Initial comments ...
“We moved up today’s practice. There was another chance of storms, so we didn’t want to take any chances and make sure we got that practice in, which was good. It took a little bit off their legs today. You saw some situational stuff that wasn’t overly taxing from a yardage standpoint, but we got some physical work in and got some good situational stuff that will help us in the future. We’ll do a walk-through this afternoon and get ready to play the game on Thursday at Washington. I’m pleased with where the guys are right now, and I know a lot of guys are anxious to get back on the field on Thursday and correct some of the errors we had the other night (against Kansas City), and put a good game on tape and get after these guys.”
Is there anyone that was out last week that you expect to be back against Washington?
“I think both running backs (HBs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard) will be available. We’ll create a plan of how much we want to see them play. There are still a couple decisions to make, on Eifert (TE Tyler Eifert), and the two running backs. We still won’t play Carl Lawson. We’ll talk defensively about what else we want to do. That was the plan coming into training camp with Carl — (rest) him for the first two games and not participate in them, so we’ll stick with that. We’ll talk about Geno (DT Geno Atkins) as a staff. We’ll make that decision tomorrow.”
Is RB Rodney Anderson ready to play yet?
“Rodney is going to play in the third game. I think it’s fair to get him (involved at this point). He had two days of work where he got eased back into things. Next week, he’ll get a chance to get three practices in and be ready to play in the game. Everything has been good with him. The first few days went as expected. He was dialed in and focused. I’m excited to see him get some work.”
Is there a timeline on CB Darqueze Dennard’s return?
“No. It’s week-to-week with him right now, to be honest. We want him, when he comes back, to be fully healthy. Right now he’s still week-to-week.”
Do you think WR John Ross III will return to practice on Monday?
“It’s day-to-day with John. I’m hopeful that it’s Monday. I’m hopeful. We’ll see.”
Does it seem like Ross III is getting closer to a return?
“Yeah. He’s anxious to get back. He’s eager. He’s doing all the things that we ask him to do. When he comes back, he’s going to open up and run, and we want to make sure there are no setbacks there. It’s very important that we have him back Week 1 against Seattle, so we’ll be patient with that process. It’s always good for a receiver to get the chemistry down with the quarterback, and to get a chance to be coached on the field. It is what it is. He has a hamstring injury, and that’s tough to recover from. We’re just going to give him time and make sure he’s 100 percent before we ask him to do anything.”
Were you happy with the team’s performance in the situational drills in practice today?
“It’s not always fun as a play caller. Yesterday we did a second-and-long period. We need to get back on track in third-and-manageable situations. Sometimes you end up in third-and-longs, and that’s not fun to practice. But we learn a lot, and we try to educate our players on the hidden yardage that comes up during the game, with field position and flipping the field and stuff like that. That stuff came up yesterday. Today we had a backed-up situation, which is good for everyone to be on the same page. What’s our philosophy on offense and defense when we’re backed-up or have someone backed-up? Today we worked on four-minute (scenarios) as well — that’s something you need to have a plan for. When you need to get that first down and the defense is taking the safety out of the middle of the field, you need to have a plan in place to get that first down. It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be rugged. You can’t run out of bounds. We had someone go out of bounds today, and that saves a timeout for the defense. It’s good that we practiced it and made the mistake in practice so we don’t make the mistake in the game. That’s why we do it. It was good for both sides to have those situations today, and we learned a lot from it.”
Given the turnovers and field positions against Kansas City, was it difficult to get into a rhythm when calling the run game?
“It was. There is certainly a lot more we want to get there. It seemed like we were first-and-20 in every other possession. To get back on track, it was difficult to get some of those runs off. Sometimes, the way you need to play the game is you need to throw it. I know you always try for balance, but that’s not the way that every game is played. You want to advance the ball. What’s the best way to do it? In a game like that, it was to stick a few more throws in than runs. Certainly there’s a lot of work we want to get in during these preseason games. We will get the chance to evaluate our different schemes with different line combinations. That’s important to get off the ground in these next couple games.”
QB Jeff Driskel lined up at wide receiver during practice today. What was the conversation like that led to that?
“He wants to bring value to this team. He’s not out of the quarterback competition by any stretch. He just feels like he can help us, and we feel like he can help us on special teams. You saw him take a couple reps at receiver. He’s a great athlete. He’s 235 pounds. He’s explosive. He has good hands. Those guys are hard to come by on special teams sometimes, and even at receiver. We’ll keep giving him a look, but it doesn’t change anything. He goes to quarterback meetings, he goes to quarterback individual meetings, and he still takes his reps as he would at quarterback. It does not cut into his (quarterback role) at all. We’re seeing what other value he brings to the team.”
Pound for pound, do you think Driskel is one of the five fastest players on the team?
“It’s hard for me to say. When I saw him open up and run down on special teams today, it was the first time I’d seen him open up and run a good distance. I see all the receivers and defensive backs do that, but that’s the first time I’d seen him do it. He’s certainly up there. There’s a lot of roles he can contribute with. He’s an impressive athlete.”
Will Driskel play with the “threes” against Washington?
“Yes he will.”
What was the key for QB Ryan Finley’s improvement, from where he was earlier in the offseason to now?
“From our perspective, he’s been making the improvements that you would expect to see from a rookie quarterback. He did a great job in college and was really well-coached. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done a lot of the things we ask him to do. Sometimes when you’re doing it for the first time, it’s a foreign language. If he’d never run that concept before, he can’t look back at the reps he’s ‘banked’ in the past while running this concept, so he doesn’t have that all the time. You just need him to get the reps. He gets up there in the first couple practices on third downs, and there’s eight guys on the line of scrimmage. Guys just need the experience. That’s where experience comes into play. He needs to continue to get a lot of reps. At no point have we ever been discouraged with him. We’ve always seen his traits as a passer and his football IQ. He’s more than capable of doing it, and he showed that in the game the other day. He’s in a good rhythm, and he’s very comfortable. He throws a catchable ball. He had good ball placement on every throw. Probably his most impressive pass was the third-and-short conversion to the running back when they zero-blitzed us. He calmly, with great touch, puts the ball right on the running back, and he’s able to make a first down. A lot of rookie quarterbacks panic in that situation and throw a fastball right at the back of a guy’s head, and the guy trips and falls down and the pass is incomplete. That was probably his most impressive play in my eyes.”
What’s it going to be like to coach against Redskins assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan, your college coach and the father of your offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan?
“I owe a lot to Bill Callahan. He recruited me, brought me to Nebraska. And at Nebraska, he coached me as a quarterback. A lot of the things he did for me as a player are the things that have always been engrained in me. The way that he built me up in front of the team, even when I felt I wasn’t playing well. And the way he told me in private how it really was, which is necessary. I was a young guy that needed a reality check sometimes. He’d give it to you, but he’d do it in a way that built you up in front of the team as a leader. But he made sure that you really knew where you stood when the time came. That was important to me at that time in my life. The timing and the anticipation were things that were taught to me by my dad, and further honed in by this guy that had a wealth of experience. He coached me on my feet, my timing, and that the ball needs to be in there before the receiver’s head is around — all the things that, today, are so important. He was one of the first guys who helped that set in for me. It’ll be a cool day for me, but it’ll be a cool day for our offensive coordinator (Brian Callahan) too. I know they’ve gone against each other before, but that’s such a unique thing that I hope neither one of them takes for granted. But I know they don’t. It’ll be a cool experience for them. To an extent, the pressure is off. There aren’t any implications in the playoff hunt or anything like that.”
Did you talk to Finley between offensive series against Kansas City?
“No, I let Alex (quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt) handle that for this game. As we continue to play and we’re dialed in during regular-season games, that will change. These first few games, I want to make sure I’m aware of what’s going on with all three phases. Right now, I’m just letting the coaches coach, and I’m trying to be more big picture-aware during these preseason games.”
When QB Ryan Finley had his helmet glitch against the Chiefs and had to run to the sideline to get plays, did he seem calm?
“Yeah. I’d say that about all of our quarterbacks. There’s no fear in any of those guys at all. They’re ready to attack, and they’ve done a great job. I see those guys performing with confidence, and he was no different. He was probably a little more winded than he planned on being, but I thought he handled it really well.”
How do you manage the game while you’re meeting with quarterbacks during games?
“We have a collection of quarterback coaches that is really impressive. We’re talking throughout the game on the headset, and I’m trusting that it’s getting communicated to the quarterbacks from Alex and Brian. That makes it very easy to do your job. There will be times where you need to make adjustments. We’re not making adjustments during the preseason games, but there will be regular-season games where we need to make adjustments and need to talk face-to-face. That’s usually what happens when a play-calling head coach ends up on the bench. We’re talking through adjustments that need to be made, and that will happen during the season.”
There doesn’t seem like there’s been an opportunity for continuity on offense, due to things like injuries and changes on the line. As an offensive coach, how much of a challenge has that been?
“Well, I would argue there has been continuity with the guys we’ve had out there. We’ve been missing weapons, but that’s good for me because you get these weapons that come back all of the sudden. The offense is humming along and we’re gaining confidence with the guys that are out there. Those guys are improving, and all of the sudden Tyler Eifert comes back and it’s like, ‘Look at all the fun things you can do with this guy.’ Our situation has forced us to build this system from the ground up, which is the way it should be, instead of just featuring the star players. You’re building the system, and when the great players come back, it’s easy to find out what they do well and feature them a little bit more. I would love to have them all practicing right now, but it really helps you go about this the right way in order to build a system where you can feature every player on the offense.”
Were you happy with the communication of the coaches from the booth to the field on Saturday? Was it smooth?
“It was. The running joke after the game was that Brian Callahan and Dan Pitcher sound like the same person (laughs) I told Dan he’s got to talk with a British accent going forward so I can differentiate the two. Not that it matters, because the information is still coming to and you have to react to it. It took me the first half to figure who exactly I was talking to, but I thought everything went really smooth.”
It was your first game as head coach. Was there maybe something little that you forgot or did the wrong way?
“(Laughs) Someone got to you. That’s kind of it – just the pregame timeline. These are the things that the preseason is great for. You get a chance to give your talks to the team, and then they need to follow me out to the field. Just those little kinks that are fixed within two seconds. We’ve got a great staff in place – great strength coach in Joey Boese, and (director of coaching operations) Doug Rosfeld. They all do a great job making sure that we clean that stuff up for the next preseason game, and we’ll hit the ground running for the regular season.”
What do you want to see from the first team defense on Thursday in D.C.?
“There were really two plays on the first drive in Kansas City that got us. Aside from that, we played good football. Obviously the first play of the game – the big play down the sideline to Kelce (Chiefs TE Travis Kelce), and then when they ran the RPO (run-pass option) and we didn’t have flat control there and they got another explosive play. Just those little things – that’s what’s important. It’s part of the details. It’s not a very complicated system here in the preseason. We’re just asking the guys to play fast, play with confidence and play with good eyes. That’s one thing they can do better as a defense as a whole, and they will. It’s the same with the offense and special teams. There were plenty of mistakes that we pointed out that we will get corrected on Thursday, and these guys will play faster.”
In your eyes, what qualifies as a “chunk play?”
“I think you can ask any coach in the league. Often times you’ll look at 12-yard runs and 18-yard passes. Some offenses scale back to 15-yard passes so that they can say they have more explosive passes than they really do. At the end of the day, you know what a ‘chunk play’ feels like, and you don’t want to give them up on defense.”
Were you pleased with the special teams play?
“There’s certainly room for improvement. The blanket statement is all three phases have room for improvement. We watched all of our runs from the game today as a unit, and it showed how we rushed. I threw the stat sheet away because I didn’t want to see the number after the game. In our opinion, there should have been a 110, 120-yard rushing performance if we fixed one detail by one player on about nine or 10 of our runs. We had the runs we were looking for. Those are things we expect to get cleaned up, and that’s our challenge for our guys. Just get those little details cleaned up, be quicker with that first step and look at what could have potentially been there. That’s why I’m excited to get back on the field Thursday and see us react a little bit better.”
We’ve seen WR Auden Tate make some big catches in practice, and in the game on Saturday. How much potential does he have, especially with the injuries at wide receiver?
“Normally in training camp, you see guys that aren’t necessarily starters get anxious because they don’t get very many reps. They know that if they have a bad play, they might not get back in the game. That’s not the case with our guys, because we’ve had so many injuries. These guys have gotten plenty of reps, so it leaves them to be free and go out there and just make plays and have confidence. Auden is a great example of one of those guys who’s always trying to finish runs the right way on the back side. You can count on him. There’s a certain package of routes that he really excels at, one of them being the fade route because of his big body and aggressive hands. He’s made the plays that have come to him, and that’s what you have to do in the preseason.”
What do you do with a guy like Darius Phillips, who dropped a few punts on Saturday?
“Guys know. You don’t have to go up and tell them that they have to catch the ball – they know. It’s when a guy’s approach is wrong. I’m not talking about him, I’m speaking in general. When it shows up in the game and the focus hasn’t been there, that’s when you have issues with guys and that’s when you have to have conversations. When guys are trying to do it the right way and for whatever reason it’s just not happening, that’s when we get the extra reps. Ripping a guy when they’re trying is not my way to go about things. However, sometimes that is necessary.”
Will you then roll him back out there on Thursday night on punt returns?
“We’ll keep talking about it. Darrin (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) still has a plan in place and he’s working through it, so we’ll wait to see who we put out there on game day.”
Do you think guys had an ‘ah hah, this is the NFL’ moment against the Chiefs?
“I think there are some young guys that had that moment — ‘Here’s what it feels like physically when the lights are on and this is for real.’ I think some guys felt that, and that’s good to get it out of our system and go play. Someone asked me last week if the Chiefs were a good opponent to play in our first preseason game, and I didn’t have a good answer for that at the time. But they were a great opponent for us, because Andy (Chiefs head coach Andy Reid) has been doing it for a long time. They’ve got great weapons on offense, and it’s a system that’s really humming. You get a chance to see the championship-level effort that we need, and the confidence that they play with is what we have to match. We’re working to get there. That was a great first preseason opponent for us to see. In a lot of aspects, we played really well. Like I stated earlier, the turnovers that allowed for quick scores for them, our defense not making a stop in sudden change, and our offense not finishing out the half with three points on a field goal — those are the difference in winning and losing in the NFL. Our guys realize that. That game could have easily gone the other way, had we taken care of the things we needed to. We didn’t do it, so they broke the game wide open, and that’s what it looks like.”
G Michael Jordan has been practicing with the first team the last few days. What have you seen from him?
“Mike is getting better every single practice and every game. He’s got all the tools, and he’s got the potential. He has to continue to get reps, and I think his communication has been improving. He’s physical and he can run. It’s just a matter of continuing to gain that experience that we talked about earlier. But he’s certainly the guy we thought we were getting.”
C Billy Price has lined up with the second-string offensive line the last few days. Is Trey Hopkins pushing him at center, or is Billy still recovering from the injury he had a few weeks ago?
“I think a little bit of both. I’ve always been impressed with Trey Hopkins. Billy is still fine to practice, and he’ll continue to get healthy with each day that passes.”
Are the Washington Redskins another good preseason challenge?
“They are. It’s another good challenge. That Cleveland tape (from their first preseason game) has been good to watch for our guys. For our defense, it’ll be another good challenge. It’ll be interesting to see what they’re doing with the new play caller. It’ll be a good test for our guys here in preseason Week 2, and I’m excited for it.”