Are you surprised to hear about the retirement of Colts QB Andrew Luck?
“I am. You feel awful for him. I don’t know him, and I don’t know that I’ve ever really met him, other than five minutes at the Combine years ago. He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever played against, ever watched on tape. He was about all the right things. He didn’t come to this decision easily. Hopefully he’s at peace with it, because he’s one of the great competitors that, as a quarterbacks coach, I’ve always admired and hated playing against. I played against him twice when he was young and it was not fun. With the game on the line and the ball in his hands, you knew he was a winner. I wish him the best for whatever he has planned in his future.”
Have you come to any decisions on the offensive line after watching the tape?
“Yeah we did. Against Seattle next week, Trey Hopkins will be at center. At left guard will be Michael Jordan, and at right guard will be John Miller. At left tackle will be Cordy Glenn and the right tackle will be Bobby Hart.
Did Thursday go a long way toward deciding the offensive line starters?
“With the addition of Billy Price in there as well, you’ve got a good group. This has really shaped up to be a group that we have a lot of faith in. It’s been nice. Billy has experience at center, and he’s gotten experience at guard as well. He’s going to be a guy that we count on here for a long time. He’s going to continue to be a leader for us. This is just the way things have shaken out this preseason. Unfortunately, he had to fight through that foot injury that set him back a little bit at the beginning of training camp. We feel really good about the group we’re going to have in that room.”
Does the versatility of your linemen allow you to be more aggressive in your combinations?
“Those guys have gotten work at a lot of different positions. There is some flexibility there to move guys around as needed.”
What did Hopkins do to set himself apart?
“He’s been consistent over the course of his career. He’s done a good job, whether that be at guard or at center. He’s earned his spot. It’s been more about him raising his level of play than it has been about anyone not playing well. He’s earned that spot. We have a lot of faith in him, and we’re going to continue to have a lot of faith in him moving forward. It’s an opportunity that he’s earned.”
How big of a role did Price’s injury play in Trey Hopkins earning the starting center position?
“It’s what happens sometimes when you miss time with an injury. It’s nobody’s fault. If someone comes in and steps their game up, they earn that spot. It gives more opportunity. There’s nothing anybody could have done to control that other than Trey Hopkins. He took advantage of it. Again, we’re in a great position with Billy. He can step up in a moment’s notice and (can play like) a starter for us. It’s good, as a coach, that we’re in this position.”
You don’t seem to be afraid to put young players in starting roles. Is that accurate?
“The way that injuries have hit us has forced younger players, young men, to get more opportunities and play with more confidence. Six years ago, when I was in Miami, we carried 15 or 16 linemen, and the guys that were 11-16 didn’t get many reps. They got two or three for every hour of practice and didn’t get a chance to develop. Here, we’ve been fortunate that these guys have gotten tons of reps, tons of walk-through reps and tons of live reps. Yeah, they’re rookies, but they’ve gotten a significant amount of reps over the past five months where we feel that they’re prepared to play.”
What has Jordan shown you to earn the starting left guard position?
“The athleticism that we saw on college tape is there. The football intelligence — he played (several different line positions) at Ohio State. They had a lot of confidence in him. He played center; he made all the calls. He’s been very flexible for us. It hasn’t been too big for him. There hasn’t been a moment where he looked like a rookie. You see all the athleticism and all the power that he can bring to the table. Obviously things will intensify a little bit, especially with our Week 1 opponent (Seattle), which is a physical defense, but we believe he’s up for the challenge.”
How did Price look when playing a guard position?
“He did a good job. He was very consistent at guard. He showed that he has great flexibility to play all three spots.”
In the case of an injury, would you move Trey Hopkins out of the center position to fill the void, and insert Billy Price in his place?
“Those aren’t decisions we have to make today. We’ve communicated to those guys where they stand for the first game. It allows us a lot of flexibility. Whether we want to make just one move or move two people around, we get to continue to assess what’s going to be the best situation. Again, we have a lot of flexibility with what we can do.”
Did the wide receiver position further sort itself out against New York?
“Damion Willis won’t play this week because he’s solidified himself as the starting X receiver going into Week 1. You’re not going to see him in the game on Thursday night. That’s really all I have to say about the receiver position right now. We’ll get John Ross back in the fold today. He was fully participating in walk-throughs, so he’ll be out there at practice. It’ll be good to have him back in the mix. That’s really all I can say about the receiver position right now.”
What did Damion Willis show you to prove himself as a starter?
“He’s been steadily improving. I wouldn’t say that there’s been any setbacks. You see undrafted rookie receivers that often times flash, and then take a step back, and then they flash, and then they take a step back. That hasn’t been the case with him. He’s continued to make plays every time we’ve called his number. There was only one where we ran the 12-yard ‘dig’ route, and the guy did a good job playing through his wrists. (Willis) needs to be stronger at the catch point there, but other than that he’s made a play on the ball every time his number has been called. Ultimately, that’s what we need from those guys — to be playmakers.”
Do you have an update on WR A.J. Green’s return timeline?
“I don’t. No update on that.”
What was Willis’ reaction to making the team?
“I don’t think he needs to be as worried about (cut-down day) as he might think. It’s good for those guys to think that nothing is guaranteed. He needs to have that mindset. He hasn’t made it. There’s no sense in hiding (his roster standing). He’s going to walk out there (against Seattle) and be a player for us. He still has to stay hungry. He needs to have that mindset that he’s still competing for a spot on this roster. I’ve been excited with where he’s at. He’s a guy that needs to start getting focused on the regular season. We’re going to get him mentally prepared to play in a big game.”
What did you see in Damion Willis when you signed him after the draft?
“He’s earned it, because I didn’t know a lot about him when he showed up. I knew that the receivers coaches thought highly of him because they were the ones that were studying him, and I knew that our scouting department was high on him. I didn’t know anything about him. I certainly have my opinions on receivers as I’m around them over the course of time. He’s a guy that just started showing up. ‘Who’s that guy? Who’s that guy?’ All of the undrafted receivers have done a good job. All three of them. It’s the best group, in that sense, that I’ve ever been around. (Willis) has gone one notch above. He makes plays. In the game, we told Finley (QB Ryan Finley), ‘Hey, if he gets a one-on-one off the double move, just throw it up.’ You saw what happened. That was a good cornerback, and we just threw it up and (Willis) made the play as you’d expect him to. He’s gained that level of trust form us.”
Michael Jordan played in front of large crowds at Ohio State, but Damion Willis hasn’t had that experience as much. Do you think that will be an issue?
“You never know until it happens. Those guys are football players. You’re around some guys in this league that you wouldn’t necessarily say that about. I know that’s a weird thing to say. These moments aren’t too big for them. They’re always competitive. They’re always hungry. They love practicing. You see that from both of those rookies. They love the process of going out there and competing. They don’t look for a way out of it—they look for a way in. That’s what those guys have done, and they’ve taken those (starting) spots.”
Can you project WR Stanley Morgan’s availability for Thursday’s preseason finale?
“I’d rather not make a comment on him. I wouldn’t say it’s one way or the other on if he will be able to play on Thursday.”
When do you expect to have a timetable on A.J. Green?
“There’s obviously decisions we have to make at the end of this week as it relates to the roster. We’ll have more conversations this week and see where it stands with the doctors and with A.J., and we’ll probably have more answers this weekend.”
Is WR John Ross good to go, or does he have to show you anything heading into the season opener at Seattle?
“I don’t want to make any guarantees with him, but it’s good to have him back today at practice. Certainly he’s capable of being a starting receiver in this league when he’s fully healthy, so we have to see where he’s at. I know mentally he’s been engaged, and at every single meeting he’s been dialed in. We’ve asked him a ton of questions over the last four weeks, so now it’s a matter of doing it live and seeing what his reaction times are. I expect him to be up to speed and ready to play against Seattle, and to play a valuable role for us.”
Has the linebacker position sorted itself out, or do you need to see more?
“This game goes a long way in deciding that battle.”
With Hopkins starting, along with rookies in Willis and Jordan, is that a strong statement that your coaching philosophy is based on merit and that the best guy will play?
“I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to make a statement in any way, shape or form. The guys that have earned those opportunities will get them. We haven’t factored experience into our decision making – that’s not the way we are approaching it. We’re approaching it as they’ve earned that time in practice and in preseason games. We feel like they have our trust, so let’s get them out there and let them go compete. Like I said, we’ve done a really good job – especially in this last draft – of bringing in guys who have the right mindset and these moments aren’t too big for them. The rookies we brought in all fit that mold.”
What is your coaching philosophy on players who struggle at the outset? Will you have a quick hook?
“We don’t want these guys to go out there with any fear of failing. They’ve got to go out there and attack, so we don’t even approach that with them, nor do we think that way. We’re going to put them in position where they can go out there and play with full confidence. I don’t anticipate any of those guys having the ‘deer in the headlights’ moment because they haven’t shown it, and we don’t expect it to happen. This team has a really good mentality with the way they are going to go out and approach these next couple games.”
Has DE Andrew Brown kept some of the consistency you were looking for after the preseason opener against Kansas City?
“He has done a good job this preseason. Andrew Brown has had a good preseason. Again, there are a lot of good players in that locker room, so there are battles that are still raging as this week goes on. Certainly, he’s been a guy that’s had a good training camp.”
Is having a lot of depth a good problem to have, considering some of the toughest decisions will be made on the defensive line?
“It’s critical to have depth up front, and we feel like that depth has been created over the last couple weeks. Those guys have fought their tails off and put themselves in a good position.”
How do you feel about your depth at left tackle?
“We have been pleased with Andre (OT Andre Smith) during training camp. He’s been a professional for us. He’s been a guy that’s been hungry for the opportunity. I didn’t know him before we signed him, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen every day he’s been in the building. He’s been a guy that has a smile on his face at the end of a tough practice. He’s just excited to go through the practice, and he’s done a good job for us. When the time comes, we’re always looking to evaluate and make sure we have the right guys in place. He’s done a good job for what we’ve asked of him in training camp.”
Do you need three or four left tackles on your 53-man roster?
“That’s something we don’t have to nail down quite yet. Again, we’ve got flexibility with a lot of guys who can play different positions. It just depends on how we want to categorize them.”
How good of feeling was it for you and the players to see HB Rodney Anderson play last Thursday against the Giants?
“It was very good. You pull for the guys that go about things the right way. Rodney has been one of those guys that hasn’t played since last September. He’s got the right mentality, and he’s engaged. It’s good to see him get back on the field and have some success. For those young guys, they still have to continue to step up on special teams. It’s not just about the touches they get on offense. They’ve got to step up and play an important role on special teams. Some of the things that happened with Rodney on special teams, we chalked it up as it’s his first game back in almost 12 months. He knows that there has to be increased productivity there in the game on Thursday.”
Has the combination of young coaches along with young players worked well so far?
“We’re all on the same page with how we want to communicate with them. There’s great chemistry amongst the coaching staff. We want the players to see and feel that, and we want it to carry over into the locker room and onto the field. It feels like that’s been successful so far. We haven’t faced real adversity yet. We haven’t played a game and we know that adversity is coming – it’ll happen to every single team in this league over the next 17 weeks. So far, I feel like we’ve established a great foundation, and the players understand where we are coming from and what we expect from them. We’re ready to play this game on Thursday night and see some of the guys compete for some of these spots. It’s going to be exciting to watch.”