Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly
In what different ways were you able to use WR Brandin Cooks this year compared to last year?
"I think ever since we've been here, we've always tried to take advantage of the skillsets of the guys that we've had. Obviously, earlier in the year last year, there was probably a little bit of a time there where it took us to get familiar with one another, him getting familiar with how we do things here and us getting familiar with what he really excels at. He's good at a lot of things, but what he's special at. This year, just being able to kind of jump right into that and not have that adjustment period and be able to get right to that from jump street. He's great, he does everything that we ask him to do and he's always willing to come and allow us to move him around and do different things. It's been good being able to work with Brandin again this year."
What has the process been like this year as you try to figure out the identity of the offense?
"It's been frustrating at times, for sure. Obviously, the results haven't been what we want them to be, but the guys have really come in every single day and working and doing everything that we've asked them to do. While results haven't been there, being able to come in every day and practice and work with them, it's been great. They've attacked practice every day with the type of intensity and urgency that we need them to. Luckily for us, we still get another opportunity to go out there and hopefully go out and perform at the highest level yet on Sunday."
What have you seen from QB Davis Mills this season? What are you hoping to see heading into the offseason?
"Obviously, similar to what we were talking about last week. He's become more comfortable with what we're asking him to do and the different things that he's seeing. Last week was a different animal, that was a good defense that we played in probably the most hostile environment, if you want to call it that, probably since Buffalo, I would say. Going in and handling the different environments and handling the different challenges that San Francisco presented was good, because everything he's doing is a learning experience. He did some really good things. He was able to stretch the field. We had the 50-yard ball that Brandin (Cooks) kind of wiped off the books there, but that was a good read and a good throw. It was good to see him threading them down the field, and he did that a couple times with a couple of the DPI's we were able to get, also. Really, this week, obviously playing at home against a really good Titans defense is going to present its own set of challenges. Just really looking forward to him going out there and performing well and playing within the offense and making all the plays that come his way. I think there were probably one or two plays he would like to have back from Sunday, some uncharacteristic things that we haven't really seen him do. Hopefully, we're looking for him to kind of eliminate those plays and continue to make big plays for us."
What is the biggest thing QB Davis Mills will need to work on in the offseason to take a step forward next year?
"Just continuing to learn the league, learning the different skillsets of the players that he's going to be going against, learning the skillsets of the guys that we have, learning defenses and really how he can affect them. I think all those things playing that position really allow you to play faster and play with a sense of anticipation, which allows you to play on time. When you're playing on time, it eliminates a lot of things. It can eliminate a great pass rush if you're playing on time and you know where you're going with the ball. When we sit down and have our conversation at the end of the season, we'll obviously have some more things to work on, but right now that would be first and foremost. He's made great strides in that area the past however many weeks. He's doing great with that. It's just with being a rookie and having limited experience, he's now got a whole season under his belt where he can go back and look and really study the opponent, study the different defenses, not just of the teams that we're playing but the different themes throughout the league, so when we end up playing that type of defense or that family of defense, he's able to anticipate and play even faster."
Has the game plan around QB Davis Mills in recent weeks been different from what you did with him when he was first starting? What are the things you've found he does best here?
"The personnel has basically been the same since he's been here. There hasn't been much overturn there, probably the only difference being not having Mark (Ingram II). But Rex (Burkhead) and David (Johnson) and Royce (Freeman) and all those guys have done a good job of stepping up there. And yeah, he's making good decisions with the ball for the most part. For the most part, he's really accurate. Like last week, really the last two weeks, it was encouraging to see him display not only the arm strength, but the accuracy down the field with some of those balls when we were able to stretch the defense. Again, he's done everything we've asked him to do. I think he's shown he's got the ability and talent to make every throw, to do everything that we're going to ask our guys I do. Like I said, he's got another great opportunity on Sunday to go against a good defense, a well-coached defense, to go and take another stride and make sure we're heading into this offseason with a good taste in our mouth."
Were some of the accurate throws from QB Davis Mills things you have seen before, and did it make you realize you can use certain plays with him in the future?
"No, I think he's been accurate since he's been here. He was accurate in college. Obviously, that's why he's here, because of his ability and because of his talent. It's now kind of like what we were hitting on, there was no hesitation. He saw what he saw. Again, I know it got called back because I believe it was a holding. But he saw what he saw on the safety and there was no hesitation. He just ripped it, and Brandin (Cooks) went up and made a great play. Similar to a couple weeks ago with the ball to Chris (Moore) at the end of the half. He was clued into what he was looking at. He got that particular look, the safety was flatfooted. Chris ended up winning and he lost one, and it was a beautiful. Chris made a great play. So, again, eliminating that bit of hesitancy just because he's playing more confidently has been great. He's always been accurate, he's always had the arm strength, and now he's just able to go. Like I said, because he's a little bit more comfortable, he's playing with more confidence and he's able to rip those balls for us."
Was there a point this year when you had a conversation with QB Davis Mills about learning defensive personnel, or did you recognize he knew the offense well enough to turn his focus toward defenses?
"I think that's a big part of it. It's really difficult to concern yourself with what the other guy is doing if you're still figuring out what you're supposed to be doing. The more he became comfortable with the offense and the longer he was in it, the less bandwidth was being eaten up by just normal alignments and normal formations. At the end of the day, all that stuff has just got to be second nature. He put in the work and he worked his tail off, and he got to the point where that was second nature. He did, and now he's able to kind of process a little bit more information. The more he continues to play and the more he's able to see these things, I think we're going to see that continue to improve and grow with him. Again, I think that's just part of the natural maturation process."
Was there an actual moment or conversation where you knew it was time for him to move his focus on opposing defenses?
"Yeah, obviously with Tyrod (Taylor) in the room, too, Tyrod, he's seen it all. He's able to handle probably more, so I think some of that happened probably when Tyrod came back and we went back to kind of, 'Okay, Tyrod, this is what we're looking at with this. This is the different coverages, this is how this guy is going to play this,' so on and so forth. Again, when you're not worried about all the little things that just now come naturally for him, you're able to send some of that focus and attention to what's going on across from you. Like I said, there was no come-to-Jesus meeting or anything sitting down. It's just something that he's a really intelligent player, he's got a really high capacity, so it was just a matter of time before he was able to hammer out everything else and be able to send some of that attention to the defense. He's done a good job in that area, and like we talked about, there's definitely still strides to be made, but that'll be for next season and this offseason."
Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross
Can you talk about getting DB A.J. Moore Jr. back?
"Anytime you get a core player back that is essentially giving you four phases every week, it's a good thing. Need everybody to perform better moving forward coming off the San Fran game. A.J. had a great game last time we played against the Titans and it's going to take just that. Excited to have him back and have everybody perform to the best of their abilities this weekend."
What went through K Ka'imi Fairbairn's kick against the 49ers?
"Tough one. He wants to make that kick more than anybody. Makeable kick for him, just honestly came across a little bit. Tempo was fine. Snap, hold were fine. Protection was good. Ball didn't elevate as much and just needed to stay a little more downhill onto the contact on it. Did a good job of self-correcting and was ready to go if we were to have another opportunity. Anytime you get into a critical situation in the fourth quarter, he's got to be prepared to make those. He'll do just that moving forward."
Through the preseason injury to COVID, how much can being disrupted affect K Ka'imi Fairbairn?
"I won't make excuses for anybody but trying to get into a rhythm is no different than a quarterback in a passing rhythm, a running back to feel out how the fits are coming at him defensively or a pass rusher feeling out a left tackle and how he is going to beat him to get to the quarterback, no different than a kicker. Try to get into a rhythm, try to get into a flow. Definitely I would say has been unique for Ka'imi and disrupted with different things be it an injury, be it the kicks throughout a game, weather, so on and so forth. The best thing we can do is always about the next play, the next kick, be as ready as we can be. One more chance to do that here at home against a division opponent. Hopefully he will have great success doing that this Sunday in our home stadium."
What goes into getting punts inside the five-yard line? How are you able to do that successfully?
"There's not just the gunner making the play which didn't happen. It happened on one play earlier in the game. We were able to pin them at the four or three yard line and then later in the game, obviously in the fourth quarter, basically we got to make the plays. The gunner in that instance, A.J. (Moore Jr.), it knocked through his hands there but that's not the only thing that goes into it. You need a good snap. You need a good operational timing, so we are not affected with the rush. You need hang time to match location, width then you need a gunner stem and release to make all of those things happen inside of the 10. It's not just a one man show. But at the end of the day if you look at the game from a week ago, we got to make better plays. We didn't punt the ball perfectly. We didn't handle the ball in that instance perfectly. We didn't cover. We covered well in instances and then we kicked the ball down the middle of the field, and it stretched our coverage on another instance. Relative to the logo and the punt team to try and back them up and play the field position game, that's got to be 100% execution if you want to have a chance against a really good team like the Titans and hopefully we can do that. This coming Sunday is one of the biggest tests we've had all year and it will always be that way against a Mike Vrabel team. We got to make sure we are sharp fundamentally but sharp mentally and our awareness level is at an all time high. When it comes to those few plays that are game deciding factors in the special teams world, we got to execute, and we got to be the ones that come out on the make it grade this weekend. That's a good question and we have to be ready to go and hopefully we can finish this thing on a high note."
What will your process be going into the offseason? How much impact do you expect to have in off season moves and what is your role in those?
"To give it the true answer, got to just worry about Sunday and that is true. From the 35,000 foot view, the number one word is growth, continuing our development of continuity amongst core players that will remain here and add new guys that will obviously get added as you get towards the draft, things like that. Nothing can set you up for success like an offseason like ending on a high note in a strong performance. That's what we are going to set out to do, set out to make sure we know. We are going to have all of our concepts ready to go. Make sure we are executing our fundamentals and putting players in the right position to be successful and then continuing to do that as you evaluate your self scout and ways to get better in the offseason. Be critical on myself. Be critical on the team and the players and find ways to get better as we move forward."
Do you have things/notes that are only afforded in an offseason that you can get to?
"We are always taking notes whether that's in game, in a staff meeting or after practice, etc. Things that yeah you want to get to whether it came up in a game or in a week of preparation that didn't come to fruition in a game or not. The fun part to me about coaching is the creativity aspect where you can look at things to implement and look at things to quote on quote take advantage or create an edge. During the off season that's a great time to review those even if you didn't get to use them or maybe there is a new player or train a same player in a different role. We will look at all those things as we get through that here. First things first is we have to be ready for the players on Sunday."
Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith
What did you think of LB Kamu Grugier-Hill this season and the way he performed?
"It will definitely be good to get him back, well it was good to get him back. He came in and I didn't know a lot about him just like a lot of his traits, but he's got great football knowledge. He comes to work every day to make plays. He played very well the first time around we played Tennessee. He's one of our guys. Look to the future, of course you would like for him to be a part of that. The future is about right now and the best way to set up your future is to play well. We're not in an ideal position. The two teams that will be playing for the Super Bowl know exactly when their last game will be. There are some of us that know that this is it and you want to leave a great taste in your mouth. We want to see the guys play their best. That's all we ask the defensive guys to do. Show us your best and I'm sure Kamu will do that."
How much was being able to have success against the Titans run game helping you guys get the interceptions last time?
"Everything starts defensively with stopping the run. I know most offensive teams that say they are a running football team they come in and want to establish the run. So, have to be able to do that. It's as simple as that. We have to be gap sound, discipline, not let any explosive plays break out and if you are able to do that and make a team one dimensional, of course there is nothing new with that but it gives you the opportunity to take the ball away more when they are having to throw it. They threw it last time a lot more than I am sure they wanted to."
What have you seen from DB Desmond King since the first game against the Titans? Do you feel he's made the right adjustments to play the zone coverage you are looking for?
"I think that's tough duty starting off with. You've been an inside guy playing nickel and we asked you to go outside. Totally different things you are looking for on the outside as far as the defensive back is concerned. One of the things we ask our guys to do is tackle. Desmond King is a physical guy that loves to do that, but he also has great instincts playing the ball. When you are a punt returner, that says an awful lot about your ball skill. He's done a lot of good things for us. Whenever you play an opponent that you once played for there is special meaning to it also. We'll need him to play that type of game this week."
What did you see from DL Jonathan Greenard this season? Where do you see the areas for growth that he could have?
"Just looking at what Jonathan has done throughout, another young football player that has shown a lot of flashes. He mentioned injuries. That is, just being available each week allows you to reach your full potential. Jonathan dealt with a lot of things this year. When he is healthy, he can rush, he can play our six technique which he does for us most of the time. He'll start over tight end most plays. But he can rush the passer from the outside. He's a good run support player. There is a lot of positives in his game. Once we get those injuries out of the way, a lot of potential to say the least."
How much can an offseason help some of the guys that are coming back next year and their growth?
"I think it can help an awful lot. I think it also helps when you - in our case, a lot of guys were forced to play multiple positions and that can help you get a better understanding of the overall defense. But in an ideal world, we would like to lock guys into one position. The quarterback is not playing wide receiver and running back too. You know you want to lock guys into a position and let them grow at that position. A lot of the special players that I have been around, they play one position most of their lives but when you come in new, you are not allowed that luxury a lot of the time. Going forward, we know a lot more to get guys in their established position and get them there and let them grow from there."
You talked about interchangeable positions, with young guys like LB Garret Wallow and DL Roy Lopez where have you seen the most growth?
"As we talked about playing multiple positions, it takes a special guy to do that especially early. For us to put those guys in that position and see how they handled it, Garret and different guys like that, just helps us going forward with them and getting them in the right position. But it helps an awful lot and like I said before it's still about locking guys in. When you do multiple things like they do, you get a chance to show your skill set. That's what we've been able to do and we might have to do it again. COVID has forced us to do a lot of those things to but again we know a lot more and we have a lot of players back this week and we will need them all to beat a great Tennessee team."
OL JUSTIN BRITT
What were some of the things throughout the year that the offense was trying to find about themselves?
"I feel like it was a real challenging year, kind of health wise through COVID and trying to keep guys healthy and in the building. First you got to look at it through that aspect. Like myself, I had different goals. I didn't see my knee acting up this year. To find our identity, I feel like we've kind of tried different schemes in the run game, but we never lost the identity of who we are in terms of the playbook and what we wanted to do. It's just every week has had a new problem to solve and we've done our best and tried to combat that. The ball really hasn't bounced our way and it hasn't been for a lack of effort."
Do you get a sense of what your future might be with this team going into the last game?
"All I know is that this week is guaranteed, and I am looking forward to going out there one more time at NRG Stadium for this season. Get the win and end our season the right way, the way we want to on a win and head into the offseason and just get back healthy and get back right. Whatever happens going forward, it will kind of take care of itself. I'm not trying to focus on that right now. It's kind of out of my control at this point."
What does being named the Ed Block Courage Award winner mean to you?
"It's an honor and privilege. Like you said, it's voted on from my peers, so to be able to sit here and be recognized by them is a huge accomplishment. This award means a lot to me. You come into the league and you see that award and you're like, 'That's not going to be me. I'm not going to have adversity go through my career.' For the most part I didn't and then just to be out last year and to be away from football and then have scratch and claw to get back and get the opportunity to come here and then have more stuff happen, it makes me feel nice and appreciated and loved at the same time to be recognized on my hard work and dedication I've put in. I can't sit here and say other guys aren't deserving. Guys like Lane Taylor, Kamu Grugier-Hill, (Christian) Kirksey, you can go on and on. Guys have had their own adversity they have had to battle through at some point this season or before to get back to where they are. I'm very honored and privileged to represent this team, this group of guys in this way. It means a lot."
What did WR Brandin Cooks mean to this team and the offense this year?
"That's one of the most consistent, professional people I've ever met. The way he comes in the building, how he goes about it has not changed week in and week out. He's been a steady presence for us. To get 1,000 yards is a huge accomplishment every year. It just shows his hard work, his dedication, who he is, his trust, within himself, within the system, the quarterback. He's just as good of a pro as I've seen."
LB GARRET WALLOW
How do you reflect on your rookie season? What do you recognize in your own game that you can work on in the offseason?
"It's funny that you say that because I just had that conversation with my coach when I was on the field. We were just talking about how even though it's been a long year, it really flew by quick. There's been a lot of growth, a lot of good things that came out of the year. Like I said, a lot of growth on the field, off the field as well. Go into this offseason and just sharpen up the things on the field, just become more of a student of the game, of course. Just changing my body around, just getting physically prepared to take on the next season and just take it on the best way I can."
How do you feel after a longer season than you're used to, and what can you do in the offseason to handle that in the future?
"You count the preseason, you're playing about 20, 21 games, and if you're fortunate to make it to the playoffs then that's another four games on top of that. But really, I'm just constantly learning how to take care of my body at the pro level, able to know where I'm at my best and where I'm maybe not feeling as well, and how can I just keep growing and making sure I get to my best each week. Like I said, it's a growing process. I have great, great people in the training room to help me get to that point. I just look forward to keep working with them and keep finding out little things about my body that I didn't know before I came."
How comfortable and confident are you on the field now, and how much of a relief is it knowing that things you did at the college level were able to translate to the NFL?
"Like I said, I always think it's always a growing process. I wouldn't say I'm comfortable now because I'm always just looking to grow and get better each and every day. I always mention the vets in the room, but a lot of that success goes toward them because they helped me get to that level. Just learning from them every day, seeing how they carry themselves, it's helped me learn the defense better, it's helped me become a better football player on the field and off the field, so a lot of that credit goes to them. Being able to step into that position and just play well for the team definitely does gain more confidence for myself, but also I just want to make sure my teammates trust me while I'm out there, and they're able to play fast as well with me behind them."
Do you have any specialized training planned for the offseason?
"I've been working with Coach Brandon (Jordan) since I've been a sophomore in high school, so I'll definitely be with him during the offseason. He's kind of part of my team. He's a big part of my team and the reason why I have a lot of success. I'm sure you know Coach Mike Eubanks, I'm going to be working with him all offseason, him and his training staff. So, I'm sure they have a nice plan put together for me to be able to be at the top of my game next year to help this team go the distance."
What did it mean to you to be named the IMPACT Rookie of the Year for your service in the community?
"It was definitely an honor. I was definitely really excited about it because I'm very passionate about helping out in the community. I've met a lot of great people while working with the IMPACT team, going to the Boys & Girls Club and just all types of events that we've done. It's been exciting, it's definitely been an honor. That's one thing I always want to bring to the table, is community service, and the fact that I'm able to do that is definitely a blessing."
On the field, how much do you think you've grown this year?
"I've grown tremendously, there's no doubt about it. Now that I look back, just the growth that I've seen in myself has been tremendous, but not only that, the growth just overall as a player has been amazing to witness, amazing to watch. It's definitely not going to stop here. It's going to just keep growing and keep elevating and be exciting to see where that ends up at."
How do you get a sense of how players feel going into the offseason knowing that some changes may happen?
"I think everybody's attitude is just finish out this season the best way that we can possible. We're definitely going to go out as a team and finish with a win, so that's what everybody's mindset is right now. We're just enjoying these last few days that we have together, just being the best version that we can as a team to go out there on Sunday and play the best way that we can."
Is there any veteran in particular that has helped you the most this season, and what did they share with you?
"Everybody. Kevin Pierre-Louis, Christian Kirksey, Kamu (Grugier-Hill), Neville (Hewitt), every single one had their impact on me in their own ways just by the way they carried themselves on and off the field, just the advice that they gave me from their past experiences. My success is their success, I always say that because they've led me a long way and I'm very thankful to those guys. Hopefully, when I get in that position that they are in, I'm able to do that to any newcomer coming in, as well."
What's the attitude of the team going into the offseason being hungry for more wins?
"I would say the hungriness in all of us is always going to be there. We're a bunch of dedicated, motivated guys. I think the biggest thing is going to be just sharpen up on the small details and doing small things right as a team to help us get to that point to help us be successful."