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Transcripts: Nick Caserio Press Conference (4-16-2021)

"Good morning. I appreciate everyone being here today. It's probably been a while since we've all been together. Exciting time of year for the organization, for the respective staffs. Our scouting staff in particular. We're excited about the opportunity that's in front of us here in a couple weeks with the draft. That staff has worked extremely hard, Matt Bazirgan James Liipfert on the college side. Even going back to what's happened here over the past few weeks and months in free agency. The staffs have done a great job. Everybody's put a lot of time, lot of effort, lot of energy and I certainly appreciate it. Excited about the start of the off-season program here to kind of kickoff football season. We'll see what that brings here starting Monday, but we're excited about where we're headed, and I appreciate everybody taking a few minutes this morning to get together. So I think we'll go ahead and get it started."

Can you give us any update on the situation regarding QB Deshaun Watson?

"I would say I really don't have any comment. I know Cal (McNair) and ownership put a letter out a few weeks ago just relative to the organizational stance relative to where we are, so I don't have anything to add other than it's a legal process. We're respectful of the legal process and where that is. We're focused on today and we're focused on getting ready for the offseason program and getting ready for the draft, so that's where our focus is."

Have the allegations against QB Deshaun Watson affected how teams have approached you regarding his availability?

"Right now, the focus is on the offseason program and getting ready for the draft. I think that situation is in the legal process and we are respectful of where that is, so we'll leave it there and focus on the things that we can control, which is getting our team for the start of the offseason program and getting our group ready for the draft and the opportunities that will be in front of us here in a couple weeks. So that's where our focus is."

What went into the decision to sign QB Tyrod Taylor and why do you think he is a fit for the team?

"I'd say generally speaking when you look at the whole roster construction and the offseason program what we try to do at all positions with the entire team is try to identify players that we thought we liked that may have had some experience with our staff and that were looking for opportunity to compete, to be in a good situation and that wanted to be in Houston. He certainly fell into that category like a lot of other players. We're excited to start the work with this group, whenever that is, and how it's all going to unfold, like nobody has a crystal ball, but we just try to do what we thought was best for the organization and for the team, so that's why we signed the players that we did."

There are obviously a lot of scenarios that can happen from QB Deshaun Watson sitting out to getting suspended; there could be a trial. How are you planning for those different scenarios and what are your kind of contingency plans as you look ahead?

"We're not really going into a lot of hypotheticals and a lot of speculation. I'm not really good at that. Maybe somebody else is better than at that than me. If you want to speculate, you should probably go buy Bitcoin, focus on that. We're just going to focus on the things that we can control which is kind of getting ready for draft and trying to take advantage of the opportunities to continue to add to our team and build our roster. We'll just take it one day at a time and focus on the things that we can control."

What is the potential of you trading up or moving back to add picks in the draft?

"Yeah, it's a great question. I think when you just look at the draft in general, there's a multitude of strategies that you can employ. A lot of that is based on resource allocation and a lot of it is really player-driven. So when you talk about, a, moving up for a player or moving up in the draft, who are you moving up for and what's the cost associated with doing that? So in order to move X number of spots, OK, it's going to cost you this, right? So part of our draft, I would say preparation is to look at different scenarios, how far could we actually move relative to the resources that we currently have in place? So I think the most important thing is always being prepared to pick whenever you're scheduled to pick, and if there's an opportunity to move up or down, we'll be flexible, we'll be open-minded and we'll just try to make best use of the resources that we have. I would say there's no set formula of going up or going down, and it's very player-specific and very player-driven. If you feel you might be at risk of potentially losing a player and there's a player that you really like, OK, maybe it's worth moving five or six spots and then what's the cost associated with doing that? So again, we are going to have to look at our picks, what we have, what gives us the opportunity to move up. If we want to move down and we think we can move back and acquire the same player, there's some risk involved in that. You try to weigh everything and just try to make a good decision whenever you have to pick."

Did you say six weeks ago that you believe that QB Deshaun Watson could have been traded before the draft? If so, has that changed at all?

"I've never said that. I mean, if that was something that someone said I said, I don't believe I said that. I think the most important thing for us is to do what we think is best for the Houston Texans, and that's what we're going to do."

How difficult is it to prepare for a draft when you don't pick until the third round unless you make significant trades?

"Good question. Quite frankly, not difficult at all. I mean, we've had experience, I've had experience. We haven't had first and second round picks before. That was the case in New England. I think one year we were picking, like, 70th or something like that. We didn't have a first or second round pick. We ended up picking four players. Again, I think the most important thing is to evaluate the players, have an understanding on the board top to bottom, and whatever opportunity you have to pick, whenever that is, just be ready to pick the player that you feel most comfortable with. To answer your question, quite frankly, it's not that difficult. I think we have done a lot of work and we have done a lot of research. Look, we have evaluated the board top to bottom. It's not, well, we don't have a first or second round pick, we're not going to evaluate this group of players. That's kind of irresponsible. But our staff, James Liipfert and his staff and our area scouts, we have done a lot of work. We have done a lot of information. Again, when you're watching a team, you might think, 'OK, this player is going to get picked in the first however many picks.' But when you're watching that team and evaluating that school, it's not like you're going to go through your evaluation process and say, 'well, we don't have a first or second round pick, this player is not going to be there, so we are not going to worry about him.' It's kind of negligent or irresponsible. Quite frankly, it's not that big of a deal. I think it gets made into the bigger deal than the reality of what it is. So whatever our opportunities are, whatever picks that we have, we are just going to try to maximize those opportunities."

How do you perceive or go forward with the uncertainty that you're dealing with at the quarterback? Also, do you think QB Tyrod Taylor would still be a good fit for the team if there was not any uncertainty with QB Deshaun Watson?

"A couple good questions we'll kind of work back to front on that. I would say when you look at our team, so we went through the offseason, we went back and evaluated our team, we went through the roster and I would say specific to the quarterback position, there was only one player that was under contract or on the team, right? So we were evaluating that position, in addition to a multitude of other positions, as well. We went through our process. We tried to earmark or identify some players that we thought we liked. I would say in his particular case, he has some experience with coaches on our staff or has some experience, you know, in this type of offense or system. So regardless, like, that was a position where quite frankly we didn't have very many numbers. AJ (McCarron) was a free agent. Josh (McCown) retired. So when you have one player at any one position on the team, you need more than one person You're going to need more than one person. So I think that's kind of how we approached it and just kind of went through our process and evaluated it accordingly."

How big of a role did QB Deshaun Watson play in your decision to come to Houston?

"Look, any time you make a decision, a professional decision, you're going to evaluate every piece of information. So there's a lot of things that go into it, and again, whenever you start, whenever you accept the position or start something new, you have no idea what's going to be in front of you or what that entails, right? You just take the information that you have, make a decision and make a choice. I was blessed to have the opportunity to come here to Houston. I'm excited to be here and we're just going to take it one day at a time. So again, like are there challenges? Everybody faces challenges. We all have challenges. I would just say generally speaking, there's a lot bigger challenges in society that are taking place right now than anything really going on from our football team. So I think it's important to kind of keep everything in perspective. Again, you look at everything, you assess the information, and you make a decision, and you just move forward, right? Look, you're going to face difficult situations and there's going to be circumstances that come up and how you deal with those situations ultimately is the most important thing. That's kind of how our approach has been philosophically. I know that's David's (Culley) mindset, that's our coaching staff's mindset. Like the past, I would say, three or four months have been, quite frankly, like pretty refreshing and invigorating. We've tried to do what we feel is best for our team, try to build the team and try to put together as competitive a team as possible and try to get ready for the upcoming season. That's all we can really control. To answer your question, I think those are the things that are relevant. Not necessarily, like, here are the challenges and here are the things that, like, it looks like it's a real difficult situation. Again, life's full of challenges and how you handle it ultimately determine the outcome."

What was the thought process behind keeping a majority of the personnel department and all the free agency moves that the team made?

"We've actually made a lot of changes in that area, as well. There is some carryover. There's some carryover that's been in place or some people that are still in place. So again, you evaluate everything, you try to assess the information, try to make a good decision across the entire football operation and that's what we did. I have a lot of confidence in that group. I have experience working specifically with James (Liipfert) going back to our background together in New England. So again, there's a lot of factors. It's never one particular thing that goes into making those decisions. It's a good group, good, hard-working group. They're smart and there's been a lot of communication back and forth, and we're trying to put some systems in place. Maybe some things are a little bit different than what they have done previously. But again, what we are trying to do is just try to merge it all together and ultimately arrive at the same point. Try to make good decisions for the Houston Texans organization, and really, it's our decision. It's not my decisions. It's not David's (Culley) decisions. It's not James' decisions. It's our decision organizationally, and once we make a decision we are going to move forward – understanding, and I would say specific to the draft, when we look at that, I mean, we are talking about really a 50-50 proposition, so it's a coin flip. So there are some players that are going to come in here and that are going to work and there are some other players for whatever reason that are not going to work. That's just the nature of what we do. I would say there's a lot of players that we signed of the however many 35, 40 players, some of them might not be here in September, right? So where the roster is currently, it might look a little bit different in September, as well. That's just part of the arc and the ebb and flow of the NFL and the overall roster building. We're excited about the group of people that are here. The attitude's been great. The energy has been great and we're just trying to make as much progress as we can one day at a time and just see where that takes us."

Is there a particular position that the team is prioritizing in the draft in order to improve the roster?

"Yeah, it's a great question. I think there's always the discussion of, OK, quote unquote, need versus, maybe picking best player, right? What we've tried to do successfully or unsuccessfully – what we've tried to do is just create as much competition on the roster as we possibly could. So some positions, I don't know, we have like 15 defensive linemen on a team between defensive tackles and the defensive ends. There's eight, nine linebackers, we have nine corners, so does that prohibit us from maybe taking a player at maybe one of those positions? Not necessarily, right? So you have to assess who that player is that you're evaluating that you're making the decision on relative to maybe what you have currently in place and see how that matches up. Maybe there's another position where it may not have as many numbers or you feel, you know what, this player definitively is an upgrade from what we have, or at least we think he is, so we are going to go ahead and select that particular person. I wouldn't say it's necessarily position-specific. I think our focus is just trying to find good football players that are good people that have the right mindset that want to come here and they want to work hard and aren't afraid of competition that are going to embrace the opportunity in front of them. Ultimately, it's not going to be about what I think. The players are going to ultimately determine how big of a role or who plays. So just try to bring as many good players, as many good people into the building, and let the competition sort itself out. I think that's the mindset and the approach that we are taking, as opposed to we need to draft this specific position because of this, or we want to take this particular player because of this, right? Because if you do that, it might lead you astray and I think you just want to try to be true to your evaluations of specific – we're talking about the draft – be true to those evaluations and you've graded the players a certain way. So what you don't want to do is, 'well, this player at this position, you know, is graded a little bit higher but we have so many of those players on our team already. Maybe this player is graded a little bit lower, but we don't have as many players. OK, so you're going to take the player down here.' You've got to be careful about doing that because then it goes against all the work that you put into it. So again, it's about just picking the right people for the Texans, the right players, not necessarily a specific position of quote, unquote need."

Am I correct that you start the offseason program next week?

"The start of the offseason program is scheduled for Monday, that's correct."

Do you expect QB Deshaun Watson to participate in the offseason program on Monday?

"Well, this year is no different. It's a voluntary program. So players have the option to participate in the program. So it's a case-by-case basis and each player will make the choice that they feel is best. What we're going to do is we are going to do what we have done actually the past couple months, like the building's been open. We've had a multitude of players that have been in here. They come in the building, they test, they go in the weight room, they work out, they go through their process. So again, whatever players are here that choose to participate, like that's their choice and we are going to create as good of a working environment for the players as possible. So when they come here, they feel comfortable, and they feel like they are improving as a Houston Texan football player, so that's what our focus is going to be on."

With so many new players and a defensive scheme change, how difficult would it be for the offseason program to be virtual and not on the field?

"Look, there's only so much that we control, so we'll take advantage of whatever opportunities that we have, whether that's virtual meetings, and then if we do have the opportunity to work with them on the practice field at some point, then we'll embrace that opportunity when it presents itself. So we can only control what we can control. We don't make the rules. We just comply with the rules, and that's what we'll do. So whatever opportunities that we have with the players, just try to help them to try to give them the opportunity so that come training camp, they are in the best position to compete. That's what we'll do."

Do you place more value on coverage or pass rush?

"It's all combined. It all works together. Defense is about team defense. It's not about one particular player, about one particular position. It all works in conjunction with one another, so the better front you have, then it's going to help the coverage. The better coverage is going to help the front, right? Again, it's not about, like, is one more important than the other? It's about team defense. There's 11 players on the field and they have to work in conjunction and in unison with one another. That's the best way to play defense is to have good team defense. You've got to be able to do certain things. There are certain areas that hopefully we can improve relative to where we were last year as a team with the Houston Texans, and that's what we're going to try to do."

What are some of the specific qualities that you look for in a player that you bring to the Texans?

"Great question. There are certain physical attributes that are going to be important. Those are going to be specific to the position, like their speed, their explosiveness. Again, there are certain things that may be a little bit more relevant physically to whatever position that they are playing. I would say some of the non-tangible components, which are a little bit higher to measure, right? I would say their mindset, their mindset relative to the team. Do they put the team first? Are they willing to be coached? Are they willing to improve? Can they make corrections? Can they make adjustments? Can they handle a large volume of information? OK, can they transition from one opponent to the next opponent and can they reduplicate that on a week-to-week basis? I think being able to perform consistently over the course of a long period of time and sustain that level of performance, and improve and make adjustments and corrections, those are some of the non-tangible things that are harder to measure that you don't really get the opportunity to see until you actually have them in the building. So there's physical attributes that are important, physical components that are important and there are some non-tangible, I would say, more football trait-related things that are just as important that we can't look past because ultimately some of those things are going to determine how good or not the player is going to be. Not to speak on any particular player in New England, but just on the heels of (Julian) Edelman's retirement, there's a good example of a player who had to cut some physical characteristics. But then he also had some non-football traits relative to his work ethic, relative to his mindset, relative to his willingness to improve on a day-to-day base that made himself into the player that he ultimately became. Again, I would say we have a lot of people on our roster, in our locker room that have that same sort of mindset and mentality. So those are the things that we are going to try to bring to the floor and see if we can identify players in the draft that have some of those qualities, so that when they come in here, we can actually evaluate those and see those."

What was your mindset as you made changes to the offensive line this offseason?

"Again, like just evaluate the team, do what we feel is best for our organization. We have some players that were here last year that are returning. We have some players that played last year that are no longer here. Again, just try to look at everything and just trying to make smart decisions or what we think is best for our team. So that's why, there's a lot of factors, I wouldn't say it's one particular factor that goes that. There's a multitude of factors that go into those types of things, right? You have to factor those in and then you make a decision and then you just move forward with it."

With the way the COVID protocols have impacted pro days and the Combine, has it been harder for you to evaluate this year's class?

"It's a great question. I wouldn't say it's been harder. I would say it's probably been just more different, right? Because each team with the pro day specifically, you're allowed three representatives from your organization, and you couldn't have, I would say, one-on-one interaction. I would say normal protocol and course of action would be going to the school the night before, meet with the player, spend some time in the classroom, be able to go through some things, right, and watch the player work out the next day and you put together a comprehensive report of what you saw or what that interaction was like, right? This year was OK, show up, watch the player work out and leave, right? Again, it was just different, so you just have to come up with maybe some alternative ways to gather information, and I think our staff has done as a good a job of that as possible, scouting staff and coaching staff, because we do have an opportunity to interface with these players on a one-on-one basis, kind of like we are doing here right now, right? Like we could have that call. You could get on a call with a player for an hour and go through some of the same things that you would do at the school, right? So you just have to sort of shift your mindset and shift gears a little bit and be flexible with your thinking. And again, you're still trying to arrive at the same endpoint. I would say in addition to the pro day process, when you go back and look at the fall, some teams played more games than others, so you have a bigger sample on some players relative to others, right? So I wouldn't say it's necessarily made it harder. Has it been a little bit different? Yeah. But again, you just have to trust your process, trust what you're doing and try to figure out a way to arrive at the end point so you make a good decision ultimately at the end."

When you are evaluating a quarterback that might be available in the mid rounds, are you evaluating that quarterback differently than you would a quarterback that would be available at the top of the draft?

"Any position, you have certain criteria that you're going to evaluate that player. So regardless of their level of performance or their level of play or who they are, you're evaluating them on the same criteria and then you're assigning a numerical grade based on a particular skillset or attribute, right? So then when you compile all that together, the end result might be: OK, this player grades out at this level, this player grades out at a different level. You don't necessarily – you're not evaluating them on different metrics. You just maybe have a different endpoint of what you think of the player, right? So what goes into playing one position doesn't necessarily change regardless of where they're picked, right? You're still looking at those same attributes. And then maybe one player, one level, maybe doesn't have quite all the qualities that you like, but he's got these things that he does pretty well and you feel comfortable, and, OK, so we're going to assign a numerical grade because we think it's commensurate with the role we are projecting, right? It doesn't necessarily change the way you evaluate it but each player has their own skill set and some are more equipped or better in some areas than others, and that's what you have to weigh out. So hopefully that answers your question."

I just wanted to clarify my question from earlier, because I think it came off differently from how I intended. It wasn't that did you say that you would trade QB Deshaun Watson, but I was asking, did you believe that he could be traded before the draft and if so, has that belief changed at all?

"Again, I would go back to what I said earlier. I'm really not going to get into lot of hypotheticals or kind of speculation. I think the most important thing on all of this, on any particular situation, what we are doing organizationally, we are going to do what ultimately we feel is best for our team."

You used free agency extensively to overhaul your roster. How much work could be done between now and the draft that could affect what you're thinking in the draft, or is it apples and oranges?

"Not necessarily. Look, it's all tied together. I think when you look at the team right now, we're at 78, 79 players, so, OK, you can get to 90. So that leaves, call it 10 to 12 spots or 10 to 12 areas, right? If you go beyond that 10 to 12 then it's going to come at the expense of maybe some other player or another position, right? So what you try to do is put the team in place before the draft and you evaluate where you are, make an assessment, OK, and then go through your draft process and look at potentially the players that might be available, let's say we're picking at 67, or let's say nothing changes, right? Who is going to be available, and is that necessarily impacted by these 78 over here? It might be, but it might not be. Again, you just want to try to pick good football players. Again, I'll use an example of just going back to what we did in New England. So whatever, two, three years ago, we drafted Damien Harris, I think it was in the third round, because we had a certain grade. When you look at that position, we had James White, we had (Rex) Burkhead, we had Sony Michel and I think we had Brandon Bolden on the team. So to your question, looking at that position, going, all right, looks like they are in a decent shape at that position, right? But when you're looking at the board, you're looking at Damien and going, all right, that's a good football player, we've graded him a certain way, OK. Like do we not draft that player because we have these four players over here? Like, not necessarily. Well, we drafted Damien. He basically was inactive as a rookie, right, and then this past year he played, and he was New England's leading rusher. So, again, you don't want to be dissuaded by doing something just because like you have these X number of players over here. Just try to pick good players with the right traits that fit your program, what you're trying to do, and if it's at the same position where you think you have some duplication, you have to make that call. Like, that's a choice that you have to make."

You've had about 70 moves you've made during the offseason. With all the movement, who do you view as your cornerstone players? Who do you view, if there are any, that you have?

"I don't think you look at it that way, right? You start to put labels on players. I don't think that's really fair to any particular player. Like again, our thought process and mindset was to look at our roster, look at our team and when you look at the players that we've added, most of them, not all, a majority of them, they have four, three, seven years of experience. So they have some level of experience in the league and some level of success at the program they have been. So try to create as much competition, present an opportunity in front of them and again it's not putting labels on anybody that he's this, he's that. Like that's not what we are going to be about. So what we are trying to do is build as good a comprehensive team as possible. Whatever that's going to look like, I don't really know at this point. We know where we are at this point in time. We'll see how the rest of it transpires here kind of once we get started."

What do you see as three or four positions of strength in this draft? Do you agree that it's unusual in terms of the number of quarterbacks who are worthy of being selected in the first round, especially high in the first round?

"It's a good question. You've obviously been doing this a long time, as well. Each draft is very cyclical in its nature, right? So each year certain positions maybe have more numbers and more volume than others. I mean, that's the way it is every year, right? Sometimes positions seem like they are the same each year and sometimes they're different. Again, you just have to evaluate the player and put whatever grade that you think is on it. I would just say, not to like oversimplify this, but again, when you look at the draft history and the draft arc, even in the first round, you're hoping that it's more certain than it's not. But there's still uncertainty in the first round and the reality is, like, it's 50-50, right? So if there's five of this, two of them are going to work and probably two or three of them aren't, right? Like, which ones are those? Look, I'm not smart enough to figure it out. Maybe you are, but I'm not, but that's going to happen. When you look around the league, and I'd say what's taken place here over the last few months, it's kind of representative of that. So again, there's no, like, set formula. There's no, like, OK, this is going to work and here's why. Like, again, I'm not that smart to be able to tell you who those players are going to be that that works with, right? You just try to identify the players, make good decisions, hopefully you've evaluated them properly and hopefully you're on the positive side of the ledger more than you are on the negative side of the ledger. Look, every player that you draft is not going to work. Like, for someone to sit here and tell you that it is, it's less than truthful. It's just not reality. So that's just the reality of what we deal with. So try to take advantage of your opportunities, and there might be some circumstances once the player gets into your program why he does or doesn't work, right? Oh, man, there's no way this player is not going to work but something happens, he has an injury issue or just it's a bad fit. OK, then you go back and say all right what did we miss, did we miss something, OK, and try not to make the same mistake next time. I mean, I can't tell you which ones are going to work but the percentages tell you some of them aren't. And even at the top end of the draft, right, I'm sure if you do the research – I'm sure ESPN has got research everywhere, right, or whomever, like it will manifest that, will bear itself out, right? I'm not like making anything up here. Again, the draft is a fun process. I think honestly it's probably one of the more overhyped processes that's out there. So again, we've spent a lot of time on it. Like everybody is on TV talking about it, what everybody should do. That's great. That's awesome. We can't get caught up in that. We just have got to say, all right, look, we're going to evaluate the players, do what we feel is the best for us, try to find the right people that we think are going to fit the Houston Texans, and hopefully it works out and we can coach them and develop them and they make improvement."

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