Pre-Game Cowher Transcript

You're aware of the practice squad: Antwon McCray, Khori Ivy, Josh Burr, Erik Totten and James Harrison. They will be with us tomorrow for practice.

The health status for the game, all the players are probable: Kendrell Bell (ankle), Clark Haggans (knee), Chris Hoke (ribs), Kendall Simmons (hamstring) and Hines (Ward, appendicitis). They should practice tomorrow and as I stated they're all probable for the game.

A few other decisions in regard to the positions. Tommy Maddox will be the second quarterback. He had a good camp and he will also hold for us. As far as the inside linebacking position goes, if Kendrell can go James Farrior will start opposite him. We feel good about that. John Fiala had a very good camp as well. I think it's a good situation there. Both those guys, with Kendrell being out, had a chance to play both positions, so I think it could benefit us down the road as well. But James will start. At the right guard position, I'm not really ready to announce a starter. Both those guys will work this week and we'll make a decision later in the week. Both will play, Oliver (Ross) and Kendall. Kendall's doing fine. I'm not so sure he'll be ready to take a full game, having not played for two weeks. Both those guys are going to play at the right guard position and we'll go from there.

That's basically our situation going in. Opening up a new stadium again against the defending world champions and it's a big challenge for our football team. A lot's going to be made about last year and the last game, but you've got to understand the circumstances are much different this time through. That last game was single elimination. This is our first of 16 weeks. Not that you don't forget, but certainly the atmosphere that's involved the circumstances are different.

We're looking forward to the challenge. New England's got a good football team. It's interesting that both teams return most of their same players, so you'll see some of the same match-ups as last time. Tom Brady, coming off a great year last year, culminated with a great one-minute drive at the end of the Super Bowl to take them to a championship. Their trio of running backs: (Antowain) Smith, (Kevin) Faulk and (JR) Redmond, they're good, good players. Troy Brown, what can you say? He's Mr. Everything. He's their clutch player. They've got a young rookie like we've got in Antwaan (Randle El) in Deion Branch, who's added to David Patten and Donald Hayes up there. They've got a good group of tight ends. Daniel Graham, their No. l pick, and Christian Fauria, who's been a starter in this league, gives them good depth at that position. A solid offensive line. I think it's a very good offensive line.

Defensively, it's pretty much the same secondary that we went against last year. Two solid corners in Ty (Law) and Otis Smith. Ty and Lawyer (Milloy), we had them in the Pro  Bowl and that's the type of players they are. Tebucky Jones is a solid player. Richard Seymour is a guy who last time we played them was a load. He was very disruptive in our AFC Championship Game. He played very, very well. Mike Vrabel is so steady and productive. (Ted)Bruschi and (Ted) Johnson. (Willie) McGinnest is back now like he was for our game. It's a lot of the same match-ups you saw eight months ago that you're going to see again Monday night.


Q: Considering they're defending world champions and they're opening their new stadium, are you surprised you're the favorite in this game?

A: Oh, you don't look at those things. We don't sit there and look at who's favored. It's a situation right now where you've got 32 teams out there that feel good about their football team. It's a process. Where you are today and where you're going to be eight weeks from now, a lot of questions will be answered for everybody. We don't worry about who's favored and who's not favored. To me, they're the defending world champions and until someone else dethrones them they're the best football team in the National Football League.


Q: Given his conditioning and stamina, is it possible you might start Randle El and use Hines as the third guy to ease him back in?

A: No. Hines is starting. He's fine. I don't worry about his conditioning.


Q: You have to admit there's intrigue in this game.

A: Yeah. It was the last game we played. Certainly the memories are there and when you go back and watch the video you got a chance to rehash and go back through the whole scenario again. But it's still the first game of the season. We want to get off to a good start. It's going to be a tough game. It will be a big challenge to us. Any time you open up a stadium there's a little bit of added emotion that you're dealing with from their perspective. The fact they're defending champions, that's a nice challenge in itself as well. I don't think last year you're going to diminish, but that was last year. The loser of that was playing the last game of the season. This is the first game of the season. The circumstances are different but some of the faces will be the same.


Q: Jason Gildon said the Patriots gloated after that win. Did you get that feeling?

A: I would've been gloating if I just had a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I'm not going to sit here and get into a challenge of words. You guys do a good job of that. Like I said before, they did what they had to do last year. They had a great year last year. This is the first game of a new season and that's how we're approaching it. We have a stiff challenge ahead of us against the world champions and I think we'll be looking forward to that challenge.


Q: Even though Simmons missed the last two games, obviously he's shown you enough.

A: Oh, yeah. I think he was making some progress. It was unfortunate that he didn't get some of the playing time. Some of the things he has to grow into, he can only experience through playing -- the speed of the game, the decision making, as quick as it has to be at times. Certainly, we're not going to do it at the expense of our offense for one individual. We would never do that with anybody, but at the same time it's important to get him some playing time because we think he has a good future. We realize we're going to have to live with some of the growing pains there, but at the same time we think it will pay dividends down the road.


Q: Any concerns coming out of those decisions?

A: Oh, there's going to be all kind of concerns. We wouldn't do it if we didn't think it was in the best interest of the team. Any time you can put a young player in there, there's going to be some growing pains. The regular season's going to be a lot faster than the preseason, and the preseason's faster than anything you can ever simulate in practice. I think that's true for any first-year player.


Q: Does this reflect at all on Ross' performance in the preseason?

A: I don't think so. Like I said before, he's got a great mindset. We like the way he approaches the game. He's probably a player better suited to be a tackle than he is a guard, but he's come in and played. He played for us last year and will play for us this year there. If he's playing well, we'll leave him in there. I'm not going to disrupt it. I don't want people going in saying that we took Oliver out, what happened? I'm just telling you right now that both players are going to play. I don't even think I'll have anything pre-set going in, like a defined, ‘OK, he's going in every two or three series.' This is not like the preseason, but Kendall's going to get some playing time and I'm not going to discount him starting the game. I'm just telling you right now that we have not made a definitive decision. I talked to both players about it, they understand it, and that's where we are.


Q: Is Kendall more physical and thus more suited to the running game?

A: No, no. They're both very physical players. Oliver Ross is a nasty player. He gets after you. And I'm not saying that in a negative sense. It's a football term. He's a tough football player. They're both very tough football players. No, one's not more physical than the other.


Q: Coach, the last couple years you've become familiar with opening stadiums. Is that nasty?

A: There's an excitement that exists. We've done it with Cleveland and Detroit. This is a team coming off a world championship. I'm not sure they need much to get excited about. But there's always the fact that you want to make it your home. You go into it saying, ‘We're not going to lose here. This is our new stadium. We want it to be special.' Those are some things we did with Heinz Field last year. I think there's an excitement that naturally exists when you have a new stadium, just with the atmosphere of the fans, and certainly the players buy right into it.


Q: Since your team is a veteran unit, are you better suited for a game like this than some other team might be?

A: I don't know. I'd like to think we have a good football team and that has something to do with it. We like the challenges of road games. There's a mentality you have to take when you go on the road. Our players have understood that. It is a challenge. You go into a national game, a night game like that on the road, there's no way you're going to be the favorite team. You have to overcome a national audience, a home crowd. The noise is a competitive advantage the home team has. We're going to have to deal with that on offense. It certainly can add to a pass rush. Those are the realities of playing in a very hostile environment. We understand that. We'll prepare for it this week. That's the challenge you have going in. The focus has to be greater. We've kind of walked into these venues before and we'll be walking into them again through the course of this season.


Q: Considering the details of this week, is it better to have the extra day and open on Monday?

A: It's probably just the anxiety. Everyone's looking forward to going through training camp and the preseason. You're playing games and everyone knows the games aren't going to count. So you're waiting for the regular season to get here, and once it's here you're the last game that's being played. So you sit around all weekend while everyone else is playing, than you sit around all day Monday. That first game feels as if it's never going to get here. That's the biggest thing you have to overcome. Once you get into the season, you start getting into the routine of playing. Than it becomes a routine. But we aren't into that yet, so it draws out and feels like the kickoff isn't ever going to come.


Q: Are the Patriots playing 3-4 this year?

A: They have. They played some last year too. If they do go to it, it won't be like we won't be ready for it. We practiced against it all through camp. As for other teams going to it, there are trends that happen in the league. I know Dom (Capers) has always been a proponent of it. I know other teams have gone to it. Sometimes, when you have success, you tend to look at that and see if you can incorporate it. A lot of teams start with it. Let's see where they end with it come December. I think it's just trends in the National Football League.


Q: Did they show you anything unexpected in the AFC championship game?

A: No, not really. They just played better than we did. They won the line of scrimmage, really. From an offensive standpoint, we didn't get much movement. We got behind early. Obviously, the two special teams touchdowns. When you look at the other side of the ball, they were evenly played. That's the way this game is. It takes three phases, and the one phase we decidedly lost was the kicking game. We gave up 14 points there. That was hard to overcome. And they did what they had to do. They controlled the line of scrimmage. They scored a touchdown at the end of the first half with Drew (Bledsoe) and they made some key third downs and made some big stops at the end. At 24-17 with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, we had our opportunities but they made the plays and we didn't. That's the bottom line.


Q: Hines Ward said the Patriots knew what was coming before you ran the play. Did you catch that when you went back and reviewed the game?

A: No.

Q: Does that concern you at all?

A: No.

Q: Do you like your special teams?

A: Yeah. I think Kevin (Spencer)'s done a very good job. I think our players understand it. We talked about it yesterday. Everyone will have a role in the kicking game, some more prevalent than others, and hopefully we'll create some big plays. The kicking game is such a critical part. I thought one of the big plays the other night against Minnesota was the opening kickoff. It set the tempo. It gave us field position. That's what you have to have, particularly on the road in this type of situation. Field position is such a big part of the game. The kicking game is so critical, really, week-to-week through the course of the season, but when you're playing good teams it can become a big difference-maker, as we've experienced.


Q: Comment on Lee Mays' kick returning.

A: He's done a good job. He's gotten better. I'd like to think Hank (Poteat) will get better at that as well. We'll let Antwaan handle the punts. I'd like to think we'll get some big plays. We've got a couple rookies in there, but I was very pleased with Lee with his feel for returning kicks, particularly kickoff returns. We did a pretty good job of blocking in those situations and created pretty good field position. I think we only had one penalty in the preseason on a return, and those are things we've got to do a good job on, negating good field position with bad judgment.


Q: With your addition at wide receiver, do you match up better this time with the New England secondary?

A: I don't know if it's better. It's going to be a big battle. Ty took Hines and Otis took Plax (Burress). That's how they matched up. Whether they do it again, who knows? That's what we'll find out. Bobby Shaw was a very solid slot receiver for us. We think Antwaan's doing a good job. We've got Terance Mathis as a fourth guy as opposed to having Troy (Edwards) there last year. I don't know if it's any better or worse. It's going to come down to execution. We have to be patient, not turn the ball over and capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves.


Q: Were you happy with the way your defense played in that last game?

A: Yeah, I thought they played well. They hit the play at the end of the first half, but at times we were put in adverse situations and stopped them and kept some points off the board. It was a good performance.


Q: Will Josh (Miller) kick out of bounds to avoid Troy Brown?

A: We'd like to, but sometimes you can't do that. They come in there and put enough guys where you have to protect everybody you're not going to expose your protection element of it. We know he's a good returner. There may be situations where we're going to have to cover it, and we've got to do a good job of it. Every week you're going to face good returners in this business. That's just the way it is in the National Football League. We've got to be able to cover. We'll need Josh to have a big game for us. Our coverage teams are going to have a challenge and they're going to have to have a big night for us.


Q: Comment on their coverages.

A: They didn't do anything differently that we didn't anticipate. It's hard to say what they're approach this time through. It may be different. Everyone's had some time to look at it. We'll have to go through our progressions, make the adjustments we need to make, see how they come out and we'll see what happens. But, no, they didn't do anything different than we had anticipated.


Q: Have you spent any time this summer preparing for this game?

A: No. I really believe -- and I told the players this -- the one thing you've got to be careful of with the first game of the season is over-preparation, overanalyzation, because, No. 1, they've had all off-season to prepare for this game, they've had all off-season to look at and study other ideas, thoughts they had from their own cut-ups, their own tendencies. A lot of times, what they're going to do in the first game they probably aren't going to show you in the off-season, particularly if it's a veteran team, a team that's been together. Now, if it's a new offense, then you have something to work off of because they're going to try to get their guys to know it. But that's the same offense that's been up there the last couple years, so we've got to be ready for some of the things they've done every game. They don't vary too much. They do what they do and that's why they won a championship, because they are pretty good at doing what they do. Sure there's going to be some wrinkles here, some wrinkles there, just like there will be with us. We prepared for them the last game and as we prepare again a lot of it will come back. And I'm sure there will be some wrinkles from our standpoint. We haven't taken any extra time. It's already going to be an extra long week and I don't want to overanalyze. Let's go out there and play our game. We'll be prepared.


Q: What kind of adjustments does Antwaan have to make now that they're game-planning and are aware of him?

A: I don't think there's any adjustments. Just play. He'll see the speed of the game is a little bit faster. I haven't seen any indication, with everything he's been thrown at – blitz pick-ups, reading hots – he hasn't missed them. There'll be things he sees each week that he'll learn from, grow from. Like I said with Kendall, for first-year players there's no substitute for experience. The biggest adjustment will come week to week as he continues to grow and get a feel for this game and the speed of this game.


Q: Is this your best team?

A: I don't know. The longer you're in it the less feel you have. I don't know. Maybe they're all starting to run together. I don't know. I quit even trying to gauge the locker room. I used to try to gauge the locker room before a game to see if they're ready to play, and that went out the window. There were some times I said, ‘We are not ready to play this game.' And we go out there and we go up and down the field, flying around the field with emotion. Other times we're so emotional in that locker room, I say, ‘Boy we're going to kill them.' We go out there and miss tackles, passes, fumble balls. I stay away from them. I don't even try to think about it. You can't gauge it. The one thing I do, and I think the biggest thing, is the approach and the preparation. That to me says a lot. The preparation that you have when you step on that practice field, the preparation you have in meetings, that tells you a lot. That's the feel you have for your team and that's what you're trying to put together, a team that enjoys playing with each other, has respect for one another. That's what you try to do in putting together a 53-man roster. It may not be the best players all the time, but it's the right fit of players and that's an ongoing process. I like this team from that perspective.


Q: How would the change in special teams affect your schemes?

A: Kevin's come in and we've changed some of the things we've done schematically. We're still looking at who we're doing it with. It's an ongoing process. You're really just trying to find out what you have and then you tailor what you do with what you have. That's what preseason's for, to find out your best gunners, where guys cover kicks best from, let returners get a feel for what you're trying to do, blocking-wise, schematically. It's an ongoing process and probably the one element that becomes even more ongoing as the season goes along because people start to separate themselves or gain an identity so to speak in the kicking game because you're just getting a feel for the four or five snaps you've seen of them in a game. The more exposure you get to them the better feel you have for them. That's the ongoing process, more so than offense and defense.


Q: A significant overhaul right now?

A: I feel good about where we're at. I'm not sitting here saying we're not going to be prepared. But again let's wait and see how it goes. It's hard to predict anything. I would like to see the thing unfold and address something that's more concrete than speculation because everything we're talking about is pure speculation.


Q: Will Farrior make the calls?

A: Oh, yeah, he's calling the defenses. He's taking the huddle calls.

Q: How is his understanding?

A: It's fine. He's doing well.


Q: Coach, how do you feel about starting new season with team you have coming back?

A: We're excited.


Q: Can this come down to Bill Cowher vs. Bill Belichick?

A: I wish it did. I'm in better shape than he is. Nah, I shouldn't say that. I haven't seen Bill recently. But it doesn't come down to that at all. The players are the ones that play the game. He had a great season last year. Bill Belichick pushed all the right buttons a year ago. He really did. I commend him for it. He deserves all the recognition that he has received. He's a very good football coach. But if it did come down to one-on-one match-ups, I'll take him on. Nah, he's a good football coach. He did a fantastic job last year.


 -- Jim Wexell


Steel City Insider Top Stories