The health situation going into the game, we have three players that are questionable: Jeff Hartings with the knee; Marvel Smith with an elbow; Jerome Bettis with a nose and a knee. He had his nose re-set this morning. The packing will be taken out Thursday, so he should be able to practice Friday and we'll go from there. We have five players that are probable: Chidi (Iwuoma) with the knee; Hines (Ward) with a hamstring; (Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala) with his pec; Mike Logan with his groin; and Kendall Simmons with his knee.
Also, having talked with both quarterbacks, I'm going to announce today, to alleviate any distractions or wonderment, that Tommy Maddox will be re-instated as the starter. I talked with him. I talked with Kordell. Certainly we will not hesitate if we need a spark to go to Kordell Stewart who's played very well in the last two and a half games. The feeling, again, is not based on a player not losing a job to injury. The bottom line is that at the time of his injury he was playing very well, so did not merit losing his job based on his play. So that's where we are. I did not want it to be a week-long distraction and the circumstances of last week just lent itself to not making a decision till game day. I thought it was important that it does not become an ongoing subject that's more distracting for our team than it is for any opponent.
Could you explain Bruener's injury?
I don't want to get into specifics. There was cartilage damage and there was a microfracture procedure that was done, and there was more damage done around the joint, the bone itself, than was initially diagnosed. They went in for the scope and realized they had to do this procedure. We got this news this morning. It occurred in the fourth quarter.
Will it affect his future?
We'd like to think he'll be fully recovered in six months.
Given how well both quarter--
Welcome back, Thor (Tolo).
Given how well both quarterbacks have played, how does Kordell come to any other conclusion than that Maddox is the quarterback of the future?
We don't talk future, Thor. We're talking about the game.
Did that come up in your conversation?
No. I'm not going to share the conversation. I re-iterate to you again, I'm not going to give you conversations I had with players. So you don't have to make your presence felt so immediately.
Bill, is Fu's injury taking longer?
No. Fu's back. He's probable. He probably could've played last week. Again, I needed the roster spot more than anything else.
Who will start at tight end?
Could you talk about the play of Chris Hope and some of the other young guys?
I think Chris played well. He made some big tackles for us. He stepped in last week when Mike went down. We moved Brent to Mike's position and we moved Chris into the lineup. He's had some big hits. We talked about him picking it up in the kicking game, and we'd like to see him do that on a consistent basis. I thought he did last week. I just think we're getting better defensively. It's good to get Kendrell back. He's getting into the flow of things. We made some plays on third down that we hadn't made in previous weeks. Chris has done well. Chidi has done well in the kicking game. He's been really a pleasant surprise. Losing a John Fiala, Clark Haggans has stepped up. Verron Haynes, I thought, has kind of stepped up. He did a very good job the other day in the kicking game. It will be good to get Hank (Poteat) back and Mike Logan. Those are two guys who've been so instrumental in our coverage all year and we haven't really had them and we're going to need them down the stretch, particularly this week when you're going against a guy like Jermaine Lewis, who's a Pro Bowl returner.
He seemed like an average athlete, so how much has Hope improved since camp?
Chris has flashed. That's the thing I would say. You see it and it's the thing that makes me stay on him. I see it and I want to see it on a more regular basis. I think he's got the abilities to do it. Like a lot of players sometimes, he's getting acclimated to that role as a (special) teams player, going out there maybe on fourth down and playing 15-16 snaps. Those are the things you have to continue to get better at. When he played in the preseason for extended periods he did flash and show his very hard-hitting ability, and he can covers some ground, but again you've got to do it on a consistent basis.
Is your offensive line depth surprising you?
I thought he (Keydrick Vincent) did a very good job against those two tackles, Stroud and Henderson. That was a good matchup for us against those guys. They're big, powerful guy and Keydrick's a big powerful type of guard. And you knew Oliver Ross could step in. He's a quality tackle. And Chukky Okobi has gotten better with each game. It's good to know Jeff is on his way back and I think Marvel has a good chance, maybe on the upper side of 50-50 for this week. Certainly, getting these guys some playing time at this point in the season is a big plus, knowing that if you have to go back to them they've got something they can fall back on, which has been a very successful debut, sorta speak. I thought our offensive line has played as well, considering who they were playing against, as they've played all year. It was a big challenge. Those two tackles were a big challenge and yet I thought they did an excellent job all day long.
We thought it was good depth but until they get battle-tested somewhat. But they've proven to be very quality players. When they've had to play they've answered the ball.
Bill, would you consider putting Kordell in in certain situations?
Might consider anything.
Do you monitor players' comments that might be construed as divisive?
You certainly are aware of what's being said. I've talked to Lee (Flowers) and you don't want, certainly at this time of the year, things that can become an internal distraction. I don't think this will be at all. I know Lee, and sometimes after a game you just cringe just waiting for the things he's going to say. I know in a couple weeks there'll be some things from Tampa being thrown up on their board. But you know what? The one thing I like is this is still a very close football team. There's a lot of pride in our defense. It's been a humbling year, to say the least. The most important thing isn't so much that we reflect on where we were back in September, October, let's deal with where we are right now, and more importantly the opportunity we have ahead of us.
Were Lee's comments made in jest?
I don't know much about it. I don't have any specifics.
Not that I want to make excuses for you, but how much of your red-zone problems can be attributed to Jacksonville?
I guess it's all in the eyes of the beholder. … We just didn't get it done. We had some opportunities but we just couldn't put the ball in the end zone. I'm not concerned because it hasn't been a repetitive thing. It's a nice problem to have. I'd like to keep getting down there.
Would you consider the field an advantage for your kicking game this week?
I know it's not any different than it was last year.
Was the non-fumble explanation satisfying to you?
Well, it's a judgment call. They did the right thing. You don't have to have a whistle based on what I've been told. They've had other examples this year where the play continued but in judgment the play was stopped. They made a judgment call. Do I agree with the judgment? No. But what they did and what they applied is the right thing in their eyes. I believe that the back was still fighting for extra yardage, and I believe that if the back would've broken the tackle they would've let him continue to run. Do I think that gives the back the best of both worlds? Yes I do. We've been talking to our players about the fact there are going to be late whistles, based on them trying to make sure they don't have inadvertent whistles. In doing so, we've told our backs and whoever that you'd better hold onto the ball because people are going to start stripping at the ball, which we are telling our players to do because of the late whistle. And so that was something we thought could easily have taken place and that call could've easily not been overturned as it was in that game. We will continue to play the same way, stripping at the football, and I will hold our runners accountable if they have the ball stripped from them in the same situation.
How close are you to playing a complete game and how common is it to improve a great deal at this point in the year?
I think we're close. I think the biggest thing is we're walking away from these games recognizing that we haven't done it. And that's not completely unhealthy. I think we realize we have to play better. You also have the sense we have some opportunities to achieve some things down the road and right now it's in our hands. There's an energy that goes with that as well. But there's certainly going to be an understanding that you take nobody lightly, take nobody for granted, and certainly I don't think we've played to that level that that will be the case. Like I said, we're far from being a finished product and that's the way we need to approach it every week.
Can you get there from here?
One step at a time, we can get anywhere we want to go.
When you look at our conference, I know we have that tie, but we have four losses and no one in our conference has three. Everyone else has four. There are four games to go. Anything can happen in four games. Certainly, the one thing we've got to do is take it one week at a time. Right now, we talked about 16 games being four laps. It's like a mile race and each four games is like a lap. In the first couple laps you're positioning yourself. In the third lap you need to start to assess who you're contenders are. And the bell lap comes right now, these last four. And what we've got to do is we've got to put on a stretch. We've got to get on a roll. We've got to be playing our best. We've got to kind of kick it in and go to another gear. We've got to take it up a notch. And if we do that, everything else from there will take care of itself. This is the time of year right now where a lot of things become clear. While you're looking at the picture, you recognize that how you get there is one step at a time, one team at a time. The most important thing right now is the opportunity we have this Sunday against Houston at our house and make sure we play a good solid football game, better than we did last night.
How much faith do you have in your kicker?
A lot. Right now, I have a lot. I think guys can get into a zone. I'd like to think he's in one. The guy's hit 9 of 10 and the one he missed you could see the foot slip on the 50 yard line. I have a lot of faith in him.
In ideal conditions, how well can he kick?
The longest I've seen him kick was in our indoor facility from 56 yards. That thing would've been good from 66. It was really kicked.
If you need a long field goal, you'll send him in?
No doubt about it. The conditions must be taken into account, but he's got the capabilities of all these guys around the league right now. He's got as strong a leg as I've been around.
How does someone like that fall through cracks?
I don't know. This wasn't the first place Gary Anderson kicked at either. I mean, I don't know. I remember that Tuesday though. It was a gloomy Tuesday. I got to brighten it up by spending time with you guys, and then I went down to Heinz Field. I remember catching balls and watching them kick and thinking to myself, ‘What the heck am I doing down here on this field right before the (WPIAL) playoffs started?' I remember watching him kick. We had four guys down there kicking. Maybe we found a guy down there. I don't know. I'll go down there every Tuesday if we can find players like that.
You told us the next day that you didn't know what separated him from the others, didn't you?
I didn't at that time. Now, 9 out of 10 later...
What are your impressions of the Texans?
I think they have a lot of very talented players. I think their quarterback is going to be a really good player. I know he's gotten hit a lot and sacked a lot, but boy is he a competitor. I look at them on defense and they're really solid. I know they've had some injuries on the offensive line. They were counting on (Tony) Boselli to come in and he really hasn't played all year. They've got some good young receivers. Corey Bradford's a good player. Jabar Gaffney's a good player. They've been in a lot of close games. They've played well, particularly defensively – Gary Walker and Seth Payne. They've got two good corners in (Aaron) Glenn and Coleman, Foreman and Sharper inside. They play a 34 like we do. They play hard. They've won three games and could've won a couple others. I think they relish the role of spoiler and as they proved against the Giants a few weeks ago, not a team to be overlooked. We're going to have our hands full. They're a good football team.
Why did Kendrell Bell play so well Sunday?
I think he's gotten better each week. I think he's getting back to being healthier. I think he's back to a little more regular defense. When he first came back it seemed we were in the dime all the time. We'd get the lead, people would spread us out and he'd come off the field. … It was good to have him back. It was good to get James Farrior back. James played an outstanding game as well. I felt we took a step forward playing some defense the other day. The lowest output Jacksonville had this season and they have some pretty potent weapons on that team.