Q: What do you learn about each individual’s mental toughness as they progress through this?
BB: Well, I think everybody…it’s something that’s necessary for all of us – players, coaches. You just have to be able to grind through it because that’s the way it’s going to be during the season. Look, we’ve all done it before. Players have all, this isn’t the first time they’ve ever played or been through a training camp. Just the process that I think is necessary to get you ready for the long haul. Each of us has to find a way to do it, be productive and again continue to improve and get better at what we’re doing. That’s our goal every day. We talk about that. We set different targets. There are different emphasis points, things that we work on. Eventually here toward the end of the week we’ll start pulling more things together, more game type situations. Right now, a lot of things are a little bit segmented – third down, red area, short yardage, special teams phases and so forth. Then we shuffle those around from day to day but at some option down the road then it all comes together. But it’s just, we’ve all got to do it. It’s not any one person or one experience level of guy or anything else. It’s all of us connected with the team.
BB: Well, actually it will be his third season with us, but not on the roster. He had the ’12 season the practice squad. He’s been a real consistent guy. Strong, physical player. Tough, very smart, very dependable, does a lot of things well. He’s a versatile player that can step in and do a lot of different things for us. It’s valuable to have a dependable player who is consistent like that who is versatile that you can count on. We all know the type of guy he is and that’s the role he has. He’s not a game breaking type of – that’s not really his role. But the plays, like the play he had in Houston last year, breaking four tackles to get into the end zone from the one-yard line, those kind of plays sometimes say as much as an 80-yard touchdown.
Q: How much would you say he’s grown from his practice squad days to now?
BB: He gets better all the time. He works very hard. Again, very strong in the weight room. He has good playing strength, good durability, good toughness and he’s just gotten better every week every year. He’s got more versatility and better execution, more versatility, more confidence this year than he had last year. Last year he had more than the year before. He’s a very solid player who – you know, it’s a little bit like a relief pitcher. He has a role but sometimes you don’t know when that role is going to occur. We don’t know when we’re going to be on the goal line or we might play in a game and not be on the goal line. That situation might not come up or different plays like that. He’s just always got to be ready but I think that’s the impressive thing about James is he is. If you need him for 20 plays, he’s ready. If you need him for three plays that game, he’s ready. If you need him to go in and play on the punt team, he did a good job for that when he was called on. Again, it’s a valuable type of guy to have. You don’t really sometimes know exactly when you’re going to need him but you know you’re going to need him.
BB: Yeah, both Aliquippa players. I coached Ty in ’96 as the secondary coach and then of course as head coach when I came back. Ty has very good physical size, he’s a big corner, he’s a physical corner. He has good playing strength, he’s tough, he’s a good tackler and he has very good instincts and ball skills. Ty is the type of player that quarterbacks found out in playing against him one way or the other, that you might get him once on something but you better be careful that second time. That’s kind of the way Ty played. He was aggressive but he was calculated and he knew when to be aggressive, when to take chances and when maybe not to. But when he pulled the trigger, he could pull it and make a lot of big plays. He had excellent ball skills and anticipation but a physical, tough player at that position which you don’t always see. He certainly brought that to us throughout his career and later on when he played safety toward the end of his career. Fun player to coach; he had a personality and he didn’t always do things exactly by the book or quite the way that maybe it was outlined but he was a football player and when the game started he played football and he was very good.
BB: Yeah, I think so. I think the key to it is not so much how people get here but what they do when they’re here, whether that’s a draft choice or a trade or a free agent or whatever it is. We’ve had successful and unsuccessful examples in all those different categories. The past isn’t necessarily a predictor to the future. The future is now. Some guys have good years and then some guys have not so good years and that may fluctuate from year to year. I don’t think there’s any way to really predict that until you see it. Our philosophy has always been to put them out there, let them compete and we can’t control how the competition is going to go, nor do we want to, but the best players are going to get more opportunity than the ones that don’t perform as well. That doesn’t mean those guys are out of it but until their performance changes, then the guys that are ahead of them are going to get more opportunity. We’ve had a number of examples of guys that weren’t drafted or guys that weren’t on the radar come in and play football for us and make big contributions – the Steve Neals of the world. We’ve had guys line up in some of our biggest games that were either long shots or not even on the roster but ended up playing in championship games, making plays for us in championship games, things like that. You know, it’s an open, competitive situation. It’s not as much about what you’ve done as it is what you can do for this team this year. That’s kind of our philosophy.
Q: It’s different now because you don’t get your free agents and rookies in pads in the spring so does that must add importance to training camp for rookie free agents and guys coming in to evaluate them?
BB: I think that’s pretty much the way it’s always been. I can’t remember being able to pad up in spring practices. But certainly with the limited number of practices we have now, relative to, I think as I said when I was with the Giants in the ‘80s, we were in the 50’s, number of practices before the first game. Now we’re at half that, maybe a little less. If a player with no experience isn’t able to participate and misses two weeks – five, six, eight, ten practices, whatever it is – that’s like missing half of training camp and it’s a lot of ground to make up. There’s definitely a premium for durability. There’s definitely a premium for taking advantage of the opportunity by being out there. As we all know and we talk to the players all the time – they understand it better than anybody – you can’t get better if you’re not on the field. How can you improve really by standing there and watching? You can learn and you can hear it but you’re not doing it. As a football player, you need to do it and you need to do it with your teammates. That’s an important element to it. At the same time, you can’t let – as a coach, sometimes you can’t let one week of the frustration of not being able to see a player affect the year or even a career. You still have to do what’s best for your team, try to make the right decisions. A lot of time it’s on partial information and of course the less information you have, probably the more chance you’ll make a mistake. But sometimes there’s a guesstimate that definitely goes with that. You have to live with those decisions. It’s based on partial information but you have to make them one way or the other.
BB: Oh sure. Kenbrell and all those guys, all our second year players – Kenbrell is a lot better football player than he was a year ago and he came in and he had a real good camp last year. He impressed us, even starting back in the spring. He earned that starting position with his good play and his consistency. But this year, he’s way past that. Experience has a lot to do with it. His offseason work also has a lot to do with it. He knows what to expect. He has a much better understanding so he can play with more confidence, more aggressiveness, just generally play faster because of the knowledge of our offense and the expectations and the experience that he’s gained. He’s having another good camp this year. He’s off to a good start, but way considerably ahead of last year, as he should be, as all second-year players should be.
Q: What attracted you to
BB: We had good grades and a good feeling for Fleming coming out of Notre Dame. He’s an outside linebacker, end-of-the-line type of player – outside linebacker, defensive end whatever you want to call it but end-of-the-line type of player but also has shown the versatility to play some inside as a linebacker. He runs well, he’s strong, he’s physical and he’s shown up in the kicking game. So, a combination of his athleticism, intelligence, versatility, toughness, all those things made him a good player in college. He just didn’t have an opportunity really because off the injuries at San Francisco but I don’t think that takes away from what he was able to do. We had an opportunity to work with him and he’s done a good job. He’s taken advantage of it and he’s gotten better. He’s shown some versatility in those different areas. Those are all positives for him.
BB: There’s certainly an element to it, yeah. I don’t know what value to put on it but there’s definitely some. The one thing about the end-of-the-line players, whether they’re corners or outside linebackers or offensive tackles or whoever is out there on the end, it’s hard when you have an imbalance. It’s just hard when you have an imbalance because everything ends up going one way – either defensively to the weaker side or offensively away from the weaker side and then you’ve created a strong tendency there. It’s good to have balance at those perimeter positions – corner, outside linebacker, offensive tackle, however you want to look at it – so there’s not an obvious imbalance to your opponent. [I] found that out at the Giants when we had Lawrence Taylor. Once he established himself pretty early in his career what type of impact he had, things started to tilt away from Lawrence or to him in terms of protection, however you want to look at it. When we picked up [Carl] Banks, then that really, there was now a much more of an equilibrium there and, ‘OK, you’re going away from Taylor but now you’re going into Banks. You’re going away from Banks, you’re going into Taylor.’ It was attractive to be one sided. For Rob and Chandler, there’s definitely an element of them complementing each other and knowing where the other guys are, especially in pass rush so we don’t end up with both guys up or both guys under. There’s some type of balance and being able to play off each other at that position but from an assignment standpoint and all that, there isn’t too much that they do that’s really related. It’s much more related to their adjacent players.
BB: I think communication starts with, number one, knowing what to do and number two, being decisive and doing it with confidence. Even doing the wrong thing can be OK as long as we’re all wrong together. If we’re all wrong together, we can still be right. The problem is when half of us are doing one thing and half of us are doing something else then it’s almost impossible for that to ever work well. Being decisive and when I say that, I mean for example, say we have two or three different ways we could play a 3-on-2 combination or a 4-on-3 combination and we have to identify which one of those we’re playing. We might go into the game and say, ‘We want to use, in this situation, option B.’ But the situation comes up and we call option C, but we can still play that. Maybe that’s not the ideal thing we want to do, but at least if we’re all playing it, we know what we’re doing, we can play it. It still has – it can still probably be alright if we play it properly. But if we’re in between B and C – ‘Oh, I thought it was B’, ‘I thought it was C’ then it doesn’t matter, it’s not going to work. Knowing what to do and being able to anticipate what’s going to happen and then doing it decisively with confidence, because the worst thing for a player too, is to hear a call and kind of then have in the back of his mind, ‘Was that the right thing? Was that really what we want to do? Is it going to get changed? Once the person makes it, is somebody else going to say or is that person going to say, ‘Oh wait a minute.’ Then you’re in no man’s land. But Duron is a sharp kid and he works very hard. He’s a good football player. He’s got good instincts. He was obviously well coached in college. He has a good fundamental background and a good communication background. The defenses that they played in college, that he and Logan [Ryan] and Steve [Beauharnais] and all the rest of them, there was quite a bit of communication involved, there was quite a bit of recognition involved. So, that’s something we saw him do in college; Steve as well, Logan, all of them – Devin [McCourty]. We saw them do that and that really hasn’t been a problem for any of those guys, to tell you the truth. It’s a different system, it’s different words but the concepts and the principles are there and they’re familiar with those type of things. They’re good at it. They’re used to making calls and they can make them decisively.