Q: Can you speak to the type of player Devin McCourty has become over the course of his career with his versatility and leadership?
BB: Yeah, Devin does a lot of things, Ben [Volin]. He started off at corner. Really, he's played both safety positions, even though it's more free safety but he's played plenty of, I'd say, strong safety type of assignments. He's strong in the kicking game. He's returned kickoffs for us. He's covered kicks, been the hold-up guy on punt return, so he's really been in all of the units. He gives us a lot of great preparation, leadership, toughness, dependability, a lot of speed on the field. Yeah, he's got a lot of great qualities.
Q: Is selflessness a quality he has shown you?
BB: Yeah, he's great. I mean, you know, he's been a captain practically his whole career, really. He's got great respect from his teammates and does a lot of things for the team, again, both in terms of communication, leadership, sets a great example. He's a very positive influence on the team.
Q: Has there been a big difference in their style of defense since Sean McDermott left as defensive coordinator and has been replaced by Steve Wilks? Is it basically the same style that you've seen them play?
BB: Pretty much. Wilks has been with [Ron] Rivera in three different organizations, so I would imagine that there's a lot of carryover. There's a pretty good understanding between those guys of what they want to do and how they want it done. Yeah, I'd say fundamentally the defense is the same. I'm sure they have probably a couple of tweaks or variations like probably every team has form year to year. We certainly have it. There's something that's a little bit different than it was last year for one reason or another. Overall, it's the same defense.
Q: What are some of the hallmarks of that defense?
BB: Four-man line, a lot of zone, blitz-zone. They basically play two fronts. Blitz tendencies have been the same as what they've been. In 2013, the last time we went through it, there's not a lot of changes from what we had in 2013 percentage-wise. That's basically what they want to try to do. [They're] a good fundamental team. They've put a lot into their front seven.
Q: Rob Gronkowski talked a bit about Shaq Thompson and how he can be a sort of hybrid player. Have you seen that from him as well?
BB: Basically, whether they're in nickel or base, it's pretty much the same defense. He and [Captain] Munnerlyn essentially play the same position in the defense. He plays in space. Again, depends on the formation but if you extend the formation he'll play in space, kind of where Munnerlyn would play. They're not a match team so if you have three receivers in the game on first down, you won't necessarily get nickel. They'll put Thompson where Munnerlyn would be and play a lot of the same things they would play with Munnerlyn in there.
Q: Are you amazed that Julius Peppers is still a productive player in the league after all of these years?
BB: Yeah, I mean Julius was a tremendous athlete coming into the league. The guys that come in with that kind of rare ability generally seem to last longer than most others. But he's been very productive for Carolina, then up in the AFC North and then back in Carolina again. They've used him a little bit inside, but he's not only good defensively, he's very good at blocking kicks. He's a great field goal rusher. I don't know how many career blocks he's got - probably a dozen - but it's a lot. He's long, he's very athletic. In some schemes I'm sure he could play linebacker, could play outside linebacker, so you're talking about that kind of athlete for as big as he is, as athletic as he is, a guy like [Jadeveon] Clowney, guys like that.
Q: How tough is it to cover a guy with the size of Kelvin Benjamin?
BB: Yeah, he's a big target; [Devin] Funchess, too. Those guys are like having tight ends flexed out there. Plus they have the tight end with [Ed] Dickson, so you're looking at a very big group. Again, unless you have somebody with that kind of height and length, which nobody really does, wherever the receiver is there is somewhere you can throw him the ball that the defender can't get it, so he's never really covered even if he's covered. You either throw it high, or if he's on one side you throw it to the other side and he can reach it and the defender cant. Yeah, those guys are big targets. Benjamin's a good route runner. He uses his size and can body up the defenders, get positon, catches the ball, can use his body to protect the catch. He's a clutch guy for them, third-down, red area, critical situations. He makes a lot of plays.
Q: With Tampa Bay coming up early next week on Thursday, has that required your team to be a little but further ahead in their preparation for next week?
BB: Well, we always have people on our staff who work ahead, so whatever game we're on we have certain people that work on the next game, and then when we get to the next game then they bridge us to that week, and then they move to the following game. The cycle is moved up a little bit but it's basically the same, so yeah, it'll be a big weekend for us and a quick turnaround after the game. The same as it is for our opponent, but yeah, definitely more challenging. But it's kind of the same. It's the same cycle, the same people that advance, advance, and then hand it off to the people that are in the current game, and then the advance moves on and the current game is the current game.
Q: Do you manage your roster differently at all going into this game knowing that you have limited rest following this game before playing next Thursday?
BB: I don't think so. I mean, if there was a particular situation, possibly, but in general I wouldn't. No, I wouldn't say so.
Q: Does the Panthers offense use a lot of motion to sort of hold off the defensive ends and force them to pause a little bit?
BB: Well, I think they have a pretty core group of plays between the motions and personnel groups and sometimes shifting. It's hard defensively to recognize the play until it's too late, so they don't line up and just show you what it's going to be. They line up in something else so you're thinking one thing and then they motion and then it's the play that you might be able to recognize if they had given you that formation or look initially but they don't. They do a good job of that. Mike [Shula] does a good job of having a good core offense, balanced offense, but disguising a lot of what they do with different personnel groups, different motions, so it keeps the reads the same, keeps a lot of the assignments the same but keeps the defense from really locking in on those, from really identifying those plays.
Q: What does the three-tight end look do for your offense?
BB: It just puts another personnel group out there for our opponents to defend. If we feel like we can take advantage of it, then that's what we'll try to do. I mean, it's not a lead formation for us, but if we can gain an advantage with it in some way, we will. If we can't, then it probably wouldn't be that big of a part of the package that week.
Q: Elandon Robert's snaps have increased in each of the first three games. What improvements has he made from year one to year two?
BB: Everything. He has a year under his belt. He knows our defense better, communicates it well from his position as a linebacker, which is an important communication position. He's had more experience with other offenses, linemen, backs, quarterbacks, line of scrimmage procedures, so forth. So, he picks those things up, the subtle differences, quicker, can direct other people, his teammates, based on what he sees, but also his just communication and understanding of our defense and how to utilize the tools that we have to try to take advantage of something that he sees. He's more comfortable and just has more experience doing it. He's improved in every area. It hasn't just been one thing. He works extremely hard off the field in his preparation, plays hard on the field, practices hard and has a good understanding of the defense and does a good job communicating with his teammates from the middle linebacker position - which that's part of the job, too, but you need to have some experience and some confidence to exert that. I'd say he's definitely gained that in the last year.
Q: What are the challenges of defending two running backs like Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart?
BB: You just have to be disciplined in your reads. There's only one runner back there. If he's back there with a tight end or a fullback or something like that, I mean, you know who the runner's going to be. I mean, it could be a pass, but you know who basically is going to carry the ball. With two guys back there, then misdirection plays and reading your keys and making sure that you defend your responsibility, because there's more than one guy that can carry it, becomes more critical, which is the way it was when I came into the league when there were two running backs. So the halfback blocked, the fullback ran. The fullback blocked, the halfback ran, and your keying system was, for linebackers, much more difficult then because of the different combinations of plays that they had. As that's evolved to a one-back set, again, for the most part, we know who's going to carry the ball, and so that's just changed a little bit. When you put two guys back there, especially if you're not used to doing it, understanding that there's probably not a lot of one guy is blocking for the other guy plays - there's more of one guy runs here and the other guy runs somewhere else, which guy has the ball - you have to defend both of them as opposed to having lead blockers. I wouldn't say that that's featured, but when you have two guys going in different directions, then that can slow down the defense.
Q: When you came into the league, would you have matched that set with base defense?
BB: No, I think the match is based more on the receivers. I mean, it's hard to match on running backs. I mean, it just is because the formation is still how many blockers do they have, and it's hard to treat a back as a receiver unless he really is a receiver. I mean, if he's in the backfield, you can treat him as a receiver, but I'd say that's a hard thing to do because that's not - like linebackers don't see receivers in the backfield unless it's truly a receiver in the backfield, and that's rare and usually with a very specific purpose. When you have two backs back there, it just changes the run keys and the awareness that the linebackers have to have in the inside running game. I mean, look, if a guy runs a toss sweep or runs a reverse, that's a perimeter play. I mean, that's one thing. When it's an inside play, it involves a blocking scheme and a linebacker fit on the ball, then that's a whole other issue. Yeah, I'd say the majority of the matching comes with the number of receivers the team has on the field. Now, there's some tight ends that are receiving tight ends, so you could treat that receiving tight end as a receiver, which that's pretty common in this league, but I'd still say it falls into the receiver category.
Q: How has Dion Lewis looked to you when he has been in the game?
BB: I think Dion's been good. He can make plays with the ball in his hands, both in the running game and the passing game. No problem with him in there. I think he's done a good job when he's had an opportunity.
Q: Is Lewis the kind of back who could take the ball in goal line or short yardage situations?
BB: Sure, yeah. I think he's good with the ball in his hands and he has good vision, runs hard, has a low center of gravity, is a hard guy to tackle. So, I think you could hand him the ball in any situation - inside, outside. Yeah, I think he's a hard guy to tackle and he has good vision, can find space.
Q: What attracted you to Taylor Heinicke and Riley McCarron, who you added to your practice squad recently?
BB: Just an opportunity to work with them. I mean, we really don't know much about either player. So, we'll see how it goes.