Running Backs Coach Craig Johnson
Q: How much has Paul Perkins closed the gap on what he missed in the spring?
A: Heís working really hard, but still has a way to go. There was a lot of information he missed, but right now, heís a really sharp kid and asks a lot of good questions. He comes early and stays late, and I think heís working really hard to get himself acclimated to what he needs to do.
Q: What have you seen from Perkins so far in camp?
A: Iíve seen flashes, which is always a good thing you want to see out of a young player like him. Heís made a couple of nice catches, heís had a couple of good bursts at the line of scrimmage. Like a lot of rookies, heís unsure, heís a little hesitant. But thatís what happens when you have all the things that are going on with a rookie at his position. The one thing about him is that as a young player, sometimes they feel their way, but he did it early and heís doing it less and less, which tells me heís able to play faster and more aggressively.
Q: Is Perkins going through the process faster than some of the rookies youíve had in the past?
A: I would probably say yes. Again, one thing about him that you learn when you talk to him and if you had a chance to interview him in the offseason is that heís very sharp. He understands football and he understands where heís supposed to fit in all of that. Heís had a chance to look at some of the tape when he was gone and he did a good job of that.
Q: Where does Perkins fit with all the guys coming back?
A: Right now, truthfully, heís in the mix. Like all young players, we have to find a way to get him in the game and see what heís going to do. His practice production is going to help us find out how much heís going to get into the game, and when he gets into the games, heís going to have to play. This is going to be a really good room. There are a lot of players who play, and he has to earn his spot. But I think he certainly has the determination to do that.
Re: running game balancing the offense
A: It is unique in that spot. We havenít had that single 2000-yard rusher. Iíve been blessed to be with two different teams that had a 2000-yard rusher, I know what a 2000-yard rusher looks like; we haven't had that. But our role, and what we do, we like to be all-around good backs; we have to be able to run, block and catch because that's the role that we play in this offense. Obviously Eli in the passing game has done a lot, but we have to make sure we're taking pressure off of him and be consistent, and then one plays off the other and that's how you really have a good, balanced offense.
Q: Was rhythm an issue with the running game last season?
A: I think there always is. What I've learned is that if you can have a couple of guys playing a lot, then a spare guy, that's the best way to go. When we started the season, we actually had Rashad and Andre carrying the main core carries, then, of course, Shane, who's so good at his role, he was getting a lot of reps. We, for whatever reason, were not getting a lot of production, and with runners, like a lot of other positions, you want to be productive, trustworthy and consistent, and you have to be available. Some of the guys that I've talked about that have had those great seasons, they've been able to carry the load and come back next week. So we've kind of gone with those three guys, we weren't quite getting the rhythm that we wanted for whatever reason. I had to do a better job, it doesn't matter. But we pushed and got Orleans on the field about game seven, and he did a good job. He stepped in and really played well and when a guy plays well, I've told my room, he's going to play. We allowed him to do some stuff. We're going to see if we can find the rhythm with a pair and maybe a third guy and, obviously, if it was like we finished the year, like Rashad finished, that would take care of a lot of problems. At the end of the year, he was probably playing as well as any back in football.
Q: Was playing four backs last season more out of necessity as opposed to coaching philosophy?
A: I don't think anybody wants to play too many backs, because every back will tell you, I mean I've never met a back that has said, 'I don't need more carries so I can get in the rhythm.' Every time I've ever seen a back, they've all said that and I agree. But when you have some players who are going to be playing some, we're going to also try to do what's best for this team. What I really try to get out of those guys, like Rashad, who going into the last quarter of the season he had twice as many carries as any other back that was on our team. But the bottom line is that he just got kind of hot, like game 13, and as I've told the guys, if you get that hot, I'm going to ride you. He got hot and I rode him and he kept playing and he was consistent and available for the next game and the next and he was playing that well, so I thought that was a great rotation and certainly easier for me.
Q: Are you confident that Rashad Jennings can play 16 games and take that workload?
A: That's something that's got to be determined. He has not had that kind of workload in his career. Obviously last year was his career best year, and so we have to determine that and that's why a lot of teams go more towards playing two, so they can have a guy fresh for your fourth quarter run, like in December when the postseason is on the line. So we'll start and we'll see how it goes. I certainly think the way he ended last year, he deserves an opportunity to go out there and be the starter, which is what he is. But there's going to be a lot of competition and he understands that, and I think he'll raise his game to that level.
Q: What needs to be improved in the late game lead situations?
A: Certainly if you can run the ball and make first downs and melt clocks, that's the best chance for you to be able to win, but A) if the opportunity is there to run it, we have to make sure we make the most out of that and then if we choose to throw the ball, we have to be good at that, too, to move the clock because one thing, there's no egos in my room, so I don't care if we run it or throw it at the end of the game, all I care about his making sure we make first downs. So at the end of the game we have to do a better job in the fourth quarter to be able to trust that we're going to be able to make the tough yards and that's what we're going through in practice right now. Trying to make sure that we get into the mindset that when the going gets tough, we're ready to step up and meet the challenge so that we're not a one-dimensional team and have to rely on the passing game to close the game.
Q: How much of Rashad's success was on him and how much was on the line or competition?
A: That's a great question and I wish I knew that so we could get it going early, but I would say this, I think that rhythm, which is a word I use quite a bit, he and the line and everybody were just in a great rhythm. They were coming off the ball, he was hitting the holes right. I know for linemen, they always block a little harder and longer when they know a guyís going to do something and Rashad was doing it, so they just said 'well, letís keep going.' So we were just in a great rhythm and Rashad was able to play well. I think he averaged close to six yards a carry and he was available for the next week and the next week. It really showed where we would like to go, but we have to see if we can pick up where we left off and start that way this year.
Q: Does Andre Williams need consistent carries to get going?
A: That's probably correct of every single back I've ever met. But yet Andre could certainly use the rhythm and get himself into the carries. He would like that, I think every back would, but right now Rashad is the starter and Andre has to make the most of his reps, which he has done in the past because obviously in 2014 most people were talking about him because he was a leading rusher, so believe me, I have not forgotten that. So in our room, which is a good room, when he gets a chance to carry the ball, he has to do that just like everybody else does.
Q: Is that rhythm transferable from last season or something that has to be obtained during the season
A: You'll hear the passing game guys talk about that, they get themselves into a passing game rhythm where itís clicking, and the running game is the same thing. I run behind this left tackle and he may hold this guy out half a yard to the left and this next tackle might be a bit tighter, so Iíve got to know that as a runner, and they have to know how I'm going to hit the hole. So I think itís a matter of practice and reps and that comes with time. All the great runners I've had have had the same thing, they know everybody is not exactly the same and so we're going to try and build up on the strength of every individual player.