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Reading Between The Lines: Gary Kubiak at the Combine

In my earlier posting about the Combine, I included several highlights from media appearances of different NFL coaches and G.M.s, including that of Gary Kubiak.  I didn’t read the entire interview at the time, and I have to apologize for not including it.  Kubiak spoke about some very interesting subjects other than just the Dunta situation, which is all I included earlier.  The link also has the video version of the interview which is worth watching.  Below I broke down Gary’s statements with my opinion, Tim-style.

(on the 2006 draft class) "It has been a tremendous draft when you think about that there has been three Pro Bowl players, if I’m right. You go with Mario (Williams), DeMeco (Ryans) and now Owen Daniels. Amongst that group, Eric Winston has been starting for us since maybe he was four or five games into his rookie year. We felt like we also had the other tackle (Charles Spencer), too, except for an injury. David Anderson has been a big contributor on our team. So that has been an exceptional draft for us, and, of course, Mario and DeMeco have led the way from that standpoint."

This isn’t news to anyone, but Kubiak said it and I could resist including this little gem.  Sorry, the rest won’t waste your time.

(on moving DE Mario Williams or LB DeMeco Ryans and the direction of the defense under a new defensive coordinator) "I’ll go back to the coordinator. Obviously, we decided to go in a new direction this offseason. We just felt like we weren’t making the progress that we needed to be making from a year-to-year basis. Frank will take over from that standpoint. Our philosophy is not going to change much; we are still going to be a 4-3 football team from that standpoint. Hopefully, the direction and what we become on the defensive side of the ball will be more aggressive and naturally be better."

Hmm… interesting.   There are a couple of interesting notes here.  First of all, Kubes isn’t about to throw Richard Smith under the bus, so I will.  Richard Smith was terrible, and I am giddy, yes I said giddy, to see what the defense can do next year.  And it’s not just a grass is greener thing.  It’s "the defense can’t get any worse, so screw it" thing.  Also, I never get tired of the word aggressive.  Now you were saying about possibly moving Mario and/or DeMeco?

“As far as Mario and DeMeco go, naturally Mario is a player who has been on our right side a majority of the time. He can play both sides. As we look at free agency and the draft, I think we do have flexibility there because of the fact that Mario can play both spots. So we’ll see. We are just going to try to get better upfront as a football team.”

It seems that Kubiak has no problem drafting a speed rusher to play RDE and moving Mario to the left side.  In fact, I get the impression that might be in the works.  I think that Mario is such a versatile athlete that he can play on either side and be successful.  Last year he put up 12 sacks against not only the best offensive lineman on each team we played, but facing almost constant double teams because no one else on our D line was respected.  As long as they get someone that can occasionally get to the QB, whether he’s coming from the right or the left, Mario is going to benefit.  Also, if we do draft a speed rusher to play RE, he’ll have a nice learning curve because Mario will be getting the brunt of the double teams on the other side.

“As far as DeMeco, we never want to move him. I mean, he has been a great player inside for us, but at the same time we’re not going to eliminate looking at various linebackers because he is a middle linebacker. We are going to try to get better athletically as a football team and then adjust from there.”

This is a complete contradiction.  The only way this makes sense is if they decide to take a LB who is slated to play the middle and move him to the outside.  Either that or they’re thinking about drafting a backup in the later rounds for DeMeco.  It sounds like Kubes officially put the squash on the draft an ILB and move DeMeco theory.  Sorry Chris.

(on if the Texans are looking to be a more aggressive pass-rushing team) “First off, we have to establish an identity, exactly what we want to be from a standpoint of our base defense, what we are going to play, the simplicity of what we are doing and doing that good. I think if you are simple from that standpoint, your players can naturally be more aggressive. So we have to establish that first. Whether we pressure more or not will have to do with how we are playing on the backend. We’ll wait to see what happens here through free agency and the draft, but obviously we’ve got to get better on the defensive side of the ball.”

Anyone ever notice that Kubiak is good at saying a lot of words that mean very little?  Anyway, what I take away from this is that our defense needs an identity.  The year that the Giants won the Super Bowl they had the amazing bookend DEs.  Call it wishful thinking, but it sounds like he wants our D to have a reputation.  The end part of this comment about the “backend” made it sound like next to fixing the DL, acquiring DBs is the most important task.  This is all conjecture though, because it’s really hard to cut through the coach speak.

(on how good DE Mario Williams can be) “Obviously, there is another step for him to take. In my opinion, he’s taken steps forward as a player all three years. I thought he had a Pro Bowl year in year two, even though he didn’t make it that year. Of course, he had a Pro Bowl year this season, but he can definitely get better. He still is very, very young. He wants to get better; he listens. The game has become easy for him from a preparation standpoint, and when that happens for a player, usually their talent starts to really take over. So I think you can see him continue to step forward.”

Self-explanatory, but still makes me feel warm inside.  Notice Kubiak didn’t take a single question about Reggie Bush or Vince Young in the entirety of this interview.  Weird.

(on getting Williams help on the opposite side) “That’s obviously an important part of our football team. We feel like we’ve got to get him some help. We’ve got to get better pressuring the quarterback and we’ve got to get better as a defense as a whole. But Mario’s career could improve drastically the more help we can get him upfront, so that is a point of emphasis for our football team.”

Again, I know he was asked somewhat of a leading question but it really sounds like he’s hinting at a DE in the first round of the draft.  Orakpo and Brown will be gone.  You tell me who the next best DE in the draft is.

(on what he gets out of evaluations at the combine) “Coming here is getting to know them; that’s what is important to me. I enjoy the interview process, getting to sit down with a young man face-to-face and see what he is all about and how important football is to him, just talking to him a little bit about his family and life, getting to know him. But really when it all boils down, you are going to go back and evaluate him as a football player on tape. How fast they run, how high they jump, that becomes part of the equation, but it’s still all about how they play the game.”

Shameless self-promotion in 3…2…1… I think I remember someone making the case that Kubaik and Smith didn’t take the Combine too seriously.

(on what he gets from one-on-one interviews at the combine) “I think you get a great deal out of it. To me, that’s the most important part of what we are doing here over the course of this week; I know that is for me. Just getting to know these young men before you bring them into your program, getting to know what they are all about and really just understanding how important a football career is to them and what they want out of the next eight to 10 years means a lot to me.”

I would consider committing serious crimes in exchange for Smithiak’s interview list. 

(on what he gets from first impressions with the prospects) “You are going to get the best a kid has to offer initially, but you are going to do your homework on him; your homework will back up what you see usually. But I think these kids are here to put their best foot forward and get themselves in position to be successful in this draft. I think it’s our job to go back and do our homework.”

I believe Kubiak is alluding to their standards in the character department.  Since Kubiak took over, they really haven’t drafted anyone with “immaturity issues”.

(on Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee) “He was in the East-West game, which was right in our backyard, which gave me a chance to watch him practice every day. I think Stephen is a very athletic young man that had some problems this year injury-wise that held him back. But he has the athletic ability, the arm, the brain, the competitive nature to play in this league. A lot of times, you see guys who go through rough spots like that in college and all of a sudden they blossom when they get to our levels. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was able to do that. He’s a fine young man. I think he has a chance to be a very good player.”

Kubiak got asked a stupid question and plaid nice to a huge demographic in the city where he eats.  Sorry A&M fans, but seriously.  This interview was so interesting then some reporter threw in a question about a college QB that will be drafted extremely late to the head coach of a team that doesn’t need a QB.  I’m a Longhorns fan, but I would be just as mad if they were asking about Colt McCoy. 

(on new strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright) “Ray has been with us for a long while and he’s earned that opportunity that he’s gotten. He’s great with our players; he’s very energetic with our football team on game day, or every day I should say. He’s a young guy, but the player’s respect him and the way he pushes them. I’m really looking forward to him leading downstairs. We are going to get him an assistant here very quickly. I think Ray adds a young fire to the group down there, and our football team is very young.”

I can feel Richard Justice getting angry.

(on if there will be philosophical change in the strength and conditioning program) “I don’t know if there is that much of a change. I mean, the job Dan (Riley) did throughout his career was second to none, and Ray was brought up under Dan. I think a lot of it is the same. Naturally, anytime you change, there’s going to be somebody’s input. Ray’s got some great ideas as we move forward, and we’ll put some of his things into the offseason program.”

We hired a guy who trained under Dan Riley, so if he was the Jedi master of strength and conditioning then we have version 1.2.  Suck it Richard.

(on changing the NFL overtime rules) “I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. I am kind of old school; I like the way it is, believe it or not. But I will listen to everybody else. My biggest concern if we did go to a college type overtime is that we can end up on that field a long, long time on some given Sundays. Our game is very physical and very tough. If all of a sudden two football teams are out there four, four and a half hours on a Sunday, I think it could be very difficult. We’ll see what everyone else thinks, but I kind of like the old way.”

I’m actually indifferent on this issue.  Tell me why I’m wrong.

(on CB Dunta Robinson’s reaction to getting tagged) “He’s a competitive kid. Going through negotiations like that – I know Rick (Smith) working extremely hard to try to get the deal done, as did Dunta’s agent. Obviously, you are running out of time because you are on a timeframe there. But I’m glad to have him be a part of our football team. That’s part of football; that’s part of the negotiating process. Hopefully, that’s something that we do get done and keep him here for a long, long time. But I am counting on him doing a great job and being a leader on our football team.”

Obviously Kubiak is not mincing words about continuing contract negotiations even though they used the tag on Dunta.  Coincidentally, he uses the word “leader” twice in relation to Dunta, which I think might be a subtle jab in response for Robinson airing dirty laundry in public.

(on Robinson threatening to miss training camp) “I think those are some comments coming out of the negotiating process, which is only natural through his competitive nature. I can only say that I am counting on him very much for our football team. I am counting on him being there. He and I will sit down and talk about that. I am expecting him to be a leader on our football team.”

Kubiak does a nice job of defusing the situation on his side by describing Dunta as competitive.  You guys have all done a great job of discussing the ins and outs of the Dunta situation.  I haven’t been that interested in weighing in on the discussion that much, which I don’t really understand given my interest in all things Texans.  I think maybe it was because for it all to make sense you had to come to the realization that either Dunta is unreasonable or Smith is a liar, neither of which I really wanted to believe.  So, I guess I hope they keep defusing and this thing is resolved soon.

(on if the team will be looking to improve defensively through free agency) “Obviously, it’s something Rick and I have been discussing over the course of the last few weeks. We definitely need to make our football team better in free agency, and I think there is an opportunity for us to do that, without specific names or positions. But we’ve done our homework; we are ready to go. Hopefully, we can improve our football team in a couple of spots, and then when we get through with that, we’ll move on to the draft. I think there are some good football players out there.”

I can’t wait for free agency to start.  As opposed to the draft, I don’t even begin to speculate on who the Texans are eying as possible free agent pickups.  We’ll all have to be patient.

(on climbing up in the AFC South) “It’s a fine division; we all know that. One of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game is in our division. Tennessee is as good a football team I’ve ever been around last year. Jack (Del Rio) has had his team in that position as shortly as two years ago. It’s a fine division; it’s a difficult division to get out of. If you want to win in this league, if you want to be successful, you’ve got to be able to stand up and beat the best. It’s fun for us to compete in this division, and we’re trying to get this young team going to where we can get there with them.”

More coach speak.  It’s pretty true, but as a coach you always praise the competition to avoid giving bulletin board material.

(on if RB Ahman Green still has mileage left) “I think he does. Ahman is at the point where his body has had some injuries and he has had a hard time holding up over the course of the last few years. When he has been healthy, he’s done some good things for us. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he did come back and help somebody this next year. I know when I talked to him the other day, he clear expects to play more football.”

Gary taking the high road by not walking over the reputation of a guy he just cut.  Not surprising, but still noteworthy.

(on the Broncos releasing coach Mike Shanahan) “I was surprised like everyone else. Mike has been great for this league. He’s one of the most successful coaches this league has seen in a long, long time. I was very surprised, but I’m sure he’ll be back at it very quickly.”

The guy used to work for Shanahan and you’re asking him about his reaction to Shanahan’s firing?  That's gritty journalism.

(on if Shanahan will take to play golf) “Take a year to play golf? Only he can answer that. I think it’s wearing on him. I’ve talked to him a couple of times and I know he misses it. Like I said, it would be good for the game to get him back as quick as possible.”

This interview is getting really vanilla.

(on how much he learned from Shanahan about the draft) “A great deal. I got my start in San Francisco with George Seifert and the 49ers. Really, Mike took the same system to Denver, so obviously I’ve been doing a lot of those things in Houston. Preparing for the combine – it seems the combine is getting better and better each year. The kids are getting better and better and the competition is. It’s a week that I look forward to, and more than anything it’s a chance to meet the kids.”

I don’t know what to think about this.  Shanahan obviously always had an eye for offensive players, but I don’t remember a recent elite Denver defense.  This led to Shanahan’s eventual downfall.  Hopefully Kubiak took the good but left the bad.

(on making a jump in the division) “We’ve obviously gotten better over the course of the last two years. We’ve still got a ways to go to catch some of the teams in our division because they have been so strong. I think the key for us is that we have to play better in our division. Naturally, those games, a lot of people say, count as two. You play them every year. We’ve been OK at home; we’ve been poor on the road. We’ve got to play our division better on the road. If you are going to be successful in this league, if you are going to be successful in our division or move out of our division, you are going to have to find a way to win amongst that group. We’ve got to get better from that standpoint.”

If you watch the video of this interview, you’ll see that Kubiak almost snapped at the reporter who asked this question.  He started to say “Didn’t I just,” and then he realized that this may not be the best time to tell a reporter how stupid he is, so he stopped himself and answered the question.  I got a kick out of it.

(on if he thinks the offense is set for next season) “Our offense has made improvements all three years, more so this past year than any. I think Kyle (Shanahan) has done a great job. Getting Alex (Gibbs) to come with us has been a huge benefit to our offensive coaching staff and our offensive football team. We’ve made some strides there and we feel good about where we’re at. Can we get better? You bet; we can definitely get better. I think landing the young back was huge for us last year; we are very fortunate there. I’m not going to say we’re set there and we’re going to move on. That’s not the case. We’re going to try to get better on offense, but obviously we’ve got to make some big time improvements on the defensive side of the ball.”

Hey Gary, his name is Steve (sorry, I thought it was funny he didn’t refer to Slaton by name).  Other than that, he’s just saying what everyone knows: The offense, while not perfect, is in much better shape than the defense.

(on how much stock he puts into games like the East-West Shrine game) “I put a lot – how they practice, how they handle themselves. I saw those kids just walking through the hallways through our stadium. When they would get dressed for practice, I would visit with them as they walked over to the field and then watch them compete in that environment. I went out to dinner one night and saw three or four of them out to dinner at a restaurant in Houston. It’s funny because throughout the week, you really ran across a bunch of those young men. Then, you watch them play the game. We’ve gotten a couple of kids out of that game that have played very well for us. The evaluation process for us there we are fortunate to have in our backyard.”

I’m sure it is an advantage to have the game in Houston every year.  I haven’t ever paid enough attention to the East-West Shrine Game to speak intelligently about it.

All in all, this was one of the most informative Kubiak interviews I’ve ever seen.  He put to rest certain theories among us (moving DeMeco), while he validated others (drafting a DE to play either RDE or LDE).  I try to be aware of my hometown bias while reporting on things relating to the Texans, but I can’t help but have confidence in Kubiak.  Even though he obviously understands the merit of not getting chatty with the media, he knows that disclosing certain things won’t hurt anything.  If you feel I misinterpreted something, let me know.