Q: Opening Comments:
ML: “As we look forward to the Lions, the first thing I think you can see is their plan kind of unfolding. They continue to stick with (QB) Matt Stafford, and to watch his development. It’s a team with some talented guys on the outside, with Calvin Johnson and Bryant Johnson. And the back, Kevin Smith – he’s an excellent runner. He’s a good cut and jump runner, inside on the interior, can bounce the football to the perimeter pretty well. They’re doing a really good job offensively of mixing up things like personnel, formations, etc. So it’ll be a challenge defensively to get a hand on them right away.
“Their defense, you look and you have Julian Peterson. They should have Dewayne White and Ernie Sims back this week. Phil Buchanon is tough in the back end. And their early pick in the secondary, (Louis) Delmas, is doing a nice job back there. We had an opportunity to be around him at the Senior Bowl, so we know that he’s a great prospect. And now Marvin White is back there, who we know pretty well. It’s a group that continues to get better every week.
“You can see they’re trying to do the things the coaches are asking them to do for their development. I think they’re playing hard, they’re playing sound. And those are the things that Schwartzie (Jim Schwartz) is trying to stress, and the rest of his coaching staff. You see it coming out on the tape, and how hard they’re doing it. They also, over the years, have done an incredible job coming off the Thanksgiving Day game. We know it’s going to be a hard-fought football game once again, and one where their record isn’t going be in play, come Sunday.”
Q: You and Jim Schwartz have known each other for a while. Can you talk a little about your relationship with him?
ML: “Well, let’s start with how Schwartzie used to help me. Jim was a very detailed coach. I can remember (at Baltimore) when Ozzie (Newsome) came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy I’d like to bring with us, and I’d like you to put him on your side of the ball,’ and he was right. He saw Jimmy’s potential. I was fortunate enough to have Jimmy coach for me for three years, with the detail, the dedication, and just how hard he works. And later I was able to talk to Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams about giving him an interview in Tennessee, and he was fortunately able to get the position, and the rest he’s done on his own. He’s been a good friend for a long time, and I think he’s an excellent football coach. We talked once he got the job, and as he was putting his staff together, he asked a couple questions. He’s really a smart, smart person. He’s a great person and love him and his family. We’d be on vacation and Schwartzie would have his laptop out, and he’d be working on an opponent while he was with the Titans. So, he’s a hard working guy, and you can see as I talk about him it brings a smile to my face. Just in every way, I was very fortunate enough to have him.”
Q: What did he do for you when you worked together?
ML: “He was with me in 1996, ’97, ’98. He was my defensive assistant. He broke down tape and he helped coach linebackers. You can put a little asterisk by his name and put Ray Lewis’ name there, too. He did an excellent job. I went to Coach Marchibroda (former Ravens head coach) once and said, ‘We need to make Jimmy the linebackers coach, at least the outside linebackers.’ His success as a coach hasn’t surprised me at all.”
Q: Detroit has two former head coaches in Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Scott Linehan (offense) as their coordinators, providing a lot of experience to lead both sides of the ball:
ML: “Scott is an excellent football coach and you see it with what they’re doing offensively. And with Gun on defense, those are the guys Jimmy (Jim Schwartz) went after right away. He knew who he wanted, he’d worked with Gun at Tennessee. So he knew what he was looking for.”
Q: Matt Stafford has struggled with interceptions at times, but can you see him improving a little as the year goes on?
ML: “Interceptions can come from a lot of reasons. Sometimes they come from when you’re behind and you’re chucking it down the field at the end of the game. As I said earlier, I see what they’re trying to do with him and his development. They’ll continue to put pieces around him, he’ll continue to play this game and get better at it. I think he’s a talented kid, he’s a smart guy, he’s a football player. I could tell that from having been around him a little bit in Indianapolis last year (at the NFL Scouting Combine) and seeing how he handled the attention.”
Q: Calvin Johnson is an athletic freak. Can you talk about what he brings to Detroit’s offense?
ML: “He’s an incredibly talented player. He has vertical speed, he’s a big man with size. He uses his size quite a bit. So we’ve got to be very conscious and do a great job against him, because he can open up a football game in a hurry.”
Q: You now have the top-ranked scoring defense in the league. Has that been something you have been specifically working towards since you have been here?
ML: “It is. I wish it hadn’t taken so long.”
Q: How much of the credit should go to Mike Zimmer, and how much is it due to this being the second year in the system and the players being comfortable and playing more ‘reactively?’
ML: “As you say, ‘reactively’ is a good word for it. Some things are fundamental and basic, and then you’re able to move and build upon that and go from there. I think it’s that, and also having the same guys, which makes it key. We’ve been able to mix and match and so forth. When you’re able to not play a probably pretty-healthy
Q: Jim Schwartz said the Bengals have drafted well on defense, especially with
ML: “They carry us in their back pocket. I remind them of that all the time. That’s the nature of how we play defense. There’s different ways to do it, and that’s the way we’re structured and I’ve done it, that’s the way we are. We need those guys to play well in order for us to get things done. They’ve had outstanding years, both of them.”
Q: Early in the year, you gave up a lot of plays of 20 or more yards, but you haven’t given up that many big plays lately. Is there a reason?
ML: “I think it’s a combination of things. It’s tackling. It’s being in the right spots more often than not. We opened the season by giving up a fantastically big play. I think it’s just a matter of things, and guys settling in and knowing what their responsibilities are and getting things executed. I think that’s important. It’s also the key to winning on third down. When you win on third down, your exposure to that kind of thing doesn’t happen as often because you’re on the bench drinking Gatorade, and the other team’s exposure is much more. And the offense is possessing the football and turning their third-down percentage together and improving their time of possession. It all works hand-in-hand.”
Q: Will it feel any different with
ML: “I think it will be. I’m sure everyone’s more comfortable with Ced. We’ve been with Ced for a year-and-a-half. We’ve been with Larry for two weeks, and Bernard for whatever it’s been – 10 weeks, 11 weeks. There’s a much higher level of confidence of knowing what Ced is going to do. Now Ced can get back in tune. He had good work last Friday. He’ll get back to work today again and get back on track.”
Q: If Bernard Scott can’t play this week, what will you do at kick returner?
ML: “We’ll have a new returner back there, probably, if Bernard can’t do it.”
ML: “Andre could be back there, yes.”
ML: “He could be back there as well, yes.”
Q: Do you think you can get anything out of Bernard Scott this week?
ML: “I don’t want to speculate one way or another. Last week, I was told that some guys could or couldn’t play, and they all answered the bell. So I don’t want to get ahead of myself one way or another. As I told them, I still see better than I hear. We’ll see what happens, so be ready. And, you know, you go from there. Guys want to play, so don’t stand beside me for too long, because someone can go by me and go right by you.”
Q: Does that same message go to someone like
ML: “That’s been the message to Jerome all the time. Jerome continues to work very hard.”