AFC South: Bill O'Brien

HOUSTON -- The Texans' intention to acquire Ryan Mallett from the New England Patriots had been rumored for months.

On Wednesday, three days after the trade officially happened, I finally got a chance to talk with the relevant parties from the Houston Texans: head coach Bill O'Brien, quarterbacks coach George Godsey and general manager Rick Smith.

A look at what they had to say about the Texans' new No. 2 quarterback.

RICK SMITH, Texans general manager

History with Mallett: Studied him during the 2011 draft, but never met with him
[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesRyan Mallett's offensive coordinator during his rookie season with New England was current Texans coach Bill O'Brien.
He says: "He was a talent (coming out of college). There have been a lot of people, if you talk to the folks, that had him as a potential first-round talent. We did our due diligence as well. I thought that New England did a smart thing where they took him. He’s developed in that system over time. He hasn’t had a chance to play, of course, but the fact that he’s been in the NFL for this long, he’s seen game plans, he understands how to prepare each week. So that, he’s got that kind of experience. He’s here, he’s learning, he’s got his head down, he’s working hard and that’s what we ask of him. ... We started talking on Sunday, the day we made the trade. We hadn’t had any conversations prior to that. We started talking on Sunday and we made the trade.... I know there were a lot of rumors about (conversations during the draft), but we didn’t."
For context: The Texans did take a quarterback in the 2011 draft -- T.J. Yates taken in the fifth round. Mallett fell to the third round despite being considered by some to have first-round talent because of character concerns. New England didn't have problems with him throughout his tenure there, which was enough for Smith to believe in him in that respect. Mallett is really connected more to other parties, though.

BILL O'BRIEN, Texans head coach

History with Mallett: Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in New England the year the Patriots drafted Mallett.
He says: "Three years older. I believe he’s a guy that’s worked hard. He understands the pro game better than he did obviously, when he was a rookie. I think he’s worked extremely hard. You can tell on things like being in the weight room, he’s worked on his accuracy and he’s definitely improved in his knowledge of our offense. That’s obvious. He’s a guy that just has to keep working, keep improving and like I said, he’s our number two quarterback and it’s good to have him here."
For context: O'Brien knows Mallett better than probably any other NFL head coach with the possible exception of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The fact that he believed in Mallett's ability enough to want him on the roster is a big vote of confidence. It's difficult to know what Mallett will be when and if he plays in regular-season games, but that happens when a guy plays behind Tom Brady.

GEORGE GODSEY, Texans quarterbacks coach

History with Mallett: Offensive assistant with New England Mallett's rookie year
He says: "The first thing is you have to be willing to put the time in. Ryan was able to do that than, and obviously that was three years ago. It’s about putting the time in now with our system and really trying to catch up almost in a faster format because there is a little bit more you have to teach a rookie quarterback as opposed to a quarterback that maybe has been in the league a little bit. ... Anytime with any position there is familiarity, but it’s not only the personality but how you can relate what one system is apples and the other system is oranges and try to put that together into one common language. I think it makes the process a little bit easier."
For context: Mallett said Godsey taught him the Patriots' offense in New England. Coming here, has been easier for Mallett because of the aforementioned familiarity. He said he's glad he's not a rookie making this transition one week before the season opener, because it would be much harder. I relayed that to Godsey, who said that's an understatement given everything a rookie has to learn even if he doesn't switch teams in September.
On Sunday, the Houston Texans changed their quarterback situation. What exactly that means, we don't know just yet.

They released Case Keenum, a player who started eight games last season but was still very much in a developmental stage. They traded for Ryan Mallett, a New England Patriots third-round draft pick in 2011, giving up a draft pick that will be either a sixth-round or seventh-round pick, depending on playing time.

Mallett gives the Texans another option in a fairly low-risk move, and he wasn't brought to Houston to be just a space-filler. But right now, the questions about the Texans' quarterbacks still outnumber the answers.

Playing behind Tom Brady, Mallett never had more than garbage-time reps during regular-season games in New England. His college history was spotty as well, with off-the-field questions that dropped him to the third round.

O'Brien knows Mallett better than most coaches in the NFL. He was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in New England during Mallett's rookie season. O'Brien would not have made this move without being comfortable with both Mallett's ability and his commitment.

Without having seen what Mallett can do, though, there remains only one quarterback on the Texans' roster who is a known quantity: starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Texans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • Wednesday marked the first of two joint practices between the Texans' and Atlanta Falcons. The teams decided not to go live with tackling, but limited contact to "thuds." They did periods of work on separate fields, then joined for some team drills before a group of fans there for the open practice. Oh, and, "Hard Knocks" was there, too, though careful not to get too close to the Texans. Asked if he'd be open to his team being featured on Hark Knocks, Texans' coach Bill O'Brien replied: "I’m always open to anything that helps our team get better."
  • Young cornerback A.J. Bouye, an undrafted rookie last season, got a great test on Wednesday, facing Falcons receiver Roddy White quite a bit. During one drill, Bouye and White went against each other three times. Once White won. Once Bouye won. The third time, Bouye had his hand in White's face and White dropped the ball. Other reporters watching the play with me thought it was a straight drop by White. I thought Bouye made an impact on the play. But even if it was merely a draw with White, that's pretty good from Bouye. Later, during a seven-on-seven drill, Bouye knocked the ball away from White again.
  • Speaking of White, that Atlanta tandem of White and Julio Jones is one that Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins really looked up to before coming into the NFL. We asked Hopkins if he had a chance to say hello. He said he did have the chance, but didn't do it. Why? He wanted to play it cool, instead of seeming like a fan.
  • Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got a stiff challenge from the Texans' defense. During one set of team drills, he had his first pass batted away, he had J.J. Watt in his face on the next (completed it, but Watt wasn't allowed to tackle him), and on the third pass, he threw one incomplete while facing excellent pressure form the Texans' front.
  • Atlanta's offensive line was a problem last season. It's part of why they drafted tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M. Matthews' roots go deep in Houston as the son of former Oilers Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews (who attended Wednesday's practice). The younger Matthews got tested against Watt. The offensive and defensive line one-on-one drills happen on the end of the field that the media can't see, so I can't speak to what happened there. But I did see a play early in practice during a team drill when the two faced each other. Watt rushed Matthews and the rookie held up against him.
  • Offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo got some first-team reps today. O'Brien has liked the way he's progressed. He had a lot of catching up to do after missing the spring workouts due to an NFL rule.
HOUSTON -- Gone are the days off for veterans just because they're veterans.

Gone are the nights when only rookies are forced to stay in the team hotel throughout training camp.

No Texans are spared from coach Bill O'Brien's sharp tongue. None are spared from running a lap for a mental error.

And you know what? The players like it.

"I love it; it's great," 12-year veteran Andre Johnson said when asked about O'Brien's demeanor. "The one thing that I like about him, and I think that’s the thing when I first met him, he’s straight up with you. He will let you know what needs to be heard. He’s not just going to tell you what you want to hear. I love his demeanor; it’s fun. I think just his whole attitude and everything he brings is a lot of fun."

Accountability has taken precedence during this first Texans training camp of the O'Brien era. What it means for the season is yet unknown, but after a 2-14 campaign in 2013, it was clear things had to change in Houston.

It's the basis from which the team that won consecutive division championships not too long ago will crawl out of the league's cellar.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has shown soft hands throughout training camp.

  1. In his second season since being drafted in the first round, receiver DeAndre Hopkins' development seems to have taken a major step. The sure-handed leaping catches he made so often in college are becoming a staple of training camp. (Aside: It's crazy to think about those Clemson teams that had both Hopkins and Bills rookie Sammy Watkins. What an embarrassment of riches.) Hopkins' issues last season weren't based so much on ability as they were on precision. He seems on the right track this season. Johnson said it's clear Hopkins is playing with a lot of confidence, something that's critical for a receiver. What's even better is that his chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is improving regularly.
  2. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been working through the rehab process from his sports hernia surgery in June, which has limited what he can do during practices. When the staff has let Clowney loose, though, he is a lot of fun to watch. He's quick, powerful and fast. He will absolutely be a player for whom offenses have to account. When an offense is thinking about one player, that's a big advantage for a defense. Not to mention, opposing offenses were already having to keep an eye on defensive end J.J. Watt, who hasn't missed a beat.
  3. Two young players have made significant progress this offseason: right tackle Derek Newton and inside linebacker Justin Tuggle. Newton, the declared starter at the position, struggled last season, but based on what I've seen and heard during training camp this year, he'll be much better in pass protection this season. Tuggle was a quarterback four years ago (the successor to Cam Newton at Blinn College). The fact that he's played linebacker for such a short amount of time means even though he's improved tremendously in the past year, he still has a lot of room to grow. He's competing to be the Texans' starter next to Brian Cushing.

  1. The fact that Brandon Brooks is still on the Texans' non-football injury list is concerning. Brooks began training camp on the list for what appears to be a back injury. Brooks really came into his own at right guard last season. He's a player who had very high expectations because of that growth, and one the Texans need. Without him, the guard position starts to thin a bit.
  2. The Texans' quarterback situation is tenuous right now. I like the improvement I've seen from Fitzpatrick, but what we're watching right now does not quite simulate game conditions for quarterbacks since they can't be touched during practice. Fitzpatrick's issues in the past have had a lot to do with turnovers, and the decision-making process that leads to or prevents turnovers is hard to simulate in practice. Beyond Fitzpatrick, the depth at the position is concerning. Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage has shown during practice that they could be viable starters in case of an injury during the season. For Savage, it's part of the learning process. Nobody expects the raw but talented rookie to be ready just yet.
  3. Beyond a wily group of veterans, the Texans have a lot of unproven players they'll depend on defensively. When looking past Watt on the defensive line, there are more questions than answers. Who will play nose tackle? How will defensive end Jared Crick do in a starting role? Questions remain on the back end, too. This could be a big year for a lot of young players. But it's hard to know how they'll fare without any proof yet.
[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJ.J. Watt has taken the time to help his teammates with technique during camp.

  • Whether it's linebackers coach Mike Vrabel running with his group after practice or defensive backs coach John Butler facing his players during drills to compensate for an odd number of cornerbacks, this Texans staff is particularly hands-on. It starts at the top with O'Brien, a coach who makes sure to be involved with every position on his team.
  • Safety D.J. Swearinger's goal this season is to create at least one game-changing play in each game, whether that's an interception, a forced fumble or even a pass breakup that leads to a turnover. Swearinger is getting started in practice, regularly intercepting the ball. And each time he does it, he runs it back to the opposite end zone, finishing with an ad-libbed celebratory flair.
  • Player-to-player coaching happens a lot, and Watt is embracing his growing role as a team leader in that fashion. During a recent practice, he stopped Jeoffrey Pagan during a drill to offer tips on moves to use.
  • A pair of receivers from Texas A&M are doing their best to make it difficult for the coaching staff to cut them. EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart make very few mistakes. Nwachukwu's speed is apparent. His work on route-running has shown during this year's camp.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell and third-year kicker Randy Bullock are competing to be the Texans' kicker. That battle will be decided during the preseason. They've so far alternated kicking days, and both have made their fair share.
HOUSTON -- While some players such as safety Kendrick Lewis returned to practice today, the Houston Texans remained without several big names.

Receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph all missed practice on Tuesday. Tuesday's practice was the fifth consecutive practice since the Texans' previous day off. The Texans will be off on Wednesday.

Foster and Johnson have each missed seven practices with soft tissue injuries that coach Bill O'Brien has termed as minor.

"You can’t stop the installation or the flow of the offense just because a couple guys are out," O'Brien said. "It’s important for those guys to stay up to snuff on the mental part of our offense and make sure that they’re understanding what we’re doing out there. That is why they go over there and do their rehab and sprinting and things during our individual and then they come over during team and walk throughs and things like that, and take mental reps.

"One of the things about the NFL is you go into the game with a game plan. You better have a backup plan. No doubt about it. If you go into that game and say something were to happen to Arian or Andre or anybody out there, you’ve got to be ready with either Plan B or some alteration to your game plan. That is really what we try to practice every single day here with what we do.”

Texans Camp Report: Day 9

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans training camp.
  • Since the beginning of training camp, the offense has worn navy blue jerseys and defense has worn white jerseys. Today, the Texans' jersey colors were dependent on something else. They were split into teams -- white and blue -- with players grouped according to the depth chart. It was sort of a scrimmage environment without pads on. The Texans even seemed to go through the motions of a pre-game warmup to start practice. "We’re able to accomplish a lot of different situational work," coach Bill O'Brien said. "You know, it’s good because situational work is all about the coaches and players getting on the same page. Eventually you want it where the players are thinking exactly like the coaches and vice versa. That is what we tried to simulate today, and it is a work in progress."
  • Defensive end J.J. Watt declared, "Five with the right hand," as he stood beside receiver Mike Thomas who was working on the JUGS machine after practice. Thomas then caught five balls with just his right hand before ceding the machine to the defensive end. Watt was the only non-receiver waiting by the machine. Asked after practice if he was lobbying again to play some tight end (which was never an entirely serious lobby), Watt said he was simply working on his hand-eye coordination.
  • The center quarterback exchanges haven't been especially sharp during the past couple of days. It's not just one person, either, a combination of quarterbacks and centers have had trouble with those for some reason.
  • Darius Rucker's Wagon Wheel has been stuck in my head while writing this post all day every day since camp started. Thanks, Bill O'Brien.
  • Tomorrow's practice goes from 8 to 10 a.m. CT and is closed to the public, though there are so many guests invited to "closed" practices it's hard to tell the difference sometimes. They'll do their afternoon walkthrough as usual at 4:15 p.m. That one is closed to the media and public.

Camp preview: Houston Texans

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Tania Ganguli examines the three biggest issues facing the Houston Texans heading into training camp.

Johnson's absence: Texans receiver Andre Johnson already has lost his $1 million roster bonus because of his absences this offseason, and he reportedly has asked for a trade. It could get worse. The Texans can fine him up to $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. Johnson has made a lot of money during his time with the Texans; that investment is part of why they aren't interested in letting him go right now, either by trading or releasing him. They also would take a pretty significant hit to their salary cap. Moving Johnson now would stick the Texans with $12 million in dead money. But Johnson's perspective is sympathetic. He has played on a lot of bad teams and talked frequently before last season about the difficulty of doing so. It shocked him that the Texans went 2-14 during the 2013 season, and his outlook on the 2014 season isn't rosy. Imagine this scenario from Johnson's point of view: He spends 2014 toiling through a rebuilding year at age 33, then gets released or traded next year as his salary rises and cap hit falls. He'd much prefer spending 2014 with a contender.

Return of the wounded: Three important players had surgery during or after the 2013 season, and their progress will be something to follow. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had foot surgery, inside linebacker Brian Cushing had knee surgery and running back Arian Foster had back surgery. It was the second season in a row that Joseph and Cushing had surgeries. Last offseason Joseph had two sports hernia surgeries, and last season Cushing had surgery on his other knee to replace a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Foster was back for organized team activities and the Texans' minicamps. Cushing and Joseph weren't fully practicing, so their health will be important to watch. And, of course, one very important rookie also had surgery in June. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in May, had surgery to repair a sports hernia he might or might not have been dealing with during his final season at South Carolina. Clowney's progress will be key for the Texans, who weren't expecting him to need surgery upon his arrival. They need him to start at outside linebacker and help bolster their pass rush. The good news for Houston is the recovery time for sports hernia surgery -- about six weeks -- lines up perfectly with the start of training camp.

Fitzpatrick's learning and teaching: Texans coach Bill O'Brien announced Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team's starting quarterback on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. He said Fitzpatrick earned the position with his ability to pick up the Texans' offense and his steady improvement in it. Fitzpatrick's past includes spots of brilliant mobility, but there also are overextensions and too many turnovers. His responsibility this season will be twofold. First, he's to guide the Texans offense, protect the football and manage the game. Second, he's to help teach rookie Tom Savage the craft of an NFL quarterback. Savage spent his college career with three different programs, lacking the stability needed to really learn and get better. The good news for the Texans is that makes Savage a fairly blank canvas. He shouldn't have habits that make it difficult to learn a new system or be so set in his ways that the learning process gets stuck.
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.”