Head Coach Joe Judge
December 10, 2020
Q: Jason (Garrett) just said that Daniel (Jones) ran through a workout yesterday after practice. What did you see from him there?
A: I think he’s working hard every day to get better. He’s doing everything we ask him to do. He did a good job in the walkthrough yesterday. We put him through some basic agility, short space stuff. I would say that he’s throwing the ball well, but there’s a lot of things we still need to see. Throwing the ball in short space and going through a walkthrough are very, very different than going through team periods and being able to see how this guy reacts and moves in the pocket, which is really our biggest concern is how he can protect himself on the field. Today will tell us a lot and tomorrow hopefully we’ll make a final decision.
Q: How do you expect to split those first team reps between the two of them, or do you?
A: Yeah, we will mix guys in. We do that every day anyway. We’ll go ahead and mix them. We’ll see how Daniel is working, we’ll see him through individuals and see how his body responded. The more we think he can do, the more we’ll let him take. Then Colt (McCoy) will get his share as well.
Q: Has the four straight wins given your players a noticeable confidence? If so, is it a quiet confidence or is it a bravado? What do you want from them in that regard?
A: I think the confidence they get is coming from practice and execution. They’re playing confident in games because they perform in practice, and they know the guy next to them is also executing at practice so they can play aggressive with their techniques. Look, confident or not, we expect them to just go out there and compete every day and improve on a daily basis and keep looking forward. We talk to them a lot. There are obviously a lot of hypotheticals out there. We talked about this yesterday. We need to remain focused on what’s real, and what’s real is this Sunday against the Cardinals.
Q: It sounds like you’re genuinely not sure on what Daniel’s status is. Is there any benefit in your opinion to not disclosing that? If you’re on the other side, does it make you have to game plan for two quarterbacks?
A: I would say on the other side, it may make you have to game plan for two quarterbacks. But to be completely transparently honest with you guys, I don’t have an answer for you right now on that. I really have to see this guy move around on the field, and that’s just what it is. Look, we want all of our players to be fully healthy and be out there. He did a walkthrough yesterday, he did an abbreviated workout with the trainers that we watched after practice. But that being said, none of those are what my concerns are with him going into Sunday. Until he does some things that I can really see and make the judgement that he can protect himself and stay out there healthy on the field, I can’t give you an answer. I would just be making something up.
Q: A question on (Xavier) McKinney. We spoke to Jerome (Henderson) last week and he kind of spoke about the balance of you want to get him in there, but the defense is playing well so you don’t want to mess with them. How do you assess that?
A: Look, Zay is only going to make us better when he gets on the field so long as he performs at practice. He’s been doing a really good job at practice. His role will keep increasing as we go. The thing I’ve explained to Zay, and I’ve told the coaches as well, is we have to be fair to this guy. This guy has been out of football now, he’s a rookie, he hasn’t played in preseason, he missed the first however many games. He comes into Cincinnati a couple weeks ago, we can’t throw him on the field for 50 snaps. We want to kind of get him in, get him used to the speed of the game, get him on the grass, make some adjustments, start communicating. We got him a little bit more reps last week. We’ll see how it progresses throughout these next four weeks. But I expect his role to keep increasing, and I do expect his play to keep improving because he’s going to be working with the team out there. He’s done a great job working for us. It’s not easy being on the IR as a rookie and being out of that and getting mental reps while you’re watching everyone else on the grass. Then all of a sudden, you’re taking off and you’re playing with the team, you’re really doing everything for the first time. Even though you’ve heard the calls, you made the calls looking at tape. it’s a lot different when you’re on grass and you’re adjusting the formation. You have to go ahead and disguise something pre-snap and then get to your landmark post-snap. He’s done a great job preparing. The coaches have done a good job keeping him up to speed with what we’re doing game plan wise. But again, to be fair to this guy as a rookie, we have to let him come and progress his career at the right rate, and not just throw everything on his plate. It’s just not fair to him as a player.
Q: One of the guys we haven’t asked you about in a while is Andrew Thomas, that’s probably a good thing. What have you seen from him? Was there a moment where things clicked in your mind for him? How has he handled the change in offensive line coach?
A: I think the entire unit has improved every week. I think Andrew especially, there were a lot of questions about him early in the year we were getting in the daily press conferences and all that stuff. Look, this guy has never blinked. He’s never wavered. One thing about Andrew is he’s played aggressive for 60 minutes in every game this season. I see that in practice every day. He’s very intelligent, he’s very insightful, he has that quiet demeanor to him where you know he’s digesting everything you say. Then when he asks questions, he asks the right, smart questions. But I see him playing very aggressive, I see him playing effectively, and I see his level of play improving. But that’s natural for any rookie through the course of the season and just getting more and more experience, especially with the way he had to start this season. Look, this guy came in baptized by fire. He saw some of the top rushers in the world out of the gate. This guy stepped up to the plate and he fought his butt off for 60 minutes and he kept improving, kept improving, and I see him improving every day.
Q: The decisions you’ve made this year as a head coach, all the in-game stuff, when to punt, when to go for it, trick plays, all that stuff, is it a lot of that who you are or is a lot of that based on the team you have now, which is you don’t score a lot of points, you don’t give up a lot of points? Is that you and how you want to be or could you see down the road maybe if your team is a big, explosive team, you’re going to be a different head coach in some of the things you do in-game?
A: I’ll always play to the strengths of our players. Whatever is best for that specific team and that specific game plan, I’ll always make the decision that I think is best at that moment. Sometimes it may be punting on a short field, maybe attempting a long field goal, maybe go for it on fourth down. I always have to make the decision. It’s not going to look uniform. You’re not going to be able to look at some excel sheet of every decision that I make, because I’m not going to make this thing based on some kind of analytical chart that says when you should go for two, when you should punt, when you should go for it on fourth and one. To me, there’s a big feel to the flow of the game and knowing your team and knowing the opponent you’re playing against. You have to really know your team, you have to know your strengths, you have to understand how the complementary football is being played as well. Is it worth going for it on fourth down and giving the ball back at midfield if your defense is playing really well? Do you punt the ball down the field and make them go 95 yards, basically saying we’re confident we’re going to get the ball back in three plays, and our punt return unit should give us the field position to have a fresh set of downs? Or do we want to give them the ball at midfield and give them a short field, maybe 15 yards away, to get into field goal range? To me, it’s a balance of how you’re playing in all three phases of the game, and it’s the flow of that specific game. I know that sounds very grey area and vague, but to me, there’s a great feel element of it, knowing what’s going on in that game or what I think is going to be best to win that game.
Q: One constant is that whole 20-point threshold. Your team is not getting much above 20 points in a lot of these games. Does that really wear on a head coach as far as ‘look, I don’t have a lot of room to play with here’?
A: Nope. Nope. Whatever it is. Our goal is to keep this thing close and win in critical situations. I see an improvement from our team throughout the season on that. We’ll do whatever it takes to win, however we have to play. I don’t care if we have to hand the ball off 100 times, throw it 100 times, we have to blitz every player or play nothing but 10 guys back in coverage. Whatever it’s going to take each game, we’ll do.
Q: Pat Graham said a couple weeks ago that his job is to reflect the vision of the head coach. Obviously, you wouldn’t have hired him if you didn’t believe that you guys were like-minded. I’m just curious beyond January with all the time you worked with Pat up in New England, what made you know then, back then, that you guys were like-minded and have a similar vision for what you want to accomplish on the football field?
A: The previous years that we worked together up in New England, you find out a lot about each other going through kind of harder times, rough seasons, long hours. It’s not all pats on the backs and conversations. A lot of times, me and Pat really challenged each other working together. There were arguments and different philosophical questions we had to answer. There were a lot of times when we had to shed some weight in the offseason, walking around the field in the spring before the players got back, and just have a lot of talks about just how to build a team and what we really believed in, what we think our priorities to accomplish in terms of setting a culture. We always found time, even when we didn’t work together, me and Pat were always finding each other at the Combine, make sure we found time to just talk ball. He was a guy that if I had a question on something that was going on or how to handle a situation, he was always a guy I could give a phone call to. He may shoot me a phone call or text in the same regard. Again, I think when you work with people and you put in long, stressful hours, you go through some adverse situations, you really find out who those people truly are. When you come out the other side, there’s someone you can trust, and that’s someone you want to go forward with.
Q: I have two quick things here. One is a follow up on Pat Graham a little bit. Is there any part of him that is, his demeanor is a little bit different behind closed doors and that kind of prim and proper Ivy League vibe that he exudes on our Zoom calls? He gets after his guys pretty good behind closed doors, does he not?
A: Pat has a lot of depth to him. I think we all do. We’re all different in front of a camera than we are maybe in the classroom than we are on the field. I think you have to hit the field with a certain level of juice and urgency that you can’t just walk around whispering into players’ ears and get them to respond. That’s just not our personality. That’s not the personality of really any coach on our staff. Pat’s got a tremendous personality. He’s very funny, he’s very intelligent, he’s very insightful. He’s great to have around, he gives great perspectives on a lot of things. I really can’t say enough positive things about him.
Q: With regard to Leonard Williams, I know you were extremely complimentary of his personality and what he brings in terms of his attitude, but I wonder what you’re seeing technically from him this year and how he’s meshed with his position coach and with Pat? These numbers are starting to build up for him more so than they have in his career.
A: First off, he’s freakishly talented so there’s only so much you’re going to teach this guy skillset wise. Now, you have to refine the technique, the fundamentals and really emphasize the finish. I think (Sean) Spence(r) has done a really good job with Leonard in those areas. The one thing that really shows up, I think the way Leonard is playing is he has tremendous finish right now of getting to the quarterback or in pursuit getting to the runner. He’s made a lot of disruptive plays. A lot of things don’t show up on stat sheets. If they’re doubling him, someone else is single, so where’s the pressure coming from? There are a lot of things that Leonard does by just kind of the caliber of athlete he is. But to me, the finish he’s playing with is really making a big difference for us as a team.
Q: You have four free agents you brought in after you were hired obviously who are making huge impacts. Blake (Martinez), Logan (Ryan), (James) Bradberry and Graham Gano. I’m wondering if you can share some of the insights that went into free agency with you, Dave (Gettleman), Kevin (Abrams). Were you ‘we want the best players we can afford’? Were you ‘we want guys who can be here and make an immediate impact’? Were you ‘we want guys who are going to be here for the long-term, foundational guys’? How did you approach free agency because it seems like you guys hit on all those guys?
A: I think there are a lot of elements to everything you just said right there. We obviously worked, I thought we worked very well together, just collectively sharing a vision in what we’re looking to build this team with. I laid out the way I saw this team being built. We had a lot of conversations in terms of what the best way going about that was. I thought Dave and his staff did a great job in terms of identifying who’s out there, who’s available. To me, there was such a key element in bringing in the right kind of people. All the guys you just named, they’re very capable players but they’re very good people and very good teammates. When you have guys who are good people in the locker room, who are good teammates, who are passionate about what they’re doing and work hard every day, you’re going to improve as a team. That’s going to happen. To me, those guys have all made a lot of impact, and it’s not just because of a skillset or a talent level. It’s because the way they come to work every day as professionals and the way they work on the field and the way that they care about their teammates, and their teammates help raise them up when they’re having a tough time because they care about them as well.
Q: Coaches always talk about constantly improving. You signed Graham Gano and Logan Ryan in late August. Where would this team be without those guys?
A: Look, those guys are doing a tremendous job for us right there. Logan’s really built in a lot of versatility and depth we have on defense. This guy does a lot of things behind the scenes, he does a lot of things in meetings. Logan’s a guy that challenges you constantly. He’s the guy you go in there with in the meeting and you better present something to him, and you better have all the answers because he’s going to ask 35 questions, and they’re all very good, insightful questions. He’s going to make you think and confirm that what you presented to the team is the best sound plan for them to have success. He doesn’t do that in a testing way. He just does it because he wants to be completely thorough and make sure we’re on the same page, and everyone understands how it’s supposed to be played. I’ll tell you what, Graham has really done a great job for us with the field goals, with the kickoffs. This guy has a great temperament. He’s a competitor. I’m glad he’s here. He’s obviously made a lot of big kicks for us. Look, kicker is one of those positions a lot of times you don’t really notice until you don’t have one. You don’t have one, that’s all you can think about.
Q: Coach Graham was talking earlier about tailoring game plans to each specific opponent. I just was wondering is there any specific benefit to the fact that you faced Russell Wilson last week, and now this week you’re going up against a similar strong-armed, mobile quarterback in Kyler Murray?
A: You can say that there are elements that are the same with these guys in terms of they’re mobile quarterbacks with big arms, can extend plays, can run down the field. At the same time, I don’t think it’s the best thing to do to try to paint these guys with a broad brush and say that they’re the same quarterback. I don’t see that at all. I think they’re both very talented, very capable, they’re both explosive, but they both have their own play style, they both do things within their own unique personality, and you have to know how to play each one different. There are a lot of subtleties that we see on tape, and there are some broad strokes that our players have to understand are very different as well. One of the misconceptions that I’ve been asked about a lot this week and I heard is just because someone can run and throw, does that help you? Look, if we’re playing Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, that’s not the same as Russell Wilson, it’s not the same as Murray. These are all very different quarterbacks, different skillsets. There are just some basic things you can check boxes on. Are they mobile? Yes. Do they have big arms? Yes. Are they explosive? Yes. Are they the same player? No. They’re all very different. You better understand how they play within their offenses and how they operate to be able to have a chance of success against them.
Q: I had actually covered Jabrill (Peppers) in high school. I noticed you’re wearing a Don Bosco Prep sweatshirt. No bets involved with him this week, were there?
A: No, but I pay enough for that high school for my son.