Mandatory Credit: Photo by Michael Conroy/AP/Shutterstock (13788344fa) Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis NFL Combine Football, Indianapolis, United States – 01 Mar 2023
INDIANAPOLIS – First-year head coach DeMeco Ryans and general manager Nick Caserio are on the same page when it comes to pursuing a new starting quarterback for the Texans. They need two to go with Davis Mills, but neither will disclose if they plan to fill that need in the draft or free agency.
Just about everyone who follows the NFL expects the Texans to draft a quarterback with the second overall pick, but, like Caserio, Ryans went out of his way during his media session at the combine not to give an indication which what they’re leaning.
Both mentioned free agency as an avenue they could go down in their pursuit of a quarterback. Ryans and Caserio have firsthand knowledge of Jimmy Garoppolo, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent on March 15 when the new league year begins. Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots when Caserio was the director of player personnel. Ryans was an assistant with the 49ers when they acquired Garoppolo in a trade with New England.
It’ll be stunning if Caserio and Ryans elect to sign a starter in free agency rather than use the draft to select a franchise quarterback.
“We have one quarterback on our roster, so we have to add at that position,” Ryans said Wednesday. “We’ll do it through free agency and the draft. We’re looking to find the best guys we can have. There’s a good group of quarterbacks in free agency and the draft.”
Ryans, who played at Alabama before the Texans drafted him in the second round in 2006, was asked about Bryce Young, a starter the last two years for the Crimson Tide.
“Bryce is an outstanding leader from what I’ve seen, an outstanding quarterback,” he said. “The success he’s had is no surprise because of his makeup, the type of guy he is. I think you have a lot of great quarterbacks in this draft. Each guy has his different skill set, and they’ve all been winners at the programs they’ve played for.”
Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson are expected to be first-round draft choices. The Texans are scouting each of them. Caserio is expected to draft one of them.
“I think when you’re evaluating quarterbacks (they), can do a lot of different things,” Ryans said. “I think the system is built around the quarterback as opposed to trying to fit a quarterback into a certain system. What does that guy do well? You put guys in positions to be successful. It’s not about a system per se. It’s about making sure a player has the right tools, and you’re putting him in a spot where he can thrive.”
Ryans touched on a number of subjects in his first news conference since being introduced as the new coach. He was asked if he’ll make the defensive calls – a responsibility he excelled at with San Francisco the last two years. It’s either Ryans or new coordinator Matt Burke.
“We haven’t decided that yet, but Matt (Burke) is very capable of calling defenses,” Ryans said. “He’s done it before. He’s knowledgeable of our scheme and how we want to play, so I’m very confident in Matt calling the plays as well. If I need to call the plays, I’ll do it, but I’m comfortable with Matt.”
Ryans sounded as if he’s interested in hiring a former head coach who can provide valuable insight for him, Burke, and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.
“We’re still in that process,” he said. “I think that’s an important role to have someone as a mentor and advisor to bounce ideas off of for myself as well.”
Slowik and Ryans coached together for six years with the 49ers. The Texans’ offense is going to look a lot like Kyle Shanahan’s offense, at least schematically. Caserio and Ryans have to find and develop talent like San Francisco has, but they’ll have a similar philosophy.
“My vision for the offense is similar to the defense,” he said. “It’s an attacking, aggressive offense. We want to be balanced. We want to be able to hang our hat on running the ball, but we also have to be explosive in the passing game. You can be explosive two ways, whether it’s stretching the field vertically by throwing deep passes 20-plus yards down the field, or it can be passes 5 yards or less to a playmaker, and he can create explosive plays with the run after the catch.”
Ryans knows that aggressive style starts with the offensive and defensive linemen.
“Everything starts up front,” he said. “It’s definitely a priority to address the defensive line and the offensive line. The teams that are successful have fronts that are outstanding defensively and offensively. If we want to play in February, we have to make sure our fronts are dominant on both sides of the ball.”
Considering he wants to play an attacking style of offense, it’s no surprise Ryans has been impressed with running back Dameon Pierce, the team’s top rookie last season.
“He fits my style of ball,” Ryans said. “That’s the type of guy I love to hand the ball to and see him create. I love his energy and personality, and I love his aggressive nature and how he runs the ball. When I talk about an aggressive, attacking mindset, that’s Dameon Pierce.”
Ryans said he’s met with receiver Brandin Cooks, who’s expected to be traded before or during the draft. He became a problem last season when he thought he was being traded, but Caserio kept him.
“I have spoken with Brandin, and that process will have to play itself out,” Ryans said. “Great guy. I’d love to work with him. We’ll do what’s best for our team.”
Ryans is hoping receiver John Metchie III is able to return after spending his rookie season undergoing treatment for Leukemia.
“An awesome guy and a talented kid,” he said. “Everything he’s been through shows he’s such a resilient young man I’m excited to work with. The things he’s been through, he shows the mental toughness. I’m proud of how he’s continued to battle.”
Ryans’ coaching staff remained in Houston during the combine preparing for what they need in free agency and the draft. Ryans knows what he wants when acquiring players as the Texans’ third coach in three years.
“In the player acquisition phase, it’s all about building a profile of what you’re looking for and finding guys who fit and understanding a guy could be a great player, but how does he fit into your philosophy or how you want to play football,” he said. “It’s all about finding the right guys in free agency or the draft (and) getting to know the player.
“I can appreciate talented players, but I truly want to know the character of a guy we’re bringing into our team. If you have the right man, we’ll have the right player. I don’t want to go through that process backward just because a guy is a great player. If I can’t talk to this guy and understand who he is as a man, what his goals are, and what drives him – that weighs heavier on me than the actual talent of a player.”
With 11 draft choices, including the second and 12th overall picks, and more salary cap room than the Texans have had in years, player acquisition is the top priority as Ryans tries to help them win more than four games for the first time since 2019.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).