HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN**
During practice, you called pushups on yourself. Can you tell us about that?
"Yeah, I got ahead in the schedule. I was going to another period and I was skipping a period, so I punished myself. It's what you got to do. You have to hold yourself accountable. I did thirty."
Did you see your players all standing there watching?
"They were counting it out. They love it. They love when I do pushups."
How's ILB Benardrick McKinney doing?
"Good. He's, just like everybody this time at camp, dealing with some bumps and bruises. He's fine. Gave him a couple days off. He'll be ready to go once the season starts. He'll play in the preseason. I don't know how much he'll play against Carolina, but he'll play in the preseason."
Have you put pen to paper about who you're going to use, that kind of thing?
"Everybody that's able to play in the game, will play in the game. Obviously, we'll talk about it as a staff, how much everybody plays. You know you got 90 guys, or thereabouts. You have injuries. So, 80-plus guys that you have to get into the game. A lot of guys, everybody, you need to evaluate. So, not everybody will play the whole game, obviously, but everybody that's able to play will play in the game."
Will DE J.J. Watt play?
How important is it to see these guys in a game situation?
"Yeah, that's what we're all here for. I mean, practice, trying to practice and perfect their technique, our scheme, the way we want to play and then put it out there in a game. See how it is. I know it's preseason number one, but it's our first chance at competition against a different team, so it's a big test against a team that was in the Super Bowl two years ago with a great head coach in Ron Rivera. Great quarterback – Cam (Newton). So, we need to show up ready to play on Wednesday night."
I imagine that you being in a stadium and going into the visiting locker room and those kind of routines are helpful at this juncture, too?
"Absolutely. You have to get into the routine. Half your season is going to be played on the road so you have to get into that routine. What it's like in a different place. Everything from where the play clocks are to how the sideline is set up, how the press box is set up. The coaches, the players, everybody has to get into that road routine, so it's good that the first one's on the road."
What are some things you will be evaluating in the game?
"I'll be evaluating a lot of things. I'll evaluate the conditioning, where we are conditioning-wise. I think we're in good condition, but the game is different. I'll be evaluating different things as far as the sideline communication with the coaches. How we're communicating from the press box to the sideline and vice-versa. Then obviously watching the players, how they play. Obviously, most of the evaluation will take place on film the next day or that night, but just kind of evaluating a lot of different things."
What have you thought about WR Jaelen Strong's camp so far?
"Jaelen's (Strong) battling. He's competing. Been out there every day, which is big, and he's getting good reps. He's come up with some good catches for us. He's just like everybody else. He's just trying to get better every day. That wide receiver position is very competitive and he's right in the thick of it."
What have you thought about what your quarterbacks have done so far?
"I think they've improved every day. We have a long way to go before we play our first game but they've improved, they've gotten better. I thought today was decent. There was a lot of situations today, so we'll go back and review that film and see how we can handle those situations. Some of them we handled well. Some of them we need to handle a little bit better. I think, overall, all three of them have had good camps."
What specifically do you look for from them on a daily basis?
"I want them to throw the ball accurately, I want them to manage the offense, operate the offense efficiently. I want them to get us in and out of the huddle quickly, I want them to understand the situations of the game, I want them to really have a good understanding of defense. We see a lot of different schemes on defense so every day is a test, every play is a test, and they're just trying to get better every single play, every day."
What's happening with OLB Brennan Scarlett?
"He's doing a good job. He's a tough guy. He's, obviously, a backup outside linebacker. He's doing a decent job against the run. He's getting better with his pass rushing. He's helping us on special teams. He's been a good special teams player for us. He's a tough guy. He's out there every day really, really battling hard."
I know injuries are a part of the game but how much concern do you have when you get a few at one position?
"Injuries happen. I think that's something you have to deal with in this league. That's everybody. I think all 32 teams are dealing with, probably, some type of injury right now. Those things happen. That's why you have a pro football team. You have a bunch of pro players that have to step up and play more than maybe they usually do. That's just the way it is. That's why you try to put together as strong of a roster as you can, so that the next man up is a good player. That's hopefully what we have."
ILB BRIAN CUSHING
How would you define what keeps you going at such a high level?
"Just the love of the game. It's a competitive atmosphere and it might be the most competitive business on earth. Honestly, it's just world-class athletes coming out here and it's a lot of people that want to perform and want to continue to play and just love the game, like I said. It's just an extremely competitive atmosphere that you have to bring your best game every single day, no matter if it's a Saturday practice or a Sunday game or whatever it is. You have to be on top of your game at all times."
I've heard Head Coach Bill O'Brien say that you're the heart and soul of this defense. What does that mean to you?
"It means a lot. I've been here for a while and I go out there every single play and I call the plays and I get the guys lined up and try to make as many checks as I possibly can and get us in the best situation possible, with a ton of help from the coaches that obviously prepare me all week long to be in the right situations, do the right things. It's a collective effort but at the same time it's something that I take very seriously. I love hearing that. It's something that's earned over many years and something that I really, really wake up every single day and enjoy hearing that and take full responsibility of."
How have you persevered through all the surgeries?
"Same thing, with just a lot of help. A lot of help from a lot of different people and the mindset to get better, the mindset of not feeling bad for myself and knowing that every single day I wake up is another day closer to playing football again. It's one of those things (where) I don't feel sorry for myself, I try to own all my problems and take full responsibility for my life and the things that I'm in control of. I can't worry about the things that have happened in the past. I'm just thinking about the things that are going to happen in the future and worrying about each single day one day at a time and just trying to be the best person and player I can be."
How special is it to be here healthy?
"Oh, its' awesome. It's awesome. It's what you work toward and it's one of those things that, like I said, you just fully enjoy and don't take for granted, especially as you get older and you've been through stuff. Like I said, come out here every single day and you don't take one day for granted."
Did retirement ever cross your mind?
"I mean, you always think about it. This game doesn't last forever and you understand that. Obviously with the injuries and stuff like that – I knew I wasn't done playing mentally, I knew I wasn't done playing physically. Obviously I was limited at times and hurt, but at the same time, I just knew that the rest of my life I would have been kind of questioning how much longer I could have played and how much I would've missed it. It's just one of those things you have to get through and you know you will and you know you can. Like I said, with a ton of help from family, friends, my wife, my dad, my mom, coaches, trainers – obviously a huge part just of getting me back out there, continuing to keep me thinking positive, have a positive mindset every single day and playing nine-plus years. It's just one of those things you find a way."
Pro Football Focus has said you're one of the best at your position in pass coverage and run defense. What does that mean to you?
"It is, but like I said, you just have to come out here and play at a high level every single day or they're going to find a person that can do better. That's just the kind of cutthroat business it is, and like I said, there's just a lot of different people who have put me in the right situation to do the right things, make good plays. It's all 11 of us on defense and all the coaching staff, a collective effort, that you're able to hear those kinds of things and be happy about that, but at the same time, it's a team defense."
Has the defense been focused on the takeaways this year?
"We focus on it every year. Obviously we understand how critical of a point in the game it can be and it's a huge momentum-changing factor. So, it's one of the things that we always stress. We try to get after the ball as best we possibly can. You know, practice is one thing and doing it in games is another thing. We just will continue to try to focus on it and stress it in practice and try to do it as best we possibly can."
Is it specific drills to get better?
"It's both. It's specific drills and they carry over into live situations or practice that we'll continue to work at. I don't think there's been one day we haven't focused on it or stressed it. It's obviously a huge part for this football team."
How much do you crave playing football?
"I do. I'm a competitive person. I'm a lot happier when I'm playing football. It's just one of those things. I was talking with another former player before, who's still playing, and talking about how much we still enjoy playing the game and even the days of camp that kind of add up, you get sore, you get tired, but at the same time, you wake up and you kind of hop out of bed excited for the challenges and opportunity of the day. It's one of those things, like I said, it doesn't last forever. So, every single one of these practices and these moments you have to cherish."
How does your body feel here as opposed to Houston?
"I'm not getting as many IV's, that's for sure. I feel like we're recovering, we're resting a lot better and we're still practicing hard, there's no question about it. We're getting after it but obviously the heat and the physical elements are a little bit different here."
How important is it to chase a ring?
"I mean, we get a chance every year. Everybody does, and that's the thing – it's all 32 teams trying to get one thing. We understand that. We have to continue to come out and work every single day and it's a long way away, and we understand that. We have to worry about the first part of the season, the first game, and keep our goals short-term. We understand that."
What are you personally trying to do in the first preseason game?
"Just continue to play better. Continue to practice and do better and try to eliminate all mistakes and try to play the best linebacker I can possibly play and try to lead the guys as best as I can and play together as a team defense. I think that's the important thing, to come out and just play collectively really well."
Have you seen the offense be able to challenge you guys more this year?
"They've got a good unit. They're definitely improving. You can tell with the play-calling, the execution, the tempo, everything. They've challenged us a lot more this offseason from the OTAs until now. It's definitely an improved group and we're excited to see what they can put on the field. It's going to be fun to watch, but at the same time, we have to come out there and we have to play the best defense that we possibly can and the days have gone back and forth and it's been extremely competitive. It's been a lot of fun."