BRO: So, looks like all the pieces are back together, everything is in good working order … The left shoulder, all good to go?
PL: Yeah, with the UCLA rehab, we've really been hitting it like three, four times a week, doing all the strengthening and stuff, and then Coach (Mike) Linn kept me a little limited at first but he did a good job working me into 100 percent lifting and it feels great. It's really strong. I'm lifting about what I was last year so I'm really pleased with it.''
BRO: How long did that process take? In the spring you were doing only very light lifting, if any at all.
PL: I think this is coming up on seven months. As far as the rest of my body I was full go, but my left side, my left shoulder, as far as benching, was very limited. But right now it's back to 100 percent.
BRO: And you're getting a good range of motion in that shoulder?
PL: Yeah, I have full range in my left shoulder and my strength is about what it was at this time last year, maybe even a little stronger, because when you do the rehab, you know, you do all these little exercises, so this one might even be stronger than my other one.
BRO: Well, it doesn't look like you've missed any sessions downstairs (in the weight room) … So between now and camp, what will you be doing, where do you want to get?
PL: Between now and then I'm going to keep doing rehab, probably twice a week, keep getting it worked on, keep it fresh.
BRO: This might be more of a mental question than a physical one, but do you feel behind at all?
PL: You know, honestly, in terms of mentally, that first practice of spring, before they really told me I couldn't do anything, I went out there and was just throwing it around, kind of recklessly, just to make a point that I'm not going to let it (bother me). I've really worked hard to get this thing ready to go and it's ready to go. I'm not going to wear any padding or anything, there's not going to be any tape. It's normal. It's 100 percent. I'm really excited about it. I can't wait.
BRO: OK, well, this is kind of a dumb question to ask a linebacker, you in particular, but it's also been a while since you've been able to hit someone …
PL: Right. It has … since the Oregon game.
BRO: You must miss that.
PL: Definitely miss hitting. As a football player, that's one of the things you love to do. Everybody, you have to love to hit. But I really want to get back out there in camp, put the pads on again, and prove that my shoulder is 100 percent and just get back to tackling and stuff. But I think that will come soon enough …
BRO: Is there any part of that where you have to prove to yourself that the shoulder is OK, that a ball carrier is going to go down just as easily as they used to?
PL: I don't think so. Right now I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. Even compared to last year, you know, I've lost some weight, worked on some areas that I needed to improve as an individual player, so I'm just really excited to get out there, run around, and try to have fun. I don't feel any uncertainty or anxiety about it, not having hit in a while. I feel pretty confident.
BRO: I was going to say, there probably are some guys on the message board who would volunteer – or I should say who would get volunteered – if you need someone to stand there so you can take a whack at them and just crush someone again … you know, really test it out.
PL: I don't think that will be necessary, but that's a nice offer (laughing).
BRO: OK, so, Coach (Joe) Tresey made it pretty clear in the spring that it was going to be you guys that will determine what defenses get played this season. From what you were able to see in the spring, what do you think it's going to look like?
PL: I think Coach Tresey runs a very aggressive style. He likes to get after the quarterback a lot, put a lot of pressure and make the quarterbacks make the harder throws. Instead of giving away stuff he makes them throw the ball, those wide outs, into the flats a lot. I really like what I've seen in spring ball. We were really aggressive and I think that really favors our speed on defense as a whole. I think there's less thinking and more reacting. I'm really happy with it. It's going to be a very aggressive style – a lot more blitzing.
BRO: You think you guys have proven you can do that? You're not going to be able to pressure a lot if you can't get home …
PL: Right. We obviously need to keep improving on our blitz pass and the communication especially is going to be key, making sure everyone is on the same page and stuff out there. Coach Tresey really emphasizes that. But I think that if we keep improving we'll be able to run what he wants to do.
BRO: Some of the things that you did in the spring, the zone blitzing, the fire zone, how do you think those things developed, or are still developing now during the summer work?
PL: We get out there two times a week and we run through our blitzes and stuff and I think, since we haven't been out there since spring, we probably have to get some rust off. But we really are focused on running blitz pass and in our individual units really focusing on keeping our technique because with blitzing, it's so critical that everyone is on the same page and everyone is taking the right steps, taking the right angles. If you're a couple of inches off, someone is going to get blocked. That is really going to be critical for us to keep doing in camp, and I think we'll be all right.
BRO: When you look at the total package, you're looking at ends having to drop into coverage …
PL: I think it will work very well because we have some athletic ends. Damien (Holmes), Datone (Jones), Owa, Keenan Graham, who is coming back, those guys can all move fairly well, so I think it really can work.
BRO: Just from a style standpoint, everyone has to be looking forward to it a lot more …
PL: Right. There's a lot more competition out there and everyone from what I saw in spring had a lot of energy and we were really buzzing around out there. I think it will be a good thing …
BRO: More aggressive, more …
PL: Yeah, people get fired up, get more energy out there on the defensive side.
BRO: How much of an issue was that last year for this defense, I mean, just playing at a level, rather than letting it wane through a game or stretch of games?
PL: I think especially toward the end of the season I think our energy level might have dipped a little bit, but it's hard to tell. Some days are better than others with energy, in terms of last year. But the thing I noticed in spring this year that was different from past years is the energy level was pretty consistent, I thought every day. You get tired. Halfway through spring ball or half way through camp, you know, guy's legs are gone. But I felt that the energy was pretty consistent the whole way through. It's definitely hard to do – it's a grinding season. But I think with the scheme it will be easier to keep our energy higher.
BRO: Why? Just because of the system, the aggressiveness?
PL: I think guys have more opportunities to make plays. We're going after the ball carrier, as opposed to the concept of bending but not breaking. We're attacking, we're shooting gaps, we're taking chances, and I think that has bigger payoffs.
BRO: Makes it more fun to play …
PL: Yeah, more exciting. Guys are just going after it, going crazy out there when there are big hits. There are a lot more opportunities for big hits.
BRO: Um, yeah, I think I remember like one or two of those last year …
PL: Right (laughs) …
BRO: Kind of sad to say, but …
PL: I think we might have been playing on our heels a lot last year instead of coming downhill. But I think that will change. I think that definitely will be noticeable this year.
BRO: With the linebackers, you're there, you've got Sean Westgate at WILL, but at SAM, how do you see that shaking out this fall?
PL: I think right now SAM is up in the air between Glen Love and Jordan Zumwalt and I think both guys are looking really good right now. I mean, both are really working hard in the workouts. It will be interesting. What I learned competing against (Steve) Sloan was that every day you have to really focus not only on the physical aspects of it but the mental aspects and making the fewest amount of mistakes possible but still playing with that edge. But I think it will be a great competition this camp and competition is always good to have all across the board. You always want to have somebody behind you that's pushing you to get better.
BRO: And your role in that group, obviously you didn't get a chance to get on the field, so with all of the technical stuff, all of the calls and all that …
PL: That's something I'm definitely going to have to focus on this camp, with the new defensive scheme. I really focused on that during spring ball because that's all I could do, keep up with the learning and the processing. I think at first it might be a little more difficult, but just like learning Coach (Chuck) Bullough's defense, I think I'll pick it up fine and execute it fine.
BRO: Not being able to be on the field, not being able to put yourself into the right fits, stuff like that, how much does that put you behind?
PL: Definitely I think getting out there with the pads on and hitting people in a live scrimmage or something is definitely more difficult than watching it happen. Definitely you have to get out there and get the reps down. But at the end of the day, linebacker is linebacker, you know? The reads are the same. The execution will be different. I just have to get extra film with Coach (Clark) Lea this camp and make sure I'm talking to the rest of the group and make sure my notes are good.