Q: What has been the challenge for
BB: I think the adjustment for a rookie receiver is huge in this league, in any offense. I really can’t speak for what the other 31 teams do, but I just think in terms of the overall sophistication of the passing game in the National Football League: the players, the amount of press coverage on the perimeter, the number of different coverages and really route adjustments that you have to make, situational play – third-down, red area, two-minute, end of the game situations, all those, plus the normal plays – all that gets pretty complex. Aaron has worked really hard. He’s had a good training camp; he’s had a good season in terms of improving every day. It’s certainly not perfect but things are getting better. He works hard to improve in the areas that we ask him to. He’s made a lot of progress, he still has a long way to go but he’s definitely gained a lot of ground from where he was a month ago, two months ago, three months, the start of training camp. It’s a real credit to him. He’s in good condition; he can go out there and has the stamina to go for a long time. His techniques and his understanding and adjustments and all that are good. He’s a smart kid so he understands and can take the coaching from the classroom to the field or from the field to the next rep. he’s doing a good job.
Q: Do you recall a point when that started for him or has that been consistent? Did he come in and hit the ground running?
BB: We didn’t see a lot of him in the spring. He wasn’t able to participate in all the spring workouts, but I think you’re really seeing a good day-by-day consistency: on and off the field, on the field, in the weight room, his conditioning, in the classroom, walkthroughs, all that. He’s focused and he just keeps improving. I think it’s a very steady incline. I don’t think it’s been one – obviously you can point to a couple plays – but I think his overall improvement has been very steady and consistent. And he’s tough. He’s taken some hits. He’s fought through some bumps and bruises and he stays out there and keeps going and gets through it. That helps because you learn but you can’t really improve [by] watching. You have to go out there and do it and get the timing and execution with your teammates and he fights through and does it.
Q: Did you see that from him at Marshall too or does whatever you saw there not matter because it’s a whole different league?
BB: I think every player in the NFL was probably good in college, other than Steve Neal and a couple other notable exceptions. I mean, if they weren’t’ good in college, there’s probably not too many of them playing in this league, with all due respect to college.
Q: I was thinking more the toughness aspect.
BB: Yeah, but again, guys like him are playing against a lot smaller players, with all due respect. You don’t see a lot of guys – there are a lot of 5-foot-9, 175 pound corners in college. I know because we’re looking at [them]. Those aren’t the ones we’re trying to draft but there are plenty of them out there. So then when you see a guy who has size, speed, some toughness and all that, they jump out at you. There aren’t a whole lot of them.
Q: How have you seen
BB: Yeah, he’s done a good job for us. He always does. Nobody works harder, prepares harder than Devin does. He’s always in good condition, he’s tough and he really works at his job, whatever you ask him to play, whether it’s nickel, corner, safety, kickoff coverage, kickoff returners, gunner, vice on the punt return. He’s a very well prepared and competitive football player in every situation. His, obviously experience and consistency at the safety spot has been good. He’s had a lot of work with Steve [Gregory] this year and last year, but particularly this year and even Duron [Harmon]. I think that all of those players have a good rapport and communication system with each other. Again, a lot of times when you’re playing that position, you’re too far away to talk to somebody or there’s crowd noise or whatever. You just have to give a signal or you just have to look or you both know or you both kind of see each other and say, ‘This is how we’re going to play it.’ He does a good job of being proactive on that too, taking advantage of, ‘Hey, this situation, I see it this way, let’s do it this way.’ Sometimes you can go either way on something. It’s a little bit gray; you just have to make a definitive decision on it. He’s good at being decisive and whatever it is we can play it whereas when you’re kind of in-between two things and you don’t play whichever one it is then it’s no good. But works well with his teammates and does a good job individually on his preparation trying to do what you ask him to do. He works well with his teammates.
Q: Does his ability to study film so well help him now that he’s in the back of the defense and sees everything in front of him?
BB: Yeah, sure, I think to a point. But I think he has a good understanding of overall defense. If you understand the whole concept, then that helps you know where you’re more needed or less needed, where the matchups are, where we’re vulnerable against certain calls, against certain formations or players that match up there, so absolutely. But he has a good understanding of our entire defense. Not that he could play outside linebacker or play defensive tackle, but he knows what they’re doing and understands when they’re involved in certain things. Again it’s just a good awareness and understanding of the total concept. I’d’ say not a lot of guys have that as comprehensively as he does.
Q: Has that come in more handy this year because of all the defensive players going out?
BB: When you’re playing that position, I don’t think you’re that focused about who is in there. I just think, like when the line is slanting one way, you need to be a little more conscious of it going away from the slant. Or if we’re walked out in space with our outside linebackers or inside linebackers have to walk out a little bit, that creates some coverage matchup issues that, they see a linebacker over a guy instead of a corner, we’re a little bit more vulnerable there just on paper. I think that’s more the kind of things I’m talking about. Or when I guy should be walked out and maybe he isn’t, then he would remind the linebacker, ‘We need to walk out on this guy,’ or that type of thing. I don’t think it’s who is the nose tackle, how is he playing this block? It’s more of just where they are. When they’re over here or when they’re slanting over there or when we’re blitzing up the middle and that puts more pressure on the outside. When we’re blitzing outside, or like I said, coverage matchups: who has who, who is aligned where, what the quarterback could look at and where we would expect him to go, I’ll put it that way. That ties into disguising. A lot of times you want to disguise as a defensive back where you’re most vulnerable and try to show the quarterback, ‘Well, this is where we are so you don’t want to go over there.’ But actually we’re leaving her to go somewhere else and hope you can kind of take him out of it on a pre-snap look.
Q: What do you remember from the draft process about
BB: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. We talked about taking him and we were going to take him and we were just a round late. But we’d already taken Vince [Wilfork] obviously. But you can never have too many defensive linemen. That was kind of the conversation. He was right there; we were ready to take him. We said, ‘Well, you know, we can get him one round earlier.’ We’d already taken a couple guys and we probably waited a little bit too long on that one.
Q: Has his career played out how you projected it would?
BB: A pretty good fourth-round pick, I’d say. If you knew what his career was going to be, he could have gone in the second – he couldn’t have gone in the first ahead of some people who were drafted in that round obviously. No, I’d say he’s had a real good career. To be a fourth-round pick that’s done what he’s done, I’d say not too many of them have done that, right? So, I think it’s been pretty good.
BB: No, I think Tommy Kelly was off a lot of people’s radar. I’ve talked to Mike Lombardi about him because of course he had him out in Oakland. He was kind of a guy that really slipped through the cracks. I know when Mike took him out there, he was thinking it was a, ‘We’ll take a shot at him’ kind of thing. I’d say it was a great find by Mike. What a career Tommy has had from being an undrafted guy. He’s had an excellent career. I think Mike really found him and then once he started playing, then everyone in the league could see he was a pretty good player. I wish we had seen him or been able to see what Mike saw because really there wasn’t any action on him. Then once everybody saw him play, it was like, ‘Oh my God, how did we miss this guy?’
Q: Is it fair to assume you’re practicing inside today because of the wind?
BB: Yeah, just for the lift safety. We could go outside but we don’t want to put those guys up there.
Q: What are your impressions of what you’ve seen from Isaac Sopoaga in practice so far?
BB: He’s played every game. He’s been playing. It’s not like we signed a guy off the street. I think he’s in good condition. His reactions are what you’d expect them to be. He just has to get familiar with our terminology and some of the way we play certain blocks or what his responsibilities are on blitzes and that kind of thing. You know, he’s a smart guy and he obviously has a lot of experience. As I said, he’s been playing so he’s certainly in football shape. I think he’s doing fine. We have a couple more days, we have to clean up a few things. I think he should, if he continues to progress throughout the week, I don’t think there’s any reason why he shouldn’t be ready to play.
Q: What have you liked about the way the cornerbacks have stepped up without
BB: Even with Aqib, I think those guys have played well all year. They’ve done a good job. We’ve had them in a lot of different situations. They’ve all played inside, they’ve all played outside, they’ve flipped sides. At times they’ve been on tight ends or other, like [Charles] Clay, or those kind of receivers, whatever you want to call them, backs, tight ends, mismatch type guys. Each week has been a different challenge for them but each week they’ve met the challenge well, been ready to go and again, not perfect but I’d say overall they’ve done a real good job. I think [Cornerbacks Coach] Josh [Boyer] and [Safeties Coach] Brian Flores in the secondary, both those guys have done a real good job with that group. They’ve been in different positions. Like Cole has played safety, he’s played corner, he’s played nickel. He’s played a lot of different spots for us. The other guys have moved around a lot too. Their versatility and their preparation – of curse Talib has done a tremendous job for us. I don’t want to take anything away from him but those guys have been there in all those games when they weren’t throwing at Aqib so they’ve had to come out with the bell every week.
BB: Yeah, he didn’t really have much of a first half of the season last year. I thought that he did a good job for us in the second half and then followed that up with a pretty solid offseason, solid training camp. He missed some time in training camp. When he was out there, I thought he was doing well. He missed a couple weeks there but has been consistent for the year. I think kind of once he’s gotten in there, it’s been pretty consistent. That first half of the year last year was, he didn’t participate very much. That obviously slowed him down.
Q: When you’re in victory formation, you guys usually have a receiver back deep. Is there any consideration of having a safety back there?
BB: Yeah, you could. You could put whoever you want back there.
Q: What’s the thought at that position, just to have them back there for the emergency situation if the ball pops out?
BB: Yeah, we hope it never gets that far. That’s kind of what the two guys are there for, by the quarterback. I think the whole issue of putting defensive guys on the field in offensive formations, you just run into substitution problems, you run into cadence and those kind of things, alignment and so forth. Not saying you can’t do it, we’ve done it, there are lot of teams that do it, but you just have to cross that bridge. So, you call out a certain grouping and one grouping has a receiver and another grouping has a defensive back. You can do it; it’s just another thing you just have to do. We haven’t done that. We’ve done that with a regular offensive grouping. We had a problem last year. It wasn’t the kneel-down play but it was the centering the ball play in the Arizona game. We had a penalty on the play, which you wouldn’t think would ever happen on that but it did. You just don’t want to ever take anything for granted on those plays. But yeah, we could definitely do that.
Q: How much has the hamstring injury for
BB: We’ll just list the injuries today at the end of practice on the injury report the way we see it. We’ll do that with everybody.
Q: Is there any merit to
BB: I mean we have to give an injury report both daily and the Friday injury report with the league, it’s required. It isn’t about anybody wanting or not wanting to do anything. Whatever it is, it is. That’s the way we do it. We played four preseason games, this is our ninth regular season game so we’ve played 13 consecutive weeks plus two weeks of training camp before that plus however many practices we’ve had. Who do we think that’s playing is 100 percent in that locker room? Let’s list those guys. Who is on that list? I don’t know. it would be a real short one. It’s the middle of football season. Everybody on the team that’s playing has got something. Guys on the practice squad have stuff. I’m not saying it makes them doubtful or anything. It’s just playing football and that’s part of it. I don’t think any player in the league that’s played that much football feels ‘100 percent’. I can’t imagine, name another player in the league that’s as fresh as a daisy in the beginning of November after nine regular season games and six weeks of training game, preseason games before that. Who would that be? I mean, if all the guys that didn’t feel 100 percent didn’t practice, we’d probably have two guys out at practice, maybe not even that.
Q: Do you talk to the rookies about how to physically maintain themselves with the longer NFL schedule compared to college?
BB: We talk to the rookies; we talk to the entire team. We talk about those things all the time, from the first day of training camp, all the way through preseason, all the way through the season. Because it all changes, September isn’t August, October isn’t September, November isn’t October, December is different than October. Each point in the year, things change. Our schedule changes, our demands change, the weather changes. There are a lot of things that change. We try to talk to them about all those things at the appropriate times, along with a lot of other things. But certainly that part of it – the conditioning, the taking care of yourself, the dealing with the climatic changes, they hydration changes, the nutrition change, our regular season training in the weight room and conditioning relative to our early season or preseason training. Those are all important but they’re all different. We try to talk to the players on a regular basis about all those things, as they are appropriate and come up, absolutely. I think it would be irresponsible not to do that. In some cases, rookies or veteran players, it’s the same point in the season but the demands maybe are a bit little different or where they are is a little bit different. That’s part of it too. We can talk to rookies, they’ve only been in a 12-game season but you can talk to other guys that have played eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 years of football and trust me, it’s a long season for them too. Those guys who are 22-years-old haven’t been through 10 seasons of 16 or more game seasons. So where is the demand higher? One guy has a lot more experience with it, but he’s got some tread on the tires. I’m just saying it’s a problem that every team goes through. Each player or group of players, I think, are different. It changes throughout the course of the year. We absolutely try to stay on top of it. I’m not saying we do a great job of it or anything, but we address it absolutely, without question.