Offensive Line Coach Hal Hunter
August 4, 2018
Q: What do you see from Ereck Flowers so far at right tackle?
A: The number one thing I see is he’s had a great attitude. I think before you do anything in terms of trying to develop a player, if you’ve got great attitude, then you’re going to approach it the right way. He came back in OTAs and he had great attitude, the first thing I noticed when he came back, he was the lightest he’s been since he’s reported, he came back in great shape. We did the conditioning test, great shape. So all of a sudden, the first thing he does, he makes a great impression. He has his weight under control, right where you want it to be, strong in the weight room, in good condition. It’s been hot outside, he doesn’t bat an eye. He goes and goes and goes. He’s been great in the meeting room, a little bit of the Socratic method in there, so we’re watching tape this morning and I’ll fire a question to this guy, fire a question to that guy, I fired two questions at him today and he had the answers, one, two, engaged in the meeting, that shows a lot. The number one thing that I’ve been really pleased with is his attitude, it’s all a fresh slate, and I’ve never even coached him. When I was in Indianapolis we interviewed him at the combine, he had a great interview. We picked too far down in the draft, we didn’t get a chance but we would have picked him. We’ve had great conversations. I talked to him a couple times in the offseason; he was great in OTAs. I talked to him this summer, I don’t like to bug those guys but I always call them once a summer, we had a great conversation this summer, he told me his weight was under control and he was in shape and he’s ready to go. He showed up, his weight was under control, he was in shape and he’s ready to go. He’s had the right attitude. That’s the thing, when you don’t have to worry about a guy’s attitude, then you just coach. He’s been very responsive, my technique is a little bit different, he tries to the best of his ability to do exactly what I want him to do and doesn’t bat an eye, and if I ask him to do it again, he’ll do it again. So, again, it’s like anything. When you’re trying to coach any player, like anything we’ve ever done, sometimes you have to erase that tape to start with a blank tape, so we’re working on things and he’s making good progress. There’s a lot of technical things to work on, run and pass, and everything is completely opposite at the right tackle position than the left.
Q: Is he being blessed by moving from left to right tackle?
A: I don’t know, I don’t know if he’s being blessed from moving from left to right because honestly it used to be, in the old days, you had a big, strong right tackle and you had a pass protecting left tackle, every team had one good pass rusher. I think one of the first teams that really broke that were the Indianapolis Colts when they had Mathis on one side and Freeney at the other. Now the way people do it, they’ll move a good pass rusher to the other side. When I was in San Diego, they’re going to take Von Miller and move him over Jeromey Clary, so you’re going to find work wherever you go. I’m not sure, maybe it’s a fresh start, he would answer that question better than me. The only thing that makes a difference is if you’ve got a right-handed quarterback who is always in a right-handed stance but nowadays those quarterbacks have a lot of savvy with those things.
Q: At center, Brett Jones stepped in and started a lot of games last year and I think by a lot of accounts played pretty well, what have you guys seen in Halapio that made you say “we may want him to be”, it looks like you want him to be the first string center over a guy like Brett?
A: When I first went in the meeting room, this is what I told the guys. This is way back in OTAs and I always say it again at the beginning of camp – the best players have to play. We all watch the same tape, we all know who the best players are. Who are the best players? The players that play the best, it’s as simple as that. Everybody that sits in that offensive line room, whether you’re an eight-year vet, whether you’ve been with this organization a long time, whether you haven’t, everybody has the same opportunity to make the team and establish themselves. My goal as a coach is to coach every single guy -- we have 16 guys in that room -- to coach every single one of those guys to the best of my ability to make them the best player they can possibly be and let them decide who’s going to play. I don’t really want to decide who is going to be the starter. I want to coach them technically and mentally so that they can go out there to compete in practice and compete in the preseason games to win a position themselves and take it out of my hands. Any player that ever walks away, that doesn’t make the team, that doesn’t get a chance to start, they’ll never look back and say, “the coach didn’t give me enough reps, he didn’t give me an opportunity”, because we give all those guys an opportunity. The bottom line is practice is practice, drills are drills, some drills weigh to the offense, some drills weigh to the defense, 11 on 11 is the closest thing. But games are games and until you go out there and do something in an actual NFL football game, you never know. Brett Jones has been great, he’s got a great attitude, he’s in really good shape, he’s been really productive, we’ve worked him with the first group, he looks really good. Halapio is in great shape, he’s been really productive. Let these guys play in the preseason games, let them sort it out and let the best man win. I mean, honestly, I really don’t care which one of those guys, I want the best guy. They’re both great guys, I love coaching them both. Whoever is the best player, we will let them go (start). There does come a time with the offensive line where you have to establish those five guys because they have to work together, that’s so fundamental at this position.
Q: What have you seen from G John Jerry?
A: He’s had a great attitude. He came in, made his weight goal – this is the lightest he’s been since I’ve been here. He’s got a great attitude. He practices hard, physical. I’ve been really, really pleasantly surprised with him. He’s really stood out. He’s been one of the real standouts. He’s done a lot of good things. His attitude is great. He’s a veteran, too, he understands football. He’s a tough, physical, big, strong guy. I’m really pleased with how he’s practiced. He stood out to me. He captured my attention early, and he continues to.
Q: Would it be fair to say you really don’t know what you have until you play Cleveland or until you play Detroit?
A: We’ve got a pretty competitive front up front. I’ll you what – you look at some of this edge – (defensive lineman Olivier Vernon) OV coming off the edge. I’ve seen a lot of pass rushing. I think he’s as good as there is in the league. Who’s the best – I’m amazed. He’s got power, he’s got speed. He can go speed to power, power to speed. He’s really, really good. He’s testing (T) Nate Solder now. He’s really testing him. We get tested all across the front. I don’t know if you’re going to find a better nose tackle than (Damon Harrison Sr.) Snacks. If you can block him, you can block anybody. The defensive front is pretty salty now. A game is a game – and when you get into a game, that’s when you either shine or – again, we’ll see how [Halapio] works in the game. We’ll see how Brett Jones works in the game. They’ll go play through the preseason, then we’ll make our decision.
Q: Did you have a lot of tape on the centers coming into this year?
A: They had a couple of snaps a long time ago. But, I didn’t have a lot. I’ve seen a lot of good offensive linemen, you can put a ball in their hand, and they become – it’s hard. They become debilitated. But, he kind of took to it a little naturally, and so we continued to work with him there. He’s really excelled at that position. Some guys have a knack for it. To play center, you have to be smart. If you’re going to play center, you’ve got to be tough because you’ve got some 400-pound guy right there every single snap right there in your face, and it ain’t easy. The thing that I like about both those guys, they’re both smart, they’re both tough, they both have really good work ethic. We’re just working on the fundamentals.
A: There always has to be competition. I think Pat (Shurmur) always says iron sharpens iron. I really believe that, because I’m from that old school too. Again, it’s a competition the way it started out – just two guys competing. You’ve got to find some guys that can compete at center. When the previous center – I really had no relationship with him – when he went to San Francisco, then all of a sudden now you got all these – you’re always coaching two offensive lines. You’re coaching the guys that are playing, and the guys that are going to be playing. You’re not going the entire season playing the same line. So, who’s going to be that other center? Who’s going to be that other center that’s going to be in there? You start coaching one, then all of sudden he starts playing good. Now all of a sudden, he took naturally to the position. We tried a couple of other guys at center, and they’re just not in the same category there. After a while, I think when you find a guy that’s smart, plays with balance, can move in both directions, can play with pad level, and then he can throw that brown thing between his legs, you’ve got to try that guy at center. Hardest position to find is not left tackle. The hardest position to find in this league is center. It’s center, then left tackle.
Q: How big of a part do you want the offensive line to play in regards to the run game?
A: A huge part of it. With the offensive line, the number one element in the running game is the runner, it always has been. You can’t win in the NFL if you can’t run the football, it’s as simple as that. You just can’t do it. The hardest thing to do in football is run the ball. It’s really hard – defenses are getting bigger and stronger. They’re playing more eight-man fronts. But, the number one thing is we have to have a lot of physicality. We’ve got to play with a lot of technique and fundamentals, and we’ve got to conceptually understand what’s going on. The more we can establish the running game, the more pressure it takes off the quarterback. We’ve got to keep that pocket clean. We’ve got to keep that quarterback clean. If that quarterback is clean, then that quarterback is special. We’ve got to keep him upright and keep him from being harassed. In terms of running the ball, some of the best offense – we had a great quarterback in San Diego. He was great because we could run the ball with (RB LaDainian Tomlinson) LT. We had a good quarterback in Indianapolis, but we could run the ball with (RB) Frank Gore. And so again, to have a good offense, we’ve got to be able to run the football and make them defend the run, and then also be able to protect that quarterback. So, it’s all encompassing.