The 2015 season unofficially began on Monday as the Texans returned to NRG Stadium to begin voluntary workouts. It's the "first day of school" date on the NFL calendar, where guys return from their vacations, talk about what they did during their time off, and meet the new kids in class (what's up Vince, Cecil, and Rahim?).
Unlike last season, when Andre Johnson was digging his heels in for a summer of discontent, there's no real off field drama or ill will surrounding this group this season. Just a bunch of guys ready to get to work to try and improve on last season's 9-7 record.
Still, even in Johnson's absence, the future Hall of Famer was still a topic, despite best efforts to diffuse the Johnson talk by somebody in the building.
When current lead wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was asked about what life after Andre Johnson is going to be like, Hopkins' answer was succinct: "No comment."
After a few perfunctory questions about this and that, the assembled media tried to slip another Johnson question on Hopkins, asking him what it's like to be the number one receiver without Johnson. Again: "No comment."
Even when an answer called for a reference to Andre Johnson, Hopkins wouldn't refer to him by name. For example, when he was asked if he feels like he has a role in helping the new players learn the playbook, he said the following:
"I do. When they came in here, I told those guys, 'anything you need to know, just about the stadium or where to eat and any little thing.' I told those guys they could come to me. Coaches are going to help them transition into this offense, but a lot of wide receivers in there look up to me because we don't have 80 (Andre Johnson) here anymore. I like that chip on my shoulder."
You can't fool us, Nuk! We all know Andre Johnson existed, and you're little "no comment"s and veiled numerical references will not make us forget!! In all seriousness, Hopkins' answers smack of a direction from on high in which the team has been instructed to move on from Johnson as a topic as quickly as possible. If it doesn't help winning in 2015, which undoubtedly remembrances of or references to Johnson do not, then it's not a topic worth discussing. Period, end of subject.
Among the other interesting soundbites from today's media:
DUANE BROWN, on if he has talked to new Offensive Line Coach Mike Devlin: "Yeah, I like him a lot. I like him a lot. He's a great coach. I got a chance to talk to some of his former players that he worked with. Just being able to talk to him personally about things outside of football as well as football. I think he's going to be great for us and I'm looking forward to working with him."
BROWN, on what makes C Ben Jones special: "I think the biggest thing about Ben (Jones) is just his football IQ. He's an extremely smart player. A lot of things that you just can't coach. He sees a lot of things happening before they happen. He is a tireless worker. He is very, very focused. He is a great talent as well on the field. I think with his skill set, he is going to do great things for us. I'm excited for him to have this opportunity."
J.J. WATT, on his tennis game: "It's not that good, but it's a really good form of workout. It's a lot of good agility work. It's good hand-eye coordination. It's a great training technique. How's yours?"
WATT, on adding NT Vince Wilfork: "It's great. It's really great. I love having Vince (Wilfork) here. He's obviously a very experienced guy. He's a guy who's had a lot of success in the league and he is extremely good at what he does. I'm really excited about that. It's going to be great for our young guys to have that veteran leadership. Obviously, I'm looking forward to playing on the line with him because he is very good at what he does and he commands respect from every team."
VINCE WILFORK, on how he can help NT Louis Nix III: "Only thing you can do for a teammate is be there for him. Sometimes people need different things, so I don't know exactly what he needs. I don't know if he needs some type of talking to or just leading by example. That's what this is all about right now, coming in and getting going. Being able to work out with your teammates and spend half a day with them. You get a chance to know one another. With me being a new guy, people get a chance to know me and I get a chance to know the team. I think throughout this course of the year, I would see a lot of things and might not see a lot of things that people may need. They might be all different things. That's what it's all about. Leaders are not just people that talk. Sometimes it's good just leading by example. Through the course of my career, I've never been a big talker. I always let my play speak for itself and just show guys how I work. Being in the game, this is my 12th year, so still being able to do it. I think a lot of times, that's more than enough."