How much have you kept in touch with Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu, who used to play here?
"A lot. We have talked quite a bit. Over the years we have kept in contact. We had a great friendship here and I think we will always have a great friendship."
Did you create a special friendship with the group of WRs you came into the league with in Cincinnati — Sanu, Andrew Hawkins and Marvin Jones Jr.?
"Absolutely. We're good friends and we'll be good friends for a long time."
Didn't you go to a Cleveland Cavaliers game with those guys recently?
"Yeah. It was me, A.J. (Green) and guys that aren't here anyone. Hawk (Andrew Hawkins) and Mo (Mohamed Sanu) came. Marv (Marvin Jones) had a workout the next day and couldn't make it. But it's always fun to catch up with those guys."
What do you remember about being on the field with that group?
"It was a talented group. We were kind of coming into it at the same time. That last year together was special. It felt like it was the best year we had together. It's cool to have that group and still be friends today."
What do you remember about the trick play in 2014 when Sanu threw you a touchdown?
"I should have gotten killed (laughs). That's what I remember. We had it drawn up all week for it to be perfect. 'Oh, I'm going to be wide open.' But I wasn't wide open. Luckily, I was able to make the play. Mo (Sanu) has the stats and has (made) throws. It's not like he's been throwing to wide open guys, either. His arm talent is crazy. It just shows with the production that he's had."
He has thrown a TD pass for the Falcons. Is that is something you have to consider seeing on Sunday?
"Yeah. If anyone knows about it, we do. Mo (Sanu) is one of those guys that can play any sport. He's good at soccer, he's good at throwing a ball a mile. He can do it all."
What has made three TE sets so effective and productive so far this season?
"I think it's just the tight ends that we have. It's a talented group. I've said it several times, but I feel like it's one of the more talented groups in the league. We have full confidence in those guys to be able to do a lot. We've been able to have big plays out of it (three TE sets) run and pass."
The Falcons defense seems to have more speed than size. Do you want to be physical against the defense?
"This defense is built on speed. We are going to do whatever we can to get the advantage there."
You had a pass against Carolina where you buzzed it over the top of the DB and TE Tyler Eifert bought it down. Was that a moment for you that showed he's back fully healthy?
"That was a crazy catch. For him to go up and catch it over him like that is what he's done and what's made him so good. I wouldn't necessarily say that was the moment I thought, 'He's back'. But that's what he can do. For me, it's just giving him the chance to make those plays by putting it in a good spot where he can make it. With the other guy's hand in there, I don't know how he came down with it. But that's what he does."
A.J. Green also made a great catch on the sideline against Carolina. You have rare guys in Eifert and Green that can make plays for you that a lot of guys can't make…
"We have a talented group. Both those catches were pretty ridiculous."
Even if they're covered, do you like to give them a shot and throw them the ball with the mindset that they're still open?
"It all depends on how they're being played. These guys can make these tough contested catches with guys on them as long as you put it in a good spot for them to make a play."
How has Eifert's attitude been through the years, while he's battled his injuries?
"There are obviously times with the injuries he's had that he's been down. But he's pushed through it. He's been great and has done everything he can to get back to playing well and to the level he was before he got hurt. I think it shows, with what he's been able to do."
It probably says a lot that people are talking about the catches he's making or his hair, rather than his back injury...
"You want to talk about football with him, you don't want to talk about all the other stuff. Or his hair — you can talk to him about that (laughs)."
Do you miss the media not talking about your hair?
"It's been overshadowed (laughs). I've been really wondering why it's gone to these other guys (laughs)."
With a new week, where is your trust and confidence level in WR John Ross?
"I have full confidence in him. There is a reason we drafted him as high as we did. We just have to go out there and keep working. It's all going to come for him, and I'm not worried about that. He's got the right attitude and the right mindset. I have full confidence that he's going to help us win a lot of games here."
Did you guys talk it out after the miscommunication on Sunday?
"We have talked about things. Like I said, I have full confidence he is going to do everything to help us win games."
Did whatever he say in your talk lead to you having full confidence in him?
What is your take on the new NFL rule involving quarterbacks and unnecessary roughness penalties?
"It's obviously changed a lot. In the game on Monday night, there were nine called. You never want to see it decide a game. You want it called evenly, that's the first thing. If it's going to be called the way it is, it has to be evenly and fairly. The game is physical, and we know we are going to get hit. With some of these hits we aren't sure why it's being flagged, or they see something that they may think should be a flag, or something else that looks similar, that's not. At the end of the day, you want it to be called fairly."
Are you still waiting for when you are going to benefit from these calls?
"Yeah. That would be nice (laughs). I would love the protection some of these other guys have gotten, when it comes to roughing the passer penalties. But, life goes on."
It seems like your game has a lot of similarities to Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Do you study his tape at all?
"I have watched him throughout the years to see what they've done on offense, especially in the really productive years. When you're the MVP of the league, you're doing things really well. I've watched him. He's good, he makes quick decisions and is able to get the ball out of his hands and get it to his guys. He's definitely a guy I've looked at."
With playing in a newer stadium for the first time, do you guys need to get out there early and see the background and how the lighting is?
"It probably is more for the receivers than it would be for me, with the lights and different things. We won't do anything different than what we would normally do pregame. I think it's just getting used to where the lights are and how the ball is coming down."
Initial comments …
"As you look forward to the game this week, we are facing another fine opponent with really good players. It has to be an excellent week of preparation for us. It's an exciting thing for our guys to try to get back on the winning trail. Having to do it on the road again is difficult, but that's what this is all about in the league."
You obviously know about Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu from when he played here. Since going to Atlanta, has he added to his game or have you seen any growth in him?
"Mo continues to grow as a person. He's still a young guy. You see a lot of great things in what he does. He still gets a chance to handle the football, and he still does a great job blocking. He uses his body and does a nice job catching the football. He's such a great strider and runs hard off the ball. He plays very hard."
As you know, you also have to worry about him throwing the ball …
"Yes, and he can throw it."
CB Dre Kirkpatrick was talking a little bit about WR A.J. Green and Falcons WR Julio Jones. He was saying that A.J. is maybe more finesse in some things and Jones is more physical in some things. When you turn on the film, what do you see out of Julio Jones?
"Julio does a really good job with his body control, and going in and out of cuts and breaks. It's impressive."
What are your impressions of Falcons QB Matt Ryan?
"He's done a nice job. The one element he has, which we don't see as often in the rotation with Atlanta being in the NFC, is his ability to run outside of the pocket when he needs to. He seems more aggressive with that compared to the last time we played against him (in 2014)."
Ryan has had good numbers on play-action, which is based on being able to run the football. That's really what they want to do …
"That's really what they want to do. They've done a nice job packaging their plays. Every play comes up from what we call the 'deep-actions' that come with it — or a bootleg, naked bootleg, slide or however we want to term it for our guys."
With the injury to DT Ryan Glasgow, how fortunate were you to be able to bring in a guy like DT Adolphus Washington, a talented player with local roots. What did you guys like about him?
"Adolphus is a really good athlete; he's a big man with great length. We feel like he's young in his NFL career and has a lot of upside. I was excited when he agreed to come join us."
L.A. Rams head coach Sean McVay said that he hired a clock management specialist. Is that something you can see as helpful for a head coach, or something that you've ever thought about doing?
"I think Sean is calling plays, so he has dual responsibilities. Maybe that is something he feels he needs help with."
You have a lot of guys from the University of Georgia on this team. Is there a trait or skill that makes you target those guys?
"I think it's a credit to those guys for having great coaching at Georgia, with Kirby (Smart) now and Coach (Mark) Richt when he was there. Those guys we have all played for him (Mark Richt); they all are quiet, they put their heads down and work, and they aspire to be great. Those are good traits to have in your building. They are no-nonsense players. We have been fortunate. Four or five other guys who matriculated and moved on outside of this building shared those same traits. It's been great for us."
Is it feasible to see Adolphus Washington play on Sunday?
"You'll see on Sunday when we send out the inactive list."
Is it less challenging for someone in his spot, compared to HB Thomas Rawls who came in last week, to get up to speed that quickly?
"We need to sound out the play callers, coordinators, the game plan and what his involvement would be. The defensive tackle obviously doesn't have a big role in special teams, so that is in Adolphus' favor. It's just a matter of how much he can absorb since he landed last night at 7:30 p.m."
You always say that, 'I see better than I hear.' Does that apply to Washington coming in and seeing him for yourself out on the practice field?
"I saw him at walk-through for 30 minutes, so it was good (laughs). It's what I expected after watching the tape. As we prepared when we played the Bills in the preseason, I was counting how many guys they had, and I thought they were going to have to let a guy go at some point. Adolphus was a guy I was interested in from the start."
When making a signing in the middle of the season like this, did you ask any of his former teammates who are currently on the team about him?
"I asked Preston (Brown) about him earlier when he was let go. I've known Adolphus since he was at Taft High School in 2010, and spent time with him here in 2011 before he made his decision to play at Ohio State. I've been familiar with him all the way through. Time flies (laughs)."
You're a former member of the competition committee …
"Somebody said I was paroled (laughs)."
There is backlash currently regarding some of the roughing the passer penalties that have been called by officials around the league. What is your thought process on the rule? Do you think they have gone too far with the rule?
"The intent was for players to not land on the quarterback, and to not pick up and 'dump' the quarterback. There seems to be judgments that have been off, in my opinion. Those are the two aspects that were explained back in March at the owners meeting and have come across in (example) videos. That's what we're trying to coach — you're coaching to stay away from the quarterback's head, don't hit the quarterback late and to not take the quarterback to the ground by the lower legs. You can swipe his legs, but that's it. We're trying the best we can to coach guys that way, so they can understand it. It's hard to separate those examples. Unfortunately, that's the bad part. No. 1, it's slowing the game down, and No. 2, those are game-changing plays. You're coming down to make a stop on third or fourth down, and you give the offense new life. (In some cases), the penalty may not be deserved. Both sides have an obligation there."
Do you feel for the officials a little bit? They've had some tough judgments to make …
"No, the officials should make the judgment when they see it, not if they think they saw it."
Obviously third downs defensively haven't been what you've wanted so far. How do you assess why that's been such a big issue so far?
"We have to execute better and understand both the plan, and how it applies to the personnel, formation and development of the play."
Have the struggles had anything to do with having a new defensive coordinator and it being early in the season?
"It's the difference between winning and losing games. You have to get it right, and our execution has to be better. Those are key points in the game. It's been just as key when we've won games as it has when we've lost games."
Does it concern you at all that because of those third-down struggles, your defensive players are out there for more plays? I know last year a few guys on defense played a lot of snaps …
"You play more plays. Early on, it's a chance to correct it. We are doing a lot of things well — we're fifth or sixth in the league with plays on first-down. We have to put it all together and understand that once in a while, a guy will fall forward for a first-down. We've had more than a share of those, where the yardage was longer. The defense has to win those — you have to win 70 percent of those, and so far we haven't."
What is it about TE Tyler Eifert that has allowed him to come back from so many injuries?
"Tyler is a gifted player. Sometimes unfortunately, things happen and injuries occur when you play this game. He's worked really hard to keep battling back. Give him credit, he does the things he needs to do maintenance-wise. We're nine weeks through football now. I'm sure he feels a little different from when he did 63 or so days ago when we started (training camp). He has to maintain that all the way through. We're doing the best job we can to manage him through the week of practice and managing his snaps on Sundays. The other two guys (Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah) are doing a great job of picking those snaps up and being productive with them."
So much of that has to be mental, to keep coming back and grinding through rehab …
"These guys want to play this game — it's their job and their profession. You want to do it as long as your God-given ability allows you to do it. So yes, that's part of it. They want to be out there, but a little bit of it ought to be fun too. They enjoy the fun and the accomplishment part of it. He's been at a high level (before), and wants to get back to that level. He's going out there every week to try to get there."
Is one of the biggest differences for a head coach in today's NFL the way you can monitor players physically and massage their work regimen during the course of a week? That was unheard of two or three decades ago. Not that many years ago, there was no such thing as GPS tracking for players' speed and how many steps they've taken …
"It's been extremely helpful. Where we are, we deal with heat and humidity most days, particularly early on when we get started (in the summer). It's very helpful for us to monitor and maintain their health. What happens is you get taxed at a position because guys aren't able to take as many reps, so other guys get overworked. We do try to make sure we pull back the next day and remind them to work hard in their recovery process. You have to credit the training staff and everything they do, the strength staff for what they do with sports science and everybody in this building for trying to manage these guys' workloads and outputs. It's important, and our guys have taken to it. They understand it. We want them to play for the next 10 years at a high level. I may want them to play tomorrow, but sometimes I have to be careful with that."
Has this become league-wide or are the Bengals more cutting-edge than others?
"I don't know. Our people have done a great job providing me with information. Sometimes I give them the stiff-arm, because sometimes you have to do this to play NFL football. That's part of being an NFL player, you have to be able to stand the workload. We want to make sure we maintain their health through the season."
HB Joe Mixon was jogging a little bit last week. How's he doing with his rehab?
"Joe is doing great. I don't know where he'll be listed (on the injury report) this week (laughs), but we're happy with his and Billy's (Price) progress. We have a chance to have all hands on deck soon, which is exciting. Joe's youth is playing a big part, and Billy's youth is playing a big part (in their progress). We'll keep the glass half-full and keep moving on."
Are the other guys pretty much day-to-day?
"We're in pretty good shape."
Any report on A.J. Green?
"A.J. will be fine. It was a little bit of an aggregation of an injury he had in college. He's seemed to come around quickly with the anti-inflammatories. We're very fortunate with that. I didn't know what he had injured — he was complaining about both sides (of his pelvis)."
From what he said, it was maybe a hip injury …
"Both hips, and that he landed awkwardly on his shoulder. Sometimes football is ugly (laughs)."
I'd imagine that's as big of a sigh of relief as you can have when you get positive reports about 18 …
"Yes, those are positive reports, no doubt. (Number) 18 is a warrior. I know he missed the last game we played against the Falcons (in 2014), he didn't go the last time we played them in the preseason in Atlanta (in 2013), and he wasn't here the last time before that (in the 2010 season). I think this is his first trip back to Georgia, along with the rest of our Georgia guys, except for Geno (Atkins), who was here in 2010. So for Clint (Boling) and Cordy (Glenn), this will be their first trip down there, although Cordy may have played there while with Buffalo."
How did WR John Ross respond to Sunday? What did you see from him?
"We haven't seen a whole lot yet, but I expect John to free his mind, to invoke song (laughs)."