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The Raiders, Player Evaluation And Juice: Find Out What Taylor And Finley Had To Say

191113-Finley-Ryan_news_conference (AP)



What has been the biggest point of emphasis in practice this week?

"We just had our first walkthrough and I thought it went really well. Details. Details are the emphasis this week. We have a really good opportunity ahead of us. Oakland is a good team, but we're excited to get after them."

Do you have experience playing in cold weather?

"It's part of the deal. It's fun. Layer up."

Will you use a glove on your throwing hand?

"I've never worn a glove, but it's something I'll try at some point in some practices. I'll see how I like it."

What did you do best in last Sunday's game against Baltimore?

"I did a good job managing the game at times. I had a couple pre-snap (errors) that I need to take off the tape. I did a good job bringing energy. Like I said, I thought we played with some juice, we had some good drives and I thought we ran the ball really well. That's stuff we're going to keep building on. We're looking to run the ball this week and really get after them."

Do you feel like there's a growing need for big plays on offense?

"Yes. That's definitely an emphasis. We need big plays. We need touchdowns. Touchdowns win games. We need to take some shots downfield and connect (on those). That, on top of our possessions that we did last game — that mixture — that's what we need to have success."

Were you surprised with how few downfield attempts you had against Baltimore?

"That was the game plan we had. We stuck to it, and we did a good job with it."

Does WR John Ross III, who returns to practice this week, provide that big-play capability?

"Absolutely. You've seen what he brought to the table earlier in the season when he was 100 percent and healthy. I'm excited to slowly get him back in the mix. That will be huge for some downfield threats."

How much different is it starting games in the NFL compared to starting games in college?

"It's just football. I just need to do my best to execute and do my best to run what's called, get our offense in good situations, and get the ball to our playmakers. That's my job as a quarterback, and that's what I hope to keep on doing."

Did you need to adjust to the speed of the game?

"Yeah. Our speed on our team compares, so getting the ball to our playmakers, letting them do their thing and keeping us out of negative situations (is important)."

What defensive problems does Oakland present?

"They're very different (from Baltimore) in terms of how they're run. It'll be a good test for us. They're very different than (the Ravens) last week, which is good. (Oakland plays) a lot more zone coverage, a lot more 'two-high.' It gives us an opportunity to take advantage of some stuff that we did in the preseason. We have a really good plan. It'll be exciting."

Did Baltimore blitz as much as you expected?

"About what we thought. The first time we played them, they blitzed about 75 percent of the game. That's how that defense is set up. We were ready for it."

In terms of leadership, what do you bring as a starting quarterback?

"Preaching details is huge for us, and just having juice and energy. In these walkthroughs and practices, we need to have some juice. That's how you get better. That's where I'll try to help. And, running what's called, and letting Zac (head coach Zac Taylor) know that the playbook is open to him. I'm going to get us out of bad situations and take advantage of the situations where we feel we have them schemed-up, just getting completions and move the ball down the field."

Are you more fiery or more even-keel?

"It depends on the situation."

How much more prepared are you now that you're getting to practice with the first team?

"Reps are huge for me. It's huge."

How often did you need to make changes at the line of scrimmage against Baltimore?

"That's part of the game. That's part of what we do. We have some awesome offensive minds, and that's just part of what we do. There are going to be some times where we have two plays and want to get to the second one against a certain look, so we'll continue to do that."

Do you line up with two plays in mind, and choose which to run at the line of scrimmage?


What was your experience like with Oakland head coach Jon Gruden like at the Senior Bowl?

"He was awesome. I really enjoyed playing for him. It's going to be really fun to play against him. He has a lot of juice. That was a really good time."

Does a successful rushing attack make you feel more comfortable?

"It's huge if we can keep building on what we've done in the last two weeks. We've rushed the ball for 260 yards in the past two games, so we're going to keep building on that. We have a good rhythm, and we've found a few plays that we execute really well. We found some stuff that Joe (HB Joe Mixon) does really well, and he just ran super hard last week. It's going to be fun to see that from him again going forward."

Will the offensive line scheme changes be built upon moving forward?

"We found some stuff that we do really well. We're definitely going to keep building on it."

Does the release of LB Preston Brown grab attention around the locker room?

"I don't know. I can't really speak on that. That would be a better question for Zac."

What has C Trey Hopkins meant to you over the last few weeks?

"Trey is solid. That's the best way to say it. He's just a rock. I talk to him a lot about cadence stuff. He's a veteran. He's comfortable out there. Not much shakes Trey, so he's been huge for me as a rookie. I've really enjoyed the relationship that me and Trey have. He's been really helpful for me."

Do you ever talk about non-football topics with Hopkins?

"Yeah. He's quite the traveler. He's the Europe traveler. We've had a few conversations about where I should go and what to enjoy. He's a big traveler."

When did you begin to become such an intelligent football player?

"My last couple years in college at N.C. State I had a really good coach, Eliah Drinkwitz. He's now the head coach at Appalachian State. He really helped me hone that in, and (taught me) the importance of the details of a game plan and getting in the playbook. That was one of the ways that, when I got to North Carolina State, I could really connect with some of the wide receivers and the offensive line. I showed them my knowledge of the playbook, and that was a way I could connect with them as they were learning it the first year."

What do you like about C Trey Hopkins?

"He's been very helpful for me. He's a rock. He's a very smart player. He's played in a lot of games, so he's playing with a lot of confidence. He's a fun guy to be around."

How much do you want to make sure you aren't part of the longest winless streak in franchise history?

"I need to be honest — I haven't thought about that until you brought it up. Our goal this week is to get a win. Every week is a new week, 0-0. We're trying to go 1-0. That's about all I have to say about that."

What do you notice about Oakland's defensive athleticism?

"Yeah, they're a good defense. We're definitely not going to take them lightly. We have a great game plan against them, and now we need to go execute it."

What's the strength of Oakland's defense?

"I don't know if I could pick a strength. They're doing a lot of things differently than they've done in the past. They're playing a lot of two-high zone. They're trying to bend but not break. We need to find ways to extend drives and hit shot plays on them. We need to hit big plays on them."

How important is red-zone efficiency?

"Yeah. We haven't done much red zone. We're still focused on run downs and third downs. Red zone situations are huge. We need to score touchdowns. Last week, I think we were 1-for-3, which is not good enough. We need to, at the worst, get field goals. And we need to score points."


Head coach

Initial comments ...

"Oakland is a tough opponent. They have some momentum going right now with two wins these last two weeks and coming off a mini bye. This is their third straight home game. They're doing some really good things. They've been a team that's really made progress over the course of the two years they've been there. They're a team I've followed. We have a lot of connections to that staff. Obviously, we hired two coaches from that staff. It's a team that we've always followed closely. They've done a nice job in a lot of areas. You look at the offense, and they're really top-10 in rushing. They're doing a great job in passing on third down and in the red zone. Statistically, they're doing a great job in all areas. On defense, they've done a really nice job. Their rushing defense is up there. I know they're battling through some injuries, but you can really see a team that's done some good things, and they're creating some momentum for themselves right now. It's important that we're really focused and dialed in. We have some travel ahead of us. Our guys, so far, have started Wednesday strong — the way we want it. Now, we just need to keep building on that and find some momentum and go out there and get a win."

What led to the decision to cut LB Preston Brown yesterday?

"We just need to keep mixing up that room. Like I said on Monday, we need to keep challenging those guys and find someone to step up and be consistent and be a leader in that group. So far, the production just hasn't been there. That was a decision we felt like we had to make."

Will WR A.J. Green practice today?

"He's still considered day-to-day. I don't anticipate him being out there with the team today."

Will a linebacker be signed off the practice squad to fill the open roster spot?

"It's likely. We'll keep going through the week and make those decisions (as needed)."

Do you think the move to cut Brown could draw attention in the locker room?

"It could. Where we're at right now in the season, and some of the things that keep happening during games, we felt like we had to change it up. Whether that's called 'sending a message' or not, I don't care. We're just trying to find a win and find some consistency there in the middle of our defense. That's what led to the decision."

What have doctors said about Green's injury?

"It really is just day-to-day. Let's see how he feels day-to-day, and make a decision from there. Get through today, and tomorrow will be a new day and we'll see where he's at (then)."

Do you know when Green will begin running again?

"No, I don't. He's still doing workouts with the trainers and all that stuff. He won't be practicing like he did last Monday with us. He'll still be doing the rehab stuff with the trainers today."

Do you see similarities between your team and Oakland?

"Every team is a little different, but knowing they stayed strong. They probably didn't have the year last year that they thought they would have, but they stuck together and found ways to create some momentum. We played them last year in Week 1 when I was (with the L.A. Rams), and it was a good football team that gave us a great run. We won it in the fourth quarter. I know they did that to some other teams. They've done a good job staying the course. They've done a nice job."

Did you take anything away from playing for Oakland head coach Jon Gruden?

"I got cut the first day of training camp, so he didn't let me get that far (laughs). I was there in the offseason, and he was a great teacher. In meetings, you're dealing with installs and bringing things to life and getting people's attention, and he was always really good at that. He's really smart and detailed. My college coach, Bill Callahan, and him are very close. They coached together for a long time. There was a lot of continuity there from me playing at Nebraska, and then the short offseason I had there, it was a very similar offense with very similar verbiage. I think they probably just brought me in because I could call the plays in the rookie minicamp. In hindsight, those are the things you start to figure out as you start coaching. That made a little bit of sense. They could evaluate the other players while I got out there and called the plays correctly (laughs). It's all good. He's always been really good to me in our relationship over the last however many years. He worked Monday Night Football when I was in Miami. He's a good coach and he's always treated the guys on our staff really well."

Does offensive coordinator Brian Callahan's experience with Gruden help you in this matchup?

"It always helps, especially with the personnel. When you've been around players, you know what makes them tick. Schematically, everybody evolves over time. Just like when we played the Rams, everybody is evolving as the season goes. You don't want to look too far into that because sometimes it gets you in a little bit of a trap. We watch the tape and we form our own opinions that way."

Do you have an update on TE Drew Sample?

"Drew won't play this week. We'll take Drew week-to-week. Right now, he'll be inactive this week and we'll take him week-to-week. (It's a) high ankle sprain."

Given the team's winless start, do you need to guard against negative thoughts?

"Yeah. You have to find a way to find the positives. If you're dropping your head every day you walk in the building, then we're not going to get anything accomplished. We all still believe. I know I keep preaching that, but that's the truth. We just need to attack every single day and keep getting better. We had a really productive walkthrough just now. I'm excited to get out there with my warm clothes on and get some stuff accomplished with this practice. You should feel the energy right now that we still have. We're fired up. This is another opportunity. It's going to be a little bit warmer weather. It's going to be nice. We're excited to get there and play this game."

What do you see from QB Ryan Finley in terms of personality and leadership style?

"His attention to detail right now is really good. He's got really high standards for himself and he doesn't want to walk on the field unprepared in any way, shape or form. Those are the things that I've seen that have really stuck out with him — the time he's spending around the building, making sure he's able to his job effectively before he holds the other players to that same standard. That's critical for a young player. Everyone knows young players are going to make mistakes. When their intent is the right way and their preparation is better than anybody else's, and they hold themselves to that high standard and they take responsibility when a play doesn't go accordingly because it was their fault, then the players will flock to that. Then, you're able to say, 'Hey, you need to do this better.' It's not pointing fingers, necessarily, but it's holding everybody accountable for how they're playing."

Did Finley seem mentally comfortable during the game?

"I thought he played with confidence. When you watch him in the pocket, and they bring a zero blitz, and he's having to move around, you saw a guy that wasn't unsure of where everybody was at. He knew what was supposed to be happening. He had some subtle pocket movements and escaped some bad situations. Everyone needs to be held accountable. There are probably some plays that people would point the finger and say, 'Hey, bad throw there.' Not so fast. Everybody needs to be on the same page and be detailed with what they're doing. You saw a couple incompletions where it's just chemistry working with guys (that is needed). That's only going to improve as we keep going. That leads to him saying, 'I'd like to have that one back, because now I have a better feel for how someone is running that route and I would do it differently next time.' Those are the things that we're going to continue to learn from as the season goes, but I thought he showed a lot of positives to build on — the way he approached the last game and played in that game, and now going forward. He has some good opportunities in front of him."

Are you seeing the effort you'd like to see from the entire roster right now?

"Yeah, I am. It's not perfect. There are times you can point out in most of the games. If you're talking about generally, overall from the team, we're still seeing guys compete. Unfortunately, that game (the Ravens game) got away from us, but you can still point out a lot of good examples on tape in the fourth quarter where guys are still giving their all to create some momentum, score points and get some stops."

How cognizant are you of the specific players that are giving effort?

"Yeah, of course. No doubt. This is when it's the toughest. Like I said, this is as hard as it's going to be. We have a chance to really look at everybody and figure out who wants it. Who is this so important to that it kills them when we're out there getting beat and not doing well enough and someone's not playing up to standard. That's when you really get a chance to get down to bare bones and figure out who wants to be here and who likes football."

Do you expect WR Alex Erickson to play on Sunday?

"He's day-to-day. He's a tough guy, so start with that and make your own assumptions from there. He's going to do everything he can to get healthy and get going. He won't participate in live activities today, but we'll take it day-to-day with him. He's a tough guy."


Cast Your Pro Bowl Vote

You're a little low on receivers. You might have to make a move there ...

"We're a little low on receivers. We'll see. We'll get through the week. We feel like we have good personnel on offense and that allows us to be in a good position there with some of the decisions as we go."

Are the last few weeks of the season the biggest in terms of evaluating players?

"Not biggest. You continue to evaluate the growth of every guy. Are guys getting better? Are they fixing the errors that they've been making? We can't do anything about the last nine games — they're behind us, they're over. We can start with Oakland. We talked about starting over after the bye. We're 0-1. We need to continue to get better. The errors we made last week that allowed the game to get away from us, don't make the same mistakes twice. That's what we're looking at. Which players are making their improvements to help us get this first win? I've been encouraged with what I've seen from the guys."

Is the necessary effort present on defense? Is there any mental apprehension?

"It's just the level of detail. It gets exposed exponentially when you're playing (Baltimore) because if you are off by a step or are a half-second late or have some hesitation, good luck to you. That's what they've done to some teams. Like I said, it's tenfold when you play that style of offense that we just played against."

Are you pleased with the production you've seen from the rookie class so far?

"I don't prefer to look at the class as a whole. It's each individual. I do think the guys that are out there playing are getting better. As I look at that class, they've all contributed. They're all getting better. It's important to them. Every single guy you see hurts right now. They're not used to losing. They don't like this. Their effort and their attention to detail has been good and they're doing what they can to improve."

How much output can you reasonably expect from a rookie?

"That's a good question. I just evaluate each player in their entirety. I'm flashing through the class (of rookies on the team) right now, and each guy is doing their best to get better each week."

Will the Bengals send a representative to attend Colin Kaepernick's workout in Atlanta?

"Our personnel staff does a great job of evaluating everyone that's on the wire and available to us. I often don't talk to our scouts every week to see where they're going on Saturdays and Sundays, because they're going to college games and evaluating guys. I trust that we'll form an educated opinion on all the guys that are available."

What advantages does C Trey Hopkins provide?

"He's smart. That's critical for your center to make all the right calls and get you in the right protections. His communication with Ryan has been really good through that first week. There's that stability with Trey that he's going to get his head in the right direction. He's going to get guys lined up and make the right calls and take some pressure off of the young quarterback. I'm pleased with the progress that Trey is making."

Hopkins seems to be the most consistent player on the offensive line ...

"I would say that he's been consistent over the course of the year. I don't worry about the grades of other things. Trey is somebody who is trending in the right direction."

For clarification, you don't know what the team's plan is to evaluate Kaepernick?

"I'd prefer not to announce where our scouts are going all the time. I feel good about the information we'll gather on any workout."

(Unprompted, after a silent pause ...)

"John Ross is back (laughter)."

If he practices well, do you think he'll play?

"He can't. We just activated the 21-day window. (The designation to return from the Reserve/Injured list necessitates an eight-game absence), and we had the bye week mixed in there. He won't be eligible to come back until the Cleveland game (on Dec. 8), but we start that 21-day window now where he can practice. We won't give him a lot of team reps with the 'ones,' but he gets the chance to get back out there, run some routes and catch some balls. It'll be good to start that progression for him, because the more we can get some weapons back, the more it's going to help us. It's encouraging to see him."

Will Ross be a full participant in practice?

"He doesn't get to play this weekend, so we have the opportunity to ease him into it and make sure it's not just full-blast day one. He feels really good. He's going to take a lot of reps. We get the chance to ease him into the next three weeks and make sure that he's ready to go when that game rolls around in December."

How close is CB Dre Kirkpatrick to returning?

"I'm not sure yet. I can't answer that. He's still week-to-week at this point."

How much attention do you pay to Oakland TE Darren Waller?

"He's a great player for them and they use him in a lot of different ways. He's certainly one of their primary weapons. It is a concern. Those tight ends made a lot of good plays. On some of them, they were a little more open than they should have been, and sometimes it was tight coverage and they made those catches. That's really a challenge to our linebackers and safeties to step up with this matchup we have against their tight end group."