Q. Since tonight is the second of four preseason games, are you looking for different things from your team against the Eagles than you did last week against the Cowboys?
A. In some instances, yes. You know, some of our guys have been in a stadium, and particularly those who have been in a stadium for a first time, there are significant opportunities for growth. After a guy has been into a stadium for that first time, you're no longer speculating, it's no longer a mystical thing. And so, they're finding their rhythm and I think it's reasonable to expect them to elevate their play to be more comfortable, for their talents to show more consistently as they gain that exposure. Some guys are stepping into a stadium for the first time this year, so the standards of expectation will be very similar to last week in some instances, and that's part of this journey. Different guys are at different stages of readiness and development, and so you go in with multiple agendas. In some instances, I'm excited about watching guys take a significant step, and in other instances, it'll be about guys getting an opportunity to stick their toe in the water for the first time in 2021.
Q. Can you pinpoint any specific areas of play where you want to see improvement?
A. I want to see more cleanliness with our pre-snap operation on offense. We didn't get any penalties in that area (vs. Dallas), but often you get some leniency in August, in terms of pre-snap shifts and motions. Such as whether or not somebody is on the ball or off the ball, and a tackle is on the line of scrimmage in passing circumstances, and things of that nature. Some of our alignment mechanics and so forth were at an August level, and I'm expecting it to take a significant step, because it has to. We all have to be at a professional football level by the time we get to Sept. 12. So, we need to see some growth in some of those areas.
Q. I'd like to talk a little bit about a couple of your young defensive linemen – Isaiah Buggs, who is entering his third season – and Carlos Davis, who is entering his second season. What have you seen from them so far this summer? Might they be in a two-dogs, one-bone situation?
A. I'm not in a mind-set yet where I'm narrowing my focus in terms of positional numbers, but very well we could be in that conversation based on their performances thus far and the things around them. I'll say this about both guys: They both have had good consistent camps in the areas where they distinguish themselves. Isaiah Buggs being a strong run defender. He's shown that consistently in run drill-like circumstances. And Carlos Davis is a young, dynamic interior rusher, and he has shown those skills in drills that highlight that aspect of play. Probably the difference between them are the areas where they do not excel, or they don't have an area of expertise. Like how well does Isaiah Buggs rush the passer, and how well does Carlos Davis stop the run. Those are the things that ultimately could determine roles that could potentially develop for those guys.
Q. Have you seen any separation among the players working at the nickel cornerback position?
A. I'd like to say yes, but the process has been slowed down at times by injury and other things. Antoine Brooks has missed some time since the Hall of Fame Game with an injury. He was progressing well, but one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. I think Art (Maulet) has smoothed out some elements of his game and added some detail with the extra reps that he has absorbed. Shakur Brown has had an opportunity to have an elevated number of reps, so we're getting a good bit of exposure to a good number of guys. And in our hip pocket, we have Cam Sutton, who has been working outside, but we know he's fully capable of working inside. Maybe next week as we go into our next game, we'll work in some package football where we'll have an opportunity to look at Cam in some of those areas. We know what Cam can do. Cam understands the job. So really, we've kind of set him off on the side through the better part of this early portion of the process, because we have a known commodity there in that area.
Q. Let's just pretend you came into this camp with the idea that you were going to look at five different players for that nickel cornerback job. And during the process, you get to the third guy, and you decide you like him. Do you then still look at the fourth and fifth guys on the list just to see them all, or you do have a level of performance in mind where you say, that's the level I need for that job, and then stick with him?
A. The process, and the rigors of the process, makes me say I want to look at all the guys because it's just that guys are going to be available some days and guys are not going to be available other days. Attrition as a part of it. Day to day injuries during this developmental process create opportunities for others. Invariably, it takes care of itself. Invariably, if five was the number, I'd have plenty of opportunities to see all five operate in some form or fashion, because the challenge of this process creates those opportunities for them.
Q. In terms of the competition at punter between Jordan Berry and Pressley Harvin III, is the ability to hold for Chris Boswell a make-or-break factor?
A. It is a significant box to check. We don't necessarily evaluate levels of excellence, but they have to be more than adequate holders. And once they're more than adequate we can focus our energies on their punting abilities. Both punters are more than adequate in terms of holding for Chris Boswell, so it'll be a non-factor in determining who gets the job.
Q. Is the reason that punters are usually holders throughout the NFL because of the practice convenience?
A. It's the practice convenience and their availability throughout the day. Even at the collegiate level, if you look at any football team structure, the specialists spend a lot of time together off on the side during practice. It's just a good working relationship and allows them to be more productive. Years ago, it was always the backup quarterback who was the holder, but backup quarterbacks have so many offensive and defensive football responsibilities in today's game that it's a more natural act for the punter to develop the skill-set to be the holder. Think about the hands required to be a punter in the job of punting. So, it has become an area of expertise that falls under the umbrella of being a punter; it makes more efficient use of time; and it allows those guys to get more critical work.
Q. In what ways is Robert Spillane a better player than he was a year ago?
A. His general awareness. I'm seeing it come out in competitive circumstances, the fine motor skills of the position. I'll give you a very specific example: He was matched up in a one-on-one pass defense situation with Zach Gentry, who is a 6-foot-8 tight end, which makes him a real obstacle in terms of working through to break-up a ball. Robert did a unique thing. He was really close to Gentry in coverage. The ball was high, so he let him catch the ball at the high point, and then he attacked the ball as Gentry brought it down into his arms. That's just experience and awareness and comfort that allows you to make a good and thoughtful decision like that. When you try to combat a big guy, if you're trying to play it at the high point, you're going to lose because he's 6-8 and you're not. So, what he did was he allowed that guy to bring the ball in and seemingly get a reception, but then he broke it up when the ball got down to a level where he could play it. And it was just a really mature play, and it's kind of an example of the growth and development of his game from an awareness standpoint.
Q. Can you coach that, or does the player just have to come to that awareness naturally?
A. You coach your tail off, but there is a point when there is an a-ha moment for plays such as that. You continually coach it, you try to bring that type of awareness out in all the guys, but it takes a certain level of experience and poise to do it under duress, to recognize the moment as it's happening, and execute a certain technique like that. You never try to combat a big guy at his level, but that ball eventually is going to come down to your level. And so, if you have a little bit of patience at the catch point, you can still get the breakup.
Q. What makes a good short-yardage running back in the NFL?
A. A guy who won't be denied, a guy who has a nose for the line to gain. Often, it comes with physical characteristics like lower body strength, and a low center of gravity, and a smaller strike zone in terms of hit surface, but more than anything, it's the will of the man and the competitive spirit associated with winning physical confrontation. Invariably it comes down to that. There is going to be some confrontation, even when the plays are well-blocked. Because of the nature of defensive calls in those circumstances, there's going to be a confrontation at or around the line of scrimmage, and it's usually about the will of the man carrying vs. the will and the ability of the man doing the tackling.
Q. Does Najee Harris have what it takes to be successful in short-yardage?
A. He appears to be highly competitive. There haven't been many scenarios we've had this guy in where he hasn't been really comfortable with competing. But I think that's to be expected when you're drafting running back in the first round. They've got to have some unique traits. They've got to be competitive, virtually in all circumstances, and he has displayed those things in a very short time
Q. Alex Highsmith got a sack in the preseason opener when he used a spin move to beat the Cowboys' left tackle. What makes for an effective spin move, and in what situations is it effective?
A. The fluidity of it, your ability to put the ice pick in the offensive tackle's back in that instance as we say. And really that just talks about the finish of the move. Often guys have a nice initial spin move, but their ability to maintain body balance and swing their elbow around to finish the move and get on the perimeter of the offensive tackle and seal it, if you will, is the difference. That's the element of his technique that he's really elevated over the last 12 months, the finish of that spin move. Ideally, you like to do it on the backside of the quarterback so you know he doesn't feel it and potentially escape from a contain standpoint, but I've seen it effective in a lot of areas. The cleaner the move, the less important the variable of where you executed it is. If you finish the move well and you end up on the perimeter of that blocker you have a chance to get home.
Q. You often have said that you see your job as giving to players whatever it is they need at a particular time. What does Stephon Tuitt need from you now?
A. I haven't spent a lot of time focused on Stephon, to be honest with you. He has been spending a lot of time with our training and strength staff, participating in a partial capacity, getting up to playing readiness. I've been focusing on the guys in helmets and gear and working every day. I know what Stephon Tuitt can do. We're still a month out from the regular season. I imagine that his process of preparation is running its course. I'm getting great reports daily from the men who are working with him, in terms of having hands on him directly. So, I'm focusing my energies on those guys who are playing and working and developing and practicing every day, and I'll get to Stephon Tuitt as he gets closer to participation.
Q. I was referring more to the personal trauma that he has gone through and had to deal with.
A. Stephon is a grown man, and we're here for him, not only in terms of support in a professional way but also in a personal way. I've worked with him now for over seven years. We also have professional clinicians on staff because I acknowledge that I am not a trained professional clinician, and I respect that space. When you're talking about the trauma that he and his family have endured this summer, I am not in a line of experts. But I am compassionate in that I know the man, and I've had a relationship with him for the last seven years, and so I'm open and willing to assist in those informal ways. But I'm not going to pretend to be a professional.