Opening comments: ML:
We seem to be progressing with our injures. We have an opportunity to have most of the guys that were banged up last week, get a chance to see them in practice at some point this week. Those would include Ben Utecht, Kenny Watson, Chris Perry, and Chinedum Ndukwe for sure. We'll see how they go today and tomorrow through practice and as far as their services. We really didn't sustain any other injures in the game.
Q: Will Levi (Jones) be in that group?ML:
We'll see how he is. I don't know. As far as I know there has not been as much development with him, but we'll see.
Q: Will Carson (Palmer) throw in practice today?ML:
No. He has already thrown today.
Q: You brought in Jim Maxwell. Can he boost you special teams coverage?ML:
Yes, he can. Jim was probably our 54th guy there at the end of training camp. Because we were banged up at safety, we made a decision to keep a guy there and work the special teams in that way. We just haven't been able to get back to Jim all year. I think there is a need to help ourselves these last two football games. Also get some relief at linebacker, and we can count on him in both formations, and the coverage teams. It's good to get him back here and to get him going.
Q: Even though both teams have struggled this year, how important is the "Battle of Ohio" the second time around?ML:
It's an important game, as I said Monday. It's a division game, and obviously there are ties between the organizations, with Mike Brown. It's an important game to him I know, so that makes it an important game to me. It's big for us. And they beat us earlier this year down here, and they beat us up there last year.
Q: If you guys finish this out winning three in a row, or even two of three, how much will it show that improvement has been made, versus covering up improvements that still need to be made?ML:
Oh, I don't think it covers anything up that we feel interiorly, and that's the only thing that matters. ... I think your question is disrespectful for what we're doing. I really do.
Q: Do you feel for Romeo Crennel? There's a lot of heat on him:ML:
Well, again, seems like we've gone through this a couple years in a row with Romeo. They obviously did a fine job there last year, and everybody was on board, and they're going forward, and the season hasn't worked out for them the way they would like, much like us. But he didn't all of a sudden become not as good a coach as he was a year ago. Unfortunately, he's probably a better coach now than he was a year ago, because he's had to deal with a lot of different things. I remember the exact point in Detroit (when Bengals clinched 2005 division title) when I realized, 'People really don't get it (in thinking the team had fully arrived).'
That's probably the same thing they're going through (in Cleveland). People thought we had arrived, and I knew we hadn't. I'm sure it's a little bit what they're going through. Everybody wondered what was wrong with me (for being subdued in the 2005 Detroit postgame news conference), and I tried to not kill the moment, but I knew there were a lot of things left to get done. That's the same thing there (in Cleveland). They're trying to build the football team. They've had a lot of things that have kind of taken away from that this year, unfortunately. Romeo's a fine football coach, and I'm sorry they're going through what they're going through.
Q: You mentioned Detroit. Now ahead three years, are you closer, in spite of the record?ML:
Oh, I think we're a lot closer. I think the things were -- I don't know what the word to use is -- placebos, whatever, being used. We knew they really weren't strong pillars, I would say. I knew they weren't strong pillars, at least. I can remember talking to Jon Kitna about it, because he was taken aback by my reaction, and I just said, 'I've been there before, and I know what's ahead.' I thought -- although we had some accomplishments -- we weren't screwed down the way we needed to be screwed down.
Q: So in spite of what it might look like if you focus on the record, do you feel like you have more of those pillars in place, or at least started?ML:
I think we're building some of them, and some of them we're kind of moving along to the wayside, and they're moving themselves, too. I think that's a good thing, because I think the way the guys are here and competing -- some of them we still have to get shaped the right way, and I'm going to keep working at that. But I do feel good about a lot of the guys and I guess just their -- I don't know what the right word is to use in this setting -- just what they have inside of them, you know?
Q: You've stayed positive. It sounds like you really are encouraged about the players and their effort:ML:
Well, I do. I feel good about things. I know we have to get better. I think that's been evident. Back to Dustin's question (regarding if wins would cover up improvements that need to be made): You can't hide that. I don't care if you win three games or not; it's not going to hide that. There's still things that need to be done better, and that goes for better players and better coaching. We've got to get better. That (winning late this season) is not going to mask that. We might feel a little better about it, but it's still not going to change really what's on the inside, in my mind.
Q: Any particular areas, coach?ML:
There are lot of areas, but I'm not going to get into that.
Q: That team that everything went right for, that went 11-5 (in 2005) ... if that group were experiencing what you are experiencing this year, you wouldn't have liked it?ML:
I know I wouldn't have liked it at all. They wouldn't have been able to go through this. We'd have had inner fighting, we'd have had finger-pointing, we'd have had all those things. And the ironic thing is that if you look at this team, it's so different from that football team, as far as the people. There's none of that left. There's a few guys on offense, but there's really nobody on defense. And that's the amazing thing. You look at three years ago and what a difference the makeup of your football team is. A little bit by design. Again, that's the way it works sometimes. It just happens through injuries and attrition. With unfortunate injuries, we've lost a few guys.
Q: Do you feel like long-term ...ML:
There is no long-term.
Q: You feel like these guys will be better for what they are going through? This separates the front-runners, the men from the boys:ML:
My point is, for the young players, I think they're getting a real indoctrination into how tough it is to win in the National Football League, and how close each and every game can be. And all those things we talk about before the season and how important they are -- being able to effectively run the football, being able to defend the run, take care of the ball, take away the ball on defense, protect your quarterback, get pressure on the quarterback, win on third down and have few penalties. Well, we've done some of that. We've had few penalties. But with the other things, we haven't done very well.
We're getting better against the run. We've played the run really well. If you look at the per-snap averages against the run, it's great. But the fact we haven't been able to make any first downs on offense, the other team has the ball all the time and they can run the football. Time and time again, that wears your butt down. So there's some things we've gotten better at, but I do think there is -- I'm hopeful there's a stronger foundation being built.
Q: You say you're hopeful and confident. Are you confident that everybody in this organization is on the same page with you, as far as resources?ML:
Yeah, I am.
Q: It's interesting what you said about this being Romeo's best season. A couple weeks ago, Mike Brown said this might be the best job you and your staff have done. This might be jumping the gun, but do you anticipate any coaching changes?ML:
I think our guys have really coached their butts off. I appreciate Mike's thoughts. A coach told me a long time ago when I was a young coach, when the season wasn't going very good, 'The times when you're not winning as much as you'd like, you probably do a better job.' You don't realize it at the time, but you're doing a lot of things better than you ever did them, because every single little play, every single moment is so important to you. You can't let that go down the drain. You have to take advantage of every single one of them.
Q: What it boils down to is, like you've said before, no team is ever that far away:ML:
Nobody is ever that far away, or has it all figured out. Every Sunday you go out there, your good players -- I don't know how many times I've told you this -- your good players have to go win the game for you, and your average players can't get you beat. I think that's what it comes down to, week-in and week-out. If you want to be a good football player, go win the football game. If you want to be looked at as a good player, go win the football game, go make plays to win the football game. Don't make excuses. Don't point your finger at anybody else. You've got an opportunity to make plays to win the football game. That's what it comes down to. That's what good teams do. Or else they don't have good players. What you did last year, the year before that, that really doesn't matter. This is this year, and this is this year's circumstances, and that's what's important.
Q: Do you have enough good players?ML:
Not right now, obviously.
Q: Do you have fewer good players now than in '05?ML:
Do I think we have fewer good players? (pause) Yeah, I think we do. Because I don't think some of our good players worked the way they worked in '05 to prepare and to compete. They just think it's going to happen, and it's not going to happen like that. Now we're beyond that. I said that to you before we started the season.
Q: But do you have the talent?ML: Talent? Talent is spread out evenly across the league, pretty much. It's what we do as coaches -- because we're responsible for it, too, and I'm responsible for it -- to give players every opportunity to get better.