Head Coach Joe Judge
Opening Statement: Bye week-wise, we got the guys in today, reviewed the game tape, talked through a few self-scout things. We're going to get the guys on the field today. We're going to split the team based a little bit on where some of the guys' bodies are at, so we're going to have the majority of the older guys who played a lot of volume in last week's game, they're going to work a lot with the trainers, the strength staff after our walkthrough today. We'll keep a lot of the younger guys out for some developmental work and we'll do something very similar tomorrow, as well. So, we'll be on the field a little bit over an hour today total with different plans and then we'll regroup on the backend for some meetings, continue some self-scout and build in some things going into future opponents. That being said, I'll open up to any questions you have.
Q: Is that a normal bye week thing? Is that what you did last year?
A: Last year was completely different because we had the COVID situation last year. Last year's plan was to come out and have a couple good practices. Due to the circumstances we found ourselves with COVID last year, we went completely virtual last year, so we actually lost that time. We've done different things in different programs I've been in. I think it's important to do what's best for your team at that time and not to try and follow some template of what's going on. There's a large focus right now trying to get our team healthy and fresh. We had a lot of guys play a lot of snaps and they've done a good job for us. And there are some older guys I want to make sure get as much rest as they can this week, but then mentally they've got to make sure they get either an introduction of new things we're going to do or corrections of things we have to clean up. But it's important mentally to make sure we make progress this week.
Q: In terms of what you mentioned, that some guys need rest and stuff – coming out of the bye, obviously you get that bonus day on that Monday, a week from yesterday. Do you think you'll do anything that day or are you going to give those guys—
A: The Monday coming back? We will. We will. We'll come in. Actually, this one will mirror very much what we did last year coming out of the bye week. We actually did this and found it to be a pretty good way to kind of phase them back in, so after a few days off, we'll bring them back. It'll be mostly individual fundamental focus. We'll do a couple things in terms of group teach together, but because it's going to be a longer week anyway, we'll get them back, get them moving, get their bodies back into it. Tuesday is going to be a day off and back into work Wednesday.
Q: Obviously, you're looking for a mental break, a physical break for everybody, but also for your coaching staff. How do you balance that versus – you have a game that's on the horizon, how much do you guys just completely box it away until you get back on Monday? How do you balance that?
A: I always think it's important that on the front end of these weeks you put in the work. Our guys were here working last night, we'll work again tonight. We'll get the coaches and players out of here tomorrow afternoon. Coaches will get out a little bit later than the players will, but to me it's about (how) you still have the things you have to do. They have projects working into this week in terms of self-scout, looking internally at what we're doing schematically, personnel-wise, what we can do better going forward. Then, also looking to future opponents coming up and you want to go ahead and get a jump start on those guys. In terms of the game-planning specifically for Tampa coming out of the bye, we'll jump on that as a staff really when we get back. In terms of the breakdowns, the cut-ups, the internal and the individual thoughts on how we should play those games, we'll get a jumpstart on those as a staff. From the players' perspective, you want to make sure that physically you get them back as much as possible. For guys that need more work on the field, you want to get them as much individualized teaching and fundamental work as you can get. We've got a lot of younger players who we're anticipating and expecting to help our team down this stretch. We've got a lot of guys on practice squad or who haven't had a lot of game experience yet, and we've got to get them extra work these next two days. It's good in the smaller group setting to really make sure they can get all the coaching they can possibly get, film review it on the backend and give them just enough of a jumpstart going into the backend of this season that they're more confident going out there and executing.
Q: What has stood out to you during the self-scout?
A: It's a volume of things. There are a lot of things we've done well and things we've got to correct. To me, this time of year it's more important with the coaches that we look at it through this week of truly the self-scout and what we have to do, and we'll talk in the meetings about that. Then, really give a large part of that to the players on Monday when we come back. There's a lot of things we want to sit down and have conversations (about) instead of just rushing on through it and make sure we find the best way of doing things or tweaking things going forward. To me, the fundamentals are always the number one thing you have to emphasize to the players this time of year. Go back through your penalties, your turnovers, your tackling, your open-field running, go through those things and talk as a team of what we have to do better as a team, what we have to correct and they have to understand that when we come back into next week while we're working certain fundamental drills and while we're changing maybe a couple things in practice to emphasize the things we have to do better. To me, you come out of camp, you want to be as crisp as you can fundamentally. The reality is it takes all of September to really get in that football mode of fundamentals and conditioning, and then you've got to go ahead and re-emphasize it going through this part of the season to get them back thinking about the fundamentals and the things that really make a difference in winning games.
Q: It seems like you guys use the practice squad a little bit different than other teams and maybe they haven't caught up to that, to the new rules and bringing guys in that are low-risk – (Wide Receiver) Pharoh (Cooper) is there now. How quickly did you adapt to those rules, do you like them and do you hope they stay permanent?
A: I think there's plusses and minuses to the rules. I think the plus would be (that) the practice squad is always how you can build on roster depth and it's truly to develop players. We tell guys all the time, we're not looking for a group full of Rudy's to come out here and just run around all high energy. We want guys to improve as players to make our team better and we want guys constantly competing to be on the field. We get all these guys ready to play every week because they will eventually. If we do it the right way, we should have a number of guys from our practice squad step up, make contributions and make our roster. (Linebacker) Trent Harris is a great example. He got special teams' player of the week for us this week in the game. He's a guy that (the) last two weeks has been elevated. He's a guy that stays ready, whether it's short notice or he's kind of in that limbo sometimes. He's done a great job for us the last two weeks stepping up and being ready and being productive for us as he prepares. There's a number of those guys that step in. With the rules with the vets this year, it definitely changes a lot of things that are out there. I think this is kind of a talking point for both sides and we talked about the pluses and minuses of it. With the rules for the vets being on the practice squad, what that's really changed just these last two years is the availability of who you can go ahead and bring in to add to your roster. The importance of getting on that practice squad early and then staying after it of making sure whoever is available, every opportunity you get to get somebody in that can fill a spot for you, you're thinking, 'Will he go ahead and meet a need for you?' you want to try to do that because eventually, there's not going to be that inventory on the street like there used to be. It used to be if you had a guy hurt on Sunday, Tuesday you had a long list of workouts, you'd picked someone Tuesday morning, you'd meet with them Tuesday afternoon, they're practicing with your team on Wednesday. The reality now is the inventory on the street is so much less because most of the good football players – and there are good players out there – but most of the better football players are already on someone's practice squad kind of in that holding pattern for when they get elevated or taken off for somebody else's roster.
Q: What are the keys to a good red zone defense and what have you guys been doing so well these last three games?
A: Communication is huge. I think communication is a big part of red zone defense because when you talk about the red zone, once the space gets restricted, the speed of the game picks up so much faster. The ball's got to come out faster, got to be more accurate, receivers have to get open faster, make tougher, more contested catches. Defenses have to be in their spot right away so when you're working a disguise, you've got to make sure you adjust and get there right after the snap because those tight windows are going to get hit. Any space there is in the defense, the offense is going to find a way to get it. Most teams in the red zone are using some type of indicator to figure out what you're in and find out where the best matchup is. Whether it's zone and you're talking about spacing and vision. If it's man, you're talking about leverage. You've got to make sure that everyone is working off of each other, complementary that wherever your help is, whether it's zone or a man, you're working with that man because any space that's open, they're going to fit in there very tightly. I think when you talk about why has the team been more productive in recent games in the red area, I think (Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator) Pat (Graham) and his staff have done a good job with the plan. I think the players have done a really good job of coming out and practicing and executing it. We've done some different things in terms of how we prepare for the red zone. We've put more of a focus on it earlier in the week. We've spent more time walking through it and introducing it and then going ahead and hitting it with better tempo later in the week. I think that's something that's carrying over in terms of the understanding and obviously the execution on the field, but I think it always comes down to having good fundamentals. There's a lot of plays last week whether it was (Linebacker) Tae Crowder having that tipped pass and that comes down to really his zone vision, reading the quarterback. Flowing off into the same play right behind him was (Cornerback) Adoree' (Jackson) in tight coverage. He was really playing more of the man element of that defense right there to play or shift it there. (Cornerback) James Bradberry had a good pass break up for us on a third down. We've got to get the defense off the field and that really came into us just playing with good leverage in man, moving his feet and just playing through the catch point to break that thing up. To me, it all ties back into the fundamentals. The other stuff is all critically important. You've got to know what the call is, know what your assignment is, execute it correctly, communicate to make sure you're on the same page, but ultimately, you've got to do it with good fundamentals.
Q: Big-picture, do you look at all at the rest of the NFC this week and where you guys are compared to the other teams in the playoff chase? And does last year's experience help at all when you guys didn't necessarily have the record but were in it because the way the other teams' records were?
A: No. The biggest thing we're focused on right now is just us, improving ourselves as a team and going 1-0 each week. You do that, it'll take care of itself in the big picture. We're so far away from the end of the season where all of that stuff really comes together. Are you conscious of what's going on in the rest of the league? You are, but are you focused on it? No. Really, right now the most important thing is we play our best football and we match up against whoever we play.
Q: There's a chance when you come out of the break you'll have the majority of your skill players. Will you be able to dictate more to defenses in the sense that they can't solely double on (Wide Receiver Sterling) Shep (Shepard) or somebody like that? Will that work to your advantage?
A: I think it all depends on the defense and how they view what you're doing, schematically how they want to play you. We're not going to call their defenses for them, so I can't tell you exactly what they're going to do. We want to have all of our players back and healthy. That's definitely something we focus on. However, more important than that, it's whoever's available at the game for them to be productive. I'm pleased with the way guys have stepped up and improved throughout the year. We continuously see guys improve throughout practice and when they get to the game they've done a solid job for us. We want to try and get everyone back and healthy, but our main focus is going to be whoever's available, maximizing their opportunities.
Q: How is (Running Backs Coach) Burton Burns doing?
A: He's in good spirits. As soon as we can get Burton back in here, we will. He and his wife, Connie, are kind of over in their condo right now hanging out and he's staying connected through Zooms. We've obviously been talking to him constantly. Between him and (Running Back Gary) Brightwell, they're both engaged and active in meetings with us. There's just some time limits getting them back in the building.