Q:** After the first five games of the season, what can you say you take away from looking at the Patriots offense and the struggles that they've had so far?
SP: It's hard for me to comment on someone else's struggles. Certainly it's been a team that's been very explosive, they're playing very good on defense, and like every one of us, we're in a race to improve each week and that's what we're trying to do. I'm sure New England's doing the same.
Q: You've gone up against Aqib Talib a lot over the last few years during his time in Tampa Bay. What do you see out of him now? Is he the same player that he was in Tampa Bay? Has he improved at all?
SP: He's playing, first, in a little bit different system. He's doing a great job, he's having an outstanding season. He's playing a lot of man coverage, often times on the opponent's best receiver. He's got very good ball skills; you've got to be very careful on where you're locating the football. He's got great makeup speed, and he's also got the size. He's having a fantastic season, so you see him a little bit different only because of the amount of man he's playing maybe relative to when we saw him at Tampa Bay.
Q: Based on your experience facing the Patriots in the past, how much different is the amount of man coverage you're seeing from the Patriots as a team?
SP: Last week was really the first spot-drop zone team that we've seen in quite a while in Chicago. It still ends up about trying to find ways to create separation, and when that's taking place, problematically you can get caught holding the football and there's stress in the protection, so I think that's one of the things that they've done well defensively. Obviously there's variations on how teams play man and how much or how little safety help [they use], and those are the things that we've just got to be ready to handle and understand, especially on the road.
Q: There's a lot of talk about whether Rob Gronkowski will play or not. In a situation like this where you don't know if one of their top players will play, how do you prepare? Do you have to set two defensive game plans?
SP: Well I don't necessarily think there are two defensive game plans. I was just asked that question earlier by our media, and I think it's more a case where, when you go against your scout teams that are trying to simulate the opponent, often times you use jersey numbers, and sometimes the fronts or coverages can be dictated by a lineman. So I think you take the approach, A, that's he's going to play, and then you understand if he doesn't, how that affects your game plan. I don't think you ever go in with two entirely different plans, but you're certainly mindful of a player with his ability.
Q: I know you can't speak for Rob Ryan, but his brother Rex Ryan plays the Patriots twice every year with the Jets. Do you think they trade any notes at all or talk about what it's like playing the Patriots?
SP: You said it at the beginning. I can't really speak for him.
Q: What has Rob Ryan brought to your defense this year?
SP: I think, number one, he's got a passion for the game. I think that he's instilled some confidence in our guys. And the other thing is he's a great staff member, very loyal and hard-working. All those combinations, and we were able to add a few key pieces, there's still a handful of things that we've got to improve on, but you really as a head coach appreciate the passion he has and also just the type of staff member he is.
Q: Steve Spagnuolo, was he basically the fall guy for what happened last year defensively with you guys?
SP: No, I wouldn't say that. Next question.
Q: All those attributes you described for Rob Ryan, it seems like Steve brought those to the team as well, so –
SP: Next question.
Q: What is the biggest schematic difference with your defense this year?
SP: I think we were a little bit more zone-pressure oriented a year ago in regards to our front and coverages, and we're probably I would say playing quite a bit more man. There's some personnel differences in regards to how we're aligning from a year ago that are just really an entire different look.
Q: What has Kenny Vaccaro brought to you at the safety position?
SP: He's got good instincts, and the challenge we had in evaluating him on college tape is he played almost entirely in the nickel. In other words, there were two safeties behind him, and he was kind of playing, with all the spread offenses, he was playing that nickel position. But you knew he had played, and he played prior in the third and in the half position or down low. He's got good size, he's a very good tackler, and he's one of those rookies that has picked things up fairly quickly. I think he's got good football instincts.
Q: How much does Drew Brees' exceptional performance this year have to do with the fact that you're back and he doesn't have to handle all the peripheral things he did last year with coaching and leadership?
SP: I think it would be more about the type of games we're playing. Look, the two allies I think for good quarterback play starts with good defensive football and then the ability to have some balance with the running game to go along with the passing game. We're still a work in progress with our running game, but I think that it becomes more challenging at that position when you're playing in high-scoring games and there's that pressure to feel like you've got to score X-amount of points each week to win. I think that that's one of the things that, each week we kind of look at a plan, and it might be different last week in Chicago, certainly it was different than the week before home here versus Miami. So he's very good in understanding what the plan is that week to win, and I think that's what we've tried to focus on.
Q: Obviously there's a little difference in size, but looking at their on-field skill set, do you see a lot of similarities between Drew Brees and Tom Brady?
SP: They're certainly both driven, competitive players that really put winning ahead of every other statistic. And then you throw on top the skill set, guys that are accurate when they throw the football, good leaders, those are some basic common denominators.
Q: Any differences that come to mind?
SP: Yeah, I mean I think when you look at them obviously they're built differently. There are different strengths and weaknesses I'm sure, but when you look at a guy like Tom [Brady] – we've talked about this earlier – and Bill [Belichick], they've been together for so long. I can recall back when I was with the Giants us having a joint practice, I think it was after 2000 or 2001 maybe, and Coach [Dick] Rehbein had just passed away. We were up there with the Giants for three or four days before a preseason game, and I think it was the year that Tom was going to end up playing and end up winning a Super Bowl. But you've seen his career, it seems like it's lasted a long time, and you don't see any type of drop off. You know that he takes care of himself, he works extremely hard at it, and I think there's just those unique traits that someone like Tom Brady has or someone like Drew Brees has that just drives them to be excellent. And again, though, obviously there's some differences, and we try to always with every player try to build on what we feel like are the strong suits.
Q: Tom Brady's numbers are a little bit down from what Patriots fans are used to seeing. Do you still see the same Tom Brady? Do you think he's the same elite quarterback?
SP: Absolutely. I mean, when you take the pieces away in just one year, that's a transition that's difficult. But you see everything you've seen prior, you see the arm strength, you see the will to win, you see the competitive drive, you see all those things. I think just like we are a work in progress each week, we're trying to improve, we feel like we tell our players we're in a race to get better. It's either that or you're going in the other direction, and I'm sure they're working hard to improve in the areas they feel like they need to just like we are.
Q: Is there anything you took away positively from your sabbatical last season?
SP:** It gave me an opportunity to coach my son's sixth-grade football team. You certainly gain an appreciation for the relationships you have in this industry and the process. I don't know that you necessarily miss game days itself or the practices itself, but not having any contact anyone in the league with any team, you realize the amount of people that you see on a daily basis. So I think you appreciate that more than ever. You become stronger, you become maybe a little bit more cynical, and hopefully you come back, and for me it was quickly getting up to speed. There's a lot of changes. In one year you have a draft class and a free agency class, and I don't know how many players that is or what's the average, but
Q: You have a trusted member on your staff let's just say it's a dozen to fourteen or fifteen. And then the following year that you're coming back you have a draft class and a free agency class, and that first team meeting you're sitting in, there's 38-40 players that you haven't met yet. in Terry Malone who has ties to Massachusetts in a number of ways. Can you speak to his importance to your staff and maybe the impact he's had on Jimmy Graham and the rest of the tight ends?
SP: He's done a very good job with that group. I knew Terry back from coaching in college. He's provided very good stability, he's been with us since our initial season in 2006, and at that time, post-Katrina, it was hard bringing coaches and families here to this region shortly after Katrina. But I've known him prior to that. [Offensive Coordinator] Pete Carmichael is another coach that we have that came in 2006 that played baseball at Boston College, so there's a few ties to that area.
Q: What does Terry bring to that tight end position that has helped Jimmy Graham?
SP: I think he's a good communicator and a good teacher. He's very consistent. I think as coaches, we're always looking for individuals that love teaching and that have a passion for their job, and I think he brings those things.
Q: When a team loses a player of the caliber of Vince Wilfork in the middle of the season, how long does it usually take for the team to adjust to life without him?
SP: I think that every team goes through the transition of losing potential players. I think that it still gets back to team defense, team offense, and there is that mindset of the next player up, the next man up. It's existed this year for us with the loss of a handful of players that in the spring or early training camp that we felt would be starters for us, and I'm sure the same thing is taking place with New England?
Q: Have you ever seen anyone like Jimmy Graham?
SP: I think our league has seen, probably in the last 10 years, tight ends maybe used differently. I just don't have the extensive background, maybe from an experience standpoint. I was in New York when we drafted Jeremy Shockey, and I'm not making a comparison, I'm just pointing towards tight ends that I've been a part of or was able to share a locker room with. We were in Dallas when we drafted Jason Witten. In Jimmy's case, what was unique is that he just had the one year of playing at [the University of] Miami following his basketball career, so to our scouts' credit there was some projection with just the limited exposure he had to the college game. He's come in, he's worked extremely hard, he wants to please, and he's got that size and stature and the ability to adjust on some difficult throws. It's hard to project, because at times every year there might be an athlete you're looking at that's played another position or maybe didn't play or have same experience, and fortunately we did a good job of scouting him.