Texans coordinators navigate virtual offseason with 'no excuses' approach

Will Watson throw for over or under his projected yards? (1:53)

Doug Kezirian gives his prediction on if Deshaun Watson will throw for over or under 4,146.5 yards this season. (1:53)

HOUSTON -- In his first year as Houston Texans defensive coordinator, Anthony Weaver has led an unusual offseason full of Zoom meetings, film review and quizzes of what he has taught so far. And most importantly, veteran safety Michael Thomas said Weaver has allowed “no excuses” for progress, despite team facilities being shut down for the beginning of the league’s offseason program due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Texans have a lot of continuity from the 2019 team that won a playoff game -- a head coach in Bill O'Brien entering his seventh season in Houston and a quarterback in Deshaun Watson going into Year 4 -- the team has two assistant coaches stepping into prominent new roles. Earlier in the offseason, O’Brien promoted Weaver from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator and handed over playcalling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Tim Kelly.

Entering an important period in O’Brien’s tenure with the Texans -- he also serves as the team’s general manager -- Weaver and Kelly are getting creative in making things work.

“It’s been an adjustment for all of us, but I think Coach Weave has handled it great,” Thomas said. “He’s been very open about, ‘Hey, look, we’re all adjusting to this but there’s no excuses for it. We’re all going to make these adjustments. We expect y’all to still learn it. We expect y’all to be engaging [and] speak with each other when we’re on here.’”

For Weaver, the key to keeping the offseason on track is trying “to keep things as we would if we were in the stadium.”

“He allows us to clown around like we’re still in the locker room and still in the team meetings, to get on each other and hold each other accountable,” Thomas said. “We even do quizzes on an app called Kahoot to make sure like, ‘OK guys, we’re going to see right now in front of everybody who knows it, who knows their information.’ He keeps it fun, he keeps it fresh. It’s been a great experience.

“I’ve learned a lot being new coming into this defense. You wouldn’t even be able to tell that this is his first time being a DC. He’s handled it well, guys have responded to it well, and guys are excited to play for him.”

When O’Brien decided to add playcalling to Kelly’s workload this season, he said he did it because he thought Kelly was ready to take the next step. O’Brien also cited the relationship that Kelly has with Watson. While O’Brien will still spend plenty of time with the offense in the meeting rooms, Kelly has taken charge.

Kelly said he obviously would rather “have the opportunity to get your hands on [the players] and be able to get them out on the grass” to build chemistry, but he has been encouraged by the way his players have approached this offseason.

Weaver has also seen the positive aspects of the new format the team has taken to its offseason meetings without being able to get on the field.

“Early on all of us, the position coaches, had individual meetings with our players, and then right away we decided to teach some of the changes we made from a terminology standpoint and then get right into the install,” Weaver said. “The one thing about this format is we can get into some graduate-level details where we're not under the gun, we're not in a rush. ... We're being able to teach some graduate-level stuff that probably you would skim over otherwise."

Kelly said he thinks the fact that so much has been done virtually has worked so well “because everybody seems to be more comfortable in front of the screen, whether it's in front of their phone or their tablet or their computer.”

“The communication that's going on right now between our players, between one another, between coach to player and player to coach, has really been encouraging,” Kelly said. “So, while yeah, you're able to kind of dive into those details and really -- I know [Weaver] said get into the graduate-level portion of it -- I think you'd always really want to be able to get your hands on them and be able to use the grass. But for our guys to be able to come in here and approach this offseason the way that they have in such an uncertain time, it's really been encouraging."