HEAD COACH AND GENERAL MANAGER BILL O'BRIEN
How do you plan to use this week to improve the team?
"I think this phase right here is a big part of the team-building process. Right after the season we took some time off, came back to work, evaluated our own team. That's the first part of the process, where are we at with our own team, and then we began the draft and free agency preparations, and now we're into the combine which is another phase of the draft. The whole thing is about, 'OK, where are we in the process of building the team?' So, that's what we're doing right now – all factors. Every position, every player, we'll take a look at it and try to do the best we can to put together a good 2020 team."
What do you think is the best way to build the team in terms of the draft or free agency?
"Yeah, there's a lot of different ways. I think one of the one of the things that's important to us is to do the best we can to keep our players, players that have been on our team. I think that's a really important thing for us, relative to where we're headed. Then there's all different kinds of ways that you can build a team, right? There's obviously the draft, there's free agency, there's the college free agent process. There's all different ways. So, we're taking all those things into account each and every day and trying to make decisions in the best interest of the team."
Can you talk more about Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly and what you like about him?
"Tim Kelly is an excellent football coach. Tim was a graduate assistant at Penn State my first two years there, came to Houston, was a coaching assistant on offense, tight end coach, offensive coordinator, worked very closely with the offensive line when he was a coaching assistant and a tight end coach. Very hardworking guy, a guy that really cares about the players. The players really respect him, does a great job in the meeting room, on the practice field, does a great job on gameday. He's just an excellent coach, and we have great relationship. He's a great person, and we're excited for him to take the next step in his career here. He's going to coach the quarterbacks, he'll call the plays, and he'll do an excellent job."
Do you feel like your team isn't too far off from being Super Bowl contenders?
"I think every year is different. I definitely think every year is different. I think that we feel really good about, obviously, Deshaun Watson. We feel really good about a lot of the players around Deshaun on offense. We feel good about where we are on defense, but we also know that there's a lot of things that we have to work on, right? We know that 2020 will be definitely a different year than 2019. None of us like the way it ended, but we have to move on. We have to move on to this process of building our team for 2020, have a really good offseason program which is very important, and then proceed into training camp. We're really early in the process of building our 2020 team, but we're excited about where we are right now."
How has your relationship with QB Deshaun Watson grown over time?
"Deshaun and I, I'll let him speak for his side of it, but I love the guy. He's an excellent football player, but he's an even better person. He cares about his teammates, he cares about being as good of a player and a teammate as he can be every single day, he tries to get better every day. He's a very smart player. He's gotten better and better, he's improved every single year, and we obviously feel very good about and very fortunate to have him on our football team. I think having that position, as we all know, is very important and we feel like we have an excellent player there."
What has Executive Vice President of Football Operations Jack Easterby added to your staff?
"Jack's title is executive vice president of football operations. He does a lot of different things. He's involved with me on the personnel side, he's involved with me on the salary cap, he's involved with medical, equipment, video. We do a lot of things together. Jack and I do a lot of things together, we spend a lot of time together. He's a great person, great guy to work with, very bright guy. Hopefully everybody gets a chance to meet him someday, but he's been an excellent addition to the organization."
Why did you decide to promote Anthony Weaver to defensive coordinator?
"Weave (Anthony Weaver) has a great presence. He was a former player and has coached for a long time, he's been in different schemes, he's done an excellent job with our D-line. He's been in front of the unit before because they divide up responsibilities during the week, so he's been in front of the unit before. He's very smart, and the players have a lot of respect for Anthony and he's going to bring a lot of different ideas and creativity to our defense. I feel really good about our defensive staff. We added Chris Rumph, outside linebackers coach. He had been with Coach (Nick) Saban at Alabama, he'd been with Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt at Tennessee. We made D'Anton Lynn the secondary coach. I feel really good about D'Anton. D'Anton is an excellent coach. We're excited about where we are staff-wise on that side of the ball."
When did you know that Anthony Weaver could eventually become a defensive coordinator?
"Obviously when you have guys on your staff, you spend a lot of time together, especially from the offseason program and the end of July through January, you spend a lot of time together. Weave and I have spent a lot of time together talking about defense. I've interviewed Weave. I've talked to him about what he would do if he was ever the defensive coordinator, and he did a great job in those meetings. Very bright guy, has a really good grasp of the whole defense, not just the front. He has a really good grasp of coverage and front and how it all works together. He's worked for some great guys, played for some great guys, Rex Ryan, Mike Pettine – defensive coaches that I would say are pretty damn good. So, he's learned a lot from them and he'll bring his own style to our defense and I think the players will be excited about it."
How has QB Deshaun Watson improved as a leader?
"He's an excellent leader. I'd say first and foremost he leads by example. He leads with his work ethic, he's out there every day at practice. He's in early, he stays late, he works in the weight room, takes care of his body. He'll do whatever needs to be done at practice, stay after practice to fix a route or go out early to try to work on center-quarterback cadence or things like that. So, he does a lot of different things on and off the field to help us as a leader. He's an excellent leader."
How does the combine change for you now that you're the head coach and general manager?
"Not much. I think that we have a great team of people that have done, in my opinion, a great job of preparing us for the combine. Matt Bazirgan, James Liipfert, those guys and all the college scouts, especially relative to this week, have done an excellent job of preparing us a week ago for this week. We've had some good meetings. I feel like we're in a good spot relative to what we're going to be looking at, who we're going to be evaluating, interviewing and all that. There's been a lot of preparation put into this and we're excited about the week. I think for me it's just about making sure that we pay close attention to what we need to pay close attention to and just communicate with everybody and make sure we're all headed in the right direction."
Where are you at in conversations with T Laremy Tunsil and QB Deshaun Watson about their contracts?
"I probably would tell you I'm not going to get into any specific contract negotiations. I don't think that's probably fair to the player, especially, and it's not fair to the club, but I will tell you that we want both those guys on the football team and we're working very hard to try to get that done. Those things take time. They don't happen overnight. Everything has to fit together relative to your team, your salary cap, what they're looking for, but with those two players, Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil, we want those guys on our football team for a long time."
What qualities do you look for in evaluating cornerbacks?
"That's a good question. I think that depends on where you're playing that corner. I think if you're talking about an outside corner, I think you've got to have a guy that has man-to-man capability. I think it's got to be a guy that obviously has the right skillset of body type, movement skills, ball skills, instincts, the ability to tackle, the physical nature of the game the way some offenses are running the ball to the outside, the way some offenses are putting tight ends on the perimeter now. So, I think it's a very difficult position that we're all trying to figure out who the best guys are to get on your football team that can do a lot of different things. I think the inside position is also a very valuable position, the slot corner, we call it the star. That position is very important, too, because that's a guy that does a lot for you on the inside of the defense, covering slot receivers, doing different things within the front. So, I think those are positions that we spent a lot of time talking about and trying to do as good a job as we can in evaluating."
How will your role on gameday change with Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly calling plays this season?
"I don't think it changes it too much. I think that one of the bigger changes would be between series. I've spent a lot of time with Deshaun (Watson) and Tim, the offensive line, the running backs, the tight ends, the wide receivers on the bench there before we go out for the next series. I think I'm not going to do probably as much of that. I think I'll do more about being able to focus on the whole game, how the game is being played and things like that, but I don't think it changes it too much."
What are the challenges of building a team when you have a large quarterback contract on the books?
"It's very challenging. You have to do as good a job as you can of making sure that you take care of your quarterback. I think that's important when you have a great young quarterback. But at the same time, you've got to have a team around him. So, there's a lot of challenges to that. I'm not sure we have enough time to go through all that. I think you have to have really good people in your organization that understand and can come up with creative ways to help those issues relative to putting a team together. Everybody knows, and Deshaun Watson will be the first one to tell you it's not about one player, it's about a lot of players. So, it's a process that takes a lot of time, a lot of good communication, and that's part of our daily routine."
What are your thoughts on the possibility of going to a 17-game season?
"I thought about that in anticipation of maybe someone would ask me that question. I don't really want to get into all that. I don't know enough about it. I'm more involved relative to the coaches that I talk to on the rules side of things, but I don't I don't know enough about it. I only know what I've read, which is all rumors. Until there's a deal in place, I don't think it's really my role at all to talk about it."
How have you seen the Buffalo Bills build their team the last few years?
"They have an excellent team, they have a very tough team. They have a team that plays great complementary football, a very physical team, very well coached team, very disciplined team. You've got a great young quarterback, got a great head coach in Sean (McDermott), he does an excellent job. Got a really good coaching staff, strong guys on their staff. I know a couple of those guys. They're doing an excellent job. That that was a brutally hard game that we were fortunate to win, and Buffalo's got a really good team."
Where is G/T Tytus Howard in terms of health?
"Doing well. I would say that to put a timetable on it, I probably wouldn't be able to tell you. I think he'll be able to do some things in the offseason program, though. He's doing really well. He got married a couple weeks ago. I don't even think he took a honeymoon. I think he went right back into the training room to rehab. I don't know, I'm just kidding, but he's doing really well. He's a great kid. We're glad he's on our team."
Are you in favor of keeping the offensive interference rule the way it was last season?
"That's a good question. I think the whole goal for all of us, and when we go into these meetings, there are great people there. There are some really bright minds in these meetings, both on the coaching side and on the officiating side, and on the league side. What we do is we've just got to come together on consistency and what is the standard and what exactly are we looking for, because as coaches, whatever they tell us, we'll coach it well. One of the things that's come up recently, obviously, is blindside blocks on special teams, right? We coached it, and in my opinion you see the players reacted very well to that. You see the high screens, you don't see – there's still some plays, obviously, that are bad and that we're trying to get all of them out of the game, but you see players, whatever we coach them to do, these players are great, they're going to do what we coach them to do. Hopefully we can just keep working to be consistent in how it's all called."
What are some of the qualities you're looking for in running backs? It seems like there's a lot of different styles.
"There are different styles, and when you look at this draft, just in my opinion, I've watched some of the backs and there's a lot of different styles of backs. You have big backs, you have 250-pound backs, you have backs that are smaller, really good in the passing game. It depends on what you're looking for and how you categorize those players on your roster. Are you looking for a first-and-second down back? A bigger guy that maybe not as much in the passing game, but really good downhill runner, a three-down back that can kind of do it all, a third-down back? It just depends on how you vision the player and try to come to a conclusion on how we would use that player. I think that's a big part of this process."
How do you go about this combine process with the picks that you have in the draft?
"I think that's a good question. We're meeting every day here. We've had several really good meetings here relative to that, where we're at. We haven't even gotten close to putting a draft board together or anything like that, but we've had a lot of good meetings, strategic meetings about what our picks are and, 'Hey, this is the group of players that may be there, may not be there.' Those types of conversations. But we're way down the road from that, we're just kind of chipping away every day at those things."
What do you think about the XFL?
"I think the XFL has been interesting to watch. Some of the different rules, the kickoff rule, the one-two-three-point point-after rule. I watched the Houston team. They're fun to watch. They have a good quarterback. June (Jones) is doing a good job with that team. I think it's a fun league to watch. I'm not sure that I would want the players being interviewed on the sidelines between series. I would probably not like that, and I definitely wouldn't want to be interviewed during the series. I'm sure you would like to see that. But no, I think it's been a good league and I know Oliver Luck's doing a really good job. They've got the right guy in charge of that league because he's such a good guy and cares about the game. It's been fun to watch."
Have you guys scouted any XFL players?
"I think any time football's being played, I think any coach would tell you that whether it's CFL, XFL, wherever it is, you're watching those games."