ASSISTANT HEAD COACH / DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ROMEO CRENNEL
Are you excited to be calling the defense again or is it nothing new at this point?
"Well, the fact that I've done it for so long I think makes it an easier transition from last year. But, I am excited to be back and calling the games, the competition and being in the locker room with the guys and all that. That's what I know and that's what I've done, so I feel good about it. I hope they do, too."
DE J.J. Watt called you a fun grandpa. What kind of relationship do you have with these players?
"It's like a grandpa. No, I mean, I have a relationship with the players that I've always had with the players. I always try to talk to some and motivate them and help anyone who needs help or asks for help, but that's the way I've been all through my career. The fact that I'm a grandpa now doesn't change that."
How good do you think DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney can be and what do you see from him in terms of his growth?
"Well, I think the jury's still out on Jadeveon because he's missed a little time. He missed this offseason, but he's back now and it looks like he can make an impact. But, that's what we have to do is we have to put him in a game and play the games and see what happens. Hopefully he can play up to that ability level and can help us."
How difficult will it be to face Patriots QB Tom Brady and the rest of that offense?
"Well, any time you play Tom Brady it's difficult because he's so good. He's been around a while and he's seen just about everything. So, you just have to play your game and if you can hit him, evidently you need to hit him more. If you can get some turnovers and keep him on the sideline, I think that will be beneficial to us."
How good do you think the defensive line can be with everyone healthy?
"Only time will tell how good they'll be. Every year's a new year. It's a different year, and even though you have some of the same players, you have some guys coming off injury and you don't know how they're going to recover. Until you get them into the game and they have to take some hits and they have to plant and make sharp turns and all of those kinds of things, you don't know if they're really back, and I don't know if they know if they're really back. But, once they get out into the game and play at the game speed, they find out if they're back and what they're capable of doing. Then, we'll know what kind of players we got."
What can you do to try to make Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski less of a factor during the game?
"I could put about 12 or 13 people on the field, but that won't work because they won't allow me to do that. You can try to disrupt him as best you can, but if you see Gronk, Gronk is a big, strong, physical individual and it's hard to cover him because he uses all of his skillsets to get open and to catch the ball. So, you can try to take him away and you can double him or triple him and try to do that, but they have other people on the team and you can't double everybody. So, you have to pick and choose your moments and times and hope that you pick the right ones."
How much does Patriots RB James White help offset the loss of WR Danny Amendola and the absence of WR Julian Edelman?
"Well, I think he helps that a lot because I think he's the guy that Tom (Brady) knows and Tom can count on, so, between Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) and himself, I think those would be the two main targets. Now, you know, they have a couple of guys on the team that have been there. They have a speed guy who, with the ball in his hands, makes a lot of plays, so I don't discount him losing a good slot player like he's lost. They seem to make it up. Whoever they lose, they seem to have a next guy in place that will step up and produce for them."
Is there anything you can do to help the defense gel?
"That's what we've been doing all offseason, trying to incorporate the new guys onto the team and into our way of thinking and our way of doing things. That's the most that you can do. Then, they get on the field and they have to communicate with their teammates, then when the ball is snapped, they have to develop their trust from their teammates that they're going to be where they're supposed to be. That's how you develop that chemistry."
What are some of the challenges some of the defense might face having not played with each other?
"Communication is the biggest one because new people, they don't know your system yet. They're still learning your system so people don't want to mistakes. They don't talk as much or as loud, maybe, as they need to talk. But, as they gain confidence and their knowledge of the system, then they can become more vocal. That does take a little time, but we try to impress upon them that they have to get it down now and we don't have a lot of time. So, it comes along. Early on, it's not what you want it to be but it improves as camp goes on."
What does S Tyrann Mathieu bring to your defense?
"He brings playmaking ability. He's a playmaker. A proven playmaker. So, having that kind of ability I think will help us."
Do you have certain plans set in practice to better prepare against their different types of running backs?
"I think that as you game plan, you see what guys can do and you try to take away their strengths. So, each one that they put in there, we have an idea of what the ability is and what they do within that system, and then we can try take it away a little bit. Like I said, we can't take away everything from everybody, and they've got some pieces that are pretty good. So, you just have to determine who you want to defend and how you want to defend them."
Have you watch any film on Patriots RB Sony Michel?
"Only when he was coming out. I saw him when he was coming out. He's been injured a little bit this offseason, but I thought he was a pretty good running back when he was at Georgia."
Going into the game, do you expect DE J.J. Watt to be full go?
"I hope. Right now he's been doing OK at practice, so, he should be there."
Will CB Kevin Johnson be game ready?
"Yeah, as soon as they clear him I'll be OK with it."
What do young players like S Justin Reid, ILB Zach Cunningham and ILB Dylan Cole bring to this defense?
"I think that you see that a guy like Zach Cunningham, who was a rookie last year, you see the progress that he's made this year. It's a world difference from where he was to where he is now, and hopefully we will get that same kind of progress from all these young rookies that we have. I think we've got some good young kids to work with."
ILB Zach Cunningham said you don't get mad at him, you get disappointed in him, which is worse. Do you think when you say it that way, it makes them work harder to better prepare?
"Well, I think it's an individual thing. Each individual is motivated different ways. Some guys you have to yell at, some guys you can talk softly to, some guys you have to give them push, some guys you put your arm around. So, you have to figure out what method works best for each player."
When defenders do start to build chemistry, what are the little things that come from that?
"They begin to know each other and know what their teammate is going to do and where their teammate is going to be. That allows them also to take some opportunities to make a play. Whereas, if you don't know where your teammate is going to be and what he's going to do, then you have to be straight by the book."
QUARTERBACKS COACH SEAN RYAN
What sort of challenges does the New England Patriots defense present?
"I think every time you play them, what jumps out at you is they're well-coached, they're disciplined, they play smart, they don't make mistakes. So, you've got to be detailed in what you're doing and play the same type of way. You've got to play a smart football game against them and you've got to be disciplined. I think that always shows up against them on tape."
When you watch the film from the New England game last season, what stood out about QB Deshaun Watson?
"I just think Deshaun – the biggest thing to me was as a young player a year ago, he just kept coming at them. There were ebbs and flows of the game. Some things went our way, some things didn't, and he just kept going out there and made plays. We've talked before about him having a short memory in terms of whatever good happened, whatever bad happens, he's able to move on and just keep pushing forward. I thought that was a great example of that last year when he kept fighting through the bad stuff that would happen, as well as didn't dwell on anything good. Just, we're onto the next play."
Does it surprise you that QB Deshaun Watson wasn't satisfied with his performance last season at New England because the team lost?
"Not at all, not at all. It's exactly right. At the end of the day, we didn't win the game and we've got to do more. Whatever it takes to get the win is the way we look at it. He's on board with that. That's what makes him great is the way he thinks."
What are the strengths of New England's defense?
"Again, I think their discipline is one that really stands out to me. It seems to me when you watch them, every single guy knows their role, their job, and I think they all do it well. They all fulfill their roles well, and to me that's really the greatest strength as a unit. They're a solid group from front to back."
Has QB Deshaun Watson been practicing some of the routes that he threw interceptions on last season?
"That's not necessarily – just in terms of this game, we'll constantly talk about his progressions and not getting stuck on receivers, not hanging too long, not forcing things, knowing when to take your shots and when not to. That's a theme that goes on consistently week in and week out. Certainly, it plays into this week, but it'll continue next week and the week after. It's just something that you do with these guys week in and week out to try to get the decision making to where it needs to be."
How many of QB Deshaun Watson's interceptions from last season were results of a rookie mistake?
"There are some like that. Every interception is unique. There's all kinds of things that go into it. Some were, 'Hey, you forced a ball,' or he didn't see this properly because he's a young player, because he's a rookie, but there are many reasons why. Each one, you try to take and you correct so that it doesn't happen again. That's the goal of moving on from any turnover that you have is really, 'Hey, this is why this happened. What can we do to move away from it so it doesn't happen again?'"
What about QB Deshaun Watson gives you confidence he can avoid a 'sophomore slump'?
"I think just his work ethic and his dedication to being a very good player. I think he's going to do what it takes in terms of spending the extra time in studying opponents, in learning from mistakes. I think it's the way he approaches his job, to me, is what excites me most about him being able to continue to take steps and improve off of what he did a year ago."
Did you realize the potential of the offense after the New England and Tennessee games last season?
"Yeah, I think we were excited, but the challenge is to be – you don't want to ever temper your excitement or not acknowledge what someone does when they do it well. That's part of coaching, is to encourage and make a point of saying, 'We did this well,' but I think also in your mind as a coach, you understand that you have to continue to improve. There's more we can do. We're just scratching the surface. We can't regress in any way. That's always the pressure that hits you right after a game. You've got a few minutes of enjoying it and then you're watching the tape and you're looking at a bunch of stuff that you can correct. It's a combination always of excitement and what can be, but more importantly, what we have to do to get it to what it can be."
Is it even more exciting knowing how you've seen QB Deshaun Watson's progress this offseason?
"Sure. It's always exciting. I'm excited for him. I think he's put in the work and done things, to me, the right way to put himself in a good position, but I'm going to understand that there's going to be times when we're going to have things that we need to correct and we need to be on the same page and have the right temperament to get that done. That's what we have and that's what excites you, too. It's not just what you see on the field, but how he carries himself, how he handles his business off the field, too."
Could QB Deshaun Watson benefit from only having seven NFL games for opponents to study?
"I'm not sure. I think teams are certainly going to look at the things that we did and had success with. That's what they're going to look at. That's naturally what they're going to do. You've got to continue to attack every game differently. You game plan for everything and you can't let people just go off of what you've done. I don't know if the limited body of work is an advantage or a disadvantage but I know we've got to just keep pushing forward and just keep coming up with things to help him be successful."
When studying rookie players defensively, do you study their game tape or how you think the opposing team will utilize those players?
"I think it's a combination. You watch as much tape as you can get your hands on, and then certainly there's preseason snaps where you get to see these guys. That's where you kind of focus your time. The first game of the season, that's where there's challenges for both sides because there's not a lot of tape on some people that are new to the program, whether it be on offense or defense. Everybody deals with it. You try to do the best you can and watch as much film and as much tape as you can. That goes on for a long time in preparation for this first game."
How important is this game for the rest of QB Deshaun Watson's season?
"I think every game is important. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it's just the truth. You only get 16 times to do it that are guaranteed to you throughout the year. You get 16 of them. They're all huge. I think the good and the bad, you correct the bad and try to limit those mistakes from happening again, and you emphasize the good and build on it. I think that's the same for every game throughout the year whether it's the first or the last."
DE/OLB JADEVEON CLOWNEY
What is it like playing against Patriots QB Tom Brady?
"Looking forward to this game. It's a fun game to play against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. We look forward to playing this game every year."
Are you sick of losing to the New England Patriots?
"I don't think anybody likes to lose to anybody. I hate losing to anybody, so of course we don't want to get beaten by nobody. We try to go 16-0 every year all the way through the playoffs. That's the goal, but you've got to get ready to play, like I said, go up there and compete."
What did you think when Rams DL Aaron Donald and Bears OLB Khalil Mack got big contracts?
"Timing. It's all about timing and everything in this league. Injuries happen. People get paid at certain times when they hit the market at the right time, they hold out and everything to get what they deserve. Those guys deserve the contracts. Just playing football now."
Are Rams DL Aaron Donald and Bears OLB Khalil Mack's new contracts a motivator for you?
"Oh yeah, always. Always. I came up with those guys, so of course I want to be up there with them. That's why I need to play as hard as I can this year."
Have you set personal goals for yourself this year?
"Yeah, my goal is to make more plays than I did last year. Every year, I would say the same thing, say improve on my game and getting better. Each year, I've come in and done that, improving my sacks and tackles for loss and everything. I just want to do that again with everybody back this year. I'm just thinking the sky's the limit, like I said, for this defense and myself. I just have to put it all together on the field."
Does your production last year give you confidence heading into this season?
"Yeah, each year I've gotten better. This year, I'm confident about myself and the guys around me. I just have to go out and play well and compete and I think everything will be OK and eventually take care of itself."
How strong do you think this defensive front can be?
"Very strong. We work together. We know each other. I feed off those guys real good and I've been playing with them for a while, so I kind of understand what they're thinking and how they're thinking. I think we can real strong together. The group we got together in real, real good and hopefully we can keep together, stay healthy and play for each other."
Are you eager to see some of the new pieces on the defense like S Tyrann Mathieu?
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to watching him play. I've been watching him practice each week and he's locking down tight ends and whoever he's been on. Just to go out there and play a game with him and the guys behind us and the guys beside me. We're going to see how we turn out because we haven't been on the field in a while. Got to go out there and play a complete game and just keep taking this thing on through the season and see where it goes."
How important is it for you to be familiar with your teammates' tendencies?
"It's very important. The bond on your defense has to be very – you have to have chemistry. When you're playing with people that's hurt filling in off the street, it's kind of crazy. You can't look down there and say, 'Oh, he might take this.' You have to know who you're playing with, but with those guys beside me now, I know what they think and how they're thinking. They feel off me and we just read off each other and just go and make a lot of plays. That's what we try to do."
*In addition to his play on the field, what does S Tyrann Mathieu bring to this team with his personality? *"We need that too, attitude in the locker room. His attitude has sure changed a lot (around here) and has made a lot of guys change their attitude. He wants to win and he lets it be known out here that he wants to win. He's a good player and he's letting everybody know. The swag he brings to the field and to our defense is going to help us out a whole lot."
WR DEANDRE HOPKINS
Are you excited for the first game of the year?
"Oh man, it's a big for us, but it's another game for us to do what we want to do."
How excited are you to see what QB Deshaun Watson can do in a full season?
"I'm very excited. I think everybody is, not just myself. He's shown improvement, he's matured a lot since last year, so I'm very excited."
How impressed were you that QB Deshaun Watson remained so involved and locked in with the team after his injury?
"It just showed how much better he wanted to improve on his game, what he wanted to do for the team. Staying here, dedicating his time getting better."
Was QB Deshaun Watson's success last season not a surprise to you because you'd seen the work and dedication he had put towards the preparation?
"Yeah, since the first day he came here, he was staying extra with the coaches, learning stuff, learning the plays so he can catch up."
What do you like best about having QB Deshaun Watson as your quarterback?
"His leadership mentality, not just on the field, but off the field."
What are your goals for this season?
"With this team (is) why everybody plays football, and that's to win in a championship, and that's the Super Bowl."
What stands out to you about this group of guys?
"The competitiveness. Not just the wide receiving room, but everywhere. It's very competitive all across the board."
QB Deshaun Watson was asked what you were most competitive at off the field and he said your fashion.
"Oh, yeah. I'm the swaggiest on the team. Don't let anybody fool you."
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said that because of all of your receiving skills, you're almost impossible to cover. What does that mean to you?
"That means a lot coming from a great coach like that."
Where does the belief come from that QB Deshaun Watson will be even better this year?
"The belief is in the time that he's put in in this facility. Like she said, when he had the chance to go places, he stayed here."
Does it make it any more special to be talked about by a Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, who's been to like eight Super Bowls and won five of them?
"That's good and great. He's a great coach, so, that coming from a great coach like that, that means a lot."
What do you think will be the biggest key to you all being successful this year on offense?
"Us not beating ourselves, not going out and making mistakes on ourselves. We know we have a good team, so just playing mistake-free football."
WR Will Fuller missed last year's game against the Patriots, what does he bring to the team when he's on the field?
"He can stretch the field. Will has undeniable speed that nobody can guard. So, for him to be out there and able to stretch the field, that helps out this offense a lot."
When WR Will Fuller's out there, does that help maximize WR Bruce Ellington in the slot as well?
"Yeah, that opens up a lot of stuff when Will's out there because it's hard to guard him. You blink and he might run past you, so he keeps the defense on their toes."