HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN**
What does it mean to the team to get DE J.J. Watt and T Derek Newton back this week?
"It was good to have them back at practice today. Both guys were in there, working with their teammates. It's always good to have your team as close to full strength as possible."
What are your thoughts on three undrafted rookies, TE Stephen Anderson, DE Joel Heath and OLB Brennan Scarlett, making the team?
"When we go through that process of the draft or free agency or whatever it is - once they arrive here, we don't care about whether they were drafted, undrafted, how they were acquired, how much money they make, like none of that really effects anything. The only thing that we care about is how they operate, how they take care of business, how they play, how they perform on and off the field on a day-to-day basis. So those guys that you're talking about – I'm not going to get into each one of them individually – but they all earned the right to be on the team right now. That's the big thing. We all have to, not just them, but coaches and players alike have to earn it every day. We have to earn the right to be here. It's very much a privledge to be in this league and be coaching and playing. Just going to need to earn it every day."
Do you expect DE J.J. Watt to play this Sunday vs. the Bears or do you need to see something in practice to convince you?
"No, I would say that he will play. Beyond that, I'm not going to answer too much more about that. But I'll say that he'll play in the game."
What are you looking for from DE J.J. Watt and T Derek Newton this week?
"I think with anybody that comes off of being out for a while, the first thing you want to look at is their level of conditioning and where they're at as it relates to their own conditioning and their own ability to stay in there and sustain plays throughout a drive. I think that's a big thing. From there, it's just about how they're reacting to whatever their injury was and how is that playing out in practice. Today we had a full padded practice and both guys were out there with their teammates and looked to be working well."
What have you seen from DE Christian Covington and do you expect him to be your starting defensive end opposite DE J.J. Watt?
"There's a lot of competition on this roster. I think when you look at the defensive line, the corner position, safety position, we are going to do a good job of making sure that we're very clear with the players but that they have to earn it on the practice field every week. I don't know who will start at that position on Sunday, but Christian has had a very good camp. He's worked very hard to become a better player than what he was last year. He's a great guy to have on our team because he brings a competitive spirit to practice every single day. He'll definitely play in the game."
What are you expecting from your young group of wide receivers this season?
"I'm expecting them to go out and play well. I think they've been out there every day. They've practiced well. They have a good understanding of our offense. In our minds, they're ready to play. There is going to be bumps in the road, just like there are with all our rookies, and with any player really, that they're going to have to overcome and basically put in the rearview mirror. But I expect those guys to go out there and play well."
What types of things are you working on to help the team start the season faster this year?
"It's something that we have to concentrate on. We can't make a huge deal about it, but in the end, we all have to do a better job at the beginning of games and at the beginning of the season. But we also have to finish better. I was just showing the team some things this morning as far as like end of half situations before halftime. Those are critical situations in an NFL football game. End of game situations too, obviously. But you're right, we have to go out there and we've got to be ready to play from the moment we step out of the locker room. We've got to be ready to play the game, coaches and players alike."
How is the feeling this week with a real game on the horizon and less guys around the building? Is there an extra buzz?
"There's definitely some good excitement on our team right now, which is good. We've got a great group of guys. I did ask some of the rookies, 'What one thing stood out to you when you walked into the team meeting room this morning?' and virtually every one of them said, 'A lot less players.' I said that's why it's a privilege to play in this league and you have to earn it every single day. You can never think that you've arrived. I think that's the mark of a very good coach and of a very good player, is that they always have that philosophy of, 'I have to earn in every single day.' I think that we do have a good group of guys. Guys that, they were out there – I wouldn't say the execution is where it needs to be right now, but I think it will get there. But I know that the work ethic, the competitive spirit, and all the things you want from a team, you had it there today."
Every year has its own kind of feeling when you get into it. How does this year feel different or how is it different?
"I think every year is different. I think every year is very different. Even though you may have some of the same players, you have a lot of new players, too, and a lot of different personalities, and your team is different. You have different skill sets at different positions across the board. I think every year is different. I think the thing about this year, I think this is a year where I really feel good about the guys on our team. I think we have good guys that really care about each other and care about winning and they're going to go out there and compete very hard. It's just going to be a matter of going out there and coaching very well and executing well and everybody being on the same page. We'll see what happens, but I do think this is a team that really cares about winning and cares about each other."
TE STEPHEN ANDERSON
How did you find out you made the team?
"I thought it was going to be like, 'okay, you guys made the team. This is our team for the year.' But this is a business. This happens every year. So, we just had the team meeting and he started talking about Chicago. I went to my position coach (John Perry) and I'm like, 'Is it official?' and he was like, 'Yeah, yeah.' That's how I found out."
Were you emotional at that point?
"I set a goal to make a team years ago, through all the hard work. So, all of that into one feeling, it was the greatest feeling I ever experienced. All that hard work, all the extra reps, all the making smart decisions, the discipline, it just felt worth it."
Was it a nerve-racking time waiting to hear?
"Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially seeing everyone who didn't make the team, everyone who it didn't end up well for them, it was hard seeing that. But it kind of turned quick to satisfaction for me because it meant I made it."
What did you do to put your best foot forward?
"I think just what they brought me in for, just to be a mismatch. They wanted me to beat linebackers, be bigger on safeties, and that's what I did. I feel like, with me, one of the main things I brought in was just focus. I just came in and just kind of stuck to my task, stuck to the assignments that I had. I think that's how I got to be on the 53."
T DUANE BROWN
How does it feel to be back on the active roster after being on PUP?
"It was a great feeling. It's been a long year. To be confident and knowing that I'll be back before then is a great deal for me."
Do you have a feeling of when you will start practicing again?
"Not yet. We're still working on that. Just taking it a day at a time right now. It's progressing very well. Getting back on the field, doing position specific things, getting in shape. Everything is going great right now. I haven't put a day or a week yet on when I'll be out there, but I'm just trying to keep going."
How much better are you feeling now than a month ago?
"A whole lot better. It's like night and day. Keeping my swelling under control. Being able to go out there and just have consecutive days of hard work. It's been great. Like I said, just trying to keep that going, keep that going and I think I'll be out there pretty soon."
Do you see consecutive days of hard work as a milestone?
"It's a huge milestone. It was a huge injury. Considering where I came from, doing a couple days then taking a couple days off. Couple days here, couple days off. Now I'm able to really go out there and grind it day after day. Doing lots of things that I will be doing when I come back to play and have it respond well, it's been huge."
Can you talk about your emotions going into opening week and knowing you won't play on Sunday?
"It's been a long year. I've come to terms with just not being disappointed at any time, but knowing there's light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that I'll be back out there. The way I feel right now, I'm very optimistic. It'll always be tough, even in preseason games, standing on the sideline sucks. Watching my guys out there and not being out there, it sucks. Knowing that I'll be out there eventually means everything to me."
ILB BRIAN CUSHING
Do you appreciate the road that DE J.J. Watt has taken to get back on the playing field?
"It's a tough sport. It's a tough sport and it takes a lot out of you. The road to recovery is never easy, but he's got a ton of will and a ton of heart and I know he'll be back."
What does it mean for the defense that all of the starters are back except one?
"We just have to continue to keep the momentum rolling. We have to continue to play well with each other. Play hard, play smart and hopefully carry the momentum from last year into this year. Take it one game at a time."
It is exciting to open the season and play for real?
"No question. Camps tough. Camps not fun. It's just one of those things. It's a necessary evil. You get through that and then it's go time. This is what you practice for and prepare for all year long, is the games, and we're right there."
OLB WHITNEY MERCILUS
Were you surprised that DE J.J. Watt was able to come back so fast from a sensitive surgery?
"No, nothing surprises me about J.J. or anyone else in that locker room. He's a hard-working guy. His motivation was to get back as soon as possible, so he did it."
There seems to be more competition on this team than in previous years. How does that change the dynamic of this team?
"I would say it changes the dynamic in the sense of guys just competing a lot harder and going harder. It doesn't change anything that we do. It's just guys competing to be able to be out there every Sunday and make plays. Guys are out there flying around, making plays that give guys momentum on offense, defense and special teams."
T DEREK NEWTON
Do you feel like you could play a whole game if you needed to?
"If need-be, yeah. But you know how it goes. I'm going to listen to what coach tells me to do. Until he takes me out, I'm going to be in there."
How good is it to be back when the games count?
"It's amazing, man. Not being out there with the guys, it was kind of tough. Just sitting back, watching those guys out there have fun and build chemistry, it kind of felt like I needed to be out there. But at the same time, I knew those guys could handle it, and when I come back we'll be back with the same chemistry."
How does this year feel different than others?
"It's pretty much just staying on top of everything. Doing maintenance on your body, stuff like that. Great chemistry with your teammates, the guys around you being able to move when need-be. I don't think it's that different. It's just staying on top of everything."
How good did it feel to be back out there?
"It was good just to have fun again with those guys out there, joke around. It was fun."
OLB BRENNAN SCARLETT
Can you talk about how it feels to make the team in such a short amount of time after graduating and getting injured?
"I think that they obviously believe in me. It helps me a lot too to know that my coaching staff believes in my abilities and what I can do and it just leaves it to me to go out there and work hard and go out there and do it."
Was it nerve-racking waiting for the final roster?
"Yeah, definitely. I trusted in God obviously and what I put out there. I played my hardest through camp and so either way I wouldn't have any regrets."