Head Coach Joe Judge
November 25, 2020
Opening Statement: First off, our thoughts and prayers for Markus Paul and his family and the entire Dallas Cowboys organization. This is a guy that’s very well-respected through the league, very well-respected in this building. There are a lot of people with very close personal ties. Just the reputation through the league, you don’t want to see this happen to anybody. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, especially at this time of year being Thanksgiving. We want everyone to have a happy, safe Thanksgiving. We don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone around the league. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Markus and his family.
Today we shifted over our focus to Cincinnati. We’ve moved forward with that coming out of the bye week, obviously. Our focus last week and early this week was more on the New York Giants and what we had to do collectively as a team on our own self-scout focus. Now we’re fully on the Bengals. I’d say this is a team right here, this is a very talented team. They’ve done a very good job of assembling talent. Obviously, the injury to Joe Burrow, he’s a tremendous player. But I’d say this, between (Brandon) Allen and (Ryan) Finley, they have two very capable quarterbacks, and they have an elite receiving group that maked their offense a threat every time they’re on the field. They do a great job. Zac (Taylor) really schemes it up. He knows how to call against opponents, he makes great adjustments in the game. He does a really good job of getting the team on the field and extending drives. They have 29 drives I think over 10 plays this year, it’s one of the tops in the league. That just shows that they can get out there and really sustain drives and put things together.
Defensively, Lou (Anarumo) does a great job. He really coordinates it from the backend going forward. I think his DBs are very opportunistic, and it shows up with the nine interceptions this year, it shows with how they win their leverage and sustain their leverage throughout coverage. They’re a very aggressive press man team. They make you work for everything you’re going to get. Our receivers are going to have a challenge ahead of them this week. We have to win, we have to get open, we have to finish catching the ball. They’re very competitive going all the way to the ground to get that ball off you.
Then I’d say in the kicking game, it starts with Darrin Simmons. This guy has been there for 18 years. I know him personally going against him. Look, simply put, this is one of the best coaches in the National Football League. He’s a tremendous coach in terms of identifying talent, developing players, his players play hard, they’re fundamentally sound, and they’re situationally aware. This is a very good coaching staff. These players are well-coached. This is a very talented group of players, they play hard. We would expect nothing less than 60 minutes of hard competition. We have a big challenge ahead of us this week and we have to go ahead and put everything into it. That being said, I’ll open it up to any questions you may have.
Q: When you got onboard and you were trying to establish a culture, what was the biggest thing that you needed to do and you felt like you had to do in order to get the kind of culture that you wanted initially?
A: The message for me was always the most important thing is the team. I think that has to resonate throughout the building first to make sure everyone in the building understands that the players are the priority. Then when it gets into the players joining you in the spring, although last spring was virtual, it’s really getting the message out to them that everything we do is for them. Every resource we have in the building is established for the players to use. That everything we do schematically is to give them an advantage. Everything we do in development is to try to help them develop. It’s all about the team, and once they understand that, that we have their best interest at heart, then it’s probably a little bit easier for them to buy in and understand that you’re trying to do things to help them individually as a professional and collectively as a team. I’ve seen nothing less than that with our team. We have a great feeling in our locker room. We have guys go out there and play hard for each other on a weekly basis. We have guys who are really fun to work with. They’re very competitive, they show constant improvement. To me, that all just stems back for knowing there’s something bigger than yourself, and you have to kind of get outside your own ego and make sure you get into what’s most important for the team.
Q: How difficult is it preparing for this Bengals offense not really having a good sense of what these two quarterbacks, it seems like they’re going with Brandon Allen who we haven’t seen, how big of a challenge is it preparing for that?
A: Zac’s going to make it a challenge every week, regardless. This guy does a really good job of establishing a game plan. The thing I think he does really better than most in the league is the adjustments he makes throughout the game. He has his base offense. He goes into it with you can identify how he’s starting to attack you, but then throughout the game, he changes it up continuously. He does a really good job of getting down in the red area and getting the ball across the goal line. He’s really got a great offensive mind right there. I think the thing about these guys is these receivers are really elite, they have good runners, they have a solid offensive line. These guys play very tough and competitive. The thing I’d say on the note right there that we haven’t seen Brandon Allen, we have seen Brandon Allen. We saw him in Denver, we saw him in LA, we saw him maybe in the preseason. He played himself against the Giants in previous preseasons, so there’s been some familiarity with this guy. The thing you see with him is he’s a confident player back there. He’s a very accurate passer, he’s knowledgeable within the system. He can make the guys around him better by distributing the ball. Then Finley, the thing that he really brings to the table is he’s an aggressive young quarterback, he can make the throws, but he’s athletic. He can break the pocket, he can extend it, he’s not hesitant to pull that ball down and scramble and make plays with his legs. Look, right now we’re preparing for Allen, who was obviously announced today through the press. But we’re preparing for Allen as well as Finley because we have to expect to see at least a little bit of both throughout the game. Both are very capable quarterbacks, both present a lot of challenges. We have to really make sure we’re working hard this week for both guys.
Q: I know this season is a lot about improvement and progress, but with six games to go, you have a great opportunity in front of you. I want to know if you embrace that opportunity as a football team looking at the NFC East?
A: Not to give you coach speak, but we definitely embrace every opportunity. I talked to our players today about embracing the opportunity we had to go out there today. I think when you look at this division, this is really the starting point for the division. We’re coming out of Thanksgiving after this weekend, everyone is really on equal ground. The only thing that matters is what we do from this point forward. We have to show consistent improvement. I think our players have done that throughout the year, but nothing before this game is going to matter. Nothing is going to help us beat the Bengals other than what we do this week to prepare and how we execute for 60 minutes against Cincinnati. In terms of the entire division, the most important thing truly is what I always say, is being a better team every week and being a better team at the end of the season because everyone right now is on equal ground going forward.
Q: Every game, I’m sure you prepare a certain way, I’m sure you do. But this game is a little different. It’s coming out of the bye, the Bengals just lost their rookie quarterback who everyone was talking about, you guys are favored on the road. Is that a mindset that you see in the building? Is it a mindset you want to get out of the building? This whole ‘ok, the Giants are supposed to win this game.’ I’m sure as a coach, you hate the word ‘supposed.’
A: The message I always have for the players is look, if you start reading headlines and you want to believe the good, then you better be ready to believe the bad because a lot of the same people are writing two different stories about you weeks apart. You can’t go with the rollercoaster up and down. Whatever is said on the outside of the building may have some truth to it, but at the same time, we can’t let that dictate how we prepare or the flow that we have and the mindset that we have. Today is Wednesday. Today is a work day for us. We have to get out there on the field, our guys have to start from scratch with fundamentals, we have to get our bodies moving, we have to knock off some rust from having a bye week. We have to make sure we get into the game plan for the Bengals and that we understand that so we come in tomorrow, correct what we need to and take a step forward with the rest of our game plan going in. Look, just because we’ve had some games go a different way than maybe earlier in the season these last couple weeks, that does not change how we prepare, it does not change our mindset. Every week, we truly work to be 1-0. That’s the only important thing on a weekly basis. Our players, I believe, understand that everything we do adds up. But ultimately, it only matters what you do for those 60 minutes or those three-hour windows on Sundays when it really matters.
Q: Bret (Bielema) had Brandon Allen down at Arkansas when the two of them were down there. I’m just wondering how much information can carry over from those days. Obviously, that was a few years ago, but is that information still valid?
A: Well, I’d say it’s valid in terms of knowing the guy’s mindset. We talked about Brandon with Bret already, and the things he talks about are his poise, his composure, his competitiveness. The tape really tells you what you need to know about the guy as a player. Knowing the guy’s mindset from his former head coach, that’s critical right there. Bret has a great tie with all of his players. He really understands what makes these guys tick and what kind guys these guys are in the huddle. He’s described Brandon as this guy is a leader, this guy is going to get in the huddle and he’s going to have 10 sets of eyes that are confident in what he’s telling them, and they’re going to go out and play aggressive for him. You watch his tape, he gives his receivers a chance to make plays down the field. That’s one thing about him. He’s not afraid to throw it into tight windows, and these receivers have all shown they’re very capable of making those 50/50 catches. This is an elite receiving group. We have to acknowledge that this is one of the best in the league, and these guys have made a ton of plays already down the field.
Q: The team put out a video of you reaching out to new season ticket holders. Why did you feel it was important to do that?
A: This is something they presented to me and I absolutely jumped on it. I think sometimes what gets lost in the shuffle sometimes is the connection that we have with the fans. This has definitely been a year we haven’t been able to have that connection. Any opportunity I have to be able to interact or speak with any of the fans, that to me is critical. It’s critical for our team. There is a loss of an element of this game with having empty stadiums. Yes, there is a noticeable difference, whether you’re playing in a stadium of 3,000 people or 20,000 people or wherever we have been this year. Because there is a noticeable energy in the stadium. That being said, there is only 11 on the field and you have to bring your own energy and you have to play. When there are people in the stadium, when there is fans and energy, that’s critical to the game. That’s a flow of the game. I worked with a guy a long time ago who used to say we don’t need drugs, we’re football junkies. That’s the truth, the energy on Sundays really is what you work for. You put all the time in throughout the week. You invest it all and you go out there for three hours on Sunday and that’s that adrenaline kick that you really work for. That’s the thing you can’t stop coming back to over and over. Really that ties back into the fans and the players and how they compete on the field. The other being said, too, it’s been a very tough year around the country for a lot of people. The fact that we have people willing to invest their own hard-earned money in this time, into us, it’s important they understand we’re invested in them as well. The product we want to put on the field has to reflect them and what they’re fighting through as well.
Q: Today will be the first day you are on the field as a team since the Eagles game?
A: That is correct.
Q: What are your plans for tomorrow with the team?
A: Tomorrow, we’re going to start a little bit earlier. You can call it a normal Thursday for us. It will be virtual meetings, it will be on the field normal practice. The biggest difference will be when practice is over, we’re going to cut the players loose. They should be out of the building tomorrow call it 1:30. We’ll bring them back in on Friday. We’ll add a little more time on Friday morning to review the tape from Thursday and make up that lost time we had. We’ll start a little bit earlier. Most of the guys don’t mind that. It gets them kind of going and into the flow of things. Tomorrow is obviously a critical day. It’s Thursday, we work on the situations. Two-minute, third down, we introduce red area review on early downs. We get all the special teams work on Thursday. Thursday is a big day for us. We want to make sure that we take time, we understand that it is still Thanksgiving. There’s certain days of the year you have to make sure you dedicate. Family is a critical part of it, friends are a critical part of it. We have to make sure that when the work’s done we can go home. Guys can put their hair down, that refers to Nate Ebner more than anybody, I guess. They can kind of relax. Spend a little time with their loved ones.
Q: If I could ask you about Daniel (Jones) over the last two games, does it feel like he has sort of gotten over a bit of a hump here?
A: I just see constant improvement over a weekly basis. Every day is very unique, it’s very independent of the one before. The lessons you learn from the previous game you take forward and you don’t want to repeat mistakes. I think Daniel has done a good job of really growing in this system. I think he has done a good job of growing as a player right now. I see a lot of growth with him. There’s a lot of things that you guys don’t see behind the scenes that we’re not always going to share, but the way this guy is outward with his teammates. The reception he gets in team meetings, our locker room, things like that. You can really see the team growing around him. This guy is an integral part. He’s a leader on this team. He’s the quarterback, we all have confidence in him. We love putting him on the field on Sunday and letting him go out there and compete.
Q: I was wondering if you saw the video of Graham Gano making a makeshift practice situation in his hotel room? What did you make of his whole set up?
A: Yeah, he better open the window, Cincinnati doesn’t have a dome. I don’t know what he thinks he’s accomplishing there. Obviously, this is a guy who is probably going stir crazy. He’s chomping at the bit to get back with us. Our biggest priority right now with him is just his health. When the doctors say he’s good to go, we’ll put him out there and let him start swinging away.
Q: You four positive tests during your bye week, how much does that change your operation overall?
A: Actually, a good bit. What we have been doing the last few weeks is Wednesday we have been in the building for install meetings and then reviewing the tape in person on the back end. Thursdays have been virtual all the way through for really the last chunk of weeks. Friday has been an in-person day. What we’ve changed this week is we’re going to do all our virtual meetings Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That’s install meetings and the review of the tape on the back end. Thursday is a little different being Thanksgiving, as I just referenced. That review meeting will actually be Friday morning. However, the other precaution we’ve taken, Monday we wanted to have a team practice. We chopped that up, (we) ended up doing more small segment, small group individual focus practices. To be honest with you, we talked as a staff in terms of coming off a bye week, that may be the way to go from now on. We thought we had a lot of productive work as far as knocking off some rust. Probably would have been a little bit if we had been on the field last week. For Tuesday and Wednesday, as we initially planned, that may be a good way for us to come out of the bye week continuously going forward of getting guys going back in. The rest of it is, we’ve been following the same protocols the entire time. Our guys’ antennas are definitely up. They’re very receptive. In terms of chopping up the weight room, chopping up time in the locker room, has really been critical for the entire league. That’s what a lot of the league memos reference, getting the guys out of the locker room where they naturally talk and hang out and are pretty close to each other even though we have the spacing built in for them. We’re kind of segmenting when they get in the building, when we let them off the field at the end of practice. There’s a certain group of guys who may go lift weights after practice. Some younger guys we’ll keep on the field for a little extended drill work. The other group will go in the locker room. That will kind of cycle thorough the showers, getting dressed. That way we don’t have everyone in there at the same time. We’ve had to be very particular about how we set the flow of the day to make sure everyone just doesn’t cluster together. That being said, we started this back in the spring, I think that was the best preparation we could possibly have for the season. This virtual world we’re meeting in, our guys have been tremendous with it. You click on there and we talk about having a professional setting. All of our guys have a good, quiet place they can concentrate at home. You can watch it in the grid format like we do right here and you can see everybody’s eyes. Everybody is locked in, everyone is tuned into each other. That’s all been very, very positive. You hear horror stories from other teams around the league, to be honest with you. About guys being distracted, guys playing with kids in the middle of meetings, things like that. Our guys have great about coming to work, being professional. Making sure that it’s a priority that when they are in that zoom meeting, they’re at work. I think we have seen a lot of benefits because of it. Talking with the captains throughout these last few weeks, asking them feedback on how do you like the zoom meetings as opposed to the in-person ones, some of the feedback I’ve gotten is hey throughout the weeks, it’s not a bad change of having it one day a week or a couple days a week. This will be the first time we go three days in a week. We’ll have to see how they handle it and how they like. We’ll evaluate at the end of this week and see what to do going forward.
Q: Is that a rule that you have to have your camera on? You have to be able to see the guy?
A: Yeah, if we don’t see your eyes, then you ain’t there. I learned in the spring real fast. I have 10-year old who figured out he can put ‘…connecting’ on the bottom of his zoom and the teacher just wouldn’t call on him. You have to learn all these little tricks and stay ahead of it. We have to see your eyes and know you’re locked into the meeting.
Q: You’re consulting your 10- year old on how to run these?
A: (jokingly) No, I’m just observing criminal activity and staying ahead on enforcement.
Q: Darius Slayton, everyone considers him a dangerous deep threat. His toughness has shown up this year. It seems he has left several games banged up but doesn’t spend a long time on the sideline and often ends up maybe making a big play later in the same game where it looks like he gets banged up. Is that indicative of what you see from him as a player and a person?
A: Yeah, absolutely. This guy is a mentally tough guy. This guy has had things going back to training camp that he’s had to fight through and deal with. You never hear him complain, you never hear any excuse from him. The only thing he ever asks the trainers is what can I do today? How much more can I do? Where can I push to? He just keeps working on the field. He’s a tough dude, he’s tough-minded. He’s made big plays for us. Ironic since it’s Iron Bowl week, most of the Auburn players I’ve been fortunate enough to coach have all been tough dudes like Darius. He hasn’t disappointed.