NFL Combine: Texans GM Rick Smith Talks Earl Mitchell As 3-4 Nose Tackle, The Second Year Leap

This is a rough transcription of one of the interviews of the two Houston Texans upper management figures who spoke at the NFL Combine yesterday, General Manager Rick Smith and Head Coach Gary Kubiak. You can listen to the whole thing on the HoustonTexans.com podcast center. I'll get to work on transcribing the Kubiak interview right after this posts.

Texans General Manager Rick Smith

(on whether finding Arian Foster changed the way they look at things)

"It doesn't change our approach at all. I think we're very fortunate we were able to find a guy like that as a college free agent...we didn't have a chance to address the running back position in that draft, but we signed two college free agents who I thought had a chance. The other was Jeremiah Johnson from Oregon."

(on if the Texans defensive change will make them shop more on the free agent market)

"I think we'll do what we always do. We have an opportunity to improve our football team via free agency and the draft, and we'll look to every opportunity we have. We'll look at every avenue to improve."

(on Wade Smith and the middle free agent market)

"I think you've got to find some value guys like that. I'd been really impressed with Wade, we'd been watching him for a number of years and saw him improve over the course of his career. We've targeted him several times in his career as a potential free agent acquisition. At the end of the year, when we meet with all the players, all the offensive lineman said we were a better unit because of Wade's acquisition."

(inaudible question, except for the phrase "how disappointing is it?" you can safely assume playoffs were involved.)

"We worked pretty hard the last few years, and we really thought we had an opportunity to have some success last year. You have to look critically at what you're doing in your processes. Going back to last year, coming off the two 8-8 years and finally having the winning season, and having gone through some things as a football team, it really felt like we were poised to have some success. Obviously we fell short. We're studying what we did wrong and looking for opportunities to improve our football team. I think we've got a pretty good idea of where we fell short and we're going to fix them this offseason."

(on switching to the 3-4 and the changes with the scouts)

"When you switch systems, you're looking for different types of players. We've opened ourselves up to some potential options that weren't there before, guys who might not be the great defensive ends or the great athletes, who might have a little more stiffness, but have some pass rushing ability or a knack that fit in a 3-4 system. I think we've opened ourselves up to a pool of players that we otherwise wouldn't. You're right, we had to get in the room and educate our scouts about what we're looking for. I met with them as a group in Mobile and talked about what we're now looking for. Those guys know football, it's not too difficult to get them caught up to speed in terms of what we're looking for."

(on track speed versus football speed)

"That's just one element. When you evaluate players it's easy to get caught up in height, weight, speed, measurables, ratios and those things. That's just one element. We look for certain position parameters, by position, that we're looking for. Then it's the players playing history, what he produces on the football field, what kind of character he has. There's all these different things you look for. Obviously speed is something you can't coach and it's attractive to everyone, but it's the total package I think you've got to look at and evaluate." "There's what we call functional speed. You can have a guy who has track speed and he doesn't play as fast as that. How fast do you think he plays on grass? Is he a faster guy on a different surface? So we look at all those things, and try to judge all those things and get an idea of how fast the guy plays the game of football, because that's the most important thing."

(on the risks of taking a defensive tackle high)

"It's tough, because they're pushing and fighting against grown men. That position takes a little longer to mature. They're hard to find. Big strong guys who can run, who have body quickness, who have pass rushing ability, and all those things a special defensive tackle have, are hard to find. So if you want them, and they're available, you have to take them high. But there's an understanding that it may take a guy a little longer to develop and produce the way you'd expect a very high pick to come in and do."

(on safeties, if there will be two new starters, then on how safety play impacts the corners)

"We've got some options there. I think what we look for is what we look for at all positions. We're looking for good football players who are athletic with speed and range that make plays on the ball, We need to make more plays on the ball from a defensive perspective, so we're looking for guys like that. Smart guys, guys that will put the team first, and do all the things we're looking for." "You're looking at a former safety, so I value the position significantly. But it's important, it's important."

(on what position of the front seven are most important on defense)

"Just in general, John? You guys are talking to coaches and GM's and player personnel guys. I think if you ask, I think traditionally speaking, what you will hear is a debate between a pass rusher and a corner. Some people will say the corner is more important, some people will say the pass rusher is important. Most people will pick those two positions as the most important. You have to get after the quarterback and you've got to have guys who can run and cover."

(on Cam Newton)

"I try to keep my opinions on guys that are in the current draft close to the vest, and so I typically don't comment on players now. I'm probably going to keep that tradition."

(on the safety depth in the draft class)

"That's another thing I don't like, I don't like to compare draft classes to other draft classes. I think what we're charged to do is figure out, we've got two opportunities to get better between the free agent class and the draft class, and so we've got to identify the guys who have the characteristics that we're looking for that fit into the schemes we're employing and you've gotta go get those guys. There are some guys available in this class that do that."

(on the draft before free agency, and if it tempts the value board)

"We're conscious of that. I think you have to be, you have to stay true to your philosophy, whatever it is. I was talking to some guys over the last few days about that subject. Drafting for need or not. We've historically been consistent with setting our board, assessing value, and letting the board dictate where we go. Now if we can draft value at a position that we have need, you can hit a home run. But you can't do that, you've got to draft for value."

(on if the lack of free agency before the draft increases the need)

"If you're not careful, you could make that mistake. We're conscious not to do that. You can draft for need, so if you set your board and you've got a guy at a position for need, at the value, you can draft for need. But you can't reach for it."

(mostly inaudible, but about Brian Cushing moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and how it compared to moving outside to inside)

"Last year's move was a little different than this one is. What you can get from Brian is a very physical player who has instincts. In a 3-4 we always talk about the rushers outside, but I think if you've got a guy inside who can add some value that way, I think Brian will be able to do that. I do think he's a good fit inside. There is a possibility that he could play outside. We're going to start him at the mike spot, it just depends on who we add, guys that we can add. We're going to put the best eleven players on the field. I do get excited with the thought process of where we have him now at the mike spot, because I think he can do some things both against the run and the pass rush situations."

(on if he's gunshy at all in trying to find a guy opposite Mario)

"Not really. I think what we're trying to do is man the team at all positions with the best players we can find. I don't know if we're looking for a guy who's opposite Mario as much as we're just looking for good players who can help us with our pass rush situation, if that's what you're referring to. So it doesn't get frustrating, we just have to stay on the grind and continue to look for good players who can help us. I think Mark Anderson's addition last year was good for us, he came in and helped. You've just got to keep working to find those players."

(on nose tackles and Wade Phillips, if they have a 3-4 NT on the roster)

"I do, I think if you listen to him and what he's done in the past with his defenses, there isn't a template of guys with height/size/weight ratio. He's done it with the big massive guys, and he's done it with guys who are undersized or smaller. I think Earl Mitchell is a guy who can play the nose for us. I think his development last year was good, pleased with what he did and we're expecting him to take a jump like you expect of a guy moving from year one to year two. I think we do."

(on Kareem Jackson)

"Again, very similar to what I was talking to Tim about. The jump from year one to year two, in general, has to be exponential, has to be significant. I don't think anyone could argue that Kareem did not perform as well as we think he's capable of performing last year. So he understands that, we understand that, and we've gotta do everything we can do to get him to play at that level. And I expect that he will."

(on the QB class)

"Again, I try to keep those things close to the vest, as they relate to this class."

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