On Head Coach Joe Philbin this off-season asking him to simply the defense and the challenge of doing that - "It all starts with looking at what our players doing best. Once we establish that - and we spent a lot of time looking at everything through the end of the season and assessing the issues we had; the problems we had and things we need to do better. We have developed and come up with a plan that we think will allow our players to utilize their talents to the best of their ability and to get the kind of repetition that we need in order to play fast and decisive on defense. It's been a process. It's an ongoing process as we're evaluating players each and every day we're learning more about them. Ultimately, that's going to be our charge to put together a defense that is aggressive, attacking. And yet our players can handle everything with it. I think they're doing an outstanding job. I'm so impressed with the way they've been working through four days, particularly handling a lot of multiplicity from our offense - motion, shifting, movement almost on every play. This is not like Football 101 out here. And yet, our mental errors have been down. Even the young players are really grasping it quickly. So that's very encouraging."
On what went wrong at the end of last season that he's hoping to avoid this season - "We didn't execute. There's not one single thing. I'd like to be able to tell you, ‘Hey, it was one thing and we got that fixed, whether it be schematically or personnel wise or what have you.' If you really study each and every game - and I can't tell you how many times we have right from the very last game of the season - there was a break down here. There were situations where we didn't do well obviously on defense. There were game situations that got created as the game went on that might have led to some of the failures as the game progressed as a team - total team stuff as well as us on defense. So there's a number of things. But we've looked at it, our players have studied it. We've all taken ownership, starting with me right on down the line to guys that look where mistakes were made, how we can effectively improve in those areas. And not allow us, as we did at the end of the year, to put ourselves in position to beat ourselves in games as opposed to the opponent making plays. There were a lot of plays of that nature as the season went on."
On why he is confident this year is going to be better - "I'm confident each and every year as we go into it. I think we played, in the big picture, a solid defense. We want to take it to a whole other level. There wasn't a whole lot that changed in terms of the way we did things. There's a lot of speculation and everybody can have an opinion about it. But yet, through 10 games, we had a lot of good things going on defensively. And there were a lot of people looking at us as one of the better defensive teams in the league. Our personnel was banged up a little here and there, but that wasn't the reason why everything fell short toward the end. Schematically, we didn't change at Week 11 and start becoming a difference defense. So we've looked at it, I think we can tighten things down. We plan to tighten things down. And I really want to do a good job of taking these players strengths and maximizing them. As opposed to them fitting the system that we've had over the years. I think we've done a lot of good things but not enough and this is a production league. We've got to win and we've got to play great on defense in order for that to happen."
On his thoughts of having guys like CB Tony Lippett show up at practice today - "Tony showed up today, that's for sure. He's got excellent ball skills. He's got great hands. He's a very good athlete. But I would not just want to single Tony out because I think our young group overall has really stepped up and been playing well. Tony has done a nice job. Bobby McCain has showed up at every practice making plays; he's a young player. Our young linebacker core - all four of those young linebackers that have joined our team here in the spring have done things - they're going to compete. That's the great news right now: at every position we have - we have competition. We have depth to the point that I couldn't tell you today, I wasn't in town over the weekend at the board trying to figure out, OK, this is going to be awful hard trying to figure out the 53 and 46 when you come down to the regular season. It's as hard as it's ever been for us here and that's a good thing. The sad thing is you want to keep every one of them because I tell you what - we have a great group of guys. When I wake in that defensive meeting room I am so blessed to be able to be coaching these guys. I mean that sincerely. It's a good group of people. They're good players, they're working hard. I couldn't ask for anything more at this point. It's a mixture of veterans and young guys that are really buying in and that are looking to the vets to help them. So we got a good chemistry going right now and I'm encouraged. I'm always optimistic but I will say I'm as optimistic as I've ever been going into this season."
On LB Chris McCain and what he saw in him that made him believe he could be elevated into a starting role - "Not to take anything away from Chris, but there's no definite starting lineup at this point. What we're doing is trying to cross train some guys, so that we can get depth within our own core, not just in numbers, but depth and flexibility to move guys - one guy from a Sam to a Mike or a Will to a Sam, so you're getting the best players on the field at the end of the day. Chris is a really good athlete. He's got good coverage skills. He's got length. He's got good pass rush skills. He's a good blitzer. Some of his skillset lends to the linebacker position, some of it lends to being a pass rusher. Our charge right now is to make sure he's getting enough work rushing the passer and at the linebacker position. He's been getting a lot of base work at linebacker and a lot of rush work with our nickel package. We're going to continue to do that and we're cross training Koa (Misi) and Kelvin (Sheppard), (they) are both doing great work out here at the Mike position. We're going to make sure that they learn multiple positions, so that, at the end of the day when we look at our core linebackers, we're making sure we've got the right guys on the field. That's what we're doing at each position, too. In the secondary, guys are playing nickel and outside and safeties are going to learn how to play dime. We're going to do a few things as we move forward. Hopefully, our depth will improve."
On Head Coach Joe Philbin emphasizing finishing games and how he feels when the defense may play great for almost all of the game but not right at the end - "It gives me major headaches. Finishing is the name of the game. This league, the competition is so fierce, so close. The parity in the league is so close that the good teams find ways to win in those critical situations, and we need to do that. We're going to need to do it better than we've done over the three years, not just last year, but over the three-year period - to get from being an 8-8 team into the upper echelon of the league. It's making plays in those crunch times and Coach Philbin does a great job of creating simulating game situations that way, like today we spent a whole day basically down in the red zone, an area that we weren't as good as we have been the previous two years on defense. So that was a good starting point for us today. For us to be the kind of defense we have to be, we've got to not only win games, but be able to make the plays that impact the game right when the game is in the balance. That's something we've practiced, but we've got to get confident in doing. It comes through experience and hopefully this group will be able to do that."
On simplifying the defense and if that helps with not substituting as much - "That's one thing. As Coach (Joe Philbin) described I think to you all earlier in the winter time or in the spring, it's not so much the volume of what you do, it's when you start creating different packages with different personnel, a way of trying to get the repetitions that you feel confident you've gotten enough work with the right players in at certain times, and I think that's what we're trying to take a look at. To me, the more you can do with the players that are on the field, I'm talking about in a third-down situation and not have to be subbing. The harder it is for the offense because they're looking at your subs just like you're looking at theirs, so when they see certain guys come in the game, they may have, ‘OK, they're going to be in one of these three, four, five things.' Whereas if you keep certain groups in the game along the period of time, you have the whole gamut of what you have in the defensive package to run. If you have the athletes that can do that, fortunately we've got some of those guys and I think that's going to be a point of emphasis for us as we're moving forward."
On how CB Jamar Taylor looks through a couple of practices - "Jamar's done an outstanding job. He's come into it very confidently, coming through a good offseason. He's got his shoulder back rehabbed and ready to go. I see a real spark in Jamar the way he's practicing, but just in his overall mental attitude. He's confident, he's determined, he wants to go out and win a job, realizes there is a lot of competition out there within that group. But each and every day he's performed at a high level. That's been very encouraging."
On if it's fair to say that it's CB Jamar Taylor's job to lose as the second starting corner - "No, I wouldn't say it's fair to say at this point yet. It's anybody's job because, at a number of positions, that being one of them, you really can't, you can put yourself in position to go into training camp working with a first group or what have you, but a lot of that's going to be determined when you start playing preseason games and you're playing out here with pads - you really get a chance to completely evaluate these guys because there's, in my opinion, right now there's tremendous competition at the linebacker spot, in the secondary, as far as the depth in the defensive line. None of that will be settled until some point in training camp, probably later in training camp."
On turning the page from last season and if he moves on quickly or dwells on it - "I have to be honest with you, at the end of the season this year I dwelled on it for a long time. I was very disappointed in the way that we finished. I really wanted us as a staff to take a step back, be as objective as we could be looking at what we've done over a three-year period, but particularly analyze the end of the season with a fine-tooth comb, each and every game went through it play by play, exactly what happened, how we could have called the game better myself, how we could have made adjustments better - personnel wise, whatever it was. We've documented everything that went on along the way, and that's why when I mentioned earlier it is not one thing. Each game was a little different. You could look at some scores in certain games and say, ‘Geez, you gave up 41 points to New England.' But at the end of the day when you look at how those points were scored and in what situations in the game, some of it was mistakes we made and some of it was just the way a game goes. Now you kind of have to re-group and make sure you are covering - one axiom I learned a long time ago in coaching is coaching is eliminating mistakes before they happen. That is what we have to do a better job this year. We don't have to come in on Monday and say ‘OK, we made this mistake, we aligned wrong, we didn't stunt correctly, we didn't make the right adjustment.' We have to be able to put them in situations where they are maybe uncomfortable in practice. Things that we may not have talked about in terms of showing them on the board, but gave them rules to cover the adjustment to be made. Fortunately for us, the way our offense is, we are not preparing to play these guys and yet each day we have to come out and line up against formations that are varying each and every snap. That helps us. Really when we got into preseason last year it was really like a breath of fresh air to get to play another team because they lined up and our guys could line up and it was like the teach periods we do out here where no one is moving around and you are just trying to get set. So I think that is something important that we have to get our guys to that point where they can make the adjustments and come off the field and say why they did it, how they did it and we can go live another down and get through the game."