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Safeties Coach Dave Merritt Transcript


Q: Last year we talked about not tackling in camp and needing to practice tackling before the season started.  Now they're barely hitting, barely practicing, what does that mean?

A: Well you know what, you're still going to have to teach the fundamentals of how you're supposed to tackle whether you're in pads or you're not in pads.  Really, it goes back to teaching these guys exactly the way I taught them last year.   I would love to have more tackling but I played back when there were two-a-days and you tackled twice a day. Now, the game has changed with the new CBA and trying to protect the players and as a safety precaution going through each game you're going to try to cut back on a lot of the hits.

Q: Last year, the problem was wrapping guys up and getting them down, how do you even evaluate that?

A: It's hard. We have some drills that we're going to be able to do to evaluate the guys and see who can tackle and who can't. Guys like Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips, you know they can tackle but you want to get them better.  So we have drills specifically tailored toward helping them get better at tackling.

Q: What about the new players, can you tell?

A: Not yet. Not just yet. Like I said there are going to be drills that are specifically tailored toward helping them learn how to tackle and then you're going to see them in the preseason games.

Q: Last year Kenny was kind of handled delicately to get him through the season.  Is he out of the box now?

A: Last year Kenny was coming off of the knee injury so we were trying to go slow with Kenny as far as his progression coming back and we did.  We kept him back in the post and the half-field coverage.  Really, with him, coming into this year we are trying to get him down a little more and hopefully we'll be able to get he and Antrel down quite the same.

*Q: You kept the chains on him as a rookie. He comes back and plays two really good games. Then you keep the chains on him again last year.  Are you excited to see more than two games with him at his full potential? *

A: I am and that's what I've told Kenny.  I'm really looking forward to seeing his movement, his progression because he is going into his fourth year but as we all know he's really only going into his second year as a starter. So now we're all interested to have Kenny come out and do the things that we drafted him to do and I know that he was held back a little bit last year but at the same time now he's fully healthy and so we're looking forward to see him come out of those chains.

Q: Those were two good games when he was healthy.

A: Yes. Yes sir.

Q: What kind of things does he bring to the field?

A: Remember his rookie year versus Pittsburgh, the explosive hit along the sideline.  Kenny is very explosive so with that comes along with a lot of responsibility making sure he can do a couple of things that are going to be able to help us out in our defense. Be a disguise, getting in the box and playing deep.  We're just looking forward to seeing his athletic ability come out.  Kenny has done a great job, I will say this already this year, of controlling the coverages.   He has made the calls and he has been accurate with his calls.  It's not just making a call and just whatever call you make let everybody play.  He's making the proper calls.  That part I'm happy to see that his growth has been well schooled over this offseason

Q: His athleticism and his range were two really good things about him.  He looks a whole lot thicker this year. How much of a problem is that going to be?

A: It's not going to be a problem. He's going to be fine.

Q: You don't worry about it?

A: No. I don't worry about it at all.

Q: Can he lose the weight in time for the season?

A: In my opinion right now Kenny is at a good size and so when we start to see him in the games and then we start to evaluate we might say ok, you need to drop four or five pounds, but right now that's not a problem.

Q: We saw so much of the three safeties last year.  Was that because of personnel and now you'll go back to more of a traditional safety role or do you like that and will we see more of that?

A: I loved it and that was primarily because of some of the personnel groupings where they bring out two tight ends so therefore we were able to put a third safety on the field.  You guys remember Indianapolis is where we first started putting the three safeties on the field. Then after they developed in that package we just continued on with it. Really this year we're looking for that third safety.

Q: So did you run it because you had the third starter in Deon Grant or because you actually liked it?

A: No, we actually developed that package so we could get our best personnel matchups.  Deon understood last year when he was in there that he was a backup. Add in the fact that he has played a lot of football and therefore we started increasing that package to different personnel groupings so then we started playing it against everything. We may not or may be able to do it this year, depends on if we can find that third guy. Terrell Thomas can go inside as we've all seen before and he can play that Bison or that third safety spot and all the mental gymnastics that come along with that spot.

Q: You mentioned Deon and you also mentioned Kenny's increased awareness. Do you think Deon helped that last year?

A: Big time.  Plus this offseason, one of the things that Kenny and I did was, I made a DVD for him that allows him to be able to watch some of the plays with my voice overlays and therefore he has a better understanding of where we would like for him to be in the middle of the field, where we would like for him to read in the middle of the field versus the half. So with him watching the film and with him going and actually applying it physically, then he's coming out here and he's doing it.

Q: You only did that for Kenny?

A: No. Antrel had the same thing. So basically, the end of the season evaluations were able to help them out a little bit.

*Q: Was that your way around the lockout and not being able to talk to them? *

A: No this happened way before the lockout. So these guys had an opportunity to hear my voice on tape and hopefully that's paying off now.

Q: You mentioned Terrell, is anyone else catching your eye?

A: Right now Terrell Thomas is the one. I'm not going to give too much credit to the rookies right now.  There are some rookies that we're looking at and hopefully they can step up, be it at the linebacker position or at the safety position with Sash but right now it's Terrell Thomas that we see fitting and helping us with those particular packages.

Q: Then would you have Aaron Ross in there too?

A: That's Coach Fewell's decision but at the same time hopefully we can get all of our DB's on the field.  We still have the Prince that's out there.  If you guys see him, make sure you tell him to call us. We'd love to see him here.

Q: I guess I'm saying instead of having that third safety now that Deon's not here, could you put a CB there.

A: Yes and that's what we'd do with Terrell Thomas.

Q: So Antrel would stay as the blitzer?

A: It depends. Not to give away all of our secrets, it depends.

Q: So he may not even play that same roll he may go back to cover?

A: Exactly. That is on Coach Fewell but just know that Antrel will be down and back deep jus as well as Kenny.  Not having that third safety that we can depend on such as Deon, because we had a lot of things for him last year, we have to develop that next guy and who is that next guy?

Q: Since Prince is not here and he has missed so much time and those packages involve so many different factors, how much can you expect to get from him?

A: You really can't expect him to do much more than just line up outside possibly as a corner and say hey we're playing third, we're playing man-to-man and so with Prince not being here yeah, the learning curve is going to be crisp and fast for him when he gets back in here. How much can you expect? You can't expect too much from him because once he gets here we'll start to bring him along just like all the other guys because we haven't see any of those guys.  You all know that. With the lockout, missing OTA's, missing all the minicamps; all these guys are in the same boat.  The veterans that showed up here last year such as Antrel, now all of a sudden he's going into his second year, all the coaching that we could've developed in the offseason, we didn't have that time. So now he's coming in here and he's having to pick right up from where we left off at the end of the season.

Q:  How much of what Prince did at Nebraska will translate to what you might want him to do?

A: It does and Coach Pete might be able to answer that a little bit more in detail but the kid is a very athletic young man and once he fell to us at that position we said wow this is a surprise. So getting him is going to be a big help.

Q: What percentage would you say does Antrel play back as a normal safety and how much do you guys use him up front?

A: Antrel, as we all know, came out of college as a cornerback and then they transitioned that kid to go from cornerback to safety.  So Antrel, for us when he came here, he probably played down 60 or 70 percent of the time.  I'd say roughly around 60 percent and so with his transition to come down and learn the linebacker skills as far as reading, he had to learn all that.  Not necessarily on the fly but I had to teach him the gap schemes, had to teach him the zone schemes and he picked it up rather quickly so I was excited to see that he was able to pick it up.

Q: Do you think that percentage will be lower this year?

A: I really don't know.  We're still trying to gel and find out who we're going to put where.  So right now these guys have multiple roles and they're down and they're back.

Q: Why do you like that so much? What do the three safeties enable you to do?

A: It enables you to be able to matchup on tight ends that are really athletic.  The Indianapolis tight ends are a group where they just flex out the tight end and all of a sudden he's like a wide-out.  So it's nice to be able to put a safety down there so he can cover.

Q: At some positions it's extremely hard for a player to come in and contribute right away.  Can a cornerback come in and go a lot on talent?

A: No, and to really answer that question fairly, when you stop and you think about the positions that are created in the NFL, for a young man one of the easier positions would be for him to come in as a corner.  You can just tell him that he's playing a third or he's playing a half.  That is a little easier than a safety coming in here that you're depending on to make all the checks and adjustments.  So the corner position is a little easier.

Q: Is it the easiest on the field?

A: No, I wouldn't say that and to be honest with you, I'm going to not answer that question.

Q: You don't want to get in trouble?

A: No, because the cornerback has to learn so much as far as their techniques.  How do I play this particular technique versus this formation and set? Their angling out and their particular angles are hard to learn and unless you go through a training camp, you're not learning that. So, every position is difficult but it's a little easier to have a corner come in and say ok, here we go, play man-to-man outside leverage.

Q: You didn't have minicamps.  You didn't have OTA's. You guys are all at a disadvantage this year but the ones that you think might have the greatest ease-in is probably corner?

A: It's probably corner.

Q: Even more than wide-out?

A: Even more than wide-out. The playbook that we have on defense is thick and there's a lot of information that he has to learn at that position but on the offense, I can't speak for what they do over there but the routes, sight adjustments, it's different. Corner may be a little easier to learn than a wide receiver.

Q: Are you a little frustrated or annoyed that Prince is not here?

A: No, I'm not getting annoyed I'm just ready to get him in here so he can go through the learning curve of all the techniques which is the problem that I see if you miss all of camp. You need to get in here and get the fundamentals down how we do things here.

Q:  So when they put the pads on tonight what are you looking for?

A:  I'm looking to see some guys fly around and hit.  I'm looking for physicality tonight. Let's get some physical play.

Q: As a coach, with the new practice times, what's the biggest challenge with this new schedule?

A: For us the challenge is mentally keeping the guys into it when you're in that meeting room.  Because as a former player, sitting in those meetings is tough.  Although you're in the AC and it feels nice but mentally trying to keep the guys focused for a two hour meeting, you've got to make sure you do a good job of changing it up. So that's the biggest challenge is keeping them focused.

Q: Do you think the lack of two-a-days will impact the season?

A: You know what, it's uncharted territory so really I could sit up here and tell you I think it's going to be injuries or I can say it's going to be this, I don't know. I really don't know.  We're all going to find out.

Q: Do you think that Tyler Sash could play a role in helping the defense out?

A: I do and I know that Sash is a physical kid and so getting him in the round that we selected him, I had Tyler pretty high on my list and I was excited that we were able to pull the trigger and get him here.  He's a physical young man and I'm just looking to see Tyler continue to improve on his angles out of the post because he didn't play much of that. He played quarters at Iowa. I'm just looking to see him playing back deep and then be able to drive off the quarterback at the proper angle.  I know he can come down and play in the box and hit. I've seen that.  Not necessarily on this level but I'm looking to see him more so in the pass skill position and his drive angle to the ball.

Q: He came up from that spot the other night on a run play and you guys were all excited. Is that the kind of stuff that you're looking for?

A: That's the kind of stuff that you're looking for and hopefully more of that will be flashing as we go forth. Look for that same play about three and a half quarters into the first game.  As a rookie you know his tongue is going to be out.

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