Head Coach Pat Shurmur
Opening Statement: I think they released the injury stuff to you. Did you guys get that? We have a couple of guys that didn’t do anything today, Rhett (Ellison) and Evan (Engram). The other guys practiced. Nate (Solder), we were in pads, so Nate could do everything except some of the padded stuff because he had a non-contact day as he moves through the (concussion) protocol. Then the rest of the guys competed. Big challenge going on the road to play the Bears. They’re an outstanding team. They’re battling through their season like we are. It’s time for us to go out and get a victory. We have to do the things necessary to do that. It starts with practicing the right way and then certainly by playing the right way. With that, I’ll take your questions.
Q: Just to be clear, since they both practiced in full, are Sterling Shepard and Jackrabbit (Janoris Jenkins) at the point where all they need is the independent (neurological consultant clearance)?
A: Listen, you’re in the protocol until you’re not. A lot of the times, what happens is they get cleared at the end of the week, with the anticipation that they will be cleared. I hope that’s clear.
Q: Obviously, Daniel’s (Jones) fumbling issues have been something I’m assuming you’ve looked at. In your experience as an offensive coach, have you come across a player that has a propensity to do that, and what kind of things do you do… Is there a common denominator, I suppose?
A: Not a common theme on his fumbles. There were a couple of times where a guy didn’t get blocked properly and he got hit in the pocket where he’s getting ready to throw. There was another one where he was actually in rhythm to make the throw and he got tomahawked from behind. That goes down as a sack fumble. As I look through them, there are a handful of times in there when there are other things happening around him that need to be better. A couple games ago, he’s scrambling, gets the first down and then fumbles at the end of the run. He can’t do that. To answer your question, there isn’t a common denominator. It’s not something that can’t be corrected. But much like when you get turnovers on defense, the same thing can be said when you give up the ball on offense. It’s certainly the ultimate responsibility of whoever’s touching the ball to make sure he does the right thing with it. But everyone around him has to do the right things as well.
Q: Just as a quick follow-up on that, can it become a psychological thing where you almost worry too much about it, that kind of thing? Sometimes, running backs get into that vortex.
A: No, I don’t think so. As I said, if there was a common theme on all of it, then maybe. But there are probably independent reasons in each situation why it’s happened.
Q: What have you seen from Corey Ballentine the last few games since he kind of took over a starting role, and is it impressive that right after he missed two games, obviously he must have stayed in his playbook during that time he was out?
A: Again, he’s been hampered by injuries, which has kept him out of there to some degree. But he’s very competitive. As you see, we’re playing him primarily in the slot. There’s a lot happening there. He has good instincts. He’s a young player. If you ask me about six or eight players on defense, I could say the same thing, that he’s seeing some things for the very first time. As he sees it more and more and more, he’ll become smoother with his movements and in his reactions. But he’s very competitive. The thing I like about Corey is he’s tough and he competes, and that’s the starting point for a football player.
Q: You’re going into a game against an opponent that has some flux at quarterback. Do either of them mean anything different to you, and are you surprised that (Mitch) Trubisky, very early in his career, all of a sudden there are questions about whether he’s the guy or not?
A: No and no and no. As we battle through our years, you just battle through it. Unfortunately, he’s had some injuries, Trubisky, and he’s a tough son of a gun that’s battling back from it. He’s played good football. When it comes to (Chase) Daniel, if he’s in there, I think their offense will remain the same to some degree. Maybe there will be a little less zone read, although they will do it in situations with whoever plays quarterback. But I think their concepts will remain the same. I guess I’m answering your question by saying we have to defend the Chicago Bears’ offense, regardless of who’s playing quarterback. They’re both guys that have led their team to victories. That’s how we’re approaching it.
Q: When you look at a young quarterback like that, you have one right now, how important in your mind is it to at least have the arrow pointing up the whole way, even if it’s just slight? As opposed to taking a dip and having to sit a guy and bring him back, that kind of thing.
A: Well, I think whether the arrow is (up or down), that’s what people say outside. When you have players in the building and you’re playing, we always have the arrow up on them. It’s the people outside that create what direction the arrow goes. So, we don’t focus on that. We just do everything we can, and I’m sure it’s the same for them, to get the players that you have to play better and improve.
Q: Well in Chicago, you’re not in Chicago, but the arrow, it’s not just on the outside. They removed the quarterback from a game. Sometimes you do that with players.
A: From the coach’s perspective, I think he was removed from the game because he was hurting. That doesn’t change the arrow on a guy.
Q: With Khalil Mack on the other side and some uncertainty with Nate Solder, what’s the plan with (Chad) Slade and (Eric) Smith, and do you have to consider maybe adding an extra tight end on that side?
A: Yeah, I mean, obviously, they’re tough matchups on the edges for whoever is blocking. I think (Leonard) Floyd and Mack, they get special attention. Now, there are times when the guys are going to have to block them one on one. We’ve watched the tape and we’ve seen all along that teams have a plan to try to negate the impact of those players, who are very, very good players. That’s just the tactics that are involved with playing the game.
Q: He’s a little further removed from the ankle injury now, Saquon (Barkley). How does he look to you? Better? Healthier?
A: Yeah, he always practices well. I imagine as he gets further and further away from that injury, he’ll feel better and better. Regardless of where you are, whether you just had a bye, nobody at this point in the season is 100 percent, so we all have to fight through that.
Q: (Jon) Halapio goes right back to start?
A: Yeah, he’s been back taking the one snaps. He’s had a good couple days of practice.
Q: What did you see from (Scott) Simonson? Obviously, over the summer, you let him go for the injury and brought him back.
A: Scott’s a very steady performer. He did a lot of good things for us a year ago. With our injuries at the tight end position with Rhett and Evan, obviously, he was a guy that was on our short list. He was healthy, he came back in, looked good running around. Most likely, he’s going to get an opportunity to play this week.
WR Darius Slayton
Q: On his performance against the Jets…A: One, great throws from Daniel. He makes it easy, making a lot of good timing throws. Two, just continuing to work on my craft, continue to work on my routes, work on my hands, getting separation and even in tight windows making strong catches. Q: How much have you seen the play calling going in your direction with you being able to produce over the last few weeks?A: Some of it definitely. Obviously, with Sterling Shepard being out, multiple guys have to step up and play a bigger role, including myself. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make some of those plays.Q: Daniel was just saying it’s as simple as getting you the ball more. What’s your reaction to hearing that the quarterback is focusing on you and wants to get you the ball more?A: It’s exciting. Obviously, you want your quarterback to have a lot of faith in you as a receiver. I think that’s how you build a rapport with quarterbacks. Every time the ball leaves their hand, making sure it gets completed. I think that helps them have confidence in us. We know they are going to put the ball there, so at the end of the day, it’s on our end. Q: How are you looking at the last six weeks of the season?A: We just want to finish strong. Obviously, we want to go 6-0 the rest of the season and finish out the year 8-8 and finish out the year strong. Q: During the game in the huddle, if you see something, do you go back to Daniel and say, ‘hey, listen, look for me here.’ Are you aggressive like that in the huddle?A: Not too much during the huddle in the game. Sometimes we come to the sideline and Dan might have seen something different than what I saw. We are just trying to get on the same page more so than anything. Q: Where have you seen your biggest growth since game 1?A: Just confidence, and the plays. You learn every week. I’m coming to learn in the NFL you learn something new every week, a different defense it seems like. Just confidence in my ability and the offense. Q: How much has your chemistry grown with Daniel over the season?A: Tremendously. There is nothing like game experience. Getting out there and playing against NFL competition, I think it’s grown a lot. Q: How did your first touchdown feel? You beat an accomplished corner in Xavier Rhodes. Did you feel like, ‘I’ve arrived, I can do this’?A: Not so much I’ve arrived, but more so I can do this. I can compete with some of the best in the game and I just want to continue to show that throughout the rest of the season.
QB Daniel Jones
*Q: For your first time coming out of a bye week, what is your mindset and approach to these final six weeks after having a week off? *A: I think, as a team, I feel like we were able to recharge a little bit. I think our mindset this week is to attack it and do what we’ve been doing, do it better and more consistently. So, we had some good practices last week on the bye week and a little time to rest up and get ready for this last stretch. I think we’re enthused and ready to go.
*Q: What did you do, anything different as far as preparation, anything being able to have that weekend off? *A: Yeah, I mean I think I went home and saw my family for a little bit, but thinking about what we need to do, what I need to do, and using it as some time to get ahead for this week, some time to get ahead for Chicago. So, I think it was a productive week.
*Q: This Chicago defense with Khalil Mack, not quite the player he has been so far this season, but how are you preparing and what are you expecting? *A: Yeah, he’s a good player, one of the top pass rushers in the league, so we’ll have a plan for that. They’re a good group on defense, and like I said, we’ll have a good plan for it. I think we had a good start to it today and we’ll keep building off of it. It’s about what we do, it’s about how we execute that plan and us being ready to go. So, they’re a good defense, but we’ll be ready for them.
*Q: The way you hooked up with (Darius) Slayton the other day, 10 catches for over 100 yards, is that something we realistically can expect to continue to see as the season closes? *A: Yeah, I think so. He’s a really good player and you’re able to see all the different things he can do on the field. So, I think he’ll continue to step up and make plays, and I’ve just got to make sure to get him the ball. I think he’s done a really good job so far.
*Q: Is it a good time for guys, especially the offensive line, just guys coming back from injury, to enable you to have a full line out there? *A: Yeah, I think we had guys step up and play well, and a lot of trust in all those guys, but the bye week gave us a chance to get a little bit healthier and get some guys back out there. So, yeah, I think we’ll be ready to go.
*Q: When was the last time you played in a cold weather game? *A: I’m not sure, a while ago probably. But we played Pitt in college, there was snow toward the end of the game, but I think it usually didn’t get too cold in Durham.
*Q: Does it bother you? *A: I don’t think so. I think we’ll stay warm and have ways to stay warm. I don’t think it’s a huge factor on me.
*Q: How much do you factor in the wind, though, with your passing game? *A: Yeah, that’s something that fortunately we deal with at practice. Just about every day we get some good practice with that. So, I’ve heard that’ll be a factor in Chicago, and I think luckily, we’ll be ready for it.
*Q: What’s the benefit of a week where you didn’t have to game plan and worry about the next opponent? Did you allow yourself to kind of let things wash over you and just thought through some things that the benefit of time allowed you to do that was helpful? *A: Yeah, I think so. We kind of have some time to look back over the 10 games we’ve played and what we’ve done well, what we haven’t done well. So, I think the bye week gives you a little bit of a chance to do that, and then also I did spend some time trying to get ahead this week and focus on that. But like you said, I think as a team, as an offense, we’ve been able to look back at some of that stuff and take a closer look at what we’ve done well and what we haven’t.
*Q: Did anything click for you that maybe you hadn’t realized earlier on? Certain plays? *A: I don’t know if anything necessarily in particular really popped out that was different than what we’ve been focusing on. But I think you just get a little bit more time to see some of that stuff, and revisiting some of the mistakes, some of the turnovers in particular, and ways I can work on that. So, I think the bye week gave us the opportunity to do that.
*Q: The fumbles, there hasn’t been a common denominator, many of them have been in certain circumstances and what not. But as they’ve mounted a little bit, does it become a psychological thing? Obviously, ball protection is the first thing you’re probably thinking about, but can it get to the point where you’re thinking maybe a little too much about it and it gets into your head a little bit? *A: I don’t think so. I think it’s something that I need to be mindful of constantly. It’s not like a golf swing or something where you—it’s about being mindful of it and being aware in the pocket, protecting it and getting the ball out on time. I think all those things are important for me to stay mindful of.
*Q: Do you feel personally that maybe that’s the one thing that’s been holding you back more than anything? *A: There’s certainly a number of things that I need to work on, but yeah, that’s definitely one of them, and it probably is the most critical thing that I need to correct, so I’ll work on that.
*Q: Is there something technical that you can kind of narrow down and that you’ve worked on, as simple as just making sure to keep two hands on the ball? *A: Yeah, I think that’s part of it, and just getting the ball out on time and not holding it. Like you said, I think it is pretty fundamental in that holding the ball with two hands is going to be more secure than not. So, making sure I’m doing that and getting the ball out on time.
*Q: Has there been anybody who has particularly helped you with that, whether it’s Alex (Tanney) or Eli (Manning), or anybody you’ve talked to and gone over stuff with? *A: Yeah, we’ve talked about it and those guys say the same thing. I don’t think it’s necessarily a complex problem to fix. I think it is as simple as keeping two hands on the ball and getting it out on time. So, I’ve talked to all those guys, Coach Shula, Coach Shurmur. I think I definitely need to work on that.
*Q: Is there anything in practice you do that’s maybe a little more unorthodox to try and help that at all? *A: Not really, just trying to stay mindful of it and keeping two hands on the ball. Just continue to focus on that.
*Q: Years ago, there was a running back here named Tiki Barber and he had a fumbling problem and (Tom) Coughlin made him go home and just hold the ball in his hand for like weeks at a time. Is there anything drill-wise that you have changed in the recent days? *A: I haven’t done that, and I’m not sure I will.
*Q: It’s different for a running back, they need it to be high and tight.
*A: Yeah, I think for me, it’s in the pocket a lot and keeping two hands on the ball in the pocket. So, whether we’re doing drills in practice, whether we’re doing seven on seven or anything like that, I need to continue to focus on that.
*Q: What do you think is the overall theme here with six games to go, for you and the team? *A: I think to keep pushing. As a team, we’ve done things well at times, and obviously haven’t’ been consistent enough with those things. I think the mindset is to realize that we can do it and we have done it, we just need to avoid the negative plays, avoid mistakes, and do the things that we can do more consistently. I think that’s the focus and we have an opportunity here with six games to get back on track and finish strong.
*Q: How important is it for you personally to have a chance to continue to develop here in your first year? *A: Yeah, I think it’s important. Like you said, it’s an opportunity for the team, it’s an opportunity for me to keep improving. I think we’re all approaching it in that way. Certainly, aiming on finishing strong.
*Q: Does this team look re-energized to you? *A: I think so, yeah. I think through the last few weeks, and particularly this last week with our two practices, I think we’ve come to practice ready to work. We’ve practiced hard, I think you’ve seen guys’ focus remain consistent. I think we’re ready to go and ready to finish strong.
*Q: Are you allowed to share kind words with Trubisky or are you not allowed? *A: (laughter) Yeah, I kind of have gotten to know him over the years a little bit. Yeah, there’s that (Duke-UNC) rivalry. He’s a good guy. It’s been fun getting to know him.
*Q: Just from the rivalry is how you got to know him? *A: Yeah, the coach at Duke was buddies with him growing up, so I kind of got to know him through him and spend a little bit of time together. It’s been cool to get to know him. But like you said, there will always be that rivalry there (laughter).
*Q: The coach at Duke meaning your head coach? *A: An assistant coach (Graduate Assistant Coach/Defense Joe Kasper).