ML: "As we enter into this week – our last week of training camp – the positives are that we get a chance to get a couple of guys back and inserted. Obviously, Dre Kirkpatrick, No. 1, and get him an opportunity to play some this week. The exciting part is that the rookies and draft picks get an opportunity to go out there and play again. As much exposure and opportunity that we can get for them, the more they'll benefit from that.
"With Indy, from watching them on tape, they're a different football team than they were, and they're playing pretty effectively. Andrew Luck has had some negative plays, but for the most part I think you'd feel like he's really playing very well. They're doing a lot of good things. They've got the young tight ends that are really athletic; the one kid is very physical and doing good things. They look different up front on the offensive line. They look aggressive and they're attacking, and they're physical up there. It'll be good for our guys, again.
"Defensively, they've changed styles. They have some of the same numbers, but they're playing in a little different spots. I think they've done a good job, their coaching staff, of really morphing into a different style of football than what they've been, both on offense and defense."
Has their change in offensive philosophy put them more in line with the style of the teams you see twice a year in the AFC North?
ML: "Bruce (offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) has been there, and was there when they started with Peyton (Manning). And Clyde (quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen) was there at the onset (since 2002). So he's been around three very good young quarterbacks. But you see that he's handling the progressions and doing a great job. He can make things happen with his feet and extend the plays and can run. So they're doing great things."
What do you see out of rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton?
ML: "He's playing quite a bit. He's playing their inside slot receiver and getting an opportunity to play quite a bit. I don't know if he's quite starting the game in their two-receiver sets, but I know he's in there a lot in the three receiver sets. They're getting the ball in his hands and trying to do things with him."
It looks like there could be as many as 10 rookies/second-year quarterbacks starting around league on opening day? Is that simply a matter of circumstance, or is it the evolution of the game?
ML: "A little bit of the evolution of the game. The college game is such that a lot of these schools are throwing the ball. He's in a spread offense or a one-back offense, he's getting the opportunity to throw the ball, survey defenses, survey coverage so he's coming in a little bit more prepared.
"From the standpoint of the NFL clubs, everybody is looking at the fact that these guys are being prepared, so why not. Tailor what you do to their abilities and give them an opportunity to grow and be successful with what you're doing. But you're right, it does have to be an abnormal number of rookies beginning the year as starting quarterbacks. That number has got to be higher than ever."
Has that been the biggest change in the last five years?
ML: "It depends on the player, it depends on the team, depends on where you are as an organization and, frankly, probably how good your defense is – how confident you are in your defense. I think that makes a big difference. How well you know your football team. There are two ways to look at it. When you're starting new, why not? If you have confidence in the rest of your football team, that you can manage the young player at quarterback, why not? And that's with respect to who else you have. That's the other part."
In 2003, you had Carson Palmer, but you wanted to establish that you could win, so you went with Kitna:
ML: "Right. It was important for us not to put the blame of not winning on the rookie quarterback, as gifted and talented as Carson was, which we all knew. I would just sit there and marvel every day at practice. I knew how talented he was, but if things didn't go right that would have been easy for the rest of the football team to blame. That would have been the story, that they were having to overcome a rookie quarterback. I think the players that were here at the time had a lot of confidence in Jon, and Jon did a good job."
Do you think the transition to the NFL was easier for some of these guys because they started even as freshmen and threw the ball a lot in their offenses?
ML: "Oh, there's no question. That's what we were talking about before. There's no doubt that makes it easier of a transition. As a coach or an evaluator, you have more to evaluate. You have more to go on. In looking at Andy, I think we saw in four games the entire season of throws that Carson had (as a senior at USC). With the offense at TCU, probably in four football games there were the same number of throws that Carson had his entire senior season at USC. If you went back and looked at Carson and every ball that he threw over the last three seasons he played, the amount of (throws) compared to these guys now was probably the same over three seasons as what these guys have thrown in one season. The offensive style was different. Carson played in an I-formation attack offense there."
What do you want to see this week from Dre Kirkpatrick?
ML: "He just needs to go out and play. He needs to have live snaps. He's going to have an opportunity to do live football. Since the rookie camp, he's had very few opportunities to be out there play after play after play. He got a little bit in the OTAs and at the end of mandatory camp. He just gets an opportunity to get out there and compete and get winded and go back to the huddle and hear the next call and know the down and distance, the situation, and react and play to what the defense calls."
How do you think Kirkpatrick has responded to his situation?
ML: "He's been fine. He's been very positive through it and has been able to take this as a learning experience for himself mentally. As much as he's been able to pay attention while he was doing the rehab stuff, he was right there, focused in and paying attention. That's a good thing. He's fortunate to have five great mentors there with him. All of the other five corners are all veteran corners who are always talking to him about things. That's a good thing."
Is the roster depth developing the way you anticipated it would in preseason?
ML: "I don't know. That's a heavy question. With (Robert) Sands getting injured, that puts us in a little different situation at safety than we thought we'd be. But we're pleased with how (George) Iloka has done, and the receiver group has probably exceeded my expectations of where they would be. With the confidence we showed in those guys, they've answered the bell. We just have to get better as a group. As far as missing some of these 'layups' that we're missing out of the field, we've got to convert some of these throws and catches, and convert some of these big plays that we're leaving out there right now. That's what we have to look at, to continue to get better as we go into the season."
Do you like your depth at linebacker right now?
ML: "We came into it not quite sure where Roddrick Muckelroy would be. We got a little bit of a glimpse of him through the offseason part. But I think he's had a good summer and a good camp. (Vontaze) Burfict has had a really good camp. With the starting guys, Rey (Maualuga) has missed some time, but getting him back and get an opportunity to get back to work this week is good for him. (Dan) Skuta and Manny (Lawson) have been what we expect all the time. I think Thomas Howard has taken a step forward. (Emmanuel) Lamur has done a nice job.
"So I like the things that those guys have done. All in all, that group, as far as special teams players, has been a bright spot and a step up. The attitude taken by those guys has been very good."
Barring injury, do you think your 53-player roster is set right now, or are there a few spots that are still up for grabs?
ML: "You're set if you have to be set, but do you want to see guys go play? I think that's part of it. When you're in professional sports, you always have to have a 'last guy at the position' type of mentality, so you're always prepared to go to the 53 if you had to. It's important for me and the coaches to know where our thoughts are all the time as we work in preparation. But we've got chances for guys to still show. You've got chances for development. You've got chances for guys who maybe have an opportunity that, if they are waived, can come back to the practice squad. So there's still a lot of opportunity there to be had."
Do you think you'll get Pat Sims back this week?
ML: "We'll evaluate that later."
So even if someone practices this week, they still might not play in the game on Thursday?
ML: "Correct. Hopefully we'll have some guys that can get back and get some work in through the end of the week. Robert Geathers is pretty close to getting to work, which will be good. Get Robert back, and get him back to being acclimated to football. Get some guys off Nick's team (reference to rehabilitation trainer Nick Cosgray), and we'll be good."
What about Adam Jones?
ML: "Adam is doing well. He's progressed well. There's guys that want to get off of Nick's team and get back to work with us. Then I can judge if and how much they'll play come Thursday night."
You've mentioned how players like Adam Jones and Jason Allen want so badly to play that you've had to hide their helmets from them. Is it a balancing act with guys like that, since you want them to play, they want to play, but the goal is to have them ready for the first regular season game on Sept. 10?
ML: "Yeah, that's the key thing. Same with Robert Geathers; you bring Robert along. Carlos (Dunlap) is back to moving and doing things now on his legs, which is a real positive because he needs the time. When you're a defensive lineman, you're pushing on people, and that's good to get out there and get back to doing that work. That's important that we're not 'stupid tough' or 'dumb tough' at this point. So we kind of bite the bullet again and make sure we get to where we want to get to."
So that's how you're going to play it on Thursday?
ML: "Yeah. They key thing is that it's a good week for us to continue in our preparation for the upcoming season, in all phases. There's things we want to continue to get better at, and then we're going to go play a game. That game at the end of the preseason doesn't count for much, other than getting guys an opportunity to play. And that's a good thing – a good, competitive thing, because they're going to go over there and compete against guys that are competing for jobs, just like they are. You love that fact.
"To me, that's what makes the preseason games so much fun and so interesting, because you have all these matchups and battles that are going on both teams. That's a fun thing, if I were a fan, to watch. I get excited watching it."
This last game is mostly about the last 10 spots, right?
ML: "It's for the spots, it's for practice squad, and it's for everything you're doing. It's for not only here, but throughout the rest of the league, and for opportunities to come back down the line. So those are good things. It's a good week. We want to hopefully be sitting here on Friday and be just as healthy as we are now."