Transcripts: Bill O'Brien Press Conference (8-20-2020)

It seems like you have more stability at every starting position than you've ever had. Do you agree with that?

"I do think we have some depth. I do think that certain positions have a little bit more depth than other positions. I think when you think about starters, you think about different packages, especially on offense and defense. You think about your 11-personnel, your 12-personnel. We have different types of that, if that makes sense. You're looking at different tight ends that could be in there, or different receivers that could be in there. If you're looking at defense, you're looking at nickel, big nickel, smaller nickel. You're looking at dime, you're looking at base defense. When you say starters and things like that, I don't know if we ever look at it that way. Certainly we have a starting quarterback, quite obviously. Starting left tackle. Certain guys that are definitely – we have a starting defensive end and starting inside linebackers. But there's other positions that become starters in certain packages, if that makes sense."

How good do you feel about what you just talked about in comparison to your first six seasons?

"I'll be honest with you, I think it's a weird year. I think that right now we would be getting ready for our third preseason game. That would be about the timing, so we're behind when it comes to that. It's not the players' fault, it's just the way it is. We got to work to get to better shape. We've got to really try to do the best job we can to keeping our injuries down, soft tissue especially. I think we're behind, probably just like a lot of other teams. I think it's going to be the team that can keep the virus out. I think it's going to be the team that can be in the best shape, the team that can improve from week to week. That's what you're trying to do."

What do you think about the gameday and travel protocols the NFL released yesterday?

"They're involved. They're very involved. I really would have a hard time answering that right now. Jack (Easterby) and I were going through them last night with our subprogram heads and we're going to have a meeting on Saturday about them. Everything from how many on the sideline, to social distancing in the press box, to how should we do the food at the hotel, to only having maybe having 10 guys on a bus, and everything in between. Just like every other team is dealing with it, too. I think it's going to take a lot of hours to really sift through that and make sure we get it right."

You brought back TE Darren Fells, what does it about him and his age that allows him to sustain his performance?

"Here's a guy that didn't even play college football. He was a basketball player. Really a guy that is just a really mature, good person who cares about winning, who cares about being a good teammate. He really works hard to improve. We do a lot of things with the tight ends and he came into our system last year and he really learns well. He was able to produce. Deshaun (Watson) has a lot of confidence in him in the passing game. You're right, he's a technically proficient blocker on the edge, which that's hard to find at that position. I'm glad we were able to bring him back."

Can you tell us how DE J.J. Watt is doing?

"He's doing fine. He's doing fine. He's played a lot of football and he knows how to play football. What's important for him and for us is that he's in great condition and that he's ready to go on September 10th. His ramp up is different than anyone else's, and I could say the same thing about Will Fuller (V) or Brandin Cooks. Everybody's ramp up is a little bit unique. I think in this year – and I know that's a really important part of your job, is to see who's out there and all that, but I just wouldn't read too much into that moving forward. I really wouldn't."

What does it do for a football team to know S Justin Reid can play through injuries like he has and how much do you enjoy how vocal he is with his leadership?

"He's a tough guy. You said it, to go out there and play that position with shoulder issues and come out of a game, have it worked on and then go back into a game, an NFL game, that just says a lot about Justin Reid. He's a very tough guy. He's very smart, very athletic. He played a lot of different positions for us over the years. He's played deep part of the field, down in the box. He's played nickel for us. He's been the personal protector on the punt team. He's done a lot of things for us. A lot of that is because of his own mental toughness and physical toughness. So, he's a really valuable part of our team."

You mentioned the process of bringing in players to workout with testing. How does that affect the decision making process? Are you more likely to look at guys who are already here?

"It's definitely challenging. It's definitely different. I think with the roster you have right now, this is basically your team. You're at an 80-man roster. Eventually you have to get down to 53 plus 16 on the practice squad, so you've got a 69-, 70-man roster at that point. So, you're looking at your team right now. So, when you look at your team, based on injuries maybe or just based on a lack of depth, maybe we need to look at a few guys that are out on the street that we know are good football players, that we know are good guys and not pains in the asses, guys that are good guys that can maybe come in and help us win. That's something we talked about every day and we say, OK, if we're going to do it we've got to get the guy in now because he has to test for four days or whatever – three negatives before he can even take a physical and work out or even meet with us or even come in the building. It's different than it has been in the past, quite obviously, for obvious reasons. It's the same for every team. That's the beauty of the NFL. Every team is working under the same rules, but it's definitely a challenge."

You said you have been able to spend more time with the defense. Has that given you a new perspective on the offense and it is kind of refreshing?

"I've always spent time with the defense but I think I'm able to go into a meeting more, even a staff meeting, and just give them maybe a couple tidbits of offensive perspective. 'Hey, this is what they're trying to do on this protection. This is what they're trying to do with this route scheme when they see this coverage. Just understand this is beating this coverage, or trying to, or this protection is. If the linebacker moves four feet, then that might screw the protection up.' I think sometimes defensive coaches don't understand that offensively, when a defensive player moves from here to here, that can totally change the call. That's really the perspective I try to give. Obviously, the biggest thing is the personnel, how are we using personnel. We have a lot of versatile guys like (Bradley) Roby, Lonnie Johnson (Jr.), and Eric Murray and Justin Reid and Zach Cunningham and J.J. Watt, quite obviously, and Charles Omenihu. I always tell them if this is a tough matchup when you put this guy here or that guy there. That's really what I try to do and I can do that a little bit more now."

Do you find yourself calling other coaches around the league to discuss how to handle a compressed training camp?

"I think we did that early on, yeah. I would talk to certain coaches early on. The coaching fraternity in this league is awesome. They're just a bunch of great guys that are willing to help. I think as you get closer to the games now, I don't know if they're helping you too much. I think early on we did consult and guys would call me. Us and Kansas City were kind of the first ones because we have the earliest game. People reached out to me, 'hey, how'd you do this or how'd you do that.' I think those phone calls are few and far between now once you get towards the beginning of the season."

When you watch QB Deshaun Watson, what is he doing better now than he was doing at this time last year?

"He's playing really well. I mean, he's playing at a really high level. He's got a real good grasp of our offense. He's got a real good grasp of the protections. He's throwing the ball accurately, on time, making good decisions in the passing game. I think we've thrown a ton of passes – I think he's only throw one interception the whole camp. He's understanding the ball is coming out in a good rhythm and he just works hard to get better every day. He takes it very seriously. His meetings, he's very focused. The walkthroughs, he's very focused and he looks at each practice like a game and he tries to get better every day. He's doing a great job."

Can you talk about what makes ILB Zach Cunningham so special and how important he is to your defense?

"He's very athletic, very instinctive, a really good tackler. He's made a couple of plays on screen passes where he's fended off the blocker and been able to push the ball carrier back inside where to where his help is coming from. He can play zone coverage. He can play man coverage. He's a good blitzer. We can use him in a lot of different areas – not just at inside backer. He can do a lot of different things for us. He's a really, really good football player."

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