Opening Statement: We're extremely excited this week to be playing the Minnesota Vikings for a lot of reasons. Couldn't be a better team to play I think in the third preseason game than the Vikings. They're a very physical football team and that's not just from a reputation standpoint. They've got video evidence and statistical evidence to back that up. They're No. 1 in the league in running the football and they're No. 1 in the league in stopping the run. What a great measuring stick for us here this week with where we are in our development. They've got two perennial Pro Bowl offensive linemen; they've got two perennial Pro Bowl defensive linemen inside at the defensive tackle position. It's a steep challenge, one that I'm excited about watching our guys face and going through and we're looking forward to going through.
What's the priority: Win games, get the team ready for the regular season, or evaluate personnel?
We're multi-taskers. I like to do it all and not necessarily in that particular order. You look forward to winning because anytime you step inside the white lines that's the nature of the game. You've got to get to know who you are and you've got to prepare for the legitimate September battles that lie ahead.
How does it feel to go back there?
For me, I don't know how it will feel. It's the first time I've coached against a team and men that I've worked with. I imagine it's going to be unique and fun, but once the ball gets kicked off I'm sure it will become normal and football. Always look forward to seeing those faces. I've got a great deal of love and respect for those people, not only players and coaches but front office and ownership. I enjoyed my time there.
Have you spoken to anybody up there?
I always look forward to seeing those faces. I've got a great deal of love and respect for a lot of people, not only players and coaches, but front office and ownership and I enjoyed my time there.
Have you spoken to anybody up there?
I've gotten a bunch of phone calls. I can't say that I've returned any of them. That's how it goes.
This morning it was announced that James (Farrior) had signed a new contract. Would you care to comment on that?
James has played at an extremely high level for the entire time that I've been here. It's a pleasure to get that deal done. We're glad to get it done, glad that he's going to be here in the future. Not only is he an outstanding player, but he's an outstanding professional and outstanding leader. He's been the captain of our defense for quite a while.
What's the status of Troy (Polamalu)?
I would characterize it as very questionable. He's probably in the same position that Tarvaris Jackson is in. We'll see.
The third preseason game is usually when the starters play a little more. Will you still do that, or are you still trying to evaluate talent?
We're prepared to play our opponent, prepared for the looks that we'll see, probably a little more so than we have been in the previous two. But it's still about the evaluation of our men. We're game-planning to a degree. Does it cover the scope that the game plan of the Houston Texans will cover? No. But preparation won't be a factor. We're prepared to go out and play.
How long will your starters play?
We're going to play at least a half and play it by ear after that. At least a half on both sides of the football. And it's not only starters, it's rotational players. We'll look at a division of labor that we focused on going in. Even though they aren't technically starters, you'll see (Rashard) Mendenhall play some, you'll see (Lawrence) Timmons play some and so forth.
(Minnesota) has some Pro Bowl guys inside. Will you play Justin (Hartwig) the entire time with the starters, or will Sean (Mahan) get some work as well?
Right now, Justin is going to go with the ones the entire time. We have a better understanding of what Sean is capable of. In order to get a true evaluation of the men, I think it's important for Justin to work with the first group.
How will the running back rotation work?
We'll see. A lot of it depends on the flow of the game. If we're moving the chains and getting first downs, then you're going to see a bunch of them. If we're not moving the chains, that's another thing. We have a vision about how we see them running and getting touches, but the flow of the game will determine that.
Has there been no separation between Justin and Sean at center?
That would be a safe assumption, yes.
Are there any other starting positions that you're still evaluating?
No, not at this time.
Comment on Gene Upshaw's death.
It's a sad day, not only in the National Football League, but in professional sport. This man's contributions are countless and his contributions will be remembered for years to come. Our hearts and our thoughts go out to his loved ones.
How will the punter's work?
Very similar to how we used them last week. We're looking to get full participation from both. One will punt in one half, then the other will punt in the other half and they'll swap the holding assignments. Maybe Paul (Ernster) will kick off some in the latter part of the contest.
What are some of the things about you that changed from this year to last year?
I think that's to be determined to a degree. I feel very comfortable with what I need to do. If you were around after 12 months, I would have told you I was comfortable then. The reality is that I have a better understanding of the men that I work with strengths and weaknesses. I'm probably more focused on specific areas of our football team's development as opposed to last year when I was looking at everything. You probably don't miss as much when you have a focused attention to what it is you're looking at as opposed to watching the whole thing.
Troy is very questionable, but have you liked what you've seen of him in three days?
We are very pleased. He's running. He felt fine in the morning, which is a big part of it. He's taken some scout team reps. The offensive guys hate when he's on scout team. He's a little too good a scout team player, if you know what I mean. He's taken some legitimate defensive snaps. We like where he is, we do.
When asked about playing against the Vikings, he's said he just wants to be ready for the Texans. Can he sit out the last two preseason games and be ready to play?
I'm not trying to devalue the preparation process in preseason football. That's critical. If it wasn't, we wouldn't play them. Part of his readiness is having the ability to play in games. But we're dealing with a situation that has created short-term misery the best we can. Sometimes you don't always get what you want.
James Harrison was very critical of the first-team defense after the Buffalo game. Did you share those thoughts?
Specifically, I don't know what thoughts you are referring to. We didn't tackle very well. We didn't tackle well in the first preseason game. We didn't tackle well in the second preseason game. It can't become a habit. It can't become us. I think the players understand that. Hopefully it will turn up in Minnesota that we are tackling well. If we don't tackle well, they've got a couple of backs, 28 and 29, that will go up and down the field on you. We're well aware of that.
How has your interaction with the players changed?
I don't know that it has, interaction, formal or informally. Formally, we have a relationship that is built on mutual respect. Coaches coach, players play. We understand that. Informally, I've gotten to know them better on a personal level. Sure, some of our interactions informally are a little deeper than they were a year ago.
Was there a time during your career when you really saw that you wanted to become a head coach?
I don't know if I can point to a particular time where I put that on the radar. I've been blessed. I've had great opportunities. I've always enjoyed the jobs that I've had. I've really focused on that. Really, more than anything, it's kind of something that just evolved. I wish it was my plan. I'm not that good of a planner. I've been in the right place at the right time. I've been around some great coaches who helped cultivate me professionally. I've been given a great opportunity.
Can you talk about the play of Marvel Smith and how important he is to this team and his future?
I'm not concerned about anything but ‘08. Marvel is a very good player. He's our left tackle. Protection of our quarterback starts there. He's had a great camp. He's coming off offseason surgery. He's performed well. He appears to be completely healthy. We're excited about the things that are ahead this season and that includes him.
With Santonio (Holmes), how will you decide when to put him back on returns?
Really it's going to depend on if we're capable of stopping them. Hopefully, he gets a bunch. Tentatively, we're going to give him a couple of looks at it because we've got some other men that will continue to work. We thought it would be nice to target this game to get him some in-game action to prepare for the upcoming season.
What was your reaction when you found out you had the No. 1 toughest schedule?
These local guys can answer that. I don't concern myself with things I can't control, schedule being one of them. Having "the toughest schedule" is based on last year's performance. One thing you know about this game is that things never stay the same. Some of these so-called tough teams that we play may not be, and that includes us. We don't take this process for granted. We're preparing to be the best we can be. We anticipate the best from everyone we play. But we don't worry about what we can't control.
What are your impressions of Darnell Stapleton?
He is quietly a very effective football player. Sometimes you say he's a good little football player, but he's 310 pounds. He plays with great leverage. He's football smart. He has position flexibility. He's a guy who's always is in the hunt and probably will be up until the 11th hour.
What have the highs and lows been with Tony Hills?
It's just that, highs and lows. Some of the things that characterize being a rookie, he's experienced. He's shown flashes of what he's capable of being – probably not enough to satisfy us. Hopefully it's not enough to satisfy him. He's going through a growing process, as are all of those guys in that regard. No question, you see a level of talent in what he's capable of being, but there's not enough consistency there for our comfort.
If there's a guy who's on the bubble, especially if it's a guy who's been here, do you talk to them about that?
We'll address that at the appropriate time. Right now, our focus is on the next game. We'll let the film speak for itself and lead us in terms of decisions that we make. And this tape is a big part of it. Any discussions along those lines would be premature at this point.
Will they move Jared Allen around?
I hope he plays right end and stays there. They start moving him around, we might have to start making adjustments.
How has being a head coach been for you?
I love it. You can look at the glass half-full or half-empty. I recognized there are only 32 of these jobs in the world and I'm fortunate to have one of them. I take what comes with it and try to keep it in perspective, to be quite honest with you. I love what it is I do. But it is what I do, it's not who I am. I've got a wife and children at home who are important to me. It's a job that you deal with. You appreciate the positive ones and deal with the ones that may be negative at times.