"Good morning, I know this is the third day in a row with me and it might be getting old at this point. Obviously, we go the next couple days and get off that a little bit. Tomorrow I believe it's with the offensive players and coaches and the next day it's defensive players and coaches. I'll just wrap up on Saturday morning, but I figure with you being there for the whole practice, there won't be much to talk about other than things that happened during that practice which I usually wait to watch it on tape anyway. I gave Brian (Hardin) a general itinerary for Saturday's practice, and it's not a hold-back type of practice. It's not like going out in shorts and messing around. It's a legitimate. I've got it down from 9:00 to 11:28 in there. We haven't finalized it yet but I'm going to let you guys be on the field for the first hour. I think like from 9:00 to 10:02, then I have a little mini break on the schedule so you guys can get off the field, because when we start doing group work, there's a hundred guys out there and doing different things. It gets a little tight out there with those sidelines being kind of tight. This will give you time to go ahead and get into the press box where you can view the rest of the practice from there. We'll give you more details toward the end of the week, but I laid it out yesterday; then Brian and I met on it this morning so we're pretty close to getting it to you for Saturday. Obviously, Sunday's practice is closed. That's kind of where we are for the media generically for the rest of the week."
Where are you with the installation of the defense this week?"Each day we're adding another facet. The first day was more your base defenses. There are three or four things that you do up front and the three or four main coverages that go in. The second day we went to multiple wide receivers; therefore, put in the nickel as well. Now what happens, especially for the younger guys as you add on each day, it becomes information overload for the younger guys because sometimes they are being exposed to it for the first time. Today we are putting in multiple tight end groupings. Therefore your defenses now load up more up front as you are trying to stop the run. Tomorrow we are going to put in third down and the next day, red zone and two minutes. Really, in the first five days, it's multiple groupings on offense which has a corresponding response by the defense to how they have to go ahead and play that."
In terms of your front seven guys, what progress have they made?"The problem at this point, it was in shorts the first two days. There are guys who look really good in shorts who, when they have to start hitting guys, don't look so good. So I try not to prejudge anybody, good or bad, when we are in shorts. Yesterday one of you guys asked me a question about Asaph (Schwapp). Asaph is not a shorts-type of player. He's the type of player, in his role, who is a pounding fullback. The more pads you have on, the better. So you try not to fall too in love with who looks great in shorts, then when it comes time to play, doesn't do anything. That's why I'm taking one week to get through the first round in my mind and the second week to start fine-tuning it. So by about August 20th you start getting into – rather than three-deep or four-deep – you start getting into the two-deep type of groupings that are getting closer. You might not know who all the starters are but at least you'll have narrowed it down; and you'll have narrowed it down because they will have done it for you."
How critical is the nose guard in the 3-4 defense?"It's totally different because of the number of double-teams you get at that position. Anytime you are playing a defense where there are guard bubbles, which a 34 defense by description - a guard bubble means there is no lineman on the guard. So basically there is a potential to have no linemen on either guard. The problem that the nose tackle has, different from the defensive end, that he could be getting a double-team from either side. That's never the case with a defensive end. If he is getting a double, the defensive end knows where it's coming from, he knows it's coming from the guard and tackle or it's coming from the tackle and tight end and you can see it coming. With the nose, it is not a glamorous position and it is a very, very physical position you have to play. The plus side of that one is; there are guys that do not fit into certain schemes that end up being great noses because their body type just allows them to hold the fort in there and that's one of the biggest tasks you have."
Is it hard to find guys to play that position?"I'll give you historically two different guys that are totally different. Before I got a job with the Giants, Jim Burt had been the nose tackle with the Giants. Now Jim Burt wasn't very big, whereas, when we got to New England, one year Ted Washington was the nose tackle and you don't get any bigger than Big Ted. I don't know if Jim was 275 but he played a whole bunch of years for the Giants and 49ers. And Ted, he won't tell you what his weight was, but 375 might be kind. So it all depends, it still comes down to how you play those double-teams, how you hold the point, because when you have that defense, what you are trying to do is take on the blockers and let the linebackers run to the ball."
Where is Pat Kuntz on the depth chart?"He's 287 pounds. He weighed in at 288 and this morning he was 287. So 287 is pretty good size and fits the bill. Obviously, we're practicing Ian (Williams) in there and he's a 300 pounder as well. Those short, stocky types usually fit the bill pretty well as nose tackle because you're not asking them to do the same thing as you are when you are playing defensive end."
How has Scott Smith improved from last year to this year?"We really like what we have seen out of Scott Smith. Some people have him penciled in. Don't go just by the depth chart where you see him as a right outside linebacker because he's playing inside and out. He's one of those guys who is forcing us to take notice of him because he has position flexibility. You have heard me mention that several times in the last few years. But here is a guy who could play both outside and inside positions. Most people can't do that. He's strong enough and physical enough to play the point on the edge. He also shows enough awareness in pass coverage where you could play him inside and not get exposed there. There is no doubt, he's in the mix. I can't tell you whether he's going to end up inside or out, but I can tell you he's definitely in the mix."
How do you compare inside linebacker to the mike?"The mike linebacker is almost always the guy who is unprotected, meaning there is almost always an uncovered guard on the middle linebacker side, which means those 300 pounders plus have a free shot at the middle linebacker. What you can do with the other inside linebacker is cover him up some more whether it be by stunt or a lineman. This way he gets to run to the ball a little bit more without worrying about taking a guard on every snap."
After the Sugar Bowl loss, you said that this is a good solid team. What did you mean by that?"You have two ways of looking at it, either you accept just being okay or you strive to be better. That's your two choices. A lot of people look at it as the glass is half empty; I'm always looking at it as half full. I'm saying, you lost these guys but look at the potential of those guys because I get to see these guys every day and everything they do, even if I don't see it as it happens, I get to watch it on tape at night and then go back and watch it on tape in the morning and talk to the defensive staff and talk to the offensive staff. I get the extra added bonus of being able to see all the information that you need to make a critical evaluation on a daily basis. And I think potentially - and potentially is an overrated word – potentially, we have an opportunity to do a lot of good things here. So which way do you want to look at it? I'm always going to take the half-full approach and that we at least reach our potential, if not surpass it."
In the alignment of the 3-4 defense, how important is size?"At the middle linebacker, the mike linebacker, where there is almost always an uncovered guard, you have to be stout. When you look at all those teams that play 34 defenses in the NFL, most all of them have a middle linebacker that is one of those run-right-through-you type of guys. And I think we have a few candidates that do that pretty well."
Coach Lewis talked recently about eliminating the big play. How do you do this in practice?"I think the players that we are playing with right now are very, very competitive. There is a lot of competition to get on the field right now. Sometimes, inherently, that takes care of the problem because if guys get beat, you put somebody else in. The problem is when you don't have another alternative, when you just have a couple of guys and you are living and dying with what they do. But right now, we have a lot of competition out there and I think that, sometimes, answers that question. I know that sounds a bit evasive, but that's the reality of where we are right now. We now have depth at the position where at one time we were very shy. We haven't had it since we've been here, but we have depth that just hasn't existed. I'm not saying we haven't had players, we just haven't had depth. There are times in the past where if somebody gets beat, he stays in there. Who else are you going to put in? You are no longer at that position and I think competition sometimes answers those problems."
Have you guys kind of adopted a zero tolerance for getting beat?"We've only been out there for two days so far. It isn't like it's etched in stone what we are doing. All I'm saying is, there's a lot of competition out there on the field in the evaluation process. When you are in the secondary, you are the last hope. There's no one left. If a defensive lineman messes up, it usually doesn't lead to a touchdown. A linebacker, it usually doesn't lead to a touchdown. A secondary guys messes up, it's a touchdown. So it's usually pretty easy to see what ended up happening."
David Bruton had a pretty good spring. Has that carried over to this camp?"David has gotten a lot bigger and has not lost any of his speed. I think that has allowed him to play the game more aggressively. We've all seen glimpses of it as a punt-cover guy. Until this spring, we hadn't seen enough of that to translate to being able to play on defense. He came in at 180 and is now 210. That extra size without giving up any speed; he's grown a lot of confidence and his physical ability to play."
Could you tell us about Darrin Bragg returning to the team as a quarterback and are you going to give walk-on scholarships?"Let's start with Darrin first of all. I talked to Darrin this summertime, I'd say a month or two ago, he'd been off the team last spring and I told him that I didn't want him going into his senior year leaving a bad taste in his mouth and me with a bad taste in my mouth with what has happened here. And I wanted to give him an opportunity to be a part of this program. He came in here originally as a quarterback, and I told him we had this quarterback competition going on and when it all panned out, it wouldn't shock me if one of the guys ended up deciding to go someplace else, which we all could have seen the possibility of that happening. I said that will leave me slight one guy and I think that will give you the best chance to compete and that's the position I'll let you compete at. I asked him if he wanted to do it and he jumped on board. Actually he has looked pretty good out there the first couple of days, to tell you the truth. On scholarships, I'm still going to be able to do that, although our numbers are getting tighter. I'm dealing with different numbers; I'm a crunch-type numbers guy all the time. But we're still going to have availability to do that with one or more this year. I have promised those guys I will always leave a spot for one and the last couple of years it's been three or four. The number might be three, but I'm not positive right now. I look at walk-ons a little differently than everyone else. I'm not looking for just how good a player they are, I'm looking for how good a student they are, how good a person they are, and their character. There's a lot more to it than just can they play."
Have you talked to Brady Quinn recently?"It's kind of funny; we were on the phone when his agent called to tell him the deal was done. So he cut me off. Then he called and I didn't answer. So he texted me to tell me it was done. Then I called him back."
Is it going to be tough for Brady to catch up?"Honestly, the time we were talking before it got done, the things that he had to do when he walked in there. I knew it was going to happen fairly shortly, and I told him what he had to do with the coaches and management; what he had to do with the players; and what he had to do with the fans. He's a very intelligent guy and in a very short period of time, no one will be talking about him being late to camp. Obviously, it will be an issue today, tomorrow, and Saturday when they play a preseason game. After the players haze and harass him a couple of days, you just move on and as long as you go in there and go to work and don't try to look like you have all the answers when you're a rookie, just keep your mouth shut, try to outwork everyone, and play, you win over your teammates and coaching staff. And with the fans, there are some things you have to do there because when you come in, you are always painted as the bad guy. In reality, he is just a football player. He's not the one negotiating the contract. You hire an agent and it's between management and the agent and when it gets done, you go in. When you are in the NFL, you don't look at it like everyone else does; it's just a business decision. When it's done with, you just move on. There aren't any grudges held in those situations. But the fans don't get that. We went over some strategies of things to do when he got there, and I don't think it will take long before they are in love with Brady Quinn because he's an easy guy to fall for."
How much improvement have the sophomores made from last year and does anybody in particular stand out?"That's always the case since they have already gone through a training camp once. It's a rude awakening coming from high school when everyone in the world has been telling you you're the best thing since sliced bread, and you were the star of the team. And now you're the lowest of low trying to work your way up. Your second time around, you don't feel the same tension and nervousness. I wouldn't isolate one guy because on Saturday you are going to see a whole bunch of guys who will fill the bill that we are talking about. There's a number of guys in that mode in their second year here that are different players."
Physically have you seen a big jump for them from spring until now?"You know, I talk about my family all the time. We had a cookout on Sunday with the team. After we were done, my wife said, ‘I feel better.' I said, ‘Why do you feel better?' She said, ‘These guys are big.' And she has been around big guys around here a long time now. When you look at those same linemen that you looked at a year ago, you look at them now and you see why I'm encouraged. You guys are all smart. You're out there. You see the same guys I'm talking about. You say he was this; look at him now. I think that is one of the more encouraging things."
With the inexperienced quarterbacks, do you worry about them calling plays in the huddle?"We don't even have the quarterback worrying about that; Sully is taking care of that. I've taken that responsibility off them for the time being. Until further notice, that responsibility falls on Sully and if he messes up, it's his fault. The quarterbacks aren't even worrying about it. You know how we said little things that you can do to help out the quarterback situation? Well, one of the things that you can do is take some of the burden off of them that a veteran guy would do. If the mike call is messed up, you blame Sully – John Sullivan – S u l l – okay we've all got it (laughing)."