Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano addresses the New England media during his conference call on Wednesday, September 17, 2008.
Q: Do you have a lot of people coming to Foxborough, Mass., for the game Sunday?
TS: I sure do. There will probably be 18-20 [people], somewhere in that range.
Q: Is there a difference in what a team captain is in the NFL, college and high school?
TS: That is an interesting question. In my mind no, there really isn't a whole lot of difference. A captain is a guy elected by his teammates to be their spokesman, whether that is in high school, college or the pros. I don't see it being much different. I think they are the voice of the team.
Q: How difficult is it to get so many new players accustomed to your system?
TS: I will tell you where the difficult part. The thing is, you have guys from several different teams one way or the other and you are meshing them with guys who have been here for several years in some situations. I think the difficult part of it is learning how to practice together and learning how to do those types of things. We really had to start all over again that way with learning how to practice, learning how to get involved in meetings and what the structure was that way. I think when you are trying to take people from a bunch of different professional backgrounds and bring them all into one situation like that, that is a little bit difficult.
Q: How do you feel the process of getting everybody acclimated with your system is coming along?
TS: I think it is coming along but we are not where we need to be with it yet. I think it is constantly a work in progress. One of the things that we certainly do here is we constantly move the bottom of the roster. It is three weeks now that we are here in the regular season but we have had new pieces each week. Somebody new has come in. I think when you are continuously bringing new people in, you have to teach them as well and they have to learn your process for a while.
Q: How has quarterback Chad Pennington progressed in your system so far?
TS: He [Chad Pennington] has come along really nice. Certainly from an offensive standpoint, our offense has slowed down tremendously for him from a mental standpoint. He is handling it really well now. He understands everything we need for him to understand - to go out there and function without having handcuffs on the game plan. Early in the preseason, obviously we had to give him bits and pieces as he was learning it. Right now, we really don't have to do that.
Q: I understand that you are good friends with University of Rhode Island football head coach Darren Rizzi?
TS: Yeah, Darren [Rizzi] worked for me when I was at the University of New Haven. He is a heck of a coach.
Q: Have you been able to follow how Coach Rizzi and the University of Rhode Island are doing this year?
TS: Yeah, I had a chance. I saw they didn't do very well this week and I certainly know the feeling myself. Obviously, we didn't speak to each other [this week].
Q: Can you talk about having a number of coaches on your staff being from New England?
TS: Yeah, and I think that was a big part from my standpoint of putting a staff together. I think when you get a staff together you want people who are first and foremost good football coaches. I could care less where they are from at that point. I knew a lot about the people that are here. Paul Pasqualoni is a guy I worked with in Dallas. George DeLeone is someone I have had experience with in and out of New England several times. These guys are all a part of this whole thing. It is certainly good to have them here. We get a chance to talk about home a little bit, which is kind of nice. More importantly, they are excellent football coaches.
Q: You also have outside linebackers coach Jim Reid and offensive line coach Mike Maser…
TS: Sure all those guys who have ties back there [New England]. I just think it was a good mix. Jim Reid worked for Paul [Pasqualoni] at one point. I have a lot of respect for what Jim Reid has done at the college level. We are trying to teach structure discipline and at the same time be the best X's and O's coaches that we can be with our players. All these guys bring that to the table in one way or the other.
Q: After watching film, do you think New England's offense changed much without quarterback Tom Brady?
TS: It looked familiar to me to be honest with you. As I started watching it [film] and with the Kansas City [Chiefs] game you pick up where Tom [Brady] was unfortunately injured. You see Matt [Cassel] come into the game and I don't think they stopped doing what they were planning on doing in that game. I think they just continued and that is a credit to Matt and him being prepared. I saw it even more in the next ball game, the [New York] Jets game. It doesn't look like they are doing anything different that way.
Q: What impresses you about quarterback Matt Cassel?
TS: One of the things I have been impressed with is his [Matt Cassel] arm strength. The guy can make all the throws and get the ball down the field. More importantly, I was impressed with him coming into a game [Kansas City] like that, which was a pretty close game at the time, with his poise and how he handled some of those situations that occurred through the course of that game.
Q: Do you know coach Bill Belichick at all?
TS: I know coach [Bill] Belichick a little bit through coach [Bill] Parcells and that would basically be the way.
Q: When you were with the Dallas Cowboys you saw quarterback Tony Romo sit for a few years before he got to start. Quarterback Matt Cassel has been through a similar situation here. What benefits do you think a young quarterback gets from sitting for a few years?
TS: One of the things is, if he can get a chance to sit, being able to see how you handle all the critical situations that show up in a game. I know coach [Bill] Belichick, and those guys are so well coached, talks about the same things we talk about with our players and quarterbacks. We try to school them [on] all the situations that could occur during the course of games, game management and those types of things. That sounds a little bit like 'lip service' sometimes until you get into the games and all of a sudden you are faced with all of those situations, like the two-minute drills where you need six yards at the end of a game to get a first down. You see all those things with veteran players like Tom Brady and you get a chance to watch him do those things. There is no greater experience for a young quarterback when he is sitting there than that.
Q: What have you seen from New England's defense this year that makes them so effective?
TS: We had a chance to play them [Patriots] last year when I was in Dallas. One of the things I have always been impressed with their defense is that they are so physically strong. They are big, strong people. Vince [Wilfork] in the middle - I have a lot of respect for him, Ty Warren and [Richard] Seymour. The outside linebackers - when you are in that defense like the Patriots are in, when you are talking about setting the edge of the defense - they need to be able to do that. They turn everything back into the middle of the defense to the guys like Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi and so on. I think that [Mike] Vrabel and Adalius [Thomas] do a tremendous job that way. They are two physical guys and the tight ends have a tough day that way. The other guy that I think brings unbelievable energy to that defense is Rodney Harrison.
Q: When you faced the Patriots last year with the Cowboys, linebacker Adalius Thomas was in the middle. Have you seen a big difference in him playing on the outside so far this year?
TS: Yeah, just when I watch him out there and that was interesting because I do remember him being in the middle and now I see him outside. That presence outside is hard because you take your protection one way and maybe [Mike] Vrabel ends up on a back, or you take your protection the other way. What I see is a guy that maybe looks a little more comfortable there. Certainly, he can pressure that way. He is good enough in the coverage. He looks a lot more comfortable and he presents a lot of problems.
Q: What does wide receiver Ernest Wilford have to do to see more action?
TS: Ernest [Wilford] played a little bit in last week's game and we will see what we do this week as we get into the week. Right now as a football team, it doesn't really matter one way or the other. Our skill people all have to make plays whether it is offensively or defensively. The guys that make plays are the guys that will play. I am partial to the guys that make plays.
Q: How has offensive tackle Jake Long done so far in his rookie year?
TS: It is a learning experience for Jake [Long]. One of the things I love about the guy is that he is a conscience guy. He is really a mentally tough guy. He doesn't make the same mistake twice. I think every game Jake looks back and he will have a couple of minus plays one way or the other. From his end, he works really hard on correcting those things. He doesn't make those mistakes over and over again. That is a sign of a guy that is going to be a good player.
Q: What were some of the breakdowns that led to the two 70-plus yards receptions by the Arizona Cardinals last week?
TS: It was just a lack of communication. One of them was a lack of communication and the other play the guy [Larry Fitzgerald] just out jumped us and caught the ball. It is about making a play and Larry Fitzgerald made a play in that situation.
Q: Was it hard losing guard Donald Thomas?
TS: Yes it was. It certainly was but that is part of the game and we have to go on. Donald [Thomas] did a nice job early on. Donald did a nice job early on but unfortunately he got hurt. We would love to have the kid because I think he was getting better and better. I thought our guys stepped up and played pretty well.
Q: Is guard Evan Mathis ready to go?
TS: Yes, Evan was ready to go last week.