Opening Comments:ML: "We'll start with the guys who probably won't see action this week: Pernell Phillips, Matt Sherry, Antwan Odom, Antonio Chatman, David Jones, Ben Utecht, Shayne Graham, and more than likely, Carson Palmer. Other than that, we will see how everyone else ends up mending through the week, and how they're doing."
Q: Is Carson probably not going to practice this week?ML: "We'll see. I was encouraged, yesterday, by the things he was able to do. He just has to keep working through it, and keep getting the soreness out of the ankle."
Q: Have you been pretty pleased with the way O'Sullivan has played so far this preseason?ML: "Yes. I'm pleased with what J.T. has done so far, and Jordan (Palmer) as well. Both quarterbacks have been provided an opportunity to get some extra snaps, which has worked out well for us as a team. And it has helped the rest of the team get comfortable with other people. Sometimes you don't get as much of an opportunity to do that.
"So as we go forward toward the Rams, the thing we have to do is eliminate some of the things offensively that have been shooting us in the foot a little bit. That's a big focus, to get our hands in the right place, and obviously to take care of the football. Defensively, we need to come away with some takeaways. And to play one or two snaps better on third down each of the (last) two games would make a big difference. I think we have to continue that trend of getting better on third down defensively. In the kicking game, we have a lot of guys competing for some spots. So I think we will continue to keep jostling those lineups around to keep providing an opportunity for guys to prove that they can stay here because of what they can get done in the kicking game."
Q: Has it been tough to find a punt returner?ML: "I'm not as concerned about a punt returner as everyone else seems to be. Number one, they're giving us the ball. So if we catch the football, I feel good from there. And I think we have guys who can catch the football, so we'll have the ball where we need it, and we can go from there. To me, it's not as big of a priority as the other guys that man those teams. If you talk about your four core teams, and the other 43 players that play in those core areas, for me, that's about the 44th one on my list. I'm looking for more guys who cover, and do the other things that we ask them to do."
Q: How is the fullback situation?ML: "I've been very pleased with Jeremi (Johnson), as well as Fui (Vakapuna) and Chris (Pressley). Fui was battling some injuries and didn't get as much practice time last week, but got to play in the game. So they'll get the opportunities again this week to play it out."
Q: Last week, you mentioned the transition in terms of style of play and physicality from New Orleans to New England. What do you see as you look at the Rams on tape?ML: "They're under a new offense and defense, with new coaches. But the defensive style will be very similar to the pressure style that you saw from Philadelphia and the Giants when Steve (Spagnuolo) was the coordinator. So you'll see some of that. And then you'll see some of the style of the Eagles offense, where they handle the ball quickly. So it's somewhat like New Orleans, offensively. They will want to come out and get off to a good start. We are playing at home, which will be fun for our fans, and it can get them back into football. They haven't had a game in awhile. So we'll be home the next three weeks, and that's really a good thing because they can get comfortable and loud. They can get their preseason in so that they can get ready for the regular season opener against the Broncos.
Q: Do you go along with the conventional wisdom of the third preseason game being most like a regular season game in terms of starters getting playing time?ML: "I don't look at it like that. We try to get our guys on a regular season schedule, and we're not going to spend much time preparing (for this week) as much. Our focus is on the 16 games that start with the Denver game. We're trying to see guys play, and see what they can do. There is very little time spent on game-planning the preseason games, and it's not as though we can put together a plan in the offseason for this group, since they have a new offense and defense. So I really don't want the coaches here late at this point putting together a plan. We want them to do what we do, and continue to work on the things that are important to us and what our players do."
Q: But will the first team play longer than it usually does?ML: "I'll determine that as we go through the game. The defensive guys have asked if they can play a little bit more, and we will see how it goes. Offensively, most of them played about a half last week, so I wouldn't see it continuing much longer than that. The focus still is on the Broncos. I feel good about our conditioning, and I don't think that's an issue. We will continue to work on our conditioning at practice, and get up to game speed as well."
Q: Do you worry about Carson not being sharp (due to sitting out)?ML: "I'm not going to worry about anything with Carson because you are talking about something I can do very little about. I can't worry about Carson's sharpness right now. If Carson is in there and playing, then we're fine. But we will cross that bridge next week, and you can ask that question again then."
Q: Is Chris Henry better than he was last year? He has been to all the OTAs and seems to be refocused. Is this a different Chris Henry on the field?ML: "I think he is a much better player now than he has been for us in the past. There are still some areas we want Chris to get better at, and I think he realizes that. I thought he had a really good practice yesterday, which is a good sign. He wants to be in that starting group, and he is working very hard to try and earn his way into that starting group. So he has to keep doing everything right, and not making mental errors and that sort of thing. He has to know the right routes, the correct depths, the correct breaks and who to block, then go execute it. He's working really hard at that, and that's a good thing. So to answer your question, he's a better player than he was, and he has a lot more potential left. He has a lot more to do, and I think he can do it."
Q: A point of focus for the wide receivers has been blocking downfield. Have you seen that translate to tape?ML: "I think we've been pretty good thus far, and we have to keep it up. We can't ever let it wane, and when it wanes, they will stand beside me (on the sideline), and the next thing they'll be sitting up there with you (media). We'll go in a step progression. It's a long way up there to the press box. (Laughs.) We can't be very successful if we can't get our hands on people and block them. We need to make some long runs and make our catches longer. Let's keep working at it."
Q: How more comfortable does Cedric Benson seem in comparison to last year? ML: "I think he is comfortable. I think he continues to have to not let the last play affect the next play, but that's human nature. But I do think he is comfortable on this team. I think he's an integral part of this team, and he feels good about that. He's still a very young player, yet he's a player who has responsibility and has shown some maturity most of the time. So we have to keep working on that to make it a full-time job."
Q: Bobbie Williams was raving about Kyle Cook. Are you surprised?ML: "I'm not (surprised). Paul (Alexander) was very comfortable last year that Kyle would do it this way. He just didn't get the chance (due to an injury)."
Q: It seems as if the competitiveness in practice, from last year at this time to now, is like night and day. Does it seem that way to you?ML: "What's obvious to me is that we took that hard-working group of guys that we had last year, and we went through some bumps and shook some of the loose bolts out, and retooled it with some finer, newer shinier bolts. And we found some bolts along the way, and now we have a team of nuts and bolts, which is what you make up a strong foundation with. You have to have the nuts and bolts, and we don't need the peripheral pieces that were there to count on only when times were good.
"I think we've got more of those guys you can count on, and that's the fun of it. I think that helps that group of hard-working guys. They look around in the boat and see a lot more of those guys than there have been. If you can't practice, you can't play, and if you don't practice, you can't execute. I see us executing on the practice field, with the balls down the field that I so badly want all the time. I would expect those (downfield) plays to continue in the games as we go. Because otherwise, you don't put any fear in the defense. When I was coaching defense, if I didn't think the other team could go over our heads, well, we'd just keep doing what we do and pressing them up front."
Q: Is there a reason you covet the big play so much?ML: "When they strike up that band, you know? When that big bird drops the bomb on you (as a defense), you know it's over, and they're striking up the fight song. It's a bad day, it's a bad deal. Those are the things that are important as an offense. We couldn't even buy a pass interference penalty (on offense) a year ago, much less a big play, because we weren't very accurate with the throws, and that's been the biggest difference this preseason."
Q: The statistics on big plays this preseason are much better than last year's regular season: ML: "I'm aware. (Smiles.) Plus, we've had the interference penalties (against the defense) in each (preseason) game. Those are the big things, the chunks, the change of field position. We also have a punter now that no one ever talks about. On a bad day, we're going to be a better punting team that we've been in the last seven years. That's a big deal. That makes a big difference in the football game. We had to do something last week, a great punt to win the football game. Kevin (Huber) did a great job, and that will continue to help us as he becomes more and more confident – as we are – in his abilities."
Q: You have been around some good defenses during your coaching career. How close is this defense to being upper echelon?ML: "They've got to keep running to the ball and tackling. They've got to take the ball away, and win on third down. We're working hard on those things. They're picking up where they left off last year, with some new guys with them. They've realized the other team doesn't have to score, and when you get that mindset -- that there's no reason they ever have to score -- that's a lot of fun. It takes the other side of the ball cooperating in that, too. It's got to be a three-phase cooperation to have that kind of defensive standing and group."
Q: Is your offensive line where you thought it would be at this point?ML: "Well, not 100 percent (laughs), but it's not far off. I really want to commend them, because they've come together as a group and they're playing like that glove they need to play like. That's everyone doing it right, and a bunch of tough guys. Bobbie (Williams), who has the experience, and Andrew (Whitworth), who is a young pro, have really done a great job of bringing that group together and challenging that group. They're being very demanding on Nate (Livings), on Kyle (Cook) and on Anthony (Collins) to raise their level, and also to the other guys that will come in on that second group. That's a good thing. In the offensive line, very similar to the secondary, it's how you play together that really matters. It's not a bunch of individual guys, it's how you play as a group, how you see things, how you recognize things. And when you make an error, you come back, make a correction and move forward to the next one, and that's the thing we've been so pleased with."
Q: Are you frustrated that Andre Smith has yet to sign?ML: "I have no frustration whatsoever, there's nothing I can do about it. I'm happy with the guys here and we're working with who's here. When Andre gets here, he'll make us a better team because he's a good player. We are where we are, and we'll just keep moving forward. We're preparing to go to war with the guys we've got."