Matt Burke – May 6, 2017 Download PDF version

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke

(Could you give specific reasons about why you think you guys will be better against the run? Be it DE William Hayes, be it LB Lawrence Timmons. Just go over reasons that have led you to have at least hopefully some measure of confidence that you’ll stop the run better.) – “Well, statistically we can’t get much worse, right? So hopefully there’s going to be a little bit of an upgrade there. I just feel good about all the moves we’ve made this year. I think at every level of defense, if you look towards the end of the season – even the back end with Reshad (Jones) being out, who is obviously one of our better tacklers from the safety positon; even Kiko (Alonso) being hurt, he had a hard time with the hand and stuff like that. I think we’ve added players at all three levels of the defense that’ll all help us in the run game.”

(As the draft is unfolding…) – “It was a good weekend, huh? (laughter)”

(Did you feel like it was Christmas in April as one defensive player is drafted after another?) – “No. (laughter) It’s funny. Going into the draft, everyone – at least from our perspective – thought it was a defensive sort of heavy draft. I was having a conversation with (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannebaum) and he’s like, ‘Oh, this is going to be your worst nightmare if this happens or these guys fall.’ And I literally looked at him and I said, ‘Mike, let’s take the best player available.’ I really do (think that). I think (General Manager) Chris (Grier) and Mike and the scouts, they do a great job. I mean it worked out well for me, so I wasn’t complaining; but we evaluated everybody honestly and set the board just how we thought they fit for the team as a whole. But yes, it was fun. When I kept getting called in there every round, every round they kept calling … (interrupted by someone’s phone ringing) I planned that so I could stop answering the question. (laughter)”

(What do you like most about DE Charles Harris?) – “A lot of things. We thought he was one of the more polished pass rushers in the draft. We liked his make-up, his intelligence; he’s a really bright kid. I know (General Manager) Chris (Grier) has told the whole story about sort of cancelling his visit. After we met him in Indy, we just felt really good about the package as a whole. So as a player, he’s explosive. He’s one of the more twitchy edge players, we felt, in the draft. So we’re excited to utilize his skillset there. We, again, didn’t really think he was going to be available to us where we picked him, so we were pretty happy.”

(After the DE Charles Harris pick, General Manager Chris Grier said, ‘We are going to tweak the defense to help Wide 9 players be good run defenders.’ Some folks say Harris isn’t that big, he’s not a natural edge setter and all those sorts of things. What can you share about this possible tweak?) – “Yes. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a tweak per se, but one of the advantages of the Wide 9 is that our edge players – our defensive ends in particular – don’t have to play in seven-technique squared up in the C gap. It’s one of the hardest things for even a guy like Cam (Wake), ‘undersized defensive end,’ to have to play in a square stance and play head up and taking on offensive tackles. We don’t ask our edge players or defensive ends to do that. So for us, it’s more just the philosophy or the scheme and we allow our ends to play in space more than having to play really in tighter quarters, so we think that we can utilize the skillset of that type of athlete there. So I’m not sure it’s going to be tweaked necessarily like a lot different from what we’ve done, but the way we ask our ends to play is different than a traditionally sort of Over 4-3, square defense.”

(So you don’t think that that has contributed to some of the run-stopping problems that you guys have had, especially with how much that compromises the linebackers?) – “I don’t. I’ve been in this scheme since probably about 2007 with the Tennessee Titans, when I first got in the league, and I’ve been in part of … Probably half of the years I’ve been in the league, I’ve been in the top five run defensive teams. I have to look up the stats on that, but I’ve never had a problem stopping the run doing it. People are always easy to point to that as the nine-technique and say that’s why we didn’t stop the run. I think we had issues at every level of defense that we have to address, tackling probably being one of the foremost ones; but I don’t think that the scheme is specific to having run problems.”

(Can you talk about what this opportunity personally means to you and how ready you are for this?) – “I wasn’t ready for this press conference. (laughter) Yes, it’s exciting. Obviously, as a coach in the profession and sort of personal goals for rising up through the ranks, I mean I feel like I’ve put a lot of work in. It’s crazy this is about my 14th year in the league coming up. It seems like a lot. So I’m excited. I’m thankful to (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) and to the organization for giving me the opportunity and for having the confidence in me to take this next step. So we’re just ready to go back to work. All I know is to work hard and try to figure out the answers to the problems.”

(What are the strengths of this defense right now?) – “I think we have a lot of depth relative to where we’ve been. Again, I think (General Manager) Chris (Grier) and (Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Mike (Tannenbaum) did a great job leading up to the draft, filling some sort of holes or just bringing in some extra guys for competition. I like that we’ve been in the system, the majority of the guys have been in the system and the confidence level, just the guys coming back – we’ve had the vets here for three weeks now I guess it’s been. Just seeing their confidence sort of in the scheme in what they’re doing and what they’re being asked and sort of that comfort level, I think is just naturally going to help them grow in the scheme. And I think just to me, its confidence and the attitude as they come back. I just really enjoyed seeing the guys be back in the building. You just can feel it. I know (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) has talked a little bit about feeling that swagger and sort of … You just feel the guys, their comfort level is so much different. They know what to expect from us and what we’re asking from them. Again, the pieces that we’ve added, I think the guys are ready to take the next step.”

(Is LB Raekwon McMillan going to start his professional career practicing at outside linebacker?) – “I don’t know yet. We’ll see. I know I’ve mentioned this before. Personally, I believe, and I think the organization believes, it’s important to have multi-talented players. Everyone talks about what New England does with tight ends and running backs that are receivers and all sort of things. So I think defensively, one of our philosophies is the same. It’s having guys that are interchangeable, that can play multiple positions, that can matchup in different areas week to week. So we’re taking all those guys. I know the question has been asked about Kiko (Alonso) and Lawrence (Timmons) and now Raekwon (McMillan). We need, and you guys saw what happened to our linebacker depth last year. We had a plan going into Week 1 and Koa (Misi) by Week 3 is not playing and Jelani (Jenkins) is in and out and all this stuff. So our plan for all of those guys is to literally cross train them and to try to get the most and find out what the best fit is. And honestly, it may be week to week. I don’t know. It may be this week Raekwon fits better for us in this position and Lawrence is out here. Or maybe there’s a better option to match Kiko up with somebody that we feel good about. I know you guys feel like we’re probably being vague about things, but in honesty, we want to get the best matchups and have the ability to move guys around. And also, if an injury happens, that we can slide a guy in and it’s not a big loss or it throws everything off when all of a sudden one guy gets a high-ankle sprain and has to miss a couple of weeks. Raekwon has been in the building for about 48 hours now, maybe a little bit less even. He’s a bright kid. He’s kind of everything we thought he was in terms of personality and make up, so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue for him to sort of get into it and learn what we’re asking him to do.”

(Do you not think that there’s value to having three inside linebacker types on the field together? Playing together as a unit?) – “What do you mean inside linebacker types?”

(LB Kiko Alonso, LB Lawrence Timmons and LB Raekwon McMillan, they all pretty much have most of their experience at inside linebacker. Can it work?) – “Yes. I mean I think it’s again – I talked to the organization about this too – I mean I don’t … I look at them as linebackers. I mean, honestly, I don’t look at, let’s say Kiko. I don’t look at him and say he’s an inside linebacker or he’s an outside linebacker. For the way we play our defense, we play with three off the ball guys. Again, like week to week, there’s different challenges of ‘the Sam (linebacker) is going to match up with this guy one time’ or ‘the inside linebacker is going to be asked to do this.’ So I don’t see … I know everyone’s on to Raekwon. Earlier it was about Kiko. ‘Where are we going to play Kiko?’ Kiko is a good football player and we’re going to utilize his skillset. The same thing (Head Coach) Adam (Gase)’s always talked about, we’re going to put our players in the best position to be successful and to help us win. So I don’t look at any of them specifically as inside linebackers or outside linebackers. I think they all have diverse skill sets and we’re going to utilize them week to week the best way possible to help us win.”

(You have more left, right linebackers versus strong, weak side?) – “I’ve done both. Again, we haven’t really … Again, Lawrence (Timmons) and even say Raekwon (McMillan), they’re fairly new to the organization and to really get to know what their actual strengths are and being around them. So in the past, I’ve done that. Probably one of the better years when I was in Detroit, we had DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant were outside linebackers and (Stephen) Tulloch was in the middle, and they just played right and left. If the tight end came out to this side and you were the ‘Sam,’ if the tight end came out to that side, you were the ‘Will.’ So I’ve done that. I’ve flipped. I’ve done stuff where you put one guy behind the three-technique all of the time to protect him. There are a lot of ways to deploy your linebackers and utilize them and I’ve literally done all of them in my career. So again, it’s a matter for us of going through the process and finding out, at the end of the day, this is the best way that Raekwon (McMillan), Kiko (Alonso), Lawrence (Timmons), Mike Hull, Neville (Hewitt) – all these guys that have played for us – are going to be successful and what’s going to help us win. And again, that may be different week to week. I don’t know. The challenges are varied every week. That’s a unique position. To me, you guys look at the way the tight ends have gone in this league – and running backs to some extent – there are different types of tight ends. There are different types of running backs. I think your safeties and linebackers have to be sort of the same (and) have the same varied interests or same varied skillsets to be able to matchup with those guys. And tat may be different week to week.”

(Yesterday, DE Charles Harris said he’s just going to follow DE Cameron Wake around.) – “Yes, that’s not bad.”

(It’s one thing to hear instruction and soak everything coming from coaches. How much does it further a player to get maybe that same instruction from a fellow player? And the words and actions coming from him?) – “Yes, you guys have been around Cam (Wake). He’s the ultimate professional. He does everything right, off the field, on the field. So to say someone’s going to try to model his career after what that kid’s done, that’s great. It helps. It obviously helps. Again, part of what (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) has tried to build in the locker room, with the culture that we put in here and the leaders and the guys sort of taking charge, it always helps. They can only listen to me so long; but if I’m trying to make a point and then Cam comes up and makes the same point to Charles (Harris), then that’s obviously very helpful to the coaching staff.”

(Are the differences between you and former Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph more subtle or will it be very obvious to the fans both in philosophy, practice, game day, and what is your general defensive philosophy?) – “(It will) probably (be) subtle to everybody. Vance (Joseph) and I worked together. We’re very close. Obviously you guys know we worked together for three years and took a lot from each other, I think. I’ve mentioned other guys in my past with Jim Schwartz and Jeff Fisher and those guys that I’ve worked for. So my philosophy is sort of culled from all of those guys. But Vance and I, when we came here last year, we had been together for the two years prior and we put a lot kind of in together and took some of the stuff I had from my past and stuff he had from his past. So I don’t think there will be a massively noticeable change. I’m trying to streamline some things a little bit to just kind of get good at what we do and let the guys play fast from there. But schematically, it’ll be pretty similar.”

(If you decide that going to week to week with the linebackers and how they line up and so forth is the way to go, what is that going to require the players to be able to do as opposed to ‘I’m here and I’m here for 17 weeks and I know I’m here.’) – “Well, that’s part of the evaluation process. Like I said, I mentioned earlier, if you played right and left for example, that outside linebacker has to learn ‘Sam,’ has to learn ‘Will.’ You don’t know what the offensive formation is going to dictate to you. There is some extra learning to that. Part of our challenge with all of these guys – again, I enjoy it; I think it’s a great asset to have – but part of our challenge is going to be if that’s possible, or what the best situation is. Again, it may not be. We may say the best thing for us is to play this guy here, this guy here and this guy here, and let’s roll and go play, and that’ll be the best. Or we may say, ‘You know what? I don’t like this guy here. I’m going to flip him and put him here.’ And we may determine that next week. We may determine that in September. We may determine that in Week 10. ‘Let’s just roll with this’ You never know what’s going to happen in a season. Obviously again, last year we had to move a lot of parts around. So I think you just have to keep that in your back pocket.”

(You mentioned that tackling was one, I’m sure injuries is another. So aside from that, why was the defense 30th in the NFL last year against the run?) – “Besides from poor tackling and injuries? There’s just a lot of stuff. That’s part of it. I always tell the players this:  There is never … You give up a 30-yard run, let’s say, in a game. It’s never one person or even one sort of spot. A d-lineman doesn’t hold an edge and a linebacker misses fit and then a safety misses a tackle. It’s complex. We played some good running backs last year. We played some good running offenses. Sometimes, schematically, we dictated that we needed to really pay attention to the passing game more. It’s just week to week. It’s varied. No one obviously wants to not have a good run defense. It’s not something you go into a game saying. But it’s hard to really pinpoint. We’re addressing a lot of issues, I think.”

(A couple things on defensive tackle. One is, at what point now is the diminishing return as far as snaps for DT Jordan Phillips where you and former Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph last year saw a clear drop off if he went past that snap total. What’s the number you’d like it to get to? And also, No. 3 defensive tackle options. I know DE Terrence Fede has played inside some. Could he be a full time defensive tackle? If you could go over options for No. 3 defensive tackle besides the two rookies you just drafted.) – “I mean it’s the same for all of them. We rarely have a hard pitch count for guys, like a set number like ‘he can’t play more than this,’ unless he’s dealing with an injury or something like that. Jordan (Phillips) had, like everyone’s been saying, he has been inconsistent. He’s had some flashes. He’s a very talented player. We just need to be more consistent from that spot. I’m not sure if there is like a pitch count associated with that or a play number. As for the rest of it, I mean really all of the spots are up for grabs. We obviously are bringing two young guys in (Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor) at the tackle position. We have Nick Williams. We signed some futures guys form last year. So it’s obviously a spot that there is some open competition for and we’re just going to let it play out.”

(And with DE Terrence Fede, can he play more at defensive tackle or is he big enough?) – “Probably not. He’s been a little bit more of an edge player for us. So I think that’s probably where we’ll keep him. (We’ll) let him keep playing out there.”

(How do you know you’re getting improvement from the defensive tackle group considering…) – “Today? I don’t. I don’t know. How do you know? (laughter)”

(How would you judge the defensive tackles’ improvement?) – “Again, that’s just part of the film study. I mean, listen, we’ve got 88 guys on the roster? Eighty nine guys on the roster? That’s what we’ve got right now. This is our group. To me, it’s on us (now). It’s our job as coaches to get that positon better. Again, whether it’s schematically putting them in the right calls and putting them in the right things or coaching those guys up on better technique or motivation to get Jordan Phillips better or whoever it is. (We have to) get these young guys up to speed. I don’t think there’s a measuring stick today of if we got better.  I mean we feel good about the pieces we’ve added to that room, but that’s always an ongoing process.”

(What did you identify on tape in the free agent process that you like in the safeties you signed? S Nate Allen and S T.J McDonald.) – “Yes. They’re both veteran guys. Nate has played for a long time in the league. I have a lot of friends that are out there on the staff that coached out in Oakland with him. We got really good feedback on, again, the type of character he is, the type of person he is. I think he kind of fits a little bit of our mindset of a little bit of a multidimensional safety. T.J. was kind of a bonus for us the way things kind of played out with him. He’s obviously a big – I don’t if you guys have seen him around the building – he’s a big, big man. So he’s a physical player. And again, we felt good about bringing them in. We visited with them, spent some time with them. Who’s the person (they are)? (Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach) Frank Bush was out on staff with him last year and spoke well of him. So for us to be able to add two kind of veteran safeties that have some game experience was a great asset for us I think moving forward.”

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