How much is minicamp a wrap-up of the spring or a precursor to August?
“You’d like to think, from a learning standpoint, that it’s a precursor. The first significant thing with minicamp is, at this moment, the term ‘optional’ is gone. It’s mandatory. Reporting dates (training camp) will be mandatory, and for the next seven months (team activities through the end of the season) it will be mandatory. Our turnout has been good up to this. For the most part, we have not had any issues with guys being here. I mentioned this the last time we spoke; the training conditions and weather have a lot to do with that leading up to minicamp.”
Have you seen the progression in the install from the young guys that you had hoped to see up to this point?
“They are getting it. A lot is being given to them. It will begin to slow down as we go through the installation again in training camp. Two things: it is important for us to make sure we are going at a rate where they can pick it up and, secondly, that we are repeating the looks and making sure that we are not moving on to something else if we do not have the install of that day figured out.”
Have you heard back on a third opinion for Nick Fairley?
“Nothing yet. I am sure we will hear something fairly soon though.”
How have you seen Corey Fuller progress from last year to this year?
“He’s smart, and I think he’s a player that runs well. I think he’s going to be someone that finds his role, not only on offense but also in the kicking game. So far, he’s picking things up. He understands what we are doing. He is healthy.”
With Alvin Kamara, have you seen exactly what you had hoped to see out of him?
“The strengths with some of these backs (is that) they’re different. Our job’s to try to give them the things that they do well. He’s certainly comfortable in the pass catching mode and as a route-runner. I think he’s done a good job with the run scheme and the protection. He’s a pretty quick study; he’s picked things up pretty quickly. There’s a rhythm to his game that’s pretty fluid. He has done a good job.”
With Nick Fairley, is it as simple as going with the majority opinion?
“No. We will weigh in on all of those things. We will meet with him and his agent and kind of weigh in on the three different opinions. Like I said, I anticipate that being sooner than later.”
We did not see P.J. (Williams) out there today. What is going on with him?
“He has the flu, so we just held him out.”
Did you receive the feedback from that third opinion with Nick Fairley?
“No, I just answered that.”
I knew you had not made any final decisions, I just did not know if you had received the third opinion?
“No. We have not sat down and had any of that discussion.”
Why did you bring in (quarterback Ryan) Nassib? What did you see there?
“He was someone we liked coming out of the draft. We had to wait for him to rehab an injury. We brought him in. He threw last week; he visited a couple of other teams. Fortunately, we were able to get him signed.”
What was the injury?
“I think he had—I want to say it was his arm or his shoulder. He had finished the rehab process. We had tried to get him in a little bit earlier, and he was not 100%, so we waited. A couple of teams like us waited. Once he was healthy to throw, we brought him in.”
Do you see him as going to camp and competing for a spot?
“Yes, he is competing. We will see where it all sorts out. We had a pretty strong opinion of him as a player when he was in college. We will see.”
What did you like most?
“I thought he was a good decision-maker. He played for Doug (Marrone) at Syracuse. We thought he was someone that, when he was in the games, you saw him move the ball. Even in preseason tape, when you watch him in New York, he knows where to go with it. He is a guy that picks things up pretty quickly. This is his first practice, so there is a lot that he is catching up on, but he is getting a crash course.”
Arthur Maulet seemed really confident out there.
“He has a little something to him. He was one of those guys at the end of the draft that—I give him a hard time that he took three phone calls. Dennis (Allen) talked to him, the secondary coach talked to him, and then I got on the phone with him, and then I got on the phone with him again. We were all set and signed him. Then, two days later, I get this text from—I forget the area code—and he is like, ‘I’m all set, fired up.’ Every one of us, once in a while, receives a text, and you don’t really know who it is from. I was like, ‘Who’s this?’ And he was like, ‘Arthur Maulet!’ I’m like, ‘I did not save your number; I thought you were coming already!’ So I gave him a hard time. But he has a little confidence about him. He was one of those guys that was a priority free agent. There was a lot of time and energy that went into it. He is someone that can play the nickel. He is put together pretty well.”
Can you talk about Josh LeRibeus and what you liked about him?
“His experience. He has played. His transition has been pretty quick. There was a lot going on with calls and a lot of adjustments. We had a few guys in for a work out, and he was in shape. His transition has been pretty smooth. So, that has been pretty good for us because that can really stall your offense, if all of a sudden you are having problems there.”
Was Ryan Nassib the only one who had actually signed a deal out there? Everyone else was a tryout guy?
“Correct. Basically, we were at 89 (players) after (Travis) Feeney’s release. Nassib became 90.”
What do you get out of these tryouts?
“It is just another opportunity. It is a three-day opportunity to evaluate a player and see where he is at. Sometimes you are evaluating what kind of shape they are in. It is one thing to go in here for an hour without any type of pads or helmets or anything and just work them out, but if you can do that on a three-day basis, you receive a lot more from it—where they are at mentally, how quickly they learn. It is a little bit better of an evaluation.”
Mark Ingram is coming off of the most productive year of his career. What is the next step for him?
“He knows what we are doing. I am sure that, like everyone else, the next step for him is to win more games. He has got a good handle on the offense. In the last, probably four days now he has been going—we rested him a week prior—he has been doing well.”
What did you like about (A.J.) Klein when you brought him in?
“We played against him for a long time. He has got good versatility. He has played Sam; he has played a lot of snaps at Mike. That position flexibility is important. He has good leadership traits, and I think he is smart. Just knowing him and seeing him twice a year—we probably saw him as much at Mike as we did Luke (Kuechly) because of injuries. He was someone that you could tell had really good command of what he was doing defensively.”
Have you seen progress from Stephone Anthony?
“Absolutely. It’s hard because you’re not tackling, and you’re talking about a linebacker evaluation. But yes. The more and more he receives reps in the scheme, the more and more he is getting comfortable with not only the calls but also the identifications, offensive formations, run or pass. I think that is going well.”
Is he in the middle?
“He is middle. He has flexibility to go more to Sam. I am sure he could play Will, but we are working him right now with the snaps inside.”
With a guy like (Craig) Robertson, how do you balance versatility versus being focused in on one position?
“For the most part, these guys all are focused in on one with a secondary position. You might equate it to the receivers that are learning the outside and inside spot. Those guys that are smart enough understand the whole defense, so that transition is not maybe as dramatic or drastic as you would think.”
Did he show that last year?
“Yes. He has got flexibility on the defensive side of the ball, but he is also someone we think brings value in the kicking game.”
With so many key guys being drafted from Ohio State over the last few years, is it coincidence or is it something about that program? A rapport with Urban Meyer?
“It is probably all of the above. I have got a good relationship with Urban. We have known each other for years. But that all being said, there is an evaluation that takes place. I think I have got a good relationship with Nick (Saban) and with Coach (Jim) Harbaugh and a lot of those guys—certainly with Les (Miles) and now Ed (Orgeron). Sometimes it is the timing of when the player is available. Some of it is coincidence.”
Does it strengthen it when (Vonn) Bell and (Michael) Thomas have that kind of success and you ask them about a player departing that school who is draft-eligible? Maybe you take what he says more?
“It would be common for us—if we’re looking at a player in the evaluation process and there happens to be someone from his school on our team—it would be very normal for us to call him up to the draft room. Not on draft day, but during the weeks leading up to it or the months leading up to it. At some point, we might say ‘What do you think of this guy?’ if there was an overlap. That would be pretty normal.”
How has it been to have Curtis Johnson back?
“It is good. Certainly you hear him. It is good to have him back. He is still rehabbing. He is someone that I have known for a long time, and there is a toughness that he brings. Ronald Curry has done a good job working with those guys while CJ has been out.”
Have you seen any progression from a guy like De’Vante Harris?
“Today I thought he stepped up and did some things. He has good instincts, and that’s a good trait for a corner. He has good ball skills. He keeps working on his strength. We had a few of those guys that are on the cusp of getting a little stronger without putting on too much weight. He is going to be in the mix here when we get started in training camp.”
Travin Dural had a couple of dropped passes, but he also ran some good routes. What would you say about that?
“He is making progress. He is a young, talented player. You see the flashes. You see the speed. He has done enough to where you are watching. Today he made a few plays, and then there are a few times where he has to work on the details, the specifics of playing that position. So far, I think he has transitioned pretty well.”
Where has Dannell Ellerbe been?
“He was one other player that was excused.”
A CBA question as it relates to practice limits: Now that you’ve had a while to deal with it, which ones would you say have been the most impactful on the game?
“That is a good question. I think in-season pads once a week makes sense. I think all of us manage that; I do not even know if we use all of our full padded days. The training camp two-a-days, as we know it, are gone. It is really one practice and then an opportunity for a walkthrough. This offseason calendar, pretty much we have adapted to it. The trick is making sure that you have enough time with the young players. I do not know if there is one specific change. It might be in training camp, that second practice. There was a time when this camp was padded. I am not suggesting that it should or should not be. But certainly the changes have come, and very quickly as coaches, you get up to speed with them. You can spend a lot of time discussing them, but what is more important is discussing what you are going to do with them. Every year, we have an offseason, separate from a CBA, where there are some rule changes. There are some things that you adapt to. I think to some degree, it is the same with the CBA.”
How have you adapted? Could you give an example?
“Time-wise, you are on the field for different segments. If I pulled up the ’06 offseason schedule, those things are completely different from a time element. You try to be most efficient and get the most out of our time. I thought we had good work today. It was a little warmer than we have had recently. We have had some rainouts where we have been inside. Fortunately, we were able to get outside today. I thought that was good for the fans as well. Last night, listening to the news, it did not sound promising, but the weather held off.”
I am sorry to belabor this. When you adapt is it more mental and less physical, or the same amount of physical but just different?
“There are elements that change from a physical standpoint. If the drill’s in an OTA, and here are the contact limitations, it behooves to make changes to fit within the framework of the rules. One of the first challenges for the new player, the young player coming into our league is, ‘How can we practice without guys on the ground? How do we work with each other?’ The stress in that’s always with your guards, centers and defensive tackles. Those guys are fighting for the same space, if you will. Trying to avoid the unnecessary contact and then teaching that tempo—‘Here are some good examples on film. Here are some bad examples. This is what we’re looking for’—and then communicate that. That would be the physical. From a mental standpoint, there would be a lot more similarities, not as much change. You have your meeting time, you’re installing, and you’re going through the changes that you want to make, all of which is pretty common.”
You’ve practiced during training camp with other teams before. How do you feel about going out to the West Coast and practicing with the Chargers and then having the Texans come here?
“The Texans will be here for a couple of days before we play them. We’ve had over the years a number of joint practices with them. Our fans will receive a chance to see at least one or two practices. Prior to that, I think Los Angeles is our second game. We’ll go out there a few days early. Anthony Lynn and I were together in Dallas and know each other well. We have kind of set that schedule up, have a couple days to practice there. We play on a Sunday, which is a little unusual, because of their stadium. Then you turn around with a little shorter week.”
One guy who stood out today was De’Vante Harris. What sort of growth have you seen from him so far?
“I think he is one of those guys that has picked things up. It is not unusual to have a few plays out here where a guy does some good things and then put the tape on him and be like, ‘Arghh! What were you thinking here?’ He has some good instincts. From the day he arrived here a year ago, he was someone that picked things up pretty quickly. His strength is better, and that is going to help him. He, too, is going to have to factor into the kicking game. He was a really good addition for us a year ago as a free agent.”
How have the CBA limits affected the quality of play during the season?
“I get where you’re going. It’d be hard to tell; I don’t have right in front of me injury data. Based on who you ask, that’d be pretty tough to measure. I think we’re in a business now with 20-30% turnover per roster every year. There was a time back before I was in this league where your roster was intact, and you’d have maybe four draft picks that would beat out four veteran players, maybe a free agent, and there might be seven new players on a given team. The stress on the offseason maybe was not quite so high. The key now is that we are in a business of developing players. The contracts they sign are different. There’s a sense of urgency to get them on the field, rightfully so. So, we’re in the teaching business. That’s all-encompassing. That is their technique, that is how to practice, that is what to do on certain plays. I think there is an evolution here that changes incrementally, sometimes by year, and obviously with the most recent CBA, there were some modifications to how long the offseason was and what you do during the offseason. I will be honest; I find myself spending more time on preparing how to react. There is someone else who is going to decide whether or not it is long enough or physical enough. I have ten thousand other fires I am worried about.”