Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan
November 2, 2017
Q: How do you reboot and get ready for the second half of the season?
A: We had a very thorough self-analysis during the bye week. Taking a look at personnel, where we’re at. We’re a different team, as everybody knows, now than we were when the season started with regard to injuries. Taking a look at what we did schematically and what’s been working and what wasn’t working and I think there was great energy this week. We had a heck of a day today and focus has been there and guys were excited. A heck of an opportunity. Great challenge with the Rams coming into town and I think everyone is just excited about just not focusing on the past and all of the things that have disappointed us or even looking at anything past this heck of a challenge on Sunday.
Q: Did the bye week give you a chance to reinvent yourself more thoroughly?
A: Yeah, well, there’s no question you have a little bit of extra time to, as you mentioned, take a step back and say, ‘Alright, this is who our personnel is and who are we going to be facing, how do we matchup?’ And, I think that we want to continue to look at ways that we can put those guys in the best positions and everyone says that, coaches always say that, but I think it’s important that guys step up who are going to get more opportunities. Some players might have been on practice squad and might not have been playing much and now they’re into the fray. So, they are going to get more opportunities. They’re going to have to capitalize on them and then we’re going to have to try to find ways to use those players that can do good things for us and you talk about personnel, where we’re at and we’re certainly hoping that Sterling Shepard – getting him back into the mix is someone who we haven’t had the past couple weeks. He brings a lot to the table that really can help us in conjunction with all the rest of the guys just improving and getting better and making the most of their opportunities.
Q: Would you want to keep WR Sterling Shepard in the slot or move him to the outside?
A: Well, he is a great slot receiver and he’s obviously had some injury issues this year that have been disappointing for him, disappointing for all of us. He really does a lot of good things inside, but he’s capable of doing some things outside. So, where we’re at right now, we got to make the most of everything that all of our players can bring to the table and we’re going to do just that.
Q: Do you expect WR Sterling Shepard to take more of a leadership role this week?
A: Sterling, as you mentioned, has played a lot of football for us last year, had the injuries this year, had set him back and if you look particularly upon last year when he was able to be healthy, he made some critical plays for us on third down in some tough spots and there’s no substitute for that experience. There’s no substitute for a guy who’s been there and he’s someone who’s had a great week thus far. He’s really determined. He’s focused. Someone that I think we’re going to rely upon and whether it’s a leadership in terms of being more vocal or more by his actions, that’s going to be up to him in terms of what suits his own personality. But, I do know that he’s someone that all the players respect and they appreciate his work ethic and we’re hoping that he’s in the position where he can be back on the field helping us.
Q: Is there one thing that you looked at in the first half of the season that you want to really focus and improve on in the second half?
A: Well, I think you mentioned – well, actually maybe I reminded you of third down. Third down, definitely. You look at this last game, you know, 2 for 12. It’s hard to have any type of drives that we’re sustaining. It’s hard to have that run game be what we want it to be that can wear down some defenses and set up some of the play action passes. So, that is a major emphasis as we looked at where we’re at and we’re not doing well overall and certainly the past – our most recent game, I should say, was disappointing. That has been an emphasis. In order for us to stay out there, to be able to score more points, to get some type of consistency, to get guys opportunities. We have to stay out there. So, third down definitely. Red zone. We got to get down there more often. We’re doing okay in terms of where we’ve had opportunities. Still, we’d much rather score the touchdowns obviously than kick the field goals, but I think the most important thing is that we’re able to get down there. The way that we’re able to get down there is by converting on third down.
Q: Can you talk about how the chemistry has been affected on the offensive line and what you guys are doing to help that chemistry every time you have a new combination?
A: When the word ‘chemistry’ is brought up, one of the things that comes to mind is the communication. The anticipation that can occur and certainly when guys are used to the same human being to their right or to their left, there’s a chance that that communication or that anticipation can be a little bit faster, a little bit clearer. I think that coach (Mike) Solari and coach (Lunda) Wells have done an outstanding job with that group and the players have done an outstanding job buying in. They’re a selfless bunch. They went ahead and despite all the setbacks and all the adversity with regard to injuries and combinations and then some of the disappointments in terms of things not going as they would have liked on the field, they’ve been open minded and receptive and I think that makes it easier to make the adjustments when you’re not worrying about any other peripheral opponents other than, ‘OK, this is the job. This is what we have to do’ and step in and fill that role, whether it’s at center or guard. And, as I mentioned, talking about coach Solari and coach Wells. They do a great job also out at practice. I mean, you guys don’t get the chance to see it. But, we’ll move guys around quite a bit, so it’s not just, ‘Hey, you’re at this position or at that position.’ We move them around.
Q: Is TE Evan Engram the only one getting open because he seems to be the only constant in the passing game?
A: Well, Evan is a talented player. We all know that. He brings a lot to the table and it would be foolish of us to not try to find ways to get him the football. From a matchup standpoint, he’s someone that creates some issues for defenses. We want to continue to be creative to find ways to feature him and do things that he can do, and obviously defenses are smart as well. If that’s the only guy that’s getting the ball, then there are certain things they can do. A little bit more difficult for a tight end than an outside receiver, but still, there are ways in which they can reduce his efficiency. So, that’s where opportunities for other guys are going to be there and they have to make the most of them and we talked a little bit about Sterling earlier, but all the receivers – Roger (Lewis) and TK (Tavarres King) having their chances as well. Travis (Rudolph), (Ed) Egan. There’s going to be opportunities for guys and I think as they’re getting more experienced and, again, you talked about going from a practice squad role to now all the sudden you’re on Sunday Night Football, you’re playing and I think that repetition and those experiences are things we’re going to count on for them to get better moving forward.
Q: Do you see giving QB Davis Webb a start just to get him some experience?
A: I can’t see anything past this Sunday at 1 o’clock. That’s not coach speak, but right now, man, we got to get some third downs. We got to score some points. That’s one heck of a defensive football team that’s coming in here, so I’ve got a fox hole mentality, getting zeroed in on trying to get some first downs and helping us. Again, it’s just all about right now in doing everything to prepare these guys and have players, coaches, all of us be at our best this Sunday at 1 o’clock and win this one game.
Q: The last few weeks you had major outside pass rushers. This week you have Aaron Donald on the inside.
A: He is a – you could argue, you could make a case that he’s the most disruptive defensive tackle in the league. Both run and pass. This is a team, they also obviously with (Robert) Quinn on the outside, he’s a great pass rusher. They lead the league in batted balls, so not only are they disrupting the timing, sacking the quarterback, beating the quarterback to batting some balls. So, a great challenge and kind of goes back to why I wasn’t trying to screw up the question. I just am so locked in trying to find a way for us to be successful and we’re excited about the opportunity.
One thing I wish they'd followed up on is the question about chemistry on the OL. He answered that he thought Solari and Lunda are doing a great job. I would love for him to expand on that, give us some concrete example of how their coaching has led to specific improvements. Was there extra work that Flowers received? How about Hart? Or the interior of the OL?
It seems they asked a great question then didn't follow it up to get details that would be helpful.