Inside Linebacker Coach Kevin Sherrer, Wide Receiver Coach Tyke Tolbert and Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer spoke to reporters Sunday on a video chat press conference. Here is what each one had to say.
Inside Linebacker Coach Kevin Sherrer
Q: When we talked to you 12 days ago, I don't think any of us thought to ask about Devante Downs. What has he done to impress you? Is he kind of the perfect example of when coaches always say it's a new slate after a coaching staff change? He didn't really get much of an opportunity last year. I'd imagine there's not a whole lot of film on him.
A: Yeah, I know he came in later in the season last year. But yeah, it's a perfect example of kind of wiping the slate clean, giving the guy an opportunity with everyone on a level playing field. He's done well. He's done well for us.
Q: What is it about him specifically that's caught your eye?
A: I think a little bit probably of some confidence, familiarity with the area, the staff a little bit, the time we've been around each other, most of it through Zoom. He's a bigger athlete. He's one of the bigger guys in the room. He's in the 240 (pound) range. Most of the guys are a little bit lighter than that.
Q: I know we talked to you about Zo (Carter), it was more about your background with him in college, but he's basically an edge guy here. Do you think he can play in the inside? If so, what traits does he have that can translate there?
A: He has a unique skillset overall with his length, athleticism. There are probably a lot of positions he could play. He could probably… I'm sure they'd probably like to have him on the offensive side with the way he can run. There's a possibility of that. If we got into a bind, I'm sure he could jump over there and do that. There were some things he did at the college level. It wasn't his main deal to play inside linebacker, but the scheme kind of allowed it to happen, if that makes sense. He's a guy that can possibly do that if needed.
Q: I want to go back to Devante Downs for a moment. When he came out of college, I believe he had a knee injury his senior year. I'm just wondering how long does it usually take, I know every guy is different, but when you look at his film and you look at his background, how much of that knee injury do you think maybe stunted his development? Do you see him now finally rounding back into that pre-knee injury form?
A: I really didn't realize that until you brought it up, but that could be. Each guy is different. Typically, a year to 18 months is about what you kind of see the progression back to what they normally were beforehand as a general rule of thumb in some ways. But that could be the case. With him, I see a lot of confidence that I didn't necessarily see on film last year given only being around him in person for just a few weeks. I've seen his confidence really grow. So, that could be true in that case with a knee issue coming in from college.
Q: Similarly, Ryan Connelly is coming back from a knee injury. Again, there's a school of thought it could take 12 to 18 months for a guy to come back. What have you seen from Ryan, especially since the last couple of days, he's kind of been put aside, not put aside but he's been held out of practice. Do you have to kind of coach him differently or coach how you train him a little bit differently since he's coming off that injury?
A: For the most part, once they get cleared, you just coach them how you have in whatever time you have with them. I wouldn't say it was any different from the way you approach each day. He's obviously around, he's around this system, he's around practices, he's around meetings and things like that. There's not really much of a difference with the way you treat him. It just could determine where the reps are at practice.
Q: What do you think is the biggest difference here going from the college to the pro level in terms of these players? Is it the speed? Is it the focus? Is it their ability to listen? Is it a lot of things?
A: Coming from the SEC, I think the athleticism and the speed was there in that league. I think probably the attention to detail as players, the focus, probably the maturity to understand situational football, not that it wasn't necessarily preached at all at the college level. It's just these guys have been around. I've been teaching them year-around. Guys have the same kind of goals and mindset that you do, so it allows you to grow and mature more as a player.
Q: What do you see from your group so far?
A: I see a group that's got a hunger to kind of prove themselves. Each guy has their own different traits and skillset, but they work good together. I see a group that's trying to be what a linebacker should be. Physical, the quarterback of the defense, and trying to communicate and be the leader. That's not just one guy. That's all of them trying to carry that same mold.
Q: I'm just curious, I wanted to ask you about Tae Crowder. We talked about Downs and how he's on the bigger side. Crowder seems to have a little bit different of a profile in there, bringing speed and athleticism. I'm just curious what you've seen from him? He seemed to flash a little bit in the scrimmage last Friday, just kind of willing to hit at the point of attack.
A: Yeah, obviously, being at Georgia, I knew Tae a little bit beforehand and kind of knew what he was about. He's a guy that coming out of high school was a running back and tight end, offensive player. Through his college career, he transitioned to the defensive side. Very similar scheme to a certain degree of what we do, so I think that's helped him to where he doesn't come in with a complete ground zero. He has terms of knowledge and the language he's trying to interpret. He's done well. He still has a ways to go, some learning, some understanding, some situational awareness and things like that. He's done well for us. He does have a different skillset than the other guys. He's a little bit taller, a little longer, probably a little more athletic than a lot of the other guys.
Q: I'm wondering what have you seen from Blake Martinez from a coverage perspective?
A: Coverage, which we mix what we do a little bit, he's done well. It's been some things similar to what he's done in the past. The one thing about him is he has a really good understanding of awareness, situational awareness, individual players, what it is that they do. I've actually been really pleased with him with the way he's understood that because you kind of think of him as being more of a downhill, mike linebacker. But he has a lot of awareness and ability in the coverage game.
Q: So how comfortable are you guys with having him run with running backs or tight ends?
A: I don't think it matters what linebacker it is. I think you always have a little bit of a concern that you're going to have possible matchup issues no matter who that guy possibly is. I think that would be a week to week, game to game situation on who we face, what type of offense, what they do with their backs. In practice now, we seem to have things we can do in the scheme that can help him and things like that if he gets into a bind.
Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer
Q: I wanted to ask you about, I don't know if this is something I just noticed, but during the scrimmage the other day, a lot of your players I saw were getting their hands up quite often. I'm just wondering, is that something you really put a focus on if they get stonewalled at the line of scrimmage? Are you coaching them to get their hands up in order to get into the passing lanes, or is that something they've always been doing?
A: No, absolutely it's something we work on. If you're not getting to the quarterback, you can't get to his spot, they jump you in the protection, it's three-set protection, those types of things, or max protection where they use two guys on one, you get a push and then you should get your hands up. We have to alter the throw however we can. We either knock the ball down or change the course of it.
Q: Also, what are some of the other things that a defensive lineman can do? We talk about disrupting the passer or getting him off his mark, but if defensive linemen can't necessarily get into the backfield, what are some of the other things they can do to create confusion or just kind of knock the offensive linemen off their game so to speak
A: We need to stay within the framework of the defense, obviously. We cage the quarterback. We want to make sure that he's uncomfortable at all times. You don't ever want it to be like a seven on seven where he's just patting that ball and throwing it. You want him to feel duress. Sometimes, the pressure of feeling those guys in your face is as good as a sack, because like you said, it'll disrupt timing and throws and all that stuff.
Q: Leonard Williams has looked powerful out there. What do you think of his camp so far? Does he look healthy to you? What do you think he's doing well?
A: I think one thing is he's doing a great job of taking the classroom work, the work we do in the meetings prior to practice and being able to bring that out on the field and do the things we're asking him to do. Clearly, as you guys know, he's an unbelievable athlete. I think he's starting to put it all together. He's always had the tools. He's working on refining his craft right now. He looks strong, powerful like you said. I'm just happy with his progress right now.
Q: When you watch his film and you're coaching him up on how he can finish and all those things, what do you see technically or in his game that can lift him above just the pressures to finishing?
A: Obviously, as we stated before, he's a tremendous athlete. We need to take him from being just this tremendous athlete to refining him as a football player, and I think he's working towards that right now. What I tell Leonard is the same thing I'll tell Dex (Lawrence), the same thing I'll tell Chris Slayton. Everybody is kind of coached the same. I don't have a particular 'this is a Leonard focus.' Clearly, there are things that he's going to do really well that you want to use those tools. But at the same time within the framework of what I'm teaching, he's doing those things and trying to articulate those things on the field.
Q: We spend a lot of time when we talk to you about Dalvin (Tomlinson) and Leonard and Dexter. How are the other guys doing? RJ (McIntosh)? B.J. (Hill)? Chris? AJ (Austin Johnson)?
A: I like what I see from all those guys throughout camp. Everyone is working hard. We know it's tremendous competition in that room. One of the things that I stressed in the meeting today is let's not lose sight of that. We do things where sometimes we split the field up, and I don't want those guys to ever think that I'm not watching. I want them to have tremendous competition within each other, day in and day out. They can't take their foot off the gas ever.
Q: The other thing I was going to ask is how many of the linebackers technically fit into your meeting?
A: Not really. Bret (Bielema) works with the outside guys. We collaborate on pass rush things, twists, how to rush the quarterback. So, we collaborate on those, but those guys really never sit in my room. I really work with the interior group.
Q: What are your thoughts on your group in the scrimmage?
A: I thought we took a step. We kind of got on them about a couple things before that. Not got on them but you set an expectation. Whatever that expectation is that we set, we need to reach it or surpass it every day. I think we took a step. I'm not saying we are there yet, but we definitely took a step. What I mean by taking a step is the techniques we're asking them to use, are we seeing that on film. The translation from drill to actual practice reps, does it translate? If I'm working on some drill and I see them go out of what we worked on, then that's a negative. I started to see those guys take from the practice reps and the drill reps on to game and scrimmage situations. I'm starting to see that. That's what I mean by 'we took a step'.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Austin Johnson, a guy I believe you have some history with. What do you consider his strengths?
A: Because he is basically a vet, I have a young room, a guy four years in the league is a vet now. He understands the game, he's very very knowledgeable. He plays with really good pad level and his experience in the NFL has helped him. I think Tennessee and those guys did a great job with him in terms of him understanding the things schematically. What the offense is trying to do. He plays with really good leverage and it's something that he did in college. Obviously, I was fortunate enough to coach him in college. He hasn't really lost that. It's even gotten better.
Q: There's a theory out there that after three or four years in the league you kind of are what are? How do you get him to the next level? Does your familiarity with him help? Can you almost turn back time to 2015 with him?
A: I think definitely when you have coached somebody before, they kind of know what your expectations are as a coach and what I want from him as a football player. I don't really believe that you are what you are. I think you can get better all the time. I think he is a perfect example of a guy that can continue to elevate his game. I saw that in college when I first got there. He was a young guy that was kind of a rep guy, a rotational guy. The last couple of years with him he was able to start for us. I just saw his game start going up and up and up. He's definitely a guy that's very conscientious of what he's doing at all times almost to a fault. My thing with him is just to get him to play fast and not having to think.
Q: You talked about how you can help Leonard Williams be a finisher. He's obviously always gotten pressure on the quarterback. I'm wondering if finishing can really be a technique thing or if that's something that is more instinctive?
A: I think both. I think understanding your angles and understanding why you finished or didn't finish on that rep. Sometimes the ball is out. You guys talk about getting pressure on the quarterback, sometimes the quarterback releases the ball. More so, it's just a continuation of that motor. Keep that motor going at all times. If you're going fast and you are going hard all the time, I really think that good things will happen for you. I know it sounds cliché, just go hard, but that's a part of it, it's a part of the basics of football. If you go hard on every play, good things will happen to you.
Q: I think Daylon Mack was added to the roster since the last time we spoke with you. What are you seeing with him and where might he fit?
A: I can tell you one thing he can't fit a whole bunch of pants. He has the biggest thighs I have ever seen in my life. He's a load. He's a guy that had a lot of success in college at Texas A&M. He was coached by a friend of mine. I'm excited about him. I can't predict what he'll bring to the room, but I know that he's got great leverage, being so compact and strong. I'm excited to work with him.
Wide Receiver Coach Tyke Tolbert
Q: David Sills has had a good camp. I was just curious what you've seen out of him?
A: David Sills has done a really good job. He's a really smart guy, he's working hard. He'll go in there and play all of the positions. I told you guys the other day, he's a rep stealer. He has his reps, he's going to go in and run his reps, then he'll steal some other reps. If he sees guys running down the field, he'll jump in there and say 'I got them, I got them.' I like that about him. He jumps in there, doesn't matter what position it is. He goes in there and plays and executes his assignments.
Q: What jumps out to you about C.J. Board and Austin Mack, and why have they been able to earn so much trust to date?
A: Well, I think the thing with C.J. is immediately his feet. He has speed. He really has speed off the ball, he's really fast, sudden out of his breaks. He has a little bit of experience in the league too. The thing with Austin Mack is his knowledge. That's for all those rookies. Those guys came in the spring and really learned the offense. Austin Mack's a super smart guy. He can play any position. He's a tough guy, he's a physical guy, he's very dependable. That's the thing that stands out with him to me.
Q: How much did you need to see a young receiver on the field now, having not worked with him on the field in the spring? Or did you know who these guys were anyway just because of how much tape you've watched and seen before?
A: Yeah, I think it's different when you do it from college to the NFL. For those guys, you can see all of them but especially the young guys coming in, see how they adjust to the speed of the NFL and see who's going to accept the challenge day in and day out, who's going to back down. All three of those rookies have accepted the challenge, they're stepping up. It's not too big for them. Two guys played at Ohio State, one played at LSU. Playing big time football is not too big for them. I think they're doing really well.
Q: I want to ask you about Alex Bachman. He's a guy who came in late last year, you spent some time with him on the practice squad. But he's impressed seemingly since we stepped out there to watch you practice last Monday. Where does he fit in and what do you like about his skillset that maybe translates to some of the things you guys want to do?
A: A lot like Sills, the fact that he knows all of the positions, he knows them well so he can plug in anywhere, which is unique to have guys like that that can plug in anywhere. He's very knowledgeable, he's adjusted well to the competition we're going against. We're going to have to see him more going against really good on good. What I mean by that is really going against the one's and going against man coverage and everything to see how much improvement he can make with that. But he's been working his butt off and done a really good job. The more he goes out there and makes plays, the more opportunity he'll get.
Q: How much of a challenge is it, I mean when you see him, he does look like a prototypical slot guy. How much of challenge is it for him to steal those reps when you have such experienced guys who have produced in the slot, like Golden (Tate), like (Sterling) Shep and going forward?
A: I think the thing that helps him and all those young guys is a lot of the time in practice, we'll split practices and have guys working in two spots, so they're getting all of the reps. Every rep that Golden or Shep would get is every rep Alex Bachman will get as well. That's been a really good thing how Coach Judge structures practice to where all of the guys are getting a lot of reps. That helps a lot.
Q: This offense could be really good. But do you think you have enough weapons at the wide receiver position?
A: Yes, I do. Weapons are an opinion of one person, but I think all these guys are NFL football players and they're all here for a reason. It's up to us to coach them up to get them to play the best within the system that we possibly can. Do I believe we have enough weapons? Yes. Everybody is always looking for the biggest, strongest, fastest guy, but that doesn't necessarily fit the system that you're running. I think these guys fit perfectly for what we're running. We expect a lot from them and we'll build up a lot of them.
Q: Obviously, you have familiarity with Darius (Slayton) and Shep and Golden last year, but it's a new offense. I'm curious how much is new, or how much does that familiarity help you when you're teaching these guys this year?
A: That's a good question. People ask me that all the time about different systems and everything and how it fits. But running a curl flat is running a curl flat. You can call it 'hank,' you can call it 'sixes,' you can call it whatever you want to call it. But it's still the same plays. Everybody in the NFL runs the same plays. It's a matter of how you call it. It's just getting used to the terminology. But the same plays we're running here are the same plays we ran two years ago, the same plays I ran six years ago. It's really the same stuff, it's just a matter of getting used to the terminology. You still kind of coach them the same, and they still kind of know conceptually the same stuff. They just have to learn different terminology.
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