Opening comments** ML: "With where we are in preseason camp, it's a good week for us to get focused back on getting better as a team. We had the extra trip to Atlanta. We had, for some of the veteran guys, the breaking of camp, and getting out of the hotel a week ago. Now we have an opportunity to get back and focus on getting better at football, be it by player, by position and by group – all three phases. The timing is good. Where we are physically is good. Coming into this weekend, we're getting an opportunity to get some guys to play a little bit more or a little less, depending on their situation."
What is the status of Brandon Thompson, who has been injured? Will he play on Saturday?
ML: "We'll see how it goes this week. The hope was that he would be able to play some this week, but we'll see how it goes."
There is only so much you can do to try and avoid injury. A lot of luck is involved. But you have been fairly unscathed thus far in camp. Do you feel pretty good about where you guys stand with that?
ML: "Next question (laughs). Just stay lucky (laughs)."
Dontay Moch had a sack on Saturday. When healthy, he has displayed the ability to get to the quarterback. What has he shown you thus far in camp?
ML: "He's been back and forth between outside linebacker and defensive end. He has produced in these preseason games. He had an opportunity. As we've given opportunity other times, it hasn't been the same. Hopefully he continues to produce when it counts, against people that are more likely to be around on another club's 53-man roster, to show proof that he can be productive on Sundays."
What kind of improvement have you seen from Daniel Herron throughout the offseason and into training camp?
ML: "I think Dan has done a really good job. He's such a hard-working guy, and that's continued to pay off for him, with getting opportunity. He had a nick or so in camp last year. This year, he's been healthy throughout, and obviously the rookies (from 2012) had a chance to be part of the whole offseason. Hue (special assistant to the head coach/running backs coach Hue Jackson) has done great job with those guys, getting them up to speed and being able to plug them in."
For younger players, how critical is the ability to quickly pick up special teams?
ML: "They can make the biggest splash and turn the most heads that way. When you look at it, guys get here different ways, but where you prove your worth is with what you do on Sunday, being part of the 46-man club. That's important to us."
Is it advantageous to take a player who played a lot of special teams in college?
ML: "Very few of these guys were special teams players in college after their first or second year in school, because most of them have been two or three-year starters. So they haven't played as much (special teams). Obviously, the college teams have more players suited up on game days. So most times, they haven't had a lot of opportunity to do that. Maybe one team or so, or sometimes the defensive backs, maybe. Even the linebackers haven't done a lot (on special teams), because they're just carrying more people that way."
What is the most challenging thing at this point to teach a rookie about special teams?
ML: "First, the speed of the game. It's a fast-paced game, and there's a lot of open-field opportunity. So your hand placement, your feet, your hips and where you belong are all important. The other part of it is that we can't get penalties. It's the execution of your job, but it's the execution of it penalty free and error free. There's some naturalness that comes in the coverage teams, with the ability to run the field, have good vision and feel, separate off the block, and then finish by making the tackle."
Cuts start coming up now after these games:
ML: "If you look around the NFL, there are guys who have been in that situation, and if you're deserving you're going to get another opportunity. Corey Lynch started his career here and was playing in San Diego, and with Tennessee the other night. Nick Hayden did a good job for us here a few years ago, and we released him last camp, and he's in Dallas now. These are guys who are deserving and are big-hearted and give their all out there, I think people recognize that. Our guys are getting an opportunity to play for us, so they're on video."
When it comes down to those last few roster spots, how much is it between potential down the line compared to what you can do now?
ML: "Well you've got to weigh it. Part of it is the 46-man roster. The way I look at it is, if I woke up tomorrow and I didn't have one of two guys, how would I feel between A or B? Tomorrow and a week from now, who would disappoint you the most if they were no longer on the team and how would that fit going into Sunday? If we had one injury at the position, how would we be? It's difficult that way. It's not clear cut."
There's not a right or wrong answer is there?
ML: "There is none. Players always have a good answer for it and they say it's a business (Laughs). The business of it is that it's not really clear cut."
But it is part of a business, too. If you expose guys to waivers, there's a chance to get them through, but there's those couple who if you didn't:
ML: "You may have a chance to get them back. Right."
Plus young means cheap too, right?
ML: "Hopefully young means longer tenured and possibly healthier. Some of that has to go into play."
Maybe a guy that's been with you two or three years that you know what you've got. But the upside of the young guy and trying to determine how much upside is there this year as opposed to the following year and every year after that:
ML: "The key thing is, where is the upside potential and how will he be standing here a year from now? Then like you said, balancing who can help you win tomorrow. Obviously we're in the NFL and tomorrow is important. We have to win right now, today and getting it done today is really important to what we do."
I know you're still in a camp mode, but since the third game is often considered a dress rehearsal, is this more like a normal week as far as game-planning?
ML: "We're trying to get the players more into that kind of mode. The coaches will stick to the plan that we basically put forth at the end of May and June of what we want to do for each of these preseason games. 'This is the plan and how we want to play it, and these are the things that we want to feature here, here and here and go that way.' There's a little bit of evolution, of course. The player stuff is a little bit different than in the regular season. Keeping that in mind, we're as close to the regular season schedule for these next three days as we can be. Get the players in tune with that, albeit it's a little different because you have a lot of young guys. With that being said and trying to balance it all out, I think it's a good opportunity for us to recharge and refocus for our guys, and they know what's ahead now. What is it, 19 days away now? They know what's ahead of us, and that's kicking off the season up there in Chicago."
Speaking of up in Chicago, is going to Dallas as a dress rehearsal a pretty good environment?
ML: "I think it's a great environment. I think it's a big, psychical football team. We played them in the Hall of Fame Game in 2010 at the start of that preseason and we played them again last year. We know they have quality players throughout. They have a great quarterback, they have talented wideouts. They have big-time guys that rush, a big strong running back and athletic linebackers that cover guys in the back end. It's a great challenge going up against these guys. Many of us have not been to the Cowboys' stadium, AT&T Stadium, so it will be good for us to see that for the first time. I think it's a good week for us."
Barring a setback, do you expect A.J. Green and Andrew Whitworth to see action?
ML: "They have a chance to play. We'll see."
How important is it to have that whole first group together?
ML: "If they weren't going to be together I would tell you it's not important (laughs.) So if they are going to be together, I am not going to answer it any differently. It is what it is. We'll get as close as we can to it as we can be. I know both guys would like to play and I will kind of determine that later in the week."
How severe is Sean Porter's injury?
ML: "He's got a shoulder injury, and we have been listening to the doctors and seeing how he responds and comes around. He has not turned the corner in that yet. Hopefully over the next few days he turns the corner, and we can get some progress and get him back on the field at least moving around a little bit and go from there. We have had guys who have had this kind of shoulder injury before. Some guys can deal with it and not be an issue. Other guys have not been able to. It's just a matter of how he responds and how physically his body works to it."
Is Andrew Hawkins getting the cast off this week?
ML: "Andrew is going to see the doctor, and then we will evaluate it from there. Yes, he is getting the cast off after this week and we'll see what the next step is. He'll be in some kind of apparatus, whether it is a cast, a boot, something. He's likely to be in something here for the next couple weeks just so he doesn't reinjure himself. He'll be able to begin some therapy and things that way."
Is Tanner Hawkinson advancing pretty well?
ML: "He seems to be doing well. I'm not sure how sore he is today and I know he worked hard last night. We got (Reid) Fragel back out there again and Brandon (Thompson). They have been on track as far as what the medical people have said. Their timeline has fit pretty well. I just think we have to stay with the timeline of the medical people. These kids want to get out there and prove they are ready to go."
Is Carlos Dunlap back on track, too?
ML: "He seems to be. Obviously, those are touchy things. It was good to see him. He was out this morning and participated. Hopefully we continue to move forward."
How do you fight that balance with the young guys that know they 'can't make the club in the tub,' so they want to go out there, but the medical people say it's dicey?
ML: "You prove their return-to-play protocol. We have to meet that first. That they do the things with the physical therapy and the training staff, then move from there into the strength coaches before they are cleared to get back with the position coaches and ease him through the practice, kind of like we did with A.J. One step he had to clear through Nick (Cosgray, trainer), then Chip (Morton, strength and conditioning coach). Then we eased him in a little bit last week. The first day was just individual stuff, then we let him in with the team. You just got to kind of go through that process. It's the same thing with these (young) guys. We go through the same thing during the season. That way the coordinators know who they can count on. You are not going to buffalo us by having us think we can play you. If you haven't gone out there and showed us you can go through those steps, unfortunately we have to prepare without you. Hopefully you'll be back the next week. That's part of the NFL."