AFC South: Bill O'Brien

The day after the Houston Texans' three-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks last season, I asked then-Texans coach Gary Kubiak if Matt Schaub could have used an audible out of the play that resulted in a pick-six by Richard Sherman that might have altered the course of the season. Kubiak said no.

Last week Schaub told the Bay Area News Group that he is enjoying having more freedom in the Oakland Raiders' offense.

It's a sentiment current Texans quarterbacks understand. Those limitations placed on Schaub, the inflexibility of his options, were simply part of the system Kubiak ran.

They aren't part of Bill O'Brien's system. And the one quarterback left on the roster who spent the longest time playing for Kubiak loves the change.

"The quarterback's in complete control," T.J. Yates said. "We're doing everything up front, we're setting the protections, setting the mike, we have a lot of options to go to depending on the pass formation or the pass concept. ...We have a lot more freedom in this offense, and I think it's going to benefit all of us."

That freedom is part of why intelligence is something O'Brien values at the position.

Yesterday, O'Brien termed the competition as being "wide open." Today he was asked what he looks for in a quarterback and mentioned leadership, work ethic and accuracy. The Texans have never had a truly open competition before, and that fresh start that comes with everybody learning from zero is exciting to Yates, too.

"It's very refreshing for me because new coaching staff, new offense ... everybody's getting reps with the (first team), everybody's getting reps with the (fourth team)," Yates said. "I'm looking forward to keep progressing with this offense because it is a very fun offense."

There's a reason not every great coordinator can become a great head coach, or sometimes even a mildly successful head coach.

The skills necessary for a head coach are exponentially greater than at assistant positions. He's the man who has to organize the day to day. He's the public face of the organization. He explains the victories and defeats. He has to win the locker room and garner its respect and obedience.

It takes a man who understands people and interpersonal dynamics.

Given the way Texans coach Bill O'Brien has handled Andre Johnson's absence so far, it's clear he does.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderBill O'Brien has not allowed the Andre Johnson situation to become combative.
Johnson said two weeks ago that he was tired of losing and, as such, wasn't sure Houston was still the right organization for him. He said he hadn't asked for a trade or spoken to anyone about his contract, but he was thinking about things. He also said he wasn't going to attend organized team activities or the Texans' mandatory minicamp -- and he didn't attend the first day of OTAs.

Every time O'Brien has been asked about Johnson, he begins with the good.

"He and I have had positive conversations," O'Brien said Tuesday. "I have a ton of respect for him."

When the face of the franchise is upset, things can get awkward very quickly. It happened back in 2012 with the Jaguars when Maurice Jones-Drew held out for a new contract. The sides didn't communicate, they all felt slighted, and the new head coach, Mike Mularkey at the time, didn't hide his disdain much. In the end, neither got what he wanted and neither is still with the team.

Back when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was with the Denver Broncos, his relationship with new head coach Josh McDaniels began rockily. There were a lot of factors involved in the McDaniels/Cutler spat, but one that made things worse was McDaniels' rigid insistence that if he wanted to trade a player, even a quarterback who had just been named to the Pro Bowl, he could do it. In the end, again, neither got what he wanted and neither is still with the team.

Johnson v. Texans has taken on a much less combative tone and it's because both the disgruntled star and the new head coach have shown respect for each other. Part of that is O'Brien's understanding of how to deal with people.

Don't misunderstand that to mean he's a coach who coddles -- that couldn't be further from the truth. He'll scream at a guy who needs or deserves the yelling. But he seems to understand that not everybody needs to be handled in exactly the same way.

He could, when asked about Johnson, divert and gruffly reply that he only coaches the players who are there. Instead he acknowledges Johnson's career and Johnson's place in this franchise's history before going into the usual refrain about focusing on those who did participate in the voluntary workout.

"We’d love to have him here now," O'Brien continued Tuesday, after expressing his respect for the best player in Texans history. "That’s up to him. We’re moving forward with the players that are here. These guys are working extremely hard. That’s where it’s at."

In the first public test of his ability to act as the leader of an NFL team, O'Brien is behaving exactly like one should.

Texans offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Houston Texans' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Pat Sullivan/AP PhotoThe Texans scored big by landing the player many considered to be the NFL draft's best overall prospect in Jadeveon Clowney.
Best move: Selecting Jadeveon Clowney first overall was the Texans' best move this offseason. He'll help the Texans' pass rush, and they'll use him in a hybrid fashion, beginning at outside linebacker, that will best suit his talents. It might take a few games for him to really get it -- it took J.J. Watt until late in the 2011 season to truly feel comfortable -- but when he does, the Texans' defense will benefit.

Riskiest move: Though we knew the Matt Schaub era was over as soon as the season ended, trading him away was a pretty risky move, especially given the fact the Texans didn't feel strongly about any of the draft's quarterbacks. Schaub's 2013 season was a disaster, but he was the most successful quarterback in franchise history and he could have been the guy to hold Houston over until they found the QB of the future. Of course, trading him away saved the Texans some cap space and they got something back for him, which is good.

Most surprising move: Nothing the Texans did rises to the level of "surprising" this offseason. Bill O'Brien was a fairly natural choice for head coach. ... No one ever expected Houston to take a quarterback first overall. They talked about trading the pick since January and tried to do it until the last moment they could. Their draft was a lesson in discipline. ... It was a mild surprise that they felt Antonio Smith's time as a starting defensive end was done, but only a mild one.

Focus on teaching: It's hard to judge many of the Texans' offseason moves because of the huge amount of upheaval within the franchise. A big part of whether the on-field moves they've made work will depend on the teaching aspect. With his smart and energetic staff, O'Brien will try to alter a culture that existed in Houston for most of a decade. Their teaching will impact Clowney's growth and the quarterback position. It will dictate how the team's established veterans transition to a new scheme and coaching style.
HOUSTON -- Bill O'Brien doesn't believe in ceilings.

He used to. Then a doctor got furious once when the Texans head coach, just a father of a young boy with a rare neurological disorder to this doctor, kept asking him about the ceiling for his son. Now he's learned: ceilings only exist when you let them.

It's something O'Brien carries into his coaching.

"In my opinion, nobody has a ceiling," O'Brien said. "There’s no ceiling. You create your own ceiling by talking about ceilings. I don’t think you ever talk about that here. Ever. We teach the guy. We want the guy to get better every day. We try to do what’s best for the player with how we teach him, the situations that we put him in."

He shared that story in response to a question about Tom Savage's ceiling. The quarterback talked openly Saturday about the things he has to learn, having played a disjointed football career interrupted by transfers, with a brief construction gig tossed in. Savage was the Texans' fourth-round pick on the draft's final day, and one of 10 draft picks the Texans made this week.

The Texans entered the draft seeming to need a quarterback badly, then took four players before addressing the position. Taking Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick was a no-brainer. But guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz both came in ranges where quarterbacks could have gone. Defensive tackle Louis Nix is a special case -- a guy the Texans had rated much higher, who fell to the 83rd overall pick.

"One thing that I felt about the quarterback position is there’s three guys here right now that we enjoy working with that have played in the NFL with Ryan (Fitzpatrick), Case (Keenum) and T.J. (Yates)," O'Brien said. "We have a lot of respect for those guys. We have respect for how they've bought into what we’re doing. We have respect for how they’ve learned and how they’ve gone out there those last few days of practice and tried to get better every day. ...We have three guys we can work with that are willing to learn, and if somebody happened to fall to a place we can draft him, then that’s what we would do. That’s what we did with Tom Savage."

The Texans had a fourth-round grade on Savage, which is not typically a round in which you find starters. It's not impossible, of course, but usually teams look to Rounds 1 through 3 to find starters. Their own lack of panic about the position (and panic can be harmful in a draft room) had them stick calmly to their board, trade up only if someone fell.

Were they right?

That's impossible to tell right now. But trusting your work and the months of work by scouts and assistant coaches is a critical part of this process. Being right is also important, but that judgment has to come later.

It has to come after coaches have had the opportunity to maximize what they get out of various players. Once they hit their ceilings, actually, let's call them their peaks, that's when judging this draft class will make sense.
The Houston Texans' first overall pick was on the trading block until right near the end of their time on the clock. With three minute remaining, they called Jadeveon Clowney to tell him they were dratfing him.

Texans general manager Rick Smith explained that they were excited about Clowney, so they were unwilling to give up the pick but for a steep price.

Houston is taking the same approach in the second round, according to head coach Bill O'Brien's conversation with ESPN's Ed Werder.

O'Brien told Werder that the Texans have players on their board they're prepared to take unless someone blows them away with a trade offer.

O'Brien said there are four to six quarterbacks remaining on their board at various spots. And, um, he mentioned Derek Carr by name.

The second round begins at 7 p.m. Eastern.
HOUSTON -- The panic was palpable as the first-round closed.

There the Texans were, having taken Jadeveon Clowney first overall then having sat pat for the rest of the first round, rather than addressing what remains their biggest need.

Blake Bortles went third overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Johnny Manziel waited hours until the Cleveland Browns took him 22nd. The Minnesota Vikings traded up to the 32nd pick, one slot before the Texans drafted next, to take Teddy Bridgewater. And just like that, the three most talked-about quarterbacks in this year's draft were gone.

Panic in the streets.

Only, if you listened to what the Texans have been saying since March, this fits.

They said they didn't see three clear-cut top players. Coach Bill O'Brien said he didn't see much separation between that trinity and other quarterbacks. General manager Rick Smith agreed.

"There's some depth in this draft class in general and I think one of the positions that illustrates that is the quarterback position," Smith told me on March 25. "A lot of people talk about the three guys Manziel, Bortles, and Bridgewater, but there’s some good quarterbacks out there, the whole group."

On the same day, O'Brien mentioned Alabama's AJ McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, when bringing up names of other "guys that can play quarterback." He didn't mention Derek Carr, David's younger brother, but some (including Mel Kiper) consider him to be the best quarterback remaining in the draft.

That the Texans have waited fits.

Trust me, they realize it's a need. It was a need even before Houston traded Matt Schaub away to the Raiders. His story with the Texans was finished. This new Texans regime has no intention of going into 2014 with only the three quarterbacks they have now -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, signed in free agency, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates. If that happens, something went wrong. They've had internal discussions about Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but as of Thursday evening they have had no talks with the Patriots.

The Texans considered moving back into the late first round, but apparently decided against it. And while I think getting Clowney and Bridgewater in the same draft would have been one heck of a coup, their sights clearly weren't set on the former Louisville quarterback.

The Texans had the night to reset and the morning to take a look at their draft board and decide what to do. We won't know for a while -- maybe a few more years -- whether they made the right move to watch Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater slip by. But what we do know right now is the Texans are doing what they said they would.

They are acting like they told the truth all along.
One of new Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien's most consistent themes with his new team is the importance of the team above individuals.

That is why O'Brien's response when asked on "SportsCenter" about his dinner with South Carolina defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney last night stood out to me.

"I think he’s a team guy," O'Brien said after South Carolina's pro day. "He talked a lot about his teammates. He talked a lot about how much he enjoyed being around the guys in the locker room playing games with them, practicing with them, lifting weights with them. I got the feeling this guy is a team guy."

That is big to O'Brien. He wants every player he has to be a team guy, not to focus on individual accomplishments and celebrations.

Clowney appeared later on the show and was asked what kinds of questions he gets asked.

"How much do you love the game and about your work ethic," Clowney said.

It's a line of questioning Clowney said he doesn't understand. O'Brien has said he has no questions about Clowney's work ethic, but some do.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chuck Pagano has been coach of the Indianapolis Colts for just two seasons. He’s coached only 20 games because his unfortunate battle with leukemia caused him to miss 12 games during the 2012 season.

Those two seasons have put Pagano at the top of the seniority list among coaches in the AFC South.

“We all understand the nature of the business,” he said. “We know how we’re judged and that’s by one thing only: wins and losses. We all know what we signed up for. You just try to do the best you can, win as many games as you can.”

The Colts have won 11 games in each of the past two seasons and a division title in that time span. Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley has the second-longest tenure in the division. He’s heading into his second season with the Jaguars, who were 4-12 last season.

Houston, the biggest disappointment in the NFL last season, and Tennessee have hired new coaches. The Texans hired former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and the Titans named Ken Whisenhunt their coach.

Teams not named the Colts went a combined 13-35 last season in the worst division in the league.

“We don’t take what happened last year for granted,” Pagano said. “You have quality coaches, you have quality players. Everybody’s picking up new players, everybody’s made acquisitions during free agency. All those games, they’re all competitive games.”
ORLANDO, Fla. -- These comments from Texans coach Bill O'Brien raised some eyebrows today:

"I think the thing is, to me, there's not a lot of separation," O'Brien said on "NFL AM." "And there are more quarterbacks than just three. Obviously the three guys that everybody talks about -- Blake (Bortles), Teddy (Bridgewater) and Johnny [Manziel]. They’re good players. They’ve had great college careers. But there are other guys out there. You’ve got (AJ) McCarron. You’ve got (Zach) Mettenberger. You’ve got Logan Thomas. You’ve got (Tom) Savage. You’ve got (Jimmy) Garoppolo. I mean, I can go right down the list. To me, you’ve got 10 to 12 guys you’ve got to do a great job of evaluating and make the best pick possible wherever you pick these guys. So I just see a lot of good quarterbacks."

His response came to a question posed by Steve Wyche of NFL Network about whether one of the available quarterbacks is worth the No. 1 overall pick. It was a tough question to answer, O'Brien said.

It's good when it's easy. I checked in with a few people involved in the Colts' process for taking Andrew Luck and will get more into that later.

As for O'Brien's thoughts, that doesn't sound like a coach with his mind made up. Taking that a step further, if you don't see much separation between the best quarterback in this draft (whomever you think that is) and the fourth or fifth best, what's the harm in waiting until the second round?

The Texans have made it clear for some time that a rookie quarterback would be joining their fold. O'Brien reiterated that this morning, adding he wasn't sure exactly where in the draft the Texans would take that quarterback.

It's possible that once this evaluation is over, O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith will fall in love with one of the quarterbacks available in the draft. That's the only circumstance under which they should take one first overall. I've said it before and I'll keep right on: This is one position where certainty is imperative.

RTC: Garrett Graham edition

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
Reading the coverage of the Houston Texans ...

Today, a rundown of yesterday's coverage of Garrett Graham re-signing with Houston.
  • Graham told John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that Texans coach Bill O'Brien plans to use him as an H-back.
    This will be the first time Graham has been with the Texans without [Owen] Daniels, who made his first visit to Green Bay. Like Graham, Daniels was a fourth-round pick (2006) from Wisconsin.

    "He's a good friend, and it's [unfortunate] to see him leave," Graham said. "He did a lot of great things for [the Texans]."
  • Graham also spoke with Mark Berman of Houston's Fox 26.
    Graham signed a three-year agreement with the Texans worth $11.25 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed.

    "My wife and I are very excited, very happy to stay in Houston, very thankful to [owner] Bob McNair and [vice-president/general manager] Rick Smith for believing in me," Graham said.

    "Really look forward to working with Coach O'Brien. It feels good they have confidence in me and want me to stay and play here."
  • Dave Zangaro of writes releasing Owen Daniels and keeping Graham was a no-brainer.
    Daniels is 31, coming off a fractured leg that forced him to miss the remainder of the 2013 season. Graham is 27, coming off his best season (49 catches, 545 yards, five touchdowns) and has improved every year he's been in the league.

    Graham is just a younger, cheaper version of Daniels, one that's not quite as good yet, but one the Texans locked up for the next three years at a relatively affordable price of $11.25 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed.

    The Texans did take a slight gamble, though. They cut Daniels early and let Graham test the open market, a move that might have been disastrous had Graham found a great deal elsewhere. But he didn't and Houston lucked out.

Jaworski on Manziel: 'He's a project'

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26

Some say former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has the talent and skills worthy of being taken by the Houston Texans with the No. 1 overall pick in May.

Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski is not one of those people.

Jaworski went on a Philadelphia radio station on Tuesday to give his opinion on Manziel.

Warning, his comments weren't positive about the 2012 Heisman winner.

“Manziel may fall,” Jaworski told WPEN-FM in Philadelphia. “I’m not crazy about him, to be honest with you. I've only looked at five games. I wouldn't take him in the first three rounds. That's my opinion. It's incomplete right now. But he has not done a whole lot to me."

Jaworski appeared on SportsCenter Wednesday morning, talking about Manziel some more.

The Houston Chronicle posted part of the transcript from Jaworski’s appearance.

On his Manziel draft projection
“We have nine weeks to go before the draft actually takes place. I will have looked at all the games that Johnny Manziel has played, so my grade right now is incomplete, but I do not see very many redeeming qualities in his game that project him to be a first-round pick, a second-round pick and, to me, I think he’s a third-round pick and maybe later.”

Reasons for his projections
“There’s a way you have to play the quarterback position in the NFL. Maybe I’m a little bit old school, but I think you have to play the game in the pocket with consistency. The NFL game is about the pre-snap phase of the game, getting in the proper protection, then, when you drop back, reading coverage properly, getting the ball out of your hand early in time with your receiver so when they turn, that ball is there. And it is ball security in the pocket, taking care of the football. It’s mechanics in the pocket: your throwing slot is consistent. And right now, I see Johnny Manziel as a project, a guy that will go down as one of the great collegiate players of all time. I would pay to see Johnny Manziel play in a college game. He’s a great college player, but his game, just in my opinion, does not project to the NFL. He’s a project, and he’s going to have to spend some time working on his game.”

Will his projections change after he watches all of Manziel’s games?
“I don’t see him being elevated to the first round. He will probably move up as I look at more games.”

Should the Texans draft him?
“I can’t advise Bill O’Brien who to take, but I’m certain Bill O’Brien knows what he wants his quarterback to look like. And I actually think they have a quarterback on their roster in Matt Schaub that is the kind of quarterback that Bill O’Brien likes. I think he’s going to say, ‘Hmmm. I like this Schaub guy. He reminds me a little bit of Tom Brady in size and stature,’ maybe not the outstanding consistency of Tom Brady, but you have an experienced, veteran quarterback, you surround him with the right people, I think Matt Schaub can still play a very solid game in the NFL.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The buzz Friday morning was about former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel being shorter than expected, with huge hands.

Manziel's hands measured at almost 10 inches -- 9 7/8 to be exact -- while he was just shy of six feet tall.

Good news for Manziel, who would love for the Houston Texans to take him first overall: coach Bill O'Brien doesn't care too much about height, but he does love a quarterback with big hands.

"It’s really important because of the grip of the football, especially in bad weather games when you have to grip the football," O'Brien said. "I think it’s an important trait for a quarterback to have."

O'Brien's apathy for the height stat stems from the fact that it's not complete enough to offer a full picture of the player's physical attributes.

"Is he a skinny 5-11 or is he a stout 5-11?" O'Brien said to a question that was not specifically about Manziel. "Does he have bigger hands or smaller hands. All those things go into it I think. It’s not just what his height is."

Beyond physical qualities, this is what O'Brien wants:

"Our quarterback will always have to have intelligence, toughness, the ability to think quickly, be a good teammate, be a hard working guy, be a guy who throws the ball accurately. Be a guy that can perform under pressure. So many of these games come down to the last two minutes of the game, we gotta make sure the guy that we have is a guy that can perform under pressure."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Doug Marrone tripped on the word "probably."

I began a question during his podium session today at the combine by noting that he was probably Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien's best friend in the league.

"Did he say probably or you said probably?" the Bills head coach said with a smile. That was my word, not O'Brien's. "I just wanted to make sure. When I see him I'm going to ask him."

The pair coached together at Georgia Tech in the mid-1990s. O'Brien met his wife, Colleen, through Marrone and his wife right around then.

"It's a funny profession," Marrone said. "You start off, and I started off in Division III after I'd gotten done playing. You grow up with a lot of people. usually it's regional. we were all obviously in the northeast together. ... You see everyone grow and see everyone grow in the profession. It's a gratifying experience to know people in your profession have integrity, have character, that work extremely hard and are able to be successful."

Marrone didn't say much about what O'Brien was like when they were young coaches together, but I asked him off the podium if the intensity everybody talks about with O'Brien has always been part of his character.

"Bill wears his heart on his sleeve," Marrone said. "I'd say it's intense, but it's intense in a positive way, not a negative way. ... If he couldn't turn it off, that would be a negative way. ... He's done it throughout his whole career, not only as a head coach, but even when I saw him as a position coach."

Marrone recently went through the same transition O'Brien is about to. I felt similarities in their feelings about making the move. Marrone actually felt the transition from college to the NFL was easier than the transition from working in the pros to working in college.

"I was much more comfortable with the schedule, calendar, the way it was in the NFL than it was in college," Marrone said. "The schedule is different. It's very difficult to spend as much time as you'd like to coaching."

That move to the NFL makes actual coaching much more of a focal point than it is in college. Marrone made that move last season. His team went 6-10 after his move from Syracuse to Buffalo, but Bills writer Mike Rodak indicates the team has pieces in place to get better next season.

An upward trend for the Bills would fit Marrone with the new trend of college coaches who become NFL head coaches. If you asked a few years ago, conventional wisdom indicated former college head coaches struggled with a move to the NFL. That is not really the case anymore as coaches like Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly have shown.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The AFC South will have two new head coaches next season: Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Bill O’Brien in Houston.

O’Brien is returning to the NFL after spending the past two seasons as the coach at Penn State. Whisenhunt, on the other hand, has fresh memory of teams in the AFC South.

The San Diego Chargers, where Whisenhunt was the team’s offensive coordinator, played teams from the AFC South last season.

The Chargers ran for 147 yards and were 7-of-14 on third down in their 19-9 victory over the Colts last October.

Whisenhunt is taking over a Tennessee team that finished 7-9 last season, including going 0-2 against Indianapolis. The Colts, who have the longest-tenured coach in the division in Chuck Pagano, won the division with an 11-5 record.

“If you look at what happened in Kansas City last year, you never know how things are going to change from year to year,” Whisenhunt said Thursday at the scouting combine. “I have a lot of respect for this division. I’ve played teams a number of times here. I’m excited about being in this division and competing.”

The Chiefs went from 2-14 in 2012 to having a complete turnaround by going 11-5 last season.
One more week closer to the draft, and the news of the week was that Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced his staff of 16 new assistants, plus the retention of special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky.

That announcement led to more questions, and we'll start there.