Transcripts: 12-27-2021 Press Conferences 

HEAD COACH DAVID CULLEY

In all of your years of coaching, has anything prepared you for what you are dealing with COVID on a daily basis?

"I think last year in Baltimore, I got a pretty good idea of how to handle that, went through kind of the same thing when COVID first hit. One of the things I learned back there with John Harbaugh and their organization was to stay the course. We talk about that next man mentality with players that go down and you lose players with injuries and we talked about this before, it's just stay the course and deal with whatever the NFL rules allow us to do. Follow those rules and just keeping doing what you've been doing under the circumstances that you have to deal with. I think that's been the case here with this organization. We've kind of taken that same approach and just kept away the distractions and disruptions of what's going on around us and just kept focus on what we have to do and doing our jobs. I think that's been the biggest thing that I've learned in bringing here."

Do your veteran players help you spread that message?

"Yes they do, completely. I've had a couple a couple of players with me in Baltimore, Chris (Moore) and Mark (Ingram) that have gone through this with me. Basically, we got through it and it never disrupted us, disrupted them from doing what they were doing each week. When you went to play the games whether there were fans in the crowd or not, you went and played the game. Once the game starts, you just play. It doesn't really matter at that point. As long as you are not distracted and been disrupted prior to being there. This organization and this staff have done a great job of keeping us focused in doing that here. I think that has allowed us to continue to get better in spite of all the things that have been going on around us and that's all we wanted to do was keep getting better."

Do you expect to get some of the guys that are on the COVID list back this week?

"I expect too, but I am not really sure yet who or what the situation is. We are still going through the weekly testing. We'll have a better idea on Wednesday about who we will get back going forward."

Do you have any new players that you think will be added?

"No, I have not heard anything about any new test right now."

What do you like best about how QB Davis Mills has grown and developed from the start of the season?

"He's just progressed from the standpoint of understanding what Pep (Hamilton) and Tim Kelly want from him as far as running this offense. It's a process and that process doesn't change, and he stayed the course with us in doing that. As I mentioned yesterday, he's very mature for a young quarterback and basically, he is very focused. I think that's been the big thing that I've seen with him. His focus has been really good on just getting better at doing his job."

What is the development you have seen from WR Nico Collins this season?

"Again, I'll go back to having those veteran players about with dealing with things. Brandin Cooks, Chris Moore, those guys that have been around, he's watched those guys and he's developing into a very, very good football player, the kind of football player we thought he was going to be. He has not had any regression at all in what we've been asking him to do. He's getting better and better. He's a willing learner. He's a hard worker and all he wants to do is get better and I am starting to see that with him. He's starting to feel more confident about it and obviously Davis (Mills) is starting to feel more comfortable with him too."

What have you seen from DB Tavierre Thomas?

"Well I've seen this, and I know this, he will get a game ball from this game. That's how good he has been playing."

How much has QB Davis Mills grown in his decision making?

"Tremendously. I think Tim (Kelly) and our staff have gone back and looked at all the things. He's gone back and he's studied those things. We didn't do quite as much with him with those things earlier. We did them with Tyrod (Taylor). I think now he's gone back and he's studied those things and they are a part of what we do offensively and they help us offensively. Those are runs that could turn into passes. He's done a good job of making good decisions on those particular plays and he's getting much, much better at it and it's helping us offensively to be more consistent because of that."

At what point did you see that QB Davis Mills was comfortable enough to use that more often?

"I think offensively when Tim (Kelly) and the staff sat down and they sat down with him. We went over the things in the game plan meetings about what he felt comfortable with and what he felt he could do. He gave us some feedback himself about what he was comfortable with. Basically, that tells you something when you have to play in and he's not real comfortable with that play to not use that play. The interactions between him and our offensive staff have been good there."

In OTAs, what are the conversations with a rookie about development like?

"I'll tell you what, they don't know what they don't know at that point. So, it's kind of hard. You just kind of bring them along. You just let the know what the process is. It's a step by step thing. It's a long process. Basically what ends up happening is, you don't really find out all the stuff we are talking to you about until you get out on the field and experience it, because things happen so much faster when you are actually out on the football field as opposed to us talking about it and looking at it on video. He's (Davis Mills) done a really nice job of taking what we've gone through at OTAs up to this point and fortunately for him, he's been able to play quite a bit early when we threw him in. He's just progressed in it. I think all of those things that we went through back in OTAs has been a big help for him till this point."

Did you notice a change in those conversations after QB Davis Mills played for the first time?

"Well, we didn't really have a whole bunch of conversations then. We were just trying to get him to do the right thing and protect the football. Like I said, he really didn't know what he didn't know at that point. That's' where we as a staff had to help him and basically understand that he is a rookie. We didn't expect him to be in there when we had him in there. I think we've grown from the standpoint as a staff in understanding how to handle that particular situation."

What milestones do you look for in a rookie quarterback's development?

"Just keep protecting the football, keep growing from the standpoint of understanding what your job is. I like to tell those guys this all the time at the quarterback position: you don't have to be the best player on the football field, you have to be the most consistent football player on the field, which means that you handle the ball all the time. You've got to get everybody involved. Your decisions affect everybody, and basically, the conversation is just to make sure you keep doing the right things and just keep progressing."

How do you like playing the spoiler role to teams on the verge of the playoffs? Do you think that's important to the players?

"The only thing that's important to the players is the next game, which we're fortunate that we're playing playoff caliber teams, regardless of who it is."

What do you think this win says about the progress the team has made and how you are the right guy to continue leading the team?

"We haven't thought anything about that. We're just concentrating on the next game and winning the next game, and that's all."

Is this the progress that you envisioned from QB Davis Mills?

"We expected this right here. We expected him to be where he's at at this point, and basically because of what's happening with our offense. The last two ballgames, we've had some consistency. We've been able to run the ball a little bit, more so this past game than (before)."

What has your staff done differently the past couple weeks to move the team forward?

"Make sure we're doing the right things with our guys. We know them a lot better right now. Of course, we've had guys coming in, guys coming out, and just finding that right combination and making sure we're doing the right things with that combination that's up there. We've had to make some adjustments in doing that, and I thought our staff has done a really good job of doing that, and we're starting to get better because of that."

Is anybody else besides DB Tavierre Thomas getting a game ball from yesterday?

"Yeah, Jonathan Owens is going to get a game ball. Offensively, Rex Burkhead's going to get a game ball, Chris Conley's going to get a game ball and Davis Mills is going to get a game ball. Special teams-wise, I'm not even sure who, but they're going to get one. There are a couple of guys that are going to get game balls. We've got a few to give out this week. I know who the special teams (player) was: Paul Quessenberry. There we go, Paul Quessenberry."

Do you know an update on WR Phillip Dorsett II and his ankle injury?

"I do not at this point. We'll know a little bit more later on today."

With LB Christian Kirksey being available on Sunday, was he just working back into it, or what's his status?

"You're exactly right, he was working back into it. We didn't want to use him very much. We actually had to keep him out of there a couple of times, but we just wanted to make sure. We didn't want him to go back out there and play too much, and all of a sudden not have the stamina and not be able to finish the game. He did a nice job for us. He and Terrence Brooks both did the same thing for us this past game."

When you look at special teams to plug in a new kicker, what went into getting K Dominick Eberle ready to go within a couple days? Do you think K Ka'imi Fairbairn will be back this week?

"I'm not sure yet. We'll see what happens. Again, it depends on the COVID testing and whatnot. But speaking of Dominik, he's also getting a game ball, also. It's all coming back to me now. But I was so happy for him. He came in there, he did a nice job. I kind of feel like that that second field goal that we tried for him that was a little bit longer, Frank (Ross) and I kind of talked about it on the sideline. After he made that first one, Frank was saying, 'Maybe we might need to get a little bit closer.' I just made a gut decision right there and said, 'Hey, look, he made one for us. I'm going to give him an opportunity to make another one.' He hit it, he just missed it, but he hit it. I was real happy he came in and made all his extra points. He did a nice job for us during the ballgame."

Have you seen the new NFL COVID-19 protocols help the team yet, and if not, do you think it will help?

"No, I think it will help. I think the way it is with the vaccinated players that if you get the two (negative) tests in a row, you're able to come back in the building and go from there. I think it's working, and I think they're doing what's best for the teams to be able to keep our safety for all the players and their families, and also to get players back on the field and be able to play. Most importantly though, the big thing is just the safety, and that's most important."

Can you talk about the job that General Manager Nick Caserio and his staff have done with dealing with COVID-19 issues?

"I don't know all the rules and regulations that they have with bringing guys up, bringing guys down. Nick and his staff are all on top of that. We've had meetings every day this week in deciding who's going to be up, who's going to be down, how it's going to happen, how it's going to work. Nick does a great job with that. All I know is when he tells me this is what we can and cannot do, all I tell him is 'Look, let's do it. Let's do what we need to do,' and he's done a great job of being able to make sure we've got enough players during this COVID to have up, and moving up our guys from our practice squad and being able to have those guys ready to play. They've done a tremendous job with that."

WR NICO COLLINS

Can you talk to us about your first touchdown catch?

"It was a great feeling. I've been waiting all year for it. It happened at the right time. It came down to the week of preparation. It just came down to the perfect timing. (Davis) Mills found me on a slant, great matchup. He trusted me, coaches trusted me and I went out and made a play for the team."

How do you find things that you and QB Davis Mills are comfortable with while game planning?

"It's more just like a coverage thing. They pretty much load the box, and it's a matchup outside (where) if the QB likes it, he can take it. It's an option. But Davis (Mills), he trusted the process in seeing what the defense gave him and he went out there and made a play. That's all that went into it, nothing crazy at all."

How have you seen QB Davis Mills improve and grow from the time you guys got here until now?

"I've seen Davis grow a lot since we stepped foot here in rookie minicamp, OTAs. You can tell he's really stacking his days, really trying to work on the things he needs to improve on. You can tell he's getting comfortable. He's still growing. Everybody's still growing. Everybody's still getting better as a unit. We've still got two games left. We'll see how the season goes, got to finish."

What are some things you have learned this year about how to play the wide receiver position? How much has Wide Receivers Coach Robert Prince helped you?

"A lot, a lot. Just coming in from college to the NFL, it's a whole different league. Everybody's good, so I'm glad I got R.P. (Robert Prince). He's my coach, and I'm glad I got the vets in our room. (Chris) Conley, Danny (Amendola), Chris Moore, I appreciate them for getting me ready for this opportunity. We came up and my time came and they trusted me because they've always been there for me. Whatever questions I have, they're always there to help me out. I appreciate them a lot, being there in my corner. I'm just glad that I have them in our room together. We're still growing as a unit, we're still getting better."

Now that you got your first touchdown, how hungry are you to have that feeling again?

"I'm real hungry for it. It's a great feeling, I want to continue feeling that feeling. But again, I'm still improving and getting better, still growing, still working on my game and still trying to find ways to help out our team."

Have you seen the video of your touchdown catch, and is that something you are going to hang onto for a while?

"Oh, yeah. Yes, sir. I've seen the video. It's a great feeling, first NFL touchdown. That's everybody's dream. It came at the right time, perfect opportunity. It was a great, great team victory. In the end zone celebrating with your teammates, there's no better feeling."

Did your phone blow up afterwards?

"Yeah, it did. It was more just my family telling me congrats and they're proud of me, and just keep going, keep stacking, keep getting better."

Does it give you a boost of confidence seeing the way other rookies like TE Brevin Jordan are playing and where you guys are headed?

"Yeah, Brev (Brevin Jordan), he's getting better. We're all learning, we're all getting that opportunity. Whenever our chance comes, we want to take advantage of it. It's a process. You've got a lot of learning to do, learning coverages and things like that. We've got to build our teammates' trust and our coaches' trust. It was just an opportunity, and whenever our opportunity comes we just take advantage of it. I'm proud of Brev and the rookie class and what we are doing, but we're still growing. We've still got a lot of improving to do."

What is it like for a player to come to work every day not knowing who's going to be in their room and who's going to test positive?

"You've just got to stay ready, because times like this, you just never know. Guys that are starting, you've just got to be ready because they might go down, next man up. You don't want to have your opportunity come and you're not ready. That's one thing you don't want to do. So, I feel like the vets went down, so that meant next man up. We can be ready for this opportunity, and the opportunity came. We came out there ready to play."

How much have you seen QB Davis Mills grow in his command of the offense recently?

"He's still learning, still getting comfortable. He's calm and collected. He stays calm, he's the same person even if he makes a bad play, good play. He's calm, level-headed, he's humble. Davis, the sky's the limit for him. I want to see him reach it. But he's a great guy, great dude. I'm proud of him."

What are the ways you've seen QB Davis Mills' command of the offense improve on the field?

"You see him just making the offense slow down a little bit, calming down everybody. He's just making everybody take a deep breath, calm down and let's go. The next play, one play at a time. He talks to us in the huddle, we listen to him, so we believe in him. He's leading the way right now."

OL CHARLIE HECK

What do you think about the job Head Coach David Culley and the coaching staff have done with the COVID situation?

"They've done an awesome job getting guys ready. It was kind of a hectic week but credit to everybody on the team. A lot of guys stepped up in a big way. A lot of guys kind of got their first significant snaps of the season. I thought a lot of those guys came up big. That's really a credit to the coaches for getting everybody ready."

What changes have you seen from QB Davis Mills with the way he operates the offense from when he started to now?

"He's always really seemed above his years. He never really felt like a rookie, but he's really taken strides. He really kind of commands the huddle. You see that confidence in him. You see how he is taking control of the offense and kind of being the leader that a quarterback really should be."

What was it about the run game that you were able to get through yesterday and what was it like seeing the run game to its full extent?

"The backs did an awesome job, first and foremost. They were running hard and they were running angry. But up front we did a good job of getting our hats on a hat. We didn't have many communication issues. Everybody did a good job of getting to their man. No kind of self-inflicted wounds on our part." 

What was it like for the offensive line to come together against a good team like the Chargers?

"That's really something to be proud of. That's something you will look back on your playing career and that's one of the things that will stick out. A group of guys, we've all been practicing the whole year so it's fun to see a lot of guys get that opportunity come together. When we had success, it was awesome. Really proud of the O-line."

What was it like watching RB Rex Burkhead getting that burst he did yesterday?

"That was awesome. You could just feel a burst of air and then you would see him getting up to the second level. He was running hard yesterday, and he always does. So, he did a great job."

DB TAVIERRE THOMAS

Can you take us through your pick six? Have you had one before in your career and what was it all like?

"I had a couple in college. It's the best feeling in the world. It's the best feeling in the world and to do it when I did it at the end of the game like that, it was special. I would have gotten down if there was a lot of people around me because I knew the game was over, but I didn't see nobody I just saw a lineman. I'm like I got to put my head down and go because if I don't score, the guy is going to be on me. So, I just ran as fast as I could."

What did you think about the video when you looked at it?

"It's surreal. It's crazy. I keep looking at it. Sometimes it comes to me like people keeping telling me about it and then I look at my phone and someone mentioned me or something. It's crazy."

What are the conversations like with DB Jonathan Owens about being underdogs coming from D-II schools? How did it resonate with you for you both to have big games yesterday?

"For us, we just waited. We came in together as rookies in Arizona so me and him have known each other for the last four years. I met him. That's one of my closest friends. We came in and we just told each other we are just going to wait on our opportunity wherever it's at. Four years later, we're both playing on the same team, starting on the same defense. It's just crazy. We just got to keep it going. We got out opportunity. We can't look back just keep getting better and better each and every week and the sky is the limit for both of us coming from D-II."

What does it mean to you guys to be able to play a spoilers role these next two games?

"We are just going out there and playing and trying to get wins. We're not worried about if they are playoff teams or not. We're just going out trying to do our jobs and get the win each and every week no matter the opponent, so we continue to do that. Sorry we are spoiling people's playoffs but we're just trying to go out and win for the team and end on a high note."

What was your conversation with Head Coach David Culley after the game?

"I came right up to him and I was like, 'Coach, I would have went down but there was nobody in front of me but a lineman so I had to go score.' He said, 'Oh yeah, you did right.' So, I was happy about that I thought he was going to be on me. He told me I did the right thing, so I was just happy I got it."

What does getting that touchdown added to what the defense has done forcing turnovers this year?

"That's all we've been talking about. We get the ball a lot. We've been getting the ball a whole lot, but we haven't gotten in the end zone. Lovie (Smith) kept on telling us, 'Somebody has to get in the endzone and I feel like it's going to be my guy in the nickel role.' He just kept saying it every week and it just came true. We talked about it right before the game. During the game, right before that play, the defense all huddled up and were like, 'Let's get a turnover and score for the win. Let it be us not the offense, let it be us.' I'm like, 'Shoot let it be us.' He (Justin Herbert) threw it my way and I went it and got it."

What has clicked for you this season that you have been playing so well?

"I just learned the defense. I'm learning. I've been learning the past three years, learning concepts and what not. I have a defensive coordinator that puts me in position to make plays. Like I said last week, he puts me in position and I just go out there and try to make plays. I feel like I'm back in college all over again and just go out there, don't care about the opponent and just do my job and be around the ball. That's all I am doing this year and I will continue to do it as well."

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