There were all-star games in January, the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February and pro days and pre-draft visits in March.
For general manager Rick Smith and the Texans’ coaches and scouts, next week is when the fun begins in their preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft.
“Everybody will convene next week here in Houston for our draft meetings,” Smith said on Wednesday in his office at Reliant Stadium. “That’s when we get hunkered down and down in the bunker and really try to assess our board.
“Our board is set. We’ve got the preliminary board set, but now for the next month, we’ll spend the next month really, really studying our board and these players and assessing the value and making sure that we’ve got them pegged the right way so that we give ourselves a chance to have some success on draft day – on the three draft days.”
The April 28-30 draft is fast approaching. The first round, in which the Texans have the 11th overall pick, is four weeks from today.
Smith said that the Texans’ draft board won’t change much between now and then.
“(That’s) because the bulk of our evaluation, and we believe that this is the right approach, is based on football, the resume that he’s put on the field,” he said. “And so that is the major portion of it: What kind of football player is he? And that evaluation has already obviously been done.
“All of the ancillary things that happen color the picture, I guess is a good way to put it. Whether you’re talking about an all-star game or whether you’re talking about a pro day or the Combine or a visit, all those things help color the picture. But we know what these guys are at this point in terms of what they are as men and as football players. And so (the board) does change a little bit, but not significantly.”
Each NFL team can invite up to 30 players to their respective facilities for pre-draft visits. The Texans are looking for the same things in those visits that they were looking for at the Combine.
“You’re either checking something out medically or you are just wanting to spend a little bit more time and get a little bit better feel,” Smith said. “If you don’t think you’ve got a good feel on a particular player, then you bring him in and spend a little more time. It’s just, at that point, to validate something that you think you already know, or to clear up any kind of medical issues.”
Draft prep has been business as usual for the Texans, but there is an elephant-in-the-room-sized caveat this year. Because of the lockout, there likely won’t be a free agency period before the draft. Free agency usually begins in the first week of March, allowing teams to bolster their rosters with veteran players.
Smith reiterated on Wednesday that it hasn’t affected how the Texans have set their draft board, and it won’t affect their strategy on draft weekend.
“We’ve said for years that you don’t draft for need,” he said. “If you get a need position in the draft, then that’s great. I think that it is a little odd and it’s backwards that typically you’ve filled your team, at least some of the positions of need, via free agency. But this year being a little bit different, it doesn’t change our approach with respect to how we approach the draft and filling the needs on our team.”
It’s no secret that one of the Texans’ biggest needs is in the secondary. Not only did they finish 32nd in passing defense in 2010, they released starting free safety Eugene Wilson and have not re-signed starting strong safety .
Safety might not be as pressing of a need as cornerback because the Texans could move to free safety. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week that the only way they would do that is if they felt good enough about the rest of their corners, since Quin is currently the best of the bunch.
Smith, who played safety at Purdue and was an assistant defensive backs coach with the , is confident that Quin could thrive at safety.
“If you turn the tape on even from last year, he played in the nickel, so he’s played in the slot,” Smith said. “He’s played inside, and what you see right off the bat is a guy that will go in and tackle and be physical. That’s obviously one of the prerequisites for the safety position different from the corner position, and he’s demonstrated the ability to go in and do that. He’s obviously got the range because he’s playing out on the edge at corner now, so you know he’s playing fast enough and has the cover skills to go inside and play.
“So that combination of physical tools, and then he’s smart. All of those things are attributes that typically equal a good safety.”
To move or not to move Quin is a question for later. For now, Smith will work with the Texans’ coaches and scouts to tweak their draft board over the next four weeks.
Smith has enjoyed collaborating with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips over the last three months as the Texans have studied players who might fit their 3-4 defense.
“It’s been great,” Smith said. “Not only Wade, but (linebackers coach) Reggie Herring has come in and so has (defensive backs coach) Vance Joseph, and those guys have a real thorough understanding of what players look like in this system. We’ve been able to communicate that effectively to our scouts in my opinion, and I think we’ll be ready to roll before the draft.”