“I think that the guys, now having one under their belt, will see a big improvement next week on that. Good things – I thought there were a lot of encouraging signs: I thought both two-minutes were encouraging – an area that last year as we did our off-season studies, I knew we had to improve. The two-minute drills at the end of the half and at the end of the game I thought were both good for the most part. Again, we have to have guys all understanding the situation – getting out of bounds, some of those things. We got to handle some of the things we’ve practiced and the guys overall did a good job on that. One of our other keys was we wanted to start to establish a physical identity and I feel like across the board that that was a physical team we were playing and is going to be a good team before the year is up, but I thought our guys on the physical side of it, did a real good job.
“Defensively, I talked about after the game, they were put in some difficult situations and I thought they responded. In addition, I thought the defense definitely bent, but we didn’t break defensively. One of the things that cost us consistently last year was big plays given up. I think their longest play offensively was 22 yards. That’s a good sign. I think a bunch of guys, specifically young guys – rookies and this developing group of players we’ve been talking about showed up with the lights on in a positive manner. I think we saw a lot of transfer of some of the things that have been happening on the practice field go to the game.
“Overall I think a lot of things that had me encouraged after actually reviewing the tape and now what’s important and what I’ve been talking to these guys about all morning is that we understand that every one of these days this week we’ve got to improve, find a way to improve a little bit each day and then we’ll be playing again at the end of the week and have a chance to show some of that improvement.”
HALEY: “Well, it’s one game Randy, so we can’t go overboard and say this is the next Dante Hall because that’s a strong statement, but here are some of the things with the young kid that I felt good about: first and foremost, I thought he made real good decisions in the return game. I’m talking about being a smart team with smart players and that’s a critical spot. I think right out of the gate on the punt return he called fair catch on the first one, in traffic, it’s at his own end, he had a couple of those to deal with which I believe he made all good decisions, in my opinion. He did a good job on not catching the one that went into the end zone and doing a good job of making it appear he was catching it. On the kickoffs I thought he made all good decisions. That’s a real good sign from a young guy. We didn’t get many opportunities in the punt return, which hopefully here as we go forward we will, but I think the whole team realized that if they can do their job up front on these kickoff returns and really punt returns for that matter, we have a chance to make big plays and that can be a weapon for us if he continues to progress and do the things he’s been doing.”
Q: What makes him a talent at kick returner?
HALEY: “Decision making is a big thing because you can’t be careless back there. There’s a lot of natural instinct in that position obviously and he appears to be real good with the ball in his hands. You’ve seen that on interceptions and turnovers in college, we’ve seen it out here on the practice field. He’s got a natural feel for running with the football in his hands. He’s got good vision, clearly it appears, he knows how to set blocks, he used a stiff arm and he’s got a skill set that enables him to use all those other assets.”
Q: You put him at nickel cornerback, too. What’s he showing on the defensive side of the ball?
HALEY: “One of the things in the game that didn’t go exactly the way I would have liked is that he didn’t get to play a lot of nickel. Atlanta stayed in a lot of regular or even three tight ends and a back in there so we didn’t get to use a lot of the nickel which is where we ideally want to be working him. So he was put out there in order to get play time, he was playing outside, which I think he has a chance to be good out there in addition to other roles. This kid’s like the rest of this young group. It doesn’t appear too big for them, and that was an opportunity to see that from all of them and I’m talking the rookie class across the board – you didn’t see some looks that you sometimes see from those guys early on. It doesn’t appear too big for them, they’re working hard, they’re not afraid to compete, they’re physical, they’re tough, they’re tough-minded. Again, one game in, they just all need to continue doing the things that they’re doing and I feel like there’s a chance for each and every one of them to potentially help us be a better team.”
Q: I know you like where you were heading into this preseason game. Do you worry about trying to restart momentum at this point in camp with these guys?
HALEY: “You always worry about that as a coach but again, they haven’t given any indicators that that’s going to be a problem. It’s like coming off the scrimmage the other day – a day off, a little time to sit around, your body starts to go into recovery mode, get a little sore so it was up to them yesterday to get some physical activity in. They’re just lifting this morning, that’s why I was a little later here, trying to take a look at how that was going. It appeared they were into it, enthusiasm was up. I would say now we just have to go out and have a good physical practice – we’ve got to get back into training camp mode and sometimes that’s easier to talk about than do. To this point, they’ve done the things the way they’re supposed to do it so I’d expect us to go out and have a good practice today.”
Q: How did you feel about the run defense, at least in the first half?
HALEY: “Defensively, I was overall encouraged and feel good. It appears that we have more guys that have a chance to help us in some way or another. That’s a good thing. There’s more competition, there are more guys, in my mind, across the board at all positions that have a chance that if they elevate their games, could get into the mix and could be part of this team. That’s a good thing. The early part of that game across the board, and I said this the other night I believe, offensively, special teams and defensively showed up because they were on the field first. I think the guys just need to be ready for the start of the game. I think tempo was a big issue – it wasn’t about being ready, they were prepared, I think everybody was ready to go for the game, but I think the initial ‘here we go, this is first real game’ and I just think the tempo caught some guys off-guard. That’s why I think next week you’ll see an adjustment, everybody will have a little better idea of what to expect. I think that occurred, once they got their feet under them, I saw some good things from a lot of defensive players that makes me feel like we’re making progress. That team is a good running team, they have been the last two years and I believe when this year is up we’ll be saying the same thing – I think they’re pretty good. They’re physical, they’re aggressive and those backs are real good. That one wasn’t playing but the one that was in there first looks real good. That was a test. We just have to be ready for that tempo and physicality of the game right out of the gate as opposed to waiting five, six, seven, eight plays.”
Q: How did T Ryan O’Callaghan play?
HALEY: “I think the offensive line in general, I’ll echo a little bit of what I just said defensively, they’ve got some skill guys on the other side of the ball – pass rushers that have some ability. I’ve been with DE John Abraham and I was watching him specifically out of the gate and he was brining it. While he was in there he looked like the John Abraham that I knew. I think that was a test for us from the competition standpoint. We struggled at times. I think all groups had some things we need to improve. Ryan falls into that group. Tempo of the game, competition was amped up a little bit and we’ve got to be ready for the tempo change. On the road, they’re at a little disadvantage. It wasn’t by any means loud but all of a sudden there’s a noise factor, snap, some of those things start to become a factor but I think across the board up front there were some good things but there were some things we’ve got to be better at.”
Q: What about LB
HALEY: “I believe that young group of developing players I was overall encouraged with and he’s clearly one of those guys that has come a long way and I think it was hard not to notice him in a lot of different areas. He’s worked real hard to put himself in a position to have some success and I think some of that showed up. I’m excited about the direction Andy is going.”
Q: After watching the film how do you evaluate the quarterbacks’ play; both quarterbacks for that matter?
HALEY: “Much like I said after the game, there are some things we need to be better for sure. Starting with Matt (Cassel), I think Matt is going in the right direction. I thought there were a lot of positive things that happened out there that lead me to believe that again, I was real down on the sack in the fringe which you can’t take. Having reviewed the tape we didn’t give him much of a chance. We had a back go in and try to cut which isn’t something we want him doing period but it happened pretty fast. That being said, Matt knows that it can’t happen regardless. That still was the sticking point with me, after reviewing the tape the fumble; probably prevented for him with just a little better technique which again, was a big play in the game for us. We’d get a stop or we’re in great field position, and we’ve got to maximize or capitalize on those opportunities and having that occur is part of that; not capitalizing on good things that we were able to make happen. Overall, I’ve been real encouraged in the off-season, real encouraged through training camp and I think that showed up in the game. The rest of the guys; Brodie (Croyle) and Tyler (Palko), I think they both would like to have a couple plays back, but other than that they ran the operation and moved the ball and did some good things. I think the progress is all three; at least the arrow is pointed in the right direction.”
Q: WR (Dexter) McCluster and RB
HALEY: “Yeah, it was important for Jamaal, coming off the difficult off-season, to get back in the mix. I think he’s got some areas he’s got to work on; clearly to me. That became even more clear watching the tape and I think for Jamaal to continue taking those steps to try to be one of the top backs, which he showed he at the end of last year that he’s got the skill set to do that. He’s got a lot of work to do. I think the young guy; McCluster, you definitely saw some real good things from him. Looks like he’s tough, some of the things I was questioning or waiting to see at this level was would he stick it up in there and I thought we did a good job of having a little plan for him and we asked him to do a lot in that game as a test as much as anything else. He played some receiver, he played some running back, and again I think there were some good signs from that entire young rookie group.”
Q: He took a big hit on the sideline I know. That’s probably one of the things you’re looking for?
HALEY: “Yeah, he stuck it up in there even though a couple of those were outside runs, he put a foot in the ground and ran up in there. Again, this whole rookie group, I wasn’t disappointed with any of them through that first game.”
Q: Todd, after the game in Atlanta you mentioned WR
HALEY: “I don’t know about that. Like I said, I wish, we did this simulated halftime and really stressed it and came out to start the second half and clearly had a plan, we were going to take a shot and put him in there specifically for the play and he did a good job on it. I wish we would have completed the ball on either one of those two, and then Mo (Maurice Carthon) would have been looking like a hero for the practice halftime, but instead I got to yell at him and say ‘that didn’t work.’ This kid, he’s shown skill. He can run, he can get off the line, but with him, like a lot of these guys, it’s going to be that other side of trying to become a talented football player. He was winded at times, ran a couple of go’s and had to come off. So, there’s a lot of work to be done but there’s definitely a skill set to work with and again, I just wish the ball would’ve been on target and we could’ve seen what happened.”
Q: There were two holding calls, offensive line holding calls. There’s been a lot of talk with the umpire moving back to where he is that those might start going up. I realize it’s a very small sample size but when you went back and looked at it. Do you think the position of the umpire had anything to do with those calls?
HALEY: “I didn’t think about it from that perspective, Bob, since you ask, so I don’t know the answer to that. I know we can’t set ourselves back with minus plays – whether it’s missed blocks, loss of yardage, or penalties. For the most part the guys tried to, I think we had six penalties and a couple of them were intentional, or whatever you want to say. Overall, the guys played pretty smart in that area. On the long kickoff return, we’ve just got to use better technique and do a better job of knowing when to pull off and not pull off. Again, for the first game, I didn’t feel terrible about that aspect of it.”
Q: You deferred in a preseason game after you won the toss. Was it because you wanted to see the offense start the third quarter from your halftime drill or you wanted to see the defense. Why in an exhibition game do you defer?
HALEY: “We’ve talked about that, it’s a good question. We talked about both aspects of it. I think I wanted to put the defense out there right out of the gate against a pretty good offensive team. I think they tested us; they by no means were vanilla. You saw receivers in the backfield, second possession they go to their no-huddle which they’re pretty good at. So, we were tested and I wanted to put the defense out there and get started in that manner and again, I thought we can’t give up, we’ve got to start just a little better, we’ve got to be ready to go for the tempo when the game starts and that’s what I’ll be looking for next week from a lot of these guys.”
Q: Todd, the tape gives of the game gives you a reference point. Can you talk about the players handling or not handling, dealing with the tape, watching improvement and what about the veterans or the young guys who do the extra homework watching tape at home beyond what you’re required.
HALEY: “Well, they’re doing that every day, it’s not a game, Mitch, but we’re in meetings every day and review all this practice, every aspect of the practice, they sit and watch and get corrected or corrections are made and good things are pointed out. I think they’re used to that aspect of it, if that’s what you’re asking. Now this is their first opportunity, offense is actually doing it right now as we’re speaking because we broke up the lifting group. I think they kind of get that part of the operation and we talk to them about having a thick skin and not being sensitive and also looking at the tape with a critical eye. You know, sometimes if you go into those sessions with a thin skin or sensitive, you’re not going to be able to take out of it what you need to as a player and its human nature that when somebody’s criticizing you or saying you’re doing something not the way we want it done; how you handle that’s a big aspect of this whole deal. We try to coach them up on that and remind them and we watch special teams together as a team and I think some of them were a little surprised that I was walking around with a pointer and pointing everybody out – good and bad, that woke them up a little bit. That’s just the way we do it. We make it clear up front, it’s not personal, we’re trying to make you as good as you can possibly be so in order to do that we need to go through this. From the aspect of studying, that’s what we expect. We coach that from our standpoint of that this is their job, they’re getting paid potentially a lot of money; every one of them, to do this job and that’s part of it, no different than any other job – the preparation and the effort that goes into it from that side. That’s also where I think some of this veteran leadership comes in because now in addition to us letting them know how we think it needs to be done they’re able to see guys doing it that way and how they plan their day accordingly to get that done; or night or whatever is going on. It’s all part of the process we’re in in developing a lot of players.”