Coach Tom Coughlin**
Coach Coughlin: Good morning. Two things quickly right off the bat. As you know, JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] was here for a couple of days. Went through all the medical. Was in an outstanding frame of mind. Was not ready to play, returned to South Florida. Optimistic about going forward and feeling better, and continuing to work towards being able to come back. So we'll monitor that, and I don't have anything further to add. The second thing is the shock of the death of Tyler Sash. I haven't seen Tyler in a couple of years. But one of the players texted me yesterday afternoon, and I didn't see that coming, obviously. I know a lot of our players have responded. It's very sad. Most difficult to try and understand. But nevertheless, our condolences go out to his family and his friends, and all those that cared for him. He was an outstanding teammate, now. During the time he was here, the players really enjoyed Tyler Sash. So I'm dumbfounded by this, and I'm very sad. Having said that, the start of the 2015 season. We're excited to go on the field this afternoon, or late-morning here, and prepare for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys, having won our division a year ago, an outstanding football team. A strong team in a lot of categories. So we've got our work cut out for us.
Q: Have you spoken to or are you planning on speaking to the team about Tyler?
A: I did not mention that this morning. There were a couple players around yesterday. Eli was around. I spoke to him about it. He was taken aback as well.
Q: Everyone was so excited to see Jason Pierre-Paul on Monday. Do you have to worry about a dip in the morale?
A: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. I think the fact that he came in the way he did, Mr. Personality, was there and he felt good about himself, obviously, and where he's been. He's worked pretty hard. We actually saw a tape that showed him working. He's done a lot of conditioning type work. So I don't think there's anything to worry about there. Obviously, it'd be great if he was all healed and ready to go, but he's not.
Q: So it was his hand or his conditioning that won't allow him to play?
A: The thing that had to be evaluated was his hand, yes.
Q: You said you have a plan for everything. How do you plan for that situation going forward?
A: Keep going, right where we are. Nothing's changed. We've taken this path and we're on it, and we'll stay on it. Hopefully at some point in time, Jason will be ready to play, and we'll get the green light. If that doesn't happen, we'll stay where we are.
Q: Did you get any sense of how close he is in terms of weeks?
A: I wouldn't put any kind of time frame on it. It's not going to be something that I have anything to say about anyways. It's going to be the medical people.
Q: Has Victor Cruz's status changed at all?
A: Nothing has come across my desk to indicate that.
Q: So he won't be out there today?
A: [Shakes head no]
Q: You've been through your share of season openers as head coach here.
A: And everywhere else.
Q: Do they feel any different?
A: No, not at all. Just as excited, just as nervous, just as anxious to get started. Just as anxious to see our team on the field. So, no, nothing, no emotion. All the same.
Q: Are there specific areas or things with this team that you are particularly excited about?
A: Well, I'm excited to see how they respond, obviously, to going to Dallas and opening the season there. There's a few guys that have been through that experience when it was a positive thing, a plus. But basically, it's seeing our team come together, seeing us pull together now that we're at 53, plus the 10 practice squad kids. I'm looking forward to that part of it.
Q: You added Jasper Brinkley to the roster. What kind of role do you see for him? Inside, outside, both?
A: Well, probably inside to start with. But I'm sure he'll learn to play more than one, perhaps all three [linebacker positions].
Q: Is this at all a reflection on Jon Beason's availability?
A: No, but we thought it was a necessity.
Q: Is Beason ready?
A: He's going to practice today.
Q: What about Jonathan Casillas?
A: He's going to practice. He practices today.
Q: Is he cleared to play, though? We didn't see him the last three preseason games.
A: He practices today.
Q: Is he cleared to play in a game though?
A: He practices today. He'll have a helmet on, and shoulder pads, those things.
Q: The last several weeks he's practiced, but he's been limited. You've kept him out of contact, so obviously there's a concern there. Is there still a concern there?
A: I hope not, but we'll see.
Q: Has Dallas changed much?
A: Well, in preseason you don't see a whole lot. But the playoff games were, obviously, very good football. I don't see any real radical change in the way that their approach is. Some of the names have changed.
Q: When did you start studying them?
Q: How do you do it when they have such a big change in their backfield? How do you study that?
A: Well, there's no doubt that they talk mostly about their offensive line, and the strength of their offensive line. I think that's where you start. You start on their offensive line, and their defensive line. And there hasn't been any real changes there.
Q: What's the challenge with the safeties on the road in Dallas?
A: Communication. Communication. That'll be a concern. We'll have noise today. We'll have officials today. We'll do that for a couple days. Hopefully that will help focus in on the hand signals and the things of that nature that they have to utilize to communicate even though they're perhaps a few yards apart.
Q: You're aware the team hasn't won an opener the past few years. How much does that put you behind? You come out the first week, lose that first game.
A: I don't know. I don't want to go there. We're trying to win. We're looking forward to the opener. I don't remember a loss. We won a few, too. I don't know, Paul. I'm not interested in that part of it right now. All I'm interested in is getting these people ready to play. I'm excited about playing, and let's go see what we've got.
Q: Do you remember coming into a season with so many unanswered questions in your mind on what you have, what you are?
A: I don't know, I don't keep track of the count. There are some areas where we expect some people to step up and gain significant recognition in terms of the quality of their play. We look forward to working with those guys. So we have a few things, obviously, that need to be ironed out and need to be clarified. Hopefully that's what will happen right here.
Q: For a long time, Victor was so optimistic on playing the first game. I don't know if you've ruled anything out. I don't know if that's accurate. But has his situation unfolded the way you expected, or have there been frustrations on your part? Is this what you expected?
A: Oh, no. Obviously, if this was strictly the knee or whatever, I think he'd be out there. The calf is what set him back. It's not the knee, it's the calf. There's been some communication around the league with other clubs. For whatever reason, these things are very, very hard to get over. And we've experienced it before, obviously [Nat] Berhe is a great example of that. But that's what is holding him back, not the other.
Q: You're a little thin at defensive tackle, obviously you expected Louis Nix to be here. Do you expect to add another body in there?
A: Yeah, we will. But don't forget, we've worked some other people in there. [Kerry] Wynn has worked in there, for example, to give us another athlete that can certainly play in there on second and long and third down.
Q: Will Cullen Jenkins go back in there as well?
A: Cullen plays in there—in and out, in and out. He can certainly play in there.
Q: How's he doing physically?
A: Okay. We'll see what he does today on the field.
Q: You spent a lot of time and energy this offseason in rebuilding the offensive line. Where do you stand going into the season, and what are your expectations for that group?
A: I expect us to improve throughout the entire season. Not only for the young guy that's in there in the new position etc… Westy [Weston Richburg] being in there at center. I think we're going to improve and get better each time we play. We hopefully have got some things solved, and others to come. I do expect that we will have a starting point and get better from there.
Q: The same feeling every year going into the opener? Opening up against the Cowboys, is it good to open up against a team that you know?
A: Yeah. I think it's good to start in the division. Sunday night, it should be a great environment. And a very good team. They were strong last year, good on defense. Offensively, very, very strong. So we know we've got to go out there and play well. They're going to be fired up, it's going to be loud. But those are fun environments to play in. Hopefully we're up to the challenge.
Q: How's your offense going into the game? You ready?
A: Yeah. I thought we had a good day of practice today. I thought we were pretty good on Monday, as well. I feel like we have a lot of weapons, and feeling good about where we are and what we're trying to do. Now it's just about going out and executing and making the plays that are out there.
Q: Is there a different feeling now that it's Week One? You know what you've got on Sunday? Is there an excitement and added focus this week?
A: I think it's always a little different Week 1. Practices are a little bit more precise. You know exactly what you're getting, what you're going against. The game plan is in. You're getting a lot of reps with the guys that are going to be out there on the field with you playing. I think it was sharp. It's not as much sitting and watching different teams or different groups practice, you get a lot more reps. But I thought we had good energy today, and that's what we need.
Q: Can you compare the comfort level this year as opposed to last year at this time?
A: I feel, obviously, much different right now than I did last year going into Week 1. Just with the comfort level within the offense, and the checks, and what everybody's assignments are, and how we're going to handle certain blitzes or looks, and getting to all of our possibilities. I think the receivers, offensive line, everybody's comfort level is higher, which makes everybody's job a little bit easier.
Q: Whether it's a coincidence or not, you've thrown the ball extremely well in Dallas against the Cowboys. Is there anything to that?
A: I guess good weather, I don't know. Hopefully we can have another day being productive throwing the ball. We're going to need to. We have some weapons at receiver who can make some plays. I've got to do my part, get them the ball. We've got to be balanced, we've got to run the ball. Hopefully we can have a good day and make some plays.
Q: Do you feel like Victor Cruz may be ready this week?
A: You've got to ask Victor. I'm not sure on that.
Q: You guys have lost four openers in a row. How hard is to dig out of that?
A: Just worried about this one. This is the next game. We've got to go out there and we have to play well. If we get off to a fast start, and the game into the fourth quarter, that's where we have to find a way to win those close games.
Q: How hard is it to comprehend yesterday when you hear about Tyler Sash?
A: Yeah. Coach Coughlin came in and told me about it. Just shocked, a teammate, so young. Feel like he was just here. Lose a life of a teammate is never good, never good to hear. Obviously thinking about his family and everybody who knew him. Lost a good guy.
Re: Atmosphere in Dallas on Sunday night
A: Yeah for sure, and it's something that we have to go out there and run that ball early and kind of quiet the crowd down. Take them out of it and have some good, long drives. Keep their offense off the field. So, we know what type of environment it's going to be. We've got to come out there and play our game.
Q: Coach always talks about you have to break the season up into four sections. How important is the first group of four games?
A: Huge. Especially since Dallas has beaten us the past two years. We've got to go out there and finish a game. Run the ball, convert third downs, and have a good game.
Q: You guys have struggled in openers in the past. How important is it to get off on the right foot?
A: For sure. It's definitely a big game for us. We've got to go out there and it's going to be a crazy environment. That first quarter, when they have the flames going, the cheerleaders dancing around—we've got to go out there and focus in, lock into our game, run the ball, and then give Eli some time.
Q: You feel any more emotional, any more focused, heading into Week 1?
A: For sure. You come in here and I'm sitting in the team meeting room, I'm used to 90 guys. I look around, I'm like, 'People are late, where is everybody? Half the guys are here. So it definitely opens up your eyes. This is the team we're going to win with, this is the team we're going to go out there and play with on Sunday. So it definitely raises the awareness level and that excitement level, because we know we're getting ready to play a big time game. A division opponent, you've got to go out there and win in the division. That's what we're here for.
Q: Does it make it any more special that it's the Cowboys, not only the division? America's Team?
A: Yeah. It definitely makes it more intense. It's Sunday night, everybody is going to be tuning in, everyone's going to be watching. So it's a lot of excitement in the locker room. I know there's some guys who played in Dallas last year that are looking to show them up a little bit. So I know 17 [Dwayne Harris] and 93 [George Selvie] are going to be excited.
CB Prince Amukamara
Q: How has Tony Romo changed as a quarterback?
A: Just being smart and not forcing those throws. When you have a receiver like Dez, all your confidence is like in that player and you trust that they're going to come up with the ball. I remember a couple years ago he would try to force those passes but now he's just being smart and he has other weapons, too. Anytime he sees a good matchup with either number 11 or 83, he'll take them.
Q: There's been a lot of times you've been singled out to go one-on-one with the other team's best receiver. Can we expect it on Sunday?
A: I don't know. I know last year I was able to follow Dez because DRC didn't really play that much. Then when they came back here, I was out, so DRC followed him. I don't know. I think coach might want to give him different looks but it's a good problem to have. He has two good number one corners and I know if he assigns me or DRC to follow 88, both of us will do it.
Q: You go against Odell here every day in practice, give me the quick rundown of the challenges when you face Odell and maybe some of the challenges whenever you face Dez?
A: If I give you a scouting report for Dallas… But I would say with Odell, he plays the ball like he's 6-5. I think he's the best in the league at going up and getting the ball. And Dez, Dez is a very physical guy on the line on press and I like to press, so that kind of plays into his game. He's very physical and it's very, very hard to tackle him. You'll see a lot of his big plays just come from his tackles and he has a strong stiff arm.
Q: Can you talk about opening against a division opponent game one, right off the bat?
A: That's huge. That's no time to build up. This game matters. It's in the division, it's Sunday Night. So all the hype is there and it just matters. Our number one goal is to win the division, and if we beat Dallas, that's one step heading towards our goal.
Q: You guys have had to crawl out of holes in the beginning of the season the last couple years, I think it's four years in a row now you've lost the opener. Every year that you've been here, come to think of it. How important is this first game?
A: I mean anytime you go 1-0 in the first week, it kind of builds up the team morale and the culture around here. But going 1-0 against a division opponent is just even that more sweeter because you're 1-0 in the division and you have a 1-0 record. There's a lot riding on this game and I know everyone else is on it.
Q: Speaking of morale, you guys probably knew it was long shot whether JPP would've played this week. When you found out he's not ready, what's your reaction?
A: I don't know if a lot of guys, no disrespect to JPP, but I don't know if guys put a lot of eggs in that basket, I don't know if they were expecting him to come back and making room for him in our game plan. I know a lot of guys keep up with the news and just hearing that he might, I think that gave us a little light and we were excited but even though that's not the case, we just have to keep the ball moving.
Q: Can you put the eggs in his basket at all this season or do you think you just have to go ahead and think maybe he's not coming back at all?
A: I mean that's tough. You would hope that one of your biggest forces on defense would come back as soon as possible. I don't know if guys are thinking he's coming back because guys don't know his condition. And even if he comes back, guys don't know what type of condition he's going to be in. I think we're just worried about the guys in this locker room, like there's Kerry Wynn, Damontre Moore, Selvie and Ayers. We're just worried about those guys right now.
Q: What's it feel like to be a leader now on defense and did you ever think when there were those rough days that you'd ever get to this point?
A: I'm definitely not looking over my shoulder anymore. Deon Grant was here and it was great to see him and kind of walk with my chest out a little bit even around him. It's just a different feeling. A lot more responsibility to bring the guys along and keep that culture going when I was there.
Q: Is it more of a physical or mental challenge…?
A: It's both because one, you want to set the tone physically. You know they're going to come out and try to set the tone physically. After losing [DeMarco] Murray, they're probably going to want to establish a run game and show that that hasn't fallen off. So we've got to be ready physically. Then mentally, you've got to always prepare for anything they can throw at you.
Q: How different is their running game going to be now that it's by committee? The bell cow is gone, as you said.
A: Well, you've got to be ready to adjust to any back now. When Murray was back there, you kind of understood what type of runner he was. You prepare for it for most of the game. Now, you know, they've got a lot of choices and a lot of different backs, different styles that they can throw at you. Got to be disciplined, real disciplined up front.
Q: You've been around a long time. I know Opening Day is only one game, but is there extra emphasis on trying to win that first game? Does that give a team a feel-good feeling?
A: Yeah. Last year we came in, we were sitting here talking about the same things. We needed a fast start. It's so important to try and get a fast start. Unfortunately, we didn't get it last year. Ended up hurting us throughout the year, and we never really got things going to the extent we wanted to. It's important to get a fast start this year, and not dig a hole for ourselves.
Q: Does Opening Day ever get old, though?
A: No. No, it doesn't. Especially, primetime against a division opponent. If you can't get hyped for this, you shouldn't be playing.
Q: Did you get a chance to see JPP when he was here on Monday?
A: No, I did not. I ended up leaving before he came in.
Q: Well, you know he went back home. What confidence do you have, knowing what type of guy he is, that within his power, he'll be able to help this team?
A: Well, he's a fighter. I don't know the whole situation and what's going on, but I know he's going to fight. We know we miss him and can't wait for him to get back. So we've just got to wait around.
Q: Can you share any descriptions or impressions of how Coach Coughlin gets as the season gets closer? Or just in general, what you see?
A: I'll tell you what, he gets intense. A lot of times you see him, he's real focused and he's not a big emotional guy. But he can get pretty intense when he wants to. We've seen a lot of that intensity from him so far in team meetings and getting ready.
Q: Does Coach Coughlin provide a sense of calm in the middle of all the JPP and Cruz situations? How would you describe him in these things?
A: Well, Coach Coughlin is consistent. You know what you're going to get from him. There's no second-guessing. There's no you come in, and he might be in this mood. He's the same person. He expects 100 percent. He expects great things from his team regardless.
Re: Dallas's rushing attack
A: It's a running back by committee. They have a lot of different weapons. Still going to be a threatening running game because of the offensive line. That's the strength of their team. Us upfront, that's going to be directly related to us. We've got to match up against their offensive line, hold it down, and help out the guys behind us.
Q: How important is it to get pressure on Tony Romo?
A: That starts with the running game. If you can keep the sticks in the favor of the defense—get them into second, third and long, then it makes it a little easier to kind of get pass rush opportunities to try and get after him. If you don't, if you let them pick up three, four yards on first and second down, now you're in 3rd and 4, 3rd and 2. Then they got the whole playbook.
Q: Everyone has talked about that line going back to last year. Does that affect your mentality going into the game? Either more fire, more of a challenge, how do you approach it?
A: It's a challenge, definitely, because they're looked at as one of the best offensive lines in the league. We want to be the best defensive line in the league. That's something we want for us. They've already established themselves, and we haven't. We've got to go out and prove ourselves. To prove that you want to be the one at the top, you've got to compete with the best.
Q: You get any Opening Day jitters, any anxiety?
A: I wouldn't say jitters, but there is a big build up. You start anxious, anxiousness, and you're just ready for it. Hell, we've been in camp for six weeks. So you're ready to get going.