HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"Wednesday practice, of course it's needed. Padded practice, all those things that go into – we're officially in the second half of the season game-wise. Learned an awful lot. Know the things we need to improve upon. Another good opponent coming in. Washington looked pretty good on Monday night against at the time the only undefeated team we have in our league. Defensively, impressive up front. Of course, if Chase Young plays, it'll give them even more. Offensively, what (Brian) Robinson has been able to do, (Taylor) Heinicke has been able to do. They have a commitment to their brand of football, which is definitely working. It's a big challenge for us. Offensively, some things we did in the last game, we can just get that taken care of. The hard part should be getting down into the red zone, now being able to get a touchdown when we get there. We played the run a little bit better this past week, we'll need to do it this week also."
What will RB Eno Benjamin bring to the table and was he out there today?
"No, he'll be out there tomorrow. As far as improving our roster, whenever we have a chance, we're constantly looking to improve our roster. When players become available that we think that can help us, and that's the case with Eno (Benjamin) – go back all the way to high school, recruited him then. I think he's started a few games for the Cardinals this year. Good football player added to the mix."
You recruited RB Eno Benjamin while he was in high school?
"I recruited a lot of guys. That term recruiting, when you really have a chance, it's not like he visited us or anything. Went to Arizona State and had a great career there."
Any story about RB Eno Benjamin you can share?
"No, that's a long time ago. He was on our recruiting list, and we had a little bit of a conversation as I recall. The older I get in these years, I kind of forget an awful lot, but I haven't forgotten that much about him. He was a good player in high school, good player in college, has been a good pro, and we're hoping he'll give us something."
What is it about him that fits into what you want to do offensively?
"First off, we want running backs that know what to do with the ball, can carry it. Feels like he can catch the ball. Has a little bit of size to him also."
Can you talk about OL Kenyon Green and the growth challenges he's going through as a rookie?
"He's probably going through what a typical rookie offensive lineman goes through and a typical rookie interior offensive lineman goes through. The guys that are closest to the ball have a little bit of size and strength. It just so happens he's been on a string of playing the best interior linemen in the league that we've gone through lately. That has to speed up his growth to see exactly what he's going to be dealing with in his career, these types of athletes. He's holding his own. There are some plays that we like to have back, but there are some plays that we really like too.
What can you say about LB Christian Kirksey and how he's handled himself this year as a captain?
"I think defensively as a whole we haven't played as well as we need to, and Christian (Kirksey) has been a part of that. Last couple games, I think you can see him trending in the right direction too. He's provided great leadership. All those things you expect from a captain is exactly who he is. Just what we're looking for defensively, not just Christian, everybody. One area is more possessions. We haven't taken the ball away. I know it's been documented how we play the run, and we haven't taken the ball away. All of us are a part of that. There's a reason why Christian leads our defense still. I think he's been great for Christian Harris also, veteran presence that is showing him exactly how to do it."
What are some things you see daily in LB Christian Kirksey daily?
"There's a lot of things. Everything that a linebacker needs to do comes to mind. As I said the leadership part, knowing what to do, getting the group lined up and making the plays he needs to make."
What's your relationship like with Ron Rivera and what do you think of him as a coach?
"Good football player, good football coach. Good fundamental coach. His teams are going to play a certain way. We have a similar philosophy on how to win football games, so I know how's he's leading his team and you see them playing that way. The emphasis that they place on their defensive line, you kind of have to start there. They have not just given talk to that with picks and everything like that. It's pretty impressive when you look of how they're building their team. Emphasis on the running game on the offensive side of the football, so we know each other. When you work with someone – Chris Harris, their secondary coach, I coached in Chicago too, so I know a little bit. Scott Turner is doing a heck of the job. A little history with the Turner's too. A lot of things we know about each other.
Did you have to smooth anything over with Ron Rivera over the years?
"No, most people don't live in the past. I don't. Assume you don't either. Things happen in football. You kind of move on."
When did you notice the NFL start to transition to more of a running game? Why do you think that is?
"You say that it's trending that way. I think the running game has always been a part of winning football. Maybe more emphasis is placed on it right now. We know more of the numbers, but there have been great running backs in our game throughout. There's a group of coaches that have always placed an emphasis on that. I've lived in that world all my life, so as far as other trends that are out there, don't know a lot about them. You need a good running game. You need a good passing game. You have to have a personality on what you want your football team to be. Running personality or a passing personality, you start with that. There's a group of us that starts with the run first. That's not to say we don't believe in the pass too. As far as great running backs, there's a lot of running backs in the hall of fame. The running back has been a part of winning football since the beginning of time and that is never going to change."
As you continue to focus on the run mindset, do you think there's going to be a need for a second guy along with RB Dameon Pierce?
"I think the first thing you need to do, I think what most people try to do, is get one running back that they feel good about. Now we dress three, so we want the second one to be able to run the ball too. I think the focus first, it's hard enough to get that bell cow. That's what you're looking for first. Do you need more than one guy? Are we going to be a team that's going to split reps? We need a 1A and a 1B? No, we're going to have a starting tailback and we're going to have a backup. If the backup has to play, we don't want a big drop off as much as anything. Then our third running back is going to be a guy that's going to hopefully be able to, maybe his emphasis is on third down and special teams. That's how the running back position has been like that for me in my entire career."
With DB Jalen Pitre making tackles and missing tackles, is that because he is adjusting to the speed of the game?
"The speed of the game is there. There's a speed of the game, but you have to be able to adjust to that speed and make tackles. There's no way around it. We can't continue to miss tackles. Running games, running backs look a whole lot better, yards per carry, explosive plays, a lot of that. If you talk about a defensive back, normally it's that second line or the third line of defense, and that leads to yards per carry getting up there a little bit. But no, there's no way around it. We have to be able to tackle, period, in those positions."
Is RB Dare Ogunbowale going to be on the injury report?
"Dare (Ogunbowale) is going to be on the injury report today. We did hold him out."
Is there any chance that you could see someone else fighting for first team reps along with DB Jalen Pitre?
"I think that Jalen (Pitre) needs to, like all of us defensively, need to play better football. Jalen is our starter and also, he's our rookie starter. We don't expect him to be Ronnie Lott right away. We'll give him a little bit of time to start comparing him that way. Do we need to improve? Yes, and he is making progress like all of our guys are."
With RB Eno Benjamin arriving tomorrow, do you think he'll be ready to play on Sunday?
"How long have we known each other? He hadn't been in the building yet, so you want me to predict whether he's going to play? I'll put it like this. We have to keep moving on like he's not going to play. Since we're bringing a new player into the mix, we played a lot of games when he wasn't a part of the team, so we're moving on like he is not and will not (play). We're going to give him a little bit of time, at least get in the building and then we'll see."
QB DAVIS MILLS
What did you learn from the last game against the Giants?
"The biggest thing is I think the turnover margin in the game is what caused the result of the loss. When you look at our two turnovers from the game, the fumble and my interception, they were both down in the red zone and scoring opportunities. When you take those away, we finish with points on both of those drives, and it's a completely different game. It just goes to show how any week, any team can win. We're capable of winning each week, so we've just got to go out there and play a clean game for four quarters. We can beat anybody."
You have only led for 27 plays this season. How does that influence your approach?
"We've talked about it a little bit. I didn't know that was the actual amount of plays. It feels like we've played people close a lot, not just 27 plays. I think it just goes to show we have to come out aggressive from the start of the game. Don't try to play too conservative from the start. Come out like we're playing from behind. When it starts 0-0, stay aggressive and drive down the field to get points. I think that'll help us out, just putting up more points and moving the football."
Where have you seen the most growth from WR Nico Collins since last year?
"I think just his understanding of the offense and defensive schemes. He's grown a lot as a player. He's going out there obviously. He's a freak and extremely talented, and he's going to win his one-on-one matchups. The thing where he's grown is zone coverage. He knows where the openings and the zones are starting to come open and the timing of the routes of when he's going to be able to get the ball. The more and more he keeps learning and gets a better feel for the defense, it's going to be extremely hard to stop him."
What does RB Eno Benjamin bring to this offense?
"I'm excited for him. I think he's going to be here for practice tomorrow. He's another really talented player to add to that running back room. I heard he's a really good pass catcher out of the backfield as well, so just excited for another way to attack defenses and switch up the looks."
How have you found the balance between being conservative and aggressive?
"I mean, there's always a fine line between being aggressive versus protecting the football. You've got to take the big plays when they are there, but also be ready to check it down or use my legs and run when there's nothing there. That's the dilemma that every quarterback across the game of football, from when I started when I was six years old all the way up to now. It's really just boiling down to the decision making and going out there and making plays. You've got to stay aggressive, but also you can't just force things that aren't there. I think it goes with the week of preparation, being able to see things clearly, being able to decipher things pre-snap, what they're going to turn into, and then how your concept matches that. A lot of things go into it, and obviously you want to dance on the line, but stay on the conservative side of it so you're not being risky with the football."
Once the play starts, is there a mental part of the play diagnostic process in split seconds?
"I don't even know how many factors go into it. A lot of it is instincts. Just being out there, being a football player, that's something you can't really coach. Then a lot of it is knowing what your concept is, knowing who your person is, who the defender who's guarding them is, the speed differential, where the window is going to be in whatever coverage they are playing. There's a ton of factors that go into it, timing of the route, your protection. There's a ton of things that go into it, and a lot of it is going out there and making a play. Trying to beat the defense on any given play and executing."
If diagnosing plays is hard to coach, how do you train that?
"We have offensive plays where we know how a certain play is ran. A lot of plays are pre-snap alters, yes, no's. Post-snap we can go through our progression. If the first guy's not open, you're progressing to the second guy, third guy and then checking it down or using your legs to scramble if nobody's open. There's a ton of different ways. Each play is different. That's what we do throughout the week is prepare for those given plays and coach through it so we can go out and execute on game day."
Have you noticed a shift in the way teams play defensively?
"Yeah, definitely. I think how football has evolved in recent years. Across the league, I think defense has the one up on offense with just the sheer talent, speed and size of the defensive linemen and the blitz packages, that offenses are trying to find ways to catch back up. Running the football and beating them down is one way to do it, and another way is to win those one-on-one matchups when you can catch them in man-to-man coverage. Other than that, like I said, the rest of our stuff is progression based. You've got to fall back on your training and your preparation throughout the week to hopefully find someone open as it progresses, because right now there's not a lot of things you can predict pre-snap. Teams are disguising really well. They are running coverages that aren't very by-the-book of old school defenses, just straight coverages. They are running a lot of combination coverages and different ways to get to similar coverages, but it's not the traditional way. There's a lot of things you've got to react to and just go out there and be a football player so you can make a play."
Have you seen WR Chris Moore mature as a route running?
"I think his consistency and preparation, the way he comes to the building every day and prepares. I mean, he's the same guy when he walks in the building, and the same guy when we walks out. He's going to come and put in a lot of work. He's going to go out there and make plays when he gets a chance. I'm very confident in his ability to go out there and get open and catch the passes when we need him to."