NFL Nation: Ray Wright
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Houston Texans are not going to stand pat on offense, but it's clear their offseason priority is to fortify a defense that will be led by new coordinator Frank Bush.
The Texans had the NFL's third-ranked offense and fourth-ranked passing offense in 2008, but were only 17th in points scored per game.
They don't have a glaring need on offense, while the defense could use at least one addition to every unit -- a pass-rushing end, a beefier linebacker, upgrades at safety, an additional option opposite Dunta Robinson at corner.
"Our offense has made improvement all three years, and more so this past year than any," coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think Kyle [Shanahan] has done a great job, getting Alex [Gibbs] to come with us has been a huge benefit to our offensive coaching staff and our offensive football team. We've made some strides there. We feel good about where we're at.
"Can we get better? You bet. We can definitely get better. I think landing the young back [Steve Slaton] was huge for us last year and we were very fortunate there. I am not going to say we're set there and we're going to move on, that's not the case. We're going to try to get better on offense, but obviously we've got to make some big-time improvement on the defensive side of the ball."
Some other snippets from Kubiak and Rick Smith's podium talks at the combine Friday:
- Kubiak made pass-rush help for Mario Williams sound like priority No. 1: "Mario's career could improve drastically the more help we can get him up front, so that's a point of emphasis for our football team."
- While Williams has played mostly on the right side and DeMeco Ryans is a middle linebacker, Kubiak wouldn't completely rule out moving them. Williams' flexibility means the team can consider more ends and "we're not going to eliminate looking at various linebackers because [Ryans] is a middle linebacker. We're going to try to get better athletically as a football team and then adjust from there."
- Smith said the Texans' players believe they are on the cusp of something big: "I think our guys understand how close we are. We obviously have to add a few players and improve ourselves in a couple of areas and protect the football a little better and keep our quarterback healthy. But I think our team understands now that they're capable of winning. And that's what's exciting."
- Kubiak likes the energy new strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright brings, but said the former assistant won't be implementing any major philosophical changes in the team's programs.
Want to alter a team's culture without changing the head coach?
The best avenue might just be through the team's strength coach, the one assistant who deals with everyone on the roster with some regularity throughout the NFL year.
In Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio recently hired a new man for the job, Luke Richesson. In Houston, Gary Kubiak still has an opening at the spot.
|Denny Medley/US Presswire|
|Jack Del Rio hopes a new strength and conditioning coach will help turn things around for the Jags.|
Gone from the Jaguars' staff is Mark Asanovich, said to be a steady and uncompromising personality. Gone from the Texans' staff is Dan Riley, a stronger presence some categorize as cantankerous.
With open offices, Del Rio and Kubiak had a chance to be sold on a different kind of training regimen and decide what sort of approach might work best for their rosters. But they also had a chance to gauge personalities and the ability of a new assistant to buy into the team's philosophy and to be an effective disciple of it.
"Those guys probably spend as much time, if not more time, with your players than you do," Kubiak said. "I know they are with players a great deal of time from the standpoint of being in the weight room doing their work. Then when they are not with us in meetings or in practice, that's usually the first place players go. The mentality of your football team and a lot of those work habits are developed down there in that atmosphere."
In Richesson and the Houston hire -- which rumblings suggest could be Ray Wright, a Riley assistant who remains on staff -- the Jags and Texans hope they'll have a coach who players come to consider both a resource and a model.
Richesson joined the Jaguars from Athletes' Performance, a company that trains college players looking to post great workout numbers at the league's annual scouting combine. Indications are he may not have been the Jaguars first choice, but Del Rio is confident he will be a difference maker. (When teams don't get their first choice, I'm always compelled to remind people how far basketball coach Roy Williams was down the list before he got the job at Kansas and how well that turned out.)
Richesson's biggest challenge may be broadening his repertoire in a way that embraces a more diverse pool of athletes. At Athletes' Performance, his focus was narrow -- elite college athletes were sent to him by agents looking to boost draft status. In the Jaguars' locker room, he'll deal with veterans and rookies with more established routines, some of whom are emboldened by status or paychecks.