Initial comments ...
There's a uniqueness to these few days. We've had this short week before, but to play the same team back-to-back is a little unique. Obviously we will have a quick turnaround. I think the most a guy who will play (on Thursday) played on Sunday is 40 snaps. They might have the chance to play a few this week. The young guys will be able to go out and show what they can do. As I told them this morning, whether it's for this team or for another team across the league, they have an opportunity to showcase their abilities on a NFL field Thursday evening. It will be fun. Then we move on in the process."
What are the challenges of playing a team back-to back? It's almost unheard of…
"It's a little different from a regular-season game, where you may have to have that happen. We're playing this one to play guys who are trying to prove they belong here or elsewhere."
You mentioned that some guys who will play Thursday, played at most 40 snaps last Sunday. Obviously those young guys want to play no matter what, even if it was 150 snaps. Do you monitor those kind of snaps?
"We do it during the (regular) season. We do it during real games. So we'll be fine."
But do you actually set a certain number of snaps, such as 40 for this game and 45 for another?
"We're going to play the guys that need to play, no matter the amount of time. We have this during the regular season when we play real games. Some of them played more than 40 (snaps), and then they have to come back and play Thursday night."
When evaluating the final few roster spots, how much of it is what they do positionally? How much is it what they do special teams wise?
"It's both. It has to be a blend. For those who have a special teams role, it has to be two-fold. On offense and defense, we have a certain feel. There's always a feel of what Darrin Simmons would prefer, then it's a matter of what I think is best for the 46 (man roster)."
Will WR Cody Core play on Thursday? Does he need to play?
"I don't think he is going to be able to play."
Have you seen enough of him? You've had him the past two years, but when it comes to those last WR spots …
"I wish he would be out there playing, just for his development if anything. That's the one thing that makes the preseason so important, for the development of the young players. So for them, keep coming further, get extended play time, and have to play through maybe being a bit winded, which can happen in a normal game. That's the thing Cody unfortunately has had to miss out on."
Last Sunday, you had a few of the young guys play their first snaps of the preseason. How did they show themselves?
"I thought Andrew Brown and Josh Tupou did a nice job in their first opportunities out. Now they should both be in better physical shape. We can't simulate pushing on them like 300-pound people can. To have the real opportunity out there was good."
With the backup quarterbacks, how much of the evaluation process is done, and can that job be won or lost on Thursday night?
"In my mind, we are still evaluating."
Is there more that goes into that, other than performance on the field? Are there intangibles as far as NFL experience, practice squad eligibility or other factors?
"There are other factors, but I don't know if the ones you mentioned have anything to do with it. There are a lot of other factors."
Any you care to share?
After this football game, over 1100 guys will hit the waiver wire. That's going to be like going to the buffet after you've already eaten …
"It's the process that happens each year. The thing that people don't realize is that 37 guys (from each of the 32 teams) are going to hit the streets. That's a lot of players. Obviously we will be able to pull 10 (players) back (to the practice squad) at some point. It's been a contested roster, which is what this is about. This is the National Football League. They have to earn an opportunity. Just because you were here a year ago doesn't mean you will get to stay this year."
There was a time maybe ten years ago where you'd pick up one, two, or even three waiver-wire guys. That seems to be the exception rather than the rule now …
"When we had a staggered cut down, it was a little easy to get a guy, see him in practice and in the game and feel better about it. Now these guys are hitting (the waiver wire) during the last week and veteran guys have already been released. Some of them are young guys and some of them have ability. I know there have already been some veterans released. We've released some. We are still going to look and will always evaluate if this (player) is better than that one."
Do you think that reflects the talent you already have?
"I don't know that. Sometimes it reflects the fact that we've had whatever many we've had in draft picks over the last three seasons. We have the roster somewhat populated with some of those guys still. That's part of it as they are still ascending. Why not continue to coach and let our guys ascend to that level. You've mentioned Cody Core and others who have risen to that level, whether it's offensive linemen or so forth. That's what you are looking at."
With OTAs, minicamps, training camp and all of the other time some of these guys spend here, does there have to be a big tiebreaker to pull a guy off the waiver wire as opposed to a guy who has been around?
"It depends on the player. Each player is his own entity."
CB Tony McRae is a guy that's been around here for a while now. Injuries have clouded his camp this year. Do you feel like you've seen enough from him? What do you like in him at this point?
"He has done a nice job with always being game ready when he's had the opportunity. He soaks up everything that is given to him."
Is he a guy you would like to see more of?
"I want to see all of these guys. That's what this is about — the opportunity for all of these guys to go out and play. Not only do they show this, but they also give you the confidence that down the line, they could step in if an injury happens."
Is CB Darius Hillary a good example of a guy who has been here before and knows a little bit about the organization?
"He's been here before with us. In a short week, he can come in and has an opportunity to play and show what he can do quickly. There's a couple factors at this point, such as if the guy is healthy and how quickly he can get up to speed to play in three days. Darius checks all of those boxes pretty quickly, and obviously we know the character of the young man."
Christian Westerman has been playing LG and hasn't seen much time at RG. Why?
"They are synonymous. It doesn't really matter, left or right, you have to prove you can play."
The competition at RG seems to be between Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond. Did you just like Westerman better on the left side?
"It doesn't matter if you play left or right, is what I am saying. You have to prove you deserve the opportunity. If he was the best guard, he would be at the right guard or left guard spot. It doesn't matter left or right."
Where do you think you are, in terms of evaluation, with the RG spot? Alex Redmond played with the starters and had the two penalties, but he looked like he played pretty well. Do you want to see more of him in that position?
"We are going to have an opportunity to have some guys play again this week and go. We are getting pretty close to where we want to be. We have to keep eliminating the mental things that we are having."
Do you feel like you have to play the first-team offensive line at all on Thursday, or have you seen enough from them?
"I'm not going to tell you in this meeting who's not going to play or who is going to play, other than Cody Core (laughs). I let that one out the bag (laughs)."
What about TE Tyler Eifert?
"(Laughs) Stay tuned."
When you're evaluating a player in the preseason and they do well in the games, but in practice it's hit-or-miss, how do you make that evaluation? What's more important? You have to trust the player, right?
"If they're making plays in the football game and they are doing it with their responsibility and proper technique, you have to feel good about that. Sometimes at practice, things get cloudy. That's our job, to help them through that process if it's getting a little cloudy in practice and they seem more hesitant. I don't remember many examples of that, but if that were the case, it would come down to us doing a better job of coaching them. Because then maybe we're making it simpler on Sunday than during the week. Maybe there's too much going through their minds. We want to be careful of how much goes through their minds."
LB Hardy Nickerson has been productive this preseason, from a statistical standpoint. How has he looked to you?
"He has continued to do a great job. He's come back here after a season of being on and off the roster — mostly on — and having an opportunity to play quite a bit and finish the season starting games. You have to feel good about what he's done. He doesn't waste opportunities, and he makes the game slow down. And he makes others around him calm because he can digest things, and is able to regurgitate it and get (teammates) lined up and get in the right spots."
Over the years, I'm sure you've seen a bunch of guys who were great in practice but struggled translating it to the field...
"All-Hamilton County (laughs)."
Inversely, when a player struggles in practice but do well when they get into the game, how does that factor into the evaluation process?
"I wish I had more of those (laughs). We see more that are All-Hamilton County, when they know they aren't going to get hit. I was asked a question after the game about the amount of preseason games. For us as coaches, that's why you see more and more teams practicing against other teams, because they want more opportunity to look at their players. That's the hard thing."
H-B Ryan Hewitt has been around here for a long time, but he hasn't been as involved offensively the last few years. Did you want to get him more involved this preseason?
"Yeah. He actually tried on Sunday, but he was cramping there in the second half. We had a couple guys with real issues with drying out, with the humidity on that field."
Is he a guy who, because of how long he's been here and what he's done, he doesn't have to prove anything to you right now?
"Ryan goes out every day at practice and every opportunity in the game and gives everything he's got. No doubt about it, whether it's special teams or offense. (Last week) he had seven snaps on offense — I wish it was 17, but we didn't quite get there. But you do want him to be able to prove time and time again his ability to play."
He only had three snaps at Dallas. Was there something to that?
"No. It was how the plan ended up. When we take Andy (Dalton) out of the game, we are trying to see the quarterbacks do different things. We aren't trying to just see him hand it off. We can see them do that in individual periods (at practice). That kind of changes what happens a lot. That's the juggling of this."
Is Hewitt a guy you would want to see play on Thursday night?
"I can't tell you (laughs). Everybody will be suited up."
You guys have had a few success stories in developing your practice squad players. Most people write off who gets onto the practice squad, but it seems important here. Would you agree?
"As I tell them when we start the process, look to their left and right. Who is going to be left in here with you? But if they look at it, five months ago in college, if they showed up for class (laughs), they are better off than most of those (classmates). A practice squad opportunity is a chance to stay around an NFL team and prove you deserve an opportunity to be elevated (to the active roster) at some point. It's really important. It supplements the roster. It's a chance for guys to grow and mature. It's an opportunity that, if we have an injury, they are ready to go. And if not, they are a free agent and are able to go sign with another club."
HB Joe Mixon lost some weight over the offseason and seemed to make a concerted effort to change his body. How have you seen that impact his game?
"With his body and the constructing of his body, he has done a great job. We are trying to get Joe on track of doing his job all the time. He's still a young guy who still gets excited and ahead of himself. He missed some opportunities this last game that we don't want him to miss when we play for real. It's a good learning experience, and we need to have some of those. When I came in here to talk to you guys, Joe was still on the field trying to get to understand some of these things. That's a good thing. We have a young, talented player, but we want to keep him pointed in the right direction and when he does that it's going to help us. He needs to turn the four-yard plays into eight-, 10-, 12-yard plays, and not have a minus play because of him trying to get too much done. Stay within the design of where things are, and we will be fine."
Because he is skinner have you seen him get to the line quicker?
I don't think that has been a significant thing. Whatever extra body fat he was carrying around, he has lost that. He has done a nice job. That's what you should do when you become a pro. This is your life and career — do everything to make myself the best I can be."
Do you remember any preseason finales over the years where a player earned a spot on the roster because of a great performance in the game?
"I think we've had a few. Ryan Whalen, I remember over in Indy. Cedric Peerman, DeDe Dorsey, Greg Little. Last year, unfortunately, our kickers didn't (laughs). Jake (Elliot) did not. In 2003, we couldn't snap it, kick it or punt it (laughs)."
Didn't K Neil Rackers get hurt in the preseason finale?
"Yes. We ended up with a new punter and kicker in Week 1. We couldn't do anything right. The preseason has had its ups and downs. That's the good part of it. It's needed for us and is valuable. Let's get to another one."