Q: Does it feel any different coming into this week knowing that you’re going into the regular season and focusing on a specific opponent?
A: Yeah. The coaches were in yesterday. Obviously, we’ve done a lot of work in the offseason but this the first real regular season week for us, so I think everybody’s excited and looking forward to our preparations here.
Q: As far as playing the Cowboys, I’m curious, last year was your first year as a head coach in the division. What, if anything, did you learn that you applied moving forward toward the season either roster construction or philosophically.
A: Those are conversations. We’ve had a lot of them throughout the offseason. We’ve worked to improve in certain areas. Obviously, you study the games that you play against common opponents and against the team that you’re playing here for the two times we played them. There’s a lot of work done. The first game of the NFL season, there’s a lot of unknowns. Usually, you have a collection of film you can watch throughout this season and let’s say after week three or week four, there’s three or four games to lean on. So, you do a lot of research, a lot of study on really all the games, but it really comes down to your fundamentals, your techniques, your assignments, your communication because really, it’s a little a little bit of the unknown. Obviously, (Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy) Coach McCarthy has done a very good job there, he’ll be calling plays. (Cowboys Offensive Coordinator) Brian Schottenheimer, a friend of mine who’s their coordinator, and then obviously familiarity with (Special Teams Coordinator John) Coach Fassel and (Defensive Coordinator Dan) Coach Quinn. They have really good players – some elite players, particularly at certain spots and it’ll be a big challenge for us.
Q: Anything stick out as a division as a whole?
A: My focus is on this week, so this is the most important game because it’s the next one. We have a lot of work to do, big week of preparation ahead of us and we’ll get started today.
Q: When I was growing up, I felt like the slot was the third receiver and the third cornerback. When do you feel like that changed and how much of an advantage is it to have a number one corner like (cornerback) Adoree’ (Jackson) who can go in the slot, especially in this matchup right here where they play their number one receiver in the slot.
A: Well, I don’t know how much it’s really changed. The game has changed. It’s a little bit more of a spread game so it’s – when you’re recruiting college football there’s a little bit more receivers out there, some more DBs. The use of the spread offense really – I’d say the last 10 years or whatever -- came into play quite a bit. It was there even before when Houston was running their stuff, Buffalo back in the day was running their stuff and this is a game of matchups, obviously in our league, so if you play man-to-man, maybe you decide where you want to put the players. If it’s zone, maybe you make it look like man and vice versa. I’d say that with the game becoming more spread out, the need for more corners and skill players for the space element is important.
Q: Specific to Adoree’, how much of it is an advantage for him to be able to do that? How much of that was done with the Cowboys and (Cowboys receiver) CeeDee Lamb in mind?
A: Well, I’d say Adoree’ – last year we played a lot of different coverages and games where we matched and he played inside, he played outside, so he has position flexibility. We’ll try to use him the best way we can. Again, they have a very good player that plays both inside and outside with CeeDee, but they have some other skill players that are going to be challenging – really their entire package. All their skill guys from their backs, to their receivers, to their tight ends. All of our guys are going to have to be ready to go with the assignments that we ask them to do.
Q: I’ll take care of the injury report for everybody, do you have any injury updates for us?
A: That’ll all come out Wednesday now since we are in the regular season.
Q: I wanted to ask you about (cornerback) Tre Hawkins (III), it’s one thing that (cornerback Deonte) Banks comes in, first round obviously, but for a guy from Old Dominion to win a starting job as a cornerback in this league and for you, what does that say about him?
A: Tre has had a good camp. I think he’s improved since he’s been here. He’s got the right mindset. It’s early in his career, very early in his career, but he works hard, he understands our defense and he will have his challenges throughout the year, but he’s done a good job with what we are looking for in terms of his intelligence, his dependability and he’s earned his role relative to what we are going to ask him to do.
Q: If I can just follow-up, you guys knew all of that when you drafted him, correct? In terms of the mental aptitude for the game kind of thing?
A: Yeah, and I think again just credit goes to (Senior Vice President and General Manager) Joe (Schoen) and the scouting staff. We brought him for a 30 visit, got to meet with him there. There is a long process relative to the evaluation part of it and then once you get here, it really doesn’t matter how you get here. Free agency, late pick, UDFA, high pick, it’s all what you do when you are here. He’s earned what he’s got.
Q: With Haddy (outside linebacker Jihad Ward), are you a believer that a team needs kind of guy like that who is willing to put at least a figurative hammer down in some situations?
A: Yeah, I would just say Haddy is a great teammate. I think everybody respects him, he brings a lot of juice to the meetings, to the practice field, he’s an intelligent player, he’s played in (defensive coordinator) Wink’s (Martindale) system, understands the requirements of playing his spot, knows multiple roles, but a very good team player. Glad we have him.
Q: (Wide receiver) Darius (Slayton) obviously showed a lot last year, given the situation of the start to where he finished. Do you think there is more in him, in terms of what he is capable of being?
A: Again, you talk about another good teammate. We’ve talked about the start that he had last year. I’d say his ability to really just be laser focused on his job and improving every day really helped us throughout the season. Got him back and he’s been a very good teammate. I think he has improved in a number areas, understands the system better, has some good leadership traits about him, particularly with some of those younger receivers and happy to have him.
Q: Without naming any names, have you seen guys who were put in a similar situation to Darius?
A: Throughout my 23 years, probably a bunch, but I’d say that mental toughness you have to have when everything is not going right, all of us, we are going to hit adversity, whether that’s in a game, during the season, maybe play and just to keep forging ahead with focus on the next play, the next day, trying to improve. That’s not an easy thing to do. You know you have a guy like Darius that did it last year and kind of went through some of the growing pains that he had, but I’ve been around a significant amount of players. I’ve also been the other way where things got tough and they never came out on the other end of it, so it’s not just players. I’d say it’s coaches, it’s everybody within an organization. When you are getting ready to go through a long season, there is going to be bumps along the way and your job is to try to stay committed to what your job is and do a better job and learn from the mistakes that you made and just come out a little better each and every day.
Q: On Tre Hawkins, do you remember when you guys first realized you could go with what you’re going to go with here with him as a starter on the outside, and how those conversations went?
A: I’d just say each and every day there’s an evaluation throughout camp from OTAs all the way through of basically how you perform on the field when you have an opportunity to perform. I think, again, he’s improved. Are you going to say he’s there? No. He’s a young player that has earned his role. He’s going to continue to work hard to try to get better. He has the right mindset. That’s what we hope for all of our players.
Q: Did that come up in OTAs, or was it not till training camp where it really came up?
A: I'd say really OTAs—I know I mentioned OTAs. Really, in OTAs, they're just trying to learn and get stuff down. So usually, when the pads come on, and you see it play-in and play-out or day-in and day-out, and you see improvement and you really can look at the skillset of the player and see how they're performing on a daily basis. That’s kind of what we preach, just focus on your job, do it as well as you can do it each day, and if you do that, then good things will happen for you.
Q: I know you said it’s not going to come out till Wednesday and it’s probably late practice today, but did (wide receiver) Parris (Campbell) take part today?
A: We haven’t been out there yet, but yeah, when we talk about—he’ll be out there. Parris is fine.
Q: When you look at the lineup you put on the field last year, your opener, and the one you'll put on the field presumably this year in the opener, there’s pretty dramatic changes. Certainly, at the linebacker position, the wide receiver position, tight end is a little different, certainly. Can you talk about how you guys maybe targeted some areas you felt you needed to improve, and what do you think the result is now? How much do you like this group you're going to start on Sunday night?
A: I think Joe said, ‘we'll see’. I agree with him. Again, until you get out there, you start playing the games, you find out what you have. I don't go too much other than evaluating the tape because, and you've done this a long time, I don't think there's ever been the same team the last 20 years that there was the year before. So, we're different. The team we're playing is different. Obviously, there are some pieces that are still in both spots. The play caller is different on their side. There’re so many different changes. Each year is such a unique challenge and unique in and of itself. So, this is a new season. We'll put our guys out there and try to have a great week of preparation and practice, make sure we're dialed in to the game plan and get ready to play an outstanding opponent.
Q: Obviously, you don't know what's going to happen, but initially, when you look at what you did and what you have on paper, do you look at it and say, ‘Okay, on offense, I think we can be more explosive, and on defense, I think we're more fortified on the inside linebacker spot to be more competitive there?’
A: I’d say the goal every year is to improve whether that's by personnel or by scheme or how you do things structurally, but our focus is just each day try to get a little bit better. It's an important day for us today. It's really the introduction to their team and to their team what it is this year and to their additions. They got (wide receiver Brandin) Cooks, they got (cornerback Stephon) Gilmore, they got some new draft (picks). There’s quite a bit of changes, even if it’s 20, 30 percent of it, it’s still different. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us and that's where our focus is.
Q: Joe last week said a lot that he sees from last season to this season as closing the gap. Do you look at it that way, or is this simply another game and go from there?
A: I look at it as it's our next opponent. It’s our first opponent, obviously, of the season in the regular season and all of our work and what we're doing has to be focused on our stuff and making sure that we're locked into what we're doing and then understanding the opponent that we're playing. It’s the most important game because it's the next one.