Transcripts: 9-21-2021 Press Conferences 

HEAD COACH DAVID CULLEY

Do you have an update on your quarterback situation whether QB Davis Mills is going to start?

"Davis (Mills) will start the game. Tyrod (Taylor) will not play."

Any update on the backup quarterback situation?

"We're maybe going to bring up Jeff Driskel."

What are some things you want to see out of QB Davis Mills this week?

"Basically, just do what we ask him to do. We'll actually have the same playbook, obviously there's some things that he is a little different than Tyrod (Taylor), but we actually have the same kind of plays. But we'll use the things that fit him more so than what we did with Tyrod. Some of the things we did with Tyrod we may not do with him in the run game, but as far as the pass game it will basically be the same thing."

It seems like some of the defenses are ready for some of the ways you run the ball because of QB Davis Mills not being a runner. How do you adapt to that?

"No, I mean, I don't think there was anything that we did when we tried to run with him, because I don't think there were any runs that we had that we tried to run with him."

In running the ball?

"Oh, running the ball? No, we're going to run the ball the way we run the ball, we're not going to change anything that we did. Basically, when we have not been successful running the ball, it's basically been because of things that we haven't done that we should have done correctly."

Do you sense that the Browns were kind of gearing up against the run more in the second half when QB Davis Mills was in and kind of challenging him to throw?

"I didn't feel that way because front-wise and coverage-wise, they didn't really change, and we really didn't really change. What happened is, I just know the first two drives that we had in the second half we had mistakes in those two drives and it wasn't so much of what they were doing defensively it was what we were doing offensively. We weren't doing it very well."

Do you have more information on QB Tyrod Taylor's injury and how long he'll be out?

"Not sure what the timetable is right now."

You have a little bit of an older team, are you going to be relying on those veterans to help QB Davis Mills get prepared for this start?

"Well I think basically they're just going to play the game just like he's been our quarterback. That's how they played it whenever we were in preseason with him. I don't think anything will be any different with the way they approach it."

You said QB Deshaun Watson will be inactive, with only two quarterbacks will he participate in any form of practice to help you guys prepare?

"No."

How much will it help QB Davis Mills that he's already got a couple of quarters under his belt going into this game?

"Tremendously. As a matter of fact, after the game I think during the interview process he mentioned how comfortable he was, he didn't really feel like there was anything happening to him that he wasn't prepared for. And after going back and watching the video there really wasn't anything that they did that would confuse him or did anything any differently. He handled himself well and I expect him to do the same thing this week."

Do you alter much of what you do because it's a different quarterback under center?

"It's still the same play schedule. It's just some of the things in the run game that you do with Tyrod (Taylor) because of his legs that you wouldn't do with Davis (Mills), but then there's some other things in the passing game that we'll do with him that we hadn't done."

Is there an update on WR Anthony Miller and WR Danny Amendola?

"Anthony will be up this week. Danny will probably not be up this week, we'll still know more about that this afternoon."

For WR Nico Collins, who would be available for him?

"Again, there's a possibility that we could bring up a guy from the practice squad."

Sometimes when a quarterback comes off the bench in a situation like Sunday, it's different mentally than when he has all week to prepare knowing he's going to start. Can you talk about the two differences in that situation?

"Well in his, Mills' case, he's had all the reps this week, he's getting every rep, where previously he only gets a select few reps and I think getting those reps, there's a comfort level that goes in getting those reps. From a mental standpoint he's always been good with knowing that his time could come up and not getting those reps, he's been ready. Now that's gotten those reps I think there will be more comfort level in him starting the game. I think that's a good point, because in the second half when he had to go out to play, I think not having had those reps in practice and all of a sudden now I'm up, probably made a difference. I think this week, going into the game, when we start the game and he's out there, I think he'll be, there will be a much better comfort level with him."

What do you think about the issues with the run blocking?

"Well, I don't think there's been some issues, when there's been issues it's been because we have had a missed assignment here or there. We have had some guys that basically haven't been working together and sometimes the team you're playing has something to do with that."

Do you think the run game will be even more important in trying to help an inexperienced quarterback get comfortable?

"Last week, even with Tyrod (Taylor), I didn't feel like we ran the ball like we needed to run the ball. We're going to do the same thing this week as he we will do every week in trying to establish that. Hopefully, we'll be a little bit more consistent than what we have been. We're playing a defensive football team that's been playing very well for the first two ball games. The two teams that they played haven't done a very good job of running the football on them, but we're going to try to do that."

Do you have any updates on DB Justin Reid and OL Charles Omenihu?

 "They will be available. They're okay. They just got a little banged up, but as I said before, that's football. They will be ready to play."

Are you guys going to explore the market to bring in an additional quarterback?

"We'll just have to wait and see. I think Nick (Caserio) is always looking for those kind of things and I guess after this game we'll kind of see where it's at and go from there."

How much will it help QB Davis Mills, that he knows he's starting and he has several days to prepare?

"I mean, he's ready. He is ready. He's been exactly what you want your backup quarterback to be. When he went in the game this past week it had nothing to do with other than the one time that they got him on a blitz, he executed very well, he was sharp, he did exactly what we needed to do, even in the run game. I just think he'll be a lot more comfortable now, simply because he has been out there and against a very good defensive football team."

When you look at Brian Burns and Haason Reddick, what makes them so difficult to block?

"They fly around the ball. They remind me a lot of how our defense plays. Their up front guys really get after it. They play a scheme, not similar to what we do, but they change it up a little bit and they do a good job of what we like to say playing 11 on 11 defense. Those guys all fly to the ball, they have done a good job of doing that and we have just got to be on our P's and Q's and make sure we take care of that."

What have you seen from Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly in the first few games?

"He's done exactly what we wanted to try to do going into each ball game. We haven't always been successful doing it, but we're playing the way we have to play to be successful on offense, we just got to execute better. But I'm happy with exactly where we are right now."

You took a big chance with a rookie quarterback as the backup. What did you see in QB Davis Mills that made you comfortable in doing that instead of bringing a veteran in?

"Pre-season. Just the way he handled himself during pre-season. I really felt like he had some tough moments during the pre-season where he came back and showed that he had some maturity about him, a lot more maturity than you would probably see in a rookie. He's never ever gotten flustered. I've gotten more flustered than he has during the ball game and I just really like his maturity and I feel comfortable going in the game. We'll help him out in the game. We know he's a rookie quarterback, but we'll help him out and we'll do things to make sure that all other 10 guys around him are doing their job to be able to keep him upright and keep him comfortable."

What are you going to do at the wide receiver position with WR Nico Collins and WR Danny Amendola hurt? Will you bring up some guys off the practice squad?

"There's a possibility we could bring up a guy on the practice squad. Not sure who it is right now. But there's a possibility. We'll know more about that this afternoon."

How difficult is it to make roster decisions whenever you're trying to figure things out in such a short amount of time?

"Well, I mean, it goes back to the next-man-up mentality. We got guys in backup positions that they know that when these kind of things happen, and it's going to happen in football. I don't think it's any more now than would normally happen. We played what we would consider two physical ball games, and when you play those type ball games, these things happen. Some of the injuries that have happened that has nothing to do with the fact that guys got hurt, it was just some injuries that happened. But there are guys that get hurt in the game, they come back in. We had four, five guys that got hurt in that game, came back in and played. They're a little banged up right now, but they will be ready to go Thursday night."

What sort of added challenge is it to manage these kind of injuries?

"We're good with our situation there. We're very comfortable with the situation we have there."

What are the major differences in the way you see the way Joe Brady runs his offense with Christian McCaffery now available?

"It's obvious that they're going to find ways to get him the football. If you just look at the two ball games he's played, when he's in there, there's a pretty good chance that during the series he's going to end up touching that ball, whether it's running the ball or them throwing the ball to him, simply because he's a tremendous player. He's one of the best players in this league at being multi-purpose at what he does and they do an excellent job of putting him in situations to be successful. They do a good job of doing that."

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR TIM KELLY

How different are things for you with QB Davis Mills out there as opposed to QB Tyrod Taylor?

"I think any time you have a different quarterback in the game, you're doing what you can to try to play to his strengths. Davis (Mills) has done a good job since he's got here coming in and putting himself in a position to go out and hopefully make that transition seamlessly. We're going to still do what we can to make sure we're putting him in a spot to be successful."

How does going to a rookie quarterback change your approach to a game?

"I think there's a fine line there between doing that and chasing ghosts. So we're going to go off of what we've seen off of our film study throughout the past two years, and doing a good job there and making sure that we're as prepared as we can be for what we anticipate seeing."

Do you think QB Davis Mills will be able to be more comfortable this week after having all the first team reps in practice all week instead of just getting thrown in?

"Yeah, other than the first drive, I don't think he was really that uncomfortable on Sunday, and that's probably to be expected for a guy that's come in. That's not an easy place to play, and the situation was tough being backed up like we were. So I thought he did a good job of settling down, and really, he put us in a spot to make it a one-score game with just over two to go. There's some things that we need to clean up and I need to clean up, but hopefully, like you said, with him getting these reps he's feeling more comfortable, if you want to say that, moving forward. But I didn't think he was uncomfortable on Sunday."

How do you feel about how long it took him to get rid of the ball on Sunday?

I thought for the most part he did a good job, other than the one, of recognizing the front and identifying the defense and getting the ball out of his hand."

What has impressed you about his development in the last few weeks?

" He's really smart, he comes to work every day, he studies, and he can make every throw that you want him to make. So now it's going to be fun to see him go out there under the lights and go out there and perform at a high level."

What stands out to you about the Panthers defense?

"They're fast. They're fast and they run to the ball. At every level, they've got guys that can fly. Their two ends are as good of a speed rusher as we've seen. Obviously, we saw two good rushers last week, but they're totally different. Got really good athleticism, they can bend, they've got good counter moves to the inside. Shaq (Thompson) runs all over the place, he runs and hits. The Chinn guy (Jeremy Chinn) flies around, he's blitzing, he sticks his foot in the ground. Last year against Green Bay, he comes down and makes a play, almost gets the ball out 17 yards downfield. All of them play really, really hard. You feel their team speed when you watch them play."

Not having a guy like QB Tyrod Taylor to give you an advantage on running, how does that present a challenge when a defense can expect more narrow stuff in the run game?

"Maybe a little bit more traditional, I wouldn't say that we're completely out of that. There's going to be different challenges when you have, like we talked about earlier, with each quarterback that goes out there, there's going to be things that certain people do better than others. So, it's our job as coaches to figure what they do best and make sure we're putting them in those spots as many times as possible."

With everything they do defensively that you mentioned, what can you put on OL Justin Britt and the guys on the offensive line to help with some of those pre-snap calls?

"I don't know if that will change compared to what we've done, but those guys upfront do a great job. The communication between the center, the tackles, the guards and the quarterback is continuous. When they break the huddle, 'Hey, what's the front, where are the safeties, how much time is left?' All that stuff. Every play, no matter who is under center, that's going on. We're fortunate to have a veteran group upfront. Obviously, Justin (Britt) is leading that group, and we're going to count on them to come out and continue to lead and continue to play well, but I don't know if we're going to put anything else on their plate."

When you have that many injuries in a game, how difficult does it make it to continue to run the things you needed to?

"That's our job to figure it out. Cleveland didn't care. We can't waste any time on the sideline worried about hypotheticals, we've just got to, 'Hey, okay, what do we got to do now? What are we in, what are we out of, who can do what?' And be able to adjust on the fly. That's one of the many lessons that we've learned here over the years. Going back to Tennessee, I think it was in 2017 there, we lost all our wideouts, we had to put a running back out there to play wide receiver. With the roster limitations in this league, you've got to be able to adjust fast and figure out how to get through the game if you get into a worst-case situation."

How much roster limitation do you have to work through with Carolina?

"We're going in with a full slate, so we'll be good."

What is QB Davis Mills' strength, other than that he's smart and works hard?

"He's got a really good grasp of the offense. I think he can make all the throws. You saw him make some pretty good throws on Sunday. The one to Jordan Akins on third down was really good, as far as his anticipation and his accuracy with that ball. He put it right where it needed to be with the coverage. As far as him being able to operate from the pocket, I think he does that really well."

What would you say you need to clean up, or what do you feel you should be better at as a play caller?

"We've got to do a better job of taking advantage of all the turnovers Lovie (Smith) is getting. We've got to figure out a way to consistently turn those into points. We did a good job last week coming out and starting fast, but being able to maintain that momentum throughout and just continually putting good drives together, and really staying out of third-and-longs and staying ahead of the sticks on first and second down.

What was QB Davis Mills' mindset when you told him in the second half that he was starting?

"He's pretty even keeled, there wasn't really any hesitation or anything, it was kind of, 'Hey, we've got to go, this is what we're doing, here's our plan, you know these plays, we run these plays, we have executed these.' There wasn't really much of a hesitation or anything there. It was just kind of like, okay."

What do you lose in a guy like WR Nico Collins and how do you adapt around that?

"Nico's a big strong guy. I wish he was a little faster after that first play. But he's a big strong guy who comes out and you feel his size and you feel how physical he is when he plays. Luckily for us, we've got some other guys. Chris Conley is kind of in that mold also, bigger, stronger player who can go make those contested catches. All of our players have different skillsets and we're not putting all these guys in the same mold. Again, it's our job as an offensive staff to figure out what guys are going to do what for us, what they do well, and figure out how many times we can get them to do that on Thursday."

Do you take into account that QB Davis Mills was one of the smartest players in the draft, or do you just have to remember he's a rookie taking his first spot?

"You definitely have to bring that into account. Going back to some of the experiences we have had here with some rookie quarterback, going back to 2017 and just thinking about some of the things that came up. It doesn't matter how much we know. It doesn't matter how easy it is for us to say something or to hear something. It's got to be something that our guys can go out and do and our quarterback can go out and do in front of however many thousands of people are going to be here on Thursday night. You have to take some of that into account, but at the same time, we've got to put him in a spot to go and win the game for us, too. You're kind of toeing the line a little bit there, but that's definitely something that we're taking into account."

What are your days like in a short week? How long are you and Davis here?

"Obviously, with the condensed week it's tough for the players just because they're typically, I mean, what is today? Today's Tuesday? Typically, today they're still trying to get back, get their legs back, get their body back. That's the tough part, is putting them in a spot and giving them an opportunity to really recover, not just physically, but mentally. It's hard to play this game, so being able to recover both physically and mentally is paramount. We're giving him every opportunity to do that. He's in early, he's staying late, Pep (Hamilton) is doing a great job making sure that he's as ready as he can be. And us coaches, we work late anyway, so it's not that different for us."

What do you see from WR Anthony Miller and what do you expect from him against the Panthers?

"I'm expecting him to come out and have a good game. He's fast, he's explosive, he's strong, he's competitive, he plays with an edge. He's a guy that we're looking forward to getting out there, and hopefully he can go out and perform the way that we think he's going to, because he does some really good stuff when we're on that practice field."

Special Teams Coordinator Frank Ross

What did you see from K Joey Slye on the missed kick, and what do you expect from him going forward?

"He had a great pregame, had a great week of practice, especially as we worked toward the end of the week. Every one of our specialists, you want to kind of hit those final cleanups as you get closer to game time. Just a little bit of a pull. But we've got to fix our field goal protection in general. We've got to get all that together. We've got to get those guys to make sure we know everything is stout and pure."

Breaking down the muffed punt return by WR Andre Roberts, what happened there and how did you all talk about that?

"Obviously short kick, coming up into traffic, coming up at full speed. And listen, it's Andre Roberts, everybody knows this guy puts in the work, has done it time and time again, no secret to myself, to him or anybody that we will play. Nobody wants to get that right more than him, so we'll get that corrected."

Did someone get a hand on that? Was it tipped?

"No. No, it was a good force and just a shorter punt."

When a play like that happens, can you speak to how much that can swing the momentum of the game?

"It's our job as special teams to always get the ball back to the offense and make sure we maintain the flow of the game. Any play, whether it's a turnover, a sudden change in the game of football can happen any point in time. Need our defense to stand up, we get a takeaway on defense, need our offense to generate points, et cetera. It's the NFL, things do happen, and we've got to make sure that we just continue to play our game and not let any of those things kind of spiral, and I think we did that."

DB Desmond King II returned one kick. Was that a function of wanting to get a different look, or because WR Andre Roberts had to play wide receiver?

"No, that's correct. As far as the health and status, and again, just like anything else, we'll call the game to whoever we have available to us. Andre (Roberts) was there going into an offensive role to help spare some of that, so that's why Desmond (King II) was back there for those situations."

With the injuries at wide receiver, if WR Andre Roberts has to play receiver more, would you continue to take the load off him in the return game?

"That's the blessing of having a deep returner room, there's always a chance we can have different bodies back there throughout any game on the season, really. We have Tremon Smith who has a history of both returns, so we have multiple guys that can do it. If anybody at any point in time, if Desmond King is playing every single snap of defense, we would try and lighten the load, potentially, in our kicking game phases."

Did you do that by design, in terms of creating depth at the returner position?

"Yeah, and I think every year we'll be different relative to who you have and how you're constructed. This, I would say, is a deeper year of having so many guys with experience, but, yeah, it definitely was a point when we got all got here together and we're creating the 2021 Texans, saying we need an emphasis on the return game. So having multiple players back there that can do it hopefully will continue to prove itself."

What was WR Andre Robert's mindset after he muffed the punt?

"Next play. If there's one thing about me, maybe it's because I don't have that good of a memory, but I'm an in-the-moment guy. Maybe I'm not going to go win Jeopardy any time soon, but we've got to just be here now, got to be in the moment. All I care about is the next play, and I'm sure he's the exact same."

With the injuries that are at wide receiver right now, is it more preparing DB Desmond King II for perhaps another role out there if WR Andre Roberts needs to be used?

"Sure. Same question, same answer, saying whoever we have to take care of in an instance. But at the end of the day, this is the National Football League, we're about to play on Thursday night. The Carolina Panthers are sore, Houston Texans, whatever the injuries are coming out of the past Sunday's game, we'll handle those as they arise on the personnel available to us."

How disappointing was it when Head Coach David Culley declined that penalty, and then P Cameron Johnston punted it into the end zone?

"I think any time we go out to do our jobs, we want to perform the best of our ability, and if we go out for what we call a mid-field or plus-50 punt, we want to go out and the goal was to pin those guys inside of the 10 or 15-yard line and create a long field for the defense. It's a big key to success when you're playing a team that can sustain drives. Didn't get that done, got to try and get that done here moving forward."

You were standing next to Head Coach David Culley when he was making that decision. Are you guys generally talking through any of those 50/50 kind of calls when it comes to fourth downs?

"Coaches talk on every single play. We can communicate from anywhere. Just because I was near, going into a potential fourth down or whatnot. We're talking on every situation, and that's what special teams games is, we're preparing for situations, and 90 percent of the time it either converts or it doesn't, and then we just go back to our, 'Hey, it's first down and we're rolling again.' So, we'll talk through every situation that comes up in any game."

Have you considered that you might have to rotate guys as returners, given the depth situation?

"I think at the end of the day, everybody has multiple hats in an NFL game with 46 to 48, whatever it is, going into the game on game day. I can't go back there and do it, so I think anybody will and want to. We've got a lot of guys here that are mentally tough and have proven that, and are continuing to show that. So that's not a concern. Whoever is asked to do it is going to go back there and do it, and they're going to do it to the best of their abilities."

Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith

How do you try to defend a guy like Christian McCaffery?

"A lot of people tried to do that. As you said, he's one of the best players in our league, can do it all. Of course, he's tough duty. As a receiver when he's catching the football, whether out of the back field, splitting him out as a wide receiver, they do a great job of putting him in different spots getting the ball to him. But he's a running back and of course he can make you miss in the open field, run in between the tackles. I'm telling you all the things he does well, but how do you stop a guy? Well, it's still going to go back to first off being sound and disciplined. You can't make a mistake, you have to have somebody in every gap, gang tackle, pursue to the football, all of those things gives you the best chance to slow him down a little bit. Not many people are going to stop him completely."

Do the Panthers mix and match offensive personnel more than the typical team?

"I don't think many people have a guy like that, and when you do have a guy like that, you always trying to get a favorable matchup. The more positions you put him in, the better chance you have of getting that. So it's kind of unique in that sense and as I said the coaches do a great job of that."

What did you see from your defense last week that you really liked?

"That's a glass half full for sure, which I like. Justin Reid's play. We didn't play the run and we gave up some big plays, we didn't like that. But our guys played hard, they show up always. We always want to start fast on the road. We were able to do that, get a stop right away. Jacob Martin rushing the passer, different things like that. What we like is the few times we took the ball away, but there's just so much we can improve upon. And that's why, when you don't play your best game, you want to get back on the field as soon as you can, and a Thursday night game of course allows you to do that. Again, we talked about the personnel as a defensive player to play against one of the best players in the league, start with that. And they have so much more. Excellent wide receiver core, as fast a receiver core as we're going to probably play. And Sam Darnold is playing outstanding ball. He's been a good player for a long period of time and seems like he's gotten in the perfect situation for him."

What do you think makes that situation so much better for him now? What do you think Carolina's doing that's kind of accentuating Sam Darnold's abilities?

"I think most quarterbacks will say starting off with to have a special running back with you, that helps an awful lot. You got to still stop the run first and that leads you to being able to pass the football, as a passer. But he can make all the throws, strong arm, smart quarterback, mobile enough, and I think it's a perfect offense for what he does best."

Keeping in mind the glass half full, are you surprised that you've been preaching takeaways for a long time since you got here and the way your team has had some success at that? "Well I can't say that I'm surprised, I've been disappointed that we haven't been able to grasp our philosophy on how we want to play defense. We have players that take coaching, so I wouldn't say surprised, it's something that we have to continue to do. I think you put an emphasis anything that's important to you I think as a coach, and you put a big emphasis on it, and you have guys that are willing to. I mean, you can get it done, but not the way we want. I mean, that was good getting a couple last week and every time you see the defense taking the ball away it kind of helps, but there's so much more that we can do."

How do you as a coach go about addressing missed tackles with the team as far as just tackling and making plays?

"We address tackling every day we go on the football field. Just some days you miss tackles, it's no more than that. It's not like we haven't been preaching it, haven't been working on tackling. Some days you miss tackles, I think it's as simple as that. You want to get back out on the football field as much as anything. It's critical though, and there were too many. It's one thing to miss a tackle and just a great play by an offensive player, it's another just not to wrap up and some of those things that we did. That's not us, we haven't seen that since we have been here and hopefully won't see it again."

What do you think about your defense and how they have played against the run?

"Well, no, we just, I just assumed that everybody believes in running the football and each week you have to really be ready for all the different type of runs. When you have a commitment to the run, which they have, you're going to get a whole lot of fronts of all different types. And then with a special back like that, again when you haven't played your best ball the week before, especially playing the run, you want to get that guy out there. We're better than that and what better chance to show it of course and against a team like this."

The stat on Jacob Martin, he's one of the fastest in terms of getting off the start. What do you see when you watch him every day and just how he plays like that?

"I haven't seen that stat, but it doesn't surprise me. Jacob has excellent speed. He fits a profile that we would like at our five technique, our open-end position. He's athletic enough, you've seen him play on different special teams too. Maybe even linebacker-type skill set that he has. It's a big game for him of course playing against his old college coach too. But we want to be able to rush the passer with a four-man rush and not have to rely on blitzing and Jacob does that. You look back to the pre-season, I can recall against Dallas to start the game off. Get him in a one-on-one situation with a tackle, again, he can beat a lot of guys."

What's the key to rushing with four when you have so many guys blocking?

"Well, in an ideal world, even when we blitz, to me a good blitz is when you get in a one-on-one situation. When they're keeping other guys in, they can't keep enough guys in where everybody is double teamed, and that guy has a win. Sometimes it's just as simple as that. And if you're keeping that many guys in, that kind of lends to us playing a little bit of zone coverage. If they're outnumbering you as far as protection, we should be able to outnumber them as far as the coverage part. That's a basic philosophy that we have, we're going to get that time-in, week-in, and it's a compliment to the defensive line if teams feel like they have to do it that way."

Have you been able to practice tacking?

"I think what you can practice. What you can't practice is taking guys to the ground. You say it's bad tackling, it's more of the approach, as much as anything, it's about leverage with most things. And that was the case the other day. And then just wrapping up. You don't have to put a guy down all the way on the ground. It's been so long since anyone has been tackling all the way to the ground. We play good games without missing tackles where we have been using the same approach, just got to concentrate on it a little bit more, get more guys to the ball and wrap up better."

When you spend so much time preparing for Christian McCaffrey, do you have to tell your guys to not lose sight of the other play makers they have?

"I think it always comes down to that a little bit, but I think we're all kind of students of the game a little bit. You know the special players in the league, they know who McCaffrey is. But it is so much more than that. In order for that to happen you have to have a good offensive line. I thought the offensive lined played well. You have to have a quarterback that can push the ball down the field. So, I think whatever affects you the most, you concentrate on that a little bit more. Our secondary, our back end, believe me, they know all about the skill guys that they have at the receiver position and tight end. And the linebackers of course know both."

How much difference did you see watching DB Justin Reid on film coming into this year and seeing him play on the field?

"Well coming in, what I notice about Justin is that he played hard every down. I think one of the first calls I made to him, I was watching video of him just running a guy down, playing hard. That's a good starting spot. What Justin has not been able to do an awful lot in the past that I saw were splash plays, big plays. And if you're a DB, if you're talking about one of the better DB's in the league, it's about them going, being able to go and get the ball. And that interception he had the other day, we were in a typical zone, one of our signature cover two defense, safety is reading the quarterback, excellent break. He's capable of those type plays. If you just look at skill set, he's got great speed, he'll hit you, he's a smart player, he's got a lot going for him. But maybe my favorite play that he made Sunday against the Browns was our safeties also have to be able to tackle and to be able to, to take the ball away there are based on a big hit. He can do a lot of things well."

With DB Terrance Mitchell being in concussion protocol, how are you going to address depth at that position?

"That's it. And that's pretty much what we go on. If a guy's in a concussion protocol, if he can go he's in, if not it's, always about the next man up I'm sure that's what Coach Culley would tell you, that's what I'm saying. You mentioned Tremon Smith that stepped up Saturday, I've seen him get better and better throughout. So, it will be that mentality as we go through. Again, we'll just keep bumping guys up and we expect them to play well."

OL TYTUS HOWARD

What are some of the challenges in facing the Panthers' front seven?

"I think they've got some pretty stout guys in the middle. Some pretty fast edge rushers outside. Yeah, they have a pretty talented front seven, powerful inside. Linebackers are fast, edge guys are fast. Going to be a challenge."

How do you view things with QB Davis Mills starting at quarterback now?

"Look at it the same. I think Davis has taken a lot of reps with those guys over the past couple weeks, so preparing the same. I think he's prepared himself for that moment and I think he's going to do a good job."

How much pride do you take as an offensive line in keeping your quarterback clean, only giving up two sacks in the last two weeks?

"Yeah, the ultimate goal is no sacks. The number one job for us while we're here is to protect the quarterback. So that's our ultimate goal, to keep him clean, and I think this season we're doing a pretty good job of that. But we can only get better for our last two performances, so I look for us to be better this weekend."

This has been your third year here. What have you noticed from Tim Kelly in the first couple of games, how he's carried himself as a coordinator?

"I think Tim is doing a great job. He's took over the OC job for the last two years and I think he's making a name for himself. He put us in a great position to win some football games, and I applaud him for that."

What's he like behind the scenes?

"Tim is pretty cool. I've known Timmy since I went through the pre-draft process. We became very close then, so I think we have a very goodrelationship."

How would you assess you performance with the run block?

"I think we could always have room for improvement. We've got to tighten up some technique in the running game. You have a couple missed assignments. But as a group I think we know what we need to do to get better and we can showcase that this weekend."

How would you say the adjustment to left guard has gone?

"I think it's gone pretty good. Like I said, there's always room for improvement. I'm very critical on myself for a couple of plays I've left out on the field where I feel I could have had better technique to put my team in a better position. So that is what I'm looking forward every week, to get better than I was the following week."

What are the challenges in run blocking in your new position compared to right guard?

"Just everything happens faster. You've got to be more tight with your footwork. Just little things like that that makes a big difference. Been watching film on myself, listened to what my coaches say I need to work better at, and I been trying to do that at practice to get better."

What are the challenges, if any, when transition from one quarterback to another?

"Yeah, every QB is different. Just getting in a rhythm for their voice, how they say the cadence, just getting how they like to set the pocket up. But I think Coach (David) Culley and Tim (Kelly) have done a great job this whole training camp of getting Davis (Mills) a lot of reps with the ones, so I think we're going to be pretty good with him back there because we already practiced a lot with him. Last week we got the whole second half with him, so I feel like we're going to be pretty good. I think we're happy to have him back there.

What about when you have a QB like Tyrod who has that escapability and may not be the same for QB Davis Mills? Does that affect your mindset at all in the blocking or you can't think that way?

"No, you can't think that way. I think Davis surprised a lot of people. He can actually move pretty good. I think a lot of people haven't got a chance to see that, and I think they will see that this weekend. But he's pretty athletic."

How fast is he?

"I don't know how fast he is, but he's pretty athletic."

Have you guys had an opportunity to watch some film on Carolina's front seven, and what are some things you can do to prevent them from coming to Houston and having success?

"Yeah, we watched some film on them. I think they've got a whole bunch of young guys that are very active up front. We've got to play hard, play to the whistle, and we've got to win the one-on-ones. That's the biggest thing. They create a lot of one-on-one with their front. They control the edge guys and keep the guys inside from pushing the pocket. I think we should be good to protect Davis (Mills) all game."

Does it help that last week you went up against a defensive front with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney?

"It helps, but it doesn't. Like you can't compare those two fronts because it's a whole different type of rushers. You've got two speed guys outside and you've got the bigger guys inside here on the defense. It's a totally different defense, so you can't compare how they rest to how these guys go this week. So, I think you've just got to watch the film and practice how you're going to play against those guys, because every week is a different challenge."

How much more can the offense open up if the run game starts to get where it can be?

"I mean, I think it will come. The first game we rushed for like 150, 160 or somewhere in that area. So the run game is there, it's just being consistent every week with the run game. I think that's how it goes, to be more consistent."

Are there games like the Browns where you know it's going to be tougher sometimes to get those?

"I think we try to treat every game the same. We don't try to treat no team any different because when you start doing that, you've got to think about we're in the NFL, everybody is here, everybody gets paid for a reason. You take one team more lightly than you do the other team, that's when you can get beat. Our goal is to dominate in the run game every week. We just didn't get that done last week, and so we look to get it done this week."

You and OL Laremy Tunsil are close off the field. What is it like playing next to him?

"It's very cool. Laremy is a cool dude. I came here a couple weeks before him, so we've been here the same amount of time. We've became close. I think out of the past two years it's only four or five of us that's still here on the team, so we just have that bond, and it's very cool playing beside him because he's a really good player. You see him playing real good, it only makes you want to play better. I think it's going to help me out in the long run."

Do the practice matchups against DL Jacob Martin prepare you for some speedier rushers in the league?

"Definitely. I think I saw somewhere he has one of the fastest get-offs in the league. Trust me, I've practiced against him, I went against him a lot on one-on-ones, and you can feel that get-off. So, I think going against guys like him helps prepare us for the game."

Can you talk about the pocket presence of QB Davis Mills and what that means for you guys up front?

"When he sits back in that pocket, he's already tall, so he can see everything, and he just delivers. That's one thing I can say about him. He's not scared to take a hit when he's throwing the ball, and you can tell because I think last week the guy came free, he took the hit, but he's a quarterback. A lot of quarterbacks can't take a hit like that and just get right back up. He got right back up and came back down on that drive and scored a touchdown. So that speaks volumes to what type of player he is."

Did he say anything in the huddle after the hit?

"Yeah, like it just never happened. He just went on to the next play. Very impressive."

Does it matter much to you that you have a chance to help this team show what they're all about in front of a national TV audience?

"It's always good to showcase our talents in front of everybody, because like we all see what's going on in the media. A lot of people don't think we're a good football team, but everyone inside this building knows that we're a great football team. We'll get a chance to showcase that Thursday night."

What is QB Davis Mills like in the huddle? Whenever we have talked to him, he seems to be even-tempered.

"He's the same way. You give him the play, he's right on point, he's ready to go."

What are some of the challenges going from blocking for a quarterback like QB Deshaun Watson or QB Tyrod Taylor who are more mobile than QB Davis Mills?

"With Deshaun and Tyrod being mobile quarterbacks, they can extend plays a lot. But like I said earlier, a lot of people might not know it, but Davis is more athletic than he seems to be. I feel like he can extend the pocket too and extend plays and make some big plays. I think he will be able to show that to everybody this weekend, or this Thursday."

Why do you think people underestimate QB Davis Mills' athleticism?

"Nobody has like seen him do it like in a game. But I've seen him at practice roll out of the pocket, deliver a strike down the field to a guy, and I was like, 'Wow, that's an impressive throw for a rookie.' So, he earned my respect."

RB DAVID JOHNSON

With the switch to QB Davis Mills, how much do the vets need to do to support him, not only in the huddle, but providing a strong running game?

"Most definitely. We're going to try to help him out running the ball, making it a lot less stressful for him as a rookie. I was there, everybody was there. The best thing that you can have is a great veteran group that we have, and then guys who you can lean on to talk to about it."

What was Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly like during the process of figuring out how to adjust with all the injuries?

"He was still fired up. We still wanted to run the ball, and that's how we've always been since OTAs. We're always going to try to run the ball, just help out the throwing game and passing. So, that's what he was trying to say. Especially me being a running back, he was talking to us and letting us know that we're going to run the ball."

Did you sense in the second half they we were more keyed in on the run with QB Davis Mills in there?

"Probably. With a rookie quarterback, most teams are probably going to do that. Probably were."

Do you feel like you might have a bigger role in the passing game against Carolina?

"I think again, it's going to come to what Carolina is going to offer us or what they're going to expose for us to try to take advantage of. I don't know, we'll see. We'll see when it comes Thursday."

What do you see from Panthers DL Haason Reddick and DL Brian Burns' speed?

"I played with Haason (Reddick), so I know how good of an athlete he is. They're good guys. We're just going to try to run at them and not let them use their speed, and we'll see what happens."

What about the run game needs to improve for you guys to get better at it?

"I think just accountability, me included. When I see a hole, running through it, doing everything I can for that, helping out the offensive line, setting up blocks, especially on the second level when a linebacker is just sitting there seeing what I'm going to do. I think just everyone relying more on each other, accountability, that kind of thing."

What can you say about the way that you all have competed these last two weeks?

"It's not a surprise to us. We've always said, 'Don't worry about what they're saying outside this building. Rely on what we have here, talk to and lean on everyone that's in our building, everyone that's on the team.' We knew we were going to surprise people. We're going to continue doing that and bring more respect to this team.

What have you noticed from Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly this year as opposed to before?

"Nothing different really. He's always energetic, always fired up, always excited, ready to go. Always going to try to make the most of what we have in our team and try to out-leverage them and what they have on the other side."

What's the energy like when you play as well as you did early on in the game against Cleveland, and then players start to go down and you lose the game?

"As players, we felt like we let them get that win, because like you said, we were winning the first half. We were going battle-for-battle throughout the whole first half, and then injuries started happening. The biggest thing, I think, is we even got more confident, because we realized even more that we have a chance to compete with any team in this league."

What are some things that you can do as a veteran to help a young guy like QB Davis Mills making his first NFL start?

"Before the game, it's just trying to talk to him, calm him down. He's always calm, cool and collected, and he's going to show that, so I don't know if he's an anxious guy or not. But just try to talk to him, relax. Sometimes even talk non-sports just to get his mind out of it. Even though it is a short week, he's played football, so I think it's just doing that. During the game, it's doing my job, obviously. That's the main point, when it's blitz pickup, making sure he has a good pocket, running the ball and making sure we're getting positive yards. I think that's the biggest thing, is if we do our job and stay in front of the chains as coaches would say, I think that's going to help out."

Is there more pressure put on the offense with a young guy at quarterback?

"Not really, because we're all already on one-year contracts. We've already had the pressure before the season with everything that's been said about us. I don't think it's too much more pressure."

OL Tytus Howard was telling us that QB Davis Mills has a little bit more mobility than people give him credit for. Do you see that?

"Yes, I thought you were talking about Tytus (Howard) himself. Tytus will swear he's the fastest lineman in the league. He thinks he can beat me in a 40. But anyways, yeah, Davis (Mills) does definitely have a lot more mobility than a lot of people give him credit for."

In what ways have you seen that?

"Just running the ball during practice, during OTAs and just being able to maneuver sacks a lot, more than you would think."

When Davis came into the huddle in the second half, how were you all able to keep him calm and levelheaded?

"I think just communicating with him, talking to him. Not trying to ask him as in a question, more just like talking to him, making sure we're on the same page throughout the Mike point, where we're running the ball and everything like that."

LB WHITNEY MERCILUS

Did you take acting lessons before you did the commercials?

"You know what, man, I can't say that I have. But I've seen a lot of y'all, how y'all are in front of the camera and stuff like that, and took some pointers."

Took pointers from us?

"For sure, no doubt. Shoot, whoever is out there doing the anchor position and all that, just a nice little smile, just be free flowing, all that. Just bring out your personality a little bit."

What kind of grief do you get from your teammates about it?

"The biggest thing that I've heard, they need some free pizzas. That's it. Free pizzas. Look, I can help them out, but I've got to be there. One day I'll probably just, back in middle school, the pizza parties, I'll just create one of those things. That's about it."

What have you thought about how the defense has been playing and creating turnovers?

"It's been awesome. It's been encouraging, especially from the last game, just seeing how hard guys are out there fighting. Also, just better tackling, as well, too. Attacking the ball and just doing what they're coached to do. Now we've got to clean some things up, there's no question about it, but you've got a defense that's really, really hungry out there, and it definitely shows."

How would you describe the challenge of trying to catch and tackle Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey?

"He's a special player in his own right. He's proven that time and time again. It's difficult to get him down. He's got good balance, good strength, as well, too, playing strength. It's going to be a challenge to bring him down. They create some good schemes for him to be able to get like seven-yard runs, 10-yard runs, things like that. We've got to be very disciplined in our gaps. We've got to be able to set edges, build walls and just do exactly what we're coached to do to stop them."

The Panthers seem to be one of those teams that find ways to move players into a bunch of different places that they normally aren't. What do you see from that, and does that present an interesting challenge?

"Yeah, definitely. It's going to create some different matchups, as far as that goes. That could be difficult, but we've got the personnel to handle that, as well, too. It's just practice through the week, seeing the different looks, maybe expecting some different things and whatnot. But on a short week, how much can you change? Not a whole lot. There might be something that's out of the ordinary, maybe like a trick play or something like that, but you've just got to read your keys and just go out there and play ball."

What have you seen from Panthers QB Sam Darnold so far this year?

"O-line definitely blocking for him pretty hard. We've got to be able to get back there, get him flustered. We've got to try to get him to make some mistakes and all that, but also, we've got to be able to contain him in the pocket because he has deceptive speed, too. That will present a challenge for the D-line, and we'll do our best."

Can you talk about the mismatch that DL Jacob Martin may be able to have this weekend?

"Jacob Martin, the guy gets off the ball like crazy. He's got good pass rush moves, he's got an arsenal in his repertoire. He's going to be able to get a couple sacks out there, I ain't going to lie to you. He's got good bend, good hands, great get-off on the ball. It's just getting him those one-on-ones. The whole D-line, get us some one-on-ones just to be able to get back there as fast as possible. Hopefully we get a chance to get the quarterback to hold the ball a little bit and give him a chance."

What has it been like for playing with your hand in the dirt after not doing so for 10 years?

"It's been a little different, I'll tell you that. Because now it's like my keys are shortened down to just reading tackles and tight ends and pre-snap reads, so I can't see anything that's post-snap or when motions happen, stuff like that, to get a beat on what might happen, things like that. It's just reading my keys more so and locking in on that, and just letting instinct take over."

Is there any additional pressure on defense when you know there's a rookie quarterback making his first start?

"Yeah, we've got to be able to stop the opposing offense and play better than their defense, as well, too. For us, we always take it as a challenge week-to-week to do our best to get as many turnovers for offense to capitalize on that, to give them as many chances as they can to get us some points."

With the Browns and the Panthers, teams that use a lot of pre-snap, is it kind of relieving in some ways that you don't have to keep track of that with your keys?

"Yeah, I will say so, as far as that goes. Make it a little bit easier. Probably makes it much easier for the back end, as well, too. Not so much for us. But as far as where I came from, as far as standing up as an outside linebacker, of course that's alleviating to hear that and to see that. But at the end of the day, I've got to be able to read my keys just like any other position I've played."

How do you feel about the team after a couple games, and where do you guys see yourselves?

"Just like they said, confidence got boosted, especially because we know we've got a solid team around us. If we just do our job, take care of the football, take away the football, things like that, play complementary football, as well, too, we've got a good chance as far as winning a lot of games if we just do that. I'm very confident in this team. I'm very confident in every player that we have. A lot of good guys who have seen a lot of football, played a lot of football in different places and seen a lot of things, experienced a lot of things, as well, too, that can really come together and create a 'hellified' culture here, and to go out there and win games on Sundays."

Do you think about this game against Carolina as an opportunity to showcase what this team is all about?

"We'll be the only game being played all across the board. For what a lot of people were saying about us before this whole thing got started, it's a chance to showcase that and to back up what we say or what we believe, as far as that goes. We don't go out there to go lose. We want to get 'dubs', that's it. That's exactly where we're going to go out there and go do and go prove."

You've probably been around Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly more than most people on the team even though you're on defense. How would you describe him?

"He plays the game well, honestly. As far as understanding like how to set up plays, how to set up whether it might be a boot from a run, or something like that. He also understands who he has on that offense, as well, and what skill sets they have. He's kind of like a bend, not break type of person, and he's great at what he does, as far as play calling-wise."

Can you just talk about the challenges of the Panthers offense, just the speed and other things you guys have to adapt to?

"(Christian) McCaffrey, if he gets going, it's just like any other week, as far as like the run. If you can't stop the run, it's going to be a long day. With Christian, he's great at dipping into blocks and dipping out and making you miss, especially making people jump out of the blocks, and stuff like that. That's a huge thing that we have to watch out for, especially playing him. I think that was back in 2019, I remember I dipped in on a block, I was out of my gap, and he just bounced it outside for a touchdown. We have to be very, very disciplined in that. Also, the quarterback, as well, poses a threat if we're not disciplined in our rush lanes, disciplined in our games, or anything like that. He's got a chance to be able to move around, make some plays downfield, or take off and get a first down."

How beneficial is it to have so many veterans in that locker room, especially coming into a short week?

"It's reassuring, honestly. A lot of people have tasted what a Thursday night game looks like throughout the week, being able to take care of their bodies, knowing where they need to be at and where to play at the high level that they need to on a Thursday night game from a short turnaround from a physical Sunday game. You have a lot of trust knowing that guys are going to be there, be able to play, and play at a high level, as well, too."

How are you guys working together with the interior linemen and linebackers to make plays?

"So, the interior, you've got Roy (Lopez), you've got Maliek Collins in there, (DeMarcus Walker), a lot of other guys. Charles Omenihu, every now and then he plays in there, too. Hopefully I'm not forgetting anybody. They'll get me for that. We've built a good trust in that room, as far as understanding who we're playing next to, what type of style of player they might be. Somebody might be just a bruiser, more so like taking on blocks and covering for you. Some guys are a little bit more quicker to where you can make finesse moves and stuff like that, and you know he's got the speed in order to catch your mistakes, and stuff like that. It really helps, as far as having those different type of personalities, different types of characteristics inside that room in order to make some plays happen. Now, we'll play better each week. We have to get better. We don't have a choice. Everything starts upfront, especially when it comes down to that run. I can definitely say that I trust those guys fully, where I don't have to jump out of my gap and play and try to cover their gap and mine at the same time."

OL Tytus Howard thinks he could beat QB Davis Mills in a 40-yard dash. Could you set that up for us?

"Man, I could get that done for you. Ain't no problem, because I want to put some money down on this, too."

You want to put your money on who?

"I'm going to put it down on Tytus (Howard). Actually, no, not Tytus, Davis (Mills). My bad, my bad."

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