It feels like we are back in training camp with walk-throughs in the morning and practices in the afternoon. We are trying to cram it all in here. Today is our day to work on Carolina. We did the scouting report yesterday, but basically this is it as far as our big preparation day. We are going to hit it twice today. We have the Kickoff Gala tonight. We'll be down there for that, and I think that everybody is looking forward to that too, unofficially kicking off the season. That's pretty much the update. (Max) Lane is out of Thursday's game, but it shouldn't be a problem for the opener. Everybody else we will have to take a better look at this afternoon, some of those other guys that were banged up from the last game (Patrick) Pass, Henry Thomas, and that group.
Q: When you had this short week situation earlier in the year you said you whited out San Francisco and just put in Washington. Is that the same situation now?
B: It is very similar. We haven't looked at the Tampa film. Monday we just went right into Carolina and tried to get the players as much information as we can to prepare for this game. We will come back and obviously do Tampa again next week. It is very similar though.
Q: Will John Friesz play a lot Thursday night, and what is the situation with the quarterbacks?
B: John will follow Drew (Bledsoe). How long that will be, I'm not sure. What the situation is, I don't know that either.
Q: We are getting close here, shouldn't you know?
B: Well, we will wait until all the polls are closed. John had a chance to play against Washington. This is a tough week for everybody, but especially for John having to prepare, but that is very well what it could be like during the season. There is not much preparation time for the backup quarterbacks, and they have to jump in there. Whether it's John or Michael (Bishop), both have had the same type of situation. Michael with Detroit and John here, playing on short weeks and having to jump in there. We will see how they do.
Q: Can you talk about what the factors are going to be in the decision between Friesz's experience and Bishop's athleticism?
B: They are two very different players. They both have a number of strong points and things that they bring to the table, but they are quite different from each other both athletically and from an experience standpoint. They are about as much on opposite ends as you can get. We'll just have to decide what is the best way to go and what is best for our team. In the end I really can't say that it will be the same every week. There may be some weeks where it will change from one to the other as to who the second quarterback will be. We will just have to see how that goes. We will see how John does this week. We will have to make a decision for this game, and that may or may not be the same for the whole season.
Q: Are there any jobs on the line Thursday night, or do you pretty much know what your roster is going to be?
B: I think everybody that is here is in contention in one way or another. We all saw what happened down at Carolina. They lost a couple of receivers, and now all of a sudden the whole situation can change in the matter of a couple of days, one game. Look what happened out at Arizona. You just never know. We will try to keep the best 53 and get to the best 45 from there. How those combinations can go, there are a lot of different ways to look at it. Some players bring experience, some players bring youth and potential upside. Some guys have played well in preseason and look like they are starting to establish something for themselves, but if they level off that will hurt them. Other guys are starting to climb and maybe they will pass them. Again, when this game is over, we will go back and take a little bit closer look at the Tampa game because we had to rush through that one because of the schedule that we are on. We will take a couple of days to sort through and collect our thoughts and make the personnel decisions that we think are best for the team.
Q: Will you make any personnel decisions prior to this game?
B: There could be a couple of adjustments here because today is the day that we have to be at the mandatory league limit. There are a couple of procedural things that we have to do. There could be a move or two. I can't say for sure that there will be, but there is a possibility.
Q: Could it be minor or major?
B: I think if you were the player involved, it would be major. If you are not the player involved maybe it would be minor.
Q: In your experience how often does a guy's performance in the final preseason game make or break his chances of making the team?
B: I think that there are some every year. Until you actually see the performance it is hard to tell what actually would or wouldn't push it over the edge. You always come down to the line with a couple of players. Sometimes what happens to one player effects somebody on the other side of the ball. The safeties are in competition with the full backs and tight ends in the kicking game. The receivers are in competition with the running backs for playing time on offense and rosters spots, but they are in competition with cornerbacks for special team spots. All of those things interact and it would be nice if it was clear cut, but everybody brings something to the table. I'm not being critical in any way, but the coaches fight for their players. The receiver coach is going to fight for an extra receiver, saying 'this guy has been doing a good job and he's been working hard and getting better.' The linebacker coach is fighting for his guy saying 'this guy has come in and done a good job, we could really use him,' and we really could. It would be nice if we could carry 65 instead of 53. In the end that will all work itself out. There are conversations and hard decisions to be made based on what is best for the team, and individually different coaches will certainly stand up and fight for the players that they respect and that have done well for them. It's just natural.
Q: Do you still have moves to make to get to the limit?
B: No. We are okay right now. We have the three exemptions with the NFL Europe exemptions. They don't exist in the league count. Marc Megna, Sean Morey, and Garret Johnson don't count.
Q: What number are you at now?
B: I'm not sure with a couple of the procedural moves and Robert Edwards and those types of things. I can't give you an exact number.
Q: In your experience, has there ever been a player who was hanging on by a thread going into the last preseason game and really turned into a good player during the season?
B: Rob Holmberg is a guy that came in with the Jets in the middle of '98 and played some as a role player. He went to training camp in '99 and had a real good camp, but we just weren't able to keep him for whatever reason. Minnesota picked him up on the last cut, and he went out there and played for the Vikings last year. There is an example of a guy on our team who has played through the preseason and his performance didn't get him on the Jets team, but he was noticed by another team and ended up there. We all know that that is going to happen. There are going to be players here in the final cut that will be claimed by somebody else based on what somebody has seen in the preseason.
Q: Can you give us some perspective on how the use of audibles has changed or diminished over the years and why that is?
B: A lot of things in football are cyclical, and when any team has success there is usually a tendency for other teams to copy those types of plays. I remember in the '80s when Joe Gibbs was in Washington, they never audibled. I've talked to Joe Theisman about it subsequently, and I can remember Joe saying that 'we can be running off tackle to the right, and there could be eight guys standing in that hole, we are running the play. It didn't matter, we would not ever audible.' You knew that, and they won a lot of football games doing it that way. There are different schools of thought, some feel that it is better to run the play and be aggressive, it might not be the greatest look, but you are not going to make any mistakes and there is not going to be any miscommunication. Everybody knows how to do it, and you just live with the play, and that's one for the defense if they hit it right. Other people feel that at this level you should be to go to another play if you see one that looks better than the one you have on. I remember watching Johhny Unitas do it when I was a kid, Weeb Ewbank, (Don) Shula, and (Dan) Marino. There are a lot of different ways to do it, it just depends what your system is. Either it is built into it or not. People have done it both ways, and they have done it successfully both ways and have had problems both ways. It is just a question of philosophy and what you believe in.
Q: What is your philosophy?
B: I think with this team with Drew at quarterback and the overall experience of our team, it is part of our system and I think that we can handle it. If it ever becomes a situation where I don't feel that way, then we won't do it. It is just not worth it to do those kinds of things and make mistakes. I think now you are seeing it in a lot of different areas of the game. You are seeing it in the kicking game and you see it on defense a lot. When Buddy Ryan was at Chicago and Philadelphia, he had a very extensive audible system on defense. Pittsburgh is another team that does a lot of, I don't if you would really call it audibling, but there is a lot of flexibility at the line of scrimmage. What they do depends on what you do. They are not just going to call something and necessarily play it. Teams have different philosophies.
Q: The last couple of years you were credited with defending Drew very well. Last year's Monday Night game was the beginning of the end of last season. The way you defended him put something in his head and sent him down. Now that you are working with him does that help that you have that insight?
B: I didn't really see the game that way. In that particular game the defense that we used was set more to the scheme that was being run by the Patriots at that time. It really wouldn't have mattered if Drew was at quarterback or if john Friesz was at quarterback. I think that the game plan would have been pretty close to what the game plan was because of the type of plays that they were running and what they were doing. We were just trying to defend it.
**Q: What is your thinking and how long you want to use your first units on Thursday night and what do you want to see from them?**
B: Well, I would like to see a more efficient operation all around, in all three areas. I think that there has been a certain level of progress in each game, but it hasn't really been as tight as it needs to be. I would like to see improvement in every area. We haven't really talked about that. I'm sure we will talk about that tomorrow. Our main focus so far has been just trying to get the team focused for Carolina. Here is what they do, here is what we are going to do, here are some adjustments that we have to make because of the scheme that they use and their personnel. We talked a little bit about playing time. My guess would be that, you know we just played, so we are playing again on the back half of a double header. I think it will be good for the players to get in there and get a game level of execution, but a lot of guys just did a couple of days ago. How long? They should be ready to play the whole game every game. I think that is the attitude that they need to go into every game with. At whatever point we decide to make some substitutions, we will make them. The other half of the equation is that we need to see some other people who are very competitive for roster positions. It probably won't be the same for everybody. I don't think that we are necessarily going to play one group for X amount of time and then come in with another group. I think that there will be different players, you know we will want to see more of this player than that player, for whatever the reasons are we want to see these two players play, and the focus will be more individually on the playing time. Rather than have this group then that group type of thing.
Q: Do you fear in this last game a circumstance like what happened to the Patriots many years ago when they lost Andre Tippet, Ronnie Lippett, and Garin Veris in the last preseason game. Do you coach differently to try and protect people?
B: I don't think so. It is really a good point that you bring up. First of all we can't buy insurance on anybody. It's not like we can take out an insurance policy on anybody. Football is football. If you are going to play, then you are going to go out there and play. One of my first years with the Giants '80, '81, or '82, in our last preseason game, we had a situation where a lot of players went into the game with the attitude that 'hey it is the last preseason game. Let's just get through it and get it over with.' We had four guys get hurt, not season ending injuries, but an ankle for two weeks, a knee for a couple weeks, a shoulder for a couple weeks, that kind of thing. When we went back and looked at it, we really thought, and the players did too, it was substantiated collectively, that had the players really been busting their butt on those plays and playing them like they should have been, then they wouldn't have gotten hurt. They were kind of standing around the pile and a guy hit him late or a guy fell on him. From that point on, both the players and the coaches visibly saw the lesson that you have a lesser chance of anything happening to you if you are playing hard and going at the tempo that you need to be going at. If you are going at a slower tempo, you are actually giving the other guy that extra step to get to you or that extra half a step to put that hit on you that he normally wouldn't get if you were aggressively running the ball or trying to tackle the runner. Honestly after that happened, even though it was very unfortunate, I think a lesson was learned on that particular team. After that happened I really don't remember having a problem with it. The attitude from that point on was 'we're playing, we don't care if it is the preseason, we're going.' Playing hard is the best way not to get hurt.
Q: Are pre-season wins and losses a good indicator for the season?
B: I don't know. I'm sure you could find both sides of that one. We have all seen the 6-0 preseason and the 1-13 regular season, and vice versa. I don't think Buffalo ever won a game in preseason and they went to four Super Bowls, so I'm sure you can find examples on both sides. I think what is important is for the team to come out of the preseason (a) with a good level of confidence, (b) to be able to execute and perform well in the early part of the season. Does that have to do with winning and losing? I think to a certain degree it does, but again it depends on the team and the situation.
Q: If you go all the way, then you will play 25 games this season. Is that a daunting number?
B: Even when it was a 14 game season there were six preseason games. Ever since I have been in the league it has been a minimum of 20 games. Other than in the two strike years, '82 and '87, it has never been less than 20. As a coach you learn how to pace yourself through training camp because you are on a certain schedule in camp. Then you pace yourself through the regular season. The demands are different, but it is an equally demanding pace. I think that as a player it is the same thing. It's harder for some of the younger players to understand that because there motors are running one way right now. Some players are just trying to make the team, while some other players are focusing towards the regular season, players that are pretty confident that they are going to be here. What is dangerous, and what you always have to talk to the young players about, especially the rookies, is when they get past the final cut and make the team they think 'I made the team, that's great, the war is over.' Your attitude as a coach is you haven't done anything. We haven't played a game yet. It's just starting. Now we have to get going. Mentally that is a tough adjustment for some rookies to make. It's an adjustment that they all have to make, but it's tough. A lot of times you will see a young player perform a lot better in training camp than he does once the regular season starts. Sometimes it is because he doesn't get as many reps, sometimes it's mental, he's either drained or relaxed because he feels like his job is done and he is on the team.
Q: Have you determined who will start at running back on Thursday?
B: No, I'm sure they will all play
Q: Do you have an interest in Brad Culpepper?
B: I got word on that last night. We haven't had a chance to talk about him. Scott (Pioli), and the rest of the personnel staff, cover every player that is waived. We go back and do a college history on the player, a pro history on the player, and most of them have been graded in the preseason games, whichever games we have in at this point. We (a) see if we like the player, and (b) if we do like the player, then we need to see whether or not he fits and what are some of the other circumstances with injury or salary numbers. Maybe it is a position where we already have enough depth. That is an ongoing process. Scott and I usually talk about that. That is something that we will get to. We haven't really talked about it today.
Q: Do you admit that it is an intriguing name?
B: It was a surprising name. I definitely didn't expect to see that one. Actually it wasn't on the wire last night. They must have told him today because it hasn't officially crossed the wire. By league rule we can't contact a player until he is released by the league, not by the press. Not that I would accuse anybody of putting out false information. I'm not saying that, but that is just the way it is.
Q: Has he ever played the Two-Gap?
B: Not much. I remember working him out when he was with Florida. He came out with a pretty good group because they were seven or eight guys that we worked out that day. He is a real high motor player. He wasn't a highly touted player, but he has had a tremendous career because of his work ethic and quickness. I was surprised to hear that, but again, he has not been officially terminated. I guess that will take place today.
Q: Has Michael Bishop made progress?
B: I'd say he's made progress.
Q: Would you be confident to put him in the regular season?
B: Yes. I'm not saying I'd put him ahead of John (Friesz) right now. I'm saying, would I put him in a game? Yes, I'd put him in a game.
Q: Would it depend on your opponents?
B: I haven't made a final decision on that. I'm saying it's a possibility that regardless of who is the number two quarterback at the beginning of the season, that may or may not change. It may or may not change from week to week, or it may or may not change at some point later on in the year. I just can't say for certain. In my mind at this point, again, we are not done yet, but at this point we're just not dead set. Drew Bledsoe is our starting quarterback. That's not going to change. The second situation is not quite as clear as that.
Q: Is there a strong possibility that you could dress all three quarterbacks.
B: When it comes time to game time and you make that decision to take the 45 players to the game, the absolute last thing that goes through your mind as a football coach is in this game, Sunday, are these the best 45 guys to give me the chance to win. Whoever they are. If it means taking five quarterbacks because for some reason you think that gives you a better chance to win than taking three, then I would absolutely do that. I think that any other coach would too. When you put those names on a list on Friday, you got to say to yourself, 'Is this the best chance I have to win this game? Are these the guys that are going to give me the best chance to win it? What am I going to do? What am I going to have to defend? What do I think is going to happen? There is no crystal ball, you never know. You've got to protect yourself in a couple of places and figure out how you want to attack and all that. When you put those final names down, you've got to feel like this is my best chance. Whoever they are, that's what it is going to be down there. I wouldn't rule anything out. If I could put Andre Tippett's name down there, if I thought that would do it, I probably would do it. It could be anybody, but if you think that's your best chance, and you are a coach, you've got to do it. It could be our best chance.