Q. Last week, you disciplined Artie Burns for being late to a walk-through by not allowing him to play any defensive snaps against Cleveland. Generally speaking, what are the factors you weigh when making that kind of a decision?
A. I deal with everybody on a case-by-case basis, and the guys understand that. I’m going to work to treat everybody fairly; I’m not going to treat everybody the same. So when you fall in the web, you’re subject to my discretion. It’s not consistent, but it’s fair. I deemed it appropriate in his case, particular under the circumstances – his play has been uneven – I wasn’t going to play him on defense unless I absolutely had to.
Q. When you’re handing out discipline, do you weigh the potential impact on the team as a whole?
A. Certainly. You don’t make decisions in a vacuum, but sometimes you have to look beyond the present as well. What’s best for this player. What’s best for this team. Not only in the short term, but also in the long term. And sometimes long-term gain means short-term misery, or potential misery, and you have to weigh those risks.
Q. With respect to a team activity, what constitutes late?
A. Not being where you’re supposed to be when the function starts. It’s not anything extraordinary. I’m not on Coughlin time. (Laughs). Nine o’clock is 9 o’clock. I’m not smart enough to do some of those things.
Q. Do you use fines as a form of discipline?
A. I do.
Q. In your mind, is a fine a lesser form of punishment than taking away playing time?
A. It is. These guys want to play. No disrespect to money and the gravity of that, but the thing you can’t purchase, the thing that you can’t buy, is playing time. And that’s why it’s valued at the level it’s valued.
Q. If you discipline a player, what does the guy have to do to get back in your good graces?
A. I’m not a guy who carries bags. When I discipline, then I’m moving on. There are too many tasks, too many challenges that lie ahead for me to get caught up with that. I watch how they respond to the adversity they created, but it’s not like I have some vendetta or things of that nature. You have to make good decisions when selecting people, whether you’re drafting them or acquiring them in free agency. You have to look at their character, you have to look at their football character. We know the young men we’re doing business with. They misstep from time to time and things of that nature, but we do our due diligence prior to getting into these work relationships, so it’s not like something we’re analyzing once we’re in it.
Q. So you don’t have a doghouse?
A. I do not. I don’t believe in that. I’d just as soon fire them.
Q. Your week of preparation concludes on the night before the game with a team meeting. How do you use that time in terms of the message you deliver?
A. It really depends on what’s going on. I make good notes all week. I don’t think about that Saturday night meeting until some time on Saturday, in terms of hard and fast things that need to be said. I probably thought about it earlier in the week when I was newer in the position, but the longer I’m in the position the more I realize information gathering is good. Your journey throughout the course of the week often can provide quality material that provides the focus and the type of energy that’s needed to go and play the game. I’m always open to receiving new information that’s significant in terms of messaging up until the 11th hour when it’s time to talk to those guys.
Q. Do you believe in pep talks?
A. Certainly. Sometimes we as humans always are in need of encouragement in one way or another, and so I’m definitely not opposed to it. I’m open to it.
Q. Your red zone offense is significantly better so far this season than it has been in the recent past. Why?
A. Because it’s not a complete body of work. We’re only seven games in, and so you can take a look at stats and paint whatever picture you want to paint. The larger body of work speaks for itself. I like where we are right now. We have to continually be a group on the rise. The more you get tape out there, the more people understand your division of labor. It gets increasingly tougher to operate as the season goes on. So I’m more interested in what we do over the second half of the season in that way. I’m not disappointed by any stretch, but I’m not painting with a broad brush, or seeking comfort, or trying to pat ourselves on the back for what has transpired thus far. We all are going to be defined over the second half of the season, particularly in regards to some of those situational things, because the more volume of work you have out there the more people understand your division of labor and how it works, the more difficult it is. It has gotten increasingly difficult in recent weeks for Baltimore to function, because at the beginning of the year they had a new wide receiver corps. So it was difficult for people to understand the division of labor between Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead and some of their other receivers. You’re getting some clarity now, and the same thing can be said for all of us. A month ago, people might not have understood how we were utilizing Ryan Switzer in certain ways. They might have a clearer picture of his role when he steps into a game now because of the volume of tape available. I like where we are. We have more work to do. All of us will be defined as that body of work gets big over the second half of the year.
Q. Each day a team practices during a regular season week, that team is required to file a practice report with the league that also is made public. As it has been explained to you, what is the reason for that?
A. I don’t know that it’s ever been explained to me. I’ve just always known that’s been a part of the procedure since I’ve been in the National Football League. I would imagine it’s got something to do with betting lines in Vegas. (Laughs) That’s always been the funny story line. I don’t spend a lot of time debating it or worrying about it, to be honest with you.
Q. The categories for players within a practice report are: full participation, limited participation, or did not participate. Two of those seem obvious, but what is limited participation?
A. Meaning they only were available for a portion of the expected or required work within a practice, whatever that may be. It might be different for different people. You could have a long-snapper who is not healthy, but if he’s not working that day then he didn’t miss any work, for example. It means different things to different people in different circumstances, but all of us in the league, we have a way of reading between the lines and deciphering that information in the appropriate way in regards to the physical matchups in-game.
Q. Also included on the practice report is the injury that might be affecting the player’s practice participation. The NFL requires fairly specific information there, while the NHL, for example, will report injuries as “upper body,” or “lower body.” As a coach, are you OK with disclosing those details of a player’s injury?
A. I really don’t care. I’ve learned not to have an opinion on things I have no control over. It is required. If we don’t do it, we get fined. So I’ve learned to not have an opinion, because my opinion doesn’t matter.
Q. Do you consult the practice reports that are submitted by the team you’re going to play next?
A. I do, but we have advance scouts. Really, as you paint a picture in terms of availability, you have intel that you’ve acquired even prior to the week leading up to the game and you know, based on that intel, you can pretty much predict levels of availability in today’s NFL. There’s so much global information out there regarding injuries now. If a guy gets a high-ankle sprain, you can characterize every high-ankle sprain in the NFL over the last three years and predict that he’s out for three-to-five weeks. And you can predict that if you’re that team’s opponent in two weeks, then you’re not going to see him, as an example. With technology and a lot of information that’s out there, those things become obsolete.
Q. How much does a game plan revolve around what you were just talking about – injuries to guys – and how much might the game plan change over the course of a week as this information becomes available?
A. It’s very significant, and it changes in-game based on availability. Injuries sustained in-game change the complexion of matchups, particularly situationally. The situational players, the sub-package linebackers, the sub-package defenders, the third and fourth receiver, the third down backs – the guys who seemingly aren’t front-line starters who you don’t think have a significant impact on the outcome of games, they have a significant impact on the outcome of games based on availability, because of the weight of those possession downs.
Q. Can you give me an example of how it would impact the way you would approach an opponent in-game based on an injury?
A. It can be something as simple as the matchup. A week ago we were comfortable with L.J. Fort covering (Cleveland running back) Duke Johnson. Fort wasn’t available the week before (the Cleveland game) due to injury. So if Fort wasn’t going to be available last week and we had to have someone else covering Duke Johnson, we would’ve been less than comfortable. So it maybe would’ve guided us in some other direction schematically on those possession downs because Duke is so significant in Cleveland’s plans. So that’s just one example.
Q. If your game is on a Sunday, on Friday teams submit to the league what’s called a status report, which is supposed to list a player’s status for the upcoming game. The categories on the status report are questionable, doubtful, and out. Out is obvious, but what do the other two categories mean?
A. Doubtful means he’s probably not going to play. Questionable means there’s a chance he could play. And it’s as simple as that. Questionable is 50-50, it could go either way. Often times that means pregame warmups, and a guy going through pregame exercises. Often you will see guys two-and-a-half hours before kickoff out on the field with a trainer going through some pregame movement, checking mobility and things of that nature. Those are those game-time decisions that you hear some analysts talking about on those pregame TV shows. You can change the status of guys, up or down, right up to game day morning, but the bottom line is none of those things really carry any weight. The 90-minute before kickoff announcement of who’s active and inactive is all that we in the business care about. The rest is just fodder for fans.