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Q&A with Todd Haley 9/21

Posted Sep 21, 2011

OPENING REMARKS: “Preparation has been ongoing here for [the] division rival San Diego Chargers, who we’ll play this Sunday. Continuing today, we had a good morning so far and we’ll be out on the practice field at one o’clock. I think the guys… their resolve is steady and determined. The energy is good – all good signs. I think you can feel some good stuff occurring within the building, and that’s a good sign. We’ve got our work cut out for us with this San Diego team. I think they’re a talented, talented football team, much like I’ve talked about them in the past. They’ve got a multi-dimensional offense. You just watch the tape and you watch them play the Patriots at New England and really, they moved the ball at will throughout the day and really did some things to shoot themselves in the foot that probably ultimately cost them. Their quarterback [is] one of the best in the business in Philip Rivers. This running back is really developing into what we kind of thought he was going to be. Vincent Jackson is a superstar it looks like. The tight end, [Antonio] Gates, is a full-time job and up front, they do a real good job of protecting their quarterback. Defensively, we will have to bring the ‘A’ game and play our best game to have a chance this week. Defensively, they’ve changed a little bit from a personnel standpoint with some of the guys on the team, but the key cast members are still there. They’re an aggressive, attacking defense that plays physical football. Again, offensively we’ll have to go and play our best game, and that’s what we’re working on right now. Special teams, [they’ve got a] good kicker, good punter, good returners. We’ve got to continue… Special teams has to be an area that we compete and win at in every week to put us in a position to start to change some of these field position issues that are – in addition to turnovers – really putting us in holes we can’t get out of. [I’m] excited about today to see us out on the field, and that’s where we’re going there.”

Q: You talk about the answer to these injuries and needing somebody to step up. How much do you need your quarterback to step up, and if nothing else, cut down on the interceptions like he did last year?

HALEY: “You’re right, that wasn’t what he did last year. Much like I’ve said in here, I think two games is too early to really recognize an identity of a team. We obviously need to change things here pretty quick to keep our identity from being something that we don’t want it to be, but it does take four or five games. That being said, I think the same goes for players. I think if you tried to identify an identity out of Matt [Cassel] last year after two games, I don’t think you would say that in the end he would end up where he was, in the Pro Bowl with some really impressive statistics from a touchdown-to-interception ratio, but most importantly, from a win-loss record, which is how a quarterback is judged. So, I just want to try to refrain from really making judgments out of a lot of things right now until we get a little further down the road. Everybody on this team has to play better, starting with the quarterback. He knows that, he’s excited about the challenge and that’s what we’re going to do. But it’s not just him, it’s not anybody, it’s the entire group – offense, defense, special teams – we need to play better football. And you do that by studying your opponent, working hard in practice, trusting your teammates and your coaches and then we, as coaches, need to do a good job of putting these guys in the best position to help us succeed. We have to, obviously, do a much better job of that. The good thing is [that] we’re excited. I know they’re excited. This is a great challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity.”

Q: What do you want to see out of Matt? Is it essentially the same as last year?

HALEY: “I think he needs to play better. In the first two games last year – and I went back and did a bunch of review also – there were some plays that could have been worse plays, maybe some good fortune involved, which is always part of the game. I said today [that] the ball is not round, it can bounce a number of different ways, it can deflect a number of different ways. Right now, the onus falls on him because he has to make good decisions, he has to put throw the ball where it’s supposed to go when he’s throwing it, he needs to run the offense. Much like me as the head coach, he’s responsible for the offense. I’m responsible for the team, and we’ve all got to be better. But, I’m quite confident in Matt and his teammates are quite confident in him that he will do the things when needed to help us win games and be a better team.”

Q: Have you seen signs that even in practice he is comfortable even without some of the weapons he had before?

HALEY: “I don’t think it’s a weapon issue, I really don’t. I think it’s an execution issue, and then you have to find out, ‘Why are we not executing?’ And I think I touched on it last week, we, as a staff, as we came together and reviewed the last time, it was said a number of times [that] we’ve got a bunch of guys who care. There’s no doubt about it. But, sometimes in those situations guys press and they want to make a play to turn the game so bad, or to get the season going the direction it needs to go that they play outside of their capabilities. And that’s a tricky subject because you want guys trying hard and giving best effort, but sometimes you can try to do too much, which then puts your teammates in a vulnerable position, and that clearly has occurred. That’s a bad thing, but it’s a good thing. It means the guys care, but that’s part of being a good player in the league, I believe. As you coach these guys, that’s part of it, just, ‘Hey, do your job.’ You hear me say it all the time, ‘Just do your job first,’ and our coaches, we’re all taking about it all the time. And the plays then have a tendency to come to you a little more and then good things happen. That’s where we are. It’s not pandemonium or panic, it’s, ‘We need to play better football,’ and if we do things better, we can be a good team. That’s the situation as it is, and that situation could change. You’ve got to go from there, but we can be a good football team. We just have to show more signs that good football teams show.”

Q: There are physical and mental mistakes. I would think, especially from the quarterback, physical mistakes are more tolerable at times than mental mistakes. At the end of the second half last week, it’s a Hail Mary and Matt Cassel ends up taking a sack. When there is a mental mistake like that, especially from your quarterback, is that particularly frustrating or worrisome?

HALEY: “It’s worrisome when your football team does things that put your team in a bad position to have a chance to succeed. I think that particular play, even though we’re moving on to San Diego, it’s more evidence of just what I said – somebody trying to do too much. He wanted to create some more time to allow the receivers to get to where they needed to be so he could feel like he could make a bigger play and it ended up being a poor choice obviously because a sack was taken and he didn’t create more time. That’s the trick. That’s really what we’re working real hard on as a staff and working together with them, and I said it, a team teaches itself what it’s going to be each year, it’s a new year. Part of that is gaining trust in one another so that you don’t feel like you have to play outside of your box, that you just do your job and play within your abilities and everybody else will do their job and then good things will happen. That’s the way you play good football games and you win. Right now we’re not doing that but we can do that and we’ve done it, we’ve seen the core of this team do it, and now, in a tough situation as far as where we are, we have to do it. But at the same time, we have two Ls (losses) in our column. San Diego has one. Denver has one. Oakland has one. It is what it is. In the end, there’s not going to be a picture on the win-loss column. It’s going to be Ws and Ls. Right now we’re going to play an AFC rival that if we can go do the things we need to do, that we can make good things happen and we’ll feel a lot differently than we felt on Monday. That’s where our focus is and that’s where the guys’ focus is and that’s why this is fun.”

Q: With Jamaal’s injury, it appears that Dexter McCluster is going to have to take a bigger role running the ball. Is it concerning that even as skilled as he is, his size might preclude him from being able to hold onto the ball when you need him to? You can teach things, but for him is it more that a 260-pound guy is hitting a 160-pound guy is not going to work that well?

HALEY: “No, I agree with you. I say sometimes Dexter is his own worst enemy because he’s 160 pounds and he is a tough guy. A play that’s probably lost in that game, he was split out as a receiver and we ran a little inside run midway through the second half and you see this blur come out of nowhere and crack the safety and the safety goes flying into the pile. The guy’s a tough guy. It falls right into what I was just talking about with Matt and everybody, you’ve got a guy that’s a talented player that is trying to make a difference and that’s part of being a smart player – knowing when to say to say when; knowing what you are and what your role is; and you can’t take everybody on every play. That’s something you love about Dexter but at the same time, it’s something he needs to and will learn and I believe he’s learning it, right now it’s been under fire and the hard way, but he’s a great kid that wants to be part of the solution here. I’m excited about Dexter. At the same, he’s going to have a role and I think within reason, you’re going to have to keep that in check a little bit, which I’ve talked about a lot, because he’s going to get some catches, he’s going to get some runs. Going forward here, we’ve got a good group of running backs – we’ve got a couple that can play fullback and be runners and as down as they are about their teammate Jamaal (Charles), and everybody loves Jamaal and you’ve never seen somebody more torn up over feeling like he let his teammates down by getting hurt. He’s a special, special guy but these guys, as down as they are about that, they’ve excited about the opportunity and they’re raring to go, starting with Thomas Jones, who obviously have been the leader of this group.”

Q: When you talk about guys needing to step up, I assume one of those guys is Le’Ron McClain. In the first game, he didn’t touch the ball. Last week he was obviously part of the offense. It looked like you did some things especially for him. What was the difference from one week to the other?

HALEY: “I think it goes back to this season having its own unique variables and that was one of them. He was a guy that wasn’t ever part of this team before late July or early August and then had some work to do. We’ve seen a transformation from Le’Ron physically and he just got himself ready to play. He was just a little behind the eight-ball starting out, it was just part of this season for us and some of the things we were trying to get ready and trying to do. But now I’m excited about him and I just think you’ll see more and more of him, number one as a fullback, but he’s a versatile guy – he’s a good pass catcher, he’s a talented runner and he’s a good blocker. That entire group is excited about the opportunity that’s really out there, as our team is. We’ve probably been cast off by most everybody but not by the guys that are going to out there on the field and get ready to practice.”

Q: You feel pretty comfortable that you have enough at running back to run the ball the way you’d like to run it?

HALEY: “I do. I’m excited about these guys and they’re excited. We were carrying slightly heavy anyway at running back and we do have versatility there which is a good thing, like I said, Le’Ron can do both and Jackie Battle can and has done both. One of them can play a little receiver in a pinch and I think numbers-wise, we’re where we need to be and if that changes, we’ll surely try to make it different.”

Q: When do you expect to have WR Jon Baldwin back?

HALEY: “I’ll stay out of that. You guys are out there [at practice] and I think you see him. He’s working hard and he’s going to have to get into this mix fast and we’re all excited about him getting back. Hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.”

Q: When you start losing pieces of the offense like Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki, how different is the offense going into Week Three than it would have been before you had to make more personnel changes than you would expect to?

HALEY: “I don’t know more than you expected, Karen, because of the situation with the lockout and all that and it was going to create and provide challenges for us, especially for a younger team. Like I said, I’ve felt all along we’re somewhere in the middle of teams that have an advantage and teams that didn’t and that’s part of the challenge and that’s been part of the challenge. As injuries [happen], there are changes, it could just be the way you feel about somebody, expectations and maybe somebody’s a little better than you thought they were or maybe they’re not quite what you thought they could be, but I’m excited about the versatility we have on offense and like I said, I’m a big believer in fate and things happening for a reason. I believe it’s going to be ok and these unique guys we have are going to be part of that. We can be a good team. We can be a good team, we just have to do certain things better.”

Q: Is San Diego a lot different without Darren Sproles?

HALEY: “I was hoping they’d be more different, but like I said, I think the running back has really come on and made progress. He’s a big, fast, quick guy. He’s multi-talented and can hurt you in a number of different ways, so they’re not that different. They’re a talented group offensively. We’ll have our work cut out for us. The quarterback, he makes it difficult to defend.”

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