“Nineteenth.” (That’s counting his first year in Jacksonville, when the Jaguars didn’t yet field a team.)
So is it as exciting as the first, the fifth or the 10th?
“It is, every bit so. It is every bit as exciting because of the competitive nature of our game, because of the idea of the new beginning, the playing in the division (against the Dallas Cowboys), playing against a team that we have great respect for and a long, historic rivalry against. It is a very, very exciting time.”
I think most prognosticators look at this division and say they think it’s going to be tightly bunched throughout. Do you go into a season figuring the NFC East race is going to be decided very late in the season?
“Always, always do. There’s no question about it. If you just think of the team we’re going to play, they’ve played for the division and a chance to play in the playoffs on the last day of the season two years in a row and lost both games. They lost to us and then lost to Washington. Last year, when you look at our division, if you take just the Cowboys, they beat Philadelphia twice, lost to Washington twice and split with us. Is that not the nature of our profession, our business? I don’t care when you talk about close games, it doesn’t matter. This is kind of the way this thing goes. You look at our games in the division last year, they were incredible games with chances to win or lose every one of them and that’s the way it is. It’s so very competitive and, let’s face it, people within, everyone has their idea on winning a championship but also, teams are built to compete and win within your division, because that’s the direct line to getting into the playoffs.”
“Well, it’s usually a third. You usually count on a third of your team being new. You bring in your draft choices, being primarily seven, sometimes a little bit more, sometimes less. Most of the time those guys make your team, so it’s normally a third, a little bit more than that this year but I think in that case, for the right reasons, some of the veteran players that came with us in the offseason are going to make us a better team.”
>> 53-MAN ROSTER IN PHOTOS
So many NFL teams play an up-tempo offense now, most notably Chip Kelly and his attack in Philadelphia.
“Different styles, very much different styles.”
Is it harder to play defense now because of that because it is so much more difficult to substitute when you want to match up personnel?
“If Philadelphia plays for 60 minutes like they did when Chip Kelly was a college coach (at Oregon), then in fact you’re at high risk to substitute, because it’s going to cost you. They’re either going to catch you with 12 on the field or you’re going to have to take a timeout or something of that nature. We’ve gone through the defending of the option quarterback and the mystique of that, allowing that the dive in Washington with that runner has been a tremendous asset to their offensive team, regardless of everything else. So then the play action pass off of that, off of the option…it’s certainly a different style of offense in the National Football League.”
Eli Manning has fielded several questions about his timing with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, because the receivers each missed a lot of practice time in the spring and/or summer. Is that an issue for you?
“Timing? Absolutely. It’s critical, you’ve got to have it. The difference between the pass protection, the timing of the break and the release of the football, the anticipation, the knowledge of where people are going to be, the instinctive knowledge rather than the studious, where is he at what point during the course of the play. Those are all huge factors.”
Do you think they’ve had enough time to work that stuff out?
“We’ll see, we’ll see.”
Justin Pugh is going to be the first rookie to start on the offensive line for you since Chris Snee in 2004. When you have a rookie who’s playing an important position – he is protecting Eli - do you make it a point to say something like “we’re really counting on you" or do you refrain because it will just add to his anxiety?
“You don’t start on the eve of the game talking to him, you talk to him continuously. You mention things to him about what you see throughout practice and what he does well, what he didn’t do well, and you do it continuously. The way I do it is I just keep sticking my nose in when they’re working or in the classroom or wherever and encourage whenever I can, but be honest, sometimes brutally.”
You have an interesting mix now on the offensive line with three guys who have played a lot of football (Chris Snee, Kevin Boothe and Will Beatty) and the two that have played none (James Brewer and Pugh). How important is it for the veterans to lead by example verbally and help the two young players?
“Communication is critical. You talk about being in a very loud place (AT&T Stadium) in which you have to distinguish and be able to understand exactly what’s happening as quickly as you possibly can, sometimes depending on the guy next to you. It’s very important and, again, there are no short cuts. That’s the unfortunate thing. You’ve got to play beside a guy for a while. Sometimes when you do play beside a guy for a long time you don’t have to say a word. That’s another thing we will have to confront.”
Terrell Thomas is going to play his first regular season game in 980 days. Can you talk about the perseverance he’s shown and how hard he worked to come back after two knee reconstructions?
When you look at tape from the preseason games, from the practices, do you say “I recognize Terrell…?”
“Yes. I’ve seen that get better, even, no matter what the assignment, even in jog thru.”
As a coach, it’s very important for you to have confidence in your kicker. You have a new kicker this year in Josh Brown. Did the preseason give you confidence in what Josh can do?
“It did. Yes, it did. If you think back to the number of touchbacks and the strength with which the ball was kicked - I know it’s summer and so on and so forth, but also, he was put in pressure situations on at least two occasions and came through. And he’s been there before, he kicked a key field goal in a playoff game last year (for Cincinnati).”
“They have demonstrated over the years, honestly, not just this fall, a true, true interest and concern in the well-being of our team, not their own individual thing. I think there’s tremendous growth in each individual. You watch and listen to Antrel and I think that you know that his heart and mind is in, and has been in for quite some time, the right place. I just think they’re guys that work in different ways and have demonstrated exceptional leadership and have done more than their part. You open the door to the offensive line room and there’s one guy sitting behind that machine every time you peek in there and it’s 76 (Snee).
“You know where Eli stands. I think Tuck has come back this fall and really he’s not been very verbal, but he’s demonstrated and shown good example, and I think that’s really what the challenge was for Justin based on a year ago. And Zak has been steady and he has been, as a captain, is this his third year already, he has been very forthright and never leaves a stone unturned in terms of what he thinks with regard to his effort on special teams or his contributions in the meeting room.”
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Did you encourage the players to elect additional captains?
“No, it just comes by virtue of the votes. These guys were all elected by the players. Am I happy they were selected? Yes, I am because I think the number one thing is always 'team' and people have to lead by example, first, and 'well done is better than well said.' Yet, through the course of the long and difficult, challenging season, you’re going to see an opportunity for people to show what they’re made of in good and bad and that’s where leadership comes from. Adversity, remember, makes you stronger, according to John Wooden.”
The Cowboys have a new play-caller in Bill Callahan. Tony Romo threw 648 passes last year. They’ve been such a passing team and Callahan has more of a run background, do you expect them to run the ball this year?
Defensively, they have new look with Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 replacing the 3-4. Kiffin coached in Tampa Bay (from 1998-2008). How much much study did you do of Kiffin’s defense?
“There is a lot of work that’s been done. We studied them in the preseason. They are playing a system, which Monte Kiffin has coached for a long, long time. And coached it very well and coached a philosophy and it looks like their team has bought into the philosophy.”