Houston Texans Staff
How frustrating is it for you to make the playoffs as many times as you have and not get past the second round?
"It's obviously frustrating. There's one goal and one goal only, and that's to bring a championship to this city. That's what we continue to work for. That's why we continue to put in the work and continue to do what we do. The goal has not changed. Obviously, to accomplish a goal that you haven't been able to accomplish yet, you have to change things, figure things out and do things better. That's what we're working to do is improve so that we can accomplish that goal."
Do you ever worry that time could be running out and you need a sense of urgency?
"I think there's always that no matter what point you're at in your career ever. At some point, time runs out for everybody. That's just a fact. I'd prefer to get things done sooner rather than later, but in terms of do I feel like this is it or the next one is it? No, I don't think so."
What was today like to be back in pads and the emotions of it?
"Yeah, it has been a bit of a weird time with the COVID testing every day, the social distancing, everything that we're doing that's different from a normal training camp. But today, I don't know if I was surprised by it, but it felt like the first time you got to put the pads on as a rookie in the NFL. You put the pads on and things are different. It's football. It's real football. All of that stuff kind of melted away for a couple of hours out there. It's real football. You get to hit. You get to pop the pads. You get to just be physical. It was fun. I got that old school feeling and it felt really good."
When NT P.J. Hall was at Sam Houston State he was compared to you and even changed his twitter handle to mimic yours. What do you think about that?
"That's pretty cool. I've seen P.J. very briefly. He got introduced to the defense the other day, but he's still working through some of the protocols to get out with us to practice. I haven't fully had a chance to sit down with him yet but I'm excited about that. It's an honor to have somebody who thinks highly of you like that. I've watched many Sam Houston games over my career from them playing here in the Piney Woods and obviously being so close to us. Excited to have him on the team. Hopefully I don't let him down."
QB Deshaun Watson dealt with a lot of fame early on at Clemson and when he arrived in Houston. How have you seen him evolve as a leader and balance what a superstar player in the NFL has to deal with?
"He's done a good job with it. He understands the situation he's in. Like you said, he's come from a situation where he has won national championships. He's been there for the Heisman. He's done all of those things, so he's kind of built up that reputation. He's also lived through it, so he knows how to handle big moments. He knows how to handle those situations and not let it get to him and not let it knock him off his course. The work always comes first, and I think he does a good job with that and he does a good job with our team."
Did you pick up any hobbies or learn any new skills during quarantine?
"Not really, no. My wife is learning the piano. That looks hard, so I don't think I'm going to do that. I did a lot of business stuff, just looking through and teaching myself about the business world and finances and investments and things like that, trying to make sure I'm as financially literate as I can be moving forward. It's something as a young player I wasn't necessarily concerned or worried about. So I would say that's something that I learned and picked up. In terms of actual hobbies, I wasn't like whittling bird houses or anything. I cut the grass a lot when I was back in Wisconsin. I did become a very big fan. I have a lot of land back there, like 38 acres. I cut the grass and I would line the field, so I have a lot of respect for groundskeepers."
Did you try on the COVID facemask within the helmet and if you had any thoughts on that?
"No. I have not tried it and I do not plan to."
How do you teach younger players? Are you able to teach some of the things you do or are you someone who teaches by example?
"It's something I've actually worked on over the years. It's something that I've had to physically work on to make sure that I can articulate the things that I want to say in the best way possible. Because there are some things that on the field that I can do that some other guy that has a different skillset that he has to do a different way or there's something another guy can do that I can't do. What I had to learn over time was how to properly articulate a coaching point to a younger player, and I think that's something I've actually worked hard on and that think I'm getting a lot better at. So with a young guy now, let's say it's Ross (Blacklock) or 'Big Z' (Auzoyah Alufohai) or whoever it is on our d-line, I do think I can communicate that a lot better and say, 'hey, I think this is what you're seeing, here's what I would do in that situation. Here's where your eyes should be. Here's where your feet would be.' Not necessarily saying, 'this is what I would do.' Because obviously as a player who has been in the league for a long time and who sees things a little differently, a rookie is not necessarily at that point, so you can't throw on them, 'hey, when it's gun-near and they have a guy in this set, I'm going to take that C-gap right out of the gate.' He's going to get yelled at if he does that. I don't want him to get yelled at by the coaches, so I'm going to say 'key your eyes on his inside shoulder and place your hands here and then make sure you have the C-gap secured.' You just have to do things like that where you're putting it in a context that they can understand and also trying not to overwhelm them because these rookies have thousands of things flying through their mind right now, especially this year more than ever, and you don't want to overwhelm hem."
What has your observation been of the rookies so far?
"They've done a good job. Like we've said the whole time, it's tough to fully evaluate so far in what we've done. Today was the first day in pads and you really can't tell until you put pads on what a football player is like. I like them so far. They've done a good job trying to learn their playbook as best as they can, getting out there and performing. We have to get them up to speed a little better on their rookie duties in terms of what's expected of a rookie - carrying pads or whatever it may be. They'll get it."
Other than injuries, that is the key thing that would help the Texans get to the AFC Championship game for the first time?
"Scoring more points than the teams we face. I mean, there's many things. We talked about it in our last session. We've got to be better in the redzone on defense. We want to get off the field on third down. We want to maximize our takeaway opportunities and give the ball back to the offense and let Deshaun (Watson) and those guys do what they do on that side of the ball. From our perspective, that's what it comes down to. It comes down to stopping the run in the early downs, putting them in tough situations on third down and getting off the field. Then when they do get down there in the redzone, holding them to field goal opportunities or taking the ball away. Really, when you break it down, that's what it comes down to."
Do you ever envision what it would be like to host an AFC Championship game in NRG Stadium?
"Yeah. I've done that since the day I got drafted here. That's the whole goal. That's the final step before the actual goal. So, yes, I do. Who knows what that would look like this year. I
haven't quite envisioned exactly how it would look like in the COVID era with fans, no fans, however that works. Winning the game all the same is the goal."
What's the feeling you have now on the fact that we are actually going to have an NFL season?
"Yeah, I think that we're all settling in after a couple of weeks here where everybody is kind of used to the protocols. Everybody is used to how the building works and how everything happens. Now especially for us wearing pads - I'm sure those other teams are getting into pads in the next couple of days - it starts to get more and more normal. I think the biggest thing for all of us during that time is the more normal it gets, the more complacent you could get when it comes to COVID because you start to fall into a normal routine. You think, 'OK, I can relax a little bit on the rules.' I think that as long as we all understand and abide by those as we keep going, I do think it will be successful. It just comes down to making sure that we continue - obviously having the daily testing and having guys doing the right things when they step away from this building, which so far everybody seems to be doing a great job of."
What has been the most challenging part about this training camp in particular?
"It's just different than most because obviously you don't have preseason games that you're building up to. You don't have just those game-like atmospheres and you're figuring out how to ramp it all the way up, but also not ramp it up too fast because some guys are in certain different situations. I think OB (Bill O'Brien) and Jack (Easterby) have done a great job creating the schedule. Personally, for me, we've sat down and OB and I have talked and we're creating a very customized schedule to make sure that it all points towards that first game in Kansas City. Personally, I have a tendency to get very amped up and I want to be all out every day and the biggest thing is remembering that this is all leading up to a game in Kansas City. The schedule that we've got and the plan that we have in place is a very good one. Sometimes I have to respect and appreciate that we're all doing the right thing to get there."
How tough is it to decide which brands you want to partner with? Also, what advice have you given QB Deshaun Watson about the opportunities that could come his way?
"There's obviously a whole process and you try to put people around you that have your best interest in mind and who also align with what your ideas and goals are. So, when stuff starts to come along, the biggest thing is that the work always comes first. I know Deshaun knows that and that's kind of what my mentality always was. I always told anybody, whether it was an agent or somebody we were doing a commercial with or a company - I said, 'no commercial, no event, no endorsement is ever going to come in the way of a workout.' So, if I have a film commercial on the day that I'm supposed to have a workout, the workout will be done first and then we can go film. I think he has the exact same mentality. It comes down to trying to find things you believe in, things you're passionate about. At the end of the day, there's also no hiding anything here - there's financial opportunities as well. It's just how do all of those things align for one common thing and then it's honestly a process of feeling it out as you go. As you go, you're going to learn, 'oh man, that might have been too many opportunities for me to take' or 'I wish I would have done this opportunity instead.' You learn as you go and then nothing's ever perfect, but as long as you have a good team around you and you have a good head on your shoulders, you'll always find the good way in the end."
Can you talk about your expectations for this defensive line, especially after losing D.J. Reader?
"Like I said in the last press conference, obviously we're going to miss D.J. D.J. is one of my best friends and I know he's going to go on and do great things in Cincinnati. But I love the group that we have. I love the guys that we have. I love Weav (Anthony Weaver) as our coach. We have a lot of fun in our group. We really have great camaraderie, great chemistry. The guys enjoy being around each other. We joke around, we laugh around, but then when it's time to work, we lock in and we work. We have really good communication this year. I think that some of the things that we talked about, some of the higher-level things that we're talking about now with the chemistry that we have are really good. I do have high expectations and I'm excited to get out there with them. It's not just the d-line, it's the outside backers - whether it's the third-down package or the backers behind us with B-Mac (Benardrick McKinney) and Zach (Cunningham). Then fitting in the scheme of the whole defense in general with the DBs as well, we have a really good group and I really enjoy going to work with these guys and I enjoy what Weav is doing."
What do you think about the way the organization is trying to reach out to the fans who cannot attend training camp?
"We understand everybody is going through a tough time. I know we wish the fans were out here and I know the fans wish they were out here. We're sending our best to them and we appreciate their support and everything they do to support us. We look forward to putting a good product on the field for them to cheer for and get loud for. It's a tough time. Everybody in the country is going through a very difficult time. If we are able to do this and be successful with this and put on a performance this season, I think it's going to be great to give people a chance to escape and get away and have a sense of normalcy."