Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith
How would you describe your defensive philosophy and how do you see the transition to a 4-3 defense working?
"Explaining, defining, our defensive philosophy, there are some thing we want to get accomplished defensively. It all kind of starts with how you win football games – scoring points. I'd like for us to have a defense that realizes that, that the number one goal is to score. The second goal we have would be to take the ball away. We need to be good on third downs. In order to accomplish that, though, we want a smart defense that's fundamentally sound, that plays hard each down. I'm a product of Texas high school football and proud of it. Some of the same fundamentals that coach Glenn Arnold, who coaches high school basketball here for 50 years in the Houston area taught, we're teaching the same things still to this day. Excited about a new group coming in and everybody starting from scratch and showing us exactly who they are for us to put the best 11 guys on the football field who will help us win games."
What do you think of how General Manager Nick Caserio has done in the offseason to improve the defense?
"Nick has done an excellent job. As you know, we were based out of a 3-4 front for quite a few years here, so there is a transition. The first thing, Coach (David) Culley, of course, Nick, we all got together to do was to start overhauling the roster to get our personnel to fit it. I feel like we're close to that right now. I love all of the free agency moves that we've made because some of the positions we're going to play with a little bit different guy. You mentioned linebacker, we play with a little bit different linebacker. Our linebackers are more space guys, run, speed as a premium with it. Having a four-man front now, we have to kind of adjust that a little bit, but I feel like we've done that. Our roster – we like our roster that we have right now before we add some more players in the draft. Roster-wise, it's constant throughout. We'll always have that going, but we're making progress."
You are taking over a defense that was extremely poor in forcing turnovers during the 2020 season. What is the key in forcing more turnovers that you can implement here?
"We have to do that. I know people say, 'well, turnovers just come.' I don't believe that. I think when you come and watch us practice, you're going to see an emphasis being placed on that daily. It starts talking about it first of things that you have to get done. As you talk about a good defense, if you're not taking the ball away, if you're not good on third downs, if you're not scoring, you're not a good defense. It's just not about total yards. For some reason, not for some reason, but we've been able to get that accomplished just about everywhere we've been. It's going to start with a basic philosophy to the players and they're going to buy into it and we're going to be teaching it every day, just like we're going to be teaching tackling."
What are some schematic changes you have seen from NFL offenses since the last time you were in the league?
"I think when I initially left, when we initially left the NFL and went to college, it was probably more adjustments we had to make then. The college game, it's a lot more run, quarterback run-dominated offenses. I think our system, and everybody has a system, you tweak it from year to year, but I don't think we'll have to adjust ours that much. I just think that now we'll be able to run – in college, we weren't able to run our entire system. Most of the time you go three receivers, we kept our base defense on the field. We didn't play our nickel package as much. I think our defense is more suited for the NFL game and we'll make the tweaks and the things like that, but we feel pretty good about what I've seen. Even though we've been in college, I watched the NFL games each week. You watch football each week and you try to keep up on what all is going on, trends that are going on in college and of course with the NFL, too."
What have you thought of DB Lonnie Johnson Jr. and do you think he will play cornerback or safety?
"What I'm trying to do is stay away from specific questions like that, but I'll say this here, Lonnie has position flexibility. You're going to hear that word an awful lot. I think it's safe to say, we see Lonnie as a safety right now. He feels good about that. He's got excellent size. He's got a corner skillset, too. Really feel good about him fitting into our defense. As you look at our roster right, we've gone through that evaluation process and if a guy's here right now, we think that there's a perfect role for them to fit within our system."
What was it about this job and Head Coach David Culley that intrigued you?
"The first thing was, I'm a product of Texas high school football, so the chance to come back that played a big part in it. But I've known David Culley for a long period of time. Knew what kind of man he was, what type of coach he has been throughout, and I know the influence that he would have on the organization, so that was an easy – wasn't really a big sell job that David had to do. I thought it was an honor to be a part of his first staff. He's going to do great things here. The players are going to really love him and every coach that came on board kind of feels the same way."
Can you tell us a little more about Head Coach David Culley and what to expect from him?
"I think you've had a chance to meet him. It's a genuine feeling that you get that number one, this is one of the good men leading an organization and that influences what will go down from the top down. I've known David a long period of time and how I knew him was an excellent – his primary expertise early on of course was with the receiver position, and you just look at the guys that he's put out. When you do well with a small group, you get more. That's what's happened with David. You want a guy like that to have an opportunity to lead his own team, so that's what we're going to see. You're going to see a guy with energy every day. He's not going to be up and down. He's going to be honest and direct and that's what players want. They want a real man in that position that they want to help win."
How do you anticipate the situation with QB Deshaun Watson being addressed with the new coaching staff?
"I think the number one thing I've learned from my time in sports in general is for me is to learn how to stay in my lane. I don't know enough about that situation. I know that what we're doing here in the building right now is just trying to make the Houston Texans better. Things have happened, in time they work themselves out if you just let it play out. That's what we're going to do. I just know that the decision that will be made will be based on what's right with anything that we're dealing with."
When you went to coach at Illinois, did you expect to be back in the NFL as a coordinator or head coach?
"This is what I've learned is that you take it a day at a time, year at a time. You never know what the future will be, will present to you and that's how I looked at it. When I was a high school coach, I thought I'd be a high school coach maybe the rest of my life, then a college coach the rest of my life, NFL. As much as anything, what I wanted to do was be in football and it's just a privilege to be a football coach. I've loved my time at every different level I've had a chance to coach. I know now to have a chance to come back into the NFL, I've had a chance to be on a couple Super Bowl teams, we haven't won it. So that desire to be a Super Bowl champ in the NFL has always been there. Now we're back in the league to have a chance to do that eventually someday."
How do you see the cornerback position playing out?
"You mentioned three guys right there. Really, what I like, what we would like to see is to be three deep and just competition. Bradley (Roby), the guys you mentioned, Terrance (Mitchell), of course. Vernon (Hargreaves III) has come back. We have a lot of good players that have played good football. Two guys are going to start. If there's four guys we feel like we can win with, we'll play as many guys as we need to if we think that we can win with them. As far as the roster, the guy who you would say is at the bottom of the depth chart, I hope he's good enough to play for us and he brings competition where every guy each day feels like they have to be at the top of their game. That's what's going to help our football team. That's what's going to help first our defense rise to getting back at the top. The Houston Texans have played great defense around here in the past and eventually, we're going to get back to that. In order for us – most people say, 'hey, you guys are going to run Cover 2 every snap,' well, that's a misnomer there. In order for us to have success, it's going to be a lot based on whether our cornerbacks can play man coverage or not. It always comes back to that. So that's a position that we need to be deep and I feel good about the direction we're going."
How will the team replace DE J.J. Watt after he joined Arizona and who do you see stepping up in his absence?
"It says a lot about our organization to have a player like J.J. Watt come through here. His influence will still be around here. Some of the young players that you mentioned, they had a chance to see how J.J. prepared in the offseason on a daily basis. They'll take that. But change brings about a lot of different things and now it's that next group. It's their time. Who's the next J.J. Watt coming up? That's what I'm excited about. That next person who's going to step up and be able to perform like J.J. did consistently. So, the players that you mentioned, we have some young players on all three levels. I'm talking d-line, linebacker of course and back in the secondary that can really elevate their game. A player like Zach Cunningham, there's a reason why we're paying him what we're paying him. I'm excited about so many of our young football players and I think that they'll fit perfectly in our defense."
How important is it to teach a new defensive system to players on the field rather than virtually?
"It is definitely harder to, if we can't get on the football field, to have to do it virtually. But that's one thing we learned though going through this pandemic this last year that we've adjusted and been able to get some good work done. But it's not the same as being on the football field. For our new staff, we need to be on the football field tomorrow for that matter. We want to be able to also our playbooks, the mental part of it is just as important as the physical part. But we assume eventually the league is going to tell us when we can turn the lights on, when we can start doing the different things and we'll be ready to go then. Whatever the rules, we're going to make it work."
What do you have to say to all of your fans in Texas who have supported you since you were in high school?
"As you mentioned, we take pride in being from Texas and of course being from east Texas. Just to have a chance to grow up in that area and to still have a chance to represent my home area of course is pretty special. Growing up, of course with Texas high school football, I get a chance to give back a little bit to it. To be a part of that again, I just say that it's special. To be so close to home, there are so many emotions that I've gone through a little bit, but again, just excited about us bringing the Texans back as much as anything. As many fans as we can get up there, we'll appreciate it."
LB Jordan Jenkins
What's it like for you to be able to play for the Texans in front of your family in Houston?
"That's it right there. You hit the nail on the head right there. I'm a big family man. With all my family being in Houston, Louisiana and scattered parts of the West Coast, this is just honestly a dream come true. That was the biggest issue, my family wanted to come see me play but I lived all the way up in New York and it was just a hard thing to happen. Now, this might be one of first times I can get some of my girls – my grandma's there, some of my grandparents, my great uncles can come out there. They've been lifelong Texans fans and when I didn't get drafted down in Houston, I figured it was never going to happen and now that it actually is – it still hasn't set in yet. It doesn't really feel real. I've been talking to my parents about it and I don't think it will actually feel real or like it's actually happening until the first game when we're running out of the tunnel and it's like man, I never thought this would happen. It's a dream come true."
How is your shoulder healing? Also, when you are heathy and ready to go, what will you bring to the Texans?
"I feel like my rehab is going pretty well. I'm not sure when I'll be back but I just know when I do, I'm going to be the same physical, run-through-you type of guy that I've been over the last five years. That's something I take pride in being and just being violent and physical and aggressive. That's one thing that won't ever change about me."
Where do you see yourself fitting in on this defense?
"I feel like I'm a guy that can use different types of moves to get to the quarterback and can definitely set the edge pretty strong. I just feel like I can be a violent guy for this team and just be a guy who's going to give his all. If you need me to take out a pulling guard, I'll go meet that pulling guard, or if you need me to take out the fullback. Whatever. I'll do what needs to be done and that's just the mindset that I have. Whatever my role is, I'm going to do it to the fullest. There's no questions about it."
Do you have any familiarity with players on the roster you are now teammates with?
"Yeah, there's actually a couple of guys on the team that I was with in past seasons with the Jets or knew training like Shaq Lawson, I've known him for a while through friends of friends. Andre Roberts, we've played together. He still thinks he's a better golfer. I've played together with him. I've played with (Donte) Moncrief. I've played with Chris Conley back in college. Wow, I'm spacing but T-Brooks (Terrance Brooks) I've played with, and the list just goes on. There's always some connection. Like with Jon Greenard – I feel like I butchered his last name – but we've had the same defensive coordinator and position coach back in college in Todd Grantham. There's connections all throughout."
What was last year like for you as you battled injuries, from October on, is that right?
"It actually first happened in Week Three against the Colts. Just playing the game and took a bad hit and my whole shoulder popped down and I didn't know what was going on, I just knew it's probably messed up. The training staff came by and I just told them to pop it back in, pop it back in I'm ready to go. They tried to take me inside, but I just said to pop it in and just let me keep going and finished out the game against the Colts. I just had to stay in the training room doing a lot of rehab. That was probably one of the toughest seasons of my career, having to try to play through that and then deal with everything else that was going on in the last season."
After an unsuccessful season with the Jets, how much are you striving to play for a winning team?
"That's something that I've wanted – to be part of a winning team, for a while. With my time in Georgia, I think I racked up 44 wins and I'm not used to losing. Coming out of Georgia, we had maybe two or three losses a year, but I'm just striving to be part of a winning program and see what it's like on the other side of things."
How do you view what is happening with the quarterback situation and how the Texans are trying to build a winning program?
"I'm not really too sure on what's going to happen on that side of things and I'm just waiting to find out like everyone else is. I'm just – whatever my role is, I'm ready to fill it. Whatever the team needs, I'm ready to do that. I'm curious as well to see everything that's going to – I'm sorry, I butchered that question. What I'm trying to say is, I can't wait to see what Nick (Caserio) is going to put together and get going to make a winning organization. He's been a part of a lot of winning organizations. I feel like he has everything – he has all the tools necessary to get it done. Sorry about that, I got a little long winded there."
Are you trying to say you think Nick Caserio will do a great job as a general manager?
"Yeah, in one way or another that's what I was trying to say."