Q: With all the personnel losses you guys have had on defense to this point in the season, how important has
BB: Devin has done a good job for us, like he always does. He’s very well prepared. He’s been real durable, been out there every day and has given us good communication and leadership along with Steve [Gregory]. He and Steve have both done a real good job of controlling the defense from those safety positions and to the linebackers and we’ve been in a lot of multiple defensive back defenses this year on nickel, dime type situations because of the teams we’ve played and the situations we’ve been in. So, that involves a lot of communication back there and they’re always right at the center of it. Devin is a great example for all of us with his work ethic, his toughness, his consistency, he’s just a solid worker, great kid, communicates well, he’s smart and he’s been a very dependable guy for us, like I said, as Steve has at the other safety position. We’ve been fortunate all year for what those two guys have given us and how that extends to the rest of the secondary and even at the linebacker level and some coverage adjustments.
Q: Where do things stand with
BB: I haven’t caught up with our guys in the medical department yet today, that will be something I’ll do later on this afternoon so I’ll find out a little bit more about what his situation is and how Sebastian is coming along. With Cannon, Marcus is [in] his third year and of course, [he] earned a lot of respect from everybody his rookie year with what he dealt with on his cancer treatments and being elevated to the roster in the second half of the season and coming along. Then last year as well, he got some playing time and then this year, he’s worked some inside at guard and also at tackle. I think he’s gotten better each year, he’s got good skills for his size. He’s an athletic guy who has good feet, can move people in the running game and has the quickness to block them in protection; good playing strength. He had an opportunity to play last week and stepped in, did a good job for us there in the second half against Miami. I’m sure he’ll have a good attitude, good week of preparation this week against Pittsburgh and be ready to meet that challenge too. He’s been a solid guy for us and it looks like he’ll get an opportunity to play here in the near future.
Q: We have a few hours before the trade deadline. Would you characterize your conversations right now as busy or does it seem like you’ll be standing pat as the deadline approaches?
BB: To be honest with you, I’ve been really, this morning, involved in game planning and trying to get things organized here on Pittsburgh and all that. At some point here, I’ll catch up here with guys in the scouting department and see if there’s anything that’s moving. Again, it’s hard, it’s always hard to predict that. Whether it’s at the 53-cut or like I said, last year with the [Aqib] Talib situation, that was one of those transactions that probably got turned in at about 3:59:45. So, you just never know. We’ll see. But right now, [we’re] just focused on Pittsburgh. If something happens, it happens but we have to be ready to go on Sunday.
Q: You had some interest this offseason in Emmanuel Sanders. How would you evaluate his physical tools on the field and what he brings?
BB: I’d say that he’s an explosive player and he’s fast. He had a kickoff return, I don’t know how far it was, about 107, 108 yards against Baltimore and you could really see his speed and explosiveness and big play ability on that play. They ended up calling him, saying he stepped out of bounds but it was a heck of a play. Then he had the two-point play last week against the Raiders where again he got out in space and he juked a couple guys and showed his speed and acceleration to get to the goal line. I think that’s kind of what he’s been able to do. He’s dangerous on catch-and-run plays like tear screens, which they run a lot of, reverses and kick returns, things like that, however he can get the ball in his hands. He’s also a good route runner with quickness and obviously speed and big play ability. He’s been a productive guy for them.
Q: What are your thoughts on the performance of
BB: I think Ryan had his moments for sure. Through some of the situations he’s been in, I think his situational punting has been pretty good. He’s improved in the plus-50 areas. He’s definitely got a big leg and the ability to change field position. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement. He’s got a good level of talent but also consistency is an issue and these conditions that he’s in, kicking through the second half of the season up here will be, I’m sure, challenging at some point. They’ve definitely been that way in practice. That’s the way it was against Miami on Sunday. I think you saw both punters not have the type of days that we’d see them having in better conditions. I think his holding has been pretty good. We’ve been pretty efficient kicking the ball there with Danny [Aiken] and Ryan and Steve [Gostkowski], with that operation. I think he’s coming along. He’s getting better and again, just regular punting, situational punting, holding, all the areas that he’s involved in and still has a lot of room for improvement. If he keeps working hard and can stay focused and can stay consistent, I think he has a good opportunity for a real good career.
Q: The coffin corner kick seems to be almost nonexistent now. What are your thoughts on the evolution of that aspect of the game and situational punting, and the art of angling the punts out of bounds deep in opponent territory?
BB: That’s really an interesting question. That’s a trend that has kind of changed gradually through the years. Now it’s, as you said, almost extinct. Similar to the punt formations that I saw when I came into the league which almost never had detached guys, split receivers, gunners, like we call them now and how that evolved to tight punt to one split guy to two split guys to now where you almost never see the gunners in tight unless you have the situation like we did where you’re punting with a two-score lead with under two minutes to go in the game or something like that. I think the Aussie style punting, the ability to kind of put backspin on the ball, to have the ball hit and generally bounce back away from the goal line is just a higher percentage than trying to angle it for the corners. Also, angling those corner kicks is also a little bit of an issue in protection because now you’re not protecting the punter where you normally are to try to walk right down the middle behind the center. You’re kind of shortening the edge, you either have to catch the ball behind the center and then walk to the angle to shorten the edge or you have to offset a couple yards to one side so that when you kick the ball it’s behind the center but now the center has to snap it a couple yards sideways. I don’t want to say it’s tricky, but it’s definitely a little bit different going with the corner and it just seems like the punters now are more experienced and they’re coming in with a better, they do a better job of executing the Aussie style punts with the end over end where the ball a lot of times hits and comes away from the goal line, fewer touchbacks than they are just directional punting in general, specifically directional with the coffin corner. You hate to see that art, as you put it, lost from the game but you don’t see it much anymore. Now you see a lot of guys and [Dolphins punter Brandon] Fields is a good example of that, not so much in Sunday’s game but over the course of the year. Of course, he kicks in pretty good conditions. [Giants punter Steve] Weatherford is another guy that’s a good directional punter, that a lot of their punts land out of bounds or a yard or two from the sideline that really pins the returner back. Those guys have so much confidence and they’re so good at doing that. They don’t have those shank punts that if you’re trying to put it on the sideline and you hit it off the side of your foot and it’s a 15, 20-yard punt but if you do it right and you hit the ball right, then it’s a 50-yarder but no return which would obviously lead the league every year if you could be consistent on that. Those guys are pretty good at it. I think there’s still an element of that directional kicking but it’s certainly not what it used to be and it’s changed a little bit. I think the other part about the Aussie punting is it forces the returner to make that decision around the 10-yard line or wherever the ball comes down. Those guys try to drop it down in the five or 10-yard line area now the returner has to make decisions whether to catch it, whether to let it go, handle the ball if it’s less than ideal conditions and also the possibility of having guys kind of standing right there when he catches it to distract him or be ready to get on the ball if he muffs. Whereas, as you know, when you coffin corner it, it takes the returner out of play. I think the combination of all those things is why it’s shifted the way it has.
Q: You mentioned that long yardage was a factor in third-down conversions. The last couple weeks, has that still been a big factor or are there other things that have made it difficult to extend drives?
BB: Well, that was less the case in the Miami game. We had many more opportunities. I don’t think we had a third-and-11 or more, I think everything was under 10 and a lot of them were shorter. So, the yardage was much better and that should have translated into a higher conversion rate. I think that’s part of the battle. But we still, obviously, need to do a better job of that in our execution and our play calling, our execution, just everything. A couple times, we just ended up with plays that didn’t match up well with what they were doing. Other times we had plays that should have matched up well, but we didn’t, for whatever reason – we had a protection problem or a route problem or a bad throw or whatever it was and we weren’t able to hit it. Just our overall execution there was not where it needs to be but that was a lot better than it was a week before against the jets or even back a couple weeks against Cincinnati where half of our third downs were 10 or more [yards]. You’d like to hit a few of those but realistically that’s not a high percentage situation. It’s a combination of factors but certainly the shorter we can make it, the higher or conversion percentage should be but we still have to go out there and do it. We haven’t been as consistent at that as we need to be.
BB: No, I think Steve has had a real good year. He’s certainly made plenty of big kicks for us in the past. No, I don’t think the kicks this year have been particularly easy. He’s had a lot of them at the end of the game, starting with the Buffalo game. He’s had some long ones and some critical ones, like the one [vs.] Miami and the kick at the end to the Jets game. I don’t think any kick is really easy, other than the extra points but after that, they all are challenging one way or another. But he’s hit the ball well and he’s kicked off very well. He’s had a lot of consistency there, both the touchbacks and the distance but even on balls that weren’t touchbacks, the hang time was good and that gave our coverage unit an opportunity to get down there. We’ve had a number of tackles inside the 20-yard line on balls that were returned. Steve works hard. He’s got a strong leg, mentally he’s focused and disciplined. He’s really very professional in his approach to kicking and also has a good way of just focusing on his kick and not getting caught up in all the other things that are involved so he can just do his job and not get distracted or get overwhelmed by whatever the situation is or whatever the things are going on around him. He’s been good in weather conditions that aren’t ideal. He’s done a good job for us there for a number of years but it’s been good this year.