Head Coach Joe Judge -- August 20, 2020
Q: I wanted to follow up on something you said yesterday. You mentioned that kickers generally start to come into their own when they hit their 30s. Why is that?
A: I think it’s a combination of figuring out how to really manage their bodies along with the technique and the workload. It’s a long season. When you’re a young player, your body is not used to the duration of the season. A lot of people reference a rookie wall. That’s just a fact. Your body is not caught up and adjusted. That’s for a first-year player. First-year coaches in the NFL go through the same thing as well. I know I personally did myself. I think by the time you get a little bit under your belt experience wise, specialists too, you have more of a rhythm of your weekly preparation. You have more of an ability and a confidence to actually communicate with the coach sometimes. ‘Hey, I need to go lighter today,’ ‘I need a little bit extra work today.’ I think just as you get older, it’s knowing how to manage your body best. Once you kind of figure out your timing and your technique and you’ve had success to that point, it’s kind of about preparation and repeating and executing to make sure you stay on that track.
Q: How much of a factor is it that kickers usually in their 30s, a lot of them have kicked in different types of environments. Indoors, northwest, northeast and so forth. How much of that factors in?
A: I think it’s tremendous, to be honest with you. I think that’s a huge thing. It’s all the experiences they go through. The experiences within the games, the experiences within practice, the exposure they get to different elements. Every stadium is different. You have to understand the wind pattern. Nobody understands it better than specialists. When you talk about playing in Buffalo or playing in Green Bay or playing in New England, you can ask a specialist and they can tell you the wind pattern. The really good ones can tell you the wind pattern after a storm if it reverses and flips to pressure changes. It’s amazing to really listen to some of these guys, talking to Graham (Gano). In previous years, I worked with (Stephen) Gostowski. Guys like that really understand not just their own bodies, but they’re very in-tune to where they’re kicking. If it’s a dome game, you’ll see guys a lot of times go indoors and kick because they’re not facing any wind. It may be an outside practice for the team, but the kicker has to get his work in inside as best he can, even if he comes out later and joins the team to kick outside with protection. But those experiences are critical.
Q: There are a lot of questions from the outside about your young cornerback group. Earlier in the week, it looked like, especially on Monday, there were a lot of struggles. What have you seen improvement wise? Looking forward to tomorrow in the intrasquad work, what are you looking for specifically from that group of guys?
A: We’re looking for a level of improvement every day. When we go in after today, we’re going to turn the tape on. There are things to highlight that are positives and there are things that coaches often will correct that everybody has to learn from. They have to start first with the scheme that fits into it, and that’s really what leverage they play, where their help is, and how they’re matched up on a specific play. Secondly, it’s the technique that fits into each kind of coverage we have. Different kinds of man require different kinds of coverage. Different kinds of zones require different kinds of coverage and leverage. Within each one, there’s some variety. The biggest thing we’re looking for is just consistent improvement day by day. For every guy, it’s a little bit different. Some guys need to be better on the line of scrimmage, some guys in the deep part of the field, some guys have to react to the breaking and movement of the receiver. We’re trying to get all of them right now on the same page across the board and make them consistent throughout the play.
Q: Now that you’ve seen your team on the field for a few days, what do you think of your team?
A: I’m pleased with the way they work right now. They come to work every day with a lot of enthusiasm and urgency. They’re very coachable. These are guys that are very in-tune to the details that we’re preaching within our program. I’ve seen a lot of comradery being built through the competition on the field, as well as the interaction off the field in the meeting rooms, in the dining hall and the locker room. You’re starting to see a lot of the personalities really start to come out. It’s a fun group to work with. I love coming to work every day.
Q: Pretty much every coach you listen to says draft status, money, experience doesn’t matter to try to make the team. Some coaches actually believe that. Not all do, I think they all say it. Do you believe that 100 percent and if so, why? Also, is there something about undrafted rookie guys that maybe have a better chance to make your team instead of someone else’s team? Is there something intrinsic about those undrafted guys that you maybe gravitate to?
A: I can just tell you on the backend of that question, I can’t speak for 31 other clubs. I just know that we have a high value for anybody who comes in every day and produces. That’s what we’re looking for. It’s a production business. We’re looking for guys who improve on a daily basis, guys who fit what we’re trying to do, both culture wise and schematic wise. I don’t care where you’re drafted, undrafted, where you came from, rookie, vet, that really doesn’t matter to me. It truly doesn’t. At the end of the day, we’re going to put the best 11 on the field. While on the outside that seems tough to believe at times, at the end of the day, I have to look 53 guys in the eye and I have to tell them that I gave them all the best chance to be successful. You can’t lie to those guys in the locker room. Those players know who the best players are. They line up and compete against them. If you force somebody in just because of maybe where they were drafted or how much you signed them for, you have 52 other guys staring at you knowing you’re lying to them because you’re not giving them the best chance right there. You can say a lot of fluff around here and there, but you have to be honest with your team. Those guys know better than anybody else who the best players in the locker room are.
Q: One quick follow up. A couple of your undrafted rookie receivers, the kids from Ohio State (Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor) and LSU (Derrick Dillon), they come from big programs. Are they competing out there the way you want to see them? Do they show something?
A: They are. They’re really improving on a daily basis. You can see it early on, we had that acclimation period where there were a lot of walkthroughs. It’s just natural to see guys break a huddle, they go the wrong way, they line up, they don’t have the motion exactly right. But they don’t repeat mistakes, and that’s the biggest thing. The next day, they break the huddle and they’re in the right spot. They get a motion, they run the way you want them to. They get a shift, they’re in the right spot. They’re starting to understand the coverages, how the leverage applies to them on a specific route, the details and the execution of the footwork, securing the ball, catching it, tucking it, turning it up field in a tight turn, identifying the defender coming at you, and then attacking where there’s leverage and working away the space to outrun his pursuit angle. They’re doing a really good job. One thing is, you look across the meeting room, those guys right there, those young receivers, they have wide eyes and they are staying attached to you the entire meeting wherever I move. They’re in-tune and taking good notes.
Q: I noticed at the beginning of every practice, you seem to have a comment or something to say to about half of the roster, walking around when they’re stretching. Why is that kind of face to face coaching from the head coach important? Have you always done that? What are you saying to these guys at that moment?
A: It’s different to everybody. To me, it’s just having daily contact with every player. I think that’s very important. I’ve always been like that, whether I was the low man on the totem pole or now in my position where I’m overseeing everything. To me, it’s important to have daily connections with every player on the roster. It’s important that they know that you know them on a personal level and you care about them. Now look, depending on what happened that day, sometimes you’re giving them a reminder of certain technique or scheme, sometimes you’re just checking on how they’re doing personally, and sometimes you talk a little smack to them to see if you can get a little bit of juice in them. It’s different for every player, every day. But we have a fun group. They’re fun to float around with. There are certain guys on the team, Colt McCoy, (Kevin) Zeitler, some of our older guys, Golden (Tate), they like to mix it up a little bit right there, have a little bit of fun. Sometimes the rookies don’t understand the sarcasm early in practice just yet, but they’ll get it.
Q: One quick follow up. Corey Ballentine looked like he was held out of the 11 on 11 in the second half of practice today. Was that for any particular health reason?
A: No. We’re really just trying to structure everyone’s legs right now to really get them into tomorrow’s scrimmage and let them go full tilt. We had a lot of players today that we really looked at the GPS information throughout the week and wanted to go and map out practice for the right rotation for the entire team.
Q: I wanted to ask you about two defensive backs who come from very different paths here, (Xavier) McKinney and Jarren Williams. What have you seen from them so far?
A: Those two guys compete. They both compete, and that’s the number one thing that stands out about both of those guys. Look, the program you come from is really irrelevant. Some guys have a little bit more exposure to certain kinds of schemes or vocabulary. That may give them a jump start initially, but really wherever you come from, you have to learn this level of football. I’ve dealt with a lot of guys from small schools, guys who had to change positions, and they’ve been able to do that successfully in the NFL. Once you get your foot in the door, all that matters is what you do here. But speaking specifically on those two defensive backs, the thing that I really like about the way those guys come to work every day is the points you make in the morning meetings you see show up on the field. Whether that’s eye control on the quarterback in zone coverage, whether that’s playing aggressive on the line of scrimmage in man, whether that’s blitzing off the edge and taking an edge of the blocker and not fitting thick down the middle of them. Whatever it may be, those guys care about what you’re talking about, and that’s important. When you see a guy who’s working the technique you’re coaching and they’re executing how they’re supposed to execute, that’s what you can really coach and clean up. If a player is not doing what they’re supposed to do and not trying to do it the way you’re teaching them to do it, there’s really not much that you can coach on and correct at that point because they haven’t done it right to begin with.
Q: You were asked earlier about what you thought about the team and you talked about how much you enjoy them, how much of a pleasure it is to be around them, is it too soon to know what they are as a football team, skill wise?
A: Look, it’s entirely too soon. Tomorrow is our first scrimmage, an opportunity to go out there and really start working. I’m pleased with the direction we’re going in right now. I see daily improvement from everyone. I see an urgency to improve. This is an evolving process. It’s a long season. You’re going to see a lot of teams come out there in Week 1 and no matter how they look, good or bad, Week 1, they’re going to be a completely different team Week 16. I had the opportunity last year, Pat Graham was the defensive coordinator in Miami, we played them in Week 2. We went down to Miami, they really weren’t much of a team. They came into our place Week 17 and beat our butts. They were a much better, much improved team. That’s why I have a lot of confidence in what Pat’s doing out there. I’ve seen his guys in live action. I’ve seen him play with practice squad players and get them to the level of being NFL, on the field, game day players and beat us. That’s important to me. To me, it’s not what you are right now. It’s where you’re building towards. Where is this progress going? We’re coaching every day to get every player to develop, and that’s key. We’re trying to get every player as many reps as we can so that they can have the experiences in practice that will carry over to the games.
Q: What do you hope to learn tomorrow during the scrimmage? And while this answer might be obvious, I’m going to ask it anyway, will tomorrow be the most football-like practice you’ve had so far?
A: The answer to that one is a simple yes. Just in terms of you structure a lot of practices to see specific situations that match your install so the team can develop what you’re teaching. Tomorrow will be a lot of put the ball down and play it out. We may put the ball down more in a red area and let them play in the red area, or we put them in a backed-up situation and let them play it out from that zone. But tomorrow is definitely going to be a lot more of just aware on the field, see the sticks, what’s the down and distance. Jason (Garrett) call it, Pat call it, T-Mac (Thomas McGaughey) have his unit ready to go if it’s third down. Go down to fourth down and let’s just go ahead and play it out and see how smart our players can react, see how physical they can play, and see how we can hold up our fundamentals and execution through a higher intensity.
Q: You’ve had an opportunity to see Evan Engram now and the skills he brings to the table firsthand. What can he be in your eyes if he can be on the field for 16 games?
A: I’ll tell you what, the way he works every day and the attention to detail he’s shown with everything he gets coached on, to me, it’s always a question of can this guy reach his potential based on the way he’s working. I think this guy can. Knowing what time this guy has got, he has a high ceiling. He’s very, very talented. A lot of guys have a lot of talent and aren’t as open to coaching. What I see from Evan is, he’s very in-tune, he’s very intelligent, he’s very deliberate about how he works and what he’s focusing on within each period. He listens to everything you say and tries to apply every technique as detailed as he can. That’s critically important. I’m very pleased with him, I’m very excited to work with him. He’s a guy that, I’ll tell you what, I saw him early in the process when I first took the job, he was still around here rehabbing a little bit. Obviously, we lost physical contact with the players through the pandemic separation. But he’s a guy that showed up from that time off really in great shape. He put on some good weight. He came in ready to really train. We talked earlier in the interviews about the difference between being in shape and training, and he came in ready to train. You watch the way this guy runs through conditioning through the day. He has a high motor. He has a large gas tank to keep pushing through the day. I’m really, really pleased with him coming to work every day. He’s one of those guys… look, one of the comments I give him, he’s a guy that I kind of just tell him, ‘Man, I love watching you practice. Let’s not disappoint me out there today.’ I turn his tape on and see him flying around. He’s a fun guy to watch play because he has a lot of ability, but he loves the game, too.
Q: You might think this is really silly, and when I preface it with that you know you’re in trouble, but there’s a voice, the guy that says, ‘One minute left’ over the loud speaker. It really sounds like Bill Belichick. Who is that? It’s not Bill, right?
A: It’s someone from our equipment staff. I think it’s either (Chris) Pridy, I don’t think it’s Amos Jones. Pat Hanlon asked me that earlier. But if you can get Bill to do a voiceover, you have something on him better than I do, I’ll tell you that right now. No, it was kind of a quick fix. We just want to make sure we got that after the first day to give the coaches a heads up. Obviously, there’s a lot of moving parts in our practice, that we just want to give everyone that kind of one-minute warning, tie up the period, finish it up. If you’re far away, let’s start transitioning earlier to make sure we can start the next period on time. That one-minute warning is just something we built in to ease the transition.