It’s good to be here in Mankato. I’ve heard some good things about Mankato from a few of the former people I worked with, the likes of Coach (Tony) Dungy and Tom Moore. It’s been right-on from what they have said. They’ve been great to us here in Mankato. They’ve ordered up great weather for us. We couldn’t have hit it any better in terms of the weather we’ve had and it has been good work. Yesterday we were in pads for the first time and the guys flew around to the ball, they ran hard. By no stretch were they perfect but I feel good about where we are right now, with it being the third day of practice and looking forward to seeing how the guys respond to the second day with pads on. The first day is usually pretty good. Everyone feels healthy and the second day is kind of the tell-tale sign of all of the hard work guys put in with the offseason, with the conditioning, with being in shape and assignment-type of things. Looking forward to that evaluation. With that, I’ll leave it to you and open it up for questions and let you guys take it.
Q: At this point, how much of the defensive playbook do you have installed and how much do you want to have installed by the first preseason game?
A: We’re taking that fairly slow. We want to make sure that we install it slowly so the guys get it. We’re not just going to throw it all out there and let them pick it up. We want to go piece by piece, be detailed about what we do. To answer your question, 20 percent, if you will, is in. We have a ways to go and a lot of that is situational football so there are pieces that apply to certain situations. Today, we have short yardage and goal line, and so short yardage and goal line are very specific in terms of what we’re putting in.
Q: Considering your familiarity with Leslie Frazier and his defense, how much of your previous defense did you use as a starting point and how much of it did you start fresh?
A: People ask me that question a lot, kind of Leslie’s defense or the Tampa 2 scheme, that type of thing. Football is kind of football. We’re trying to use the same terminology for the most part that’s been in and I’m adjusting to that. I’d rather have myself adjust to it, I’d rather have me adjust to that rather than have all 11 starters have to change that around. The terminology is the same. The coverages, for the most part, are fairly the same. There are only so many coverages you can run but we have some tweaks to it that we’d like to do. Just to let our guys, the ones who do things well, we’re going to let them do those things well.
Q: How much have you talked to Tony Dungy since you got the job and relied on him to help shape your philosophies and schemes?
A: As far as shaping my philosophies and schemes, a great deal. I was with him for eight or so years, so a lot of who I am comes from Coach Dungy and I’m proud to say that a great deal. I haven’t talked to him much. He’s out of football. If I have something for him, I’ll call him and he’s always been there to answer any questions but now if I have a question about something, I’ll go to Coach Frazier. He’s a great resource. He knows the guys, he knows our personnel. He knows what we’re doing so Coach Frazier is my sounding board if I need something, if I need advice or have a question.
Q: How do you feel about Antoine Winfield’s role now that he is getting older?
A: I don’t think anybody told him that. I don’t know if he’s aware of that so you have to go check with him to see if he’s aware that he’s getting older because I looked at yesterday’s practice and there’s nothing that says he is slowing down or wearing down or whatever verbiage you want to use with that.
Q: How do you envision using him?
A: Use him at corner. I understand what you’re saying, I’m just kind of teasing a little. Antoine is a technician and the body is not going to stay young forever, so he can rely on his years of experience to play and play well and we realize that there are only so many reps that a body has so we want to be smart about how we use him, about how we play him. Some of that is going to be how fast some of our younger guys or some of the guys that we brought in come up to speed. That’s yet to be determined but we do know that he’s going to be on a pitch count. What that pitch count is, I don’t know yet.
Q: In the middle of the season when other guys are more familiar with your defense, would you like to have him in just a nickel role?
A: I’d like to have him on the field all the time but I just don’t know how many reps he will be able to get and how fast our young guys come along. If we get some young guys that progress well or some of the veterans that we brought in, (Chris) Carr and (Zackary) Bowman, those type of guys that, if they are up to speed and we feel like they’re doing well enough to step in and play, we’ll take some of the workload off of Antoine and put some of the workload on those guys because ultimately, what we want to do is play, play well, and then play into late December and January and ultimately February.
Q: How is Jasper Brinkley coming along?
A: He looks good. I heard one of the guys yesterday joking saying, ‘Hey, you look like your rookie season,’ meaning that he’s moving around, he’s slimmed down, a better version of Brink out there. He’s making great calls. He looks like he hadn’t been away from it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m pleased with what I’ve gotten, but I realize that it’s still only day three so I’m going to hold judgment until we’ve had some more padded practices under our belt.
Q: It looks like Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond have been the first-team safeties. Is that something you’re going into the first preseason game with or is that fluid?
A: When guys come in and they’re new, especially rookies, I like to have them earn their spot. Even though Harrison (Smith) is doing well and some of the other guys are doing well, it’s important that guys earn the spot, that I don’t make the decision, the decision is made based on what we see on tape. Guys will earn their spots and when we feel like they’ve earned that spot or taken over that spot, we’ll make the change and that’s really everyone on the football team, that we’re going to play the best guys no matter what they’re pedigree is, where they’re from or what other people may think when they should be in there. When he earns a spot, that’s when he’ll play.
Q: Are the safety positions in your defense relatively interchangeable?
A: We’d like to have them be interchangeable if that it is just the safety position but we will tailor the defense to what the guys do. If a guy does something extremely well, we’ll put him in that position to make plays and I think that’s what makes a defense run, when you let guys play to their strengths.
Q: How much can you determine what a guy does well based on last year’s tape?
A: To determine that, we do use last year’s tape and I think that is critical, especially with the amount of practices that they’ve cut away from what we do, the amount of live practices. You have to do that and you have to put guys in drills and do various things, be creative in terms of being able to set up situations to evaluate guys. We try to use all those tools to evaluate last year, drills, live work this year along with preseason to get that evaluation.
Q: What do you think Harrison Smith excels in?
A: Right now he is better at everything than I really thought. He’s a tall guy, and usually tall guys are a little bit leggy and may not be quick-footed, but right now he’s excelling at the pass coverage. We put him on tight end and he’s been extremely effective. We’ll wait to see how he does in the run game, we haven’t had any opportunities, which is one of the things I was talking about in terms of the reps are limited. We have to put him in some other opportunities to see how he supports the run and what he does there. It may be the first preseason game until we really know when everything is live.
Q: How is Chris Cook looking?
A: Looks good, looks outstanding. He is quick, he’s intelligent, he plays like a veteran. He is in shape and he plays multiple positions. We have him outside, we have him inside and he picks it up so we’re glad to have him here.
Q: Did you like Harrison Smith at the Senior Bowl?
A: I did, we liked him from the onset. We were surprised at how well he moved. Everything that you may read in the papers about being smart, being a playmaker, moving to the ball well; they’re all true. We want to see how high he can rise and how quickly he can rise.
Q: Can he play inside and help with flexibility in the corners?
A: I would like to. You’d like to have guys who can do it all but some are just better coverage wise. Being in that inside position, it’s like a linebacker position, so you have to support the run, you have to cover, you have to zone drop. That guy that is inside is a multi-talented person and there are not a lot of guys out there that excel in that position. Usually guys are one dimensional so we’re happy to have a guy that can do all those things, mentally and physically.
Q: Is the defensive tackle spot Letroy Guion’s position to lose, or can Fred Evans compete for the job?
A: Every position on the team is a position that guys have to compete for. Letroy has been one that has been phenomenal in camp. It may not seem to the naked eye but there are some clips of him just getting off blocks, running to the ball and pursuing. Day two he made a play outside of the numbers running to the football so we are very pleased with him and we’re waiting to see how Fred does. I said before that this is Minnesota, we’re going to have a hockey lineup so we need eight guys to come in and play for us and play well. We’ll have guys that are rotating and we expect whatever that rotation is for guys to play winning football.
Q: Is Letroy stellar enough to hold up against the run?
A: Oh yeah, that’s not a question. He had a couple plays, I think it was day one where he anchored down and held the point. He’ll be fine in there, that won’t be a problem.
Q: What is your thought process for that hockey lineup philosophy?
A: Keep them fresh, keep them running so they can make plays. When we’re at the end of the ball game and the game is on the line, we have to close it out. It’s just that at the end, we want the guys fresh and we want to close it out. That is game specific and season specific so at the end of the year, we don’t have a guy that has 1,000 reps under his belt, we want guys to be fresh so that we when playoffs come down the line, we’re ready to hunt.
Q: How comfortable are you with the depth of the linebackers?
A: Very pleased with the guys. We have our three guys that have been starting, but we also have really two and half deep so far. I know we have some young guys, but Marvin Mitchell has been outstanding, he is multi-talented, he can play every position across the board. A guy that I heard was lights out on special teams last year, Larry Dean, he has performed extremely well at the same position so we feel good about that. Realize that it’s still day three, so those are the guys that have shown they are ready to play right now, but we’ll see if we have some guys in the third team that will step up and that’s fine. The more guys that step up the better it is for us and ultimately, the better it is for the team.
Q: How big is your line up of third string linebackers?
A: Much bigger than we’ve ever had but that’s a good thing. A guy like Audie Cole, he is deceptively fast, he gets where he needs to be. He is long, he’s ranging, he’s smart and he’s physical. That’s a good thing for us, a good problem to have.