What comfort level do you have with HB Giovani Bernard when he's in the backfield?
"Gio is such a smart player. He understands every aspect of the position. He knows what we are doing in the run game, pass game, protections and all of it. I definitely have a comfort level with him back there. He's been so good at it his whole career. We're fortunate to have a guy like him, with Joe (Mixon) being down (injured), who is reliable and does everything exactly how you want done."
How does having smart players on the offensive line help this offense?
"It's huge. With everything that we do, you have to know what you're doing. Everybody has to be on the same page, and I feel like we have done that so far."
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor noted that Giovani Bernard is a good runner between the tackles. Is that also something you have noticed with him?
"Yeah. I feel like he can do it all. Obviously, everyone knows Joe (Mixon). Joe is a bigger guy with the speed, size and ability to catch. Gio gets a little bit overshadowed by him. I feel like he's an all-around back. For him, he can run inside, outside, catch the ball and do everything you want your back to do."
You have looked comfortable in the pocket through the first two games. How much has your comfort in the pocket led to success?
"I think it's huge. Anytime you have time back there you can step into your throws, and I feel like you can put the ball where you want it. Anybody that's played the quarterback position knows if you can step into your throws and if you have time (to throw), you should be able to put it where you want it."
Did you change anything in your offseason preparation for this season, or is your success a direct result of better protection?
"For me, it was learning the new offense. That was my big area this year. I was getting used to how we were going to be doing things. I think our guys up front have played really well, and we've set the standard and expectation there."
You are crediting your offensive linemen for your success, and the offensive linemen are crediting you for getting the ball out quick. Which is it, or is it a combination of both?
"Yeah. That's how you want it. Our guys have done a great job. For me I understand when we're protected, when we're not protected and when we're 'hot' and different things. I can get the ball out of my hands, but we've just got to keep it going."
What makes Carolina LB Luke Kuechly so good?
"He's so instinctive. You can tell how much he studies and how his first step is so quick. He can get to the ball really quickly. That's what makes him such a good player. He's smart and understands what the offense is trying to do. His instincts take over and he makes plays."
What other player or position group has jumped out at you from watching Carolina's tape?
"I think with their front, you really see it. They're big, they're fast, and they're physical. It really shows. Guys get to the right spot a lot, and they just make plays."
Does the offense change at all without HB Joe Mixon?
"We still have guys that can do everything of what we were doing. Obviously we hate to lose Joe for the time, but for us, we're going to keep doing what we were doing."
How impressive was the job Trey Hopkins did, coming in to play center in place for the injured C Billy Price last week?
"It was huge. I think it's an underrated thing to have a backup center come in and play. Especially a guy like Trey, who has played all over the line and it was his first real game action playing center. For him to step in, I felt like we didn't miss a beat. He was quick with his calls and did everything we expected. I thought he did a great job."
Have you noticed a change in mentality in the locker room of, 'We're just going to do it and stop saying we're going to do it?'
"Yeah. I think that's how things are around here. Things needed to be different than what we had been doing. I feel that around here. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you say or any of that stuff. It just matters what you put out there on Sundays, and so far it's working for us."
The Ravens defensive linemen seemed like they were getting tired and subbing a lot with your tempo. Have you noticed the impact the offense's tempo is having on the game?
"It shows that what we're doing is working. That's what's so good about this offense. We can do so many different things, so many different tempos and so many different ways. Any time you can wear down the defense and guys have to get out of there, it gives us the advantage."
Besides WR John Ross' touchdown in Week 1, he has not been involved much. How do you approach getting him involved, and is that something you talk to him about?
"You never know in these games who's going to be the guy to get it more. With A.J. (Green) doing what he did last game, every ball he caught ended up in the end zone. He's going to get doubled at times and be taken away, and then it's going to be the other guys. With A.J. and what he did scoring, and Tyler (Boyd), we had a good plan inside there. You never know who's going to be the one to get it. I think John's fine and his time will come."
Are defenses treating you differently with just the threat of John Ross on the other side, or is their approach looking the same?
"Everybody is different. I wouldn't say things have been drastically different or anything like that. I think it's been the same."
All three of your tight ends have made plays for you. How comforting is it to have that group?
"We have one best tight end groups out there. All three of them are really talented and can do so much. We've been able to get all of them the ball, and they've made big plays. They're a big part of this offense."
You said on SportsCenter after the game on Thursday that Billy Price would look good in purple, referring to a friendly bet you guys may have had on the Ohio State-TCU last weekend. Since Ohio State won, have you had to wear any Ohio State gear?
"I haven't. I think I will be at some point."
Was that part of the bet, to wear something scarlet and grey for Ohio State?
"I think I will have some Ohio State something on at some point (laughs)."
During warmups on Sunday, probably?
"No. It won't be (laughs)."
It will probably be posted on the internet somewhere…
"Yeah, it will probably get posted on the internet somewhere (laughs). The bet was just for halftime. We were up at halftime. So, he (Price) will be wearing purple (laughs)."
The offense has scored 34 points in each of the first two weeks. How much better can the offense get moving forward?
"Even with 34 points, we haven't played a perfect game. We left some stuff out there. We can definitely improve and get better. If we're saying that and scoring 34 points, that's a good thing. We just have to keep playing the way we have been and fix the little things. I think we can improve and do better than we have."
Initial comments …
"As you look at the Panthers, they obviously have two premium players on both sides of the football in Cam (Newton) and Luke (Kuechly). We're probably too familiar with both, as they're great football players. They present problems against us as the opposition. We will have our hands full both ways."
It was surprising to learn of HB Tra Carson's injury. Did he go down in practice on Monday?
Was it a hamstring issue or something more serious?
In this situation, why would you waive him after the injury instead of placing him on Reserve/Injured?
"Because he doesn't have an injury that would take that long (to heal)."
So it's more of an injury settlement?
What impresses you the most about Cam Newton?
"The things they do offensively, whether it's the conventional offense, two-back offense, play action, boot legs, drop backs, accurately throwing the ball vertically, running the read option or RPO (run-pass option) type offense and the quarterback-keep offense. It's a dynamic offense. It's essentially a three-headed monster with him, because he's able to do any of the three throughout the football game. You have to be conscious and aware of that. It comes down to being disciplined and assignment-oriented on defense. Then you have to be able to tackle him when he does keep the football and is in the pocket. You have to nestle him to the ground (laughs)."
How many headed monsters is Luke Kuechly?
"Luke's got it all. He's the finest linebacker I've seen coming out in the draft. He hasn't disappointed since he came into the league."
With C Billy Price probably being out for a while, who will back up Trey Hopkins at center?
"You will get to see that on Sunday."
Will we see G Clint Boling move around the offensive line again?
"You will get to see that on Sunday."
You actually probably hope we don't see that …
"I hope you don't ever see that (laughs). We've obviously had a lot of people work at center."
You guys are off to a positive 2-0 start. As a coach, your job is to critique and praise at the same time. What more are you looking for out of your guys?
"We've been fortunate to win two football games without playing our best football. It's been great to be able to come in and make critiques and corrections. We have to do some things better. We're leaving plays out there, both on offense and defense. We need to tackle better and make sure we come up with turnovers when we have the opportunity, like we did last Thursday night. We have to make sure we don't relax and spit the bit on defense. Offensively, we're leaving some plays out there in the running game. We have to make sure we get our hands where they belong, as we've lost quite a few yards from penalties. Our hands have been sloppy. But we can also do other things that will create more opportunities (in the running game). Joe (Mixon) wasn't as good last week with his tracks, which took away some yards. We need to be more sound and disciplined. We had penalties on special teams over in Indianapolis. We need to keep those out of the game, whether they are giving us the ball or we are kicking it. There's always a lot to get better with, and that's where we are as a team. The good thing is that our guys understand that. We've got a good group of guys who can lead that charge."
You've had multiple instances in the first two games of 'next man up.' That's life in the NFL, and it happens everywhere. How pleased are you with the guys who have been the next men up?
"We've been pleased. For some of these guys who aren't as experienced in the NFL, which we have quite a few, it's a great lesson for them to be prepared and ready. They've seen other guys take advantage of opportunities when it has come. Now you might be the next guy up who's in that spot."
Speaking of the next guy up, HB Mark Walton is someone who you have relied on a little bit more. What have you seen from him?
"Mark really grew through training camp and the preseason. The more he played, the more comfortable he looked as both a runner and a receiver. He was a gifted, mature player from the University of Miami. (The stage) won't be too big for him on Sunday."
He seems to have a pretty good football IQ …
"Those are the positive things that Coach (Mark) Richt and his staff down at Miami thought about him. He's similar to a lot of the guys we have who Coach Richt had at Georgia."
How similar are Mark and HB Giovani Bernard?
"I'm not going to compare players."
Speaking of Georgia guys, who talks less, DE Jordan Willis or DT Geno Atkins?
"(Laughs) Jordan likes to communicate by text. So he's got that on Geno, whose texts are very short and to the point (laughs)."
Jordan seems like a very serious guy …
"Jordan Willis just wants to play football. He wants to be productive and wants to be looked at as a great football player. He's very serious — (I tell him) 'Sometimes you have to relax, Jordan. You just need a little bit of Carlos (Dunlap) in you' (laughs)."
He's got enough of Geno in him …
"He's got enough of Geno in him, now he just needs a pinch of Carlos in him (laughs)."
The two position groups you wanted to revamp — offensive line and safety — have given you good production these first two games, haven't they?
"We're two weeks into the season. We've got a 14-week season left. In the two areas we tried to address (during the offseason), guys have stepped up and have done a good job thus far. We've got to keep building on that."
Gio has been here for so long that it feels old to have to ask about him. Does his reliability impress you the most about him? What is it about him that you guys love so much?
"It's his reliability, consistency, discipline of playing that spot, being in the right spots for the quarterback all the time and his pass protection. He's a great role model for Joe, Mark (Walton) and the rest of these guys. He's been a great role model for how to do things."
Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor called him a warrior and thinks how he runs in between the tackles is underrated, because people focus more on his versatility than what he does in other areas. Do you view it that way as well?
"When Gio went into the games in the preseason and got the few touches we gave him, he made a lot of positive plays because he stayed disciplined and did what he was asked to do. We may not have had the same level of production from other players who could've been in there. He's a disciplined guy who does it the right way."
How important is it as the head coach to be able to manage egos in the locker room?
"It's important that our egos stay within our concept of winning games."
What happens when it doesn't work out that way?
"People get out of whack. It can get you off-kilter very quickly. I'm blessed because the best player in this building doesn't have an ego. He sets a standard. If you look down the line at our best players, we've been fortunate to stack them together. They're pointed at doing one thing, which is winning games. It shows how they go about their business and how they handle their things off the field. We want to stay on that track. Stay true to yourself and what we're here for, which is to win games."
Who's the best player?
"I can't tell you that (laughs). I just said I don't want to compare players."
You just said it and threw it out there …
"Then I retract and will say 'the few best players' (laughs)."
Do you feel like you have a guy like that in almost every position group?
"We are blessed with that. It's helpful for the position coaches when they walk into the room. I know it's helped the coordinators to align things like that. Every time a guy starts talking about 'me', (I tell them) to wait a second and get their focus back to 'us' and why we're doing this. 'Me' will take care of itself if you win, and 'I' will take care of itself, but let's win the games so all of us can function successfully."
How often over the years have you felt the need to be a psychologist as well as a football coach?
"It happens quite a bit, but it's not always in that realm. We just talked about Jordan Willis, who has the other kind of psyche where you need to encourage him and say, 'It's okay, Jordan, to speak out and take a step forward that way'. We're blessed with guys in all ranges of the spectrum, which is a good thing."
Are you happy that K Randy Bullock is going to be here for a while, after signing a contract extension yesterday?
"I'm happy for Randy. That's personal and individual to them, but I think Randy, for his own self, made a good choice."
When you look across the league, other teams are having kicking issues. Is his consistency exactly what you're looking for?
"Randy has come in here, grown in his role and has developed a trust through the building. He's blessed to have a great coach (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) that helps him do nothing but get better. He's morphed his body and feels confident about things. We just have to stay true to it all the time. He's been consistent, and he's just got to keep working at it. Now is not the time to relax."
In the Baltimore game, your specialists competed well with their specialists. You guys dominated field position …
"Turnovers helped a little bit. They obviously have two great players in (Justin) Tucker and (Sam) Koch. Our guys did a nice job, and we want them to continue to do that. Every team is constructed differently, but we know what weapons they have. We're going to face a group this week on special teams that runs the field very well. We'll need to do a great job in this game."
Is it too much to ask for HB Thomas Rawls to be ready to go in five days?
"Not necessarily. He comes from a system in Seattle that's very similar to ours. We'll just have to play a little word association with the right vision points and tracks. Then, you let your natural ability take over a bit, as far as running the football. He's a hungry player — he got a taste of playing in the National Football League, then he wasn't in the league for a bit. I don't know if I've ever seen a more focused guy, aside from Ced (Cedric) Benson, who came in after being on the street for a bit. I would liken him to Ced in that way. He's carried himself well in the 24 hours he's been here."
He had a pretty good game against you guys in 2015 …
"Is that right? I think we won the game. That's all that matters to me, Butch (laughs)."
He produced in the playoffs too …
"I was pleased when I watched him on tape two nights ago. I was pleased with what he did over the past couple seasons, and even this preseason with the Jets. I knew if he ended up being the guy we chose, he'd be able to help us right away."
You said last Friday that you made an adult decision with LB Preston Brown by not having him play. Is that kind of the same concept going forward with HB Joe Mixon?
"With both Joe and Billy (Price), we have great players with great futures ahead. They are on the mend, and are way ahead of where people thought they'd be. But we also have to let nature take its course and be smart. Both guys are further along than expected, which is a good sign. We'll continue to evaluate it week by week."
Both have the mindset of playing sooner rather than later. Do you have to pull the brakes on them a little bit?
"I see things better than I hear. When they're able to go out and practice and look like they'll be able to compete, then we'll make a determination. We're not quite there yet."
Do you have to remind guys like that of the importance of being honest with you about how they are feeling?
"The good thing is we've been able to establish a system of coming back from injuries. They have to check the boxes off first before they get to that point. It starts with the doctor, then goes through Nick (Cosgray), the strength coaches, the position coaches and then me. We've got a group of guys that want to play, and we've been blessed with that. We're putting the right guys on the bus for that matter, who want to get out there, play and be part of it with their teammates. That's a good thing."
You haven't talked about DE Michael Johnson. Where is he right now in his recovery process?
"Same situation. There's a guy right there who is ahead of where people thought he would be, yet we're just going to have to wait and see."
That had to be encouraging for him to be on the rehab field on Monday …
"He was there? Emily (Parker) wants to talk to you guys (laughs)."
Would you rather coach a team of selfless guys who aren't as talented, or coach a team of selfish guys who are talented?
"The best 11 beats the 11 best every week."