INDIANAPOLIS —The Circle City is the focus of the NFL world this week, as Indianapolis is once again playing host to the annual Scouting Combine, which is being held at Lucas Oil Stadium and at the Indiana Convention Center.
The event is not only a great opportunity for a team — and its fanbase — to really be formally introduced to some of the best college football prospects in the nation, but it's also really the first opportunity of the year to hear from top team officials on how their offseasons have been going since the end of the previous season.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard (on Wednesday) and head coach Chuck Pagano (on Thursday) had their turns to talk to the media, as did most of the key figures from the Colts' rivals across the AFC South Division.
Here's a taste of what was said from the head coaches of the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans this week in Indy.
Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien:
What can the Texans do this offseason to improve for next year especially at quarterback?
"I've said it since the end of the season, I think there's a lot of areas of improvement that have to take place. I think, like I've said to various people here, the first place you look is at the coaching. You look in the mirror, so we're working hard to improve the coaching. I know that the players are out there working hard to improve themselves. I'm not going to get into each position on the team, but when you look at our offense, there's a lot of areas that need to improve. It's not just one position. It's protection, it's run blocking, it's route-running, throwing the ball, all those things. It all goes together. It's not just one thing. So we're working hard to get it better. That's what the offseason is all about." *
Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert C. McNair said the team will look to draft a quarterback. What do you think about that?*
"Look obviously – I've said this time and time again – Mr. McNair is the boss. We're going to do what he wants us to do. We're early in the draft process, especially as it relates to me. I've just really started looking at these guys. We interview 60 guys here at the Combine. Those are the first guys that I've really spent time studying. I really can't comment on any position or what we're thinking as it relates to that. I don't think any of us really know that until right before the Draft starts and how the board is stacked and what we think is best for our team. So it's really early right now."
How important is it to keep a guy like CB A.J. Bouye?
"A.J. is a very important part of our team. I've said that all along. He's a guy that has really worked hard to improve his own skillset. He played very well for us this year. He played well for us last year. John Butler, our secondary coach, has done an excellent job with him. So we really want him back. We realize that free agency and things like that – we understand the process of how it all works. Hopefully we can get him back before free agency starts but if it doesn't, we'll continue I know to work hard to try to get him back on our team. But we'd like to have him back."
What do you think happened to WR DeAndre Hopkins last season that didn't allow him to put up big numbers?
"He still had like 80-something catches. So he dropped off in catches and he dropped off in yards, but he did make some big plays for us during the season. We were 9-7, we won the AFC South. He made some important plays in those games. Third down plays, red area plays. As far as production and things like that, yeah the production dropped off a little bit but it wasn't anything that he did. I think he's a great player. I love coaching the guy and I'm looking forward to coaching him next year."
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone:
What went into the decision to not pick up the option on LT Kelvin Beachum and what didn't he show?
"I don't think it was from the standpoint of what he showed and what he didn't show. When you get to the option, it's a business decision. He's obviously out there and able to speak to other teams and it's still an option for us to continue talking to him."
What factors played into QB Blake Bortles taking a step back last year?
"When you talk to Blake individually, he will acknowledge his mechanics got loose during the year and we were able to pick up on that at the end of the year and improve on that through individual (work) and things of that nature. But we have to get better around him, too. The success of the quarterback, obviously he controls a lot of that - we all know that, but we need to get better around him, better in the protection, better in the running game - all of those things will help him."
On the decision to retain defensive coordinator Todd Wash and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett:
"Going into it, when we talked about where we wanted to go with our coordinators, we were looking for the best coordinators for our football team. We didn't go into it saying, 'We want continuity.' Continuity doesn't necessarily bring about success in the beginning. We knew we would have changes and there were obviously many changes. I talked to about 3-4 people at each position and at the end of the day, we made the decision of who we felt was best for us moving forward. That's pretty much how the process went. Nathaniel Hackett, I obviously have a background with. I've been with him at two other places - Syracuse and Buffalo. I worked for him [with the Jaguars] - that was the first time. He worked for me at Syracuse and at Buffalo and all of a sudden, he's the coordinator [named before Week 9] and I'm the offensive coach and I'm working for him. Those roles have switched again. I told him [jokingly], 'If you call me Doug again, we're going to have some problems.' He started calling me, 'Doug,' and had always called me, 'Coach Marrone.' I'm like, 'What's going on here? Are you pulling this power trip on me all of a sudden?' Now we've got him back on 'Coach Marrone.' … With Todd Wash, I worked one year very closely with Todd when he was the defensive line coach and I was the offensive line coach and competed against each other every day and I thought he did an outstanding job. To be there for the process of him going to the coordinator spot [last year] and the attention to detail and what he brought to the room and also being able to build upon the system and do the things that might be a little different. There are things we did differently during the year that helped us. Todd has a great vision for where he wants to go, where he wants to take this defense. We're still implementing things right now for us to do a better job."
On the running game and should there be a commitment to getting Chris Ivory more carries?
"That all depends on how everyone comes back and how they perform. It's very difficult to get into what's going on commitment-wise right now because we just got done evaluating the team and now we're into the draft. Again, we need better play from everyone. We want better play out of Chris and T.J. [Yeldon] Corey Grant came on late in the year. We have Denard Robinson (who is a free agent). We have some guys back there that should be very good competition for us."
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey:
Better familiarity this year as opposed to last year, having a full season working with Jon Robinson?
"I think we work well together. We're on the same page. I heard Jon just saying that to you guys. I think we know now, in the interview process, we've done a few interviews last night, I know how we play off of each other, how we want to do things with some of the questions. I think probably the biggest difference this year – and Jon has a lot to do with why – we're farther ahead in regards to knowing the players, watching them on tape before we watch them here at the Combine. This is the first time I've watched 20-some players to this point, which I have not done before. So we're ahead of schedule with that."
How do you feel about Marcus Mariota's timetable for recovery?
"I feel pretty good about it. You have to trust the doctor's words. And if you know Marcus like we do, I think we believe that with the way he goes about business, he'll be prepared. And he's not going to overdo it. He's been told 'Be careful. Be smart about it.' I think our No. 1 goal is to make sure he's under center when we open up opening day. I'm not going to put a time frame on when that first practice or when the first – I can't do that because every player is different in how they recover and it's a difficult thing to do."
Did Jack Conklin exceed your expectations last year? And how much does that year help?
"He's going to come back in much more confident and much more understanding of what's expected of him, the demands of the offseason, the demands of training camp. That's just added pressure to a rookie. Yeah, he exceeded, I think. We knew he was a good football player. We knew that when we drafted him. But it was fun to watch him develop. He was kind of put in that situation, with the injury to Byron Bell, to be in there earlier than we had anticipated, but he handled it like he'd been doing it for a while."
Need to use Mariota less as a runner after the injury?
"I don't think so. He's supposed to have a full recovery from it and that hasn't been in any discussion, as far as running him less, because I think the way we run Marcus is very smart. They are designed to have everybody blocked. Unless somebody doesn't get their block, he's not going to be exposed to unnecessary hits. Again, to lose that threat of his ability to run the ball is a big loss to our offense. Again, we'll see how he comes out of it, but I expect a full recovery."
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