Running Backs Coach Craig Johnson -- November 2, 2019
Q: Saquon (Barkley) always talks about how pass protection is the biggest thing he needs to work on and he needs to improve. Where do you think heís at with that right now?
A: I think that as a back, I always talk to him about how there are four phases. One, you have to be able to protect the ball. Two, you have to be able to run it. Three, youíve got to be able to catch it with routes, and four, you have to be able to protect. We work on that all of the time. Every day, I believe, you have to try to get better in that phase. We give a little time to all of those phases. Iíve learned as a coach, there is always something to work on. Either weíre not quite where we want to be in the running game, weíre not right where we want to be in the route running, or weíre not where we want to be in the pass protection. So, we are going to continue to work on all of our fundamentals. I know thatís usually the biggest transition for a back coming from college to pro, is in pass protection. Thatís one of the big things that weíre going to work. I wonít overemphasize that more than others, because then other things fall off once you do that.
Q: There have been a handful moments in the past two games where maybe they werenít Saquonís best pass blocking moments. What do you make of that?
A: What I make of that is the coach needs to do a better job, right here, of putting him in situations where heís going to hold up in protection. Obviously, he gives us a lot in a lot of areas. Defenses are going to try to attack him, I would, and try to keep him in the pocket. Heíll have to make sure he finds a way to hold up and weíll continue to work on that, as with the other things that we have to do, too. Because again, thatís one part of his game. As I said before, I think thatís the biggest and hardest hurdle for most backs coming out of college to the pros.
Q: Do you think it was more recognition than technique when you looked at those?
A: I think itís a little bit of everything. He wants to be able to, obviously, know who heís got to block. But thatís it, know who youíve got to block in pass protection, and then block. I think youíve got to be able to do that, just like you have to know who youíre keying in the running game and make sure you can make your runs where you need to.
Q: What does Buck Allen bring to the table?
A: Right now, I havenít obviously gotten the chance to see him in a game, but heís a big, strong guy. Heís got a lot of skills, runs really good routes. He has run the ball really well in practice. You have to obviously see that transition to the game, but he is a veteran. Heís got a good history with that. When his time comes, Iíll be interested in seeing how heís going to do. I think heíll do really fine, but that time will come because a tape will show everything we need to see, in my mind.
Q: How tough was that stretch when you had really inexperienced guys when Saquon goes down, Wayne (Gallman Jr.) goes down, and you didnít have a guy like Buck as a veteran to step in?
A: Itís always tough, but guess what? Weíre going to play who we have. As a coach, from what Iíve been through, I donít care who we throw out there, you have to be prepared to play, be ready to play. Every team goes through injuries. We do, too. Itís the next man up. Iíve always believed that. Whoever we have on the field I expect to play at a high level.
Q: What do you say to Jon Hilliman, though? He did get that opportunity, it didnít probably go how you guys wanted it, and then ends up coming back. Whatís your advice to a guy in that situation?
A: Well, I tell him, just keep your chin up, youíve got an opportunity, youíve been blessed to get another chance to still be on our team, youíll get another opportunity hopefully, and when that time comes, as I told my guys all of the time, keep the good. Thereís a lot of good things that he did when he played. Lose the bad. If you do that, good things will happen to you in the future. Youíre not going to be defined, necessarily, by one game (or) one play. Can you stack success and when you have adversity, can you overcome tható every player has to be able to do that.
Q: It seems hard to do that, no?
A: Well, it is, I donít really think itís that hard. The great thing about football, right or wrong, and every football team goes through this, you have success, itís the next week, you come up short and run out of time, itís the next week. Regardless of what happens, you have to have the past in the past, and I believe strongly, keep the good but learn from the past. You are going to have some bad moments and you want to lose those moments but you need to learn from those moments or they will be repeated again.
Q: What do you say with Wayne, itís kind of a different situation than Hilliman. Wayne had success in his opportunity and it looked like this was going to be his chance for three or four games and then he gets hurt. Heís back to the two or three snaps a game because Saquon is back. What do you say to him, because he missed his opportunity through no fault of his own?
A: With the backs specifically and in general in the NFL, injuries are a part of the game. Every back goes through it, every back on every team Iíve been with goes through it. You are going to have to learn how to recover, do the best you can when you play. If and when you get nicked up, get in the training room, get yourself back and continue to play at a high level when you get your opportunities. If you are not the starter, I think you have to have the mentality that when I go in I am going to make something happen without pressing (and feeling like) I have to do something. No, just do what you do and do it well and you will be fine and just continue to play. Keep your confidence up that way because you never know. In this game, everybody is a play away from playing a lot as Wayne and others have found out.
Q: One of the four things you mentioned with Saquon was protect the ball, heís still never lost a fumble, how crazy is that?
A: I think itís a tribute to him. Again, he brought that here from Penn State, heís done a really good job there. When heís been here heís done a really good job of taking care of the ball, but I donít lose that just because he has (taken care of the ball). We still practice that as one of the four phases all the time. Ball security is critical for teams and their success. Weíre going to practice that, and we are going to practice to make sure we get in phase with our runs and pass protection and catching the ball. When youíre a back in modern football, you want to be able to do a little bit of each and thatís what I think our guys have been able to do.
Q: I get that you donít want to take a talent like Saquon off the field, but do you feel the need to give him some more breathers and get Wayne in more? Is that something you would like to do?
A: All the time, as coach when I self-critique, maybe he played too much, maybe he played too little. Thatís what you go through sometimes when you have a player with talent like that. We just go through and I really believe that goes game by game. We donít get into counting plays or how much he should be playing. Obviously most everybody (says) I want to be playing every play but then they are going to get tired, thatís where you have to find that fine line. I think every game situation is a little bit unique and we do the best we can to put them out there, show what he can do and when he needs time to come off, we try to make that happen.
Q: Youíre alright with 95% of the snaps, does that bother you when you look at it at the end of day?
A: As I self-critique it, I always wonder how much is too much. You talk to him, itís never too much. The bottom line is we want to have him be in good shape late in the game that can help us win the game. I think thatís his point and my point and Saquon has always said I donít care about any stats, thatís why I love this kid. Letís find a way to win, thatís what he cares about, thatís what I care about and thatís what weíre trying to do.