Initial comments:** ML: "After looking back, I've got to be pleased with the way we handled conditions yesterday. Before heading out to San Diego, we obviously had a very cold week here. The conditions that we practiced in, compared to what we played in, were so different. It was such a bright, sunny day, and it was even warmer than I anticipated, but our guys really rebounded and regrouped off of that. We were able to play through it and show our conditioning and toughness.
"Offensively, adjusting to Clint Boling's injury, and Andrew (Whitworth) sliding in at guard, we just really did it kind of seamlessly. That was very good. Our front group, including our tight end Jermaine Gresham, did a great job up front blocking. It was one of those days where maybe the wide receivers and tight ends didn't get as much opportunity as anticipated, but yet they were all effective. I thought the receivers blocked and did a great job that way. Gio (Bernard) and Benny (Green-Ellis) were effective for the most part in the running game. We had some runs we missed, and some things that we need to continue to work at and correct, but overall we're pleased with that effort. Andrew Hawkins did make a couple plays that really were helpful in the game.
"Defensively, the thing that stands out was the tackling. We need to continue to press hard at that, and pursue our tackling, and stay with the great effort and keep being assignment-sound on defense throughout. Special teams-wise, Kevin Huber had an outstanding day, and we continue to get great effort by Dre Kirkpatrick, Shawn Williams, Andrew Hawkins, all guys that are doing a great job continuing to cover kicks well. We've just got to keep working at the return game. We had one miscommunication on our first kickoff return. We've just got to keep working at it and have everybody on the same page."
What are the chances that Andrew Whitworth would stay at left guard?
ML: "We'll see."
What kind of elements would go into that?
ML: "Me not talking about it (laughs). I guess that line of questioning is over."
The good news is you have so much depth. Mike Pollak played well. You've got options:
ML: "Yep. Mike did a good job in his second game in there. He played better."
Do you think depth and heart are two words that characterize this team?
ML: "I think they are two accurate ones. Toughness. Having a belief in each other. That's what's key, and it's cool. It's actually cool to feel that, the confidence level of that."
Do you have any update on Clint Boling? I know you didn't sound very optimistic about it yesterday:
ML: "Yeah, I don't know if a doctor has read it yet, but I can see it and it looks like a torn ACL. At some point, he'll obviously have surgery and we'll move him to IR."
What are the key elements to preventing teams from throwing for 300-plus yards?
ML: "The key to that is number one, you have to tackle well after the catch and don't have assignment break downs, continue to play well assignment-wise. They might catch a ball, they might catch a hook, they might catch a ball running across the field or something like that, but we have to tackle and get them on the ground. Playing well on third down helps those things. Yesterday they converted a couple third-and-shorts, but the third-and-longer ones they didn't convert. I think maybe they converted one. That's huge -- being able to get people in a third-and-longer situations. It's all part of rushing the quarterback. You've got to rush within the plan. As I said yesterday, we didn't do a real good job of that early on. Later, we began to understand better what we were talking about all week, about Phillip Rivers' ability to move up and through the pocket, and how it was going to be important to try and squeeze the pocket on him."
You got some guys back after the bye. How do you feel Rey Maualuga and Devon Still played?
ML: "I think guys came back and played—including (Chris) Crocker—and were effective. Devon has been out for a bit. What he has to keep doing is keep playing, and getting more opportunity and have good weeks of practice."
Vontaze Burfict seems to shy away from the spotlight, like he doesn't want it:
ML: "I think he's a pretty humble young man. Obviously a good player, but the team is bigger than him. Vontaze, he's that kind of person. It's not an act, it's real."
You've been around the great ones. Ray Lewis obviously the greatest there is. What similarities set great linebackers apart from the rest?
ML: "I think they have a uniqueness of leadership. That's impressive. I think as a young player, Vontaze is very parallel to where Ray was. Right away there's just an air. Where Ray comes in as a late first-round draft pick, and Vontaze is a very very late draft pick – the eighth round (laughs, as Burfict was actually an undrafted free agent). But I think once they hit campus, they showed special qualities of leadership that most young players don't have, but yet a humbleness and a knowing where their place is, you know what I mean? Knowing where their place is as a young player, getting behind the veteran players, learning from the veteran players, being a fly on the wall with the veteran players, but yet when their time comes as a player to not be shy, to really hold up their end of the bargain."
Does that confidence come from football IQ?
ML: "A lot of it. Yes it does, no doubt. Both guys have that. Vontaze, I knew, had that when I spent time with him out in Arizona. That's the impressive part of him."
Dre was very emotional after his first interception. Where is he right now as far as evaluations?
ML: "We had to get him recovered first over the Alabama-Auburn game (laughs). He looked like those two little kids they showed on TV with tears running down their faces. We didn't know if he was going to make it through the game. My gosh. Everything after that was up for him. You've got to love Dre for his… he just wants to be out there, and playing every snap, and doing well and proving to whoever—himself included—that he belongs. And he just has to understand that he belongs, and he's just got to keep working. We've been blessed to have this group of guys, and to have the depth we have there, and the fact that these guys aren't giving up their spots. He's having to earn every bit. When his time comes to be a full-time starting player in the NFL, he will have earned it. That's a great deal."
Do you envision that for him?
ML: "Oh yeah. It's everything we've expected. He just has to handle the emotional, and right now his job is, he's doing other things. He's been outstanding on (special) teams. He's creating penalties, he's making field-changing plays, and he's made a couple of plays on defense over the last three or four games when he's been in there. The hard thing is, you've got to go out and practice, you've got to keep practicing, because you don't know when your time comes. He's out there on a critical third down, and that goes unnoticed. Terence (Newman) limps off the field, and there goes Dre. And then they flip sides. Those are the things that have to happen all of the time, so you have to prepare that way."
Do you see him as a utility player that can play all spots?
ML: "We train him every week in practice. Early on in the season, we were training him as an emergency safety in practice. But as a corner, he's learned to play the nickel spot and all of the variations we have in there, and he did a very good job of when Chris (Crocker) was out. He's got to keep doing that, because obviously there's a lot of comfort with Chris having been in the scheme for so long and being so smart as a veteran player. Dre's got a lot of those things to overcome. It's nothing to do with ability. It's just time on task."
Is communication on all ends as good as you've seen?
ML: "It is. They do a great job. I think the information our coaches give our guys on both sides of the football as it goes through the week, you hear guys right away as we go through walk-through on Wednesday, they're already talking as they go into the practice reps. We're doing good at that. We've got to keep that up. That's going to be important. We've got four football games, four weeks left at one week at a time. We've got to win these four games, and those things are going to continue to be very important."
What is the key to December football?
ML: "Play mistake-free and outwork the guy. It's about work now. Some guys (on non-contending teams) have their keys in their pockets."
This group feels like it could be a part of something special:
ML: "We don't have to worry about that. Special comes every Sunday. Believe it. We'll be special enough if we take care of Sundays. That's what matters. I tell them to quit listening to you all and don't worry about anything but Sunday. That will be my big point on Wednesday. I appreciate you reminding me about that."
The running game seems to be coming around:
ML: "Every time we run the ball, you say the running game is coming around. We'll be fine."
It seems to lead to success:
ML: "It generally does. No team has ever been accused of losing by running too much. I don't think anyone has come into one of these things (press conferences) and said 'Hot dog, we lost the game because you ran the ball too much.' It's a part of us, but if we have to throw it effectively, then we'll need to throw it effectively. Those times will come, too."
The defense has been so physical that the offense becomes physical. There's a good synergy there:
ML: "We've got some physical guys up front. I thought Andrew (Whitworth) came in (at guard) and really gave us a lift that way. That was big. Obviously BenJarvus feeds off of that, and Gio just fits right in for being the little guy that he is, but he's a good physical runner with a great ability to slip and slide and make people miss. Where you think it's a two-yard gain, you look up and we've gained six or seven. That happens quite a bit. That's the good thing."
How important is it that you're at home the last three of four weeks, and how do you feel about Andrew Whitworth at guard?
ML: "I think Andrew will do whatever he wants us to do, and he's up for it all. Obviously that puts Anthony Collins in (at left tackle). We've got great confidence in A.C., so we've got a couple of good options, no doubt about it. We expect Kevin Zeitler to be back and playing this week, so as we go through the week, we'll see how things are. We have a lot of good options. Andrew brings a toughness there, and that's huge. We're playing at home this week. We've got three of four at home, which is big. One of our goals is to be undefeated at home, and we can't do that without winning this week, so this is another big game for us. We're playing another team leading their division, I believe, and that's huge for us. It will be a big football game for us here."