What is Rey Maualuga’s future?
e’s one of the free agent players. Rey has played two different spots for us. He really grew in his role and leadership and so forth. We’ve been to the playoffs three times in Rey’s four-year career. He’s been a great part of our success. He’s a free-agent player. He’s going to have some opportunity, just like our other guys. We’ve just got to see what happens.
Are you still engaged with him? Do you want him back?
We want to have all of our guys come back. That’s all we can do.
He said he felt the playoff game might have been an audition for this coming year. Is that an accurate read?
That would be Rey talking the way Rey talks. He just has to become more secure in his own skin.
It’s impossible to re-sign all 23 unrestricted free agents. How delicate it is with salaries and the tag and knowing some of the guys you’ve got coming up in the next couple of years?
There’s some work to do. To sit here and speculate … obviously I’m not going to tell you what we’re going to do.
Do you think you’ll use the franchise tag?
We hope that we don’t have to use the tag. But if we have to use the tag, we’ll tag somebody. We’re going to retain our guys in every way possible. That’s our option, and that’s what we’re going to work hard to do.
Are there some things you would like to change about the system that would help you guys in the way you evaluate?
I don’t think that in depth about things. I think it’s a good process. We added the extra day in order to provide for more time for guys to spend with guys so that the medical didn’t roll into some of the other things guys had to do. I think that’s been a positive step. The NFL Network’s involvement has been a positive step because more kids are participating. That’s the only thing at the Combine that you want: You want the guys that are invited here, if they’re physically able to, to participate fully. That’s the only change I would say. If you’re not going to work, then let’s leave your tail at home, because we want to see you work. If you’re able to work, then let’s work.
What about the addition of the second aptitude test?
I don’t know enough about it, and it will be four or five years before we do. You can’t just throw something out and say ‘OK, this is a test we’re going to do right now.’ We don’t have the background of it. It’s going to take some comparison, just like you talked about with 40-yard dashes or vertical jumps or long jumps before you have some comparison to make on how things work.
When you hired Hue (Jackson), you indicated you wanted the offense to take a step forward. What do you want them to do?
I have to coach better and I’ve got to be demanding on the things I think are important. Everybody wants to start the year and we’re going to be Star Wars and we’re going to zip and zap the ball here and there. Then you look up and we’re not very good. But when we got back to what the principles are of how you win, then we got better. You’ve got to be able to be physical, you’ve got to be able to run the football, we’ve got to be productive with the football, we’ve got to win on third down, we’ve got to get in third down situations that are manageable. And the same thing defensively.
We can’t give up big plays if we think we’re going to be any good on defense. So we’ve got to be sound in what we do, we’ve got to limit what we do and we’ve got to get sound principles of what we do. And I think Hue gives us another opportunity with another mind to help Jay with input. Jay does a tremendous job, and you always want to have as many people as you can that can provide the right input and also do a great job of coaching their position. And our coaches have done a nice job of that. We’ve got to keep pushing harder and harder because we’re not satisfied with where we’ve been.
After losing in the playoffs to the Texans, do you challenge these guys to come back and continue to build on the foundation?
The challenge is we don’t get to start where we left off. You have to come back in here and be ready to go. We’ve got to build and we’ve got to build the right way and we’ve got to do things correct more often. That comes from the way our players feel. It’s a good group of guys that are pointed in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep aiding them and coaching them and getting them better.
Do you have to retool the running game?
I think we had a back run for over 1,000 yards again this year which is a pretty good accomplishment when we didn’t run for as many early on. But we ran for whatever, four out of five or five out of six weeks throughout that stretch of the year. We’ve got to continue to do that. The running game comes from the running back, it comes from the offensive line, it comes from receivers. Those are the things we’ve got to re-tool. We’ve got re-tool coaching and playing. That’s the re-tooling of the running game, and have the things that fit together well with what we’re doing offensively as far as throwing the football.
In what ways to you have to coach better?
I just kind went through that. I know what I feel what is important for us to do win in the AFC North and I can’t let us get away from those principles. We talked about those earlier. I know we’re always going to be well-coached in special teams but we’ve got to keep making plays in special teams that help us win football games. We’re going to devote the time, we’re going to devote the resources and we’re going to keep doing it.
Offensively, we’ve got to be able to take care of the football and we’ve got to win on third down and in order to do that we’ve got to be a productive team on first and second down by marrying the run and the pass. When we go vertically we’ve got to make vertical throws and catches. That’s important. Defensively we can’t give up big plays and we’ve got to win on third down.
Andy kind of QB can win with but need to have weapons around him?
Tell me a quarterback in the National Football League that wins without weapons.
How about play-action? Is that something you’ll emphasize?
We do play-action but, again, we need to emphasize everything we do better and do it better. It’s a broad question and this is the broad time of the year to ask broad questions. You get a very broad answer.
How important is the Combine interview for Manti Te’o?
I think for me the film starts it but I don’t know that I can understand Manti Te’o in 15 minutes, I can tell you that. I’m going to let what he did on tape speak for him and be his calling card to start off and then we’ll work from there.
Winning in Pittsburgh, is that as a step in the building process?
Those steps were lost last December. We start over again and have to make new steps. There’s not much you can do. The football team knows what preparation, work and grinding is. When we get the football team back to together we’ll get back into that mindset. That’s history. That’s water under their bridge, that’s in our reserve tank but we’ve got to go back and do that again. What we did in Pittsburgh last year isn’t going to be worth beans this year and we know that. We’ve got to start from scratch, we’ve got to get going again.
How close do you feel team is to taking that next step?
I feel the same. I don’t feel any different. We’ve just got to do. There’s 31 of us over here saying the same thing, we’ve got to do. Everyone has to take steps. Some steps are larger to take than others but you’ve got to take big steps in order to do big things.
Was it youth that contributed to the playoff loss after going 7-1?
I think a little bit of it is youth but I think also it comes back to me as the head coach. It’s my job with how we prepare our guys to understand how important each and every play is. We have certain plays, certain isolation plays. We went into that game saying we’re going to be able to do this and did. We’ve got to go execute it. However we unfolded, however we prepared to do that, we’ve got to do a better job of applying it so we get that kind of action when the lights come on and it’s in that hostile environment we get it done that way all of the time. I think a little bit of that is repetition, maturity and so forth but it’s also drive and want-to and anything short of this gets us beat and understanding that.
How is Dan Herron developing?
I thought Danny, when he got the opportunity, first of all he worked his tail off throughout the year so to bring him up and give him an opportunity was a great thing because he worked his tail off. I really think that getting himself in shape and preparing to be a guy in the NFL I think he showed on special teams. That’s step No. 1. Then he got an opportunity and that’s step No. 2 on offense. We look for him to have a big preseason.
Is keeping all the free agents like the 2005-07 period?
I think the biggest lesson is let’s keep betting on our guys. Let’s bet on our guys and move forward. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you’d think. Unfortunately in this game guys get hurt but you can’t let that pull you back. You’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to bet on them. We’ve got to bet on our process. We’ve trained these guys, we’ve grown these guys from the ground up (so) let’s continue to bet on them and the process as we keep moving forward. We’ve got to know that if we’re not successful we’ve got to be on a parallel path, whatever it may be. We’ve always got the draft to fall back on if there is a guy available that way that works that way. We’ve been able to do that just like we did a year ago with Nate (Livings) and Travelle Wharton. Those things have got to happen. Again, we were working on a parallel path there with one in and one out. Then you can fall back on the draft to back yourself up again. That’s the way we have to go about it and continue to look at it that way. It’s not going to be an emotional thing. I know at the end of the day that I’m going to be comfortable with those guys we put in that room and now we’ve got to coach them up. We’re going to go compete versus the other guys.
Is this still the worst time of the year?
It’s all speculative football. I know we’re in the big show, but it’s still speculative football. When we start doing football is when we get to July and August, that’s fun. We get preparing for the season, that’s the fun of football. Then we get there and it’s, OK, let’s get this over so we can get to the regular season.’ It’s exciting. When you think about our season last year and see the Sanus and the Marvin Joneses. Sanu’s catching a touchdown and we’ve got nobody left and he’s catching the punt. You look at what happened with Hawkins two years ago in those same situations. That’s the fun of it.
We’ll have another group of guys like that to see the emergence of Marvin Jones and Sanu now as they go into their second year. The fun part of these rookies, right now all they’ve done is trained to be here. But after that rookie year, it’s like, ‘Now I know what it takes to be a player in the NFL and then I can train myself to get ready for my next year. Similar to what A.J. went through last year.
Are you pretty much set with Sanu and Jones as the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers?
We’re not set with anybody. We owe it to everybody to get better.
Everybody’s up for a job but A.J.?
Pretty much probably. Even me.
What are your impressions of Aaron Maybin?
Aaron’s excited about the opportunity. He feels like he’s never been able to keep on enough weight to be a true 4-3 down end or be a big 3-4 265-pound linebacker. Maybe the outside linebacker in our scheme is something that will fit him well.
Are you looking for a backup quarterback in the draft?
Every time we go through the draft we look at every single position. We’re not going to go into the draft and look for a starting quarterback. But I think, basically, every other position is open to be drafted. You can’t get your sights set on this guy or that guy and that guy’s not there and you pass on a better player. You need to draft the best players. At the end of the day you want to have the most talented team you can have.
Evaluation of Dalton?
He plays the position of criticism. Other than the head coach. When we don’t win, the quarterback is going to take a little bit of flak. I thought Andy did a good job for us. When he holds that trophy, he would have done a great job and that’s what we’re looking forward to. Until he gets there, he’ll always take that criticism. He’s a great guy. He’s our guy. He works hard at it, it means a lot to him. And he’ll do nothing but continue to play more productively. We have to keep putting people around him and put them in the right spot to allow him to do his job without the worry of them not being where they belong.