Initial comments …
"Today's our last real practice before our Saturday game, so we are excited about that. We want to tie everything up and make sure guys are prepared for Saturday at Kansas City. Today, practice will be just a tick shorter — about 15 minutes shorter. We'll do some move-the-ball stuff where the coaches will go up in the press box and get a chance to utilize the headsets. We want to get accustomed to each other that way before we do it on Saturday. So that's one of the changes you'll see today at practice in the stadium.
"Overall, as we prepare for Saturday, you guys probably have questions on who's going to play and who's going to play when. The guys that won't play on defense are Carl Lawson and Geno Atkins. Those guys will not play in the game. With Carl, we had this plan in place months ago since he's coming off the ACL (injury). And Geno is just a guy that we'll give an extra day of rest. On offense, don't expect the two running backs (Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard) to play. Again, that is nothing of significance whatsoever. We need to see these young guys pass protect and see what they can do to step up, so they're going to get to play the whole game. Those other two guys very well could play if we needed them to, but we don't need them to, so they're not going to. Tyler Eifert won't play in this game. Again, we're just protecting him as he comes back off that injury. We want to make sure we get the most out of him. He's been great, he's been awesome. When you've seen him run around (at practice), he's the real deal and he looks very healthy out there, but we're going to hold him back for this game.
Other than that, John Ross is still day-to-day. He hasn't practiced, so I don't anticipate him playing in the game, but he's day-to-day and hopefully we get him back sooner rather than later. We activated Rodney Anderson off the NFI (Non-Football Injury) list yesterday, so he got the chance to go through the walkthrough for the first time, and he'll go through the practice (today). It's too early to ask him to play this weekend. Probably not next weekend either, with the game being on Thursday. We've got a five-practice plan for him. He hasn't played since last September, but he's been working his tail off. He's as dialed in as any rookie you're ever going to see, in terms of the special teams meetings, special teams walkthroughs and everything he's observed. The guy has been everything we intended for him to be when we drafted him, and that's one of the reasons we like him so much — not just his on the field talent, but his intangibles. It's good get Rodney back, get him in the fold and see what he can do in the preseason."
How much did you consider altering the Lawson plan when you've watched what he's looked like so far?"
"Yeah, you very well could because he looks great and feels great, but there's no reason to modify that plan right now. We really see our starters playing in the first quarter. How long that is remains to be seen. You feel out the game a little bit, but those guys will play in the first quarter. There might be a couple guys that play another series or two when some guys get pulled out. You'd like to see Carl in full action, but the smart thing to do right now is hold him back."
Will you have one guy go with the first team at left guard, or will the plan be to rotate guys through?
"You'll see one guy go with the first group right now in this first game. Don't read too much into the first game. We want to get guys a look at guard, and some guys will just play center. Trey Hopkins might just play center in this game behind Billy (C Billy Price), and then the next game, that plan could change. So that's a plan we've already got in place for these next two games. We still have three and a half weeks to evaluate this offensive line, so don't read too much into what you see in this first game. It's just a chance to get guys some work and other guys will get their shot in Game 2. We'll keep battling from there."
Will there be some surprises on the offensive line once the game gets into the second quarter and beyond?
"We don't have a ton of O-line bodies right now, with Jonah (OT Jonah Williams) and Alex Redmond out. That's a pretty fluid situation in the second, third and fourth quarter, with regard to who's playing. You might see a guy out for two series and pop back in there in the third quarter at a different position. That's just the way it is with our depth right now. Again, just because a guy is out for a series doesn't mean he won't reappear later in the third quarter."
As head coach, you're of course excited to see everyone get out there and play. But who are you most interested to see play in a game?
"I'm excited to see our guys up front on both sides of the ball really compete. You get a chance to evaluate skill players over the course of the spring in non-padded practices because we're throwing the ball and you get to see those guys. (This game is) really about the offensive linemen, tight ends, backs in protection, and the D-linemen and linebackers. When you're competing against someone else, how quickly do they see it, where are they ID'd, and are they ID'd correctly since we are going up against someone we haven't faced before. Those are the guys you really get a chance to observe and talk about what you saw on tape, whereas you get a chance to see skill guys every day at practice. I'm excited to watch those big guys up front on both sides of the ball."
If you had to pick an opponent for the first preseason game, are the Kansas City Chiefs as good as any team to pick?
"I think they are as good as any team, I do. The defensive coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo) has had great history in this league, so he'll present some good challenges for us and some good things to see and talk about on tape. They'll show us some things that we'll see throughout the year as well. Offensively, they've presented challenges to everybody they've faced for the last couple years, so it'll be a good test. On offense, they are one of the most creative offenses in the league. They're a team that, often times, their stuff is stolen very quickly once it's been put on tape. Usually when they run something, it's going to reappear later in the season. I haven't talked to Andy (Chiefs head coach Andy Reid), so I don't know what they are going to look like in Preseason Game 1. They're usually going to run some stuff that gets regurgitated throughout the league throughout the season, and so it's a good first test for our defense."
How important is it to see John Ross play in preseason, and is it something you anticipate seeing?
"Yeah, I'm very hopeful he is. With his hamstring, he is still day-to-day. Again, I'm hopeful he comes back sooner rather than later so we get a chance to utilize him. Like I've mentioned before, we just want that chemistry of the guys breaking the huddle on the field together. We'd rather that not be the first game at Seattle, but you never know. Hopefully we can get the guys back who've been held out because of injury so we can get back in the groove and develop some chemistry with the rest of the guys. It's important for any receiver to develop chemistry with Andy (QB Andy Dalton). I know he and John have played together for a long time, and I know John is working very hard to get back in the fold. We'll be excited when we get him back."
In terms of progression, are you happy with the way the offense is unfolding?
"I am. What I'm really excited about is, the mistakes we made in those first three or four days, you're not seeing those same mistakes. Guys are really starting to understand what we're looking for in the run game and in protection. And these receivers have gotten a ton of reps because we have a couple receivers that are banged up and haven't practiced, so a couple of the guys that are healthy have gotten more reps than probably any team in the league. We're able to really coach those guys on the details, and they're all competing for jobs. That receiver room, they all know that they're competing and they're really honed in on the details. No one is taking anything for granted. Offensively, I've been excited about the progress that has been made. Defensively, same thing. Those guys are starting to play physical. They're starting to utilize their technique. They're really settling in to what Lou (defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo) is asking them to do on defense. It's been exciting to see. The big thing is that guys need to step up on special teams. Sometimes you see a wave from some guys that are really competing for those roster spots on special teams. These games are really great evaluation tools for Darrin (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) and myself to utilize and see where guys stand as the bullets are flying and we're live out there."
During the first preseason game, will there be a lot of player rotation on special teams?
"Yeah. That's always the fun part for Darrin and Brayden (assistant special teams coach Brayden Coombs), getting all of that sorted out. I'm not envious of their job in the preseason, but I know that they're excited to see a lot of these young guys compete."
Are you still looking to add depth on the offensive line?
"Our personnel staff does a great job at any position. They always talk through any situation that arises, whether it's offensive line or any other position. I think it would be wrong for us to not consider anything that would make our team better."
What was your initial reaction when you found out about the mass shooting in Dayton over the weekend?
"It's terrifying when something happens that close. I was in Thousand Oaks, (Calif.) when it happened right down the street from our facility a year ago and people died in a very similar situation. It's terrifying. We have people in this building who have kids in Dayton, so your first thought is those close to you, and if they are affected. I don't know anybody personally in Dayton, but I know that we have people in the building that have family members that live there or go to school there, so your first concern is how that's going. Then you just read about it. It's terrible. I have four kids. It's just a horrible thing to think about."
During games, how much of a learning curve do you anticipate when it comes to communicating among your staff?
"We've talked a lot about how the communication is going to unfold. We've all done it in very similar ways, just on different staffs, so it's something we talk about in great detail. As soon as (the first preseason game) is over, that's one of the first things we will talk about on Sunday, in terms of what we need to do to improve. It'll be a good learning experience. It's impossible to fully simulate what it will look like until we get into a game and see it. I've been really impressed with guys that I knew but hadn't worked with before. I'm excited to see this chemistry evolve as these games take place. We have a great staff in place. We have great communicators. I'm very excited to see us all work together on game day."
Do you anticipate moving coaches between the booth and the field, or is it set in stone?
"We feel pretty good about where we're at, so I don't anticipate that happening. We wouldn't roll it out if we thought that there was a change that needed to be made."
In terms of communicating with your staff, what's an example of something you're excited to see take place?
"Offensively, (offensive coordinator) Brian Callahan, and really all the coaches, I'm open to thoughts from all those guys. Brian does a great job of foreshadowing what is to come and seeing patterns that are occurring. (Assistant quarterbacks coach) Dan Pitcher not only works with receivers and quarterbacks here, but he also has taken over a situational role where he stays ahead on what we need to prepare for and what we need to practice. He's really dialed in on that stuff. We'll have constant communication throughout the game. He's watching both sides of the ball to make sure we're on top of everything. I've been impressed with Dan, because I had never worked with him before, but the dude is a rock star. He'll play a valuable role on game day as well. The situational stuff isn't all on him – we're all talking about it. I just really feel comfortable with where we're at there. He'll be in the booth."
Who is your guy in the booth that will let you know when you should review a play?
"Dan. ... I'm kind of outing a guy in case something goes wrong (laughs). It's all on me, ultimately. We all know that."