Opening comments …
"I'm pleased with the return of our guys, pleased with their conditioning level and what they've being doing throughout the time they were away from us. We've had good positive work and positive-progress guys. Yesterday was a good check-in day and so forth, with the completion of our physicals. Now we're getting an opportunity to move more towards football. The next couple of days will be a good step up for us, because the humidity will be relatively lower than what we're used to around here this time of the year, and probably a good acclimation for our guys into practice. It looks like it's clear, and we don't have a chance of rain until maybe Monday."
There's an energy and excitement that comes with the start of camp, and fans with being able to watch. Is it noticeable for you guys?
"There's an enthusiasm and excitement that comes with it. It's there anyway, because it's training camp, but certainly it's more when the fans are as close as they are to you on the practice field. It's different than the normal practice the guys have been through all spring with nobody around. It's a different environment. It's a good environment for them, and it breaks up the monotony of the work day in and day out. Hopefully it makes them focus more on the concentration parts of some of their jobs."
What did guys learn in the process of dealing with the adversity of last season?
"I think our guys understand that each week you put all your marbles in that basket, and you roll them out there, and make them be better than the others. Then you bring them all back, and you regroup, regather, go out and do it again. I think our guys understand that that you move onto the next week, and you have to leave the good and bad behind and move forward and really focus on that week and get prepared in that week. Go win those 60 minutes, and come back and do it again. I think we have enough maturity, that this group really understands that. You have to focus on things like the Wednesday-Thursday preparation in order to go out there and play fast and well on Sundays."
What do you see A.J. Hawk bringing?
"What A.J. has been able to demonstrate since he has been here is what we really expected. We saw on the tape that he would enhance what we do defensively. He's got leadership abilities, and I really feel he still has the abilities to make plays. He's a smart guy, he can make plays to get to the right spots. He's making a little bit of transition and playing a different style of defense. That will be the biggest thing, and a point we get to in a few days is to get his eyes right. I think I can really help him with a lot of those things and make him be more effective. Playing linebacker is playing blocks and making tackles, and I think I can help him with that.
What was the biggest reason bringing Greg Little back?
"Greg did some good things when he was here for us in the fall. He really did a nice job of helping us win football games, but we chose to clear the path for some other guys. We spent time with those other guys, one being James (Wright), who we had to move to IR. So we had a spot available, and we liked getting a guy with a veteran presence and physicality. Maybe we can spend more time with Greg over however long he can earn his keep here. Hopefully he's able to do it for a whole year, but there's no ceiling on him. He's looking for an opportunity, and he's got some physical tools that he has to capitalize on. He's in a good spot for his career; 27 years old. This may be his last stop to get it done right. So he has to toe the line in every area. But he did enough positives when he was here to warrant an opportunity to come back and see if he can make us a better football team."
Why has he not been able to find a spot?
"Because he has to do it day in and day out, and week in and week out. That's important. There has to be some consistency. The quarterback has to be able to count on him, the receiver coach to count on him, the offensive coordinator and the head coach and the special teams coach, for everything we do around here."
What can a full camp do for him?
"I hope this time, however long he can keep going in the right direction here, gives him an opportunity. He comes in with some understanding of the offense. He's not like a rookie who you're just getting in here in August. He's a guy who ought to be able to walk in and have recollection from last fall.
"And now, let's learn to do it the right way, consistently, all the time. He made some big plays in the Baltimore game that helped us win, and in other games down the line. I showed him those things and those plays. But it wasn't the catches, it was coming back trying to peel a guy off Jeremy (Hill), effort plays that he showed in being physical and so forth. Now it's a chance to continue on that physical path, stay quiet, be seen and not heard, and do the right things all the way through. Those are the things that are important for him. Generally, this is the last stop for people (laughs) when I'm done tolerating … (Laughs)"
You're probably pleased with guys like Whit, Andy, Sanu -- the list goes on and on -- how they commit themselves to being better players?
"There is a commitment there. As guys would say, 'greed is good.' We just have to channel it in the right direction all the time. They have done a great job of getting themselves prepared for the season and it's a big thing for them, for us, for the football team, their career and so forth."
Can you elaborate on 'greed is good'?
"There are a lot of people who have played this game and have done the things they do for a lot of great reasons. It's for the good of team, their teammates, family and profession moving forward. They're all motivated in different ways, and that's good. You have guys at one end of the spectrum in Andrew Whitworth and on the other end with Sanu. You've got a young guy and a guy with more years of experience who's been through it a few times. But, at the end of the day they all have the same goals in sight, and that's the key element."
To the point that a lot of guys have the same goals in sight, we have seen Giovani (Bernard) and Jeremy (Hill) have success early in their careers. Is that a hard dynamic for two guys that have done it at a high level, and making sure both guys get enough touches?
"I really don't think so, because I think both kids are smart enough to understand that at that position, you need more than one. You're going to for the long haul. As we've found, one is going to get worn out if he's the only one. They both bring abilities to catch the football. They both bring explosive play abilities so with that, it really helps us and it's a good problem to have."
The overall depth was obviously a challenge in some areas last year. Do you feel the team is even deeper this year?
"Well, we begin with some depth, and the key element, as we all know, is that you don't have key injuries at one spot. This is the National Football League. and you're going to run out if you have too many injuries at one spot."
What are your thoughts at this point on AJ McCarron?
"It's an exciting time for him. A kid that had the success that he had in college, and the personality that he has, having to sit and watch a year ago (due to injury). The whole offseason has been great for him. I talked to him, and he's excited. He's getting an opportunity to go out there and compete to be an NFL starting quarterback, and that's a cool thing for him. That's what he's dreamed his whole life, to have this opportunity.
"Last year he kind of had his redshirt year, and he had to kind of swallow and go through that and grimace. But he made the best of it. It made me feel even better about him, just the way he handled it. And the time I was able to spend talking talking football with him was good. He took a step back, but he didn't take a step back mentally. Now he's ready to go, he's ready to challenge, and he'll make us a better football team if he can play the way we think he can."
Update on Vontaze Burfict …
"He's in the middle of his rehab. I mean, that's where he's going to be if you ask me that question today, tomorrow, next week. He's going to be in the middle of his rehab until he's not in the middle of his rehab. He's got to just keep working like he's doing."
Are you inspired about the fire in Vontaze's eyes in his twitter videos?
"I don't…I can't answer that. I don't watch his videos."
Every position has multiple leaders. Is the culture of the team where you want it to be?
"Well, I really do think we have a lot of self-starters. We've been going about it that way in the draft and so forth. We want guys like that and I think we've been able to groom some and empower -- I guess that would be the word -- to empower some to kind of break out of their shell and go for it. I think that's cool.
"I think Tyler Eifert would be one that has that inside him, who I've seen emerge this spring that way. He's another guy who missed all of last year basically and had to sit and watch, so it's been great to see him break out of that and progress the way we want him to. You look at what Andre Smith has done over his time here and how he has broken out of those things. He had a great role model in Whit (Andrew Whitworth) to show him and the guys he broke in with how to do it.
"The defensive line has had their mentors that they've had, and the linebackers have had the mentors. James Harrison was a big part of that with Vontaze. The secondary has been so good, so well led, with the guys they've had back there, and the receiver group had A.J. (Green). Even though he was young, he has all the components of that. And watching him come out of his shell over the time has been great."
And don't forget your quarterback …
"Well that's the same thing. I think Andy has grown by leaps and bounds. I think Hue (Jackson) has ben great for Andy because Hue has really pushed Andy to do more. Whitworth is cutting his ties to allow Andy to keep growing. As Whit would say, he's passed the baton to Andy. He's happy to give it up. And that's a good thing. And Andy's done a good job of accepting it. And now the season is what counts, all the way through in making it count.
Would that make Andy the unofficial offensive captain?
"He's the unofficial offensive captain. He's leading the polls right now. I don't know if he's won Iowa, but he's winning the polls (laughs)."