Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
September 7, 2017
Q: What was your reaction to Ezekiel Elliott being able to play in Sunday’s game and how does that change your process of preparation?
A: I always go into any game – in a situation like that, to be honest with you – I went into the game three weeks, or whatever it was, expecting him to play. When it was unknown, where there’s a chance he could play or couldn’t play, we just expected him to play and prepared that way. Now, that’s what’s going to happen. So, we play Dallas and away we go.
Q: Do you treat Ezekiel Elliott playing almost like an injury?
A: Yeah. I think I’ve been in the league long enough to know that those things are never over. We’re just worried about what we’re doing here and that’s a good offense we’re going to face. So, that’s how we’re going to treat it.
Q: How does Ezekiel Elliott change the game?
A: He’s a premier back. There’s 32 in the world that play that position. There’s 32 teams. There are some really good backs, but he obviously proved last year that he makes an offense go. I know they have a really good offensive line, but he’s able to do all the things you want a great back to do. He has great vision. He can run inside. He bounces it outside. He turns the corner and it’s scary and he runs with power. I mean, he’s not an easy back to take down. He’s become a good pass receiver, too, so we have to worry about that. He’s a guy we have to respect and we have to go out and always be concerned about. When No. 21 is out there, we have to be concerned about it.
Q: Have you ever gone into a season knowing exactly what to expect from your defense and feeling confident that they’ll live up to that?
A: It’s a good statement that you make. Yes. I feel good about knowing what we can and can’t do and I think the players feel the same way. I think I made this statement to them the other day. I’m skipping years when you say freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior. In the third year in the system and not all the guys have been here three years, but I expect them to think as if they were in graduate school with the scheme. I believe that they think that way – allows you to do a little bit more. It put the pressure on all of us to make sure we get it right. There’s no margin for error now. We’re getting ready to play an NFC East team and the NFC East champions, by the way.
Q: Does Jason Pierre-Paul look as good as he has since you started with the Giants?
A: Yeah. That would be a good statement. I just remember watching from afar when I was with other teams and thinking that’s a great talent and I remember seeing the tape he had – the Youtube video – before he got drafted where he did all those flips, you know, you probably all saw that. He’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s ready to go and OV (Olivier Vernon), the whole D-line, and we just have to keep healthy. That’s the most important thing.
Q: What have you learned about Olivier Vernon and what has impressed you most having coached him for a year?
A: Very intelligent football player. There’s a lot of guys that we coach. Some guys that will sit there and they take note for note for note and you look at them and say, ‘OK, they’re working hard at it.’ OV is the kind of guy that absorbs a lot more than you think. He knows football. He wants to know football. He wants to know more and he wants to know the ‘whys.’ I respect that. So, that’s one thing.
Q: How much better prepared do you feel to play against Dak Prescott now that you know what he can do?
A: He’s a tough guy to defend against because he’s a dual threat, so to speak. He can throw the football. I think he throws the ball on the run as good as anybody both right and left and they use him that way. They’re smart. Scott (Linehan) does a good job with him and I think he has a great control and command of the offense. When we stood here last year and we were getting ready to play them, I remember how impressed I was with the way he was orchestrating things as a rookie. Now, he’s a full year in that system. I don’t think we saw nearly in these four preseason games that they played – I don’t think you saw nearly the package that we’re going to see on Sunday. So, we have to be ready for it.
Q: How does La’el Collins at right tackle change the personality of the Cowboys offensive line?
A: I don’t know that I can answer that. He’s a good football player. We’ll find out. You don’t know it until you get in the games, but I do think he’s a good talent.
Q: Do you feel better about your depth at linebacker?
A: It’s starting to unfold. As a coach, you always want more depth. You’re always looking for good football players, but we have guys in here that hopefully know what they’re doing and the one challenge in this league with backup guys – talk about depth – is they don’t get a lot of reps now. Should something happen on Sunday, they need to be ready to go.
Q: How impressed have you been with LB B.J. Goodson?
A: I’m glad you brought B.J. up. I’m really pleased with what he’s done. It’s not just what he’s doing on the field and controlling like they all do. I watch the little things on the side and how he relates to his teammates and how he has really taken upon the extra added responsibility of being the leader of that group. Now, there are some leaders in there – JC (Jonathan Casillas) and Snacks (Damon Harrison). But, he takes control of the huddle and I think he is gaining a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates throughout this whole offseason.
Q: What makes the Cowboys offensive line so formidable?
A: Talent and size and the fact that they’ve been playing together for a while now. They have three coaches down there. I know those guys. Those guys have done a great job just putting the whole offense together. When we were here in ’07, ’08 and that group that we had, they’re just cohesive. That’s what it looks like to me when I watch them from where we see it.
Q: Do you expect CB Janoris Jenkins to do what he did against Dez Bryant last year and how much pressure does that put on him?
A: Two really good football players. Jackrabbit and Dez. Dez can wreck a football game. Rabbit can go out there and cover some people. I think it’ll be a great battle. In those kinds of battles, sometimes in the course of the game, you win some, you lose some. From a defensive standpoint, if you happen to lose one somehow, you have to make up for it. I’m sure that’s the way Rabbit thinks. But, he’s looking forward to it. We’re all looking forward to it. I’m sure Dez Bryant is too. That’s a good player. Good size and, again, we have to find a way not to let him wreck the football game because he could do that.
Q: Does this defense have a chance to be the best you have ever coached?
A: I would never go there. We haven’t played the first game yet. I respect the guys that we have in the room right now. I think we have to have some depth. We have to stay healthy. I think that’s really important. You all made mention of it last year with the number of reps certain guys got. We have to try and not allow that to happen again this year. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. The best way to do that is make sure they don’t run 80 plays in a game. We have to keep it down a little bit, but we’ll see what happens.