7-28-04, 7:30 p.m. Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier knows his unit is under the gun in is second season after finishing 28th overall in the NFL and allowing at least 143 yards on the ground in a 1-3 December that cost them the playoffs. Frazier sat down with Geoff Hobson this week before heading to training camp Friday.
GH: Going into the offseason, Marvin said he was going to spend more time with the defense. Did he? **
LF:** He did and it was good. I've got a mindset, but he's the head coach and I've got to know how he wants things done, and it was good to have him sitting there and saying things like, "Why don't we try this?" We're more on the same page than we were a year ago at this time.
That comes from working together for a year, because we had never worked together before. So I think that it will be a big plus. I'm more familiar with what he expects. I feel a lot more comfortable with what we're doing with our players and how we need to approach that personnel. But the biggest thing is I have a better idea of what he expects on defense as opposed to referencing what I know from the past. Now I can reference the things that he feels comfortable with and that's big.
GH: After doing it for a year, are you going to change anything about the way you call the game?
LF: No, I'm very comfortable with how I went about that. I've never been intimidated by that. I think our biggest improvements are implementation and communication. We have a better idea of what these players can do, so what may have looked like a bad call last year is going to look good because it was better executed. But it's the same call.
GH:Is this defense better and different than last year?
LF: After watching the camps, it seems like we're a lot faster than we were before. It just seems like we have a better idea of what we're trying to get accomplished. I think we'll be a much better group than what we were a year ago because of our additions along with the familiarity of what we expect from the guys.
GH: Are you going to be doing different things, or is it the same concepts?
LF: Some of the same concepts, but we've got some different guys doing some of the things we're asking, and we added some wrinkles here and there.
GH: You didn't get the big tackle and you lose Oliver Gibson and Glen Steele. So you need to get something from a mish-mash of some young guys who are unproven. Does that worry you?
LF: It doesn't really worry me. I think we've drafted some solid guys inside and they'll be a plus for us, along with our veteran guys, Tony Williams, John Thornton, Carl Powell, they do great job for us inside, so we're anticipating great production out of those guys. We think we'll be all right over time.
GH: Marvin is talking about 11 guys in stopping the run with team speed. Speed looks to better.
LF: I think so. We added some speed in the secondary. We think we added some speed at linebacker with what Nate Webster is doing. That's going to help us, and then if our safeties do a good job of tackling, which we expect, now you get all 11 people to the football and you can eliminate some of those big runs and those big yards per carry. Tackling is critical to the run defense.
GH: It wasn't good last year, was it?
LF: No. We were not very good at tackling and not being able to prevent the big run at times, so hopefully that will be improved by the people we've added, and our doing a better job with the people we've had before.
GH: I know you think you upgraded at cornerback because Tory James is healthier and Deltha O' Neal has made it to the Pro Bowl in the past.
LF: We're excited about Deltha. His coverage ability, his ability to tackle. He's still a young guy. We just have to help him maintain his confidence and get back to where he was when he did go out to Hawaii.
GH: What impressed you about him in the spring camps?
LF: Just his attitude. The toughness that he displayed. Not backing down from any challenge. Willing to get up in guys' faces to challenge them. You've got to have that moxie about you when you're playing corner, and he has that.
GH: Obviously you're looking for a nickel back. It looks like the two rookies, Keiwan Ratliff and Madieu Williams, can challenge. Given how good he looked this spring, could Madieu be the first candidate?
LF: He's going to give Keiwan and Terrell Roberts a run for their money. Madieu is a good little athlete. He's a guy who could not only be a good safety, but be a good third corner as well.
GH:After the release of Adrian Ross, that left you with three NFL starts from the back-up linebackers. Is that a concern?
LF: In our league, depth is always a concern because of the salary cap. Everyone has the same problem when it comes to quality depth. We're no different than most teams in the league. It's something we've got to be able to deal with, and hopefully we've done a good enough job of scouting and drafting. Although the guys we draft are young, they can play beyond their years. But it's just a part of where we are in the NFL today.
GH: When you guys talk about rookie linebacker Caleb Miler, you talk about how he does play with knowledge.
LF: We're excited about Caleb and Landon Johnson, and we think both of those guys are going to come along, and Khalid Abdullah, the other young backer, is coming back for a second year. They're all very young players with very little experience. You don't know what you're getting, but we anticipate them coming along. But it's matter of how fast they're going to along.
GH: What do you need out of Justin Smith at right end? His sack numbers have been down every year, but he's got no control over some of that.
LF: I'm anticipating Justin having a break-out year. There are some things I saw over these minicamps that really encouraged our staff. He's always been a great worker, but his desire to want to improve on some of the little things in his game and willing to take some chances on some new schemes and concepts, that's going to open up some doors for him.
Trying some techniques. Varying things a little bit because people study you. People study Justin Smith. He has to know that. He's willing to try some things that are little bit different than what he ordinarily would do week in and week out.
GH: Is he a guy that has lived off that quick first step?
LF: He's got an outstanding first step, so he can get away with it. But at the same time you're going against people who have studied you and figure out things to do against your best move, so you need to have an alternative some times to set up that best move. More so than the first year we had him, you've seen him working on some things counter wise that we think will free up some of the things he's capable of doing. I'm excited for what he's going to do this season.
GH: John Thornton said some good changes were made in the middle that should help the run defense. But he said it was things people wouldn't notice. That it was just some tweaks.
LF: We think we've done some things that will help our guys up front. But I want to go back to the point that Marvin made. It's not just the guys up front. Our linebackers have to do a great job of attacking and being down hill, our secondary has to a great job of run support. If we can get that combination, we'll be fine against the run. But it has to be the group and not any set of individuals.
GH: You have to feel like your linebacking play is going to be better simply because they'all playing in their natural spots with Nate playing the middle, Kevin Hardy moving from the middle to strong and Brian Simmons in his second year at weak.
LF: You would think so. You've got guys playing some familiar positions. It was tough on Kevin playing a new position at this stage of his career. A very demanding position. Now we're putting him back where he's feel more comfortable. Nate is playing where he's comfortable and Brian is a lot more comfortable now as opposed to a year ago. So that alone will improve our run defense because guys will play faster. Any hesitation is enough to allow big plays. And we had that hesitation some times because of unfamiliarity with both the scheme and guys being in new positions. That won't be the case so much this year.
GH: You want Hardy to line up some with his hand on the ground as a third-down rusher, right?
LF: We're going to use those long arms and his pass-rush ability. That's something we're going to add. To be able to match him up against some tackles that may not be as quick. That should be a plus. There's no question that on all three downs you want all your starters playing 90 percent of the time.
GH: You also added a coach in free agency when former Raiders coordinator Chuck Bresnahan joined you in May. It looks like he's working with third- down packages.
LF: He'll work with our nickel backs. It gives us a guy who is familiar with the AFC and that should enhance our preparation during the week. On game day, he'll be able to sit in the booth and point out some things since probably a lot of the teams we play this season he's already gone up against. He'll know what was effective for them, what wasn't effective. He can throw those ideas out.
GH: Is it the same set up as last year? You're going to be on the sidelines? Who is in the press box?
LF: Yes, I think it's easier to communicate with players and coaches. Chuck will be in the box with (assistant secondary coach) Louie Cioffi and Jay Hayes, Ricky Hunley and Kevin Coyle (the three position coaches) are on the field.
GH: Is the heat on because the defense has to step up to help a rookie quarterback. Or because they struggled so much in December? I guess every coach is on the hot seat every year.
LF: In our league, there are no off years. A year from now, we'll be having the same conversation. Even the conversation they're having in New England and Carolina now.