HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN
"Merry Christmas to everybody. Hope everybody gets a chance to spend some great time with their family. We had a good practice today. Guys were energetic and we got a lot done. Just on the injury front, Cecil Shorts will not play in the game. Rahim Moore will not play in the game, and Jared Crick is day-to-day right now. Brian Hoyer has been cleared to practice, so we're playing it by ear with that one and the rest is just bumps and bruises. With that, I'll open it up to questions."
Is S Rahim Moore being out for two weeks with an illness a cause for major concern?
"No, I don't think so. Look, I think he's sick, and the doctors are examining him, but so far, I don't think it's cause for major concern, but he is sick."
Has QB Brian Hoyer been cleared from concussion protocol?
"He's been cleared to practice, so he's been out there practicing."
So no change in the concussion protocol?
"Right, that's right."
With DE Jared Crick, is there anything that came up?
"Yeah, it was just like a mid-section deal, again, I'd like to put a diagnosis on it but I just rely on the injury report on that."
How has QB B.J. Daniels progressed with the offense?
"He's done a good job. He's a very serious guy, he's very professional about the way he goes about his business. He's in here very early in the morning. Going back to when he got here, he took a red eye, got right off the plane, got here, took a physical and he was in the meeting room watching film being taught the offense. He's gone out there, he's practiced well, he's been efficient in practice, so really like what we see so far."
The last time you guys played the Titans, OLB Whitney Mercilus had his best statistical game. Is there anything you can carry over from game to game when a player has that kind of performance?
"Well there's certainly probably some things that we would look at that he did well in the game when we played them before, but again, they've got a heck of a coaching staff over there. They're not going to probably allow that to happen again. There's going to be some new ways that they figure out how to protect, they're not going to allow all those sacks again in their minds. They're going to have a way to change that up. I think in the end, it has more to do with kind of, how their team has changed, how our team has changed and what our game plan is for Sunday."
Does your game plan have anything to do with knowing you can count on your defense?
"Yeah, that's not how we want to play. We really need to, what I call, tilt the field better than that. A lot of that has to do with offensively, when we are backed up or even on our own 20-yard line, we've got to drive the ball. We've got to move the ball out of that territory so that – look, in the end we want to score, but if we have to punt, we can at least sky punt it and put them in a situation where they're backed up. When you're punting from backed up, it's hard. It's hard to cover, it's not good and our defense last week did a heck of a job, but we can't keep putting them in that situation and expect success this week."
When your average field position is the 14-yard line, does that change your approach when you're constantly backed up?
"I think it all, this is one thing I probably need to do a better job of explaining. It has to do with how the game is going. For instance, if it's very, very difficult in the game to run the football, then obviously it's either a chunk-passing game plan, or it's quick passes or whatever it might be and then mix the run in there. If it's a game where the defense is playing great, the defense is really playing well, then you know, look, we're going to take our chances on trying to create some chunk plays, continue to try to run the ball and hopefully our defense continues to play well. A lot of that has to do with special teams, how are we kicking, how are we covering. It has to do with how the game is being played at that moment, and I think that's something that people outside of coaching don't always understand about what we would call quote unquote, clock management. When you're talking about clock management, you're talking about how has that game gone up to that point in the game, whether it's the end of the half, or whether it's the end of the game. It's not just about what the statistics say as far as what you should do with this many time outs, with this time on the clock, it's how is that game being played, and how is your offense doing, how's your defense doing, how's your kicking game, so it all kind of goes into that question that you asked."
The NFL media website says that all players and coaches have a vote for the Pro Bowl, but you told the Tennessee media yesterday that you don't have a vote. So did you not vote for the Pro Bowl?
"Oh I'm sorry, no I don't know I probably said that wrong. I voted. I didn't mean to – I probably should have phrased that different. You caught me on that one, sorry. I voted. You want to see my ballot? I don't know what I did with it. I really think it's an honor to be in the Pro Bowl, but you know, it's the Pro Bowl, if you get my hint."
What's it been like this week to have your son out at practice?
"It's great, I mean we've got (Linebackers Coach Mike) Vrabel's kids were out there today, (Offensive Line Coach) Mike Devlin's, (Tight Ends Coach) Johnny Perry's. They get like six weeks off for Christmas break, I mean I've never seen anything like it. I said, 'When do you go back to school?' He's like, 'I don't know. January 15th.' Like what school are we sending our kid to, you know? No, it's a great school that he goes to, but no, it's great to have those guys out there, be around the players, see how hard the players work, how professional the players are and I just think it's good for those kids to be able to see that."
Did you ever go to work with your dad when you were off from school?
"No, my dad worked 35 years thereabouts for ITT, the semiconductor division. He sold semiconductors on the East Coast and on the West Coast for a long time, so no, I didn't travel much with him while he sold grommets and semiconductors and things like that."
You said DE Jared Crick is day-to-day, how comfortable do you feel with NT Christian Covington and the progress he's made this year?
"Very comfortable, Christian's done a good job. He really has. I think Jeoffrey Pagan's practiced well the last couple weeks. Brandon Dunn, he's a versatile player. Jared Crick is a big part of what we're doing, tough guy and so hopefully we have him, and I believe we will but we'll have to wait and see and if not, then those other guys will have to step up and play well."
How concerned are you about the punt coverage and punt return teams?
"Yeah, we have to perform better. I'm not – with the punt return team, look, I think at times last week it was decent. Look, it's not a homerun hitting outfit right now but it's getting positive yards at times. I think the big key with them is to make good decisions whether to fair catch it or let it go, that's the big key and then on punt coverage I think it has a lot to do with how I was answering John's question, you really have to be in better field position. When you're punting from backed up, it's very difficult in this league because most of the time, it's an eight-man rush because they feel like they have you where they can go for a block and so you have to stay in a little longer to protect. You kick the football, and no matter what the hang time is, you're going to have separation between the returner and the coverage. In that part of the field, there's going to be a chance for a good return. We've got to get the ball out of that area so we're not in those situations on Sunday. That's a big key."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
What have you seen progress-wise from Titans QB Zach Mettenberger?
"Well you know what, he's been playing. He played last year and he's been playing some this year, so I think that we know what his abilities are. He's a strong-armed quarterback, can throw the ball, ability to throw it down field and get it to the guys when he has to. I think that we're going to get his best. When you're a quarterback, particularly a young quarterback that has played in games and then a younger quarterback comes in and he becomes the guy, so I think that he feels like he's got a little bit to prove, and so he'll try to make an impression for sure."
What have you seen from CB Johnathan Joseph the way he started the year when he may have been a little rusty to where he is now?
"Yeah, his experience really begins to show as the season goes on, because he has a good knowledge of the receivers that he goes against. He has a good knowledge of our coverages and what we're trying to do, and he can mix up his alignment, his technique to still get done what he needs to get done."
It seems a little premature that people were talking about him and giving up on him.
"Well I don't read any of that so I don't know what was said, but I know that Johnathan is a professional. He's serious about his job and he takes it serious on Sunday, so I never felt bad about him."
Could you address OLB Jadeveon Clowney's progress so far?
"Yeah, he's made good progress. He's continuing to make progress. And I will still continue to tell you that he's still a rookie. He's able to make some plays for us and that helps us, but there's still a lot that he has to learn about our system and about playing the game and about the opponents as well. This is the first time that he's had significant playing time. It's proving to, it's beginning to show that he has tremendous ability which we knew, and that he's picking up the system and he's going out and playing hard and doing a good job for us."
Talk about ILB Benardrick McKinney and how he's progressing.
"He's doing very well also. Rookies at first, the speed of the game, the amount of stuff that they have to learn, it slows them down, but now he's been in the system for a little bit, he's played in games and he's picking things up a lot better. He can react more and not have to think as much, so that allows him to get to the ball and make plays. So we're pleased with his progress."
What about S Andre Hal, do you feel like he's transitioned well from when you drafted him a year ago as a cornerback?
"Yeah, I would say so. We took a corner and made him a safety, and he had to go through growing pains as well, but it looks like he's adapting nicely back there and understanding where he needs to fit, how he needs to cover and be able to match up on receivers and tight ends. Then he'll come up and tackle as well. That bodes well for a safety."
Is the biggest reason for the improvement in the defense the development of the younger players?
"Well that helps, if you've got to play them, that helps, but overall I think the defensive group as a unit, they've gotten better together as the season has gone on and now I think we're to a point where they kind of can depend on each other and not have to feel like they have to make the play themselves, and they know that the guy next to them can make the play and so everybody is trying to do their job now."
Are you concerned about S Rahim Moore now out a second week with an illness?
"Well I haven't spoken with the trainer but that's the trainer's field and he hasn't said anything to me about it, and I really don't check on injuries. The trainer, if he has something to tell me, he'll come and tell me. I know that probably he's got an injury or an illness and rather than bring it here and maybe spread it around if it can be spread, let him get well and then come back."
OLB JADEVEON CLOWNEY
Are you looking forward to playing in a game that means so much at this time of the year?
"I am looking forward to it. We are trying to clinch the division and beat Tennessee."
Is it pretty exciting for you to be in this position for the first time in your career?
"Yes, it is very exciting, but it is a lot that we got to do and a lot more that we have to do, so we are just trying to take it one game at a time and see what happens."
Looking back from your injury to now, how much better do you feel about everything on the field?
"I am just happy to be playing. I am happy to be back on the field, happy to be playing. That was the most important thing for me was to get back on the field and staying on the field, not just being on and off the field a lot, so it's gone pretty good for me and just hoping for more and more."
What are you seeing from the play of CB Johnathan Joseph?
"I think he is playing like a Pro Bowler. He is having a Pro Bowl season. He didn't get to make the Pro Bowl, but I think he had a Pro Bowl season. Like always, I think he plays pretty good. He is a good player and a good team leader."
What have you seen from Titans QB Zach Mettenberger?
"He is a smart quarterback, not very fast, so we just have to get after him and try to put him in a bad situation, so we can get him off the field and get our offense back on the field."
Does it excite you that you were able to get to QB Zach Mettenberger a lot last time you played Tennessee?
"Very exciting. We are just trying to get more sacks and trying to put the offense in a better position to score."
Is there more comfort facing divisional opponents when you already know what to expect?
"Yes, we are just looking forward to going at them again and whatever didn't work the first time, try something different."
Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel thinks you are making progress, but still sees you as a rookie. What are your thoughts on that?
"I told him the same thing. We are on the same page in that category. By this time last year, like I said, I was off the field, I was at home and watching my team play. I am just happy to be out there with the guys and enjoying it."
QB B.J. DANIELS
Are you picking up the playbook quickly?
"The playbook is definitely a dictionary and I am trying to pick up exactly what I can. Each day is different, so I am just taking it slow right now and trying to study and make sure that I am making the most of my opportunity."
Are you cross training with the receivers or has it just been all quarterback for you?
"Right now it has been whatever they have asked me to do, there has been a lot of other opportunities for me to do other things, so I am just working at whatever the team needs me to do right now."
How challenging has it been to grasp the terminology here?
"Yes, it is definitely different, definitely different. A lot of the schemes are about the same. It is definitely just football, it is really just trying to learn another language."
What is this situation like only being here a week and being one play away?
"It is an amazing opportunity and I definitely respect the opportunity and I am grateful for the opportunity, so I am studying like crazy trying to make sure that I can do what I can do just to help the team win. Not do anything extra, but just make sure that I know what I can do to manage the game."
Were you surprised when you got the call to come here?
"I was surprised how fast it happened, coming from a game in Seattle and getting on the red-eye that night. That was pretty fast and a whirlwind for me."
Do you feel that you are ready to be the backup on Sunday if needed?
How do you think you would do if you were needed to go in?
"I think I could do the things that can help manage this team. There is a great defense here and I have seen it on the other side, just the things that I can do to help out the team."
What does it mean to you that they like you here as a quarterback?
"It means a lot. It really does. It has always been my dream to come to the NFL. It has been a blessing to play any snap at any position, so I am just thankful."
How do the things that you ran at the University of South Florida help you here?
"I have just been blessed ever since I have been in the NFL, San Francisco, Seattle and here they have been able to do certain things to help with my athletic ability and things that I can do, so I am just fortunate to have the opportunity to be in different offenses that do similar things to what I did at South Florida."
What did you learn from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson?
"A lot. I really did. Russell is a great guy. He taught me a lot about managing the game, being professional, which is one of the biggest things that he does very well. That is definitely someone that I look up to."
How tough is it to prepare when you are not getting a lot of reps?
"It is my third year in the league. Every team that I have been on you have to sit back and take mental reps and that is the NFL, you have to be ready to go, next man up and it has always been, so it is something that I am used to."
NT VINCE WILFORK
Are you playing quarterback this week?
"Keep me in shotgun, I'll be good to go."
Shotgun at all times? No read option or anything?
"At all times. No read option, I am throwing the rock. That is game plan A, throwing the ball."
Can you give us an idea of what has changed in this locker room?
"I think our guys are playing with a lot of confidence. We trust in one another. I think it is everybody from the coaching staff all the way down to us players and when you play like that, good things happen. I think we do a real good job of understanding that our opponents get paid too, so they are going to make some plays, but I think we have done a great job over the past couple of months where if a play is made that we kind of rally back together, get to the sideline, get it corrected and go on the field and perform well after that. I think that has been a staple of our season so far. We have been playing well together and it is always good when you play well together and make plays. Winning helps a lot also. It is just guys playing with a lot of belief and trust in one another and that can take you a long ways."
How are you approaching this week's game with the chance to clinch?
"We are taking it one game at a time. That is what it is all about. The most important thing for us is, no matter if it is the beginning of the season or the end of the season, is to win and I think every team has that same approach, so we take it one game at a time, one practice at a time and get better each week, that is what we try to do and that is what we are going to continue to do. It is a shortened season, but it is actually a long season for us right now, every play counts right now and we have to be able to perform at our best in any situation and I think over the past couple of months we have been performing well in situational football. Going on the road is always tough, especially in the division, so it is going to be another test for us this week. I think last week we practiced well and we pulled it out at the end. It is just how we are built. It is going to be the same thing this week. You are not going to blow somebody out at this level too many times. No matter what records are, division is division, those games are always tough, so we have to understand that. I think guys do understand that and we can't lose focus with Christmas being tomorrow. We have to stay focused, enjoy tomorrow, but at the same time we have a job to do come Sunday and I think guys approached this week pretty good."