BB (directed to Monique Walker, Boston Globe, who is leaving for a position at the Baltimore Sun): Congratulations. You’re going to God’s country, huh? Take good care of Navy football and Hopkins lacrosse, okay? It would be an honor to have you ask the first question today. Or would you rather do the last one?
Q: If it is injury related, will you give me details?
BB: Oh yeah, that’s my favorite subject.
Q: I do have a question for you. With all the guys from Rutgers,
BB: No, I think Coach Schiano, I have a good relationship with him and anytime he’s told me anything, it’s always been 100 percent accurate. I think a player that he’s familiar with, I would definitely want to take the opportunity to get his opinion and see what he thinks because of his experience and the amount of respect I have for him. He does a great job with that program and the kids that come out of there that play in the NFL, usually end up playing in the NFL. A lot of colleges get guys drafted or signed or whatever. I’d say that program, most of those kids when they’re on a team, they end up making a team. I think that’s a credit to what he puts them through for four or five years there in terms of preparation for the National Football League, assuming they have enough talent to be competitive. He does a good job of that. Yeah, absolutely, I would talk to him, sure. What he said about Nate is what I’ve seen in two weeks.
Q: Do you actually keep track of that - the number of players that succeed coming from a certain coach or a certain school? Does that help you judge future players?
BB: That’s a good question. I think it’s something, it’s probably like a lot of things, you think about it and then you think about it a little bit more and then before you know it, it’s not coincidence anymore, it seems like there are enough numbers to back it up. With that program, and not everybody is Ray Rice, I’m not saying that, but they’ve had a lot of guys and being in the facility, most colleges you walk through and you see all the pro players are up on a board, their pictures, the team they’re with or whatever. You go down to Florida and there are like 2,000 players, it seems like. Every team has like 50 players that have played there over the last 10, 20 years, however long it is. In that case and some of those guys have had different lengths of careers, but I’m just saying when you walk through the Rutgers facility and they do that, you look at the names - there aren’t too many guys who have come out of there that have gotten cut. Once they get to a team, they usually end up sticking on a team. I guess it kind of just, one of those things you sort of notice and then you take a closer look at it and it’s pretty much what it is. Do we track it on every school? No, but I think we sort of have an awareness. There are a lot of guys again like BenJarvus [Green-Ellis], like Patrick Pass, like Randall Guy, like guys like that have come out of SEC schools that really have had not a lot of playing time or they were maybe one year starters or whatever it was and ended up being pretty good players in the National Football League. I think that’s something too. There are a lot of good players coming out of some of those programs, the Matt Cassels of the world that didn’t play much but were in a really good program where there was a lot of other competition. Maybe they were behind somebody or it just didn’t work out for them, but they have enough talent and given enough opportunity or a different situation, you get different results. I think there is something to be said for that too. Definitely tracking some of the undrafted players and the successes that some of those players have in this league and where they come from and kind of what are the circumstances around it, kind of like who is the next one?
Q: What are your thoughts on Pat Hill being fired?
BB: Pat, I think has done a tremendous job for that program, that community. We’ve had a lot of players that have come from his program - James [Sanders] and Logan [Mankins] and Wendy [
Q: Is it fair to say that the skill set that slot receiver would have is why you look to those guys more to flip to the other side of the ball like Troy Brown and
BB: Sure, yeah, I think they’re reciprocal. There is an element of playing strength that you need inside there, that you may or may not have with perimeter receivers, but I think you need that playing strength inside where there’s blocking or tackling or just dealing with forcing the run or collision in the slot, getting collision by linebackers and bigger people, stuff like that. There’s an element of short space quickness that you have to work in in that position whereas the further out you get, generally the more space there is to work in whereas in the slot there, you have a lot of people around you - you have guys in front of you, you’ve got guys outside, you’ve got guys inside and sometimes it can get a little sticky in there. There isn’t a lot of clean space to work, so having quickness and having the ability to get through those spaces or defend in them, to be able to move laterally quickly to be able to defend those areas, it’s a similar skill set, [yes].
Q: This week you’re going against at team that has outstanding pass rushers who are outside linebackers. Is that different than facing two outstanding defensive ends, like you have earlier in the year?
BB: I’d say it’s pretty much the same. They really are defensive ends when they go to nickel. Once they get out of the 3-4 and go to nickel, then they are defensive ends. Again, having had experience with 3-4 defense, a lot of those guys, the Willie McGinests, the Mike Vrabels, the Rosie [Roosevelt] Colvins, those guys, whether you want to call them outside linebackers, defensive ends, they essentially line up in the same spot and do a lot of the same things. There has to be like 80, 90 percent carryover between those positions. Now you have some coverage responsibilities that maybe a 3-4 linebacker has that some 4-3 ends don’t have although teams are dropping 4-3 ends off too so it kind of is the same. But I’d say more of it in 3-4 but the rest of it, playing at the end of the line, whether they’re up or down or in a 4-3 or 3-4, I think is a matter of semantics. That person is doing the same type of jobs. These guys are similar but different to the [Dwight] Freeney, [Robert] Mathis group or Tamba Hali, or Trent Cole we saw [two weeks ago] and guys like that. They’re good, they do a good job.
Q: Obviously you practiced Matt Staler and Julian Edelman on defense leading up to the game. Have you ever had an instance in your career when you’ve had to move an offensive player to defense or vice versa because of an injury or whatever and the guy hasn’t been able to practice that position?
BB: I don’t think so. I think we at least got him in there for a little bit. We were playing Larry [Izzo] at safety in preseason, Don Davis at safety, whenever that was, ‘04. I don’t think you just take a guy, I guess you could, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Even [Rob] Gronkowski, we use him in our end of the half type defenses or Randy [Moss] or Keyshawn [Johnson], or guys like that in the past. We’ve always practiced those things - showed them where to line up, what to do. You don’t know exactly what the offense is going to come out in, it’s maybe one of two things so there are some adjustments and little bit of understanding what the situation is. We’ve always practiced that.
Q: Was that different maybe when the rosters were smaller? Did you have to bring up more guys on each side of the ball just for emergency situations?
BB: I don’t think so. I think going back to when I first came into the league, you just didn’t have as many personnel groups as you have now. A lot of times, those 11 guys never left the field. Like the Hail Marys from [Roger] Staubach back in the ‘70s, it’s just their regular offense, a guy running a go route. It wasn’t all those guys together jumping it and tipping it and that type of thing. When I came into the league, you rarely saw - you saw a tight end, you saw two receivers, you saw two backs. Whatever, you had four backs, those four replaced those two, those two replaced the other two. If you had two tight ends, then your tight end replaced the other tight end. There were no two tight end sets. Even in goal line, short yardage on the one yard line, you still usually had two spread receivers, there were no third receiver. There were a few teams that played some nickel defense, like the Redskins when George Allen was there but it wasn’t really nickel, it was just the defensive back came in for a linebacker. They played the exact same thing but it was just a DB instead of a linebacker having those coverage responsibilities so he was maybe a little more athletic and had a little more coverage skill. If something happened to him, they would just put their linebacker back in and just run the same thing. It really wasn’t until like in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s when you had teams running two tight ends and one back and even starting to get into three receivers. I remember being with the Giants in ‘81 and we didn’t even have a nickel defense. That was a big step. I can’t remember what year it was, maybe it was ‘82 or ‘83, we were like ‘Okay, we’re going to put in the nickel this year.’ It was like ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a big step, how are we going to do this?’ and terminology and all that. We didn’t even have that. You had maybe if it was third and ten, you had a third and ten call that was different than your first and ten call, I’m not saying that but as far as substituting guys in. Therefore, what we have now in terms of depth is more of an issue. There were fewer players than but honestly there were fewer positions. Now there are more players but you have three receivers, you have two tight end sets, you have all your five DBs, maybe your six DBs, you’ve got your pass rush guys, which is the whole, it’s like college football where it’s expanding rosters to go on and on. You’ve got your backup punter, you’ve got your plus-50 punter, you’ve got your short field goal kicker, you’ve got your field goal snapper, you’ve got a punt snapper, you’ve got an onside kick guy, you’ve got four tight ends on this formation, you’ve got five wide receivers on this formation - it’s just more and more substitutional groups if you have more and more players. It gets further away from just the 11 guys that you had out there. You can take it all the way back to the ‘50s in college football when you didn’t have free substitution, guys went both ways. You look at some of the old defenses there, why were teams playing a 5-3 and a 6-2? Because it was the same guys that had to play offense. You had to take your offensive players and put them on defense or more importantly, you had to take your defensive players and then fit them onto offense. If a lot of fullbacks looked like guards it’s because they were linebackers on defense. The game, in terms of substitution and all that has expanded tremendously. Your depth now, you have to have, if you’re a three receiver team, you don’t go to the game necessarily with six receivers or if you’re a two tight end team, you don’t necessarily go to the game with four tight ends, so you can’t have a backup for each guy like it used to be. You have to have either different personnel groups or one guy backing up multiple spots, stuff like that.
Q: Was it Washington that kind of spurred all the different packages?
BB: I’d say they were ahead of the curve on that, yeah. George Allen was ahead of the curve on that. I think he also was one of the guys that started to take the middle linebacker out. They would take their outside linebacker, [Chris] Hamburger and slide him into the middle. You had a Sam, Mike and Will and your inside guy a lot of times was the least of those three coverage players. If you took your Will and bumped him into Mike and then put a DB in, which a lot of teams do now, similar thing, you’d just have a more athletic, better pass coverage on the field. Allen was, I would say, ahead of the curve on that. Once the multiple receiver sets came in then defensively you have to match those. Really defensively you have to match what the offense does. If you can just put one group out there and defend everything, great. But it’s hard to do, it’s hard to do. They bring in bigger people, well somewhere along the line, you’re probably going to need to match it with bigger people. They keep bringing in smaller people, like in the ‘80s when Mouse Davis and June Jones and those guys ran the run and shoot offense where you’re in four wide receivers on every single down, the 3-4 defense just wasn’t built for that. The 3-4 defense is built for I-formation. Now you match that with another DB or maybe two more DBs, depending on how you want to play it. But the more of those guys they put out, then you have to have somebody to put out there and match them. Defensively, you don’t control that. Offensively, you control who is on the field, you control what formation they’re in and to some degree you control who gets the ball. Defensively, you don’t have control of any of that so you have to defend whatever it is they do.
Q: We’ve seen a lot of examples of offensive players going to defense and playing that way. Is it harder to go defense to offense because of skill sets?
BB: We’ve seen [Mike] Vrabel play tight end, we’ve seen different guys play fullback, [Dan] Klecko and Dane [Fletcher] played it this year. We’ve had different guys doing that, Bryan Cox did that. Again, a lot of those guys, like Klecko was a high school fullback and defensive lineman/linebacker. Again, those are kind of compatible, a fullback and a linebacker, that has kind of been a traditional two way player, that has been the complementary position - outside linebacker/tight end complementary position, wide receiver/corner. Again, a lot of the corners coming out of college football are converted wide receivers, I’d say a good chunk of them are. Of course, you have a great player in high school, you put him at wide receiver. Now he goes to college and he doesn’t quite have the hands or the skill set to be a top receiver, there are other receivers on the team that are better but he’s a good athlete, he’s a good player, he’s big, he’s tough - you put him over on defense. That’s the complementary position there. I don’t think that that’s necessarily - let’s put it this way, at whatever point a coach takes a player from offense and puts him on defense, there is usually a reason for that. I would say the reason usually is that he’s not enough of a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. What coach is going to take your best playmaker and put him on defense? You just wouldn’t do that, all the things being equal. If the guy can’t catch but he’s a good athlete or he’s everything but he doesn’t have great hands, at some point you get a receiver who is a better pass catcher and you put this guy over on defense. You get a guy who is big and strong and tough, but he’s just not elusive enough runner, he just can’t run over everybody, you can run over guys that are smaller than you but at some point when everybody is the same size, you just can’t run over those guys and he doesn’t have the elusiveness then you put him over on defense and you get a more elusive running back. Whether that’s at high school, college or wherever it is, and I tell the defensive players all the time, ‘Don’t kid yourself. If you were a big enough playmaker, you would have stayed on offense. Either at the high school or the college level they would have put you out there and you’d be out there having 100 yard receiving game or 150 yard rushing games. You’d be doing that. Don’t kid yourself.’ It’s like the defensive specialist in basketball, if you were that good of a shooter, you’d be the point guard but you’re not so start covering these guys or we’ll get somebody else in there.
Q: We’ve heard you joke before that you started Stephen Neal on the defensive line and that didn’t work out and
BB: There are plenty of them, yeah. Some guys just don’t, the other side of the ball, they’re just, I don’t want to say one-dimensional players but their specialty is on one side of the ball and that’s all they are. But that’s okay. There are a lot of good players that don’t have secondary positions -
Q: So you couldn’t run.
BB: I could not run. I could not run, that’s right.
Q: Going back a generation before the slot receiver, where would
BB: He’d have fit in as a perimeter receiver, like all the other, like all the guys we watched growing up. I’m thinking of the Colts, the Raymond [Berrys] the [Johnny] Orrs, the guys like that. You had some big receivers like the Gary Collinses, the 6’6” guys out there that were big matchup guys but then you had the other guys, Raymond Berry was tall but he was a great route runner, had great hands, great discipline. There were plenty of guys like that - the Fred Biletnikoffs and all those guys that were great technique route runners. I think every receiver, every good receiver has something that is exceptional, that is hard to cover - either his size, his speed or his great technique and quickness where he just, even though the other guy might be bigger, the other guy might be faster, this guy has the way of knowing how to put himself in the position where the quarterback can throw him the ball and he’s open. Whatever you want to call that - technique or experience or quickness, whatever that combination - and if he doesn’t then he probably isn’t going to be playing receiver very long. You have to be able to get open somehow - some guys do it with their speed, some guys do it with their size, some guys do it with their quickness, some guys do it with great technique and experience. Some guys that have a combination of those skills, like the Jerry Rices of the world, those are some of the all-time greats.