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Taylor-Made Takes: Keeping O-Line Intact For Eagles

Fred Johnson gets another start at right guard.
Fred Johnson gets another start at right guard.

In his weekly conversation with senior writer Geoff Hobson, head coach Zac Taylor says he'll give right guard Fred Johnson another start on an offensive line he wants to keep intact for Sunday's game in Philadelphia. He's encouraged by the play of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and believes his pocket presence and mobility has cut down on the hits and helped the line.

GH: Two games in, you have to be encouraged by your rookie quarterback

ZT: He's done a nice job. There are things he's going to learn with every drive that he has. He's done a good job leading the group and helping us score points. Six of nine possessions in that (Cleveland) game is tremendous and in the second half of that Chargers game he did a great job leading us down there. We had a couple of turnovers, but we have to continue to score points, we have to continue to finish off drives in the red zone. But he'll continue to get better with every week.

GH: What did you think Joe improved on from game one to game two?

ZT: He's doing a good job anticipating the rush of the D-linemen. Sometimes it will be perceived that the line is not doing a good job and he's forced to run. But really, he's just being proactive and doing a great job helping those guys and keeping the defense off guard with their rush. That's stuff you don't really teach. He's just got an innate feel for it.

And he's going to scramble and run for some first downs and scramble and throw some big plays. He's finding the balance, the right times not to take a shot when he's on the move. Just throw the ball away and get us to the next play. That's part of what makes him great. He's going to hold on to that ball until that last second if he thinks there's a chance we're going to get an explosive play. We just have to continue to balance that as we go.

GH: Are you worried about the hits Joe is taking? Or is just what happens in the NFL?

ZT: I think it's a little bit overblown. There are some things not necessarily hits, pressures that may appear that way, but these guys up front are fighting their tails off. And he's doing a good job extending plays when necessary and has a good feel of his hots (blitz reads) and how to get the ball out of his hand. We need to continue to improve as we keep going.

GH How would you characterize the play of the offensive line? A lot of people are down on them. It sounds like you guys are not.

ZT: That's kind of the fun thing to do right now. We'll just continue to make the corrections. It's always one different error in the run game. We've got to get everybody in sync and we've got some explosive runs that can show up. In the pass game, really, we've faced two of the premier rushers in the NFL and our guys have really battled and given Joe a chance back there.

GH: Did Fred Johnson show you enough to get another start at right guard after his first NFL start there Thursday night?

ZT: Yeah. For a guy that didn't take any physical reps (last week) for his first start at starting right guard, it wasn't perfect, but he's certainly showed some positive signs there that we can build off. He hadn't taken a guard rep in a couple of weeks. We threw him in there on a short week with no practice and we threw the ball 61 times and he got matched up a couple of times against Myles Garrett. He did a nice job with communication. It wasn't perfect but there are some things to build on.

GH: The run game doesn't quite look the same as it did at the end of last year, where then there was a lot of down-hill stuff and a lot of pulling. Are you still sticking with that?

ZT: It's very similar

GH: Without a spring and preseason, the run game needs as much precision as the pass game, right?

ZT: It does. Those guys have to be in unison and the more reps they get the better they're going to be.

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GH: Are you thinking of making any changes up front or do you like what you've got going into Phillly?

ZT: We'll keep moving forward with the group we've got and we look forward to them getting their second week together under their belts.

GH: You guys spent a lot of time and money upgrading the run defense, so I would imagine last week was a disappointment.

ZT: No doubt. We've got to get healthy up front. We've elevated some guys for these games that are having to play and we're counting on them. Everyone just has to do their job. It all starts up front, the backers play off that and the DBs play off that. We have to do a better job of getting in rhythm as a unit and that will come for us.

GH: To the naked eye it looked like the Browns offensive line was getting to the second level and the linebackers had a lot dealing with all that.

ZT: It's not easy. You can point the finger in a lot of directions. The bottom line is we have to play better on that side of the football.

GH: You started training camp a little over a month ago and tackling takes a lot of repetition and I wonder if you've been able to have time for that repetition with so many new players?

ZT: We just have to do a better job. Close the cushion. Take another step. Making sure we get those runners down. In the fourth quarter, particularly, we missed too many tackles. And really, we just needed a stop there at the end and that's where a lot of the tackles came up. We just didn't make the plays we needed.

GH: Are you thinking of making any changes on defense? Or are you just hoping tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels get back?

ZT: Yeah, as those guys get healthier, they'll jump back in the lineup. Those are the only changes there.

GH: Looks like you're hanging with the rookie backers after a tough game.

ZT: We'll keep throwing them in the fire and they'll continue to improve. They're smart guys. They need the game reps. We'll continue to grow with them.

GH: The Eagles have a quarterbacks coach over there named Press Taylor, your younger brother. It's the fourth time you've met in an NFL game.

ZT: It's just another game for us, to be honest with you. We both want to win and we'll deal with the family stuff afterwards.

GH: If you aren't playing, do you talk during the week?

ZT: Yeah, it's good. We're in different conferences. Better that we play earlier in the season so you can get that behind you and you can talk more openly as the season progresses. Typically we talk a couple of times a week during the season. Obviously we've minimized the conversations the last couple of weeks, but once we get this game behind you can open up a little more.

GH: They have problems. You have problems. That's just the way it is, I guess.

ZT: That's life in the NFL.