Initial comments ...
"It's Dolphins week. We had a good walkthrough already. Guys are locked in and ready to go. We're fired up and relatively healthy coming out of the last game. John Miller is still dealing with a concussion, so he's going through the protocol and is day-to-day right now. Other than that, we came out pretty healthy, and most guys will be able to practice these next couple of days."
Many times, in general at the end of a losing season, it seems like players shut themselves down with insignificant injuries. Here, though, players seem to be finding ways to play through their ailments rather than sitting out. What does that tell you?
"That we're heading in the right direction in terms of the culture. Not with the win and loss results, but I would argue the foundation we need to build is with the right people that are about the right things and care about what we're trying to build here. That's one small way you see that — guys still competing and not trying to find ways out. They're trying to find ways to stay on the field. That part has been really encouraging to see from our team."
How much of an improvement has there been to the rushing attack and the defense?
"We've gotten better in both areas. We have a good coaching staff, and the players have really bought in and settled into what we're asking them to do, and we have seen great improvement in both sides of the ball. At the end of the day, it's our lack of explosive (plays) on offense that have prevented us from scoring more points, and our red-zone struggles have been well-documented. (Those are areas) we certainly have to improve in. At the end of the day, it's our lack of winning in the turnover battles, our red-zone performance on offense and our lack of explosive (plays) down the field in the passing game that have been reasons you can pinpoint where things haven't gone our way."
DT Geno Atkins made the Pro Bowl, despite not putting up the most impressive stats in his career. What does that say about his reputation?
"People that watch tape recognize it. Oftentimes with defensive tackles, I remember reading earlier in the year, before we played the Rams, that Aaron Donald wasn't having the same year he's used to having because of his stats. When you watch the tape — it was not fun to watch. I didn't think 'triple-teamed' was a real thing you could do to a defensive tackle, but I saw it on tape. It was happening. Same thing with Geno, in a little bit of a different sense at times. Sometimes, because guys are really focused on stopping him, it allows other guys to do a better job and get more stats. Sometimes that's what happens. The people that watch the tape and vote on it, they see a really good player, so they voted him to the Pro Bowl team. We're happy for Geno."
What traits do you see in practice squad players such as LB Brady Sheldon, that make you want to sign them to the roster?
"You're looking at traits you've seen show up in practice, and the reasons you brought them on the team (to begin with). Sometimes you don't' really know. When you sign a guy, particularly late in the year, practice is starting to calm down a little bit. It's not the same physicality or speed. The only way to look at someone is to get them up and put them out there in front of the crowd and see what they do. Whether it's this week or next week, depending on inactives, those are things you look at sometimes with those guys who have been on the practice squad. There's a reason they're here. When it's possible, you try to get them up and see what they can do in a game."
What are the reactions like when you sign practice squad players to the active roster?
"Oftentimes it's a great reaction. It means a lot to them. They put in a lot of hard work, so to be rewarded with the opportunity, financially, however you want to look at it. It's a reward for good work and doing things the right way. Those are the things that we value."
Is it comparable to a walk-on getting a scholarship in college (laughs)?
"I guess it's all relative at certain levels."
Miami has used 80 players this season. When you think of using 80 players, is that almost unimaginable?
"That's a lot of players. They've had a lot of injuries. What you see is a well-coached team that's still fighting. The guys that they're playing with are fighting for opportunities. You see that on the tape. Some of the games they've lost, they've been winning there at the end. It's very familiar to other things I've seen from other teams. They haven't quite finished some of them, but they've beat some good football teams. They've beat the Eagles, beat the Colts, beat the Jets — (those are) some good football teams out there that they've defeated. Our guys need to be up for the test. These guys are going to really challenge us, and they're well-coached."
You and Miami QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played college football at the same time. When you see that he's still playing, do you just shake your head?
"He's fun to watch. I've played (against) him. I don't know how many teams he's played for that I've played against, but it's several. He plays with a lot of confidence, plays with a lot of energy. You can tell that his teammates really gravitate toward him. Those are traits that keep you around for a long time, and he's had production. He's somebody you respect for the journey he's been on, and he's doing some really good things. He's 37, so he's older than me. He's old ... he's really old (laughter). Certainly, you respect players like that, who have impressed the coaching staffs that they've been on, and keep finding jobs and keep starting. There's a reason for all that."
View some of the best images from Wednesday's practice at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals face the Miami Dolphins in Week 16.
He has some talent too, right?
"Oh, there's no question. Yeah. He's an aggressive quarterback. That's how I would describe him. He's very aggressive. He plays with a lot of confidence, and he understands the structure of the defense and how you need to attack them. He plays with a lot of confidence and gives his guys a chance to make some plays. That has always been a positive trait of his over the years (that) I've faced him."
With that said, he gives defensive players chances as well sometimes. When opportunity knocks, you have to answer, right?
"That's right. Like any quarterback we face, if they're going to give you a chance, you have to go make the play. That's something that we've stressed over the course of the season, because a direct correlation between winning and losing is creating those turnovers. We can certainly be better in that on defense."
Were you in the loop ahead of time on WR A.J. Green visiting a specialist?
What's your reaction to Green putting a "period" on whether or not he's going to play this year?
"It's something we thought through all year. I know A.J.'s intention was to try to get healthy and to play. He just went up there to check it. It wasn't a setback or anything like that. We just wanted to make sure everything was good. He'll be good in the offseason. We'll still make some decisions with him these next two weeks about this season. He and I have had some great conversations. I've been involved in his line of thinking and where he's at physically. It's unfortunate that it was a very difficult injury that's hard to come back from. At the end of the day, your wishful thinking was that it wasn't going to be long-term, but there was really no way of knowing that. This was a really tough injury for him that's kept him out the whole season. We've all seen him fight to try to get back out there. It just hasn't worked out."
From a roster flexibility standpoint, was it difficult not having Green's roster spot to provide additional depth?
"You certainly want to maximize your roster and there are reasons for us doing it (they way we did). Because we never knew how long it was going to be with A.J., you always love the thought of having him out there and what it does for you. I mentioned explosiveness. That's a big part of it. It also takes the pressure off your other receivers, and they can play the role that they're best fit for. Anytime you lose a great player like that, it causes other people to stand up. We've seen some other receivers get some great opportunities that we wouldn't have known enough about them had it happened otherwise. You just need to take the good with the bad and find the silver linings in it where you can. That's what we've tried to do."
When Green says that he likely won't participate in the offseason program if a franchise tag is placed on him, does that make you doubt his commitment?
"No. These are things we'll address in the offseason. I don't question his commitment to anything. I know what he's about. He's a genuine person. I've enjoyed being around him. It's unfortunate what happened this year. Those are conversations to have in the offseason with him and with our staff. I really like the thought of A.J. catching balls for us. That's something that gets me really excited."
How hard is it to deal with situations that involve players on expiring contracts, in terms of not acknowledging the notion, yet understanding the situation's importance to the player's career?
"First, you have to form the relationships with these players. This comes up. It happens. There's a lot of noise outside the building, I'm just talking about any guy whose contract is up. Those are just things you manage as best you can, and make sure you have a great relationship with the player and that they're all in, and that when they're healthy, they're doing everything they can to help you win when they're under contract, when they're on your team. Then, you deal with the other stuff in the offseason."
Sometimes these situations can get personal. Taking into account what Green has done both on the field and off the field, does that make it easier to not make it personal?
"When you have good relationships with the players, that's what takes care of most things."
Does Green need to prove to you that he's 100 percent healthy before you have confidence that he can be a productive player moving forward?
"Those are things that we address in the offseason. There's a bunch of 'what ifs' that can come into play with a lot of players in that regard. We'll proceed as we see fit."
Atkins is known for not saying much in the locker room. How many words has he said to you (laughs)?
"Anytime I've talked to Geno, he's a great conversationalist. He doesn't like talking to you guys, maybe (laughs). He's been great and I've enjoyed being around him. He's about the right things. He gets in his work. He's professional. He's a Pro Bowl player. He's done it for a long time. I'm really happy to have him."
What is your view of Atkins as a teammate?
"Good teammate. Does what's asked. He cares about his teammates. I see him talking to Wren (DT Renell Wren) as the season goes along, trying to help those young guys get better. I'm very pleased with how he goes about his work."
Does Green's expectation for himself to be elite affect his rehab process?
"Yeah, it's part of being a professional athlete, is just navigating things like that. It's not always easy. He wants to be his best. He knows his body better than anybody else, and what he has to do to be effective and what that feels like. You trust those players that you trust. You trust a guy like that, and you trust that he knows his body and that he's making the right decision."
Green said that if he hadn't gotten injured his season, the team would have more than one win. Do you agree?
"I like to have great players available to play for us, because that's how you win a lot of football games. There are a lot of things that we could have done better as coaches and players to win more games with the roster that we had this year, and we didn't get it done. There's no excuses for that. You have to be accountable for that. We have to continue to learn from the mistakes that we've made and the opportunities that have slipped out of our hands, and make sure we just get better going forward and that we learn from this stuff."
Did you lose the only player you could afford to lose (Green), 45 minutes into training camp?
"He's a great weapon. It always hurts to lose a great player like that, but you look around the league and it happens. No one wants to hear excuses for that, so don't give them. You go out there and work with the hand that you're dealt. We have guys that are about the right things and want to do what you ask them to do. It's our job to get the most out of them."
Besides the climate, what is different about playing in Miami?
"This is only my second trip there. It's a newer stadium from what we played in before (in 2013). I'll be playing in this new place for the first time. Obviously it's a bit warmer than it is up here."
How aware is the team of the draft implications that this game could have?
"That's not what we're thinking about. For us, we have two games left and we want to win both of these games. Regardless of who's out there, regardless of who we're going against, we're going to do whatever we can to win."
How did you take the news that WR A.J. Green will likely not play again this season?
"We've been close from the beginning. For him, he needs to be 100 percent healthy. He's our best player on this team. We miss him. If he's not right, he's not right."
Do people realize how big of a factor Green's absence is, with regard to the offense's production?
"It's obviously a big deal. Like I said, he's our best player. When you don't have him out there, that affects some things. We would have loved to have him this year, but that's the way this sport works. There are injuries. It happens."
How do two consecutive off days feel at this point of the season?
"It's just making sure guys are refreshed and ready to go for these last two games. The season is a grind. There are still some guys that have come in on these days, but to have a couple days off gets you away from it for a little bit and gets you refreshed and ready to go for this week."
Is WR John Ross III 100 percent healthy? Is he as big of an option as he's always been?
"If John is out there, we're treating him exactly how we treated him when we started the year. For him, he's missed a lot of time, and we've missed him during that time. For him, it's just getting back into it."
Head coach Zac Taylor said he still feels the same energy from the team that he felt early in the season. Do you agree?
"I do. That's one thing we've said throughout this year – guys have stuck together. Guys have believed in everything that Zac's saying. The feeling around here doesn't feel like we've lost as many games as we have. That's just part of how Zac runs things, and the guys we have on this team."
What is your assessment of Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, particularly as a competitor?
"He's always been fun to watch. He moves around a lot. He makes big throws. He's aggressive throwing the ball. He's leading (Miami) in rushing. That's just part of it. Doing that midway through his 30s just shows how competitive he is. He's doing whatever it takes out there. Just the way he plays, he's a lot of fun to watch."