ML: “The situation
“The second thing that is a minor distraction is that Andre (Smith) won't be here these three days. He's really dealing with something he's got to get through. We would have hoped he would have been here and picked up on some of the things we felt like were good to work on at this point in the year. But he's got some personal things he's dealing with. Obviously, there's certain things that come with not being here these three days, so, that's unfortunate for him. Once we get through a week of training camp, then everything will be good. We have to focus in and coach with the guys we have here right now, and that's a good thing.
“We've had a good three weeks of on-field work prior to this week. With the mandatory camp, over these three days, we are able to extend the day a little bit, which will provide for some more teaching time for the young players. That's what you are trying to do. You are trying to get them enough quality time to go and ask questions and be able to understand concepts. They are in there with the veterans, and you’re going a little faster. Instead of starting over again from scratch, like we have done in some cases, we are going to just kind of continue on with some of the installation points with the coordinators over these three days.
“The rookies can continue to make up time, with the extra meeting time we have over these three days. I think it’s a real focus on the mental part of football, the pre-snap football. Making sure we don't have pre-snap errors – elimination of those, whether they are from not knowing what to do, mental errors, or snap-cadence errors on both sides of the football. Because we are still not able to do physical football. We've got these three days of practice and two more days of training camp before we can get to the physical part of football that is really going to be the telling tale of where we are.
“We'll get a couple guys who haven't had much work thus far who will be able to work more over these three days. We'll still kind of hold and be cautious with some of the other guys. Right now, as we enter into training camp, we are in a pretty good spot physically. I feel good about that. We want to keep moving forward, keep guys off the ground and keep working the way we've worked thus far in this offseason.”
Since there are things associated with a player missing mandatory minicamp:
ML: “Not in this case. I didn’t mean to cut you off, but not in this case at all.”
So it’s safe to say
ML: “Oh, you are subject to fine when you aren't here. You are subject to fine.”
Are there any exceptions to that rule?
ML: “I guess there could be exceptions to that. I think we all have to make choices once in a while in life that we pay a cost for. In this case, I have to do it that way. I have to be fair. I mean, we are not necessarily dealing with a death in the family or something like that, or your wife having a baby or so forth. There has to be ramifications from this.”
Andre’s conditioning has always been a concern in past. Is that still a concern?
ML: “Actually I’ve been able to monitor that a little bit. That’s been good. I don’t worry about that anymore. That’s the one thing I think that Andre has taken good steps in and made good strides in personally, on his own part, in wanting to be a good player. I think he knows that part of it, and from what I can judge and what I can see distance-wise, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Is this absence related to his legal incident in January?
ML: “No. No, that’s all been resolved.”
When does a quarterback stop being young?
ML: “That’s probably pretty true. He’s going into his third year, the cast around him gets nothing but better and I think his leadership, his spreading his wings, we all feel that. I was at his event Sunday evening, and I felt that there. Those are good, positive steps. I saw him last night at the zoo (at an event for the Marvin Lewis Community Fund) with the kids. Those are things that he’s doing. He’s a different guy. He’s maturing. A lot was cast on him as a young guy, which was kind of the same thing in college, and he just kept growing into it and kept getting better and better. That’s the same thing now. He looked a little different walking by me just now in the hallway coming out of here than he used to. You know what I mean? He used to have that deer in the headlights look a little bit. I think he knows there are certain things that are asked of him. We’ve all collectively got to do better, and I think he’s excited to lead us in that direction.”
Is it unfair or over-simplification to say an elite quarterback makes that throw to A.J. in Houston at end of the game?
ML: “Let’s just say that, for our quarterback, we want to make one of those throws and complete them. One of those two or three balls that we had opportunities to make big plays on. You’re not going to be 100 percent on deep balls. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going on, but you’ve got to make big plays. We had a couple of opportunities to make big plays in that football game, and we missed out on them. Those are the things that a very good player is going to get. A great player is going to get those things and hit some of those. That’s how you get to that status. If not, you’re never going to be looked at as that. You have to win big games – which he’s won – but you have to win playoff games and then, obviously, win a Super Bowl to be looked at as an elite quarterback in the NFL.”
Is there an emphasis this offseason on trying to be more consistent with the deep ball?
ML: “It’s been no less different than the emphasis a year ago. You walked in here a year ago and you talked about the same things, and it’s ironic that I notice that you guys talk about it now, but there was more emphasis put on it probably a year ago than we really have this year.
“I really thought that was something last year, if you remember or recall, that we had to create more explosive plays in our offense. It was an emphasis for us an offseason ago. We didn’t have the time on task with many of those young guys who were playing, and obviously the quarterback, because we didn’t have an offseason the year before. This year, we want to continue to stress that. We’ve got to hit those plays with other guys, other than 18 (
Do you like the development so far of those other receivers, besides A.J. Green?
ML: “I do. Marvin (Jones) has been slowed a little bit over the last few weeks with a little bit of a sore hamstring, so we backed him down a little bit.
What have you seen from
ML: “James has done great. It's been fun. It's what I expected. Obviously I've seen this guy play more football than anybody here. I know the things he was asked to do there (Pittsburgh), the wording and the terminology and how things were created. So I thought it was an easy plug-in here. People get a little bit leery of that because a guy did ‘that’ and you guys do ‘this’, but it all came from the same principles. It started in the same origin with the same principles. I think Mike Zimmer has become more and more comfortable with the versatility that he does have and the ability for him to really do more things that I think even Mike envisioned. But I get to drive this, and it's what I envisioned. And we see that on the practice tape time and time again.”
Defensively, a lot of your players have plenty of experience with Mike Zimmer and seem to know everything that is going on with the defense. Everyone seems to be on the same page. Do you agree?
ML: “They do know what's going on, but we're going to get to a point where we're going to play real football. We're going to have to create turnovers, we're going to have to stop people on third down and we're going to have to tackle. I just go back and I say we're going to have tackle, and we're going to have to create turnovers and we're going to have to stop people on third down. Those are the things that are going to be key to our football season. This is all great. We can all run around and hoot and holler and do all that and feel good about ourselves and beat our chests. But there's going to come a time when the pedal's going to hit the metal. We've got to go strap them down and get after it. This has been great because we get a chance to really slow things down and get into the conceptual football of ‘this is how we play this’, and ‘this is how we play that’. And I think they're on the same page in doing that. And you like that part of it.”
How much has minicamp really changed in year two of this new CBA?
ML: “It's funny, because I think there were 10 teams that did it a week ago. The teams with a new staff could do it a week ago. Some decided to do it next week and extend the program one more week. It gives you some more time. Some people I talked to were basically going to do a regular season schedule. I've extended the day about an hour or so and provided dinner. It's good because we've got the rookies here, and they're still in the hotel for the most part. So I'm trying to do things to help them, structure it enough where we don't wear out our veteran players and we get some good, quality teaching time with our young guys. It's more of an extension of where we were with the OTAs, more than it is the old-fashioned, mandatory camp setting where you hadn't seen the guys in six weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks, when you're seeing your guys for the first time. So you weren’t sure what kind of condition and shape they're in. We know where our guys are with that.”
But no contact, no bump and run or anything:
ML: “That's kind of all always been in there. Not enforced as much. That's always been part of the rule. I guess the word ‘ambiguity’.”
Is there a new T-shirt slogan this year?
ML: “There will be, yes.”
Can you tell us what it is?
ML: “No. I never like to tell any of you anything (laughs).”
Anything with an apple or New York skyline?
ML: “No. Nothing like that. Nope.”
Does a lot of thought go into it every year?
ML: “There is some thought that goes into it. It's a reflection of maybe an attitude and maybe something that we have talked about, worked on since we have come back together. Something to kind of put in their minds when we get to camp. I've got it, I just can't figure out how to make it catchy.”
ML: “Dre is not completely ready to go yet. He's doing well, though. He's chomping at the bit. He's just got to get some final clearance from the people that did the work with him. And really, there's a little bit of an advantage for us to be slower with guys this week and then judge them prior to training camp for our own sake, for the sake of the club. So we'll play that by ear with some of the guys.”
You have a bunch of “redshirt guys” that played a little bit last year who are returning to the field now, like
ML: “Brandon has done well. Brandon's got to play real football against guys with different colored helmets on. So I'm looking forward to him doing that. But you have the little corner out there now from Iowa –
“You've got the young guys, like (Devon) Still and (Brandon) Thompson on the defensive line. In that situation, man, they've got to move now. We allowed Pat (Sims) to move on because we had these two guys sitting here. They're too big and strong to stand beside me on the sideline, not in uniform. So they need to get going, and I look forward to seeing them play. They've done great in this kind of work, so I'm looking forward to what they can do when we get going.
“I think (Emmanuel) Lamur and (Vontaze) Burfict have been great in their second year. Trevor (Robinson) has been slowed by the (pectoral injury), but he'll be cleared and ready to go by training camp. I expect him to get in there and compete. He really gives us a good, quality guy who has played winning NFL football.
“Our quarterbacks are progressing. That's the other thing that I have to keep an eye on – is where we are right there at that spot behind Andy. We're going to have a good competition once we get to the preseason with that. We just have to keep moving forward.”
ML: “Obviously Bernard with the ACL, he's not ready to go yet. We'll have to see where he is when we come back for training camp. Travelle, he's about 10 months out (since his injury) now, or maybe 9 1/2 months now. The doctor down in North Carolina did his surgery, and we're waiting for some clearance from him, so we've got to go from there. Then
AD: “It went well. We had a really good turnout. Several guys came and helped out, which was good. Everybody there had a good time. We were able to raise a lot of money. We don’t have the totals yet. But it was a good night.”
Does minicamp feel to you as almost an extension of OTAs, or does it feel a little bit different to you?
AD: “The biggest thing is that you get on the kind of schedule of a normal week. These next two days will be like a Wednesday and Thursday of a normal game week. It’s good for the rookies to come in and kind of see what it’s going to be like during the season. But for the most part, we’re doing the same stuff. It wasn’t like there was a whole new install or anything, it was just fine-tuning everything. That’s the big thing, we want to come in and stay healthy through this time, and just make sure we’re sharp in everything we’re doing.”
How big of a deal is it that Andre Smith is not here for minicamp?
AD: “Obviously we want him here. I think it would help everybody out, but he’s got stuff going on – personal stuff that, sometimes that stuff happens. We obviously want him here, but we understand that there is stuff outside of football, too.”
With all of the new weapons you’ve gained this offseason, it doesn’t seem like you have to necessarily create packages for them to be effective. They seem to be versatile enough to be effective in a number of roles. Would you agree?
AD: “Yeah. These guys are going to fit in with everything that we’re doing. The only thing that could be a little bit different is that it’s different personnel doing it in different spots. But for the most part, we’re doing most of the same stuff that we’ve always done.”
Last year at this time, the focus was on the young receivers, and you said you thought that they might surprise some people. Now, with a year under your belt with them, what are your expectations for them?
AD: “I expect big things out of all of those guys –
Given that you’ve started here from Day 1 and have made two playoff appearances, you have a lot of snaps under your belt for someone going into their third season. Do you see that as an advantage?
AD: “I think so. I think people can see that, yeah, it is my third year, but I’ve played a lot. I’ve started every game since I’ve been here, and since I’ve been in the NFL. I have that going for me. As a leader on this team – not only playing quarterback, but being a guy that’s played quite a bit and understands what we’re trying to do – it makes it easier for me, and for guys to say, ‘OK, he knows what he’s doing. He’s obviously been out there. He’s played and knows what to expect.’ ”
A quarterback’s third year is considered by some to be the point where he isn’t “young” anymore. Do you agree with that? And as you approach that point in your career, how important is your third year?
AD: “Yeah, I think it’s big. I don’t know if there’s a number of years that you have to play to consider yourself ‘not a young quarterback’ anymore. It probably comes down to age and all that kind of stuff. But Year 3 is big. You want to improve every year. Every year you play, you want to keep getting better. That’s the biggest thing. I’m trying to work on some things. There’s no way I’m getting complacent. I’m always looking for things and ways to get better, and finding all the little things that are going to help us win games next year.”
Do you think this year is big for you?
AD: “I do. I think it’s big for this team. What we’ve done since I’ve been here, we’ve made two playoff appearances and haven’t played well once we got there. I think it’s big for us to show that we’re going to get back to the playoffs and then not only get to the playoffs but win a playoff game and make a run at it. It’s what this team expects. With everybody we have here, we brought everybody back from last year’s team, basically, and I think it’s the attitude that we’re taking into this year.”
In this division it’s really baptism under fire. Baltimore, defensively traditionally strong, Pittsburgh, and they brought a lot of different looks. Do you feel like you’ve seen every conceivable thing that you can see as a quarterback at this stage of your career?
AD: “It’s a lot that teams throw at you. You think of Pittsburgh and Baltimore and all the blitzes that they do. I have seen a lot. It’s football and football adapts. There’s always something new out there and something you haven’t seen. It’s how you react to it. I think that kind of comes with the experience of playing, and the experience of starting for two years is going to help me with not only seeing something that happens on the field, but coming to the sidelines and saying ‘This is going to be our adjustment. This is what we’re going to do, and talking through everything.’”
I feel like we’ve probably asked you a thousand questions about A.J. Green in your short career:
AD: “Who? (laughs)
Jay Gruden said recently he’s the most impressive guy in camp as far as a surprise. He said he still has more gears that he hasn’t hit. Does A.J. have that much room to improve in his game?
AD: “A.J. is so talented and can do so many things. It’s working on all the little things: where to stem some routes, ‘I need to get my around here because the ball might be thrown quicker,’ and different things like that. It’s making sure that we’re on the same page when he’s running routes and knowing when to turn and when to make breaks and different things like that. He does have another gear. He’s shown that throughout his time here. It comes down to any young player, however you term that, you just want to keep getting better every year. There’s always something that you can work on. There’s nobody that’s in the NFL that’s saying they can’t get better.”
Do you recall a moment on film or in practice where you kind of stopped and said ‘Wow,’ when watching what A.J. does?
AD: “There’s definitely times when he’s running by guys and there’s several guys that you think are covering him and he just ends up getting past them. A couple practices ago, we had a deep throw and they had three guys around him and he was able to get past all of them and we hit him for a big play. A.J is a special talent. He’s a great guy and works really hard and he’s only going to get better throughout his career.”
Speaking of getting better, what did you get better at from year one to year two, and what are your expectations to get better at from year two to year three?
AD: “I think the biggest thing right now is just to make sure that I’ve got full control of everything…whether it be changing plays at the line of scrimmage or whatever. I think I did a little bit more of that last year than I did in my first year and I expect to do more of that this year than I did last year. Just making sure to get everybody in the right spot. I think it’s going to help to get, you know it’s funny for me to say young receivers, but guys like Marvin and Mo and some of these other guys that didn’t get to play a full season last year. Get them out there and get the comfortable with what they’re doing. They’ve shown that they have the potential to do a lot of really good things and it’s fun to see. It’s just making sure that everybody’s on the same page and when we get a chance to hit big plays we’ve got to hit them.”
How much is it going to help early in training camp having those three days in Atlanta and going up against another team?
AD: “I think it will be good just from a standpoint of we’re going against each other all the time. We get to go against a new team, new looks, new players. I think it will be good for us to just to get to go against a different team; a team that’s played well and made the playoffs and won a playoff game last year. I think it’s going to be really good for us.”