Q: Other than his obvious physical ability, what are some things that have allowed
BB: Really hard worker. Julian works as hard as anybody. He takes a lot of pride in the whole aspect of punt returning: catching the ball, reading the flight of the ball, judgment and all that and then running. He loves to get his hands on the ball and run with it. He works hard at the little things, the techniques, and certainly the big things: how that team’s punter punts, what kind of keys he can get on direction, coverage tips, he’s got to be where the return is and all that. He’s a hard working kid that really, even when we do the scout team punt returns, when it’s their punt returner and it’s against our punt team, he still works really hard at catching the ball, making good decisions, getting to the right spots in the return based on what our opponents are doing, that type of thing. I’d say hard working, obviously physical skills – he has balance, toughness, strength, quickness and playing speed.
Q: What kind of impact, obviously it’s a big one, has Luke Kuechly made on the Carolina defense? He plays every down and he’s been productive for them.
BB: Yeah, he’s a very instinctive player. He runs well and he’s got good speed. You definitely see him covering a lot of ground I the passing game, on the outside runs, he makes plays on the sideline. Smart guy, he has some plays where he just kind of can sort things out, find the ball, screen passes, counter plays, misdirection plays, he has good vision and he sees plays well, runs well and has a good front in front of him. He has good opportunities some of the times those guys eat up some blockers, he and [Thomas] Davis both are able to have a fairly clear path to the ball or there’s penetration up front and that forces the runner out of his lane. He has good speed, so does Davis, to track those guys down. He covers ground; he runs well.
Q: Can you tell from the film whether Kuechly is instinctive or just well prepared? Can you discern that from film?
BB: I think you can see the instinctiveness of a player on film. Yeah, definitely.
Q: What is it about his instincts? At Boston College, he was always around the ball.
BB: I think there are certain defensive players that are like that. They see a lot of bodies in front of them and they have a sense, kind of like a running back does, the running back sees everything but he finds the hole. Real good, instinctive linebackers and safeties have that same sense. They can kind of see everything in front of them. Where they see a space, they anticipate that the runner is going to see that same space and they show up there. A lot of times that’s not quite where a guy is supposed to be by the book but as the play unfolds and the space develops then the linebacker, or again, sometimes it’s the safety depending on the defense, has that same instinctiveness to be able to fit where the running back is going to fit in the running game. The passing game, it’s similar – knowing where the receivers are that are located in your area and then being able to read the quarterback. If the quarterback is looking in your area, then you know where the threats are. If the quarterback is looking not in your area, then you’re able to start to leverage the other side of the field and follow the quarterback in zone coverage. That’s basically what he does – play a lot of zone coverage and he’s productive in the running game.
Q: Jonathan Stewart hasn’t gotten a chance to play a whole lot but in the past they’ve used to two running backs –
BB: They actually use three.
Q: Right – what makes DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart different?
BB: I think all those guys are good. Stewart and Williams both have real good vision and quickness. They’re shifty, they’re hard guys to tackle. They can run inside, they can run outside. [Mike] Tolbert is a downhill guy. He’s in there in a lot of short-yardage and goal-line situations. He gets some tough yards for them. He also plays some as a fullback, if you will, with some blocking responsibilities, more than the other two do. But, he’s a very good ball carrier; strong runner. They’re all effective in the passing game: screens, check downs, getting the ball in space, that kind of thing. They have great depth at that position. Of course, [Cam] Newton carries the ball. He’s their second leading rusher, so he’s got a lot of yards too. Between the three backs and the quarterback, a wealth of ball carriers, probably more than – I can’t think of another team that has that much depth at that running position plus a quarterback who runs. They run the ball a lot; they run it well. They all handle it, they’re all effective. There’s always a fresh guy in there, and they always run hard. Those guys, they get some tough yards, in terms of lowering their shoulder and pushing the pile, getting a couple extra yards. They all do that.
BB: I’d say overall our passing game hasn’t been as productive as it’s been at other points in previous years. So, it’s a combination of everything. I don’t think it’s any one – that’s part of it and there are other parts of it, too. Overall production isn’t where we want it to be or where it’s been at some other points in time.
Q: We’ve seen
BB: He’s an experienced player. He has good experience both outside, inside and actually even at safety as well. He’s smart, a real versatile player that has good speed, good toughness for his size. He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays with good playing strength and toughness. He has good toughness, runs well. He understands all the different positions, the components of them and how to utilize his help because he understands where it’s coming from, based on his experience. So, speed, quickness, playing experience are all things that he does well; makes him a valuable guy for us both defensively and in the kicking game. He can fulfill a lot of different roles without having to take a lot of reps. He learns quickly and he’s a pretty instinctive player. Just a lot of times we’ve thrown him in there the last couple years without maybe a lot of practice reps, somebody has gotten hurt during a game or whatever, and he goes in there and has just done a good job.. I think he’s a valuable guy to have; he’s helped us out a lot.
Q: Is that an added benefit? What he initially signed him, was it more as a special teamer?
Q: Has he evolved in that role?
BB: Well, I just would say it didn’t look like he got a lot of opportunity to do that. At times, he hasn’t here and then at times he has. When he has, he’s done well. That’s certainly led to more opportunity. Once again, it starts with being on the field in the kicking game then it comes with opportunity to play defensively. Then performing well in those opportunities, that leads to more opportunities and it all starts back with the kicking game. That’s not an uncommon path for a player like him to be on. Like
Q: Have you noticed anything different about Steve Smith’s game this year?
BB: He’s not returning punts and kickoffs, but he’s very competitive. He’s still a tough guy to handle. He’s very strong for his size. He’s a shorter player but he’s stocky, he’s thick, he has good balance. He’s tough, he’s hard to bring down. He has strong hands, he can see him really reach out there and take the ball aggressively. He has good quickness and run after the catch ability is still good. He’s taken some shorter passes and broken some tackles or beaten guys in the open field. He’s a tough guy to handle. His playing strength, his quickness, his speed, his experience – but just his competitiveness. He’s a tough, competitive player. The bigger the situation, the more he wants to be out there and step up and take the shot, so to speak. I have a lot of respect for Steve Smith and I think he’s still very effective in that role for the Panthers. He’s a good player. I think he brings a lot of heart and toughness to their team.
Q: Playing just a few days after he got here, was
BB: I’m sure it will be better than what it was. The Steeler game was kind of unusual because it went from being kind of a normal game for them offensively to pretty much two-minute the last two and a half quarters. He was less involved in that role last week. I’m not saying he couldn’t do it, but we just didn’t anticipate the game going that way as much as it did. But no, I don’t think that there’s anything we’re doing that he hasn’t done before. Certainly with more days of practice, meetings, walkthroughs, communication, that should continue to get better.
Q: How is
BB: It’s good to have him back on the field. This will really be an opportunity for us to evaluate this week kind of where he is, give him some harder assignments and see how he’s doing. He’s been able to be active and participate but I’d say it will be a higher level competition for him this week on the practice field. As it should be, gradually escalate the intensity of it and see how it goes.
BB: Yeah and again, he’s continued to progress. We’ll keep doing, as they can tolerate it, do more and evaluate how they do at a little bit higher level. Then if that goes well, then ramp it up and see where we are as we go through the week. Same thing we do every week.