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Judge's Chambers: DJ's development in Year 3


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Judge's Chambers,'s weekly interview with head coach Joe Judge:

Q: We all know in the NFL that you are what your record says you are, but you're two plays from being 2-1. Not that you can take solace in that, but can you point that out to the players and say, "We're not that far away, keep working at what we're doing here"?

Judge: "We talk every week about what we've done on tape, what we have to correct, and what we have to build on going forward. Again, it's about improvement as a team, and close isn't good enough. But we're focusing right now on what we can do as a team to keep on getting better. I see improvement in this team. I see us going in the right direction right now. Our focus right now is on improving as a team and obviously the New Orleans Saints, so we have to keep on that track."

Q: It's stating the obvious that the players are disappointed at 0-3. Do you have to monitor that disappointment and the attitude of the team, or has it been good since the start of the season?

Judge: "I always look at how people work. That, to me, is a sign of where they are. When guys come in every day, they stay engaged in the meetings, they hit the field, they practice hard, and they do all the right things. That's what you're focused on right there as a team. In terms of trying to observe this and observe that, you monitor how the guys work. Their job is to come to work and be productive, and that's what we're doing."

Q: Jinx alert: (quarterback) Daniel Jones hasn't thrown an interception this year. He has one in his last nine games going back to last year. Have you seen him grow with regard to making good decisions and where to place the ball?

Judge: "I have. I think it's just natural as a guy goes through his career that they keep improving as a quarterback on those aspects. I think you look at a lot of players who have come through this league, I'm not going to start naming names and putting them in a bracket of comparison, but a lot of great quarterbacks have had a lot of similar issues early on. Daniel has done a good job of staying engaged and improving on a daily basis. Obviously, he's more comfortable in the offense as he's extended on through it, but the decision making and the ball security has been a focus for him, and he's done a very good job improving on it."

Q: How much in a regular work week do you harp on that with him?

Judge: "I harp on it with every player on our team every day."

Q: It's easy to admire (tight end) Evan Engram. On Monday, he talked to the media the day after he was booed in MetLife Stadium. He caught 63 passes last year. The next time he catches a touchdown pass, his recent issues might be forgotten. How can you, as his coach, help him get through this period?

Judge: "Look, there's a natural pressure on all of us. We all signed up for that. We can't be upset if things don't go our way and there's criticism on the outside in whatever form that may be. That's what we signed up for. Our focus has to be on doing our job, staying together as a team, and being productive going forward. Evan comes to work every day. He does everything we ask. He's a great teammate. He's a productive player. He was a Pro Bowler last year. This guy continues to improve as a player, so we have all the confidence in the world in him as a player on our team and as a teammate.

"We're going to support everybody on our team. We're going to make sure they understand that there's criticism and pressure that we all go through. We don't ask people to be soft on us. We don't expect anyone to give us a pat on the back. We have to earn everyone's respect, but no matter what the storm is on the outside, we have to support each other on the inside. We have to make sure we stay together as a team. Evan comes to work every day with a great attitude and improves every single day. I love working with him. I know the team loves playing with him. He's an asset to our team. He makes us better. I'm proud to have him on this team."

Q: You said on Monday about getting the ball more to (wide receiver) Kadarius Toney, "It's something we're focused on. We want to get him the ball." What have you seen in practice that makes you believe that he's ready to take that step? Is it just the fact that he finally is practicing regularly?

Judge: "I don't know why everyone keeps referring to take this step, make this leap, or whatever it is. I don't know what platform or checklist everyone imagines that he has to hit. To me, it's just a focus on the guy improving in the system. He'll get the ball as he gets open and as opportunities present themselves. The one thing about receivers is that it's not your job to command the ball to come to you. It's your job to be productive when the ball does come to you. All he has to do is his job and when the ball comes his way, be productive. When the ball doesn't come his way, make sure he's the best route runner or blocker he has to be on that particular play to make sure somebody else has the opportunity to make a play and be productive as a team. I'm pleased that he's working. Obviously, he has a lot of physical ability. He's done a great job in terms of learning the offense and learning multiple positions. He's a very smart player. He's very engaged. You can tell through the way he practices and the way he plays on game day that he loves football. That's a trait we definitely look for."

Q: Can he give you some things maybe some of the other receivers don't? Does he complement some of those other guys?

Judge: "Everybody has an individual skillset, so it's our job to make sure we see that and maximize it. Him and (wide receiver) Collin Johnson are very different. Their size, speed, physical movement, or whatever it is, but we use them to what they do well. In terms of can he do some things that other people can't, yeah, and then on the same term, there's things other people can do that he can't. We've just got to make sure that we take all of our players and don't try to make them carbon copies, but we do something with their strengths."

Q: I asked you a similar question last week, but it's possible you're going to start your fourth different offensive line combination in as many games this week. How does that affect what happens with the offense as a whole? Is it hard to maintain continuity when you keep changing guys up front?

Judge: "It's our job to prepare the players. It's their job to get prepared and execute. It's the National Football League, everyone is dealing with injuries every week. The team we're playing this week is dealing with multiple injuries on their offensive line as well, so you can't ever look at that as a 'woe is me' type thing. The game is going to happen either way. It's our job to get prepared and go play."

Q: You signed (tackle) Isaiah Wilson to the practice squad. He has had some off-the-field issues, but when you scouted him coming out of the draft last year, what do you like about him as a player?

Judge: "He's obviously a talented player. He has a very good skillset for an offensive lineman. He's big and he's strong. He has athleticism for his size. Like any player who enters our program, everybody starts with a clean slate. What we care about is how you act in this building, how you operate within our organization, and how you perform on the field. That's what we'll measure him on."

Q: You haven't fielded many Andrew Thomas questions lately, which, for an offensive lineman, usually means he's playing well. How's Andrew been doing?

Judge: "Andrew is doing a good job. Again, I think one thing about Andrew that stands out to me is you go back to last year as a rookie, and there was a lot of outside views on him and a lot of narratives painted on him in a very negative light. I learned a lot from Andrew as a player. We used his example as a lesson for all our young players coming in on how he was able to keep moving, improve, work, ignore the noise on the outside, manage some of the distractions that came his way early in his rookie year, and how productive he's becoming as a player. He's a steady, reliable person. He's a good competitor. He's a good teammate. We really love him as a player."

Q: (Linebacker) Tae Crowder is in the running to take over the signal calling in the defensive huddle (in Blake Martinez's absence). He arrived here as the final choice in the draft last year. Do you remember when he first caught your eye? What makes you think that he's ready for this role?

Judge: "The way he produces in practice and offers consistent performance is what makes us think he's ready for this role. But when he first caught our eye would have been when we watched his tape at Georgia. We saw a guy flying around the field with a skillset that was something we could work with and develop. He had good traits. He played with good speed on the field, good mentality, good aggressiveness, and that's something that we wanted to build in this program. We don't care what round you were drafted, undrafted, first round, a vet, a rookie, it doesn't matter. Whatever you do here is earned. Obviously, Tae came in here and he's been a productive player for us. He's done a lot of good things for us. Obviously, part of his role is adjusted, but he's had a significant role on this team already."

Q: (Linebacker) Reggie Ragland is a guy you haven't been asked about a lot. What's does he do well?

Judge: "I think Reggie is a solid player. Reggie is a thick, strong linebacker. He's a good downhill fitter. He's kind of a throwback to what linebackers used to be, which really fits our scheme now. That's kind of with Blake as well, a good run-stopping tackler. He plays with good awareness. He's smart. Reggie communicates on the inside, and he brings some experience with him in other schemes as well as similar schemes that fit us."

Q: You've lost two captains (Nick Gates and Martinez), two popular guys, two leaders in the locker room. You have in the Nates, Ebner and Solder, former captains here. Have you asked them to maybe step up the leadership on their part, or is that something that has to happen organically in the locker room and on the field?

Judge: "Those guys are already leaders on the team. We don't rely just on someone who's been voted captain. Nate (Ebner) was voted captain last year. He got here (this year) obviously after the vote was already done, but now Nate is a guy that's been a leader on this team. He's a vocal guy in the locker room. He's a leader on the field by how he works. He's a tough guy. Obviously, these vets that are very accomplished in what their roles have been in this league are examples for the younger guys. You don't want to lose Nick, you don't want to lose Blake. Last year, we lost Saquon (Barkley) who was a leader, and we work to keep those guys engaged and involved with the team. We'll continue to do so with Blake and Nick. To me, the leadership has to come from everybody on the team. It's not just about one guy standing up and giving speeches. It's about how you do your job well and put the team first."

Q: For years, when you talked about the New Orleans Saints, the conversation began with Drew Brees and the offense. But last year and again this season, they're one of the best defensive teams in the league. They have a star at each level - (end) Cameron Jordan, (linebacker) Demario Davis, and (cornerback) Marshon Lattimore. What do you see in their defense?

Judge: "They're very aggressive. They're a get-on-you and get-after-you type of team. It's man coverage, it's tight match zone, so they're on your receivers very sticky. The safeties are very intelligent, very experienced and very aware. The linebackers are very fast flow and aggressive. They can play well in pass. They can blitz effectively, but they're very aggressive downhill. The front, starting with the ends with Cam and those guys, they get after you now. They really get after you hard. Like you said, they've got talent on all the levels. I think what (defensive coordinator) Dennis (Allen) does is he has a lot of variety in his system, but there's also a lot of consistency in his system that allows them to do a lot. But to them, it's second nature, and they do it very well."

Q: Allen apparently had some pressure packages last week in New England for (rookie quarterback) Mac Jones, sometimes putting nine guys up on the line and then dropping some back. Do they try to confuse you a lot pre-snap?

Judge: "I think the multiples they play with are built to force communication on your part and confuse you a little bit. That's just the nature of defenses, especially on third down. They do a good job of disguising what they're doing, so you have to be very sound in your system and schemes and make sure everyone is on the same page. Can you handle it? You can. Is it a challenge? It absolutely is."

Q: (Running Back) Alvin Kamara leads them in rushing and receiving. It goes without saying that he's one of the most talented backs in the league. As you watch him on tape, what jumps out to you?

Judge: "This guy is one of the best players in the league, first off. He's a weapon. I mean, he's all over the field. He plays multiple things. He's always being motioned and shifted. They dress up his alignment, they hide him, they create matchups for him. I think the thing that you don't always fully realize is just how good a runner he is and how good he is between the tackles. A lot of people think of when he's flexed out or catching routes out the backfield because they're giant, explosive plays and they make highlights. When you watch play-in and play-out, you see how productive a downhill runner he is and how good his vision is. His contact balance is probably the best in the league. The way he stays on his feet is remarkable. You've got to wrap this guy up. You have to get multiple hats to him. He's a guy that even when you think you've got him fitted up and stopped, he still gets five yards. This guy is really one of the best players in the league."

Q: They've changed both punter and kicker. (Punter) Blake Gillikin, they liked enough to stash him on I.R. last year. We know their kicker (former Giant) Aldrick Rosas. Where do you rank Deonte Harris among the best return specialists in the league?

Judge: "There's a reason he was an All-Pro last year. This guy is explosive and has great vision. He's got the ability to get vertical and make you pay if you open a lane or vacate it. He has the speed to get the edge. For people who are reading this, he's (Chiefs wide receiver) Tyreek Hill-ish in terms of the size, speed. He's a strong guy and very, very explosive in how he plays. He's very aggressive. Their punt rush combinations really set up a lot of returns for them because they keep you in with rushes. They can compact your coverage, and then you get disoriented and out of your lanes at times when you work to get out off the rush, and he finds a seam. You have to be very disciplined in how you play.

"In terms of the specialists, they're very talented. They're playing in that dome, which enables them to do a lot of things. It's more than just their home turf to them. But they know how to use it. Playing in a dome presents its own challenges, in terms of knowing where the ball is going and tracking it. I think it's something people don't always account for with kickoff returns of understanding pre-kick where that ball is going to be kicked. As you change kickers, you change different things, and it creates a little more of an element of disguise."

Q: This is going to be the Saints' first home game with a full crowd in almost two years. They're going to be pumped up. What kind of challenges does that present?

Judge: "I think, first off, this place is always extremely difficult to play in. I think we have to understand going in and embrace that this is going to be a tremendous atmosphere. If you like football, if you like really going into hostile environments, which maybe I'm screwed up, I do, this is going to be one of the greatest atmospheres we will ever be in as coaches, players, or whoever it maybe. We have to understand that, respect it, and we have to operate within it. At the same time, we've got to understand that this is really going to be a unique atmosphere to go in there.

"It's not just playing in a dome, it's playing in The Dome. It's playing in front of a very passionate home crowd that's going through a lot obviously. We've talked about the Katrina game that they played down there (when the Superdome re-opened in 2006), and we expect a very, very similar atmosphere from between COVID last year and not having full stadiums into not having home games yet this year (after the Saints were forced to evacuate during Hurricane Ida). The hurricane they've gone through down there as a city, it's a very tough-minded city. I spent some time down in that area. I've got a lot of friends in that area. I understand how that area of the country thinks. They're very mentally tough. That area is in your face, you've got to love that about them. We expect to see a stadium full of people with passion and a team that plays with relentless effort on field."

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