Opening Comments: ML: "As we look ahead to the Chargers, the first thing is offensively, with their skill position players. They've got some guys who have been very productive in the NFL with (LaDainian) Tomlinson, (Darren )Sproles, their quarterback (Phillip) Rivers, and (Antonio) Gates. Their outside receivers are big guys who have really done, I think, an outstanding job the last two seasons of going up and making big plays and big catches. I think they would like to be a balanced football team. As of late, they've been throwing the football very productively. But we have to go into the game and understand that it's kind of a two-headed monster that way, and take care of both phases.
"In the kicking game, they've got two outstanding specialists, and their fine returner in Darren Sproles. So we've got to do a great job in our phases. As a return team, we've got to do a great job of that, and we need to be penalty free and get after it that way and do a nice job of setting and going. And then when we're kicking the football, we have to do an excellent job of placement. It's very important that we work to control field position that way.
"Offensively, from our standpoint, we have to get going on the right track, get rid of the pre-snap penalties and things that have delayed us. As I've tracked it, I think it's been something that's come up in the first series of these games. We've got to eliminate that. That's hurting us. It's enabling people to get in a little bit of a comfort zone against us. Sometimes we're able to overcome it, but sometimes we're not. And that puts us behind the eight-ball field-position wise. So I think those are the important things coming into this football game."
Q: You signed back Shaun Smith and waived Maurice Purify, today. Does this move mean Jerome Simpson could get a chance to play on Sunday?ML: "We've got some guys bruised on defense, and we've got to make sure we've positioned ourselves that way. Tank (Johnson) will be limited today and this week in practice. So we want to make sure we're covered in the event of injury, with Domata (Peko) still being out this week, for sure. We made the move with Shaun (releasing him on Dec. 12) and hoped he'd clear waivers so we could sign him back, because he probably wasn't going to suit up last week. It was good to have him in here, going and working with him mentally and physically, which was good last week.
"With Maurice (Purify), it does give an opportunity to Jerome (Simpson) – an opportunity to suit up possibly this week and just get a chance to go out there and play. And maybe it gives us a little bit of, hopefully, a shot in the arm in the pass game, and another set of hands and a guy that has, as I've said in here many times, practiced very well for us. If he follows suit, like many of these other young guys that we keep giving opportunities to, hopefully when the game comes around he'll have an opportunity to make some plays, like some of these other young guys have when they've been called upon."
Q: Do you sense a sense of eagerness from Jerome Simpson to get out and have an opportunity to play on Sundays?ML: "Jerome has had no lack of being eager at any point. The kid is here every night after practice, he's here on Tuesday nights. He's one of the first people here in the morning. Eagerness has not been his issue. He's been ready and willing. But he's going to have to contribute in special teams. He's going to have to contribute as a blocker. With all those things Maurice (Purify) was giving us, it's a situation where you have to be a well-rounded player. And that's what's helping us be where we are right now – having a group of guys that understands roles and responsibilities and takes them and runs with it. Now we've got another guy getting a chance, hopefully."
Q: Has there been more of a consistency from him, now that he coming into his own?ML: "There's really been an urgency, I think, of detail in his practice habits and the snaps that he gets within the offense. Because of us trying to rest Chad (Ochocinco) and Laveranues (Coles) as much as we can over the last four, five weeks in practice, he's gotten a lot more of those snaps. And I do sense where things are starting to fall into place for him. We know he's got limitless athleticism and ability, and speed to take the ball vertically. That's something that will help us, and hopefully we can get it all channeled in the right direction. That's the focus of us as coaches."
Q: Is Philip Rivers the type of quarterback who likes to stay in the pocket, or does he like to move around?ML: "I think he does a good job of moving within the pocket, but he's a pocket passer. He'll move up. If an edge breaks down, he'll go to the outside. But he's looking to throw the football for the most part. He's athletic enough. He's run quarterback draws. We've seen big plays he's made over the years – quarterback draws in the red zone and things like that. He's not a sitting duck by any stretch, but he likes to step up and through the pocket and deliver the football. I think he does a very good job of keeping his eyes focused down the field, very similar to what (Ben) Roethlisberger does in that way, and he's able to move and ward off the rusher and still try to deliver the football as much as he can. That's going to be key."
Q: How big of a threat is Antonio Gates?ML: "His ability to move, and move defenders off of him, is what separates him and makes him a very special player in the NFL. He's got a big gait, as far as his running style. He covers a lot of ground, and he's an explosive guy that way, in and out of moves. He's a really fine athlete."
Q: You referred to some young guys that this team has been depending on, and will be depending on. What about Tom Nelson?ML: "Tom Nelson. And you know, you just go on and on. You really look at it, (Rey) Maualuga, Bernard (Scott), Andre (Smith), Michael Johnson, there's been times for Dan Skuta. Time and time again, we're watching these guys perform, and if they get the opportunity, it's now time to step up and play if you get the chance. Rico Murray, too. So, it's not always the ideal situation, but it is the situation we're in right now."
Q: But it's probably not ideal to throw Tom Nelson out there in such a big game this week, right?ML: "Since we've had him, Tom has not disappointed us in any way. The only thing that separates Tom is how he got here (college free agent). And once you're here, it doesn't matter. There's a lot of guys across the National Football League and they got here by different means. And once you get there, what you do is what counts, and he's done a nice job."
Q: What do you like about him?ML: "He's made football plays. He does what he's supposed to do. He's smart, he understands the game, and as he told Coach Zimmer the other day, he'll play anywhere you tell him to play. That's key."
Q: Injury update:ML: "Injury-wise, I think we're in pretty good shape, other than Peko and (Chris) Crocker. Peko seems to be coming along very fast. Chris will likely miss this game, but I wouldn't say he's definitely out right now. Bernard (Scott) will be a little limited today, and Brian Leonard and Tank Johnson. Otherwise, I think we're in pretty good shape across the board with guys, and that's all we can ask for at this point. Also, last thing, Chase Coffman had his surgery (today). So he had the ankle cleaned out, and should be fully ready and recovered by the time we start the off-season program."
Q: Will Kyries Hebert be ready to play this week, and on Sunday?ML: "I think Kyries should be up and ready to go. He probably could have played last week. The way the crystal ball was working a little bit, it turned out to be the right move to make to put him down and Rico (Murray) up, with what happened to Chris (Crocker). Kyries will be up and ready to go this week. He should be fine."
Q: With Jerome Simpson playing and Tom Nelson being used more on defense, how much do you have to adjust?ML: "We'll adjust. We have a lot of eager guys and a lot of guys who like to suit up on Sunday. Someone's going to get a new shot and a new chance, and that's going to be good."
Q: With three games to go, you probably just want to put away this playoff race with some wins:ML: "Yes, I do."
Q: Did you get a chance to watch any of the former Bengals like Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Takeo Spikes playing for San Francisco on Monday night?ML: "There were some on the Arizona side, too. Yes, I saw some of it. That's the best part of the National Football League. If we can't afford you, or if you don't think it's the right spot for you, you get a chance to go somewhere else. You get to go put your wares out someplace else."