Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
August 4, 2016
Just happy to get back at it. Finally got pads on, told the guys two days ago that weíre close to playing real football. Weíre still close, weíre not all the way there until we get to tackling, but guys are excited, running around, but weíve still got a long way to go. With that, Iíll open it up.
Q: Can you talk about your newest addition?
A: Obviously, I donít know if you saw him but he was standing out there, we didnít rush him into things. He just got off a plane this morning but Iíve known Leon, not known him but know about his abilities, for a long time. I remember in 2007, we had him targeted as a guy we wouldíve loved to have gotten. I believe that year it was Revis, Leon and Aaron Ross. We did pretty good getting Aaron Ross but heís a versatile guy, an experienced vet, as you all know, and I think he can bring some things to the package that we can do to make us do some multiple things that maybe we didnít have the chance to do until this point, so Iím excited about it. Have to get him out there and get him oiled up, itís all new, but the one thing about any veteran in this league that plays for one team their whole career and then goes to a new one, it's all new and different for him. Itís not like you just get plugged in and away you go, so even though it doesnít seem like it, there will be a learning curve for someone with that much experience.
Q: What kind of multiple things do you have in mind?
A: Well, he can play inside, he can play outside, he can play deep, he can play up, he can play back, he can play defensive tackle, he can play linebacker. No, I mean heís playing inside, which is nice because heís already done that. We talked a lot about that the first time we got together. Obviously he played outside his whole career. I remember when Sam Madison was late in his career, we kept him outside the whole time and sometimes those guys have to learn and play really smart and Leon has done that. Weíll see where it goes, he just got here, we just found out this morning, so weíll tinker around with it.
Q: What do you view as his primary position right now?
A: Probably inside to begin with, but the guy has played a lot of football outside too.
Q: Is there a special skill set you look at from that inside cornerback?
A: Chin to the hairline, first. You do have to be smart inside. Itís about reading routes. You know we bring that guy in pressures, we send him back deep, we do a lot of things with the guys who play inside, whether itís a nickel or a linebacker, or DB or linebacker, so heíll have to learn that initially.
Q: If everyone stays healthy and works out, you have two established corners on the outside, a veteran now on the inside, how difficult is it going to be to get your 10th overall pick (Eli Apple) on the field?
A: Weíll get him in there. Thereís a lot of downs in this league now with three wide receivers, four wide receivers, so I donít anticipate that being a problem. Look, Eli has a long way to go, too. I like what heís doing to this point, but itís going to be a process. We know all the games are completely different from practice or even preseason games, so weíll see where weíre at. Again, I donít think we should rush to judgment on Leon. Heís going to have some things heís got to learn and pick up for us, too. Itíll all be new and different for him. Iím sure for the number of years heís been in the league and as experienced as he is in the league, heíll learn it quickly.
Q: What does it mean for Trevin Wade?
A: He battles. The one thing about him, and Jerry (Reese) is doing a great job of it and always has, of bringing in people to compete. I would anticipate that the level of play and work in the secondary would go up. Thereís only so many jobs, this is professional football, so the livelihood of everyone just keeps plugging away.
Q: Is adding Leon a sign that you guys are moving away from the idea that Eli can play the slot?
A: I wouldnít say that. If youíve been here, youíve seen a lot of guys playing the slot. We havenít settled in on who it will be yet, but the nice thing about that room is that thereís some real good intelligence in there. Weíre getting some really good intelligence. In this day and age in professional football, I think intelligence is huge. Iím talking about football intelligence. You donít have to have an IQ of 300, if there is such a thing, and you donít have to have a high ACT and the rest of it, but you have to have football IQ to get it and weíre getting more and more guys with football IQ who get it.
Q: Starting in the offseason, ownership and the GM got you your pass rushers, defensive tackles, now a slot corner. Everything you could possibly need, theyíre getting you. What does that mean to you and what kind of pressure does that put on you?
A: All kinds of pressure on me now. No, but look, weíre piecing it together. The more talent you can get with really good coaching, which I think we have in our coaches, the higher chances you have of being good. Thereís some things we canít control. Hopefully we wonít suffer those things, but if the guys keep working like they have up until this point, I anticipate us getting better and better.
Q: Ben McAdoo mentioned it could be a process with the defense because youíre putting so many pieces together.
A: A lot of different guys, yes, thatís true, but we have to be careful of that. Their names and this game defensively has to gel, there has to be a chemistry. You just canít plug a guy in there, it doesnít work that way. I wish it did, it would be a heck of a lot easier during the season when guys got hurt, but we need reps, we need time together, we need communication, so hopefully weíll get that.
Q: Is it realistic to think that it could take into the season?
A: Iím not going to take a stab at that. I hope not. We have to win Sept. 11 when we play Dallas. We will do everything we can as a group, players and coaches, to be ready to face whatever we have to face.
Q: Depth at corner and flexibility are good things but do you need some of those guys to assert themselves?
A: Absolutely. Iíd rather have guys complaining because theyíre not out there rather than guys that accept it. Guys that accept it are not the competitors that weíre looking for. I hope we have a lot of it.
Q: Can you compare where your defense is right now to last year's training camp?
A: Well, we're ahead just in the knowledge of it. There are enough guys here that did it last year, so thereís a comfort level there and believe it or not, there is a comfort level in the coaches as well. I know we had a couple of coaching changes but guys that are still here, thatís huge. When you first come here, thereís a lot of coaching the coaches and they have to then feed it to the players, so believe it or not, there are things missed in the communication. That happens with the human language, whether itís English, French, Spanish, things are lost in translation even in one language of English, so I think that helps. I think all the coaches are all on the same page and the guys that are new that are coming in, we have to get them out there and get them reps to get them together.
Q: Do you acknowledge from a talent standpoint youíre way ahead right now than you were last year?
A: If I say that, that would be an injustice to the guys we had last year. Iíll let you judge that, but Iím just glad we have the guys we have right now.
Q: How would you describe the shape that JPP is in?
A: He looks good to me. JPP is a natural knee bender. God gifted him with the ability to do that as tall and as big as he is. Not all guys have that, especially at his size.
Q: What does that mean?
A: Well, the guys that can naturally play the center of gravity...a lot of guys play high. As soon as that ball starts going, they start running and to run fast you have to have high hips and go, but all the game is not played like that. There is a lot of misdirection back and fourth and heís able to. If you watch him, he looks like a rubbery Gumby man out there. He can move all over the place, his change of direction, long armed. Iím glad heís here. This time last year we didnít have him.
Q: He seems more comfortable with his hand?
A: I think so. Again, I get asked this a lot, I have friends that ask me all the time and I say look, you need to ask him, heís the one dealing with it, not me, but he looks good. Never complains.
Q: Concerning the linebacker position, youíve had about a week to evaluate these guys right now, still a crowded group with some very talented guys. Who has stood out to you?
A: I donít know if anybody has stood out right now, but I will say that room, that linebacker room, might be one of the better rooms that Iíve been around and by that, I mean intelligence. These guys get football. Now theyíre going to have to take that on the field and see who can get from point A to point B and make plays and see whoís going to be in the middle controlling things. My guess right now is that it may be more than one. I like it when itís just one, but I donít know if weíll get there yet, but it is a good group.
Q: What have you seen from Eli Apple?
A: I was at Ohio State two or three years ago, spent some time with Urban and his coaches and I know they teach press skills very similar to the way we do it, so as soon as he comes here and heís doing the techniques that we wouldíve been teaching anyway, itís just natural for him. For me, thatís what impressed me from day one. Very patient at the line of scrimmage against wide receivers and heíll compete. I need him to talk a little louder, but thatíll come when he gets a little more comfortable.
Q: Tim Walton said heís doing less grabbing and that he hasnít seen that much, although it shows itís face once in a while. What are you doing to make that happen?
A: Well, Iíll take Timís word for it that heís doing less. I didnít see that many yellow flags out there, although I did see one that was a hold, I donít know who it was on.
Q: How are you working on it though?
A: We always talk in terms of 'donít go back for seconds.' I can give you all the key terms, but one way to do it is not let him open up his hands in practice. You canít grab if you play with your fists, but I havenít done that to him yet, but that would be the next thing.
Q: Is this defense relatively the same as last year or do you have to tweak it because you have different personel?
A: Thereís some tweaking going on without getting too detailed. When we do figure out who the best 11 are, then I think weíll finalize where weíre headed. Thereís a lot of volume in the defense now, all teams are like that now, but at some point you have to cut it down and depend on who the 11 weíre putting out there are.
Q: Whoís your vocal on-field defensive leader?
A: I think thereís a number of them. Kelvin (Sheppard) is doing it, all the linebackers are doing it. JC (Jonathan Casillas), heís been vocal. JC and I have been together for a while so heís comfortable with the system but a lot of them are talking well. We need to get a few more doing it, but the more they talk, the more they communicate, the more theyíre on the same page, the better chance we have.
Q: Do you need it to be your middle linebacker then?
A: Ideally, but it doesnít have to be.
Q: Darian Thompson, your thoughts?
A: For a young guy, when you talk about intelligence and communication, he is far more advanced than a lot of the safeties Iíve worked with going way back to Philadelphia when I had the secondary and we were trying to find another safety to play next to Brian Dawkins. I think DT has done an excellent job. We have to go out and play a game, but heís done a nice job.
Q: What about BJ Goodson so far?
A: He gets better every day.
Think I said this last season, Wade may not be the most talented guy, but he's always playing hard and is not afraid to stick his nose in the run game. Hope he stays on the roster.