Secondary/Safeties Coach Dave Merritt, Sr.
August 25, 2016
Q: How disappointing is it that Darian (Thompson) has to miss a game?
A: Very disappointing. I feel sad for the young man. He has been doing well for us as far as communicating and controlling the coverages on the back end, so for him to miss a game, he was definitely upset.
Q: Do you think this derails him, or do you envision him still ready to start the season?
A: Oh, he will be ready. He will be ready. My thing is, I told the young man, ‘You are a young fella, you should heal well, if you were my age you would be out for six months’, but by him being young, I truly believe that he will be ready to go. He is in there taking notes and has continued to try to help all the other guys in the room as far as the game plan and etc. So I don’t think it derails him at all.
Q: What has he shown that has made him able to seize the starting job basically from day one?
A: The assertiveness. This kid has come in from day one, he’s been able to go out and receive the calls that would come into the huddle and he is able to go out and actually execute it and just being very firm with his calls whether he is right or wrong. That is the one thing that he has shown from day one, is just being assertive and making a call and sticking to it.
Q: Have you seen the kind of jump from Landon that you were looking for in year two?
A: Absolutely. So far, Landon has been a breath of fresh air versus the young man from last year because he understands the defense a little more being in his second year, so he is communicating, he is taking charge out there as well as Darian, so I am very happy with Landon and where he is mentally.
Q: He looks faster. How much of that is physically better conditioning and how much of that is knowing what he is doing?
A: I think it is the second part that you said, knowing what he is doing because of course if you know what you are doing, you are going to actually be able to play faster. You are not going to be mentally constipated and the fact that he is able to go out and just as Darian, being able to receive the call and actually executing and knowing what he is doing, he is playing much faster. Another thing is Landon is taking care of his body. I think he is down to seven percent body fat. Don’t quote me on that, but I told him, ‘If you want to become one of the elite safeties in the league you are going to have to at least get between 212 and 216.’ He texted me this morning, it is funny and he said, ‘Coach, I am at 216’, I said, ‘Great. Keep it up.’
Q: What weight was he at last year?
A: I can’t recall exactly where he was, but I am quite sure that he was heavier than 216.
Q: There was so much about Landon being a box safety last year. I am curious, has that remaking of his body helped him in coverage or has the knowledge has helped as much as anything?
A: I think it is both. I think the fact that just talking about as far as his body --- I think, being able to play at a lighter weight has allowed him to have his change of direction more so than when you are heavy you are trying to plant and drive. It is with any athlete. The more weight that you are carrying and you are trying to plant and drive it is going to be tough for that particular athlete to get in and out of cuts. There are some elite guys that can actually do it, but I think the fact that he trimmed some of his body fat, like I said, down to seven percent body fat. That is pretty dag on good for a 215, 16, 18-pound man. But, then again, just as was mentioned earlier, just his mental --- being able to know what to do and do it quickly and do it decisively is ahead of the ball game. If you can get that done before the snap actually happens and you understand formation and recognizing what they are actually trying to do to you, that is going to give you a jump start for sure.
Q: If Darian can’t go against the Cowboys, do you know right now who would fill in?
A: I have no clue. The thing is, the Nat Berhe’s and all the guys that we have are ready to go, they have all been tested, each guy, so I really don’t know right now. I couldn’t answer that question.
Q: Do you feel that if Darian is able to get onto the field you are going to have any nerves about throwing a rookie out there?
A: Not at all. Landon went through it last year. Not at all. Landon came in last year as a second round pick and he had to start and he started every game, so not at all. I don’t feel squeamish at all about starting a young guy. The best players are going to play and right now, if he is the best player which he has stepped up and he has taken the bull by the horn, he is ready to go. We have all the confidence in the world that he will be our guy ready to go on opening day.
Q: Eli Apple seems pretty even keeled for a rookie. What is it about him? Does he come off more mature? What have you learned about him so far?
A: It is actually biblical. If you don’t say much, if you just kind of sit back and just let it go and look at what is going on and watch the other guys, sometimes you may seem smarter than actually what you really are, so the thing is, Eli hasn’t said much, but he is watching the veterans and he is actually learning from what they are trying to teach him. So maybe that is what you are seeing, is the fact that he is just calm, but again, this kid is coming from a big program. I attribute a lot of that to Ohio State. He has played in the big games and he is up here now going against NFL caliber players. I have told all the guys that you have to understand they put on their pads just like you just put on your pads, so just because you see an emblem on the side of their helmet that may say the Jets or may say the Bills, you have to understand that this is football. This is what you have done all your life, all of your career, so I truly believe that this kid is going to be one of the great ones for us down the road.
Q: What have you seen from Leon Hall?
A: Leon is a smart veteran. He is a guy that, it is funny, he is a guy that can actually, you can tell him once and he knows exactly what you are talking about. He understands concepts. The fact that he is a veteran player that has been playing in the NFL for the time that he has been in the league, eight, nine years, whatever it is. He is seeing a lot of the route concepts, so by him going back and seeing it from a deeper depth perception it has actually been refreshing for him. You ask him that and it is like, ‘Wow. This is pretty cool, I can see exactly what is going on in front of me’, and that is what you get as a safety. You are actually able to pull your eyes back and see it for what it is. That is what you are, you are the safety and you have to keep everyone else safe. You are the racer; you are the guy that has to make things right. What I think about Leon is the fact that he is very smart and he is able to understand the concepts and he is vocal as well.
Q: How much does it help the back end of the defense that the D-line has been fortified?
A: I will tell you. I have been fortunate to be able to be around here when we won two championships and it starts up front. Coach McAdoo preaches that it starts up front with the big guys. Whether you are on the offensive side or whether you are on the defensive side, but it is definitely going to help us tremendously. I mean, with the new guys we have in here; OV and Darian and Snacks. These guys are doing the things that I have been used to in the past, so we have that back.