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Transcripts: Bill O'Brien Press Conference (8-14-2020)

Opening Statement

"All right guys, good morning. I know this is an exciting day for all of us. We get full pads on and then we'll have media members out at practice, which is really good for you guys to be able to watch this kind of unfold in an unprecedented year. One thing I just wanted to explain a little bit to you is, relative to practices, we're still in the ramp up period here. Everybody is a little bit unique in their ramp-up schedule. It really shows you the importance of an offseason program. We didn't have the offseason program, so when everybody came back, we did a lot of sports performance testing. We did a lot of different things that gave us metrics relative to where each player was at. So, every player, from the 12-year veteran to the rookie is on a little bit of a different plan. When you guys come out to practice today, we've been going at this for a while. We just got done with Phase Three, two OTA practices. We had Phase Two before that. We had Phase One. Everybody is on a different plan. I know you guys will ask me, probably tomorrow, about some different guys that may or may not practice today. I'm not going to get into all of that with you. I just want you to kind of have an understanding of each player being in a unique situation relative to their ramp-up. With that, I'll open it up to questions."

What happens if you are around someone that tests positive for COVID-19 or if you test positive? Also, how does that apply to Defensive Coordinator / Defensive Line coach Anthony Weaver or Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks coach Tim Kelly?

"Great question. So far to start that off, we've had – knock on wood – we've had zero positive tests, which is really good. Really good. Especially here in Houston, with what's going on here in Houston. Our guys have been, to this point, very disciplined when they've left the building and done a great job. Relative to your question, if it's me, we've got a former head coach on the staff in Romeo Crennel. We've got Jack Easterby. We have a very, very good backup plan there. I don't think they'd miss me that much. Relative to defensively, we've got guys on the defensive side of the ball that are very bright – all of them. Any one of them could step in, whether it's D'Anton Lynn or any one of them. Offensively, obviously with Tim Kelly, obviously I've called plays before. You've got guys, very bright guys that have been with us for a long time. Will Lawing. T.J. Yates has played and coached in the system. Mike Devlin has been around us going on six years now. Special teams-wise, we have some really good young coaches. Will Lawing is another guy if something were to happen to Tracy (Smith). That's something that we talk about every day, but it's hard to plan for the unknown. You do have to have a plan in place, but we have some plans in place."

Does that mean Associate Head Coach Romeo Crennel would take your place on the sideline if you tested positive?

"I wouldn't commit to that right now, but obviously he would have a major role if I were to be in quarantine. Romeo Crennel, as everybody knows, is an awesome member of our staff and would have a major role in that."

If it was during the week would you coach the team from Zoom?

"I mean, we're a Zoom team. We Zoom every night at 5:45. We meet in person here – the rookies meet at 9:00, then we meet with the full squad at 9:30 and then we have meetings after that. We practice at 11:00, 11:30 and then we Zoom at night. So, yeah, we definitely would be able to Zoom, no doubt about it."

Does the season feel strange as you prepare for the first game?

"Yeah, the first thing is, it's kind of like, it is a little bit odd. I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said it wasn't odd. I mean, this is odd. I'm looking into a camera, there's your face on the screen. This in and of itself is odd. I certainly don't have a face for Zoom, I can promise you that. A lot of it is very unique. Like I said in the beginning, I think that's what I'm asking you guys to have a level of understanding, and as we go through training camp with you guys here with our ramp-up schedule for different players, that's what we're doing. We've put a lot of study and science into this thing and that's a little different. In years past, with an offseason program, we would've already been in pads for a while and things like that. Things are a little bit different, but everybody is going through the same thing and everybody's approaching it a little bit different way. This is the way we're approaching it and our team has been really good so far."

What were your conversations like with WR Kenny Stills on a possible decision about opting out? Also, do you have a timeline for when he could potentially be activated of off the Active/Non-Football Illness list?

"I think that my conversations with Kenny never involved opting out. Kenny wants to play football this year. Like a lot of young guys, especially a lot of young African American men in this country right now, they're passionate about what's going on. Kenny is definitely in that category. He's very passionate. He's very smart. He believes in the fight for racial justice and he just needed some time. He's come back here and he's in great shape. He won't be out there practicing today, but I don't think it'll be too much longer before he will be out there practicing. He's working with our strength coaches right now and again, just having not seen him for a long time before he arrived here, we're trying to get a gauge as to where he is, but he'll be out there pretty soon."

Can you talk about the competition at running back?

"Start with Duke Johnson and David Johnson, both of those guys have come back in really good shape. Both guys had good days yesterday. They're three-down backs that can help us in a lot of different areas. Those are the two main running backs, but you have other guys. You've got guys like Cullen Gillaspia that's kind of a guy that is a core special teams player but can do a lot of things from the backfield. You've got Buddy Howell, who's a core special teams guy who can do some things. Karan Higdon (Jr.) has come back in great shape and is really competing hard to try to gain a spot on the roster. Then Scottie Phillips, you've got Scottie Phillips out there, an undrafted guy who's gotten better and better every day. So in some ways it's very competitive relative to the 53. Duke and David are doing a good job, Cullen is doing a good job. It's a very good group. It's a very good room."

With many college football conferences postponing or cancelling seasons, how have you directed your personnel department to navigate this?

"We're talking about that right now. Some of the protocols are still unknown relative to when the NFL will allow scouts to travel, or if they will. College scouts – will colleges allow them into their buildings to watch film? In the case of, like, let's just say the SEC, if they're playing, can they come to practice? There's a lot of unknown there. I think one thing we're going to try to do is we're going to really try to involve them with different projects relative to college but also relative to the pro game. There's a unique opportunity for our college scouts in this whole deal to really be able to get a firm grasp on the pro game too. While they're studying the '19 season of college, the guys we feel are draft-eligible if they're not playing this year. There's a lot that can be done. Matt (Bazirgan) and I and Jack (Easterby), we're talking about that every day."

What would you like to see from QB Deshaun Watson in training camp or this year in order for him to take that next step to get to another level for your team?

"He's practicing really well. He was out there yesterday. He had a really good practice. He's got a really good grasp of our offense, how we want to run it. Timmy (Kelly) is doing a good job with him. T.J. Yates is doing a good job. I think Deshaun is really focused. He's locked in at practice and as long as he keeps doing that, he will definitely take the next step and then the next step and like he always has, be a great player for our team. There's new guys around him that he's getting used to. That's been good for him too because he's able to go out there and see what their skillset is and talk to them. His communication has been great with the team. He's working hard to get better and better every day."

How do you compare QB Deshaun Watson to his rookie year in terms of being a leader for this team?

"I think as you gain more experience in the league and you play really at a high level like he has, you gain a voice. You gain the respect of the locker room, which he has. Relative to in the building, he comes in early, he lifts early, he's watching film. He's in here, he's talking to his teammates. Even though we're divided into three locker rooms, we have a lot of the receivers and the running backs in the main locker room so they're talking after practice. Then, off the field, I don't know too much about everything that goes on with him off the field. I know that he does a great job. He's very passionate about social justice and those things. He's just a great guy. He's a good person. He cares about his teammates, he cares about the team and he's a winner. I just think he's doing a good job year in and year out of getting better at those things."

WR Will Fuller V said he spent the off season working on his posture. What have you seen from him so far that this is the year he is going to be able to stay healthy for all 16 games?

"He came back at about 190 pounds. Strong. Lower body is strong. He's confident in what he's doing. He's on a unique ramp-up schedule, too. He's doing a lot of good things and working hard and ramping up toward the season. You definitely saw how much work he put into the offseason when he showed up here. You could see the work he had put in."

With no preseason games and first-time play callers on offense and defense, how difficult and important will it be to simulate live game situations? Have you determined yet if they will be on the sidelines or up in the booth?

"I think the way we structure practice, really the way we always have – in the beginning of training camp you have a script. You're trying to get installations, making sure that you get all your plays in, your situations. You have a checklist, you have a script. You're just calling it off a script. As training camp goes on, the mode that we're in right now, there's really no script. I'll call out the situation. Anthony (Weaver) and Tim (Kelly) are on opposite sides with their units. They're substituting, they're calling the play based on what I've yelled out. It's not the same because you don't have the coaches upstairs and things like that, but they're not able to just get into a robotic read off the script. I think that is something that helped me when I was first starting out calling plays. I believe that helps them. We will definitely have a couple of scrimmages where we'll work game-type operations. We'll have coaches up in the booth. Those guys will be on the sideline. Both guys will be on the sideline. I think it's important. They both have a really good presence and it's important for their players. To me, in that instance where you've coached the player face-to-face all week and on gameday, the most important day of the week, you go upstairs and you don't have the eyeball-to-eyeball contact with the player, I just think there's something missing there. So, these guys will both be on the sideline. They're doing a good job. They're really doing a good job, both guys."

In terms of the on-field work, how would you describe the level of preparedness given the unique situation and the fact you are less than a month away from playing a live football game?

"I think it's been good. I think these guys enjoy the Zoom. That's probably a good question for them. They probably enjoy it more than I do. The Zoom is always something for me that I'm still getting used to. We have ways to teach on the Zoom. I got to give credit to our IT, our video department, Timmy Brog. We have ways to teach on the Zoom that are really good, whether it's Discord where we can show film, or it's a Kahoot program where we can test them. We've done a lot of different things on Zoom that have helped them learn. I think they like being in the comfort of their own home and learning and Zooming. We have Zoom etiquette that we talk about relative to mute and unmute and all those different things. I think it's been good because when they show up every day, they're ready to go and their assignments have been good. The rookies are a different deal. They're learning. But the guys that are veteran players, I think it's been good so far." 

With the new body tracking technology, do you ever find yourself wrestling with the old-school coaching mentality at times where you throw them into more wind sprints if they're out of shape compared to now, where you're trying to keep them healthy?

"I would say, about two or three years ago, I would say yes to the fact I wouldn't even know what this number means. I don't understand what 350 means on a player load count. What does that mean? Over the last three years, with the help of Mike Eubanks, Roland Ramirez and Jack Easterby, I've learned more about it and I've understood more about it. Now, I see how it applies. I think the way it applies is we have job descriptions for everybody on the team. If you look at, let's just take the corner position. We have corners, but we have corners plus, because Keion Crossen is a gunner so he is going to do more high-speed, long distance running in practice than Bradley Roby, who is not a gunner. Or, at safety, you have A.J. Moore (Jr.), who's another really good special teams player who's going to do a lot more long-distance running, high speed running than let's just say Eric Murray at this point in time. Although Eric will play special teams too. Maybe that's not as good of a comparison. At receiver, you have guys that are running down on special teams but other guys that don't do that. You've got to take that into account. Also, the age of the player. If you have a guy that's at the age of 28, 29, 30 years old, I think it's important to understand that player load. When to track when to get them a day off or maybe just back off a little bit. We're using that a lot. I think it's helping us. We're not where we want to be. We still have some soft tissue deals that we have to deal with. I have definitely bought into it and have learned a lot from it."

What is the most creative way you've ever seen a player try to sneak a woman into the hotel?

"(Laughter) Maybe offline I can tell you a story from last training camp where we had to move on. No, I have not seen that too many times. Most of our guys are staying at home and then we have a hotel available to them if they want it. We have a great locker room. Our guys have been really good. We haven't had to deal with any of those issues."

What are some early expectations and thoughts on NT P.J. Hall?

"So, P.J. we brought in. We're taking a chance on P.J. P.J. is a guy that played at Sam Houston State, was drafted in the second round in 2018. He's got a lot of talent. He's a guy that has flashed at times in this league. He's got to get in shape. You won't see him out there today. We've got to get him in shape, lose a little bit of weight then get him on the field and see what he can do. He has shown the ability to play good football in Oakland at times, but he has to do a little bit of proving that to us. I think so far, so good. He's been working his butt off for the last couple of days. We'll keep watching him and we'll get him out there when we can."

Now that you see how much talent there is on offense, do you wish you would've continued calling plays this year? What are some things that you learned as a first-time play caller that will help you with letting Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks Coach Tim Kelly do what he's supposed to do as the first-time play caller?

"There's a lot of things you just learn through experience. We try to give them those experiences in practice. 'I really like how we handled that' or 'hey, I think next time that comes up I can do a better job.' The no-script philosophy, I think, is really important. Relative to Tim, he's doing a great job. At the end of the day, these conversations are awesome and you're full of excitement and you see the possibilities of the team. At the end of the day, having done this for a while now, the proof is in the pudding, right. We have a lot of good players. We have a great quarterback. Tim does a great job. He teaches them, he's got passion, he's excited and he's a very bright guy. I can say the same about Anthony Weaver. They guys are focused. They're learning. They like meeting with these guys. They have good personalities. I'm able to concentrate on other things, more of the full-team picture. I'm able to meet with players a little bit more on the other side of the ball, defensively or on special teams. Things like that. It allows me to hopefully be a better head coach. We've won a lot of games here the last two years bit we're not where we want to be. I think those moves, in my opinion, are going to help us get to where we want to be. That's why we made those moves and hopefully it turns out the right way. I think both guys, Timmy and Weav, are doing a great job."

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