NFL Nation: Bill O\'Brien

Seven NFL predictions for 2014

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
9:00
AM ET
Golden Tate Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Packers and Seahawks open the NFL season in their first meeting since 2012's "Fail Mary."

Of course. Two of the NFL's best teams will kick off the 2014 season Thursday night -- and all you want to talk about is some random play that happened two years ago in a dark period of NFL history.

Fail Mary? Thpptttt. You still don't think Golden Tate caught the ball? You're waiting for Roger Goodell to invoke his right to reverse outcomes? You're incredulous the NFL would open itself to outside influence by substituting woefully underqualified officials as leverage in collective bargaining? You're still following T.J. Lang after he posted the most re-tweeted tweet of all time?

Nope? Me neither. Over it.

I, for one, am far too focused on the crucial nuts and bolts of this game -- and the upcoming season -- to get worked up about the most recent time the Green Bay Packers visited the Seattle Seahawks. This is all business. I want to see if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can withstand the Seahawks' fierce pass rush and if his girlfriend, Oliva Munn, is in the stands to watch it. I'm pumped to break down how Richard Sherman matches up with Jordy Nelson -- in between viewings of his latest Campbell's Soup ad.

Nothing generates deep discussion of strategy, scheme and precision like the NFL. How will the Cleveland Browns find a deep threat after the suspension of Josh Gordon? (And what club will Johnny Manziel hit after their first game?) Will Robert Griffin III respond to new expectations as a pocket passer? (And who will be the next world leader to speak out against the Washington Redskins' team name?) How in the name of doomsday will the Dallas Cowboys field a competitive defense? (And can owner Jerry Jones find a way to market a practice squad player?)

So many questions, so little time in the film room. So for your collective preparation efforts, here is a touchdown's worth of predictions for the 2014 NFL season. Carve them in stone, bet the house on them, and if I'm wrong, feel free to call me at (555) 555-5555.

1. Officiating will be better

[+] EnlargeNFL Instant Replay
AP Photo/Jack DempseyOfficials will now get instant replay assistance from the league office.
Yes, I know. We spent the entire preseason freaking out about a spike of penalties for illegal contact and defensive holding, two key points of emphasis dictated by the NFL's competition committee. I'm well aware that officials called almost the same number of those penalties in 69 preseason games (271) as they did in 256 regular-season games (285) in 2013.

But it's also worth taking a breath and reiterating that the rate dropped sharply in the final week of the preseason as all sides adjusted. The rate will still be higher than in 2013, but I wouldn't expect anything close to what we saw in the first few weeks of the preseason.

Aside from that issue, the league took several important steps this offseason in response to a rough go of it in 2013. It replaced three referees and a total of 13 officials, the biggest turnover in more than a decade. New instant replay assistance from the league office will make the system more accurate and quicker -- by nearly 20 seconds per review, according to vice president of officiating Dean Blandino -- and officials will communicate better now via wireless headsets.

I still expect to see plenty of disputed calls, and I'm not sure how to quantify improvement. But there is no doubt this operation is moving in the right direction.

2. Russell Wilson will be elite . . .

By the time the season is over, the Seahawks' quarterback will no longer be the target of condescending compliments. He won't be known as a winner, a game manager or surprisingly strong-armed for his size. No, Wilson will be one regarded as one of the absolute best quarterbacks -- and passers -- in the NFL. Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees will have no choice but to let him into their club.

This preseason, Wilson looked like a Ph.D. student who has submitted his dissertation. Preseason results are to be taken lightly -- sorry, just expunging the final drops of condescension -- but Wilson was the best player on the field this summer. He accounted for six touchdowns in three games while completing 31 of 37 passes for 400 yards. Wilson looked for all the world like a player on the brink of an individual breakout, one that will force the Seahawks to place him among the league's highest-paid players when he's eligible for a contract extension this spring.

3. . . . and Johnny Manziel, uh, won't

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJohnny Manziel seems destined to be more like Troy Smith than Russell Wilson.
Manziel (6-foot) has drawn plenty of comparisons to Wilson (5-11) because of their height, but the associations should end there. This summer, Manziel revealed a big-play attitude but offered no confirmation that he has the physical attributes to carry it out.

There's reason to believe Manziel's inaccurate passing (47.9 percent in the preseason) can improve over time. But what made him a special college player was his ability to break the pocket and pressure defenses on the edge. Those expecting him to play that way in the NFL saw good instincts but not the kind of speed that suggests he can make a living doing it. Instead, we were reminded that Manziel (4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash) isn't nearly as fleet as players who have pressured defenses with speed in recent years. Griffin (4.41), Wilson (4.55) and Colin Kaepernick (4.53) were all considerably faster when drafted.

Manziel will get on the field, but he'll conjure more images of Troy Smith than Russell Wilson this season.

4. Texans will regret QB approach

The Houston Texans made the right call in bypassing Manziel at No. 1 overall, despite the pleading of some fans. But they'll rue both the day they allowed the Minnesota Vikings to leapfrog them for Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 overall and the day after, when they passed up Derek Carr at No. 33.

There is no more important job for a new coach than to identify his quarterback, and Bill O'Brien almost certainly won't do that in his first season. Evidence of concern surfaced last week, when the Texans acquired the mildly touted Ryan Mallett to join a mix of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and could-miss prospect Tom Savage. In all likelihood, the Texans have pushed this critical question into O'Brien's second year. Texans fans should prepare to hear a ton about Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Brett Hundley, the quarterback trio that should lead the 2015 draft.

5. A big-time coach is in his final season

I'm just not sure who yet. Will it be Tom Coughlin, the 68-year-old New York Giants coach whose team might need a rebuild? Coughlin has won two Super Bowls, but he has also missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons. Would the Giants move on if that streak becomes five of the past six?

What about Marvin Lewis? In resurrecting the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis has made the playoffs five times but now holds the NFL record for coaching the most games (176) without a postseason victory. The Bengals will have their hands full in a tougher AFC North, and Lewis will be coaching without two treasured coordinators, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer. Is this the year Lewis must win a playoff game to keep his job?

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezWill Jim Harbaugh's supernova personality explode in San Francisco?
Then there's Jim Harbaugh, whose contract negotiations with the 49ers have been put on hold until after the season. Plenty of smoke arose this offseason about internal discord and even a potential trade to the Browns. Some consider Harbaugh's personality to be a supernova -- burning brightly for a short time before it explodes.

Jeff Fisher might be facing the biggest challenge in St. Louis. After consecutive seven-win seasons in the game's toughest division, Fisher has again lost his starting quarterback for the year. Has he built his defense into a strong enough group to carry the Rams into the playoffs? Otherwise, he's headed toward his fifth consecutive non-playoff season. The most recent time a Jeff Fisher team won a postseason game? The 2003 Tennessee Titans.

6. Marc Trestman's reputation as a "quarterback whisperer" will swell . . .

. . . when Josh McCown goes back to being Josh McCown, when Jay Cutler continues his refinement and when Jimmy Clausen (!) survives as the Chicago Bears' backup.

McCown had an undeniably great season in 2013. He finished with the NFL's top Total Quarterback Rating (85.1) and threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. That performance got him a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Trestman blip in McCown's career is too obvious to ignore.

Before teaming up with Trestman, McCown was a 58 percent passer with a 13-20 career record as a starter and seven more interceptions (44) than touchdowns (37). What's more likely: that he suddenly figured it all out in his 11th season, or that Trestman found a special connection?

McCown's performance overshadowed what turned out to be the best season of Cutler's career (66.4 QBR, 89.2 rating). With a settled offensive line and the Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery receiving duo, Cutler has every opportunity to continue blossoming under Trestman. And if Clausen -- who was out of football in 2013 -- proves anywhere close to a credible backup, as the Bears are counting on, then it'll be time to recognize Trestman as the NFL's top quarterback guru.

7. This will be the last season of the extra point as we know it

Enjoy it while you can. League officials were pleased with an experiment that called for 33-yard extra points in the first two weeks of the preseason. It resulted in eight misses, albeit in some cases by place-kickers who won't be in the league in 2014. At this point, however, the NFL wants something other than a sure thing moving forward -- and the past season's 99.8 conversion rate was pretty darn close.

One alternative to keep an eye on: Some coaches and players want to see the spot moved from the 2- to the 1-yard line. That shift, as the theory goes, would encourage more teams to go for two points -- a decidedly more exciting play than an extra point from any distance. In either event, start getting your autographed prints now. The closeout sale has started.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Less than 48 hours after a 34-0 preseason victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning brought a little verbal rain after the team’s first of three practices with the Houston Texans.

The Broncos and Texans will practice together for three days this week at the Broncos’ complex before the two teams play Saturday night in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And with a familiar face calling the shots in the Texans' defense in Romeo Crennel, Manning came away from Tuesday’s workout, shall we say, less than enthused about what he had seen.

“I thought our offense stunk today,’’ Manning said following practice. “Their defense totally kicked our butt. ... We’ll learn from the film, hopefully there is some good things to see, hopefully we come out and do a better job tomorrow from a player standpoint.’’

Crennel, after his time as the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator as well as Kansas City Chiefs' head coach, is a familiar adversary through the years. Crennel is in his first season as Texans defensive coordinator, joining the team after another former Patriots assistant, Bill O’Brien, was named head coach.

“Romeo Crennel is one of the best coaches out there, overall it will be a good week for us,’’ Manning said. “... But we’ve got to do better than we did today on offense.’’

Asked what the main issue happened to be, Manning simply said, “Were you watching?’’

“They executed better than we did,’’ Manning added. “... They just did their job a lot better than we did.’’

In reality, Manning and the Broncos' offense, while not at their best following a day off Monday, made their share of plays in both 7-on-7 and team drills. But the group also had some choppy moments against the Texans' regulars.

Manning may have had some other motives as well. The Broncos' starters on offense have played on four drives in two preseason games and the team has scored on three of those drives.

Manning is 22 of 27 passing for 180 yards and a touchdown in those two games and there has been at least some sentiment in and around the Front Range the Broncos' offense is ready to start the season. And that’s an idea Manning seemed to want to poke a hole in Monday.

“I think today that story ought to die,’’ Manning said. “Today’s performance out there on whatever field that is, field 2 ... I kind of call it like I see it. When you have a pretty below-average practice, you’ve got to call it a below-average practice. I think this team does a pretty good job staying pretty even keel. I don’t think anybody is overly excited about beating a San Francisco team that didn’t have Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, didn’t blitz us one time, kind of a pretty vanilla scheme. They will be a different animal when we play those guys in the regular season.’’

Texans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
6:15
PM ET
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.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

  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.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

  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.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • 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
6:06
PM ET
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
10:00
AM ET
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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.

Yates
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
10:00
AM ET
» 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.
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.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- This morning's agenda at the NFL meetings included a media breakfast for the AFC coaches. I sat in on Bill O'Brien's hour with local and national media in which he discussed a lot of things but mostly the draft.

I'll get a little more in depth on what he talked about later, but first a few nuggets:
  • O'Brien, general manager Rick Smith and quarterbacks coach George Godsey will all be at Johnny Manziel's Pro Day on Thursday. This is separate from Texas A&M's Pro Day, one O'Brien called his "Johnny Day." While O'Brien likes having private workouts with quarterback prospects, when I asked if he has one with Manziel he said he doesn't think so.

  • Despite all the talk about what a bad Pro Day Teddy Bridgewater had, O'Brien thought he had "a decent day." He liked seeing the work Bridgewater had done to improve footwork and mechanics.

  • He'll meet several times with various prospects and what he's looking for from meeting to meeting is improvement. Did the guy learn something in the time between?

  • The plan right now is to take backup quarterbacks Case Keenum and T.J. Yates to training camp.

  • Asked about Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic, O'Brien said what's important is how he plays when it counts. "When the game's on the line, Jadeveon plays hard."

  • O'Brien loves watching J.J. Watt on film.

  • He values the ability to think quickly in a quarterback. O'Brien will ask for a lot of pre-snap decision-making.

  • Derek Carr's brother will have no impact on the Texans' evaluation of Derek Carr. "When we're thinking about a player, we're thinking about that individual player." The expansion Texans selected David Carr with the top overall pick of the 2002 draft and lasted five seasons before being waived.

    - O'Brien had dinner with Bills coach Doug Marrone last night. They laughed about how far they'd come together since their days at the bottom of Georgia Tech's totem pole. "We were laughing about, can you believe this?"
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.
As I end a day of meetings at ESPN headquarters, I see that Jim Harbaugh is making news again.

This time, it’s for a reason that relates to his work -- he is looking at another quarterback.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Harbaugh was one of two NFL coaches at Northwestern’s pro day (the other was new Houston coach Bill O'Brien). Both men were there to see Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and put him through a private workout.

Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, worked out several quarterbacks in 2011, his first year as the 49ers' coach. He ended up taking Colin Kaepernick in the second round. Now, the 49ers may be poised to select a backup for Kaepernick.

The 49ers have the No. 56 and No. 61 picks in the second round. If the right quarterback is there, I could see them biting, although I thinks it's more likely the 49ers would be apt to take a quarterback in the third or fourth rounds.

Garoppolo is likely a second-round pick -- he does have mobility and could fit what the 49ers do. I usually don't put a lot of stock in pre-draft scouting. But when it comes to quarterbacks it’s a different story, especially when Harbaugh is involved.

I think Garoppolo is definitely a player to keep an eye on for the 49ers. Here are some other quarterbacks the team could look at throughout the draft process.

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