Dramatic change has defined the Texans since the end of a dismal 4-12 season, including hiring new leadership and overhauling the roster.
Beyond hiring general manager Nick Caserio, the former lieutenant to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and the owner of six Super Bowl rings, and coach David Culley, cutting defensive end J.J. Watt at his request, having embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson request a trade and later become embroiled in 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct, adapting to a 4-3 alignment under Lovie Smith and executing dozens of roster moves, including drafting Stanford quarterback Davis Mills, the Texans want to alter much more than their personnel. The Texans have executed nearly 50 total roster moves, including trading for defensive end Shaq Lawson and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon.
“We’re trying to establish a culture right now,” Culley said following the second day of a three-day rookie minicamp.
This marked the first time that Culley, a former Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and receivers coach, had been able to coach players on the field. Working with Mills and fellow draft picks Nico Collins, Brevin Jordan, Garret Wallow and Brevin Jordan and undrafted rookies Carson Green, Ryan McCollum and Damon Hazelton and other players, Culley watched the players make fast progress in their respective level of knowledge about the playbook and daily routine.
“I’m very fortunate that I’ve got a tremendous staff here that are teachers,” Culley said. “I’ve just had two days right now of watching our staff coach and teach these guys right here and I tell you what, I came out and practiced (Saturday), smiling a little bit better today than I did (Friday) and (Friday) was pretty good. Today was even better simply because we’re all on the same page. Those guys offensively and defensively and our special teams are basically coaching their tails off. They have been itching to get on the field for the last three months.
“We’ve gone through free agency. We’ve gone through the draft. Now, we’ve gone through the Zooms with the strength and conditioning and finally to get out here today, let me tell you something – we were more excited than those players were today to get out on the football field just to coach the. After we got through coaching them, they understood what we were all about, what we’re trying to get done here with the Texans. Now, did they get everything we tried to get them to do, no, not at all. But they got a good indicator of where we’re going and what we’re going to end up doing and what we need to get done to go where we need to go.”
A fifth-round draft pick from Texas Christian, Wallow is a two-time All-Big 12 Conference selection. He’s eager to prove himself and learn from the coaching staff and follow their standards.
“First and foremost, I want to learn the culture here,” Wallow said. “As you can tell by Coach Culley, we’ve got something great going on here. Definitely a lot of energy in the building, so one thing you’ll do is learn the Texan way. It’s just like college all over again, coming in there, learning the ropes, learning the ways to be the best teammate you can be and the best player for the organization.
“It’s definitely catching on to the routines that happen at practice, catching on to the speed at practice, the drills, the coaching. Just taking it all in is definitely something that as a rookie you want to keep catching on to and keep working forward to every day you’re out there on the field.”
So far, Texans chairman and chief executive officer Cal McNair is encouraged by what he’s seeing and hearing as Caserio oversees one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history. He likes the collaboration between Caserio and Culley.
“I see a lot of positive energy, a lot of good things happening,” McNair said during the Texans’ annual charity golf tournament. “Traditionally we haven’t had a lot of turnover, so maybe it’s time we do try some new things, and we’re going to do that. To watch them work together, it’s been a lot of fun. But yeah, you see a lot of joy and a lot of camaraderie and working together at a high level. So, it’s very gratifying.”
The next step for the Texans is Phase II of the offseason program that will include veteran players working on the field. It’s voluntary, as are all other organized team activities. The only mandatory portion of the offseason is a June minicamp.
“Well, I’m going to hold this whistle up again,” Culley said. “I’m excited to be able to get out there with them for the first time. We’ve had the veterans now for about four weeks, strength and conditioning on Zoom meetings, putting installs in. Starting on Monday, we get to do the same thing, but we get to get some field time with them. Basically, we’re going to kind of do what we just did, start with our minicamp schedule that we’ve done with these guys that we just got through with and start that with our veteran group that’s coming in here and kind of restart again and get them into the culture.
“It’s a brand-new football team, so we want to make sure that they understand from day one what we’re all about and where we’re going and what we’re trying to get accomplished. That’s what we want to do for the rest of the offseason.”
The biggest immediate priority for Culley, the coaching staff and the personnel department is setting a tone for what’s expected as the Texans try to rebuild their team and their way of doing things.
“You know what, after we got through coaching them, they understood what we were all about, what we’re trying to get done here with the Texans,” Culley said. “Now, did they get everything we tried to get them to do, no, not at all. But they got a good indicator of where we’re going and what we’re going to end up doing and what we need to get done to go where we need to go.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128