen this year?
"I love James Campen. If I could have it my way, I'd want to play for him for the rest of my career. He was someone who literally made every day enjoyable. The games we got shut out, didn't score, we'd show up the next day and he would make those meetings enjoyable, which throughout a long season like this, it pays dividends and keeps your mental health in check. You don't go down a rabbit hole, you just keep grinding, keep working. He's someone like that who motivates his players and he knows this. I've told him this. As far as the group, I've been around a lot of really good offensive linemen throughout my time in Seattle, and as a whole. I've probably said this before, it just keeps getting better. These group of men that I've played with on the offensive line was easily the most fun I've had. The most genuine, honest, hard-working people I've been around, and people that I hope friendships (will) go on and on. I wish we had more time with these guys. I wish I had more time to work with guys like Lane (Taylor) who didn't get in until three quarters of the way. I wish we had more time to gel. I wish me and Max (Scharping) got to work together more. I wish LT (Laremy Tunsil) never got hurt. I wish Tytus (Howard) never got COVID and he kept that hot streak going with G (Geron Christian Sr.). I wish we had seven linemen on the field. It was just one of those years that was a lot of fun for me."
Can you expand on the growth of the offensive line and the offense?
"You can look at the season and you're going to talk to Davis (Mills) and you can use him as an example since you guys always ask me about his growth. If you look at him Week 2 when he stepped in for Tyrod (Taylor) and the nervousness of how he was going about it or the Buffalo game when the ball slipped out of his hand. The growth of him throughout the season is kind of what we were and how it went. We are only as strong as our leaders and the people who guide us. The way that he grew allowed us to keep improving and keep working."
You said this is the most fun you've had with this offensive line. How much does that align with the situation of the team and where it is going?
"I just think they've pulled together the right character. You always have some people that are bad apples on a team and you try to wean them out or help them, but upfront there was none of that. Everyone could have and should have played in the NFL this year, somewhere. We had the talent. They had the talent, but it was group of men who were selfless and didn't care who got to start. You can look at Max (Scharping). He might be one of the most selfless football players I know. For him to be able to step aside and let them give Lane (Taylor) an opportunity, let them throw J-Mac (Justin McCray) in there. That's just kind of the room we had. When Tytus (Howard) got COVID or when he was hurt and G (Geron Christian Sr.) had to step in, we just wanted each other to do good. We wanted to do good for each other and we wanted to do good for Camp (James Campen).
What were the expectations coming into the season and were they met?
"I knew the situation here. Heading into camp with the players we had and the comradery that was already building, we had higher hopes than what the record is. I've never been in a situation like this. I've always been on one team that was kind of established with how they did things, their foundation. My expectation was to just come play football, try to do my best. I didn't want to get hurt. That was kind of a speed bump. I didn't know expectations other than go out there and work my butt off."
What progress that was made this year do you think can carry over to next year even if there are player and coaching changes?
"I feel like the first layer of foundation has been laid. I think Coach (David) Culley said he feels like we've been playing our best ball as of late. That's definitely something to build on. We left the second half of this last game is how we wanted the whole game to go. We wanted to finish the right way and I mean damnit we should have won it. I mean we finished that second half the right way. Build off that momentum and kind of just go into the offseason with that mindset."
How impressed were you to see OL Tytus Howard changes positions this season?
"He was heading into the season with him and LT (Laremy Tunsil) were going to be the best tackle duo and they might have been, but then LT gets hurt. He gets asked to move to left guard and that was not that much of a learning curve for him because he's played left tackle before. He just had to find his rhythm there. He finds his rhythm. He's playing pretty good ball and then they ask him to move to left tackle, which I thought he did exceptional. He's a hard worker. He's still young. He's got a lot of football left in him. I don't see why he couldn't be the best."
In your exit interview*,* what did you want to bring to that conversation specifically? What do you think the major factors are for you that will dictate what your future will be?
"I'm just grateful. Going into yesterday's game and today, I'm just grateful and appreciative of everybody I'm saying goodbye to and the opportunity. I can't be thankful enough because they didn't have to sign me back off the streets and they did. They gave me the shot and believed in me. That's all I can ask for. I feel like this season just ended. There is a lot to be worked out in my life and my football life on the team, so all of that conversation I'm not really having quite yet."
How long until you start training again?
"With how my knee went this year, I'm going to be going back and I'm going to start doing stuff next week. I'm not going to be squatting six hundred or running a mile, but I don't know, I feel like my body responds better if I'm active or moving around rather than just laying around, letting it rest."
How did your body feel returning to football after a year away?
"Not bad, not bad at all. I definitely know that I have a lot more football left in me, and the drive is still there. I know I could have done better in situations this year, and I could have been better in the San Francisco game. Coming off COVID, I was way too aggressive and that's a whole (different) conversation. But yeah, I still love it, I'm still hungry to be great. I knew the bumps and bruises were going to come along with it, and I'm just ready to get the body back."
RB REX BURKHEAD
How did your meeting this morning go? What are your thoughts on next season?
"We've had a few meetings here and there and a few more coming up. It's gone well. Tough to end the season with a loss but just the fight from the team was super impressive. Of course, Dola (Danny Amendola) being the leader of all of that in the second half was fun. I'm excited to be here next year to keep building, keep growing as a team and keep moving forward."
When you were making the decision to re-sign here, what went into that?
"Very thankful. Couldn't do it without my teammates. Looking forward to being a part of it next year. I love the guys and the people in this organization and that was a no brainer for me in discussions. I wanted to be back here. I wanted to continue to grow as a team and do that with the guys and the men in this locker room."
What did you think about playing for Head Coach David Culley?
"Definitely a joy. He's an unbelievable coach. He's a great leader of this team. People may not see the growth in the win category but from a player's perspective seeing it out on the practice field, seeing the guys in the locker room, especially some young guys, taking some steps further as been super impressive. Just his positive attitude every day to make sure we're growing as a unit. He's done a great job with that."
What do you see in the group of players who will be back here next year?
"There will probably be some offseason discussion with all of that. A lot of those decisions are made up higher than me, but we're always just trying to be a physical running game, being physical, being able to do multiple things whether that is in the passing game, pass protection. Of course, running the ball well. I'm going to continue to try and do that, and whoever is in the back field with us as well I'm sure will try to do the same thing."
What's been the message and tone as you go through the meetings today?
"We got a lot of guys that are on one-year deals so a lot of it is anticipation to see what is going to happen with them, whether they will be back or not. So, there is a little bit of that anticipation but also just thankful for the opportunities we had this year. A lot of guys just reaching out saying, 'Hey it was great playing with you this year. It was definitely an honor to go to battle with you every single day.' I think that was what was truly cool being in this locker room, what was so special about it was we had a bunch of guys that were fighting continually all year, whether that was fighting through injuries or COVID-related stuff or whatever it may have been. We all have special bonds that we take hold of throughout the season and of course we will stay in touch forever on."
You talked about growth on this team. What about the growth of QB Davis Mills?
"He's done a tremendous job. Very impressive. I think really just his calm presence out there on the field is intriguing to me the most. It excites me to see his development continue to grow. I've said many times any time there may be a mistake out there, we may not be moving the ball so well, he's always the same quarterback, same person. He's so even keeled, continues to battle and fight forward. Seeing the steps he took this season, I'm really excited to see what he can do next season."
How much of the up-tempo offense show things you could work on with QB Davis Mills?
"I think a lot. That's something we do a good job of especially when we get into a good rhythm. He does a good job just getting us into the right spots, listening to TK (Tim Kelly) whatever he is telling him in the helmet. He definitely thrives in that situation. Guys love rallying behind him and going out there and fighting."
How do you feel about the future of the team and the pieces they have in place to get this team back to success?
"I'm definitely excited. They are trying to get good people in here, good players. I'm looking forward to continuing to build. Like I said, they may not have seen that in the win category this year, but you can see it in the locker room. You can see it with guys the way they come to work and leadership from a lot of veteran guys showing those young guys how to work. (Danny) Amendola, he was a great piece for us all year just his leadership, the way he goes about his daily process. You can see some of those younger receivers, younger guys in that group taking hold of that and understanding this is how you go about being a professional every single day, and how to strive for greatness and how to get better not only individually but collectively as a team."
What do you feel you have to work on in the offseason?
"Everything. I'm a guy who's doesn't get complacent, always feel like I can improve. Even though I'll be going into year 10, I just feel like I can improve on everything. I'm looking forward to this offseason because I'll be able to train for the majority. Last year it was mostly rehabbing coming back from my knee injury. Really looking forward to get back to tip-top shape for next year."
You had the knee and hip injury. At what point do you feel 100 percent? Where do you stand now injury wise going into next season?
"I don't like talking percentages because everyone is banged up at some point in the season. I'm just looking forward to this offseason like I said, and really getting after training and coming back in hopefully the best shape of my life."
On your own scale, how did you feel on your own fullness?
"I felt like I was doing fine. Definitely been able to do what I've been able to do in the past. Looking forward to just building on it some more."
QB Davis Mills said yesterday that he is going to try to get some guys to stay here over the offseason to work out. Do you plan on staying?
"Yeah, we'll definitely get together, no question. Just to continue that relationship, that timing on certain things is huge for young quarterbacks, young receivers to have that, to develop that. Not only in the OTA's or training camp, but also in their own time maybe when coaches aren't there, and you just want to get together and throw a little bit."
What was it like for you to be on a team with five running backs on the active roster at the beginning of the season?
"It was crazy. A lot of changeover in the room. Just staying patient. Trying to help the team in whatever way I could and make the most of those opportunities when they came."
Did you get any mementos from your 149-yard game?
"I got the game ball from Davis (Mills). That was pretty cool. Very nice for him to just think about in that moment and to be like, 'Hey, here's a ball for you.' It was pretty special and shows a lot of maturity for him as a rookie quarterback."
WR BRANDIN COOKS
What was it like playing for Head Coach David Culley this season?
"It was fun. Obviously things didn't go the way we wanted it to and obviously we are going home early, but at the end of the day, he brought some great energy to the team and kept that consistent throughout the year and helped us continue to fight on given everything that was going on this whole year."
What did you see from QB Davis Mills in the second half yesterday? Did you watch?
"Absolutely, I was still on the sideline watching. Like I said all year, it seems like every single game he has grown and for him to be able to go out there and make those plays and make a run at that comeback like he did was incredible. Just to be able to see him play fast and up-tempo, being able to dissect a defense in a way like that, in that type of environment was great."
How are you feeling from your injury yesterday?
"I'm good. I'm solid. Just get some rest and get back to the grind and try to be back next year."
If Head Coach David Culley doesn't get a chance to come back next year, what would you think about that?
"You're talking to a guy that has been traded a lot, so it's a business. At the end of the day, that's what I will say. He's a great coach. He meant well to us this year and had a lot of energy and did a lot of positive things. But, as we all know in the business, things happen."
Did you feel Head Coach David Culley had the support in the locker room?
What sort of growth did you see out of Head Coach David Culley as a coach as the season went on?
"I think the biggest thing that I saw was, I wouldn't necessarily call it growth, I would say his consistency and who he was every single day coming in here and keeping that standard high. He didn't change no matter what was going on. You have to have a lot of respect for a guy like that to be able to do that in your first year as a head coach."
How important is that when you guys had the season that you did?
"I think that's huge, especially for the young guys that don't really understand what is going on to be able to understand that we have a job to do week in and week out no matter what is going on."
Do you think that message is still needed for the players going into next year?
"Absolutely. I think that message is set going into this offseason. It's not a time to take a break and try and turn it back on when you get back in here. You try to build on that this offseason and individual workouts and trying to get better as a player so when you do come back, you can pick up where you left off."
At least one team is interested in bringing in Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Pep Hamilton in for the Offensive Coordinator position. What would that be like to lose him?
"That would be a huge loss. You talk about Pep and all the time that he has spent with Davis (Mills) throughout this season, him and Tim Kelly. At the end of the day, he deserves it so if that's something that happens, he deserves it. Great coach. Heck of a guy and there is no doubt that he deserves everything that is coming is way."
What are your thoughts on the future of the team and the foundation that is being laid here?
"I'll digest that this offseason. Really haven't thought about it to be honest with you."
How would you summarize your first two seasons in Houston being here during a time of a transition?
"No matter the circumstances, whatever is going on, you can depend on me and I will ball regardless of what is going on around me. I also think from a leadership standpoint, the way I had to lead, I learned a lot about myself especially this year everything that's been going on. I just have to continue to take that and build on that and lead guys around me."
You had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Have you done something different these two offseasons?
"No, I've been doing that. There was just that one gap my last season in LA that I didn't. Nothing different. Just getting back to the basics. Getting my mind right and going back to my fundamentals. Not the first time on a back-to-back."
What did WR Chris Conley mean to the group this year?
"My guy, Conman. The energy that he brought to this team, the things that we asked him to do to be able to block the way that he did it was genuinely incredible. He set the tone in that receiving room for blocking and making sure it's all about us, it's not about anyone individually. He put his body on the line day in, day out, week in and week out, and got a lot of respect for what he has done and what he has accomplished this year."
In the middle season you said about teammates and even you taking personal accountability for yourself. Was that something that you all gained as a cohesive unit at the end of the season?
"I would say it was just kind of natural just because the way guys were going about their business and how the coaches were going about their business. One of those things that was just natural. That still has to keep up to that standard regardless of the wins and losses. I always tell guys, 'We have another week, another opportunity to go out there and put our stuff on film.'"
These past two offseasons have been different with COVID. What did you learn about yourself training away from the facility versus when everyone was here?
"For me, I've always trained away from the facility, but I think it was huge from a young guy standpoint where you don't have it figured out. Being able to lean on vets and whatever the case may be and getting with guys as much as you can. For myself, just the consistency, trying to stay in that rhythm as if we did have OTAs or whatever the case may be. My body knew what time it was on and as we continue to build closer to the season to be able to put that wear and tear naturally like you would in OTAs, and do it myself so I can come in prep for camp."
What is the shift like going into the offseason?
"It's a big shift especially for me to get home and spend time with my family, my wife and son. The amount of time I spend at the facility throughout the year when it is in season is a lot, so I miss a lot of that time. He is still young, so for me that shift is going to be going into dad mode especially this first month and then I'll get back to the swing of things."
Have you heard about QB Davis Mills' plans to get some of the wide receivers to stay here in the offseason?
"We talked about that and we discussed that briefly. Obviously with everything going on with COVID, you just got to keep our head on a swivel and play it by ear, but that's something that we'll definitely find a way to do without a doubt."
With how much the roster may turnover this year, if you guys did change head coaches again how much of the progress you guys made would carry over?
"I think it can carry over just from guys that are going to be here and laying that foundation, and that standard of how we go about our business to be able to uphold that when new guys come or whatever the case may be."
What are the things that you would like to see next year in regard to COVID?
"I think the NFL has done a great job honestly. I think they've done a great job. Going to continue to trust them. They're the experts, those doctors. I'll leave that to them."
You talked about being traded a lot. How special is it for you to feel some consistency here being here four your third season?
"It's huge. It's awesome."
What type of things does the offense have to do next season to take a step in the right direction?
"I think as a unit when we look back on this season, the self-inflicted wounds, the penalties are going to be a huge thing. How does that happen? You become more disciplined. At the end of the day, it's jumping offsides or whatever the case may be, not starting fast. I think getting those things handled and fixed, I think individually each and every one of us and then when we come together collectively just to be able to have that emphasis right away, right off the bat and not try to play catchup."
Would you be interested in signing an extension here?
"I'll leave that to my agent, and I'll leave that to my representation and Nick (Caserio) and whoever else is involved in that decision making. I'm fine with whatever and we will just see what happens. I haven't really thought about that to be honest with you."
WR Nico Collins took a big step yesterday when you were out. Do you think he made a big step in that leadership role and what else do you want to see him improve on in this offseason?
"First of all, he's a big time play maker. Anytime the ball comes his way it seems like he comes down with it. As a rookie, you just come in and you are thrown into the fire, so it would be awesome for him to get this offseason under his belt with guys, with veterans, with his teammates and actually get his process dialed in so he can play all 16, 17 games and be there consistently. That's not to his fault, it's the fact that he is a rookie and most rookies don't understand. It will be great to be there for him this offseason and be able to help him and lead him to find his process."
LB CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY
How have you seen this defense grow through the year?
"Just guys playing together, knowing that in this defense it's all about being sound. You can't have individual play in this defense. Everybody's got to work together because one person messes up then the whole defense kind of blows up. One thing throughout these past games, we've just been playing together and learning how to play off each other, learning how to make those big plays when we need them. I was very proud to see where we came as a defense."
As a free agent this offseason, what are you going to be looking for in a team?
"I am a free agent, that's kind of funny to think about. But for me, I'm just trying to focus on getting myself right, getting myself in the best shape for possibly anything that happens. I don't know what's going to happen. Season just ended, so for me, I'm just trying to get my mind and body back, and we'll see where everything else takes place."
What do you think the Texans did this season that can carry over into next year?
"For the guys who are sticking around, I think we're starting to find our identity of who we are, who we can be. I think that guys are bought in to being here and we want to bring winning football to Houston. We'll see where it goes."
What was the feedback like when you met with your position coach? Did they express that they would like to have you back?
"We all know the NFL is a business. Things happen, changes happen. It's a part of the game. For me, I'm just looking to going into this offseason and preparing myself for whatever happens. That's really all I can speak on."
Have coaches told you that they are receptive to having you back?
"I don't really talk about individual conversations that I have with coaches."
How much do you enjoy playing for Head Coach David Culley, and would you like to see him back here in 2022?
"I enjoy playing for Coach (David) Culley. I enjoy playing for Coach Lovie (Smith). Two amazing guys. I think that we have built a great relationship and I would love to be back, and I think that they know that as well. It's all in God's hands."
What was it like playing through your hand injury, and how big was it to play these last few games?
"When I first broke my hand, obviously it takes a lot to bring me out of the game or to tell me, 'Hey, you need to chill out for a minute and get yourself healthy.' But I had that tough conversation with Coach Lovie (Smith) and Coach (David) Culley, and they told me (they were) basically looking out for my best interest. They didn't want me going out there and maybe hurting myself in another way just trying to protect my hand. They did that (in) the best interest of me, so I definitely appreciate that. I was happy to be able to end the season the way I did, playing with a smaller cast and being able to still go out there and do some of the things, so I was happy with that."
How did it feel to emerge as one of the leaders on a defense with so many new faces?
"We've got a lot of leaders on this team. I think we had the most free agents to come in in the league, or whatever. We've got a lot of guys who can step up and lead when they can, and it just feels good that my teammates put me up to a high standard like that. I'm definitely appreciative of them looking at me as a leader. I just go out there and try to do the best thing I can to be able to be a voice and an example for my teammates."
How was it working with so many acquired veterans in your position group throughout the season?
"It's one of the best group of guys that I've been around. We all knew that we were on one-year deals. We were trying to cherish the moments, go out there, have fun together. I think just about everybody in our room played, so it was a lot of fun. Whatever happens, happens, and we've still got that close relationship. We're just living in the moment, and that's what we did all year. We'll see how it unfolds."
What was the sense you got when meeting with coaches about the direction of this team?
"I think the organization is headed in the right direction. Obviously, every football year, tough decisions are made. But I think the decisions that are going to be made in the future of this organization I think are the best moves to keep everything going forward. I trust that they know what they're doing, and if I'm here, that's good. If I'm not, I still wish the best for the organization."
As a free agent, what do you look for in a team to sign with?
"Me, personally, I look for a group of men that have a will to win. I look for good people. It's hard to come across good people, good genuine people that are fully invested in their craft. That's what I look for when I'm looking for a team. I think Texas embodies that. It's a bunch of great faces in this organization and I enjoyed my time here. Hopefully, I have more time here, but like I said, that's out of my control. I think that they have the right people that's put in place here, and I definitely enjoy that."
Despite the team's record, what did it mean for this defense to finish in the top 10 in takeaways in the NFL considering the team finished last in 2020?
"That was definitely something good to see. You see a lot of challenging things happen in the season of football, but when you do pull out good things, that means you're always improving somewhere. Our record wasn't where we wanted it, but we still got better at something, and that's all you can ask for. You can't look back on the past and dwell on your record. You've got to look at the good things and say, 'Alright, what can I build at, and where can I make a statement going into next year?' I think that's something to end in the top 10 in takeaways knowing the previous year wasn't that good. It shows improvement, that's all you can ask for."
How much of the improvement in takeaways is due to Associate Head Coach / Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith?
"When you look at Lovie's track record, he always has defenses that have a bunch of takeaways, and that's something that he preached. He put special emphasis on takeaways and we focused on it. Obviously, it was a good outcome for us to see all those takeaways."
How do you feel about what you put on tape this season for your upcoming free agency?
"I think I put out decent film. Obviously, it was unfortunate with the injury and missing a couple games. But I think when I was on the field, I made a couple plays here and there and I kept the energy going, I kept my engine going. I think I put out some film for teams to look and say, 'Hey, we have a guy.'"