OC PEP HAMILTON
How excited are you to put the offense on the field in a game that actually counts?
"We're excited to see after all the things we've been working on throughout the offseason and training camp if we can go out and execute at a high level against a really good football team in the Indianapolis Colts. Their defense, it's well documented how good they are in their front-seven and on the backend. With the addition of (Stephon) Gilmore, they're a formidable bunch."
When did you figure out RB Dameon Pierce belongs and what made you realize that?
"We just felt it was a process for him to really just work on and be able to play without the ball. Ultimately, you have guys that come out of college football that are good runners but the transition is pretty much dictated by their ability to protect the quarterback as well as staying on the field, and being able to give us tough yards for four quarters."
What does it say about a young guy who has the same goals as the team's goals?
"I think the message that has been established by our head coach is something that our guys believe in. The coaches, players and everybody in the locker room, we know we want to be a tough, smart football team and we understand that we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us on Sunday."
How does the run game role impact your offense?
"Just when you look at what it's going to take to win games. When you look at our division specifically, it's a physical division. It's not just our offense that wants to come out and establish the run game. You see that in the Colts and they have a pretty good running back as well, and as well as the team in Tennessee and of course in Jacksonville. They're building a formidable bunch on their offensive line and in their backfield. It is a way that has really been established for teams to win the National Football League and that starts by being physical up front."
How do you prepare for Gus Bradley's Cover-3 defense and guys like LB Bobby Okereke and LB Shaquille Leonard?
"Gus (Bradley) has been around a long time. We had the opportunity to work with each other a couple years back out in LA. I think without a doubt he's established himself as one of the best defensive minds in the National Football League. At the end of the day, we feel like they're a physical bunch, we're a physical bunch and we've got to go out and play a high level of football and minimize the mistakes to have a chance so we can score one more point than the opponent."
How excited are you to pull back the curtain in the regular season?
"The way the CBA is set up, you have few opportunities to go out there and play tackle football before you play a regular season football game. It was important for us in the preseason to get our guys a chance to set their pads and ultimately harden our knuckles. But now, we understand there will be a little more strategy involved in trying to get first downs and we have to do a great job of making our in-game adjustments but more importantly just executing our offense."
What are you going to do with TE O.J. Howard and are you trying to work him in right away?
"It's still a work in progress. After a couple days of practice, we feel like O.J. (Howard) has a skillset that can help our unit but at the same time we feel like we have a collection of skill players that can do a multitude of things. We'll see how we decide to really deploy those guys on gameday."
We saw a lot of checkdowns from QB Davis Mills in the preseason. Was that by design or just him going through his progressions?
"Yes and no. We do feel like it's important that you go through your progressions like you just said, you go through your reads and ultimately you take what's there. A lot of what we faced throughout the offseason and in training camp was our defense. Our defense does a really good job of taking the ball away. Really stressing your passing game and it's a good test for us every day in practice or it was a good test to get us to the point of facing a really good defense on Sunday and just have the patience to execute the offense."
In the preseason did you put TE Brevin Jordan in certain spots to improve his game? Have you seen enough out of him in year two?
"It was important for us, not just with Brevin (Jordan), all of our guys have to be able to play without the ball. That's the nature of how we're going to play offensive football. You have to go out and do your job. For us to have consistent success as an offense, it's going to require all 11 guys straining on each play, playing through the echo of the whistle. It wasn't just Brevin. That was really a test for all of our guys to go out and be able to play a physical brand of football for as long you're out on the field."
Can you talk about QB Davis Mills in year two and the big difference between now and his first game?
"I think we'll find out once he goes out there and plays a regular season game. I do think that we did somewhat have a governor on him in the preseason. Now we feel like we're going to have to do whatever to go out there and score at least one more point than the opponent. That's not in anyway saying we're a run-first team, we're a score-first team. However, we need to score the ball, that's what we're going to try and do."
Is the offensive limited right now with WR Tyler Johnson and TE O.J. Howard just being added to the team?
"We're going to continue to work with the guys that are available for us, our offensive staff to be able to strategize and go out and play consistent football on offense. It's also their jobs to catch up with the rest of our guys and use the skillset that got them here. We're all still a work in progress until we go out on gameday and show what we are, show that we can play smart, tough football."
Can you talk about the offensive line and how they're put together this year?
"We feel like we have guys that have a few skins on the wall. A welcomed addition OL A.J. Cann. It's brought a level of toughness and consistency to the unit that we had, that we also needed at the guard position. It's going to be exciting to see those guys go out and hopefully be able to impose our will on whoever we face on any given Sunday."
HC Lovie Smith mentioned that last year's games against the Colts acted as motivation. How do you approach that?
"When you look at just the makeup of our team and you look at what we're doing offensively, defensively, on special teams, we're a different bunch then we were last year. As you mention, Davis (Mills) has a little more experience and that should factor into us being able to go out and do what we need to do, as opposed to what we can do as an offensive unit. We'll see. We'll find out on Sunday. I think we're facing a bunch that has high expectations. Mr. Irsay put it out there and laid out what his expectation is for his football team, and that's for them to come out and be aggressive defensively, pressure the quarterback and all the above. It will be a good test for us."
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR FRANK ROSS
"Just want to say that we all know who the opponent is this week. Making a connection to a place where I have worked before. Rigoberto Sanchez is a close personal friend of mine. And we all understand on Sundays, there's battle lines and we all understand that with the competitive nature of the sport. You talk about a perfect human being, a guy that puts a lot of work into his craft and job. It was heartbreaking to see that. He was a guy that was playing at the top performance of his career. Sending some love out to Rigo (Rigoberto Sanchez) and hoping he recovers here soon to keep playing ball at a high level in the NFL. On to the Indianapolis Colts. No better way to start the season than the toughest task we'll probably have all season."
How do you feel about the new guys on kick coverage?
"Every year there's going to be new guys, every week there's going to be new guys. The special teams game is an evolving unit. Going into the season, relatively healthy, feel really good about who has been playing for us, the new additions to the team whether this would be a new linebacker signed in free agency, Blake Cashman, or you're talking about guys that have earned spots on the roster, Isaac Yiadom, or whoever that may be. Got to go out there whoever it is and perform within the rules of our scheme, play fast and impact the game in our kicking game."
Does having DB Tremon Smith's experience give you a sense of comfort or advantage?
"There's definitely experience. It's going to be at a premium across the NFL as you grow into your roles. Knowing your opponent, whoever it is, this week we know it's the Colts. Okay, we know who they are, what kind of players are going to be covering kicks against us. Not an advantage in any capacity, I would think more along the lines of, 'hey, we have familiarity, great.' But we still got to go out and perform and execute the job we're assigned."
Is DB Derek Stingley Jr. only going to be used in emergency situations as far as punt return?
"Everybody on our roster is a ball handler that can be used at any point in the game. It doesn't matter who it is or what position they play, it's whatever the team needs at that point."
LB COACH MILES SMITH
Do you feel like your defense is well equipped for the Colts game on Sunday?
"I don't think it's just about the Colts. I think we're well prepared for the season in general. We do our defensive football a certain way. We're about the fundamentals. We've had all the way up to this point, nine months, to coach up the fundamentals. I think we're ready enough to play not only the Colts, but anybody."
What's it like watching the video of what Colts RB Jonathan Taylor did last year?
"Jonathan Taylor is a great running back. I think everybody knows that, but our defense isn't set up to play individual players. We're going to do what we do and we're not going to scheme, create a different opponent. We're going to stick to the fundamentals of football. Then, you can't make football too difficult. Be where you're supposed to be, run your butt off to the ball and make the play at the point of attack. Whether it's Jonathan Taylor, or whether it's anybody else, we're going to do it the same way."
How much does it help your team that you're returning the first line linebackers that played last year against the Colts?
"It's more of going into a season with linebackers who have played in our system, generally, not necessarily just about the Colts. The Colts do certain things, but in the end I don't think offenses do a whole lot different things. We need to prepare the guys with the fundamentals, whether we're playing the Colts, whether it's the Titans, the 49ers, whoever it may be. We prepare the same way for the guys. It's good that they played last year just because they're well prepared and they've laid a solid foundation for our defense. I don't think playing the Colts in particular is really going to mean anything."
Can you talk about the Colts offensive line and the ability to get to the second level?
"They have a good offensive line. I think everybody sees that, whether it's second level, whether it's however you want to phrase it. I think that they're like other offenses are. In the NFL, I don't think there's a huge difference from team to team. Each one of these games is a college all-star game if you really look at it. Obviously, they have some special players, (Quenton) Nelson is obviously a special player. In the end, whether they're climbing, whether they're not, it's the same from week to week, honestly."
What do you remember from Colts QB Matt Ryan?
"He's a vet. I've been watching him all the way back since Boston College, been a huge fan of him. Obviously, he's now a not Lamar Jackson running around out there, but he's a savvy vet who knows what he's doing. He commands an offense. He really is a 'pro's pro' quarterback. When we play teams like this, you just have to be on point, on your P's and Q's because in the end, if you're not, he's going to make you pay for it."
When you play a veteran quarterback like Colts QB Matt Ryan, can they can just find ways to beat you?
"When you have a vet, you're probably able to do a little bit more than if you have a rookie quarterback. I think offenses and schemes in general, they don't really switch up too much from player to player. You obviously are going to tweak in certain areas, the same way we tweak our defense in certain areas. At the core of it, we play the Tampa 2. They play their style of offense. Doesn't really matter the players that are in there. We'll adjust small little tweaks, but they really are tweaks. These aren't foundational changes."
Because you don't have much video of Colts QB Matt Ryan in their system, does that complicate your preparation?
"If you are a team that changes up a lot from week to week, then yes, that would be happening. Because we're a foundational defense, I'm trying to emphasize it does not matter what the opponent does. It is what we do. We're going to concentrate on us. We're not going to concentrate as much on the opponent. Obviously, we know we're playing the Colts, and they're going to do certain types of things that may be a little bit different than others. But if our foundational rules are correct, it really doesn't matter game to game."
What have you seen from Colts OL Quenton Nelson?
"He's a talented player. He can do pretty much anything you ask. Climb the second level, he's quick. He's powerful. He can really do anything that you're asking for. I will say, we also aren't trying to get into a bench-pressing competition with him. There's ways to handle all offensive lineman, the same way that they think there's ways to handle athletic linebackers. There are things that you have to do different from opponent to opponent."
What comes to mind when you think of LB Christian Kirksey's personality and leadership?
"I think you hit on it. He's a leader. He's a 'pro's pro' who attacks it every single day. When things are not necessarily going the way we want them on the field, he's always that calm and collected player out there. We tell the linebackers everyday, you don't want to get too high, you don't want to get too low. We stay in the middle and we will just continue to just grind day after day. That's what Kirko (Christian Kirksey) does. He's not going to be the leader necessarily that's going to be screaming at people on the field. He leads by example first and I think these are the best type of leaders."
What memories do you have of LB Christian Kirskey on the sideline during the preseason and last year?
"Going along with what I just said, there we're a couple times last year where, obviously last year was not the year we wanted to be. I know we're focused on the future, but he was able to go from position to position and just calm everybody down. There's a little bit of not necessarily arguing, but discontent on the sideline. He was able to just bring guys down a level. We don't want to go high or too low. We can't have the valleys and the peaks. We just have to say in the middle and I think he does from day to day."
When building this roster, do you have to consider Colts RB Jonathan Taylor and Titans RB Derrick Henry?
"We are part of the Tampa 2 family defense. I think everybody knows that. But if you're watching the same game that we are, we're not playing Tampa 2 every snap. We're a well-rounded defense in what we do. I would get away from some of the stereotypes of what you would think a Lovie Smith defense is. We adjust, we evolve just like every offense is adjusting and evolving out there. We're going to play all types of defenses. We play all the same defenses everybody in the league does. Two high, single high, whatever it may be, we're playing everything. It is what it is."
Is having a strong front seven and defensive backs advantageous for your defense when you're facing the same running backs and offensive line?
"I would say it is beneficial not just against the Colts, it is beneficial for our defense. The primary thing that we coach our guys upon is just running to the football. There's limits to our bodies where you can't run to the football 70 different snaps, 75 different snaps. Having somebody of equal quality to be able to come in or at least close to, it keeps the ship running pretty well. I think with our two deep, we have that now. We have guys that if somebody goes down, it really is that next man up mentality. It's not just lip service that were saying. We really think that we can win games with our two deep."
What are some things that make LB Neville Hewitt a special player?
"I think you hit that on the point. Neville (Hewitt), he is a special player in that he is a pro. He's going to attack things the way that you should from day after day. He watches probably more film than anybody else. When you're doing these types of things, you're able to just consistently be where your supposed to be. And that's what Neville does. Neville also has an elite quality of just pure toughness. Then, this is still football and he's a linebacker. Linebackers have to be the toughest guys on the field and I don't think anybody in the league questions whether Neville Hewitt is going to throw his head in there and knock somebody out. That's really what shows his elite aspect in the league."
With LB Christian Harris out for at least four games, how do you prepare him to eventually contribute to the team?
"He's at practice every day the same way everybody else is. Just because you're not necessarily on the field getting reps, guys are off the field. We're with them, explaining plays going on. You're able to get mental reps. I know it's a little bit of a coaching cliché, but if you are taking advantage of that time off, I think a lot of time it can benefit you more long term because you're not necessarily thrown in the fire. You look at more the big picture aspect of things. I think that's what Christian Harris is doing. He's meeting with me all the time. He's asking questions, not just about his position but about the defense as a whole. I think long term, this time period here, obviously is not ideal, but it's going to reap the benefits."