HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN**
What effects are you seeing from the changes in the kickoff rule?
"When the rule was put into place, it was basically, I believe, intended to be put in for player safety, to monitor player safety and try to help that issue as far as big hits and things like that. What I'm seeing, though, and preseason is a lot about experimentation, but what I'm seeing is a lot of coffin corner-type kicks where teams are trying to funnel the coverage and the kick into the corner, outside the numbers. That's going to be interesting to see how that plays out in the regular season."
Do you have an update on K Nick Novak?
"He's still in the protocol, so he's still non-contact."
Do you see the third preseason game as more important than the others?
"I don't look at it like that. We're still in training camp. We're not putting in a big game plan for Arizona, and really, I don't believe Arizona is putting in a big game plan for us. I think we're still, with a 90-man roster – obviously with some injuries and stuff, not quite 90 that are active for the game – but I still see it as a lot of evaluation, trying to get a lot of guys playing time. When you look at the third preseason game relative to the regular season, they're not even close. Regular season is way different than preseason, playoffs are way different than regular season. I don't see it that way. I just see it more as hey look, let's go out there and play well and guys do their jobs and let's keep evaluating."
Will the starters play more in this game than the previous two?
"Some guys may play a little bit more as we ramp up toward the regular season, but for the most part it'll be about what you saw the last two games."
Have you found that takeaways are contagious, even in the preseason?
"I can think back to, even when I was at Georgia Tech in 1998, I think we led the country that year in returned fumbles for touchdowns. I want to say we had six or seven that year. Randy Edsall was the coordinator that year and we just did a really good job. Some years maybe you don't get as many. The key to your question though, you have to practice it. You have to emphasize taking care of the ball on offense and trying to create turnovers on defense. As long as you're emphasizing that and your guys are trying to pry the ball loose or bat the ball in the air. The whole key is getting that football, and I think we have a lot of guys that understand that."
Would you say the turnover ratio is maybe more important than any other stat?
"It's one of the keys. I would say the turnover/takeaway ratio is a big key, your penalties, that's a big key, your third down percentage is a big key, being able to play field position football is a big key. But definitely turnovers and takeaways are big. Red area percentage is big, coming out of the red area with touchdowns and not field goals. But definitely, your question, that's right at the top."
The outcome of the first two preseason games has hinged largely on you taking the ball away.
"Absolutely. That's one of the keys. If you can take care of the ball on offense and create some takeaways on defense, you have a chance to win games. No doubt about it."
What does Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver bring to the team?
"He's doing a great job. He's a guy that had played here, as you guys know, had coached in the pros for some really good defensive coaches – Rex Ryan – had really learned a lot from them, coached some really good players. When he was available, he was a guy that we definitely targeted. He's come in here and done a nice job with these guys. They're having fun, they're playing good football. There's a lot of tough decisions to be made at that position for the 53-man roster, but Weav's done a really good job."
T CHRIS CLARK
What improvements did you see in last week's game?
"Just a lot of improvement assignment-wise. A lot of guys were on their assignments and you could see a big range of focus. The focus was there with the young guys and I think that's key, to be able to have tunnel vision on your assignment first and then worry about the help system. I think everybody, assignment-wise, is getting it down."
How is it working in C Greg Mancz right now?
"It's going good. Mancz is a great guy. We knew it since the first day he got here. He's been showing us nothing but great things. So, to see him step up in the 'next man up' role has been great. That's what we believe in on the Texans, the 'next man up' approach. He's doing an excellent job."
CB KAREEM JACKSON
What do you veterans think of P Shane Lechler?
"To me, he's just a great guy, a great guy overall. He's definitely probably the best punter that ever laced up a pair of cleats. I definitely have a lot of respect for him as a man, as a player, one of my closest friends on the team. To have him here, to have him be with us every year he's with us. It's definitely fun to see him come out and still work the same way he's worked over the years. It's definitely incredible. A lot of guys just like watching him, watching what he does and how he carries himself. He's definitely the ultimate professional."
P Shane Lechler's a bit of a living legend isn't he?
Talk about CB Johnathan Joseph's focused mentality even in the preseason.
"(It) just shows the way that he works. He comes out here every day. Ever since I've been around him, he always comes in, he gets his work in, I've never seen him take a day off, never heard him complain. I've always just seen him come in and work. Like I said, I was just telling him for a guy like that to play this long and play at the same level, wanting to come in and compete every day and teaching some of the younger guys and teaching me, little things here and there, (it) just shows that he's the ultimate professional."
The third preseason game is always viewed as the final dress rehearsal. How do you look at that game?
"Just as another opportunity to go out and continue to progress in the right way as a team. I'm just trying to fine-tune things and take steps in the right direction to get ready for the first regular season game. As a team, we want to continue to build and build this next game and try to cut down on some of the mistakes that we made in the second preseason game and just continue to get better as a team. For me, I think that's what it's all about, just taking the steps in the right direction to get ready for the first regular season game."
Are you encouraged by how the defense has come out firing on all cylinders this year?
"Definitely encouraged. We're still leaving some things out there, some aspects of the game that we can definitely get better in. Tackling is definitely one of them. Like I said, we just have to keep taking steps in the right direction and try to get better each and every chance we get to come out on the field, practice and play in the preseason. It's all about improving each and every day to get to that first game."
Are you encouraged by the turnovers the defense has been forcing?
"Definitely. Any time you can create turnovers as a defense it's always great for a team. We have some huge weapons on offense and any time we can give those guys multiple opportunities back-to-back, for those guys to put points up and for us to play with a lead is definitely great for us as a team. It's just one of those things I hope becomes contagious, every guy out there just wants to get the ball."
P SHANE LECHLER
Does it make you emotional to think about what you mean to other people in football?
"It does make you feel good. I can think back to the guys that I thought that about. It wasn't my position like (John) Elway and some of those guys that I looked up to growing up. You know, Nolan Ryan. Guys like that. When you start hearing some guys say some stuff like that about yourself, it's humbling. It kind of makes you like, 'Alright, man, I got to go perform again' because these guys are starting to say this stuff and I got to make sure I'm on my stuff."
OLB BRENNAN SCARLETT
How did you make your presence felt so quickly this past week?
"I was in rookie minicamp and the last half of OTAs after I graduated. I came back and had to sit out a couple of weeks due to a little hamstring injury. But I came back and I'm feeling good and the first couple weeks of training camp, just watching my teammates and the guys, John Simon, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon (Clowney) and kind of learning from them, taking the coaching and it helped me going into the game and doing my job."
What is it like working with guys like LB John Simon, LB Whitney Mercilus and LB Jadeveon Clowney?
"I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be able to look up to those guys. They have a lot of experience and make a lot of good plays. Just to be able to take their technique and use it for myself is a blessing."
You were making plays out there despite the limited time.
"I'm just doing what I can, you know? When my number is called I perform the best I can."
What is the mindset like when you're trying to make the team? Do you have to make plays whenever you can?
"Without a doubt. Injury or no injury, I want to make plays whenever I get the opportunity. But it's just taking the mental reps and really paying attention in meetings so when my time does come I can be prepared and be ready to go."
What's it like working with Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel?
"It's great, he's a great coach. Knowing that he did it himself for a lot of years in the league, you can trust what he's saying."
How big is this Sunday's game vs. Arizona for you?
"It's important. The next game is always the most important game."
But for you, who's trying to make this team, it's even bigger, correct?
"Yeah, it adds another notch to it for sure."
WR CECIL SHORTS III
How is the competition at wide receiver?
"We are all just competing. That's just what it is. Come out here and try to do our best every day, do your best in the game and you can't control anything else, so you don't worry about anything else. Just go out there and support each other. At the end of the day we're all brothers. We're all trying to make the team, we're all trying to do good. We all support each other working hard. When you push each other, it forces everybody to level up. It's pretty cool."
How is the talent and competition level rising at the wide receiver position?
"That's what you want. You want a good group. You want a group of guys that, no matter who is in, can make plays. I think that's what we have."
How has the offense progressed throughout camp?
"Every time we come out here I think we get better. I think we improve. There's always things you need to work on, but each and every day I can see the offense improving, getting better, becoming smarter on the field, making better plays, making more plays in the passing game and the running game. Each time we step out here I think we're improving."
How does it feel that Head Coach Bill O'Brien trusts you guys enough to open up the offense?
"It's good. As a receiver, you always want to go down the field. You always want the ball in your hands. It was cool to open up a little bit. You see some of the guys flashing and making plays. But we have to continue to do that, continue to get better and continue to just push forward."
Can you talk about Sunday's matchup against the Arizona Cardinals?
"They're a good team. Good defense. Good offense. They're a good team period. It'll be a good challenge for us. We've got to prepare like a game. Each week is important to us especially this time of year. Tuning up for the season and we're just trying to make the team."
Is the third preseason game the most like a regular season game?
"No. At the end of the day it's still preseason. You have no control. In the real game, you know you're going to play the whole entire game. You know whose out there, your game planning per say. This is still preseason. We're going to go out there and play hard. We're going to go out there and work our butt off. But at the end of the day, it's preseason."
G XAVIER SU'A-FILO
What's the biggest thing you've worked on since last season?
"Probably just continuing working on my technique and my craft."
Do you feel like you're at home now on this offensive line? You're the longest-tenured guy on the field right now.
"Yeah, Duane (Brown) and Derek (Newton) are here. It's just good. New group of guys, different group of guys learning from everybody. You have Jeff Allen, who's a vet. We just got him. He teaches me a lot. Getting to play next (Greg) Mancz and Chris Clark, who has played in this league a long time. Just learning different things every day and try to work on my craft."
How has C Greg Mancz been able to fit in? Has it been an easy transition?
"No doubt. Greg is a really smart, intelligent and tough guy. He knows his stuff and it's fun playing next to him."
Is it difficult trying to mix in all the new guys?
"As an offensive line, whatever five is in there we try to work as a unit and all do our jobs. As long as we're communicating and we're all on the same page, we're usually all right."
What kind of growth did you see from game one to game two?
"I think, like I said, we just emphasize what we do as an O-line. We try to just come in and do our job, protect our quarterback. Usually when we do that and we're on top of our assignments, good things happen."
The third preseason game is considered the closest thing to the regular season. Is there anything you want to see out of that game?
"We want to win, definitely. Also, as an offensive line we want to take another step forward and keep improving."