Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg
**From the outside looking in, it's easy to see that Justin Tucker has done really well the last two years. From your standpoint, how much has he improved from the first time he came here to where he is now? *(Matt Zenitz) *"I think he made a huge jump in that first training camp prior to the start of last year's season. There are a lot of things to work on at that point. Then, he gained confidence in his fundamentals during the course of that season. This offseason was a lot less dramatic in technique and fundamentals, and now what he is doing really is working on the other things. I would cite the Chicago kickoff where he kicked it in the middle of the field – that short kickoff – and the specialty kicks and situational football. So, he continues to grow. There is a lot to work on, but he is a young man who understands that there is a lot to work on, and he tries to get better every day."
**What were some of the technical things that you worked with him on when he came out of college? *(Matt Zenitz) *"His alignment was completely different than it is now. He had a different way of approaching the kick than he does now. He aimed differently than he does now. The thing that is pretty consistent now from back then is his leg swing, and that is really what I saw in him as I watched his college tape was how he struck the ball. I guess probably the best analogy I can give you is – people always relate kickers to golfers – but Jim Furyk is a guy who has an unusual swing, but strikes the ball well. I wouldn't take Justin [Tucker] quite to that point; it wasn't like that. But when he struck the ball, he struck it well. It's just the other things that we saw of a way for him to improve was to make his approach different and his alignment different and his aiming point different. I said this at the time: He was a little bit unique in that he took to it immediately."
There haven't been as many touchbacks in recent weeks. Is that a product of weather, or is it even more of the directional stuff? (Matt Vensel) *"The weather has a lot to do with that. As the temperature drops, we all know the ball doesn't carry as far. And Chicago's field had a lot to do with that, obviously. We expect that really [at] this time of the year. It's something we practice with our kickoff team. That's why in preseason games we cover kicks, because you have to cover kicks during the year. We know that it's not going to be touchbacks in December and January." *
**Are you going to change their approach and what they do knowing that he is not going to be able to get touchbacks? Is it going to be more directional stuff? *(Matt Vensel) *"No, we don't change our approach much. We just try to let him kick it as far as he can and as hard as he can."
**Do you feel like kickers are at an all-time high and that kickers are better now than they have been? *(Ryan Mink) *"I think the numbers would bear that out, and I think one of the reasons is that we have guys coming out [of college] that have trained as kickers. And they are athletic; they are not non-football players. They are football players – athletic guys – and I think that there is more help available out there for young men that want to be become football player kickers rather than just soccer players."
It seems like Jacoby Jones has been at full steam these last few weeks. Do you approach anything differently now that you know you have the guy back there at full, 100-percent weaponry for you, as far as how you approach kickoffs or anything? (Pete Gilbert) *"We don't really design it for someone who is not healthy. We try to go about it with the idea that each one of these plays is going to score. It doesn't always; it's hard to do. But we see it, too. He looks good back there, and we'll continue to try to get him in the end zone." *
**He is obviously fast, but what other qualities does he have that make him a good returner? *(Clifton Brown) *"I think one of the things that you see about Jacoby [Jones] is he really enjoys returning the ball. He takes it as a challenge, and he wants to make big plays. He's not a guy who wants to keep the ball in the end zone. If he gets an opportunity, and it's a good opportunity, he is going to take it. He is very aggressive, and that is a good trait."
Do you see a new era of younger kickers? With Justin Tucker and Blair Walsh playing against each other on Sunday, it seems like teams are willing to take more chances on younger guys. (Ryan Mink) *"I don't really have any stats that would support that. I think everybody is always looking for players, and I think the last couple years, there have been some real good young kickers that have come out [of college]. But, like always, the best 32 are going to play. So, if it's a Morten Andersen or it's a Justin Tucker, the best guys are going to play. They are going to find them."
Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell
Ed Dickson … How would you evaluate his play with Dennis Pitta on the way back now? We might see those two together again. (Joe Platania) "Ed [Dickson] has made some plays for us, if you look at the last couple of weeks or so. He's done a nice job – caught some big passes for us. Then also – in things that you don't see, a behind-the-scenes kind of thing – he's been doing a great job in terms of his blocking in the line of scrimmage and out on the perimeter as well. He's doing a good job, he's working extremely hard at it, and he continues to improve."
What will Dennis Pitta – whenever he is able to get back – bring to the offense? (Garrett Downing) "Obviously, he creates some matchup problems for the opposition. He's always been a guy who has the ability to get open. He's a big target, and not only that, he's very, very versatile in terms of the routes that he can run."* *
Joe [Flacco] said the first two weeks that [Dennis Pitta] was back, the work was kind of limited – especially last week. How has Dennis looked the last couple of days? (Matt Zenitz) "Good. He's coming along, but he's getting his feet back under him. He's moving well. For him, I'm sure it's going to be a work in progress. He's getting a lot more work this week than he did last week, and we'll see how it goes."
What could [Dennis Pitta's] return mean for Dallas Clark? I know he plays on passing downs. It seems like it might be challenge to find snaps for all three of those guys. (Matt Vensel)"It's always a challenge, but it's a great challenge to have. It's better that way than the other way around, where you're really trying to find guys that could step in and do something for you. Dallas [Clark] has made some great plays for us along the stretch. You still flash in your head the fourth-down play in Chicago he made with one hand. The guy has made some great catches, some touchdown catches for us as well. We'll be able to figure it out and work it out. We'll just see what the doctors say in terms of Dennis [Pitta], how much he can play or if he can play – all those kinds of things. Those are yet to be seen. Until then, we work them and give the guys the snaps that they can get. We can't give them enough snaps in practice – they're limited. We're trying to get Dennis in a situation where he's ready to go, trying to get a sense of where he is. That's a challenge in itself – just to find enough reps. We'll see how it goes."
I thought Joe [Flacco] enjoyed some of the best protection he's had all year this week. The Jacoby [Jones' catch] for 34 yards, in particular, I think he had six or seven seconds back there. Is that a product of the guys finally having a starting line together for seven games in a row now? (Pete Gilbert) "I don't think that there is any question that they are better. I think you could see that, little by little, each game we play. We face some pretty tough defensive lines, which this week is no exception. The guys have done a good job working together and getting a feel for one another. I think the communication is certainly improving. [Run game coordinator] Juan Castillo has been doing a great job with them. The protection is lineman, but there are also backs involved in that, and sometimes there are tight ends. All of them have been doing a great job."
You're facing a lot of good defensive ends this week in Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and I guess you can throw Everson Griffen in there too. How much of a challenge do those guys pose for Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher in particular? (Matt Zenitz)"They pose a big challenge, particularly the two guys who lead their team in sacks with the bookends [Brian] Robison and Jared Allen – who's been a real formidable force in this league for a long time. He's still very, very active and very capable. Both of those guys, you have to block them and block them well. [Allen] is one of those guys that, he may not show up in the stat sheet a lot in terms of stats, but he disrupts things. He's quick; he's explosive. All three guys get off the ball extremely well. Not only that, they have a variety of moves to get to the passer. They are very, very good at their technique. They're going to present quite a challenge for us."
How much does Eugene Monroe and his development, learning the offense, and getting more comfortable … How much has that been a factor in their improvement? (Garrett Downing) "It's been, in terms of his familiarity, all of the above. He's finally getting a sense of all of the things that we do. He has a good feel for … He's had an opportunity to go through the gamut, within a new system. I think the communication is certainly better as well, and he continues to get better. Now, all across the board, we're nowhere near where we want to be. We want to keep improving. Our offensive line has got to get better. We've got to do a good job running the ball. We've got to do a good job throwing and catching. We've still got to put more points on the board. We've still got a lot work to do."
Jim, when you stepped up here this afternoon, you answered three or four consecutive questions about tight ends. Teams are using a lot more two tight ends now. Did you foresee this kind of thing happening, even 10-15 years ago, where double tight ends would be a standard? (Joe Platania) "Ten to 15 years ago, I was still [coaching] in college at that time. In the college ranks, you see a little bit of everything – it depends on who you play. When I entered this league, I was at Tampa one year where we didn't use much of it. Then in Indianapolis, it was a mainstay for us because we had Dallas [Clark] and we had a couple other guys play the other side. It was a big part of what we did. That portion from the last 13 years, I've seen a bunch of it and really can see the value in it. You see a lot of teams … New England makes a living doing it – multiple tight ends. They've done a great job. As a matter of fact, back in college days, Boston College – when [Tom] Coughlin was there – did a tremendous job with it. As a matter of fact, they had multiple tight ends. They'd put them into the boundary [and] outflank you. At Penn State, back in the 1980s, through the years there have been some folks that have dabbled in it."
Can you teach players to break tackles or is that something that is kind of innate at this point, where it's just something that they either know how to do it or they don't know how to do it? (Matt Vensel) "Interesting question, because you try and break a tackle every single time you have the ball in your arm. Do you know what I mean? Certain guys have a knack, because of the fact that their leverage, their body position, or maybe it's their speed getting to the edge of a player … Speed is a real factor, because instead of a guy being able to wrap you up, he's reaching with one arm. Shiftiness is also a factor. A guy gets a guy a little off balance and he can attack an edge … I think every guy has their own way of doing it. Some guys outrun you and get to that point. Some guys run over you with just sheer power. I think on our team, I think we've got a good mix of both. When you look in particular, our receivers … Torrey [Smith] will run away from you, [while] Marlon [Brown] may run through you. You look at our backfield the same way. Ray [Rice] can do a little bit of both, but [Bernard] Pierce is a pretty good load and so is Vonta [Leach]."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
**Adrian Peterson is the focal point of their offense. What specifically is it about him that [makes him special]? *(Pete Gilbert) *"He has got everything. He has got all the tools. Usually, you talk about guys being jump-cutters or this guy is a spinner, this guy can lower his pads and run downhill and run over you. Yeah, that is him. It's like I told the defense when I put in the game plan, I said, 'Everybody is at the point of attack when he has the ball. Just because you're on the back side doesn't mean that he isn't coming back there.' So, all 11 guys have to have their eyes on him when he has the ball, and we have to do a great job of surrounding him. The biggest thing is tackling him. He'll break tackles. That's why he has so many runs. They are a good offensive team. They have good players besides him, but he is the guy who really makes that run game go."
**What have you seen from the rookie receiver, the kid they took in the first round [Cordarrelle Patterson]? I know they've used him in some different ways. What challenges does he pose, and what does he add to their offense? *(Matt Zenitz) *"He is a guy who can get deep, does a good job of running routes. They really do a good job of running complementary routes that fit their running game, because what happens is you get a lot of eight-man boxes. [There are] a lot of guys down there to stop the run, so you get a lot of single-high safety, and so a lot of their routes are geared for that. Whether it's [Christian] Ponder or whether it's [Matt] Cassel, it doesn't really matter. I think all of their receivers do a pretty good job of that. The thing that he has got is he just has great speed. They all can catch the ball, they all block pretty well. The thing of it is on this one is we just have to really be disciplined, because everyone knows you're going to try to stop the run, but you can't just fall asleep on the passing game either."
You faced Matt Cassel last year and forced two interceptions. What can you take from that game to try to attack Matt Cassel? (Adam Vorce) *"I also know Matt [Cassel] from coaching against him every day in practice for a few years up in New England. So, I know Matt really, really well. The thing about Matt is the fact that this guy is a pretty good athlete. This guy was going to be a professional baseball player and just is a really good athlete, so you can't just abandon your pass rush lanes and take off. That hurt us last week against Pittsburgh in the second half. I give Ben [Roethlisberger] a lot of credit; I think he played a very, very good game. We played a great half, [but in] the second half, we didn't do the things in the red area or on third downs where we've been the strongest. We didn't do the things that we needed to do, and part of that was because No. 7 [Ben Roethlisberger] got out on us. Like on that touchdown pass, he got out on us and scrambled and found the open guy. And we knew that about him. Well, [it's] the same way with Cassel, and [Christian] Ponder is that way, too. Both of these guys are good athletes. They can run, they can scramble, and we've got to do a good job of crowding them and not letting them out of the pocket." *
**Do you feel like you have to prepare for both? *(Garrett Downing) *"I don't think there is any difference. There is always a difference in some guy's throwing motion or something like that, but it's the same offense. Whether [Christian] Ponder is in there or [Matt] Cassel is in there, it's not going to be … It's [No.] 28 [Adrian Peterson], and then it's play-action off of that. Third down, they've got their third-down plays, [and] whether it's [No.] 7 [Christian Ponder] or [No.] 16 [Matt Cassel], it doesn't really matter. It was the same thing when we played [Cleveland] and [Jason] Campbell was in there. [It's the] same offense. [Minnesota offensive coordinator] Bill [Musgrave] is not going to change the offense based on who the quarterback is. He may tweak it here or there with a little route. You kind of prepare for both just by preparing for their offense."
**It's been a year where you have had a lot of transition at inside linebacker. How do you feel like that transition has gone? *(Aaron Wilson) *"I think Daryl [Smith] has had an excellent year here, coming in here and really learning this whole system. You may not know it, but we have a lot of calls. We do a lot of stuff, and he is the guy who has to know it all, and he is the guy on the headset getting it. The fact that Jameel [McClain] came back at all to me has been a blessing, and the fact that he is playing like he is playing is really incredible. 'Art' [Arthur] Brown has really come on. I think each game he gets a little better, as all rookies kind of do. They just kind of get a feel for things. And we've also kind of solidified his role and cut it down a little bit so that he doesn't have to know 800 things. Josh Bynes is just a great kid to have. [He has] done a heck of a job at linebacker. Every time we've called on him to do something, he has done it and performed it well. So, I think those guys have transitioned very well."
**It seemed like Josh Bynes had a little bit bigger of a work load against Pittsburgh. Was it just something for that game, or do you see his role continuing to be like that the rest of the season? *(Matt Zenitz) *"No, what we did was we really … Pittsburgh played us two different ways this year. In the first game, if you remember right, they gave us multiple-tight end sets and ran the ball fairly effectively. This game, they came out and gave us three-wide [receiver] sets, and other than the one run, didn't run the ball, we didn't think, very effectively. So, for whatever reason, they gave us two different deals. Preparing for this last game with Pittsburgh, we didn't know which one we were going to get. Are you going to get the three-wide deal, or are you going to get the [two]-tight end deal? So, what we had was we had packages, and certain guys were involved in this package, and certain guys were involved in this package. And that's just the way it turned out. Rather than having one guy do it all, [we said,] 'Hey, this is your deal. Hone in on this,' and that's kind of how we did it, and that's why Josh [Bynes] played more than Jameel [McClain]. [There is] no other reason."
**Given the three days off the players had, did you see them come out Wednesday and Thursday with a little more spring than you might expect this time of year? *(Pete Gilbert) *"Yes, I really thought when they came in here on Wednesday … We've had two real good practices. I'll say this about this team, though: As long as I've been here, I've really never seen us come out and have a real bad one. I really haven't. I think our guys come out prepared. Now some days might be a little more enthusiastic than others – depends on how [Terrell] Suggs is feeling. *(laughter) *I can't say enough about the work ethic that this team has always had since the day that I got here. They come to work, and I just can't remember … We might have had a bad day during training camp as all coaches and players do, but we seldom have a bad day out here, offense or defense."
**Jameel McClain was the recipient of the Ed Block Courage award. What are your thoughts on the kind of guy he is and how deserving he is of the award? *(Michelle Gordon) *"I couldn't be prouder of him. I just think the world of him. I can't say enough good accolades about him. When I got here and was the linebackers coach, he was one of the first guys I met, and I watched him on film and really thought he ought to be playing more. And he ended up playing more for me. I feel the same way now that I felt then about him. I love the kid. He is just a competitive, hard-nosed player who really works hard at his profession. Nothing has been given to this guy. Nothing has been easy. He was an un-recruited guy really pretty much at Syracuse [and an] undrafted guy here. Sometimes, those are the best guys because they know what it means to have success, and nothing is handed to them."
*I know sacks don't always tell the whole story, but has the pass rush the last couple weeks been as good as it was before? *(Clifton Brown) *"No, last week wasn't. Last week definitely wasn't. And I'll give [No.] 7 [Ben Roethlisberger] some credit, too. He got the ball out quick, and he is a hard guy [to tackle] in the pocket. We hit him a bunch; we just never sacked him. We broke a string [of getting sacks]. I think we had a pretty long-standing string of games with multiple sacks, so we're disappointed in that. We've got to do better than we did, but we also give [No.] 7 some credit for last week. It's hard to do, but I will." *(laughter) *Was it anything different Pittsburgh's offensive line did? *(Luke Jones) *"No, it was [No.] 7 [Ben Roethlisberger]. *(laughter) Really, we had a pretty good pass rush on. I thought we collapsed the pocket. We went with a changeup on a three-man rush; it was the one that he completed the touchdown pass on. I tried to change it up on him, and we had him – we had him covered – and then Haloti [Ngata] hits him right as he is throwing it. The guy makes a cross-the-[field] throw, and we didn't plaster the guy, and he got free. I thought he played as good a game as I've seen him play against us, even in a loss. So, [the] bottom line is we won the thing."