Opening Comments: ML: "Going back and reflecting on the year, first off, a big 'thank you' to the fans and the people here who have come out and supported this team from the very beginning, and continuing the string of sellouts. So fans, sponsors and everybody that comes together that way – it's great. We want this to be our own home field, and be quite an advantage. And I think we have that when we fill up the stadium like that. But I do need to apologize that I haven't gotten us over the hump, and I haven't gotten us beyond where we've been. That's my job and my focus to get us beyond that. And we'll get started on that very quickly.
"But I think we've established a strong foundation. We've really kind of screwed down some pillars into the sand, which is a good thing as we move forward. Now we have an opportunity to build upon that and continue to tweak the kind of things we have to do offensively. We don't want to change some of our fundamentals, but we need to be able to manufacture and make some more explosive plays.
"Defensively, we have to continue to be a sound, disciplined group, and not give up explosive plays. We've got to be more effective in the red zone in scoring on offense and get to where we were earlier in the year. I think we may have heaped too much upon ourselves. So we want to stay to the plan a little bit better and be a little bit more efficient with that as we go forward. With special teams, we always have to let that continue to be an asset for us. We got some things corrected as we went through the year. We obviously had some issues early on, and then we had some penalty issues, but we got all those things corrected, and then unfortunately, there at the end, we don't seem to get some points we should get.
"As far as injuries go, the guys that were injured throughout the year seem to be progressing well: Reggie Kelly, (Antwan) Odom, (Rey) Maualuga, (Chase) Coffman, (Pat) Sims and (Rashad) Jeanty. Those guys were parts of the team and missed parts of this year, and they all seem to be progressing very well. Probably seven or eight guys will have some offseason surgeries that are either getting done today or tomorrow, and there should not be any issues beyond the next six-to-10 or 12 weeks. But those are the usual things that need to occur after the season with guys that have fought through injuries all year and knew that at the end of the year they'd have to have some kind of surgery done to make some corrections so that they could move forward."
Q: Of the injured players that you mentioned, are there any that you don't think will be ready for some of the offseason activities?ML: "I think everybody should be ready between eight and 12 weeks, at the most. So by the time we would do anything on the field, in late May or June, we should be fine. There may be some guys that, when we open the offseason program, would still probably be in the limited category and not quite all the way up to snuff. But I think we're in pretty good shape, and I think we're trying to get most of those things addressed through this week, which is best because it gives them as much time as they can to recover."
Q: You made a commitment to the run this year, but the passing game struggled more than in years past. Will you need to tweak parts of the passing game this offseason?ML: "I don't have any concerns. I think our quarterback is in a good spot. I think he understood about the ability to take care of the football. And as you have seen evident in the playoffs, running the football is not a bad thing. But we do need to do better. As I said earlier, we have to be able to throw the football more productively when the opportunities arise, and take advantage of people doing the things that they do in order to slow your run down. We've got to get the chunks and explosive plays. That's probably the thing that we didn't do – take advantage of the other side of it. Being such a good running football team and having the guys that we have on the outside, we weren't as productive as we need to be there."
Q: Is that because of protection? Receivers? Quarterback play?ML: "It's a combination of everything. It's a combination of making the play, of having the opportunity, sometimes even the luck of the draw. Sometimes the play call matches up with they're doing defensively, where we don't have to get out of the play and go to something else. We don't, of course, want balls forced into coverage. That's the one thing our quarterback has learned: to live to play another day and take the next opportunity."
Q: You've talked about consistency within the organization and with the coaching staff, and how that is important. Do you expect that to be the same next year?ML: "I do. I think our coaching staff will end up all being … we'll be fine."
Q: How confident are you that you can retain Mike Zimmer?ML: "I'm very confident."
Q: Are you happy with the job Andrew Whitworth did at left tackle?ML: "We are. I am happy with what Andrew did. I thought he was a very sound player, and also involved in being one of the best leaders on this football team during his time here. He's very sound. I think he will be a better player next year, now that he's spent a year there at that position. Those who know him so well know what kind of person he is and how dedicated he will be to improve on the things that he feels and we feel he needs to improve on as we go forward."
Q: Last offseason, you basically tore up and rebuilt the identity of the offense. Do you feel, to some degree, like you may need to do that again?ML: "No, I think we need to keep putting pieces around our quarterback to enable him to utilize all the abilities and skills that he has. I think that's probably something that I said after the '04 season after Carson first played. I think that's important that we continue to utilize all his abilities, and do the best we can to keep giving him the pieces around him that help him utilize all his skills. We've gotten some things established. We know that we have the maturity level that he has, with how to play the game. Now we have to give him the best tool belt we can to put around him to get things done."
Q: Will the offense that was unveiled this year be the offense we will see from now on?ML: "Next year's going to be a different team, a different offense, a different defense. That's the way it is. It's not the same. We don't get to start over, we'll be a whole different identity next year."
Q: Will it be the same running-style defense?ML: "We'll see. Tell me who we're going to play, when we're going to play them and what's going to happen, and we'll go from there. We'll be a different football team next year, but we have a foundation established, an identity. But this year didn't work, OK? We're not satisfied with where we are, so we've got to do some things a little differently."
Q: In terms of that foundation, do you think this team, long-term, is better built to handle the season?ML: "It's much better built, yes. They haven't experienced any success yet, in their minds. We had a lot of young players play for us. I don't know what team had a rookie punter, a rookie returner on kicks and punts, rookie safeties, a rookie cornerback. That's a lot of young players playing. Those guys will continue to mature and get better. We'll add guys through the offseason, we'll add guys through the draft, and we'll be a much improved football team again next year."
Q: What did you think about Kevin Huber's performance this season?ML: "I thought Kevin had a good year. Kevin has a lot more to do, he can be a lot better, but I thought he gave us some consistency. He wavered a little bit, probably Games 8-12, but he came back strong at the end. I think Kevin is everything we expected him to be, and probably a little bit more solid as far as other parts of the game. I think he's more solid in the mental stability part, as far as being a rookie punter in the NFL and the things that you deal with."
Q: How tough is it for Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco to buy into the movement of the offense to more of a running style?ML: "We didn't get anyone to buy into anything. You don't buy into things. We're going to put things together and give us the best opportunity to win. I don't know the term 'buy in.' They're here to win football games and be world champions, and the only way to do that is to win. There's no set recipe to do this or that. But we have to pursue the best opportunity to win."
Q: Did the offensive line come together as you had hoped?ML: "I think if we would have talked in June, I would expect to be where we were, but with different people. I think our seven-to-eight guys that played on the line I did a fine job. We'll continue to get better, and we need to get better. We had guys playing for their first time, and only one guy playing the game spot. I guess that would be five guys playing for the first time, if you count all seven guys. What we did and how those guys played together, you have to take your hats off to them. We have to get better, yes, and we will."
Q: You're in the last year of your deal? Do you envision any contract negotiations this offseason?ML: "Is that right? I don't get to do this forever (laughs)?" I would imagine (Mike Brown) and I would talk. I have no timeframe of when we would talk."
Q: You mentioned surrounding Carson Palmer with more tools. Does that mean looking for more consistency throughout the offensive positions?ML: "I think more weapons. Let's get right down to it. The ones we have continue to get better with how we do it, and to expand on their opportunities. (We need to) be a little bit more efficient with it, and productive. I thought, among the things we did well, was yards after contact in the running game and passing game. Being better on third down, we got better at some of those things. All the way through, we have to look at the plusses and the minuses. Our coaches have been grinding since Mobile (the Senior Bowl) last year. They're going to take a little time out of here, and then come back and take a hard look at the things we need to improve, and pick what we can and how we do it. And that's important as we continue to shape and mold the future."
Q: Is it important to sign Cedric Benson to a long-term contract? He has one year left on his current contract:ML: "One year left? That's a good deal then. He'll play his butt off next year (laughs). That's the best part about the NFL, guys, is that you play for pay. It's the best thing going. He'll be a motivated young man. I like that.
"Seriously, Ced, of all the guys ... what he's done is just incredible. I'm very excited for him. I don't want to say I'm proud of him because I don't own him or anything, but I am proud for him and what he's done. He's been great how he carries, prepares and handles himself. He's a great teammate for everyone in the building and the image that he sets, and the work ethic he sets is great. We can't be any happier for him. He's got a great opportunity ahead of himself."