ML: “As we head into the first preseason game, it has been a different type of preseason. Obviously this offseason and what we have been through leading up to our first game has made us change our preparation. In the past we have had more time, as far as practice time, so this has a very different feel to it. It will be interesting to see how we feel after we play a game and how we’re going to evaluate players afterwards, particularly with some of the younger players who don’t get quite as much time in practice. We have to evaluate them after they play and compete against people with different color helmets and jerseys on as opposed to the everyday practice routine.”
Does the shortened offseason and other things change how you evaluate players at this point?
ML: “It is going to put a premium on guys making the most of their opportunities. At this point, practice time has to be devoted to the preparation of the (regular season) opener and the beginning part of the season. We have to continue evaluating while keeping our focus on our real target. Also, some of the young people have to stay focused on the development of play on special teams and on their offensive and defensive responsibilities. Hopefully, as we go, they get a chance to show those things early on.”
How much longer can you see your first unit guys playing in this first preseason game, in comparison to other years?
ML: “A little bit (longer). It’s going to be important for us to let the guys play a little bit longer than they would in the past. After this week, we have a challenge where we play two games in a short period of time. We have to combine those eight quarters in between the two games and get guys time, which will be a challenge.”
Today, ESPN reported that Andy (Dalton) is your starting quarterback. Is that true?
ML: “He is going to start the game on Thursday night.”
Can you envision all four quarterbacks playing on Friday?
ML: “There is a chance, yes. My plan right now is to play all four quarterbacks.”
With the number of guys you have, what’s most important to learn right now?
ML: “The things we are looking for in the first game is our ability to play with our pads down: to play fast, physical, and without mental errors and mistakes. These are the important things when we go competitively against another football team. Were playing a Lions team that (Coach Jim Schwartz) has moving in the right direction. They are exciting and they have young players they have developed over the past couple of seasons. They made huge strides last year and I’m sure Jim wants to pick up where they left off. We are playing a football team that is excited and is looking for the same things we are.”
When Carson Palmer came in as a rookie, he sat for a year behind (Jon) Kitna. Andy (Dalton) has a pretty good chance to be a starter as a rookie. Have times and philosophy changed?
ML: “The football team is not the same. The team I took over in 2003 couldn’t afford to lose games because of the quarterback. They had a guy (Kitna) who a lot of the players felt very, very comfortable with. Jon had done some very good things, and it was a very different situation then. Now, this team is put together differently: they are tough, physical and they know how to go out there and compete. I didn’t know those things coming in to 2003. I know what this team is made of now, I know who the leaders are and I didn’t know those guys then. I put my trust in Jon to do it and take care of it, which he showed he could. And that’s what we are asking Andy (Dalton) to do now.
“Had Carson (Palmer) been head and shoulders above Jon, he would have been the starting quarterback, but at that point he wasn’t. Andy (Dalton) comes in here in a little different situation. He has been in an offense that throws the ball quite a bit and he has handled it his whole career. The team is put together differently right now. There isn’t a veteran quarterback on this team that has been here and been a part of these guys. They are all learning an offense that was different than the past. We are all starting from scratch, and the guy that our offensive coaches had coached the most this offseason prior to the start of football is Andy (Dalton). We had spent the most time with him leading up to the draft, so he came here with a little heads-up on the other quarterbacks except for Bruce (Gradkowski) because he had been in this system before.”
So you feel that Andy (Dalton) is more NFL-ready at this point that Carson was as a rookie?
ML: “I don’t know that. I think the football team is more ready right now, however. I don’t know (to compare Dalton and Palmer as rookies). Carson is a very talented player.”
ML: “He’s exceptional.”
Do you have any injury updates on
ML: “Those guys are on PUP (physically unable to perform).”
Do you think you’ll be able to get
ML: “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Will you have to err on the side of caution if those guys aren’t ready, or just minimally ready?
ML: “Guys have to go out there and show me they’re ready to practice and do those things before they have an opportunity to play in any game. I don’t care if it’s this game or the 16th game of the season. That’s just part of the process and it’s been really effective. I don’t want to hear about you being healthy. Let me see it and that works best.”
Is it important to play
ML: “We’ll play him as much as I think he needs to play. He has taken over the entire role and he’s done well with it. He’s taken over as the leader and he’s assumed the position. We’ll be better in a lot of other ways, and I think that’s important. Because of what his style is, we’ve already surrounded him with better players, so we’ve improved in his position 100% already. I’m excited for that group of guys to go out there and play together and get used to playing with each other. I don’t think it changes the flow of what I was talking about earlier. I think this preseason, particularly this first game, our guys will play a little bit more than I would normally play them in the past just because of what we’ve had to do with practice time.”
ML: “I’m hopeful that Reggie continues to settle in. We saw over the last three or four football games last season that he finally came to a comfort area. I think the diligence of alignments and responsibilities is something that’s maybe weighing in Reggie’s past, and it’s something we’re trying to beat out of him so that he gets where he belongs all the time and does it right. Hopefully that will enable him to do more of what we saw him do at the end of last year.”
How is the safety combination of
ML: “They’re a little bit more interchangeable in situations of coverage and that sort of thing. Any time you can keep base defense on the field versus your three-wide receiver formations, you have the advantage because now you have some bigger guys. Both Chris and Reggie have that ability because we know we feel comfortable with them with matchups on wideouts and things like that.
“It’s a little different in that last year, we would have to make sure we didn’t put Roy (Williams) in the wrong spot. But Roy has really been a good tackler throughout his NFL career, and I think that’s what these guys have to come in and do. We play in a physical division with big, physical backs, and that’s going to be important, that they become fine tacklers and really hold up on the physical part of the game as well.”
ML: “He’s kind of a combination of all those things we talked about. He’s a big player and he really fits well in the run game. That was one of the things that was most impressive when we signed him before last season, his ability to fit in the run game, to play the insert parts of the pass game or the deep parts of the pass game. We felt Gibril was pretty well-rounded and could do all of those things. He plays as a heady player so he understands formations. He sees the pictures of things and understands. Being able to work him back into the practice routine this early, because it’s earlier than we expected, I’m happy with it. I think as we go, we’ll give him more and more.”
ML: “He never knew what it looked like down here (at training camp). But I coached a guy in Baltimore (Peter Boulware) that had about three years without training camp, and he went to a bunch of Pro Bowls, so I hope Andre has the same kind of career. It’s been good to see him just be one of the guys and no longer be a story about his foot or this or that. As I told him yesterday, ‘You just blend right in now. No one’s ever talking about you.’ And that’s a good thing, and he’s blending in most importantly assignment-wise. He’s taken leaps and bounds since we put him on the field for the first time. We’ve got a big investment in Andre and we think he can be an outstanding football player, and now he has the opportunity to go out there and prove those things.”
What are your impressions of
ML: “He’s got a lot of new positions to learn. I think his effort in is outstanding. He just has to keep coming and developing and we’ll see what happens, but it won’t be because he didn’t try at it, whether it be at the linebacker spots or down at the rusher in our substituted defenses or whatever his role is on special teams. He’s a good prospect and hopefully he continues to grow and can do some things.”