Offensive Line Coach Hal Hunter -- December 28, 2018
Q: When you get to a game like last Sunday where you guys surrendered no sacks, is that a great building block to say, this is what weíre capable of? I know there was a lot of movement with the quarterback too, but still an accomplishment.
A: When I drive to work every day thereís two things on my mind: one, donít get the quarterback hit; two, make sure our special running back gets to the other side of the line of scrimmage through the linebacker level. Those are the two things that are going to carry us forward as we go forward, because you saw when you keep that quarterback clean, heís pretty damn good. He can really whistle that ball around the field, and so I think thatís really important. You go into a game, itís hard to go through a game when you play against really good quality defense. Iíve watched them sack the guy from Houston (Deshaun Watson) three times and just harass him the whole game, so we were a little nervous about that, but I thought itís a good building block. Again, thatís what we try to go through. Everybody says itís hard to go through a game without sacks; well, you can go through a game without sacks. You donít want to get sacks and you donít want to get the quarterback hit either because sometimes the hits are worse than a sack. So yeah, itís an accomplishment, you feel good about that and let the quarterback stand upright, and he did. We cut a couple guys loose, there were a couple things when youíre five down, but I thought the quarterback did a nice job managing the pocket too.
Q: Can you put into perspective the growth of Will Hernandez from when you first got him to where he is now going into Week 17?
A: For a rookie to play for you, itís tough. I had a rookie at San Diego start for me at left tackle, but he had played in the SEC so he played against that competition. Will had come from a little bit smaller program (UTEP) so he probably hadnít played against that same competition, so he had to jump a couple levels and get thrown in there right away. I think one thing thatís helped him is heís been able to adjust to the speed of the game. The guys heís playing against are better than any guys heís played against, heís playing against the best guys in the country, the best three techniques, so heís locked up. I think heís learned to adjust to the speed of the game. Pro offenses are so much more complicated, we ask you to learn so much more and you get less rep time, and so I think thatís been an accomplishment. Iíve seen him grow over the year, over the season, being able to understand Ė his missed assignments have gone way (down). The first and second half of the season is like night and day in terms of knowing what to do. You just see him reacting quicker and quicker and quicker, where early in the season sometimes a guy would make a move, maybe a stunt and he was a step behind that. Now heís to the point where heís anticipating the stunt because we really stress if you know what the defense is going to do before they do it by studying tape, then you can react a little bit quicker. Heís reacting quicker and heís helping himself. I think adjusting to the speed of the game, the complexity of the game, I think thatís really helped him a lot.
Q: When you evaluate Jamon (Brown), do you factor in the fact that he came in mid-season and really hadnít played the first half of the season?
A: He didnít play but he was getting coached out there at LA, so it wasnít like he wasnít getting coached. He came in, new system, adapted to it quick, and what I like about Jamon is heís an easy guy to coach, heís tough, practices hard, but like all of us, coaches included, players, itís all about production on Sunday. Itís all about Sunday. The week is great and all that stuff, but when the rubber meets the road, youíve got to produce on Sunday, so heís continuing to grow. Heís done some really good things this year adapting to our system, weíre a little bit different than what they do out there and so Iíve liked what heís shown so far.
Q: His arrival seems to coincide with the turn your unit made. Is that coincidence?
A: Probably part of it. He added a little bit of a dimension. I think Chad Wheeler, Chad is starting to grow a little bit too because basically he spent the first part of his season all during the OTAís and in camp and everything, he worked with the second group so he didnít get work. Heís gotten a chance to get more work with the first group. Spencer Pulley is getting more, he was a late addition too, so he was starting to get up to speed a little bit. Will Hernandez is starting to come along, so I think itís a combination of everything. Number one thing, the running back is getting a little bit more comfortable. How the things unfold and how it blocks, itís about being in sync too and so the running back is getting a better feel for running behind that group of five guys. So again, itís all about the guys playing together as one unit and being in sync with the running back or working together in protections, so I think itís a combination of him coming in with some of the other guys growing also.
Q: Every offensive lineman talks about the same five guys playing together over time, year after year. As a position coach, how do you look at that going into an offseason in terms of, the same five guys maybe coming back gives you a foundation versus looking for maybe talent upgrades?
A: I think itís a matter of both. The NFL is all about talent, you want to have the best players you possibly can because youíre playing against guys that are more talented than you. But offensive line play is not just talent, thereís a lot of other things that go into it and being comfortable with a guy youíre playing next to is really, really important. We talked about it before when Nate Solder told me he played next to Logan Mankins for like five years. I mean, when you play next to a guy for five years, you guys are just Ė youíre thinking, youíre in sync. I think maybe thatís part of why both Will and Nate have progressed, a little better chemistry. Theyíre pleased with playing each other, so theyíve really gotten into that. I think itís a combination Ė you never want to be comfortable just because the same guys are playing, youíre always looking for the best possible players; but there is a lot to those guys playing together and being able to work as one unit, both communicating and executing. Itís very important, so itís probably both.
Q: In the run game, how do you tell your guys to stay the course when in games like these last two, the defense is loading up in the box, so you can block a play well and still not find the run?
A: Thatís hard and thatís frustrating, I went through the same thing with (Ladainian Tomlinson) at San Diego. When you have a really talented back, it all starts with the run game. People want to make your game one dimensional and they donít want to let you run the ball or get the ball through them. I think nobody really understood how good Indianapolisí defense was, theyíre like sixth in the NFL and seventh against the rush or something like that. Everybody thinks about Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, and they play really quality defense. People are going to try to load up and stop the running game and turn you game into one dimension. Our job is to not let them do that. So when a team like Ė Iím good friends with (Colts defensive coordinator) Greg Manusky, weíve worked together a lot of times Ė when heís just going to play his defense in base defense and try to technique play you, thatís when you can take the ball and rip it downhill, and run for a buck fifty. Teams see that and say, Ďwoah, if we sit there and try to play leverage defense, weíre going to be in for a long day.í So now all the sudden, youíre going to get loaded boxes, youíre going to get stunts and linebacker run-throughs and all that; but, on the other side of that, as we have one of potentially the best running backs Ė what is he, third in the league in rushing and third in yards from the (line of scrimmage)? Ė when youíve got a guy like that, okay, theyíre going to take our rushing game away. Nuh-uh. You just have to continue to find more creative ways to get him through the linebacker level. We understand that, and now people are going to be concentrating more now at stopping the run game and turn it one dimensional, so weíre going to have to continue as an offensive staff and as a blocking unit being more creative in terms of ways to get to the line, the tight ends, the receivers, in terms of blocking those overloaded boxes because you just canít throw your hands up and say, Ďoh, theyíre going to overload the box, weíre not going to be able to run the ballí. BS. Youíve got to be able to run the ball with this guy, and if they continue to try to overload the box, youíve just got to continue to find new ways and do things that you do better and find creative ways to continue to make them have to strain to stop that running back. A lot of people throw their hands up in the air and say weíre just going to throw the football. Nuh-uh. Youíve got to run the ball with this guy, and thatís what weíre committed to do.
Q: You have three different starters on the line from Week 2, but do you see this as a game maybe you can measure how your group has improved? Obviously that was a struggle.
A: Yeah, I think itís important against this (defense). You come into this defense, this defense is number two in the NFL against the run and theyíre a top-five or six team overall, so itís a really talented group. Everybody talks about the quarterback and the running back, this teamís about the defense. Weíve watched that tape all week. Sometimes itís painful, and other times thereís some good things. Again, we want to see where weíve come from Week 2 to Week 17 and itís important, itís a good measuring stick. Everybodyís got something to prove in terms of how they show up and finish against Ė and weíre playing against the division champs, right? Theyíre where we want to be, so how do we end the season? How do we measure up? If theyíre the best in our division, theyíre the team to beat, so how do we measure up with them this last week? Itís an important game for us. In my career, Iíve prepared for a lot of playoff games, and we prepared this week as a group with that same type of mentality. Youíve got to measure yourself against the big (teams). Championships go through your division, youíve got to win your division first. So itíll be a good measuring (stick). Thatís a good question.
Q: You mentioned you had a kid from the SEC with the Chargers, and Will Hernandez. What is it that impressed (you about) Hernandez or what is it generally speaking that youíre looking for on tape in a college offensive lineman?
A: Number one thing you want to look for is somebody that plays with toughness, because itís a tough manís game. College games become a lot of zone reads and nakeds and pass protection, if youíre going to run the ball, do you have guys that will still come off out of a three-point stance and smash it up? Youíve got to find somebody that has some toughness, youíve got to find somebody that has some athleticism that can match a defenderís. You ainít gonna win a Kentucky Derby riding a mule. You need to have a thoroughbred, and if youíre got thoroughbreds on the other side of the line, you better have some guys that have some athleticism that can match those guys one on one. Youíve got to win your one on one matchups, so heís got to be athletic enough and balanced enough to be able to compete, but heís got to be tough. Then all those things that really arenít important anymore that are important, like dependability and intelligence, those things are really important in terms of an offensive lineman because thereís so many things that happen and so many different things we ask you to do. Itís a whole combination, so thereís a lot of X factors that are important. But the bottom line, there has to be some talent. Donít ever underestimate Ė sometimes the X factor and the toughness and things like that can overcome a little bit of a talent deficiency.