Ask Me Anything about Texans Training Camp

Ask Me Anything about Texans Training Camp
  • Greetings. I'm Stephanie Stradley (@StephStradley), and I write for the Houston Chronicle's Ultimate Texans website. With the 2014 season fast approaching, soon we will be getting real answers of what this Texans team will be. 

    I know a lot of people have questions about the changes under head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff, and how it affects various players. I answer a lot of those questions at my blog, Twitter and Facebook, but I thought this would be a good place to collect these Q&As; in one place with no space limitations.

    So if you are a Texans or fantasy football fan, please leave a question and I'll answer it if there is an answer at this point. Anything that you might be curious about, no question is too obscure or random. 

    The question may not show up right away because I have to be at my computer and review it before it is posted, but I will see them all. (I've been having some life intervening issues, so my computer time has been sporadic). When I have enough collected to be interesting, I will embed this at my blog.
  • What's with all secrecy related to player injuries?  Also why is A Foster not talking to local media?

  • Bill O'Brien made it very clear early on that he doesn't want to talk injuries. Part of the new media guidelines was to tell media not to ask about guys who are not playing that day. (This rule hasn't really been followed to the letter). Instead of speculating why O'Brien is this way, I asked him. This was his response:

    “My main philosophy on that is I really don’t want to talk about the injury until I know what it is. A lot of times when I come off the field, people will ask me about the injury but I haven’t even spoken to Kap (head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan) or anybody about that injury. As we move forward, I’ll follow the rules of the National Football League and when the injury reports are supposed to come out, I’ll put them out. I think the thing about injuries, to me, it’s very personal to that player. To come in here and just start right away talking about injuries, without knowing too much about it, is probably the wrong thing to do as it relates to the players. I always try to do what’s best for the player.”

    NFL rules barely require any information. Probabilities basically during regular season game week. So any fantasy football folks looking to get real information about the Texans injury situation will likely get close to nothing.

    As for Foster, ever since he was in college, he has enjoyed doing media, but only by his own terms. That is, if he has something to promote, or if he wants to talk to a specific media member, or if there is something particular he wants to say. He uses his Twitter to say what he thinks on things, and rarely wants to talk football stuff, though he very much cares about football. I think as to the media as a whole he (very rightly) has distrust for them, though I believe the way he shows that distrust is counterproductive. 

    As for this year in particular, it is more surprising when you get a good quote in camp. D.J. Swearinger likely says the most stuff.

    Very early on, back in rookie minicamp, media members noticed that it was like pulling teeth to get the players to talk about themselves or their teammates or their past or anything other than some variation of, "Working hard every day, trying to be the best teammate I can be." A few players, including Arian, would only parrot that phrase in response to just about everything.

    When we asked O'Brien about the reluctance of the rookies to talk about themselves, it was foreshadowing what was going to happen for the rest of the team:

    "It’s a team sport. To me, it’s the greatest team sport. It’s 11 guys trying to be on the same page and play as a team and understand their role on the team and how important the phrase is ‘the more you can do.’ Can I be a left guard? Can I play some tackle? Can I be a first and second down running back and contribute on the punt team. When you start seeing guys really believe in those things, then you have the makings of a decent team and that’s what we talk about all the time with our veterans that have been here and that’s what we’ve talked about in the last couple of meetings with the rookies.”

    So, that's the message. Both with injuries and with media comments, if it isn't something that helps in winning, they don't want to share it.

  • Am I crazy for being really excited about Fitzpatrick? He's not a super elite quarterback that demands $90 Million plus like Dalton (Hahah that one should be fun) but I feel he can get the job done. Limit mistakes, make a few key throws, and let the defense do most of the work. Not necessarily a direct question, but would love your thoughts.

  • "Really excited?" You are likely the only person other than his wife who is "really excited" about Fitzpatrick. :)

    I think Fitzpatrick has shown that he can have some big boom or bust games, but yeah, I guess after the Texans last season, the idea of limiting mistakes, making key throws, and having the defense do work sounds appealing. Theoretically more easy than in practice.

    I think the difficulty for any quarterback running this offense is the one with any new scheme, particularly one that is described as complex. It is hard to get everyone on the same page, so that mistakes are minimized. 

  • Does Fitz look better this year in our new system than he did on his previous teams or is the media overstating?

  • I'm not sure that the media is lockstep on any view. I understand Greg Cosell thinks that a pairing of Fitzpatrick and O'Brien will likely allow Fitzpatrick to play the best of his career.

    My view is that I do not think that his physical skill sets are ideal for this offense, and that he was the best vet option out of less than ideal vet options this off-season. I think his performance in the offseason has been very up and down. I don't think that is surprising given that the offense is new to the entire team, and injuries to key good players which have kept them from practicing.

    All that being said, out of the options that the Texans have this year, he looks like the best one. Do I feel it is appropriate to gush about his performance in the offseason? No. Defenses are usually ahead of offenses, but I don't think the offense has looked particularly sharp in practice.

  • Stephanie.  Is It your opinion that Fitz is the best QB on current roster?  I waiting to see how Texans will react when/if waiver wire produces a QB worthy of taking....who will be shown the door?

  • 1. Yes in terms of being prepared to know offense, face NFL defenses. It may be that Tom Savage could develop into that person with his skill sets, but he is not ready to start; 

    2. I think it may be too late for them to find a QB they want to develop, learn the offense. Not too many great prospects get waived.

    3. That said, I don't think the offense suits Case Keenum very well. That's not to say they wouldn't tailor the offense more for him if he were pushed into the starting lineup. But I think he looked much better in the previous offense than this one. But then again, his reputation is more for being a gamer than a practice player.

  • Stephanie,

    I’m already really concerned about the injuries we already have and the low probability that some of these starters (Cushing, Foster, JJ, Brandon Brooks, & even Clowney) making it through the season.  

    What is your take on the depth we have?

  • I think it is a big concern. I am not sure that the team can system their way through depth issues. Very few guys on the roster where I think, if only they had an opportunity. In some spots, their starters may not be legit starters on some teams.

    That said, I think most teams in the league have problems if their best players get hurt. The hope is that the depth gets more reps now, and the best players are available and play well when it matters.

  • There has been a lot of coverage about Clowney's explosiveness. Based on what you're seeing, what's a realistic set of expectations we should have for him?
  • Think this article by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News is fair on this subject.

    You can see his special gifts in camp...when he has been healthy enough to play. I think my biggest concern with him is keeping him healthy.

  • From what you've seen who do you think will be Foster's backup and clear #2 RB?

  • Think it is too early. I think it depends a lot on how much the staff values veterans, and whether Andre Brown can stay healthy. Rookie Alfred Blue has had a nice camp, but concern with any rookie is pass pro.

  • Situational football, situational football... seems like O'Brien is drilling and drilling and drilling on every possible situation over and again...

    1) Love OB's attention to detail -- did you hear his comment about maybe redesigning the cafeteria to make it more efficient?

    2) I do not recall previous Texans teams putting near this much emphasis on special teams & situational football... am I mistaken in that? 

  • I think there is more attention to situational football, though that is not to imply similar drills weren't done with previous staff.

    As to question 1, yeah, I heard that comment because I asked that question to him. He said at the end of OTAs that he was looking at everything in the building to see how it can be improved.  Have tried to get details on some of these things, but the nutrition aspect was all he shared.

    As for question 2, I think there is more of a focus on situational football, and more bodies coaching special teams. I think the special teams periods in particular look strikingly different. I would also add that there seems to be more of an emphasis on pace.

  • Given your experience on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which Texans player do you think would stand the best chance of winning the grand prize? If they had to use a coach for the "phone a friend" lifeline, who would be the best option?

  • Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Because the Harvard thing. Bill O'Brien would have to be the phone-a-friend. Because the Ivy League thing
  • Although coach O'Brien has declared Newton to be the starting RT, I saw eight guys listed as OTs when I checked the roster yesterday (although it's been a few minutes so they may have signed another one).  Compare that to only seven names listed as centers or guards.  Is Newton's job really secure?  From what you've seen, should it be??

  • I think the Texans are in trouble for their offense line. The Texans have so many injuries and question marks at both guard and tackle, Newton at right tackle may end up being the least of their problems. Real test is the games, but physically he looks better. Free-agent addition Tyson Cllabo looks like he can barely walk. There really isn't true competition at the right tackle spot. Newton gets named the starting job because there is no real competitors.

  • I know a lot has been made about all the differences between O'Brien and Kubiak, especially by those in the anti-Kubiak camp.  Are there any noteworthy similarities?

  • Actually, in some ways, I see a lot of similarities. 

    First time NFL head coach. Paired with Rick Smith as GM.  Ignores the conventional wisdom about who the Texans should pick in the NFL draft. Comes to team who just finished the season 2-14, with no good options a quarterback. As an offensive-minded coach, touted as a quarterback guru. Wants players to keep their differences in the locker room, and keeps player-coach conversations confidential. Has a great belief in his offenses scheme, and has brought friends of coach to implement it. Has decided to act as head coach and play caller. Talks about competition a lot, but sometimes names vet starters because there are no good alternatives. Has a great deal of respect for veteran players, who are proven in real games. Kept the incumbent special teams coach. Catholic.  

    I've heard the pace of practice is significantly faster or more physical under O'Brien, but I haven't seen a big difference.  Biggest apparent change is that O'Brien is more hands on/verbal coaching during practice. O'Brien seems to be much more reluctant to share injury information and interested in finding small ways to further limit media access. 

    The both coaches structure periods to focus on situational football, it seems to be a greater focus this year.  Hands on special-teams coaching seems to have increased as well.

    Both coaches focus a lot on being good teammates, but it seems more explicitly the case in 2014, with all the players in a team hotel during training camp, and told to focus on that in their media answers.. More discipline also seems to be a focus.

    2006–2013 hair; 2014 chin. The end.

  • How is the competition at Tight End developing? 

    Graham is listed as the starter but from the outside Griffin and Fido seem to be more prototypical and have higher ceilings. Does it seem like Graham's days are numbered?

  • For some camps, I have a very good feel for certain positions. Not for the 2014 tight ends. I would think that the Texans would use the tight end position a lot for their passing games. Tight ends are often used as a security blanket for average quarterbacks.  But it is difficult to accurately sense the distribution and amount of tight end targets. I think nothing would surprise me as a relates to the 2014 Texans tight end play. 

  • The Texans shouldn't have fired Gary Kubiak.  They were a loaded team for a specific kind of game plan and, instead of sticking with the strategy, they decided to rebuild.  Now, it's like the entire team is one massive square peg in a round hole.  O'Brien may be a good coach but it will be many years before we see any results and all of our good players will have found new teams.

    Agree or disagree?

  • Where to start with this question...ugh...perhaps with some semi-disjointed thoughts on this subject

    1. Cleaning House. Cats are said to have nine-lives, and Kubiak might have been part cat, but boy howdy, hard to justify not cleaning house at 2-14. The modern NFL is not very patient, and McNair showed abundance of that with Kubiak but at some point, you need a change of perspective and voices in the building. 

    2. Roster Issues. They were NOT "a loaded team for a specific type of game plan." In Kubiak's early years, they were lost on defense because they had two bad defensive coordinators in a row, and wasted draft after draft trying to fix that side of the ball with bad coaching. The Texans tried to system their way through their offense, but eventually attrition and aging on that side of the ball caught up to them. 

    Overall for the team, they faced what a lot of teams struggle with: They lost some solid players and were unavailable to develop quality replacements. In addition, they had a aging quarterback who showed problems coming back from an injury, and no sensible plan for developing their future quarterback. 

    I do not think that the problems of 2013 were primarily coaching ones despite the Texans' owner and GM's attempt last year to characterize the roster as loaded and the failures all on coaching. You aren't the worst team in the league without some sort of organization-wide failure.

    If you would like to read more on this subject, I suggest this post I wrote that discusses this and which players are good players for the Texans who could fit in any system: "Is the Texans roster full of talent, ready to win?" (December 2013). Also, I put the O'Brien transition into the context of roster stuff in this post that may answer your question better than most, "What are the real lessons we should learn from Texans history?" (April 2014).

    Also relevant is, "Q&A; on the 2014 Football Outsiders' Texans projections." (August 2014). In that post, the idea is floated that the best teams don't just have a top core group of guys, but they have quality depth. 

    Overall, there are some players who fit better in the old schemes than the new, but sometimes you have to risk getting worse to have the option to get better. With the inevitable QB change that was going to happen between 2013 and 2014, this was a good year for transition.

    3. GM. FWIW, I liked Kubiak more as a coach than I liked him and his staff being helper-GMs. I think it was a mistake for Casserly in 2002-2005 taking very little assistant coach input into his draft choices. 

    But I also think it was a huge mistake to pair a first time head coach in Gary Kubiak with the then youngest GM in the NFL, first time GM Rick Smith. If you are going to be a head coach who wants to have substantial input and control over roster choices, then at minimum  is good to have a GM in the room who is a football equal in terms of experience, and whose input is listened to and respected, and who can bring his own varied (read non-Bronco) experiences to the table. Wade Phillips likely had tube socks older than Rick Smith.

    That's one view. Your view may differ.
  • With so many injuries on the offensive line why doesnt the Texans trade the 49ers for Boone or bring in Icognito as a free agent? Both are instant upgrades to that right guard spot. Also, is there any concern with Foster beyond injuries?He recently stated he almost retired from football. Doesnt seem to have that fire and desire to be a top back anymore. 

  • O'Brien says that they are constantly looking at all options to upgrade all positions but Incognito carries more luggage than Samsonite. Outside Reliant, nobody knows about Brandon Brooks return, which would be relevant to your question. 

    As it relates to Foster, I'd be more concerned about his health as just a RB in a violent league with a back injury history, than his comments. A messed up back will make you think of such things, but I will tell you other times he talks about how much he loves to play, but "Football Player Enjoys Playing Football," isn't making the news.

  • Does the first pre-season game change you perspective frm the last few weeks of training camp, or was that 3rd team players doing what 3rd team players will do?

  • Bill O'Brien's scheme is supposed to be complex. Which is something Texans fans in general have wanted to see...less predictability. Now each scheme has pluses and minuses, and the difficulty with complex is installing it where players can just play fast, and not think so much. And getting every player on the same page. 

    When it works, it is beautiful. When it doesn't, it is misery.

    In particular, this can't be easy when the quarterbacks you are using do not have the ideal skill sets to run the offense. And most of your pass targets don't have much NFL experience.

    So, to your question, I've been in camp, watching things, waiting to be impressed. It hasn't happened...yet.

    If prior to the game, you listed your concerns with the Texans, it may have gone something like this: 1. QB; 2. Oline depth; 3. Offensive chemistry; 4. A thin, slowish secondary that prides itself with physicality having to cover with the rules emphasis on dpi/d holding; 5. Below league average inside linebacker play, and concerns about LBs being able to cover; 6 Special teams expected to be significantly better, without significant talent upgrades or speed added to teams; 7. Team depth.

    The play on Saturday didn't look NFL caliber. Would be an embarrassment at the high school level to have that many penalties and lack of performance on all sides of the ball. And some of the reasons for that may be related to the question marks I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    Preseason W-L do not matter. I pay little attention to them. Often teams use the preseason in different ways. But it has to be a concern that everything you saw is exactly the opposite of everything O'Brien has been preaching in camp about discipline, smart football, doing your job, competing, innovation. And yes, the Texans were missing some key players, but its not like the Cardinals played a ton of their starters.

    I didn't have high expectations for the game as the Texans are transitioning on both sides of the ball. That said, the team as a whole looked lost. And not just the 3rd team facing 3rd team. The Texans kept their first string QB in the game for more snaps than most teams do, and they looked grim. 

    So in sum, I'm just waiting for the moment where I go, okay, I see the improvement, the good coaching. Glimmers of a good future. (Clowney showed some good Clowney stuff that glimmered in camp, so there's that). Not the talk of improvement. Not the theory of improvement. Seeing what is being talked about shown on the field. Things that are promising both near term and in the future.

    As I said, I am waiting be impressed. At this point, I will await basic competence. 

  • So now that we've come to realize we don't have a quarterback (again) - why don't we trade Andre Johnson to Washington Redskins for Kirk Cousins?

  • This makes no sense to me from a football or salary cap perspective. Kirk Cousins would fix nothing, and your wide receiver position group would get worse. So nah.
  • I think the Texans did the smart thing drafting Clowney like they did. To me a GM needs to look ahead as well as the present. Looking at all the good qb talent (UCLA, Baylor, Arixona St, Mississippi St, Florida St, Oregon, Penn St, etc..) the Texans should feel confident that a very good QB will be available in the next year or two. Many view this years QB class as a pretty low quality one. Sure Manziel has talent but his wreckless play and off the field issues are a huge gamble for a first overall pick. Johnny Football was already getting medical attention on the sidelines of first preseason action. Do you think Texans management looks ahead with similar thought or do they really like Savage enough to develop him as a future franchise QB?

  • I think Bill O'Brien was surprisingly forthcoming of his view of the quarterbacks in this draft. He made of point of saying that it wasn't just the big three, that there were a number of good quarterbacks, and all the quarterbacks had pluses and minuses. Bortles was likely the one that best fit what O'Brien wanted to do, but I'm guessing they didn't see the value there.

    From a development standpoint, Savage has the arm you would like to see. But quarterbacking at the highest level isn't just "arm talent." (Which to me is a funny phrase that you hear a lot more these days). The question is whether they can develop him to be a good, quick decision maker. Early in camp he wasn't getting a ton of reps. He's received a few more, but not enough at this point to feel comfortable he gets any time on the field this year.

    There is a lot to like about Savage as a prospect, but it will be up to him to show that he can make that progression.