ML: “We’re pleased to be able to announce the signing of the extension for Geno. I know he’s relieved and glad it’s behind him. Now he can move forward and focus on football. It’s great for the club. It continues what the (offseason) plan was initially, to make sure we retained and re-signed our players … continue with our young guys and keep focus on that, and coach them and get them better. Geno has been one of those players since he got here. He’s done a tremendous job, obviously in being productive on the field. Even early on in practice, you knew he had a bright future ahead of him. He’s been a very good leader and been a leader by example, and everything he does out there demonstrates it each and every day. We’re just pleased. It’s been a productive, productive offseason and we’ll continue to go forward.”
Geno, Marvin called it a relief for you. What’s the emotion at this point after signing the contract extension?
GA: “I’m just happy, and now I can just focus on football and get past whether I was going to sign this year or during the offseason, so I don’t have to worry about that now. I’m just going to go out there and play football and help the team go to a Super Bowl.”
This organization has shown it’s rewarding really good players and guys that do things the right way. How meaningful was it to you to get that reward from the organization?
GA: “It means a lot to know that they believe in me. They drafted me in the fourth round and they believed in me. That’s going to show the younger guys that if you do the right things on and off the field that you will be rewarded, too.”
How important was it to get it done now instead of waiting for it to go into the season or possibly the offseason?
GA: “It was important because I don’t have that weight over my head or any distractions about ‘Are we talking midseason or at the end of the season?’ Now I can just have a clear mind and play fast and hard.”
You mentioned this organization believing in you. How much did that go a long way in your development, to have that support system of an organization that really knows what you can do?
GA: “It went very far. Coming in, they believed that I could rush the passer, and then I got developed into being able to play the run and being an every down player.”
You’ve been a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro, etc. But is there a certain amount of extra respect in your peers’ eyes when you are rewarded financially?
GA: “Yes. It shows that hard work pays off, and they see that. I believe everyone wants to strive to get to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro. Not only is that being the best you can be, but also to get this team to the Super Bowl.”
Do you view yourself as one of the most important guys in that locker room now?
GA: “I don’t view myself as one of the most important. I think it’s a collective, 11 guys on offense and defense. I feel like I’m a core guy and I help the defense to try to be the top defense, and I will try and push Coach Lewis’ message to the younger guys in the locker room.”
Do you think your role changes now? Vocally?
GA: “I let my play do the talking, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. A lot of guys look up to me, and if they need help, I’m going to coach them up a bit but I let my play do the talking.”
There are a lot of expectations about this team this year from outside the building. How do you guys manage those?
GA: “Like we’ve been doing all year long and what Coach Lewis is preaching, just keep grinding and just focus on one week to the next and let’s get better each and every day when we go out there and practice.”
Did you know you had a deal before you went to the fireworks last night?
GA: (Laughs) “I knew we were close.”
So no wonder you had a good time?
GA: (Laughs) “A good celebration, yes.”
You’ve kind of been the same consistent guy throughout this process:
GA: “My mindset, is I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is to go out there and play hard and play fast and let the chips fall where they may be. If I signed now, or in the offseason I was just going to continue. That was my mindset. I wasn’t going to let this deal distract me. I was just going to do what I’ve been coached and taught to do.”
ML: (Laughs) “Is there any way to cap off Hard Knocks? It is good. It’s a good thing. As we all know, whether or not Geno said he was having to think about it, you (media) guys were always going to remind him of it, so now he doesn’t have to worry about that. He appreciates that. I think it was great for his teammates to know about this morning and be able to congratulate him. He’s a good man, and he’s worked hard, and he’s really a great example of taking what you have and making the very, very most of it each and every day and each and every opportunity. Geno’s done that, like he said, as a young player, and knowing that he could rush the passer and continuing to learn to do the things in the run game that were important. Now he’s able to share that knowledge with the other guys and the younger guys at his spot, and that’s a great thing.”
Do you hold him up as an example to the other guys?
ML: “I don’t have to hold him up. Everybody sees it. More than anything, it doesn’t matter how you get here -- what round, fourth, fifth, sixth, college free agent or whatever. If you do things the correct way you’re going to have opportunity. Like I say, the best thing about the NFL system is if it’s not here, so be it, it’s somewhere else, because the tape doesn’t lie. People recognize that, and they recognize that play, and you’re going to continue to play and earn opportunity. Hopefully we can fit you all in here, and we’ll keep striving to do that.”
It’s been a busy offseason and the team has spent a lot of money getting guys signed. Watching this develop, what’s been your reaction?
ML: “Occasionally, there have been people who raise to me that ‘you have so much cap space,’ and I tried to ask people to be patient. Yeah, we do, and the cap space is there to use, and we’ve continued to use it, and we have a couple more to do as well. That’s the thing. The team has really stepped up, and by my mere layman calculations, we’ve been one of the top four or five teams in the league in spending. That’s a big deal. We’ve preserved our young players and we’ve preserved our core guys. We’ve continued to draft and take players and develop players, and that’s important. It’s been a good offseason for that, and upstairs, Katie Blackburn and Troy (Blackburn) and Mike (Brown) should all be commended for what they’ve done. They’ve got to have the planning not one year at a time but a couple years. We’re in the middle of this process still.”
You’ve talked a lot about that 2009 draft class, from which you got a lot of those guys back in the offseason. How much has this 2010 class meant?
ML: “Well, they keep getting better and ’11 will top that. It’s funny, that article you had today about the Georgia guys, and we had two that were missing that were very significant. You’re having to catch up with some of those guys when you lose good players like that. These guys have made up for it, the ’09 class, the first four guys in 2010. They’re making up for those things and that’s good.”
Is that one of the drawbacks of five good draft classes, that you can’t keep everyone?
ML: “Well, you can’t keep everyone. We just have to keep doing a good job of drafting guys and coaching guys. You have to give the coaches credit for their ability to take these young guys, put them out there on the field, and get the very most out of them and allow them to do things that they were proficient at in college as they are learning to do some of the things that maybe they needed to improve upon to be successful in the NFL. I think we’ve been able to do that with these guys. If you give them some hope and success and what they feel good about, it makes it easier for them to really grind on the things that are not that easy to do. Some things take time to learn, and you’re going to get critiqued, and you’re not going to be quite right yet, and you’ve got to keep playing and doing it that way. We’ve watched the maturity of these guys come around.”
Is there a time during that camp in 2010, or a game, where you saw Geno make a play that you were in awe of?
ML: “Well we saw Geno right away in OTAs and rookie stuff, and he was like the Tasmanian Devil. But that’s also what we saw on tape at Georgia. Everybody was saying, with his stature, he has such great quickness and inner strength in his core that allows him to separate and be explosive. He understands leverage and is a pass rusher. He’s gotten nothing but better at that, and at understanding protections. At times he can singlehandedly take over a football game, and that’s what helps. They all work hand-in-hand and in concert. A couple weeks ago he looked at me and said ‘Hey coach, when is Carlos (Dunlap) going to be back, and Michael (Johnson)?’ Because he said ‘I need those guys to do what I do better.’ And conversely, they need him.”
Hypothetically, a guy who has been out of the game for a year that you might bring in tomorrow, can he immediately contribute?
ML: “Hypothetically, maybe. (Laughs) I’ll give you a hypothetical maybe on that. There’s a plan. There’s always a plan. You know that.”
Is the understanding that he’s come very far?
ML: “Let’s quit beating around the bush. Thomas (LB Thomas Howard) feels like the rehab has been good. It’s been almost a year. He feels good about things and we’ll see where he is with that and go from there.”
With the loss of
ML: “We feel good about the things we’re doing and the people we’re going to do it with. We really have to go into this football game with that kind of understanding. We’re going to play a very good Bears team and we’re going to need guys to play into the techniques and schemes that we want to play to. It behooves us to always look to get better. We’re going to take a look at some people over the next couple of days and see if there’s a player or two that helps us some way.”
You were able to get
ML: “From the time that he came back here, when we opened for training camp, he looked more like a guy that had played cornerback his whole life. He spent time with Ken Riley and it was great. And the time that both the coaches and players have spent with him has been great. He wants so bad to be able to make it. He’s far from a finished product and we know that. But now his stance and starts look very comfortable. He has tremendous speed, good hips, good feet, he can turn, he can run, he’s been not shy as a tackler. He’s the perfect developmental player to have the opportunity to get better and develop each and every day in practice because we’re going to coach the socks off him every day. He gets a chance to continue to develop while he’s here for however long. He did some things on special teams in the preseason. He’s a guy that you’re not going to call on the be that fourth or fifth corner right now, but I think he at some point this year could contribute if he has to on the 53-man roster.”
Any differences between the Hard Knocks experience from this year to four years ago? Easier? Harder? Better?
ML: “I think it has been easier on everybody here, and hopefully on them as well. Just knowing the ins and outs and what they have to do all the time and what’s important to us and what the football team needs to keep private to us, that’s been good. It’s been a great working relationship with them. Once again, our players got to witness how hard people work at their job each and every day. It’s a great lesson to see how other professionals work and do their job, and the patience they show going about it every day. You have to take your hat off to the people from NFL Films, all the sound people, camera people, PAs, the writers, all the people that do their thing every day and sit there and watch everything and throw it all together. They work hard.”
When you took the team picture today, besides trying to look good, what were you thinking about as that picture was being snapped?
ML: “That there’s a more important team picture to take later in the year.”