Adam Gase – December 9, 2016 Download PDF version

Friday, December 9, 2016

Head Coach Adam Gase

(How would you describe the relationship between T Branden Albert and G/T Laremy Tunsil?) – “Very close. ‘B.A.,’ (Branden Albert) he didn’t have to really take him under his wing like he has – everything from daily operation of how to be a pro. ‘B.A.’ is a great role model for really a lot of our younger players. He’s been through a lot. (He’s) fought through a lot of adversity through his career, has had ups and downs, been on good teams, been on teams that haven’t had great seasons, and just for him to be able to constantly communicate with him. If he does something that ‘B.A.’ doesn’t like, being able to approach him and be straight with him, that’s always helpful for a young player because sometimes you don’t know and ‘B.A.’ is one of those guys that he’ll let you know the right and the wrong things to do.”

(Is that something you encouraged T Branden Albert to do from Day 1 or did he kind of take that upon himself?) – “He kind of took that upon himself. We were hoping that that relationship would be good. But I don’t know if any of us really anticipated it being what it is.”

(It appeared LB Kiko Alonso wasn’t practicing again today. With the hamstring, could he play on Sunday without practicing all week?) – “He could. This is going to be a game-time decision for us. That’s one of those one’s you have to be very careful for of what happens in that game, because I don’t know if Kiko knows anything but full speed. He’s going to give everything he has. His body’s telling him right now that’s it’s not where it needs to be.”

(These decisions in December, you’re in the playoff chase. Do you have to take more of the decision making because the player probably thinks I’ve got to go. Do you?) – “That’s where we’ve really encouraged our guys to have to be brutally honest with us, and sometimes you have to set your pride aside and know what’s the best thing for our team. Having a guy come up and be active and all of a sudden go out 10 plays later, you’re hurting us more than you’re helping us. A lot of us have been through some situations where a guy says he can go and then all of a sudden you start that first quarter and then they pull themselves out of the game. You really put us in a bad spot because with the limited amount of guys you have, it trickles throughout the team, not only on one side of the ball but special teams. That’s where really you get hurt. ‘Rizz’ (Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi) needs every body possible, and if we lose a guy because of just thinking … not thinking with their head of saying, ‘Hey, I’m not ready to go.’ That’s where you can get in trouble there.”

(How would you characterize what you are getting right now this week from T Branden Albert and G/T Laremy Tunsil as they’re still not 100 percent?) – “They’re acting like they’re 100 percent. I know they’re not. I know they’re not, but they’re going about their business like they’re good. I know last week, it was not easy for them to fight through during the week. They were ready to go for the game. They did everything they possible could to protect Ryan (Tannehill) and help with the run game. They were just limited on some of the movement. For ‘B.A.’ (Branden Albert) and (Laremy) Tunsil, it’s just more of strength. I think getting through that game and then getting through this week, as far as the way we did things, they seem to be better than what they were a week ago.”

(Did CB Xavien Howard indicate whether he thinks he can go Sunday?) – “We’re still looking … We have to talk about it. That’s always a good discussion for us on Saturday night. We have an idea – as far as some of us – what we think. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be on him.”

(You guys are 5-1 at home. This franchise hasn’t won six home games since 2002 when they were 7-1 at home. Do you feel dominant at home? Are you aware? Were you aware that you are 5-1 at home?) – “I guess our guys are pretty locked into worrying about just this game. Everybody wants to get caught up with the past and when the last time you did anything. Our guys, I’m sure they don’t really care about 2002, because it was a long time ago. I think our guys are focused on the fact that being home, it’s an advantage for us. It helps us on defense. Offense, it makes things a little bit easier as far as what you’re doing cadence-wise and being able to change things up and being able to communicate. With our crowd, if we give them something to get going early, that works to our benefit.”

(Two-part question on LB Mike Hull: One, Will he call defensive calls and signals if he’s a starter? And two, how has he responded in practice getting first-team reps?) – “He did everything last week, and we feel comfortable. He has been doing it since the spring – for the most part – when he goes in there. I think our whole group feels really good when he’s in there. He does a good job. He does everything we ask him to do. He gives max effort.”

(You’ve always been a problem solver. In terms of offensive difficulties in the first quarter – without giving away anything competitive advantage-wise – anything you’ve thought of doing differently in terms of how many plays you script? Have you mulled any changes the last couple weeks?) – “I feel like we’ve had some good drives. We haven’t always finished our drives. A lot of times we’ve put the defense out there first. We’ve had games where we’ve had three or four plays, and then we get the ball. We’ve had games where there have been extended drives and the other teams either put points on the board, or it’s occupied some time. I never really get too caught up with that, because it is a four-quarter game. That’s great if you can come out the first three series and score, but that’s not really realistic in this league.”

(The going 1-0 each week thing – one game at a time – this team has really, really bought in, more than a lot of teams I can remember being around in any sport. Has any other team bought in more that you’ve been around – Chicago, Denver, college level – anywhere you think?) – “A lot of it has come from being around Coach (John) Fox. He always would talk about focusing on what we’re doing right now. When I was with Coach (Nick) Saban as well, that was such a big mantra of ours, that you can’t look … He would always say, ‘Be where your feet are. Don’t try to go past that.’ Our guys have done a good job. It’s easier for players to not have to focus on anything except what you’re doing at the moment. I think our guys like the fact that we don’t talk past this game. We know what we have ahead of us. We know that this is going to be a very tough team to play. Whether we were at home or away, this is a good football team, and they have a lot of weapons. Both sides of the ball, they can hurt you. We have to be on it.”

(In the game a month ago, we saw WR Jakeem Grant being in motion obviously helped a lot in the RB Damien Williams touchdown run. Last week, not as successful with the WR Jarvis Landry run. How has the package with Jakeem done overall? Has it reached your expectations? Do you still want to get more out of it?) – “When we get him in there, we’re trying to really, with the injury situation that we’ve had, we have tried to put Leonte Carroo and Jakeem in there more, and we feel more comfortable because those guys have been taking so many more reps than they had earlier in the season. When you get these young guys reps, that makes everything kind of move a little smoother and you have a lot more faith as far as they know what to do. That’s why we just keep trying to find ways to get all those guys that are active playing on offense and special teams. The same thing with the defense – they’re trying to do the same thing. They’re trying to use as many guys as you can, especially when you get this late in the season, you need all hands on deck. You really don’t want guys standing on the sideline not contributing at all. We’re always trying to get as many guys in there to play as possible. We know anytime we put him in there, it’s a good thing for us because one: it helps maybe take a little bit off of Jarvis as far as what he has to do, and we can move some bodies around with DeVante (Parker) still struggling with an injury. Kenny (Stills) was banged up there for a while. It’s good that we have two young receivers that can come in there and execute.”

(It looked like RB Damien Williams might have tweaked something during the early part of practice. Was he fine? Did he continue on? – “Yes. He was good.”

(What’s your criteria or your philosophy on this decision you have to make with DE Dion Jordan?) – “We haven’t really had too much discussion. We were just kind of waiting to see how he felt and that’s one of those things where, on a day like today or tomorrow, where I sit down with (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannenbaum) and (General Manager) Chris (Grier), and we kind of evaluate everything and see where we’re at and make a decision off that. But it’s tough to just have these long meetings and discuss every little thing during the week. You kind of have to wait until you get that free time on Friday afternoon or Saturday.”

(Do you know if it would have to be that DE Dion Jordan could help you next week or could you look a couple weeks down the road as a possibility?) – “We had some things that we kind of were looking for before he came off of … before he could start practicing. We’ll go back and evaluate all of that information. We have a lot of moving pieces with sports science, strength and conditioning, trainers. So we have to get all of the information together and sit down and make a decision.”

(Have you been pleased with DE Dion Jordan’s approach to it?) – “He’s worked … He’s done everything he’s been asked to do. He’s been fighting to try to figure out a way to contribute. I know it hasn’t been easy for him because it’s been one of those things where we start going, set back, start going, set back. I know that can’t be easy when you’re fighting through that. We’ve seen that quite a bit with some of our guys that have been active, where they feel like ‘I’m back,’ and then something else happens. So it’s not an easy thing mentally for … especially a young guy. You just want to play. You want to contribute and things don’t always go the way you want.”

(How has WR DeVante Parker looked to you throughout the week and do you anticipate him…?) – “He’s done good. Just the fact that he battled through that last week. If you would’ve seen him walking on Monday last week, you would’ve been like, ‘There’s no way he’s playing.’ The fight he showed as far as ‘I’m going to play.’ He kept saying that. ‘I’m going to play. I’m playing.’ We didn’t really game plan for him to play and we had to scramble a little bit there a couple of hours before the game. It was very impressive to see him not want to leave his guys out there. I know there was a lot of pride there as far as making sure Kenny (Stills) and Jarvis (Landry) weren’t out there without him.”

Adam Gase – December 8, 2016 Download PDF version

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Head Coach Adam Gase

(RB Jay Ajayi is 92 yards from a 1,000-yard season. Based on the summer and everything, could you have foreseen this kind of season from him?) – “I think we had a good feeling that our total yardage with our running back group was going to be probably where it is. I don’t know if we could have predicted that we were going to have one guy that was going to be able to statistically get up there, 1,000 (yards) or over. And that was just because when we were going into the season, we felt like we were going to use multiple guys. We did feel like we were going to get all four of those guys involved in what we were doing. So we didn’t know if we’d really have enough touches to say a guy was going to have a 1,000-yard season.”

(Do you think that that 1,000 yard barometer is still a valuable barometer in the NFL?) – “I think so. It’s not an easy accomplishment. I know I’ve been on a couple of teams that we had those types of backs, and sometimes the numbers don’t show that. To do that, you have to be available a lot of the times. It’s about kind of that durability factor, and we’ve all seen how the league’s gone as far as trends with the running backs, and it seems like it’s coming back a little bit, where you’re seeing teams like Dallas and obviously we’re feeling pretty good about what we’ve got going on. There are other teams that are leaning on the running back a little more now.”

(Arizona’s got some eye-popping stats all across the board. Have you figured out why they’re under .500?) – “It’s hard for us to look at records and rankings sometimes. You turn on the tape and you go off of that. When you’re on one side of the ball, you really focus on that side and you really lose track of the overall record because you’re trying to figure out a way to win that week on your side of the ball. With me, I kind of pay attention to all three phases. You can see sometimes what happens is you have some untimely turnovers that may cost you a game here or there. Some things that are unexpected happen, whether it be in special teams. That’s why this league is what it is. That’s why it’s so competitive. It’s so unpredictable, and you may have the right squad out there and sometimes the game doesn’t turn out the way you want it to.”

(QB Ryan Tannehill had obviously been playing so well and the first pick last Sunday hadn’t been his fault. How do you think he played last Sunday overall?) – “I don’t think we really had anybody that was really where we wanted them to be. I know he wanted a better performance out of himself. We just have to get to a point where, when things are not going as planned, we have to find a way to make plays. I always look at myself first with how do we get our playmakers the ball? I didn’t really do that with the play calling. I probably forced the ball on a couple of things with some of our play calls and put our o-line in a bad position. I need to really stick with Jay (Ajayi), because he’s kind of the guy that can open a lot more things up. It was just we all took our turns last week. It was all of us having a bad game at the same time.”

(Did you do any studying on Cardinals RB David Johnson when he was coming into the draft?) – “We did, because we were in the running back market. We evaluated … If you had a pulse, we evaluated you in Chicago. He was impressive. One thing I do remember, I just remember so many explosive plays. It was almost like we were trying to figure out how big he was before we saw him, because on tape it almost looked like he was a grown man playing against smaller players, but he was going against Iowa and some of those other schools, where he was playing at a different speed than everybody else.”

(When it comes to Cardinals RB David Johnson, he was a guy in high school that played a lot wide receiver. They didn’t know if he was even going to play the running back position. Now you guys have a guy like RB Kenyan Drake, who plays some receiver. Do you feel like he has a similar skill set and can do some of those types of same things?) – “He can, but I do think that they’re different – different styles of players. What we do with Drake, we are trying to expand what he does for us as much as possible, but at the same time him being a young player, we have to understand that the more we put on his plate, that’s more for him to really have to process. The thing with him is we want him to be able to play fast, because that’s what gives him a little bit of an advantage over some of the defenders in this league, especially linebackers when he gets on those guys. His speed is really a problem for a lot of those guys. We try to be smart with what we do with him. We don’t try to overload him. We try to make sure that he knows exactly all of the adjustments he has to make and that he can play fast. We don’t want him to think and we want him to react.”

(Any feel yet as to whether this will be the week for CB Xavien Howard?) – “I don’t know right now. We just keep putting his name next to somebody else and we just keep waiting until Saturday and figure out what we want to do that night.”

(I know you have always had the next-man-up mentality, but what has it been like as a defense to play without your entire starting linebacking unit? I mean you’ve lost LB [Koa Misi] early. LB Jelani Jenkins is off and on and now you might have to play without LB Kiko Alonso. What is that challenge like? Does it force you to switch how you’ve got to play?) – “I think it says a lot for what (Linebackers Coach) Matt Burke’s doing in getting his guys ready. I think it says a lot for ‘V.J.,’ (Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph) trying to put our guys in the right position. This league, that’s what it is. We’re not the only team with injuries, especially multiple injuries to one position. It is about getting guys prepared, and that’s why you go through the spring. That’s why you go through training camp. You try to get these guys as prepared as possible so when something like this happens, to where all of a sudden we’re so banged up to where we have a completely crew in there and we have to switch personnel around just to function to where we can get the right guys in there, that’s what this league is. It’s who can adjust and then who can make it work at the end of the day.”

(Through 12 games, wins and losses, good times, bad times, you seem to be pretty even. How do you manage that and have you ever lost your [cool] with this team?)  – “That’s a good question. Every day is a different day. I think our coaching staff and the players have done a good job with staying with what we’ve talked about one week at a time. When we were in the situation where we were in training camp, where we lost a couple guys here and there, and you’re trying to put everything together, and you’re really starting over, if you look too far ahead, it can either frustrate you or really take you off the course that you want to be on, which is focusing on getting better for that day. I think our guys do like the fact that we stay in the moment. We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves. We don’t look back at all. We try to improve on what we did, and move on and get better off of that. Really, that’s been our main focus and our guys embracing that helps me as well, because it doesn’t allow me to do that. And if I did that, they’d call me out really fast. Our guys are not shy about letting me know if I say something and then go back on what I said. So for me, it’s been a great thing for me, as a coach, to be held accountable by our players of, ‘We’re talking about this game. We’re not worried about last game.’ So that’s really been helpful for me.”

(Another big picture question for you, when you became head coach, what did you learn about yourself to be in that top position?)  – “I think the first thing that I learned was you can’t do everything on your own. You have to use the resources you have and being involved with (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike Tannenbaum and (General Manager) Chris Grier, they do such a good job of one: handling so much of the personnel stuff to where my focus is coaching the team. But also, Mike’s been around a long time, and he’s dealt with a whole bunch of different head coaches. Just those little suggestions here and there to help me free up time to be able to help the offense more or to get with the defense to give my two cents or special teams, that has probably been the biggest thing of just allowing myself time to listen. That’s where Mike’s really come in to help me, more than anything, with those little tiny suggestions, that don’t seem like a big deal at the time, but we end up doing something like that and it opens up a lot of things for myself and the coaching staff.

(How cognizant have you been along the way of the fact that the eyes are on you? Like you’re talking about here where players are hearing your message, you’re setting the message, you’re setting the tone and the importance of being aware that because of how it affects the performance.) – “That’s the hardest thing for me is to make sure what I say is I’m following that same message. Sometimes when you’re in coaching, you get kind of in that bunker mentality and your mind can kind of go all over the place. You have to do a good job of staying in the moment, focusing on what we’re doing at that moment, instead of worrying about all of the other things that possibly could be going on. That’s where your coaching staff gets involved, your personnel, your front office – all of those guys are there to make sure all of us stay on track, don’t go outside of that box and really focus on the moment.”

(You’ve said that you kind of feel this, I don’t know a week or two stretch – or even the final four games – you’re going to learn about your team. What elements do you expect to come to the surface over the next week or so?) – “This week, I want to see how we rebound from really all of us not doing our jobs well enough. I’ve loved the way our guys came in on Monday, they found a way to learn from that tape and it’s not easy to watch. When you put something, ‘I don’t like that,’ and you’ve done a good job of getting better week in and week out the previous six weeks, that’s a tough pill to swallow – that we went in there, we played cautious, and they took advantage of us and they poured it on us. And there was nothing we could do. We just were not good enough. To go in there and watch that, and then have to learn from that and correct it, get that day off on Tuesday, and then come back Wednesday and go to work, I thought guys did a great job of moving past that last one, learning from it, and then now pushing forward to the next one. When we show up on Sunday, we know what we’re going to get from that team. We know we’re going to get their ‘A’ game. We know we’re going to get their best performance, and we have to meet that challenge and we have to make sure that whatever we have, we have to give it.”

(Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen said something today – you know how Clyde is (laughter) – where your five-star players need to be playing like five-star players. Do you feel like you’re getting that from everybody in the high-ranked district area of the team?) – “I think a high percentage of the time, yes. I think we’ve all had our moments where we could look back after a game, where we’re like – we need that player or coach, as far as play-callers go – we need to do better. But a high percentage of the time, I think we have. I think our big-time players have played big time a lot of the times. Has there been a couple of games where I’m sure some guys would rather have back or a couple plays back to get them over that hump of really impacting the game? I’m sure. You want as many as you can. It might not be 16-for-16. But if we’re getting 13 or 14 like that, that’s a big step for us.”

(Is there anything significant to report with any of the guys coming off injury?) – “Not that I can think of.”

(And why yellow [no-contact practice] jerseys now?) – “I don’t know. Why not?” (laughter)

Jay Ajayi – December 8, 2016 Download PDF version

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Running Back Jay Ajayi

(You’re closing in on 1,000 yards. What would that mean to you?) – “It’s a good milestone to have as a running back. (To) pick up 1,000 yards on the season would be good for myself, good for the o-line, offense. It’d be a great thing to have.”

(Are you going to get it on Sunday?) – “We’ll see.”

(Have you started thinking about gifts for your offensive lineman if you get there?) – “We’ll see.” (laughter)

(I’m sure that they’ll remind you that it’s customary.) – “Of course.”

(The art of breaking tackles – something that you’ve done so well this year – how much is it personal determination, how much is it just lower-body strength?) – “When I run, I’m not really thinking about it too much. I’m just running, so it’s mostly just instincts and running hard and trying not to go down and pick up as many yards as I can.”

(How humbling was that Ravens loss or film to watch as an offense?) – “It was more (about) looking at the opportunities we had. They did some good things here and there, but we shot ourselves in the foot a lot of the time. That was the thing where we learned when you go against a good team – a team that has experience in December, in big games like that – you have to take advantage of all the opportunities you get, especially in away games. You’ve got to make them count. It was definitely a learning experience for us, and we’re excited to have another game this week to go prove a point.”

(Did you get to know Cardinals RB David Johnson in the draft process last year?) – “No.”

(When you look at Cardinals RB David Johnson, what do you see? Obviously, you’re not going against him, but what do you see when you watch him?) – “He’s basically their team, their offense. He does a lot of stuff for them – catching the ball, running the ball. He’s a very consistent guy, and it shows on film.”

(Do you know how many yards you have in the course of a game?) – “No, not really. I’ll maybe see it on the scoreboard here and there, but I’m not really worried about it too much.”

(You were productive on the ground, you just didn’t have the volume of carries. Is that something you can take away from Sunday?) – “At the beginning of the game, we felt good in the run game. We felt like we were getting them. It was a shame that game kind of got away from us. We weren’t able to stick with our game plan as we wanted to. Looking after the game, I didn’t even know I only had 12 (carries). You definitely want to be able to do more than that on the ground, be more balanced. We’re looking to be able to do that this week.”

(We are about to get to the stage where you’ve never played this many games before – obviously, not in college and not last year either. How are you physically? Is that something you’re conscious with, that it might get harder this month for you?) – “I feel great. I actually feel really good. (I have) been doing a lot of good stuff, sticking with my routine, staying disciplined. My body feels good. I feel like that’s a credit to the strength staff that we have. It’s a credit to our sports science team, our trainers, (Director of Sports Performance) Wayne Diesel – all those guys. They’re great resources. I feel blessed to feel pretty good right now.”

Kiko Alonso – December 8, 2016 Download PDF version

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Linebacker Kiko Alonso

(You’ve had quite the week I guess. How was the surgery and all of that?) – “The surgery went well. I feel good.”

(What’s going to stop you from playing on Sunday?) – “Right now, I don’t know. We’re going day by day. Today I felt good, and we’ll see.”

(How much do you feel like the hamstring impacted you last week?) – “I definitely felt it early on, and then I broke my thumb. It definitely didn’t feel very good.”

(The fact that Head Coach Adam Gase said that you have your fingers might actually help. If you had to club it up would it be a lot harder?) – “Yes. It’s definitely nice to have some fingers instead of no fingers.” (laughter)

(Do you anticipate on playing on Sunday?) – “I don’t know yet. I felt good today, and we’ll see.”

(How much challenge has this linebacking unit faced? I mean you guys have been injury-riddled all season. How challenging is it for the next guy to step up and respond?) – “Hopefully, not that challenging, because everyone prepares like they’re going to play. Whoever is playing, we expect their best, and we expect them to perform.”

(Are you more worried about the thumb or the hamstring?) – “The hamstring, for sure.”

(Who makes the decision on whether you play or not? Is that medical or you?) – “I think it’s everybody – the coaches, medical, (and) me. Everybody.”

(Is it a frustrating type of thing? Because you don’t really know until you have to go full speed? It feels good now, right?) – “Yes, it feels good. But it felt good last week, but the first play, second play, I felt it. It’s just one of those things.”

(Have you ever played with something like that before on your hand?) – “Yes. In college, I had it on my left hand.”

(Was it your thumb as well?) – “No, wrist.”

(How did it go?) – “It went well. It was a little bit easier because I’m right handed. At least I had my right hand free. So I’ll have to adjust to having my right hand casted up.”

(Was it tough not being 100 percent last week with the way things went defensively?) – “No one is 100 percent this time of year. It is what it is.”

(If the young guy, Mike Hull, has to play, what do you think he can do pretty good?) – “Well, that guy’s a monster. Just watching him in preseason, I think you guys could tell that obviously the guy can play. We’ve got full faith in Mike. The guy’s a freaking beast.”

(You’re the type of guy that, if you know you can’t go, you’re not going to go out there and risk it. How hard is that decision?) – “It’s always hard when you can’t go out there and play, especially this time of year when every game is so important.”

Vance Joseph – December 8, 2016 Download PDF version

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph

(I got bad news for you. The last two weeks, you all have given up more yards than any Dolphins team since 1984. The good news is that was a Super Bowl team.) – “Was it? Okay. That’s good and bad news.”

(What’s going on here?) – “The last two weeks, we haven’t played well. Obviously, San Fran, with the quarterback issues with the rush plan, that wasn’t good. He rushed for 115 yards. Last week, we felt good going into the game. What they had shown on tape was a lot of vertical passes to Mike Wallace and to (Breshad) Perriman – all those guys – and short passes to Steve (Smith Sr.), and they kind of flipped it. They threw the ball really quick. He (Joe Flacco) threw 34 passes at halftime, and he held the ball probably the longest (for) 1.5 (seconds), so the d-line couldn’t rush. The ball was out. We were trying to play tight coverage, and it wasn’t happening. We were soft across the middle. At the end of the day, Joe got hot, and we couldn’t stop it. We couldn’t cover them. We couldn’t chase them. We played zone; it was too soft. We played man; we couldn’t chase them. It wasn’t good. It’s Week 13. It’s the NFL and what we’ve done well for the last month and a half, it’s on tape. Everyone is making adjustments, so we have to make an adjustment now and help our guys more.”

(Are you concerned about your – obviously, you’ve got some injuries at linebacker – your ability to cover the middle of the field?) – “Yes. When you’re playing without your starters, there’s always concern, but we expect those guys to go and do their jobs. We had some good defenses called, we just didn’t play them well. Joe (Flacco) made some good throws. He made some good throws. There were a bunch of motions where they moved us out of position to have leverage on the receivers. But whoever is in there, we expect them to do their job, so that’s not an excuse.”

(How tough is what LB Jelani Jenkins has been through, trying to play through that leg injury, and for you, in terms of the comfort level with the linebacker corps?) – “It’s tough for all of us, because he’s a starter for us, and he hasn’t been able to play consistently. After a while, it becomes an issue, because if you don’t have him for two weeks, you’re playing with your backup player. When you do have him, he’s half of what he is. Until he gets healthy, we can’t play with him. We have to play the guys who are healthy.”

(Correct me if I’m wrong, but sometimes when you’re bringing your linebackers and you’re dropping some of the defensive lineman, some call those green dog blitzes. Was the idea behind that to condense or shrink some of those passing windows underneath for Ravens QB Joe Flacco?) – “Yes. When you’re dropping defensive ends with pressures, it’s really attacking the protection. You’re trying to overload one way and bring the guys that way and bob in, in the backside window. It’s really more for protection purposes more than it is coverage purposes. That’s more fire zone stuff. So, you’re playing with three guys underneath and the backside end is still backside window dropping. When you’re pressuring and playing man – and it is crossing routes from the slot – it’s tough in man, but in fire zone, when he crosses, he runs backside to the end. It’s two parts: it’s protection-wise and what routes are you getting versus Cover 1s or versus fire zones.”

(What problems does Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald present?) – “Lots of problems. He’s a big man, and he plays the slot position. Obviously, most of your nickels are smaller, quicker guys. He’s going to be matched up on Bobby (McCain). That’s a big man versus a smaller man. That’s an issue in the run and pass game, because he’s blocking our nickel. He’s obviously a Hall of Fame player. He has great hands. If the ball is close, he’s going to catch it. He’s blocking linebackers; he’s blocking defensive ends. The run game goes through him, and obviously, the pass game goes through him and ’31,’ (David Johnson) the tailback.”

(Can you explain why you wouldn’t move one of your bigger corners?) – “I wish we could do that, but it’s more difficult than you think. The nickel position, it’s blitzes, it’s run fits, it’s coverage. We’ve got Michael Thomas who can do that job, who is a bigger player, so that’s a thought. Don’t share that, guys. (laughter) That’s a thought. You’re asking me game-plan questions. (laughter) That’s a thought, absolutely, but you can’t just take a guy and say, ‘You’re nickel this week,’ because it’s a serious role and it takes time to learn.”

DE Cameron Wake:
“I can play nickel. What’s up?” (laughter)

Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph:
“He’s your size, so maybe.” (laughter)

(I know a couple of more practices, obviously, this week – more so today than tomorrow – but has CB Xavien Howard shown you enough when he’s ready to play, you think he can play significant snaps, or could the first game back maybe be only five to 15 snaps?) – “I think when he’s back, I think we work him in slowly. Right now, he has practiced for two weeks now. It’s really on him (and) how he feels. When he tells me he’s ready to go, I’ll put him out there. Last week, he wasn’t sure he was ready. This week, he’s doing drills. After practice today, hopefully he says he’s ready to go. If not, onto the next week. It’s really how he feels. Once he’s ready to play, we’ll play him.”

(When you break down Arizona, how difficult is it to believe they’re 5-6-1?) – “It’s difficult, because they’re top five in the red zone. They’re top five in third downs. They have a Hall of Fame receiver. They have a No. 1 pick at quarterback. Their halfback is a great player. Not good, but a great player. So, it’s hard to believe they’re not on the winning side of things. Obviously watching the offense, they’re explosive. They’re very explosive in both parts of the game – both run and pass. It’s scary, because they have four or five targets that can run and catch, and their halfback is a leading guy on third downs. He’s going to be a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver. That’s Marshall Faulk-type numbers. It’s surprising, so it’s going to be a challenge for us Sunday.”

(You spoke of a running back that’s putting up Roger Craig-/Marshall Faulk-type numbers. How do you take that away, because he’s a running back that can run routes from the wide receiver position and also out of the backfield and he’s a great runner?) – “Without giving the game plan away, obviously that’s a problem. You put DBs on him. You put big ‘backers on him with leverage, so you can take him away. Obviously, that’s a challenge. He’s a receiver in their empty package, even from the backfield. Obviously in the run game, he’s a downhill, big runner who can make you miss. He has got speed for the big runs. It’s going to be a challenge.”

(In the past when players haven’t played well enough, you haven’t hesitated to bench them. After last week, are you going to make any personnel changes?) – “No, I don’t think so, because it wasn’t effort. It wasn’t a lack of not wanting to do it right. We just didn’t play well, and they played better. We didn’t cover well. They had a good plan where our front couldn’t rush. The bottom line (is) the last two weeks, my issues with our guys is the details of doing their jobs better. We had a play in the game, it was the first third-and-long, where that was – in my opinion – the biggest play of the game, because it was the first time we got them stopped and contained and it was still the first quarter. It was 7-0. Third-and-15 goes to fourth-and-1 and they convert. That was a huge play. That was a mental error that we made. My issue with our guys is details. Again, you’re in Week 13 and the further you go in the season – and the better teams you play – everyone is watching the tape. So, our game plans of what we’re doing, it’s critical that we get them right. The last two weeks we haven’t gotten them right. From San Francisco with zone read issues to last week with the empty and the drop calls. My issue is that. Let’s be more detailed. Let’s get back to doing it right, and then we can see how we fare. But the last two weeks, it has been too much error.”

(Would you agree that CB Byron Maxwell is playing better now than he was earlier in the year, and if so, why?) – “It’s not even close of how he’s playing right now. He played well Sunday. He was not a guy that played soft in coverage. He was up for the challenge. We’ve got young guys in the back end. At one point in the game, I thought it was moving a little fast for them. It’s a big game. It’s a learning experience. It’s their first time being in a game of that magnitude, but Byron didn’t flinch. You can see he has been in big games, and he played really well again Sunday. I’ve been impressed with the guy. He’s putting the work in after practice, during practice, watching film, extra sprints. He has put the work in. I’m impressed by the guy.”

(That’s the reason for the improvement?) – “Absolutely. And I think now he understands our system. When he first got here, he wouldn’t play to the system. Now he is, and he’s playing a lot better.”

(Can you explain why nickel cornerbacks are smaller guys as opposed to … You would think that you’re in the box, maybe you need a guy with a little more size to him like a linebacker?) – “I’ve had larger nickels. But for the most part, your nickel player has to be laterally quick, and smaller guys have the ability to be quicker. But I’ve played with Leon Hall, who’s a bigger nickel, and Dre Kirkpatrick, who’s a bigger nickel. We just don’t have one. We have Bobby (McCain). That’s who we’ve got. Bobby is working his butt off right now. Bobby has played solid football for us. But that nickel spot is a tough position to be in, because he has got a three-way go on you – he’s got vertical, he has got left to right – every snap. You want a bigger guy? Absolutely, if he can move laterally. I’m not opposed to that. If I ever get one, I’ll put him out there, but Bobby is doing a fine job for us right now. He’s competitive. He’s engaged every day. Even Sunday, it wasn’t perfect, but he competed every down.”

(When the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-short in the minus side of the 50, was that surprising to you and the effect it had on the game?) – “It was surprising to me, yes; and we were so soft on the route. It was the same route both times. Again, that comes with experience. I can see it. I knew it was coming, but I don’t play. So, we have to do a better job of getting our guys ready for those fourth-and-shorts. It’s going to be a short pass, and when they condense the formation, it’s going to be a speed out to the sticks. I saw it, but our young guys didn’t.”

(On Sunday’s broadcast, Rich Gannon said multiple times, “Dolphins linebackers are a liability in pass coverage.” Has that been a shortcoming of the linebackers, and does that need to be addressed either with improvement from within or outside eventually?) – “It has not been, in my opinion. Obviously, on Sunday, a lot of things didn’t go right for us. Joe (Flacco) was really hot. They ran a bunch of short routes. This team – going into the game – was leading the league in throwing vertical balls. They threw three passes over 15 yards – that’s it. And they had 375 yards passing. It was a lot of quick game catch-and-runs. Even the one on (Tony) Lippett (that was a) touchdown, it was a 5-yard pass for a 65-yard touchdown … I guess a 58-yard touchdown. It wasn’t a vertical day. They have been a vertical team in the past, and they came out and threw it quick and short and they ran off with it. It hadn’t been a problem in the past, but obviously it was on Sunday.”

(Bigger picture question about Head Coach Adam Gase: In the 11 months since you guys reunited here, what are some of the meaningful things you’ve learned about him now that you’re on the same staff again?) – “He’s a great leader. For a young head coach, he’s a great leader, even in the bad times, he stayed with the process. The guys love playing for him and the guys love following him. He’s a fearless leader. He’s tough. He’s honest. That’s important in that position. Players know where they stand all the time, even coaches. He never flinched, even when we were 1-3, 1-4. He didn’t flinch.”

(What you’re saying about the process kind of … What examples in that process are you talking about specifically?) – “Well, the process of playing the best players. That’s hard to do when you’re a first-year head coach, when guys aren’t playing well, to sit starters, to sit proven players. That’s hard to do because they’ve proven they can play, but at the moment, they haven’t played well. So to (take) proven guys (and demote them), that takes courage in your first year as a head coach. He’s proven that. That’s important: to be honest and to play the best players at all times.”

(What stands out to you about the way he works with the defensive side knowing his offensive background?) – “Just challenging guys to play well. During practice, kind of walking the DBs through what the offense is thinking on certain ‘D and D’s’ (down and distances) or certain formations, so just educating our guys on what the offensive side is thinking in the red zone or third downs or even 2-minutes, so helping our guys that way. It’s a good deal.”

(After the last couple of weeks your rankings defensively have kind of taken a beating, are you surprised you’re 25th in total defense and what are your thoughts on that?) – “I’m not surprised after two weeks. I’m more into wins. So if we win this game this week, I’ll forget about that. But I saw it. Obviously, what are you going to do about it? It’s been two bad weeks that haven’t been good, so I’m not surprised about that. But I’m more into critical stats like winning, points allowed, red zone and those things. The yardage, it is what it is. If we go out and win this week, I’ll forget about it quick.”

(As far as stats, is there a stat that you look at, where it’s more significant, whether it is points allowed or total yardage?) – “I think it’s four or five stats. I think points allowed, obviously, third downs, red zone, turnover margin and those things. Those are your critical stats. Obviously sacks.  (Those are) critical stats that leads to keeping the point totals (to a) minimum. Obviously yards per game, that can be a team stat in some cases, or if you have two games like we’ve had, that stat kind of balloons. The critical stats are keeping the points to a minimum.”

(Getting back to the bigger nickel corner, CB Bené Benwikere is like 5-11, 6-0. What has he not … What does he need to do to factor in that spot?) – “Well, he needs to show us that he’s ready to play. That’s from practice, because he won’t play in a game because he’s on the practice squad. So in practices, he’s got to show us he’s ready to play. If he does that, we can bring him up and he can help us, hopefully. But he was brought in to be in that role. So, hopefully going forward he can prove he can help us and we’ll play him.”

(When you’re dropping guys into zones, a lot of it is guys being able to read their keys getting back to get in their proper depth. You’re putting guys into positions to succeed. How much of it is guys just reading their keys and making the correct reaction to the ball?) – “That’s always the case with players. Some guys do that better than others and some guys don’t. But Sunday was a tough test for guys because the ball was coming out so fast. (Ravens QB Joe Flacco) was hot. Once a guy gets hot, it’s tough to kind of slow him down. I’m not disappointed on how guys in the past have dropped in zones and broke off the quarterback’s look. We’re a match coverage team so we’re close most of the time, and it’s been pretty good. It wasn’t good Sunday, so I can’t say it was.”

(Can Cardinals QB Carson Palmer play that type of game?) – “Absolutely he can. Now again, they’re right now going into the game, they’re (throwing the) second most deep balls in the league, behind Baltimore going into this game. Until you stop it or get it off film, it’s going to be what we saw Sunday. So we have to make adjustments from my side and from the players’ side to kind of put that to bed a little bit.”

Darren Rizzi – December 8, 2016 Download PDF version

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Special Teams Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Darren Rizzi

(Is S Michael Thomas a Pro Bowl caliber guy and why or why not?) – “I would say he is. I think the level that he has played at – Michael Thomas has played at this year – he’s been consistent through 12 games. Again, not a surprise to me only because he’s played like that for the last few years. Not only does he provide leadership in the building, but just the way he goes out there and plays. If you just watch the film and look at this guy and the way he plays in all the four phases that we ask him to play, he plays well in all of them. I think one of the things that gets unnoticed with sometimes is special teams guys in the return game. He’s a good blocker. I think everybody kind of just makes notes on who makes the tackles, and he certainly does a good job doing that in coverage, but here’s a guy that is also a really good blocker. And then the off-the-field stuff, which people don’t see, as well – in the meeting rooms and with the young players and the mentorship and the leadership that he provides – I mean he’s really, again to me, a poster child of a guy that you want to be as a special teams captain. That’s why he got voted again by his peers. I’m sure I said last week I’m biased, but through all of the special teams film I watch, I wouldn’t trade him out for anybody.”

(How does a guy like S Michael Thomas get noticed? Because I’m sure, at least when the players vote, they probably just vote for Matt Slater in New England. How does S Michael Thomas overcome that?) – “I think the one good thing is we play Matt Slater twice a year. I think when we match up against him, as I mentioned to you last week about what Slater said to me every time we play those guys, but it’s hard. I know there are … I think there’s two slots for that position. You know what? I think Mike Thomas has gotten to a point where maybe the two years prior to this, people kind of were like, ‘Who’s that 31?’ But I think by now, people kind of know him. I think when people play us, you can watch how people attack us and game plan against us. They kind of know where he’s going to be on the field, and that’s why we try to move him around a little bit and put him in different spots to try to combat that. I think by now, when people play the Dolphins, they kind of know who ‘31’ is and know where he’s at. I think he’s kind of made a name for himself by now.”

(I was thinking about LB Mike Hull might get a chance to play a lot this week. In your experience, how can special teams, the things you see there, translate to identifying players who might have success on offense and defense?) – “That’s a great question because, one of the things that goes, I know it’s special teams, is all the area that you have to cover and the speed of the game. And usually, if you can make plays on special teams in the open field and all the different things you have to do – the speed of the game and the spacing like I mentioned – usually it can translate to offense or defense. More defense. More defense than offense, I would definitely say that. Mike Hull is a football player. I can remember standing here in the preseason and saying before we even picked a roster that this guy’s making plays in the preseason. The guy makes tackles. So it doesn’t surprise me that he’s had success. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s had success on special teams. It doesn’t surprise me that he had success when he went in last week on defense. I go back and remember watching him play in college, and the guy just made tackles. That’s what he does. I think sometimes people can get caught up and look at height and speed and size. If you look at the guy, you might not pick him out of the lineup at the Dunkin Donuts. They might not know he’s an NFL player if he walked in there, but when the guy is on the field, he just makes plays. I go back to a conversation I had with James Franklin and his coach when I went up there – actually it was on a tour with my daughter. I went by the football office and Mike was here as a rookie last year and exactly what James Franklin said he was, is exactly what he is. He said you are going to love this guy. Do not get caught up in his size. Do not get caught up in his looks and his height and his weight and arm size. Just watch him play. Put the film on and watch the guy play, and it’s exactly what’s happened with him.”

(CB Lafayette Pitts keeps showing up every week. What’s he been doing well and is he guy who could become a core special team’s guy?) – “You know, right now he is. The last two weeks he has been a core guy. He’s been on all four units of the core team. He’s actually on our field goal blocks. He’s actually on five units now. I remember the first week he played, we said ‘Alright, we’re going to give him a little bit and see how he does.’ He performed well so we gave him a little bit more. Every week, we’ve given him more, and it hasn’t been too much to handle. He plays fast. He’s physical for his size. He’s a smaller guy in stature, but he’s really put together well. He’s in great shape. His speed – his play speed – has showed up for sure. And his play speed showed up in practice (which) is one of the reasons we put him on the active roster. We thought that, ‘This could translate to games. We’re going to have another guy that can help us here.’ That’s all he’s done. He’s been a guy that, the last four weeks, has really played well, like you said.”

(On K Andrew Franks’ miss last week, was that a case where the mechanics were good and he just pulled it or was there more to that miss?) – “No. He actually hit a good ball. When you coach kickers and punters, I know the fans don’t want to hear this, but sometimes there’s a good miss and a bad miss. He actually hit the ball well. His aiming point was a little off – if you want to get real technical on it – his plant foot. He actually made really good contact with the ball. Listen, 46-yard field goals in December, the northeast, outside, you’re going to miss once in a while. Unfortunately, we have to have that one. We have to make those field goals. He knows that. But again, we’re not going to overreact. There have been 120 missed field goals this year and 55 missed extra points. That’s 175 missed kicks. We’re not going to overreact over one. But he knows he’s got to make that. Our confidence in him is still the same. I feel the same way I did this week as I did last week about him, and the week before that. We just have to make that kick. He had a great practice day yesterday and we’re right back at it this week with him.”

(You have a couple of cold weather games in New York and Buffalo coming up. Is there a certain range that you have with K Andrew Franks going into those cold weather games? Obviously, the weather depends on whether you decide to put him out there or not.) – “No doubt. Exactly. It really depends on the exact day when we get there, to be honest with you. The wind conditions … Sometimes the cold is a little bit overrated. It’s the wind. So we’ll get out there. And sometimes you’ll have a heavy wind behind your back. If you go to Buffalo late in the year, you could have a heavy wind one way and be struggling the other way. We could have a range where it’s 55 (yards) one way, and maybe going back the other way it’s only 40 or 45 (yards). It really depends on the direction of the wind, not to get too technical, and kind of exactly what the conditions are. But, those are tough games – divisional games up there. Not to look too far ahead, but it really depends on what happens on game day. The day before it can be 30 degrees and 25 miles per hour winds and you get out there on the day of the game and it could be completely different. So we kind of take it … Heck, I’ve had days up there … I remember one year in Buffalo, we went out there and I think it was with Dan Carpenter. We went out at like 11 o’clock to warm up, and I’m talking about there was like a 15 degree difference between 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock. The warm up was completely different than the actual game time, the way it worked out. The wind completely changed and everything. It’s kind of a wait and see approach with that, but his general range, he makes field goals in the 50s all the time in practice. Heck, he’s made 60-, 64-, 65-yarders in practice – things like that. He’s got plenty of leg strength. We have to make the kicks that are … He’s missed a couple of short ones this year. Those are the ones we have to make, for sure. It’s not the really long ones I’m concerned about.”

(Going back to CB Lafayette Pitts, he told me that he’s always felt like he belonged. What allows him to be as confident as a rookie undrafted free agent as he has been?) – “It starts with his personality. He’s a confident guy. I kind of liked that when he first came in. We separate the guys and we put them into groups and when the veterans showed up, he was a guy that wasn’t star struck and he wasn’t wowed by all the veterans. He just kind of got in the drills and he was going. He made some plays in the preseason. It wasn’t enough to get him on the 53(-man roster) initially but it certainly was enough, I think everyone in the building wanted him on the practice squad, because they saw that this guy had potential to move and quickly develop. He did a hell of a job in the practices. Since he’s been on the practice squad, he’s really shown up every week. But he’s just a confident guy. He’s got, like I said, a great physical stature. He’s a big weight room guy. He’s a strong guy. He can run. So those things usually translate to special teams, and that’s why he’s been able to have success so far with us.”

(Two things on punt returns. Has the decision been made pretty much that WR Jarvis Landry will be the primary guy over the last month? And also, RB Kenyan Drake had one punt return at Alabama. Only one. Did you see enough this summer to get any sort of gauge as to whether he’s a long term option as a punt returner?) – “Yes, (Drake’s) one punt return at Alabama was a deal where they had a couple of guys. But, they do those rugby punts in college, so the ball comes out different. It’s a whole different game. To answer your first question, we’re going to keep doing the punt return personnel the way we’ve been doing it all year, really situationally with Jarvis and Jakeem (Grant). It hasn’t changed. You saw last week, Jakeem was in on a going-in punt and Jarvis was in. So it really depends on the situation and the call we have in. That’s really what I’ve been saying all year. It’s going to still be a two-headed monster there. As far as Drake goes, we have worked with him on punt returns since he’s gotten here, and he’s kind of the third guy – if you will – if we got down that far. Hopefully we don’t. There are a lot of things Kenyan Drake can do. He has caught punts in practice. He did do it at Alabama a little bit, so it’s something that’s kind of a work in progress there with the punt thing with him.”

(DT Jordan Phillips doesn’t factor on returns?) – “Jordan Phillips? He’s one-for-one. (laughter) There are a lot of things he can do. If he’s back there in a game, you may want to double check the inside of my head somewhere.” (laughter)

Clyde Christensen – December 8, 2016 Download PDF version

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen

(RB Jay Ajayi is 92 yards away from a 1,000 yard season. I’m just curious of your perspective, is this something you could foresee in the summer? It has surprised a lot of us that he’s had such a big year) – “I think we were hoping. I’m not sure I could say I saw it, but we were hoping. We hadn’t seen him and there wasn’t a whole bunch of evidence out there. You just didn’t have a ton of film when you came in here on Jay Ajayi. We were certainly hoping. It was an up and down ride with him initially, early, and just kind of in the search (for a lead running back). But he’s really been a pleasant surprise. He’s really had a nice year and he looks like a pro running back out there. He’s physical, he comes and he goes hard every week – week after week after week. He’s earned it the hard way. He’s had a couple of big games, but there have also been some games where it hasn’t been easy sledding. He’s been physical. He’s stayed healthy and kept himself in there and kept pounding it up in there. He’s really, really had a nice year – a really nice year.”

(You guys in two of the last three weeks have struggled to score. If it wasn’t for a late rally in Los Angeles, you would have been shut out, and in danger of that again last week. What’s gone wrong those weeks?) – “We’ve just played bad football. We just haven’t taken care of the football side of it. This week, I think we had five snap or pre-snap penalties and snafus with the snap count, et cetera, et cetera. We had major penalties; we had the face mask, we had the holding, we had the personal foul. All of those things that kind of throw you off schedule that we’re not good enough yet, we’re not explosive enough yet to overcome. They’re hard for us to overcome. I just think the negative plays in both of those two games – whether it’s a sack, a penalty, a minus-yard run, a drop, a miss by the quarterback, any of those things – any negative plays we’ve had a hard time overcoming and those two games we haven’t executed very well. I don’t know that it’s been anything other than just bad ball.”

(I know we ask about WR DeVante Parker every week. Two things this week, what did he show you by playing last week with that back injury and what happened on the ball that DB Ladarious Webb took in the end zone?) – “The first part of the question, I’ve never questioned his wanting to play. I don’t think anyone has a question. This game is a hard game. I have a hard time questioning a guy’s heart. I think he wants to play. He plays hard. He goes in there and he throws his body around and I’ve never had any reason to question his heart in this thing, or his desire to play football. I probably question doctors’ diagnosis’ more than I question him. They tend to go up and down and up and down. (laughter) I was a little bit surprised he did play, but I wasn’t surprised that he was going to give everything he could to play. As far as that ball that goes up, same thing. You don’t know how much the injury hurt him, but from a coaching standpoint you’d say, ‘We’ve got to catch that ball or we’ve got to pass interfere or do something to make sure that ball doesn’t get intercepted.’ We certainly coached it and we certainly expected a ball like that – especially a guy like him, who wants alley oops thrown to him, who wants a jump ball thrown to him – but we’ve thrown two that have gotten picked. They can’t be picked. They may not be big plays, you may not catch them all, but they can’t be turnovers. We had the first down one at the Rams was a big one. It was a first-down play after we’re trying to get things going and you take a shot to your big guy and it can’t get picked. It just can’t get picked.”

(Given the pre-snap look, should WR DeVante Parker have felt the safety coming over the top?) – “No. That sucker was humming. (laughter) We’d try to hold it off, but you’d have to be able to tell the future to know that guy was going to make that kind of a play. He made a heck of a play. We did say all week that their Mike linebacker and their free safety, when they got a jump, they sold out and went. You can get them out of position, but some people start working their way that way. These two guys take off and run, so we did know that. But we’ve got to come down with that or we’ve got to break it up and we can help at the quarterback position holding that thing off a little bit with our eyes and just freezing (the safety). But he covered a ton of ground. I don’t think anything pre-snap would have told you don’t mess with that. I think it was more him making a heck of a good play.”

(At this point in the season when you are looking for a spark, what’s your and Head Coach Adam Gase’s philosophy about how much to weave in plays that you haven’t shown teams on tape. We saw one with WR Jarvis Landry out of the backfield but it didn’t work out last week. Is there a philosophy that you’d like to weave in one or two of those a week?) – “We really want to weave in the ones that work. (laughter) The minus-yard plays, weaving those in isn’t exactly what you have in mind. So we’re going to try to weave in a couple of positive ones here in the next couple of weeks. But no, you do. Everybody has a lot of tape on you. We’ll go back into the division where they’ve played you already, so I think it’s two-fold. One, yes you want to give them a little changeup. Same thing I think still with us is you’re still figuring out what different guys can do. You’re still dealing with injuries. What if ‘11’ (DeVante Parker) doesn’t go? Where do our big plays come from? What do we try to … ‘He is going. He feels good. He’s had a good week of practice.’ It’s always kind of fluid. It’s always moving around a little bit. You’re always looking for things like that. You do want to give them a little different formation. Adam does a great job with that, of just giving them different formations and changing that thing up. I probably tend to be more from the … that all great teams have tendencies. I’m probably more on the conservative side, so it’s a good little mix. (Gase) usually wins, but I do think there’s something to doing the same thing over and over and over again and getting good at it. Then it doesn’t matter what they do. You do it better. You do what you do better than they do what they do. It’s a mix in there of those things and it’s always some fun and good and lively conversations with Coach Gase and I, but he does a great job of giving different looks. He’s a creative guy. I’m probably not. I’m probably whatever the opposite of creative is. (laughter) I’m probably boring. ‘Let’s do the same thing over and over and over and over and over again.’ Luckily, he wins a high percentage of those discussions. But yes, it is. One thing I always laugh at, that’s why you love to have good coaches around you. It’s lonely. You’re trying to put that game plan together in Week 14 and you’ve tried everything. You’ve tried every formation. You’re just dying for a new idea. There aren’t that many new ideas. It’s still football, but we do have a creative staff. Of course, Adam is an extremely broad thinker. That really helps this time of year. I would flounder at this time if I was alone, just because you start running out of things and it just feels dry. It is hard to be creative now.”

(You’ve coached on a lot of championship teams. You’ve coached playoff teams. Do those teams play different in December? Do they play faster in December as they see what might be ahead?) – “That’s really a good question. I always wrestle with it because you can’t say both. The sales pitch … One side of the coin says everything has to rise in December and the other side says you still win the games the same way – running the ball, don’t turn it over, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All of the things that coaches keep saying over and over. So I would conclude, and what I believe, is this: you don’t have to do anything more than you’ve been doing. You still win the games the same way. But (in) December, the good teams are doing what they do really well, because you’ve been doing it that long. We talked to our team Wednesday, yesterday, and said ‘If you’re a lineman, your pass sets should be the best they’ve … because you’ve been doing it for three months. You’ve been working together for three (months). You’ve got the calls for three (months). You’ve worked on your three-step drop for three months.’ It ought to be the sharpest it’s been. The bad teams are worried about their offseason and start making offseason plans, and the good teams are doing what they do extremely sharp, because they’ve been doing it and they focus on it and it’s getting better and better and better. I don’t know that you raise your game as far as trying harder. Hopefully you’ve tried as hard as you can the whole time; but I do think there’s a sharpness that the good teams – that the great ones – are on top of their game in December because they’ve built up to that, because they’ve had a good routine. I do think you should play your sharpest football in December, but I’m careful to say everything has to elevate. Everyone says it all speeds up in the … Well, if it speeds up, I would question how come we didn’t run our fastest in the first and second and third quarter (of the season). I think your margins do get tougher. We talk to the team about that all the time: now you are playing the better teams and there’s so much at stake. You’re not going to slip by someone for the most part when you’re playing the good teams. Arizona has a ton at stake this week. We have a ton at stake this week. Do you still win at the same …? Sure, it’ll still be the team that executes and doesn’t fumble and doesn’t turn the ball over and those things, but they’ll be sharper than they probably were in September. We should, or better be, sharper than we were in September also. Does that kind of answer your question? It’s a little of both on the thing. I always wrestle with, because you do tend to say … I do think your five-star players have to play five-star football in December. That’s what you pay that top 10 percent of guys extra money for, is for these games. They do get important. I do think that. I do think those five-star guys have to play five-star or you’ve got problems.”

(How would you evaluate how T Branden Albert did, particularly in light of the handicap he was playing with?) – “I think he battled. I think he held in there. I think he probably did better than I thought you could do against a quality rusher like he was going against with one hand. I thought he really, really played well, considering (his injury). It wasn’t completely clean, but it was awful good. He stayed between his guy and the quarterback, and that’s a hard position to play against a really good player on the road, where you’re late off the snap count and et cetera. Everything was set for him to have a rough day and he really battled. I thought he really held up well, especially considering (his injury).”

(How eager are you to get your ideal five linemen out there again? Are we going to see them playing at their best? We’re almost at the end of the season) – “I sure hope so. We’re extremely eager. The good news was it did give us a jump start when we did have them together. Again, telling the future isn’t one of my strengths, so all I can do – just like everyone else – is hope. I think I am going to start getting my medicine degree and start signing up for some courses in medicine as this job seems to handle medicine evaluation and rehabilitation. I’m just kidding. (laughter) But the truth of the matter is it is. It’s inexact. That’s what is fun about our job. That’s one thing I like about coaching – every day is different. Every week is different. It’s a different opponent. Your obstacles in this building are different, whether it’s an attitude, whether it’s an injury, whether it’s a surprise fall in the shower. (laughter) It’s just always changing. You get a game plan ready and they don’t play what you hope they played. It’s just one of the fun things about this job. It’s never the same two days in a row. I mean that seriously, that’s one of the things I do enjoy about coaching, that it is a constantly changing deal. I hope we get (Mike) Pouncey back. I hope something miraculous happens tonight and we have him back tomorrow, but you just have these contingency plans and you just go do the best you can and you play the hand you’ve got and it’s all you can do. It can derail people. I’ve seen it derail head coaches. I’ve seen it derail people. That’s part of being good at what we do. That’s part of being a good head coach, that it is the next man up. You don’t flinch. You’ve just got to go. Coach (Tony) Dungy was phenomenal at it. Adam (Gase) has been phenomenal this year, especially in his first year. There are all kinds of stuff that comes across the way and he hasn’t flinched. You just keep going. It hasn’t all gone well, but you just keep swinging. I’m sure these next four weeks will be the most exciting of them all, I think. At least we put ourselves in position that these are going to be an interesting four weeks. We’ll learn a lot about ourselves. We’ll learn a lot about our football team. We’ll have to make some more adjustments and hopefully we get some great news too and pick up a couple of pick-me-ups in these next two weeks. Maybe we get some good news on ‘Pounce’ (Mike Pouncey). Maybe we can head in down the stretch with everyone intact. That would be terrific.”

(What’s the level that TE Dion Sims is playing at right now?) – “I think he’s playing extremely well. We’ve used him inside a lot. It may not be the biggest number, but I think the tight end position has played as consistent as anyone. We’ve said it a lot of times. I’ve said it to you guys, for those guys being a two, three, and a four (string on the initial depth chart), they’ve come in, haven’t missed a beat, and played good solid football. ‘Q,’ (MarQueis Gray) the same thing. For a guy that started the season as a third tight end, and to come in and play at the high level he’s played at. I think it’s been one of the really pleasant surprises of the whole fall, the consistency of that tight end room, especially after losing our top guy. I think those guys have been really good. I think that (Sims has) played at a high level. He’s been consistent. He had that little hiccup with the concussion that he couldn’t help; but he jumped right back in there. He’s a good physical presence. Those guys are hard (to find): the guys who can catch passes, and block, and hold up against defensive ends. He’s a unique combination of all those things. He’s really been an important guy. He always was, but especially … because we lost the top guy, he’s had to take on a bunch. I think he’s really had a great year.”

(The way QB Ryan Tannehill played last week. Do you just flush that? He played obviously at a high level on the six-game winning streak. When a guy has a slip like that, what do you do?) – “I would say this. The whole unit, and probably bigger, but I’ll just speak for the unit. When we got together and compiled grades, no one played well, which is a little bit confusing. It was such a big game and we just laid an egg. We didn’t play well. The only thing you can do is just turn the page and go to the next one, and not let one turn into two. I don’t have an explanation for it. If it was one or two guys, it would be easier to explain. But really, we didn’t have one guy who played at a high … played one of his better games, which you would hope showed up. That was disappointing; I thought it was really disappointing. I thought that was really going to be a good football game. It was a great opponent; it was great training for what’s down the road. We’re going to have two more possible foul weather games on the road in hostile environments, against good football teams. That (game in Baltimore), hopefully is an outlier. We have to make that an outlier. Our theme this week is, ‘Let’s get right back on the track. The same way we won games, let’s get right back to it. We slid out of our lane, hopefully just for a week, a short thing. And now let’s get back to playing good football in the same way we went on the streak, which is not turning it over, running the ball well, being physical, cutting down on the critical errors, and the negative plays, and the mistakes.’”

Ryan Tannehill – December 7, 2016 (Conference Call) Download PDF version

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill Conference Call with Arizona Media

(You guys were on such a nice roll there. Obviously, last week was kind of a hiccup. How do you guys bounce back from that? Do you feel like you still have a lot of momentum from the winning streak, or do you feel like there are a lot of things you have to fix after last week?) – “Well, there are definitely things we have to fix. We didn’t come out and play well at all – I think – on any phase of the game. Offensively, we made too many mistakes and left too many plays out there. When you play a good team on the road, obviously, you can’t have those mistakes. (We) need to get those corrected. That’s what we’ve been working on the past few days. Now, we’re prepping for Arizona. It’s a one-week-at-a-time league. It really doesn’t matter what you did the week before. You have to show up each and every week. We have to learn from the last one, put it behind us and get ready for the next one.”

(The Cardinals have RB David Johnson who has become a bell cow in this offense. How important is it for you to have a guy like RB Jay Ajayi running the ball to open up that offense?) – “It’s huge. Jay has been big for us this year. I think really getting the running game going was crucial to us starting the ball rolling in the right direction. I think the first big game he had – the first couple games that we beat Pittsburgh and (the) New York (Jets) – were huge. That kind of set the momentum – set the tone – for us offensively. Obviously, (he) had those huge games, but (has) just been consistent. He runs hard, physical, tough and gets those tough yards after contact. It has been a big help for us offensively.”

(Last week aside, what else has gone into the offensive improvement before that?) – “I think guys are coming together. I think (it’s a) new offense, new scheme, and it just took a little bit of time for us to gel together and really come together. I think we were on the right track. Things weren’t going well on Sundays for us early in the year, but we were on the right track. We just stayed the course, kept to our process, kept improving our process and getting better each and every week. And then finally, we started to see some success.”

(Is there any one thing when you look at this  Cardinals defense on video that jumps out at you?) – “They have a really good defense. You see a good front, good pass rushers, secondary guys make plays. Obviously, Patrick Peterson is well known and for good reason. He’s a really good player on the outside. But the defense as a whole, they have playmakers all over the place and do a really good job in their scheme.”

(Do you prepare in any specific way for a guy like Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson? He’s been thrown away from a lot this year. Do you approach him any differently than you would an average cornerback?) – “I think you have to. You’re aware of him as a player, just like you’re aware of an elite pass-rusher or an elite linebacker. You’re aware of guys that can have a big impact on the game. Not necessarily that you’re avoiding him throughout the whole game, but you’re aware. You want to make sure that it’s the right matchup, it’s the right shot and the ball is in the right location. If you do leave one behind the receiver or throw one when you shouldn’t, he’s going to get it. Just an awareness of where he’s at in the game is a big part of it.”

(Do you pay attention to where he is on maybe every play? Like do you try to sneak a peak and see where CB Patrick Peterson is lined up?) – “Yes, I think that’s part of it is seeing how they’re going to play it. He’s played a couple of different ways throughout the year whether he’s shadowing a guy or sticking to his side a little more or, like I said, following a guy. We’ll just have to see early in the game how they’re playing us and adjust from there.”

(Did you think you were going to get rid of Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones when he got traded from the Patriots?) – “That’s the thing about the league is you’re always going to come back around and play guys again, no matter where they’re at. The good thing is now I don’t have to see him twice a year. (laughter) But yes, I have a ton of respect for him and his abilities and him rushing the passer.”

(What makes him such a good pass rusher?) – “I think he is really good with his hands. I think he does a great job of using his hands, knocking down the tackle’s hands and being able to hug tight to that edge and get pressure in that way. I think he does a good job of mixing that with a bull rush and just pushing the tackle back. He has a few moves that he’s really good at and that have been really successful for him.”

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