Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride**
Q: Your impressions of some of these young kids trying to play with the veterans?
A: It is always an enjoyable time for me because you get a chance to see some of the young guys develop and grow and maybe starting to believe that down the road somewhere when things become familiar enough they are going to actually be able to contribute and help us win some games. So that was the good thing; that was the enjoyable thing to see. The absence of two of our receivers allowed some of the younger receiver corps – particularly – to get more play than they might normally have gotten; more repetitions. I think they certainly prospered and benefited because of that.
Q: Realistically speaking, once Victor (Cruz) comes back in – Hakeem (Nicks) only had a couple of days – how long do you think it will take for them to kind of get back on the same page with Eli as far as the timing goes?
A: That I hear you guys talk about. That is so, not unimportant, but it is just a relatively minor thing. The thing is they haven't been working. They haven't been listening. They haven't been growing; they haven't been developing. They haven't been receiving the coaching that they need to get better. To be quite frank, they need it. And the absence and not being here has hurt them and because of that, it has hurt us. But the good thing is that Brandon Collins and some of the other young receivers have had a chance to get some reps. Now the Jerrel Jernigans, down the road, they may be coming into a more integral part of what we have been doing offensively because of that.
Q: How about Rueben Randall in that equation?
A: No question. Rueben benefitted. I would say that he and the guys in the slot position benefited the most. Rueben, you see emerge from a guy that showed flashes at times. He always caught the ball well but maybe didn't always run the routes as precisely, as crisply, as you wanted. He didn't have quite the understanding you wanted. He looked like a guy that has been here for five or six years. He really benefitted from the opportunity. His whole demeanor, his whole professionalism, was outstanding. Now is that because they weren't here or just because he had more reps? I don't know but he certainly stepped into a leadership role. Not only did he grow he kind of became the bell cow of the receiving corps. He was first in line. He did all of those things. That was not what we saw last year; not by a longshot. So to see him growing like that was a great step forward for him, which will help us down the road.
Q: Is this as versatile a group of tight ends as you've had in recent years?
A: There is one guy that can do that – that is Bear (Pascoe). The rest of them are tight ends, they are. The rest are just hopeful that they become tight ends. But Bear has been asked to do it before – be that ….. tight end and move back to the fullback position. He has had to do that for us whenever the fullback has been hurt. It hasn't been Henry (Hynoski) but it was Madison Hedgecock before. And so he has done a great job with that. It is not an easy thing. He is not a natural fullback but he is one of those guys that just whatever you ask him to do, he goes out and does it with as much courage and determination as anybody. As a result of that he plays above – sometimes – what your expectations might be. We asked him to do a very difficult role – he does it very well.
Q: Assuming Henry is going to miss at least some of summer training camp, can you get by with what you have, or do you need to get a fullback?
A: We have had to do it before. Bear has done it before. So unless the powers that be bring a guy in, then we make do. As you know we have had to make do with a lot of things in a lot of different positions. That is just one of many that we have had to do in the past. And so far – knock on wood – we have been able to be pretty good with it.
Q: Last year at this time you were pretty vocal with your concerns about the offensive line. Where is your level of concern now?
A: The good thing is that we think they will be back and they will be fairly healthy, probably healthier than they have been the last few years, which is a very positive thing. Maybe more importantly we added some young blood that can come in and look like they have the skill set to be able to play and contribute down the road. There is no question, we needed an infusion of talent at that spot – young talent that would be able to come in and eventually assume starting roles. How soon that will be remains to be seen. I know that some of the veterans that we have are going to do whatever they can to hold onto that spot. But to see a Justin Pugh come in, for example, as one – it was very, very needed.
Q: With Pugh as the first round pick, obviously, eventually you want him to start. How tough is it going to be to unseat Diehl?
A: Just think of the man – the man is not going to give up the job. He doesn't care who has been drafted – he was a low draft pick when he got here and no one ever expected a lot from him. What has he been playing now – 10 years? He has been a starter. I think it is going to be very difficult for someone to unseat him, but certainly Justin was brought in for just that reason – to earn a starting position. Not necessarily to unseat David, because David can move inside and be a guard for us. So it looks like Justin has enough ability – until you put the pads on, you know – but it looks like he moves well enough. He looks like he is intelligent enough – it looks like he is focused, professional, determined. So I would be surprised if he doesn't come into play for us down the road.
Q: At this point in his career, is it 'maintain' for Eli?
A: There is no such thing as 'maintain.' You have to get better all of the time or you are going the wrong way. And you have heard it as a cliché, said many times, what I firmly believe and I think that good players all know it, as you physically get older, you have to compensate for that with continued growth with technique, continued growth in the deepening of understanding of what is taking place out there, so that you can compensate for whatever that loss of skill level is. So as a receiver, as a running back, as a lineman, if you are not doing that, then pretty soon you are going to be on the bench.
Q: Have you had a conversation with him about that?
A: Yeah. The good thing is that he knows that. He wants that. I have never been around a great player that doesn't want to get better and isn't focused on doing just that. He certainly fits in that mold.
Q: You don't see his skills diminishing?
A: No. I would like to say that I still move like I used to. But that isn't true. Eventually you start going the wrong way physically. But you can compensate. There is no question. Until you reach a certain point where there is just too much compensation. But that is a long way down the road for him.
Q: What are some things he needs to work on?
A: The same things as always, making better decisions. Sometimes he gets antsy trying to make a play. And as always, he will try to push the envelope beyond what it should have been pushed. Continuing to make better decisions in terms of recognition of how teams are trying to disguise coverages, doing the little things better in terms of carrying out his fakes. He still can grow in terms of understanding what we are looking for as a coaching staff because he is our spokesperson out there. He is our guy, he is our link that has to translate it or say it out on the field. So there is still a lot of room for him to get better. But the best part of about it is that he is going to roll up his sleeves and do everything he can to get that done.
Q: What have you seen from the running backs this spring?
A: That is another position – because of the fact that they are getting more reps – you see a guy like David Wilson who started with no clue on who to block, much less how to block, to a pretty good understanding of what it is that he has to do. Now it is a matter of doing it. And it is a matter of getting better at it. He is still not 100%. He still makes mistakes but there has certainly been some significant, some significant growth. Now until you get the pads on – and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done – you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him. But his approach has been great; his attitude in terms of trying to work on that aspect of the game. As a running back, what do you want to do? You want to run the ball. That is all you want to do. You don't want to do anything else. But he realizes that in order to get the playing time that he wants to get that he is going to have to become a pass receiver; he is going to have to become a good pass protector. And he is going to have to do the things that maybe don't fall into the strict definition of running the football. But the good thing is that he has been working his tail off.
Q: RE: Andre Brown
A: Same thing, but Andre had already made good strides in those areas. And Andre has continued to grow. And he has continued to get better. You feel more and more confident. He has actually gotten to a point where you feel better about third-down. First and second-down is one ….. step; one big step; one important step. But the next step is can you be a third-down back because of the complexity of what people are doing with their defensive schemes. And therefore what you do on offense to handle those things – the position that gets a lot asked of it is the running back position. So last year, as you saw, when Ahmad was getting injured, who did we put there? We wanted to put Henry back there. Henry became our third-down back. And now he is not here. So those other guys are going to have to step into the breach.
Q: A lot of the players are saying now that minicamp is over, you really don't have time to take off because the season – it is a full time job. They also said that with the new CBA coaches don't get a chance to see them that much. Do you have to work harder in the offseason…?
A: I don't know that you are working any harder. It is just an acknowledgement of the fact that you are not with them as much. So it is imperative that the time you have with them, that you are as efficient as you can possibly be. So whereas before, maybe you say, "Hey, I'm going to show all the cutups," well, you don't have enough time to show all of the cutups. So you are streamlining, streamlining, it. So you are deciding, "Okay, I want to show an example against Cover Two; I want to show an example against this blitz." So you are selecting, maybe out of 50 plays on that particular play – whatever it is, maybe you are showing 15 of them. So you are spending a lot more time getting ready for your meeting because you only have limited exposure to them.
Q: One last thing on Randle – even if Cruz does come back -
A: Oh, he is going to play – he is going to play a lot. He will play first and second-downs. He will be an outside receiver for us. Whether he is at the 'X' or the 'Z," he is going to play. He is looking like he deserves to be out there a significant time.
Q: Do you think Rueben will take a step back in terms of the leadership he has displayed when Nicks and Cruz are here?
A: I think he will. I think his natural nature –he is going to let those guys – in terms of leading the drills, because I watched it just with Hakeem, but Hakeem stepped back, realizing that right now I don't deserve it; he does. And let him run the drills. In terms of playing when the games start – he is going to be out on the field unless something disastrous happens. He looks pretty good right now.