I'll admit, I am a bit of a press conference junkie, especially with NFL head coaches, the one category of sports personnel who are on a very regimented communication schedule, and from whom many times you can learn as much from what they don't say as you do from what they do say (or how they say it....confused yet?).
In the pantheon of NFL head coach (and GM) interviews, among the most revealing are the sessions at the NFL combine, mostly because they're facing a national media throng who know that asking an uncomfortable question won't result in any ill will for the next 17 weeks from the coach or GM.
To that end, Bill O'Brien and Rick Smith had their turn at the combine on Thursday. Here's a quick rundown on what we learned:
1. Ryan Mallett is the heavy favorite to start under center in Week 1. They want him back. When asked about needs on the team, O'Brien didn't flinch when he started off with the quarterback position at the top of the list, and equally unflinchingly said that the solution at that position starts with Mallett. "I've known Ryan since his rookie year," O'Brien said. "I really have a good connection with Ryan. George Godsey, our quarterback coach, has a real good connection with him, too. He enjoys playing in our system. We enjoy coaching him." It's quite clear that, for all the talk of a competition at that position, the Texans have a very good idea as to what the best feasible solution is to maximize their potential in 2015. It's Mallett.
2. They still love Arian Foster but won't rule out taking a running back... One of the underplayed salary cap subplots with the Texans is how Arian Foster moved himself from near the top of the "Oh, no way this guy is gonna be here in 2015" list to a guy about whom nobody even thinks about restructuring or cutting his pay. Still, with his having missed around a quarter of the season, the team understands that they need to bridge the drop-off from Foster to Alfred Blue with someone better in between. "When you look at our needs in the draft, I would say running back is a position that we could look at," O'Brien said on Thursday. "I'm not going to tell you exactly what type of running back we're looking for, but that's something that we could probably add to our team in some shape or form that would help our team if the right guy's out there."
3. ...in fact, they won't rule out taking anything. When asked about the needs on the team, O'Brien started with quarterback...and then proceeded to list pretty much every position short of long snapper (way to go, Weeksy!). Normally, I'd say this is a head coach who is just ducking a question, but I truly feel like the Texans (depending on what Kareem Jackson and, to a lesser extent, Derek Newton decide) could take someone at virtually any position in the first and second round and justify it as a need on the depth charts. There's not a single position on this team where the drop-off isn't precipitous from starter to backup. They need an overall talent upgrade. Everything is in play.
4. Jadeveon Clowney's knee is as big a mystery now as it was when he got surgery on it for the second time. Smith and O'Brien said the right things, I guess -- a nebulous combination of "he's working hard" and blind hopefulness. "The recovery process is an arduous process," Smith said. "We talk to him about that and how he would have to be diligent throughout that process. He's doing well, and we expect that he would hopefully make a full recovery and be able to help us next year."
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"When he came out of the surgery, the first six weeks were very important because he couldn't put any weight on the knee," O'Brien said. "He had to be really disciplined in whatever he could do, rehab-wise. He had to be very disciplined doing that, and he was. I think he's on the right track."
So if you're keeping track, nobody knows anything.
5. Andre Johnson's camp should take their phone off "vibrate." Larry Fitzgerald restructured his deal with the Cardinals earlier this week, and if nothing else, it called attention to the size of Johnson's cap figure and the possibility of him doing the same thing for the Texans. When asked about it at the combine, Smith said, ""Our hope is that Andre is one of those rare guys that gets to spend his entire career in our organization. He's obviously got a salary-cap number that you've got to look at in the context of our putting whole roster together, our whole team together. We'll look at his deal, but his is not the only deal. There are several deals on our books that we need to look at to make sure we are positioning ourselves to be as creative and aggressive as we can be to continue building this football team." In other words, Andre, that call to your cell with the 713 number with the NRG Stadium exchange....yeah, that's Rick.