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Transcripts: Monday Press Conference (1/15)

Opening statement: "Good to see everybody. [I] appreciate you guys. We are deep in the preparations. Last week, we spent time on all four of the potential teams doing the preliminary work – a lot of film study [and] a lot of analytics. Since then, [the] Houston [Texans] won. We've been dialed in on Houston since the end of that game [against the Cleveland Browns] until now continuing until about 7:30 tonight. Then, we'll see if we have to pivot to Pittsburgh. That's where we're at with that. What questions do you have?"

What is different about the Houston Texans now compared to when you played them in Week 1?*(Brian Wacker)*"[The Houston Texans] are 17 games different. I'd say [it's] coaching [and] experience – all the things that a good team does that continues to improve throughout the season. They've done a really good job of that. Obviously, they're very well-coached. They have really good young players [and] some veteran players as well. They've continued to improve throughout [the season]."

How has not knowing if you are playing on Saturday or Sunday impacted your practice schedule?*(Todd Karpovich)* "It'll just depend. We're just waiting to see. We'll do our normal [practice] week either way. If we play Saturday, our week will start tomorrow. If we play Sunday, our practice week will start on Wednesday."

Have you told your players to play it by ear right now since you do not know if you are playing on Saturday or Sunday?*(Jamison Hensley)* "I told them to be ready to come in [Tuesday] morning for Houston, or we would come in [on Tuesday] afternoon to do our preliminary work for Pittsburgh."

How did practice go on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium? Did you get things accomplished despite not knowing your next opponent?*(Jerry Coleman)* "I thought it was really good. We had an hour and a half practice. We were running around fast [with] timing, execution [and] good spirits. It was cold and windy, and we had a sense of the stadium. I think it was good to get in there psychologically just to feel that. Just even driving down to the stadium, you felt that it's like a game because that's what we do. We drive to the stadium for our home games. All of that, to me, helped us stay psychologically in the right place."

What will go into your evaluation into the decision whether to elevate RB Dalvin Cook from the practice squad or not?*(Bo Smolka)* "We have options. The nice thing is with the way the rules are now, we have those options. We'll just look at it and see from a gameplan standpoint and opportunity standpoint what makes our team the strongest at this particular time based on what we're going to try and do offensively."

Is there anything to do to prepare for the unusually cold conditions expected for this weekend?*(Childs Walker)* "It's not going to be as cold as it was in Kansas City [on Saturday], and it's not going to be as much snow as there is in Buffalo [today]. So, we're good. We feel OK about it." (laughter)

Is the expectation that WR Zay Flowers will practice this week?*(Brian Wacker)*"We're pretty optimistic about everybody and then varying degrees of optimism with certain guys. Really, it's just like any week – you just have to see it unfold. Some guys are good to go. Other guys are going to be more day by day."

How big was the week of rest with restoring health and energy?*(Giana Han)* "I think it was good just from the mental standpoint and also certainly the recovery standpoint. It's the late season of a long season. We had a lot of very physical games down the stretch. Every one of our games was a meaningful game for us and for our opponent until the last one, which was still meaningful for [the Pittsburgh Steelers], and most of our guys played. I think the mental rest was valuable. You work hard to get that bye [week]. I don't think anybody's ever requested not to have the bye when they've earned it, have they? It's definitely a positive, and I know our guys looked at it that way. We had a really good week of practice. We did what we needed to do."

I recognize you can't look ahead, but you mentioned you were looking at the four teams you might play. There's also teams you can play in the AFC Championship game that you have not seen this year. How much time do you spend looking at even those teams this week?*(Bo Smolka)* "Well, that's preliminary work that we do, so we will look at the two teams that are playing in the other Divisional game this week, with the coaches and the staff that are assigned those jobs, and they'll have all that information organized after we have an opportunity if we're going to play those guys [or] one of those teams in the game."

There's so much that rides on this afternoon's game like when you play and who you play and everything else. How much will you be watching this afternoon?*(Jamison Hensley)* "It's going to be hard not to watch. It's going to be hard not to. I like to think I'll have the bulk of my own personal work done by then. I've been working hard at it for a lot of days now. Even though it was other teams, and a lot of it seems like it's wasted, you still do learn a lot of football. As far as [today's Buffalo-Pittsburgh game], it's going to be hard not to keep an eye on that game for sure."

Is there any level of frustration or anticipation with just how the circumstances force the game to be moved to Monday and your uncertainty on who your opponent is and when you're playing? Your entire schedule is forced to not be figured out until tonight.*(Kyle Phoenix)* "Really, no. There's no frustration. It's the way it goes. It's OK. We're excited to be in this situation, [and] we're fired up to have an opportunity to play in the Divisional round of the playoffs – that's deep in the playoffs, as we see it. We're hoping to do the best we can, put our best foot forward [and] play our best football game of the season. Really, that's all that's on our minds." 

As much as you were able to absorb the games in between work this weekend, was there something maybe you saw that you wrote down, and that's maybe something I should take note of, and I should be passing along to the guys. Anything you can glean from any of those games?*(Jerry Coleman)*"Yes, you probably do from a playoff standpoint. There were teams that came out and played really well. There were teams that came out and didn't play well. You take notice of that, and you try to say, 'Well, why? Why are those things happening to that team? That's not something they expected.' So, I think all the guys do the same thing. I might mention it somewhere along the way to some degree, but the game last night, both teams [Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams] played great. So, we just have to be focused on playing our best football. We want to be focused, and we want to be loose at the same time. Those two things are every important, and that's what we'll shoot for."

We're coming up on a year now since you guys promoted Scott Elliott to strength and conditioning coordinator. Considering all the attention paid to former strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders, fairly or unfairly, what made you guys decide to keep it in house, and what have you guys been impressed by for guys staying healthy, staying strong and everything else that goes into that?*(Jonas Shaffer)* "In the end looking back on it, in terms of making the choice to stay in house and to go with [strength and conditioning coordinator] Scott [Elliott] and the rest of the staff there ... We have a great group with [assistant strength and conditioning coaches] Ron [Shrift], Anthony [Watson], Kay [Buskey]. All three do a fantastic job and [football performance coordinator] Sam Rosengarten, who I put in that category as well, from a performance standpoint. But Scott led it, and it was really an evolution of what we've been doing. We felt we were doing a lot of great things in the weight room. We felt like we had a very good program, and I have a lot of respect for Steve Saunders. He worked really hard and did a heck of a job and made us a strong and in-condition football team. Then Scott, through the circumstances that take place – they are what they are. Scott stepped in, and in maybe a little bit of a tough circumstance, right? And [he] just handled it gracefully and aggressively and did a great job. He's one of the stars of the season – not just Scott, but the whole group I just mentioned before. That weight room is one of the stars of the season for sure. They've just done phenomenal. The guys love going in there; they work really hard. I think it's very comprehensive in what we do, and I'm in there. I'm in there every day with people, maybe not [lifting] quite as much weight as some of the guys. But I think it's just a great environment that we have in there."

When you look at this team, obviously, there are veteran guys, guys who have won, young talent, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, offensive coordinator Todd Monken, as well, and yourself. What has stood out to you about the makeup of this team?*(Brian Wacker)* "I believe that this is one of the most connected teams I've ever been around. I think it starts with the fact that I really believe they love one another. I think they have a spiritual connection that runs through the whole team. You can just tell when a group of people like being around one another, like working together, trust one another, believe in one another and want to see everybody succeed – the idea that if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. I see that with this group as much or more than any other team that I've been around in 40-plus years of coaching. So, that's a real joy to be around, and it's a reflection of all the people that are involved. It's a reflection of all the different individuals that go up to make the group, the culture – whatever you want to call it – the environment, the world view that they take on the challenges that are in front of them, and I just admire everybody that sits in those seats right there in our team meeting. I admire every single person sitting in those seats."

How much easier is it when you're preaching to these guys – obviously everyone is going to be focused on the playoffs – but just throughout the season, when your quarterback is constantly talking about staying locked in and staying in the moment. When QB Lamar Jackson is constantly preaching that message, how much does that help the coaching staff?*(Jeff Zrebiec)* "[It's] tremendous. It's a players' game, and the team belongs to the players. When you [were] coming up, [and] you played sports in high school or college, what do they always say? The seniors run the team. Senior leadership is the key. You have great senior leadership, and that is true in the NFL, too. You have to have great senior leadership, and we have that. Our seniors – I don't mean like old-age-type seniors – our veteran players, and our best players are also our hardest workers, they are our most responsible guys, and that's what drives the whole thing through the whole deal. So, you talk about vision – the vision is basically ... The definition of vision is a shared understanding, and we have a shared understanding of what's required and what we need to do and how we're going to go about doing it. I just feel like those guys drive that every single day [in] the locker room, meeting room, practice field, [when they're] hanging out, going to dinner [or] whatever it might be. That gets reinforced all the time, and once it gets reinforced all the time, it kind of centers back on itself and gains momentum, and next thing you know, it's rolling."