Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
Q: What was your reaction to Ezekiel Elliott being able to play in Sunday's game and how does that change your process of preparation?
A: I always go into any game – in a situation like that, to be honest with you – I went into the game three weeks, or whatever it was, expecting him to play. When it was unknown, where there's a chance he could play or couldn't play, we just expected him to play and prepared that way. Now, that's what's going to happen. So, we play Dallas and away we go.
Q: Do you treat Ezekiel Elliott playing almost like an injury?
A: Yeah. I think I've been in the league long enough to know that those things are never over. We're just worried about what we're doing here and that's a good offense we're going to face. So, that's how we're going to treat it.
Q: How does Ezekiel Elliott change the game?
A: He's a premier back. There's 32 in the world that play that position. There's 32 teams. There are some really good backs, but he obviously proved last year that he makes an offense go. I know they have a really good offensive line, but he's able to do all the things you want a great back to do. He has great vision. He can run inside. He bounces it outside. He turns the corner and it's scary and he runs with power. I mean, he's not an easy back to take down. He's become a good pass receiver, too, so we have to worry about that. He's a guy we have to respect and we have to go out and always be concerned about. When No. 21 is out there, we have to be concerned about it.
Q: Have you ever gone into a season knowing exactly what to expect from your defense and feeling confident that they'll live up to that?
A: It's a good statement that you make. Yes. I feel good about knowing what we can and can't do and I think the players feel the same way. I think I made this statement to them the other day. I'm skipping years when you say freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior. In the third year in the system and not all the guys have been here three years, but I expect them to think as if they were in graduate school with the scheme. I believe that they think that way – allows you to do a little bit more. It put the pressure on all of us to make sure we get it right. There's no margin for error now. We're getting ready to play an NFC East team and the NFC East champions, by the way.
Q: Does Jason Pierre-Paul look as good as he has since you started with the Giants?
A: Yeah. That would be a good statement. I just remember watching from afar when I was with other teams and thinking that's a great talent and I remember seeing the tape he had – the Youtube video – before he got drafted where he did all those flips, you know, you probably all saw that. He's a phenomenal athlete. He's ready to go and OV (Olivier Vernon), the whole D-line, and we just have to keep healthy. That's the most important thing.
Q: What have you learned about Olivier Vernon and what has impressed you most having coached him for a year?
A: Very intelligent football player. There's a lot of guys that we coach. Some guys that will sit there and they take note for note for note and you look at them and say, 'OK, they're working hard at it.' OV is the kind of guy that absorbs a lot more than you think. He knows football. He wants to know football. He wants to know more and he wants to know the 'whys.' I respect that. So, that's one thing.
Q: How much better prepared do you feel to play against Dak Prescott now that you know what he can do?
A: He's a tough guy to defend against because he's a dual threat, so to speak. He can throw the football. I think he throws the ball on the run as good as anybody both right and left and they use him that way. They're smart. Scott (Linehan) does a good job with him and I think he has a great control and command of the offense. When we stood here last year and we were getting ready to play them, I remember how impressed I was with the way he was orchestrating things as a rookie. Now, he's a full year in that system. I don't think we saw nearly in these four preseason games that they played – I don't think you saw nearly the package that we're going to see on Sunday. So, we have to be ready for it.
Q: How does La'el Collins at right tackle change the personality of the Cowboys offensive line?
A: I don't know that I can answer that. He's a good football player. We'll find out. You don't know it until you get in the games, but I do think he's a good talent.
Q: Do you feel better about your depth at linebacker?
A: It's starting to unfold. As a coach, you always want more depth. You're always looking for good football players, but we have guys in here that hopefully know what they're doing and the one challenge in this league with backup guys – talk about depth – is they don't get a lot of reps now. Should something happen on Sunday, they need to be ready to go.
Q: How impressed have you been with LB B.J. Goodson?
A: I'm glad you brought B.J. up. I'm really pleased with what he's done. It's not just what he's doing on the field and controlling like they all do. I watch the little things on the side and how he relates to his teammates and how he has really taken upon the extra added responsibility of being the leader of that group. Now, there are some leaders in there – JC (Jonathan Casillas) and Snacks (Damon Harrison). But, he takes control of the huddle and I think he is gaining a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates throughout this whole offseason.
Q: What makes the Cowboys offensive line so formidable?
A: Talent and size and the fact that they've been playing together for a while now. They have three coaches down there. I know those guys. Those guys have done a great job just putting the whole offense together. When we were here in '07, '08 and that group that we had, they're just cohesive. That's what it looks like to me when I watch them from where we see it.
Q: Do you expect CB Janoris Jenkins to do what he did against Dez Bryant last year and how much pressure does that put on him?
A: Two really good football players. Jackrabbit and Dez. Dez can wreck a football game. Rabbit can go out there and cover some people. I think it'll be a great battle. In those kinds of battles, sometimes in the course of the game, you win some, you lose some. From a defensive standpoint, if you happen to lose one somehow, you have to make up for it. I'm sure that's the way Rabbit thinks. But, he's looking forward to it. We're all looking forward to it. I'm sure Dez Bryant is too. That's a good player. Good size and, again, we have to find a way not to let him wreck the football game because he could do that.
Q: Does this defense have a chance to be the best you have ever coached?
A: I would never go there. We haven't played the first game yet. I respect the guys that we have in the room right now. I think we have to have some depth. We have to stay healthy. I think that's really important. You all made mention of it last year with the number of reps certain guys got. We have to try and not allow that to happen again this year. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. The best way to do that is make sure they don't run 80 plays in a game. We have to keep it down a little bit, but we'll see what happens. **
Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn**
Q: Have you ever gone into a season with a rookie kicker before?
Q: Were you encouraged by what kicker Aldrick Rosas did in the preseason and how he handled things?
A: Yeah, you're trying to see how he comes in in the spring and how he responds and takes coaching and then he's gotten better and he's very coachable. Then you progress into training camp and more live reps and then the game. So, it was nice to see him keep getting better with that. So yeah, it's been encouraging.
Q: Is wide receiver Dwayne Harris still in the mix to be the kickoff and punt returner, even though he missed much of the preseason due to injury?
A: Oh yeah, that's not unusual. I mean, last year he didn't get a whole lot of reps in the preseason. Takes some hits off of him in the preseason, you try and identify other guys that can do those jobs.
Q: With Mark Herzlich being on IR, who is your backup long-snapper?
A: We have two or three guys that we're working.
Q: Do you think that the rookies were successful this summer in working to contribute on special teams?
A: I think all rookies – whether it's offense or defense – have to contribute on special teams. That's what we look for and that's kind of the natural progression the way it's been and good football players are good players. So, we expect those guys to contribute, we spend a lot of extra time with them to get to them to contribute. So, we're excited to see them play if they get the opportunity.
Q: What was your reaction when Rosas hit the game-winning kick in the final preseason game at New England?
A: I was happy. It was a competitive game for a preseason game, which is nice because of the expanded roster. So, it's nice to see it on both sides. I mean, they hit one, we hit one. All these games are close, so it's good to at least have that experience in the preseason.
Q: Was it specifically good to see from Rosas because he is a first-year guy?
A: Yeah, it was good for I think everyone to see. He'll keep learning and progressing.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan
Q: Does the game plan change with or without Odell [Beckham]?
A: Well he is obviously a great player and other guys are going to have to step up there. There are some concepts that we felt really good about both in the run and the pass game. We are going to move forward in that direction and we will see what happens in whether he gets to play or not.
Q: What gives you optimism that this is a better offense?
A: I think a lot of the cumulative reps that we've had. I think a lot of the challenges that we gave them in the preseason. Preseason objectives are different than the regular season. We are trying to evaluate our personnel, we are trying to put our guys in some difficult situations to see how they respond and I think in looking at the entire body of work, both from most recently in the preseason all through training camp, all through the spring, we have a great deal of confidence going into the game on Sunday.
Q: When you look at your personnel, where do you see the biggest improvement?
A: From a personnel standpoint, I think there are some additions that we have to our team who are blending in nicely. There is added experience. Some guys have another year under their belt. So, there have been some improvements with those who were on our team last year. So, I think you combine those two factors and we have a reason to be optimistic.
Q: How much have you grown since this is your third year running the offense?
A: I think every year, every coach and player gets more comfortable. I think one of the advantages that should serve us well this season is our entire offensive staff returns. So, unlike some off-seasons when there is somebody that is new coming in, they have to be taught the system. Football is football, but there is still a terminology and a way about doing things and with us having that continuity and players having that continuity, it just allows us to get to conclusions a little bit faster and there is a comfort level that comes with that, of course.
Q: What can a fullback like Shane Smith add to the roster?
A: When you have a fullback on your roster, that enables you to have an additional personnel grouping that gives some different runs and different passes and that gives the defenses more they have to prepare for. It's been time and time again about the 90 percent 11 personnel that we were last year and I think when you have some additional personnel groupings, it just gives the defense a few more things they have to prepare for, it gives us a few more options, and the versatility is always going to be to our advantage, so that is something we are excited about.
Q: Last year we heard a lot about how this would be the week you guys were going to break out, but it never happened. How important is it to get off to a good start on Sunday?
A: Well I think the focus really is just on this being a division game and it's the start of the new season. I don't think anyone is looking in the rear-view mirror and saying, "hey, we have something to prove" or "let's make this different." It's a great opportunity against the defending NFC East champions at their place, and I think that in itself is enough motivation and enough reason for guys to really zero in and lock in on our preparations in practice and the meetings and just to go out and focus on that objective, going down there and to win the game.
Q: From your time as the quarterbacks coach to now, has Eli Manning changed?
A: I think what has been the same is his work ethic, his professionalism, his consistency, his ability to remain calm, cool and collected, regardless. It has been said time and again. Whether he throws a touchdown pass or an interception, his reaction is the same. I think what I have seen in him recently within this system, this new system -- it's a different system than when I was his quarterback coach back in 2010-2011 -- is really embrace and become more comfortable, have an ownership with it. Different people have come into our system and his willingness to go the extra mile and give us some one-on-one time and one-on-one meetings with some of the new players, there is just a great deal of confidence in him now. He still has all of those things, positive characteristics, that I remember seeing in him when I was his quarterbacks coach, but I just see an overall level of confidence and comfort I guess I should say with this system.
Q: Because he is a rookie, do you temper expectations for Evan Engram?
A: I think all of our players bring something to the table and that is our jobs as coaches, to pull it out of them. Evan has a lot of ability. He is a versatile player. We were excited about drafting him and have been very pleased with the things he has done in practice and in the preseason games. So, he is going to get his opportunities and I think he has high expectations for himself and it's our job to try to help him reach his full potential.
Q: When you were in Tampa, you called the plays, right?
Q: How much different was it last year being an offensive coordinator that doesn't call the plays?
A: Well, it is different. There is a feel that you get, there is a rhythm that you get into. I'll just say, first and foremost, it's Ben's decision to be the play caller and I support his decision and my job is to do everything I can from a preparation standpoint to get our offensive unit ready from the practices and meetings and so forth. Then on game day, be an additional set of eyes and give some of the feedback to him from Eli or give some of the feedback to the offensive line coaches or the other coaches. So, it is different, but at the end of the day, it is all about winning and doing whatever we can to win the game and that's what is most important.
Q: Have you ever thought about using a player like Odell Beckham as a decoy and letting him play even though he is not 100 percent?
A: Well, as soon as you asked me that question, I immediately thought back to big 17, Plaxico Burress. There was a guy that through that entire year, 2007, was never able to practice, was never at 100 percent, and there were many games where he wasn't at his best and yet because of the player he was, teams had to account for him and if they didn't, he was still good enough even though he was hobbled to hurt them. So, that certainly can be a factor. DE Olivier Vernon
Q: How do you think your defense matched up with the Cowboys offense?
A: It was a great offense last year, they've got a lot of talent on their team offensively, this year – and defensively. But, it's a division game, so it's going to be a good matchup.
Q: What is it like opening the season in Dallas on Sunday Night Football?
A: I mean, first road game, home-opener for them, we know it's going to be electric, so it's going to be a big game.
Q: Do you think you are prepared for the Cowboys offense?
A: I mean, we've seen what they can do last year. Right now, we're lucky that we play them twice a year, so we're more familiar [with them] than [teams] outside the division. So, like I said, it's going to be a great matchup. Just can't wait to play on Sunday.
Q: Are you finally ready to hit another football team in a real game?
A: It's been pretty much long overdue. I think a lot of guys been wanting to hit somebody [and] make it count. And just get back into it – Giant football.
Q: How good do you think this Giants team can be?
A: Like I said, we just take it one week at a team. So, it's what we put into it.
Q: What have you put into it so far that leads you to believe you can be a good team?
A: I can only say, you've got to watch the television, watch it out there [on the practice field] and that's it.
LB Jonathan Casillas
Q: What is it like starting the season against the Cowboys?
A: Oh, you've got to love it. I've been here three years and we've done it every year. You know everybody's going to be watching, primetime game against 'America's Team'. And they think they owe us something, which is fine. It's a good team down there that we're going to go to play and we're ready to go.
Q: Do you think this team has Super Bowl possibilities?
A: Yeah, I mean, I thought that last year too, but that doesn't mean that we're going to make it at the end of the year. We've got to be able to take each game one at a time and a good start is trying to win the division, that'll be a good start.
Q: A lot of people talk about the Cowboys having a great offense, do you think they should talk about the Giants having a great defense just as much?
A: I don't really care what people say. You've got to give [the Cowboys] their due respect. They're very talented on the offensive side of the ball, the numbers speak for themselves. They did a really good job. [Running back Ezekiel] Elliott was the leading rusher in the NFL by far and yards per carry, he did really well. Their offensive line is good. And not only that, you've got backups like [running back] Alfred Morris, who rushed for 1,200 yards three times in his career. Like, you know, they're loaded and you've got to give them their respect. We respect them and we know that we're going to go down to Dallas and it's always going to be a fight, a war, a battle, every time.
Q: Do you feel that you match up well with the Cowboys?
A: I mean, we beat them twice. I don't really have to say we're that good. I think if you just look at the record from last year and it's like, 'Okay, we beat them twice,' and they were a high-powered offense. How many points did they score the second game? [seven].
Q: How do you prepare, defensively, for a team with that many weapons on offense?
A: Well, you've got to be prepared for everything. A running back like Ezekiel Elliott, he's a downhill runner, but he can bounce outside. That doesn't really make sense, but it does because he's very versatile. He can be aggressive, he can duck his head and get those grind it out yards. But then he can beat everyone to the edge because he's that skilled, he's that fast, he's that explosive. So, you know, we do have to be on point, everybody has to take care of their job and do their job on every single play. Or they will expose us. That's point-blank, period. I feel like we've done a good job last year playing against these guys. The one touchdown they got in the second game, our eyes weren't right and they got a free play because there was no one covering that guy. It wasn't even a challenge and he just caught it. We can't allow those. If we allow them to beat us by making mental errors and miscues and stuff like that, there's a chance we can go down there and get blown out because we're not on point, because they're that good. We've got to be on our A-game – dot all of our i's and cross all of our t's – and go down there and play a perfect game, basically, to beat this team because they're that good.