Initial comments ...
“It’s the first day of mandatory minicamp today. For us, it’s basically just longer days than the OTAs — we’ll have the players a little bit longer. We had a walk-through this morning in the stadium, and I thought it was a good, productive walk-through. This will start getting us ready for training camp. We’ll come back at 2:30 and start the practice.
“From a transaction standpoint, we just signed John Jerry, an offensive lineman. We signed him yesterday. So hopefully he’ll be a good addition for us up front. I have a history of working with him in Miami, so he’s a guy that’ll jump into the mix. You’ll see some shuffling today with the offensive linemen. Jonah (OT Jonah Williams) got a little dinged up last week, so we’re evaluating him. We’ll address that one later on, when we find out a little more information. But right now, you’ll just see a little bit more shuffling. So that’s what that is. Other than that, we’ve just told our guys that this is three good days of work up ahead. This is like a game week, where we go in and get the three practices before Sunday. So let’s address it with that mindset, that we’re going to go out here and approach it with three longer days than we’ve had. They’ll get some good work in and be ready to play a game on Sunday, when in reality they’ll be getting five weeks off to themselves to get ready for training camp. But that’s the mindset that we’re trying to instill in these guys, and that’s the focus we want to have for these three days.
“We have two guys that are joining us for the Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship. Cortland Finnegan, who played several years for the Titans and Dolphins. (Bengals defensive coordinator) Lou Anarumo and I had him down there in Miami for a year. And then Brandon Johnson is the other one. He played here for a couple years and is now coaching high school football down in Arizona. So we’re excited to get those guys in here for this week and get them around the players. They’re two guys with coaching futures who have a history in the NFL, so it’ll be good to get them around the defense a little bit and get them going.”
Are you pleased overall with the players’ retention of the installation of the offense and defense from one week to the next? As you increase the workload and give more stuff to them, is the retention there?
“It has been. Truthfully, this is more than they’ll have to handle in a normal game week. We’re trying to throw as much at them with the playbook as possible, because there are some things that we’ll have to draw from over the course of the season that you might not get a chance to work in Week 1 but you need in Week 10. You want to get it on tape so that when that time comes, we can pull from it and show the players and remind them how we did it. But really, the things that we go into a normal practice with is significantly more than we would carry into a normal game week. Then, we condense it down and are more game plan-oriented, focusing in on what that specific defense is going to give us and what the offense is going to give us, from the defense’s standpoint. I would say the players have done a really good job of retaining a bunch of information that’s been thrown at them.”
We just talked to John Jerry in the locker room, and he seems like an engaging guy. You talked about your previous relationship with him in Miami. Do you feel like he’s here and wants to prove you right for giving him a chance?
“Absolutely. I expect nothing less from John. He’s a pro. He’s been in this league a long time and played a lot of football. That’s what I appreciated from my time with him in Miami, with how he approached the things we talked about — walk-throughs, practices, games — with the right mindset. He’s got a good football IQ and good football character, and those are things that we continue to incorporate into the organization.”
Is John Jerry’s signing related to the injury you mentioned to Jonah Williams?
“No. It’s not related to the Jonah issue, to be honest with you. We’re just continuously looking at finding the best 90 (players) that we can right now. We released a player up front and added a player up front, so it was really just a one-for-one there.”
Is there a chance that Jonah Williams’ injury could be more serious and could threaten his long-term availability?
“Honestly, we don’t know anything right now, so I don’t even want to speculate. He’ll see the doctors and we’ll move forward once we find out more.”
Is there anyone you expect to have back at practice today, besides A.J. Green?
“John Ross has been out for a little bit, so we’ll get him going. A.J.’s been cleared to do everything, but we’re just going to put him out there in individual (drills) and let him run around a little bit. He won’t do any of the team (drill) stuff. I know what to expect from A.J. It’ll be good to see him catching balls from the quarterbacks, but we’re not going to give him too much work there. Those are the ones that come to mind at the moment.”
Your offensive scheme is similar to that of the Rams from last year, and we all saw that offense perform at a high level. Do you think your personnel here fits what you’re trying to do with this offensive scheme?
“I do. We’ve got really good pieces in place. We still have a lot of work to do, and we need to continue to live up to the standard that we’re setting for ourselves. I certainly feel like we’re more than capable, with the personnel that we have in the room, to do the things that we think we’re going to have to do in order to win a lot of football games here. Again though, you’re asking me after the 10th OTA, and there’s a long way to go. I’m looking forward to getting all of those training camp practices. The approach is what’s most important. The approach has been there from the players, they’ve been able to retain the information, and they certainly have the talent level to do some really good things. It’s a constant, ongoing process to make it all mesh and make that chemistry that’s going to allow us to really hit our stride.”
If a mistake is made, have the players done a pretty good job of not making it again?
“Yes. That’s what you’ve got to be most pleased with, with the staff coaching players for the first time — there are not many repeat mistakes. The coaching staff has done a really good job of finding the mistake and coaching it, and doing it in the best manner that the player can understand and help them get better. Credit to the players and coaches for not having many repeat mistakes. Both sides have done a really good job addressing those.”
Your schedule has been nuts since you got this job. Will you take a significant break during the five weeks between minicamp and training camp?
“It’s always been a time for us to go see family. My wife and I have family scattered all over the country, and that’s really a good time to take time and go visit with them and turn your brain off for a little bit. I think there’s some pickleball courts set up in Norman, Oklahoma that my mom just texted me about (laughs). And we always do some good stuff with her family up in the Northeast. So when that time comes we’ll look forward to it, but for right now it’s still a big week in front of us.”
Are you the type of guy that can totally put football and coaching aside when you’re doing that stuff, or are you the type to always have it on your mind and start doodling plays on napkins?
“I do my best — with four small children and a wife that does a lot — when I’m off to try and be ‘off.’ I try not to take the work home. There are plenty of late nights and early mornings you spend here and are dialed in, and certainly there are some things as a head coach that get carried over to the house, but for the most part I do my best to turn it off and try to be present.”
Something that’s stood out the last couple weeks has been the play of the secondary. What are your thoughts on how that’s coming together, and the job that Lou Anarumo has done with the defense to this point?
“I’ll try not to go too far down the road, because we haven’t even played a game yet. But I think Lou being a former secondary coach really shows up, because those guys do a really good job with the details and the fundamentals. So I’ve been pleased with that group. And really the defense as a whole has really taken in this (scheme) and really bought in. You see it show up. They give (the offense) a difficult time every single day at practice. (The offense) has to be on our toes and be prepared. The defensive staff has really done a good job of teaching the techniques and the defensive plays. We’ve got a lot of players that have been here a long time and have bought in and made it their own, so we want to see that ownership continue to grow. But I’ve been pleased with where that side of the ball has been.”
Has it been a mild surprise that the defense has played this well so far?
“That’s why we hired Lou, and that’s why we have the players we’ve got on defense. There’s a lot of talent in that room and some good veteran leadership that’s continued to step up every day. I feel like we hired a good staff, so this is the progress we expected to make to this point. It’s shown up. Again, it’s no different than the offense and special teams — we still have a ways to go, but I think that we’re on pace to do some good things.”
Is familiarity with players who’ve been brought in intentional?
“Yeah, well, I think we value high football character and high football IQ, and those are the people we’ve continued to bring into the building. Often times you’ve got relationships with the guys that have affected you in that way, and you know that when we bring them in, that’s what you’re going to get. There’s been a couple examples of that so far. You see Kerry Wynn and B.W. Webb on defense. Lou had to explain to those guys that he knew they would fit what we wanted to do. Now, John Jerry, we know what we are getting from a mental standpoint. Obviously I haven’t coached him in a couple of years, but we know what know what we are getting from that. There’s been a couple examples of that, and I think it’ll help this football team.
How would you describe G John Jerry’s attitude?
“Great guy, right approach. We worked him out yesterday. He has a great mindset, he’s fun to be around and he’s a quick learner. As you can see in the first walk through, he’s already picking it up pretty quickly. These are the things you’d expect from a veteran.”
Is it nice to have some grey hair on the offensive line? (Referencing G John Jerry)
“(Laughs) Are you taking a shot at me? I’ve got some grey hair. But it’s good when you add veteran leadership at any position. There’s still a lot of battles going on up front, and we’re excited to see how it all shakes out come training camp. It certainly doesn’t hurt to add another veteran to the group who’s played a lot of football.
Are you able to plug in a guy like that more quickly, given the familiarity?
“Exactly. It shouldn’t take as long because they’ve heard the style of coaching and they’ve heard the coaching points and terminology. You would expect those guys to retain information a little bit faster — that’s what we expect from John (Jerry), and that’s what we’ve seen from B.W. (Webb) and Kerry (Wynn), so there’s no surprises there.”
How do you feel about where the team is at the start of minicamp?
“We’ve made progress with every practice. It’s hard to put on paper what the expectation is up to this point. What’s been encouraging is the progress that every position has made. You see each position getting more comfortable, playing faster and being better communicators with each and every passing practice. Right now, that’s been the main goal – improve every single day, and don’t waste any practices and don’t waste any meetings. I really feel confident that our team has done that at all positions. That’s what I was hoping for and expecting at this point, and that’s what we are doing.”
What lessons did you take from you first coaching job at Texas A&M that you can apply here?
“If I look back at my life there, it’s significantly different. I was in a little closet about the size of that table right there with another person — and it was (Bengals assistant offensive line coach) Ben Martin, so he took up a lot of the space (laughs). That seems like a long time ago. The things that I learned back then were to shut your mouth. You think you have all the right answers as a young coach — or as a young reporter, or in any profession — and you quickly learn that sometimes these guys with experience know what they’re talking about. Don’t be quick to speak and say things that you think are tried and true and perfect, when in reality sometimes you need to sit back. Over the course of my career, I was fortunate to work with Mike Sherman, who pointed that out to me. I was doing that a little bit. He gave me the chance to learn, and sometimes you have sit back and listen to everyone’s opinions. Sometimes there’s no right or wrong, you just need to take in all the information. I look back over my time at A&M and reflect on the things I thought I knew and how quick I was to speak. Now, 12 years later, with all the various roles I’ve had – because I’ve had them all, to be honest with you – you have to hear out everybody and don’t be afraid to ask opinions. Sometimes you don’t want too many opinions because it clouds your thinking, but you want to find the right opinions. You hire people you respect and that you trust, so when they say something, there’s a reason you hired them. That’s where we are right now. There’s a lot of people that I trust, and you want to empower them. When they talk, I listen. Ultimately, the decision has to be made, and usually I’m the one that has to me make it, but there’s a lot of good wisdom and value with the people that we have on staff. I know that got a little long-winded, but I think I made a point somewhere in there (laughs).”
What have you learned about this football team that you like the most so far?
“There’s a lot of good guys. There’s been no guys to this point that have gone against what we are working toward. That’s incredible in the NFL, to be quite honest with you. For the most part, we’ve had almost 100 percent attendance this offseason. A guy has missed here or there, but there’s been no one that’s missed a significant amount of time. Guys have really bought in. Today, we made it a point to revisit the culture things that we think are important going into this minicamp and going into the summer. Guys have really bought in, and I’ve just been impressed with the character of the guys on this team. It’s been really impressive, and you can win like that.”
What did you want them to learn about you before they come back for training camp?
“That we are going to be honest and consistent with our approach. I think they’ve seen that from our staff so far. We’re going to be honest with their praise and honest with their criticism so that we can hold the same standard. At the same point, we are going to be consistent day-to-day. You’re not going to see two sides of one person. It’s going to be the same person every single day. I’m not just talking about myself, I’m talking about the whole staff. I can’t speak for the players, but my intention is that they walk out the door on Thursday and they’ve seen that from the staff. As we get ready for the season, they know what’s going to be coming at them come late July.”