Q. When we were talking about cuts last week, you said that at this stage, some guys are ready to go for one reason or another. Can you explain what you meant by that?
A . The competitive atmosphere that we have, the intensity of it, just erodes at men over time. And particularly those who are challenged in terms of physical talent. It is a wear-and-tear mentally at times, it is a wear-and-tear physically at times. This process has a way of making the selections for you at times.
Q. How does that manifest itself in players in the cases where you make that judgment?
A. In play. In quality of play. In detail of assignments. In availability. It is revealed to us in so many ways, and that's the awesome thing that training camp is in this process. If you're really open to it, it's really easy to see. It unfolds in front of you.
Q. You have said you're in favor of the preseason the way that it is, with four games. What in your mind is the specific value of the fourth game?
A. It's a last opportunity for those to make a significant push to make a case for themselves. The third game is a dress rehearsal for those who are on the inside looking out. The fourth game is a last-shot for the guys on the outside looking in. If you look back at some recent history, or even the history of the 10 years I've been here, there have been guys who solidified their roster spots with performances in this game. Stefan Logan returns that first punt, about seven or eight years ago right here in Charlotte, and he goes 80-some yards with it, he solidified his position on our football team. I thought Jordan Dangerfield solidified his position on our football team with the quality of his play defensively a year ago in the fourth preseason game. The punting match a few years ago between Jordan Berry and Brad Wing came down to the performance in that fourth game because it was so close. I would imagine the long-snapping evaluation process will come down to this performance, because it has been that close. That's exactly what this game is.
Q. Do you look for guys who might do things to lose jobs in this game, as well as those who do things to win jobs?
A. Certainly. There are probably more guys who lose jobs than there are guys who win jobs. That's why it's so easy to point out examples of those who have won jobs, unfortunately.
Q. During this preseason, you have experimented with having Todd Haley in the coaches' box. What are the potential advantages of him being up there?
A. It's a sterile working environment. He has the comforts of home, the ability to sit down and he can spread out his information and organize it in such a way to make play-calls easier. More than anything, the change of the rule was a tip of the cap to technology. Years ago, you couldn't have a guy up in the box, because there were too many radio frequencies and things in stadiums. It would've been too interrupted. In today's age, we're all comfortable from a security standpoint that the play-caller can be at that distance. There's no question that it's a good environment in which to think and organize and design attacks.
Q. You were a coordinator, what did you prefer?
A. I personally liked the interaction with those I'm calling plays for. I think there are certain things you glean from those interactions, the eye-to-eye, the face-to-face, that was beneficial to me. I acknowledge that the sideline is not necessarily a sterile environment in which to work, but I also saw value in the chaos.
Q. What about the ability to see things better from higher up. How do you measure that?
A. There's an interesting perspective in terms of watching things from the box upstairs, but the reality is that as coaches all of our careers we've watched the game from ground level. As a secondary coach in my days as a position coach, I always found that funny to be encouraged to go up to the box but I always instructed and watched practice from the grass. I utilized that in my argument with Coach (Jon) Gruden about 15 years in my effort to stay on the ground, and I won out.
Q. From a strategic standpoint, what are the advantages to a defense that can play man coverage?
A. It's just another tool in the toolbox. You can draw an analogy to a Major League starter who has three or four pitches as opposed to two or three pitches, then it keeps people off balance. It makes the other pitches work better. It balances out your menu, and it simply does that.
Q. When it comes to putting together a 10-man practice squad. Are the guys on it the 54th-through-63rd players on the roster now?
A. No. The best way to frame it is: that group has done enough to make you want to continue to work with them, to continue to develop them. They have traits that are worthy of the roster, but they don't have enough consistency in their play, enough awareness in their play, enough development of physicality and strength and speed to do it on an everyday level. There has to be something about them and their play and the overall trajectory of their play that makes them an exciting developmental candidate. These guys aren't bag-holders for us. Our practice squad guys are here not only to help us prepare but to be ready when their number is called, and over the course of the last number of years there have been plenty of examples of those guys being ready when their numbers were called because of that mentality.
Q. When you put together a 53-man roster, you like to keep certain numbers of players at different positions. Are numbers important when putting together the practice squad, too?
A. Really I'm looking for a total number working at a position for overall balance. At the end of the day, I don't care if that number is X on the active roster and Y on the practice squad, or Y on the active roster and X on the practice squad. The bottom line is the total number of people we have working at a certain position on a day-to-day basis in the pursuit of efficiency.
Q. If a job is won here tonight, is it most likely to happen because of special teams?
A. It usually is, but those things don't usually happen in a vacuum. What I mean is the guy who's wired right and making the necessary plays to state a case for himself on special teams is usually doing the same thing on offense or defense. In the same game where Stefan Logan had that punt return, I think he also had a couple of reverses for 20 or 30 yards. Every time we put the ball in his hands, it looked much the same whether it was on offense or special teams. You could say the same thing about Jordan Dangerfield. He was playing varsity ball on defense but his special teams tape looked much like his defensive tape. And that usually is the case.
Q. For a young cornerback, is it easier to contribute more quickly as a slot cornerback or as an outside cornerback?
A. I don't know that there's any difference. More than anything it depends on the young man, and not only in terms of his skill-set but also in terms of his background. There is so much to be learned from past experience at those positions, particularly in the slot. It's always attractive to do business with people who have a background in that area, even if the schematics are different. I just think the overall perspective of a cornerback playing in that space and having an in-helmet background in that area is helpful. Cam Sutton has that background. He did it at Tennessee, regardless if their schemes are similar to ours or not, that in-helmet perspective at the position helps.
Q. In your mind, what's the job description of a free safety in the NFL?
A. They have to be a great communicator. They're the hub of communication in the secondary, and it's important because there's greater physical distance between the members of the secondary than there is at the linebacker level or the defensive line level. They cannot be quiet communicators. They must be boisterous people. They have to make quick and split-second decisions, although the consequences of those decisions don't necessarily happen in that manner. One false step could create a big play, but it could be several seconds before that false step is revealed. There are extreme consequences and urgency at the position, although from the naked eye there is the appearance that there's not.
Q. You've had to go just about the whole training camp/preseason process without Mike Mitchell on the field. What does he bring to the defense?
A. When available, and I say when available because I haven's seen much of him through this process, and that's an issue for him and for me as we go forward. He's going to have to prove capability. I'm not just going to walk into a stadium and anoint him based on what he's done in the past. Football just doesn't work that way. But in the past, he has been a great, consistent communicator, a consistent physical presence. His angles to the ball have been excellent. More than anything, like a lot of guys who play back there who are good at what they do, very rarely is he out of place.