We finished our sixth practice today and thus far we have gotten through the majority of our first and second down work. That would be our run packages, our run defenses, our protections, and some of our blitzes. We’re through about three quarters of that on first and second down. We’ve introduced our nickel, our sub, third down. The first and second down includes all personnel groupings. We then introduced the nickel, which we have gotten into, that would be all third down including third and long. We got a chance to be extensively in the red zone. We’ve had that as a mixed down on first and second down, and also subbed into the red zone, and worked on our blitz packages down there. Yesterday we had a two-minute drill and today we started working on our short yardage. So, besides the goal line, which we will work on as we progress here, we’ve gotten a lot done the last six days. That being said, we are excited about going into mini-camp next week. It is going to be open to our fans on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We’ll go back a little bit in our install and review first and second down, nickel, short yardage red zone, and two-minute, and then we will get ready to get into our last week. So far things are going well. Jermon Bushrod (shoulder) and Jahri Evans have started to practice this week. We’ve integrated them into the offense and they both look good. Jonathan Casillas is still nursing a back (injury), and he’s still trying to get better with that. Chris Ivory had just a little hamstring, a tweak, he’s fine. He could’ve practiced today, but we held him out.
On a few third and long snaps, it looked like you had four defensive ends. Are you experimenting with different packages?
We’re going to mix up personnel just a little bit. You know there is a difference now, when you say sub. You could have three wide receivers on first and second down, and there is also a run threat with that, you have a regular four down scheme. When you get to third down, now you try to find the combination of your best pass rushers to get in there and affect the quarterback. That could be a defensive end playing inside as well, as a defensive tackle. This is the time to kind of work with those combinations.
Under this new Collective Bargaining Agreement, what can these guys wear and what can you do during mini-camp?
That’s a great question and I’m not being wise when I answer this. They can wear their pajamas, and we want as little contact as possible and I’m all for that. The season is grueling, it’s long. I think for our offensive and defensive linemen, what we’ve tried to teach is: ‘bring your hands first, your feet second, 1-2 shut it down, and try to have as little helmet-to-helmet contact as we can.’ But it’s non-padded contact. That being said, that is the antithesis of what these guys are used to doing, so we have to work on tempo and the non-contact part. We have been injury-free (touch wood). The guys are really trying to adhere to what we’re trying to teach, but I’m all for that.
Can you accomplish what you could’ve accomplished with the old CBA?
I just don’t think you can have a defensive lineman coming off full-speed and an offensive lineman mirroring him, without there being contact. You could probably work somewhat on your footwork and hand placement, but at the end of the day you might create more bad habits than good habits. As long as the playing field is equal, and all the teams are doing the same thing, I’ve got no problem with that.
How difficult has it been with them (defensive/offensive linemen) to adjust?
It’s hard for guys like Will Smith and Sedrick Ellis because they are full-speed guys. You have to slow them down, and they’re not used to that. Our offensive line has really done a good job. Our offensive line, their tempo in and out of the huddle, their pass protection, their communication. We’ve done it in the early part of the camp without Jahri (Evans) and without Jermon (Bushrod). It has really been good. Defensive lineman are used to playing downhill, coming off the snap, playing with a pad level, so there has been a little bit of a learning curve.
Given the addition of the three middle linebackers, how much do you anticipate the competition level rising?
That’s what it’s all about, and it’s there, it’s on.
Where do guys like Scott Shanle stand?
Scott Shanle has had an outstanding camp. Scott has started at the Sam position for us this spring. I think Scott is one of those guys, one of those rare breeds. I’ve been with him since ’06, and you have not seen any diminishing skill level. He still has the footwork and the fluid hips. One of his real high qualities that he has is his man coverage skills. He’s come into camp in great shape, so he has done a great job.
Is it safe to say that this is the best group of linebackers that you have had since you’ve been here?
I’ll tell you, it’s probably the deepest group I’ve ever been around. I would say that linebackers 1-7 or 1-8 could start for a lot of teams in the National Football League, and that’s a compliment to the group.
What have you seen from Curtis Lofton that maybe shocked or surprised you?
Number one, he’s lost some weight and body fat. His ability to change direction in space, his ability to drop his weight and burst on the ball, and then his angles to the ball and his closing speed have been shocking to me. They’ve been shocking to his teammates too. We know what we’ve got; we’ve got a thumper. We’ve got a guy who loves the contact, he’s a downhill linebacker. To watch his athleticism in space, his ability to flip his hips and burst, has really been a nice addition.
Joe, you guys worked pretty quickly to resign Turk McBride. What is it that you liked about with him even though you only had him in small doses?
“He’s a Jersey guy number one. He went to Woodrow Wilson High School. Turk is a very serious football player. He is very serious about his profession. We thought as a team, as a defense, he was really coming on last year and then he hurt the ankle and got behind the eight ball with that. So I think when he had the opportunity to re-sign here and we wanted him to back, I think both of us (it was mutual). This is a great marriage. We rushed to re-sign him and he rushed to come back here. I think that what we do fits his skill level. He really likes our locker room. He loves winning. So I think, Turk McBride, I think the best part of him is all in his future for us.”
Can he be a dynamic pass rusher?
“We think so and again in these camps that is hard to see but some of the things that we saw off of film last year and some of the things that took place in the season before he got hurt, you saw the edge rush, counters, and his ability to make people miss in space.”
What do you think about Brodrick Bunkley?
“It’s all business (with him). This is his worst nightmare, being in a non-padded camp like this. He is all business. He is a contact player. I think that even in his shorts you can see the technique and the power and explosiveness that he possesses. He’s going to be a great fit in the locker room and great addition for our football team.“
It’s always difficult to evaluate a football team in shorts at these spring camps. Which groups are affected more?
“I think the big people. The offensive and defensive lineman first and then it goes to the linebackers and the fullbacks.”
What about with the changes in the way you guys practice?
“I think it’s hard. We have to look at film harder. I get nervous now because all of a sudden I’m thinking to myself, when we start the season do we go with more maximum protection for our quarterbacks because we’ve been unable to get this work one on one pass rush stuff? But as I’ve said earlier, the playing field is even now, everybody is going through the same learning curve so we’ll just have to wait and see how that plays out but I think those are the toughest two, it goes to the linebacker then the fullback. It is the ability for hat, hand placement, pad level.”
Tomorrow is June 1st, fans are continually asking about Drew Brees. Is your level of concern rising?
“I’m still confident. I had a great conversation with Drew the other day. We were talking about training camp. I had some questions and I knew that he wanted to do some certain things at training camp. I feel confident. He’ll be here.”
What gives you that confidence?
“What else is he going to do? He can’t sing or dance. Listen, again. I don’t think that anyone thought this was going to be easy. We talked about the lockout last year; well they’re going to come back here. They are going to come back there. No, I think that everyone knew that it was going to go until the 23rd hour and that everything was going to be settled. Again, there are a lot of pieces here that Mickey’s (Loomis) got to get fit in, with the cap and getting people signed and so on and so forth and it’s all going to fit into the future and this is going to get done. It’s going to get done when Drew and Mickey know what is best for our football team and we can move forward.”
With Chase Daniel is there some element to he’s providing out there?
“Chase is doing what he does best. The thing about Chase is that he has been under Drew for three years. He knows this offense. He knows his nuances. He understands the tempo. He really understands the checks and the sights. Chase is going out there and just being Chase and he is giving his teammates great confidence in him because he is knowing where to deliver the ball. He’s understanding now ball location. Hey listen, we’re not asking anyone to be Drew Brees. Chase is being Chase.”
Can you talk about how Curtis Lofton communicates and can you compare that to Jonathan Vilma, how you thought that he was the “quarterback of the defense?”
“Very similar. I think this, in order to be a great signal caller and in order to be a great teammate, you have got to put the needs of your teammates above yourself. And that is what Jonathan did a great job of and that’s what I see Curtis doing now. He puts himself in the toughest positions to take the burden off his teammates and that earns the respect of his teammates. Without me ever saying that, you watch him do that and it comes very naturally. I think that’s where is leadership qualities come in and that’s where his teammates being confident in him.”
I get the impersonation that he and Jonathan get along pretty well.
“Absolutely. They have great communication amongst one another in the meetings, during practice. Lofton has played in this type of scheme longer than Jonathan has. Jonathan played this scheme when we had Gary Gibbs here so they share information willingly. They have great respect for one another and it’s kind of fun to watch.”
Has David Thomas been emerging as a leader?
“I always think of Dave Thomas as a leader, even though he is not very verbal. You go back to when he first came here, some of the contributions to our football team. This guy can play all positions. This guy knows the pass protection from three different positions, tailback, fullback and tight end position. He’s been a jack-of-all-trades for us and at the end of the day when you pick up the stats sheet after a game, he very quietly is one of the more productive players that we have in week in and week out. You put that alongside his passion of the game, character and accountability to his teammates, he is outstanding.”
Was it rare to see him speak up?
“No, I don’t think so. I see him talk before meetings. He is verbal when he has to be.”
When you go into mini camp next week, are you comfortable that two quarterbacks can handle everything?
“No we’re going to bring a couple of quarterbacks in over the weekend and work them out. Am I comfortable? Yeah, I’m comfortable but we’re going to bring a few more guys in, we always taking a look to upgrade the roster. We are going to have a staff meeting this afternoon so I don’t even know who those quarterbacks are. Ryan Pace informed me about that twenty minutes ago.”
Would you be inclined to bring a third guy in just for minicamp?
“I think so because of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back practice and these guys are just going to finish in two weeks. I am not saying that they are arm weary or anything like that but I think so.
Can you tell me about Jerico Nelson, could you see him on special teams?
“Again, he is going to be a guy (who competes). I like the change of direction and foot speed. But he is going to be a guy that is really going to define himself when we put the pads on. That’s when we’ll have a fair evaluation.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times