Head Coach Robert Saleh, 5.6

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Connor Hughes, The Athletic: It didn’t look like too many of the guys you drafted did much today. Is that going to be the case tomorrow as well? Is that kind of the plan just to limit what they’re doing and why?

We are limiting what they’re doing with regards to the 7-on-7 stuff. They’re working with (Mike) Nicolini, we’re going to ramp up a little bit more of their conditioning tomorrow with Nicolini, but they’ll be separated. The reason being for it all is their schedules over the last month have been rigorous with regards to travel and the lack of working out that they’ve been able to fit in, very spotted, wasn’t worth bringing them in here and injuring them or risking injury. Let them go off to the side, let’s get a great weekend of work in for them and it also gives us a better chance to get eyes on the tryout guys rather than the entire organization being fixated on the new draft picks.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, is that something that has kind of evolved over the years with these rookie camps? They used to be a lot more rigorous I think, and it’s changed over the years.

It has been. I can’t speak for the rest of the league, I know I’m scarred. Dante Fowler, first play of rookie minicamp, tears his ACL and he’s out for his entire first season. It’s just not, in our minds, it’s just not worth it. With those draft picks, they’re not in any danger, there’s nothing to learn, they can go through the process without going through it and then to get them that extra work. Again, just one person’s opinion, a million ways to do it. They’re still getting in great work, they’re still going through all the meetings, they’re still going through all the walkthroughs, so they’re getting in good work. It’s giving us a chance to see where they are physically from a conditioning standpoint so we can get then caught up with the varsity, if you will.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: Will there be a carryover into the OTA practices when you have a full team and just in terms of maybe not as taxing or rigorous as previous years?

Yeah, it’s going to be, we’re going to be more cognizant with regards to our bigs, so it’s going to be a lot more 7-on-7 this year making sure that the quarterback, receivers and the back end of the defensive are getting in all their work. But the bigs, instead of the banging, they’re going to be a lot more individual based and we’re going to have a lot more walkthroughs to get the bigs incorporated, again trying to save their bodies.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: I remember last year you said you’re not a big 7-on-7 guy, so is that a little bit of a change for yourself as well to implement more of it now?

Yeah, we’re going to get creative. Somehow, someway, we’ll get creative to try to simulate a rush for the quarterback and all that stuff. You’re right, it’s not ideal. The reason why we do it is for timing, the team pass stuff. So, we’re coming up with a creative way to keep that timing and that distraction level for the quarterback.

 

Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: Robert, two things. Obviously, with you and Joe (Douglas) and company, this draft class, obviously there’s a lot to be excited about. Can you talk a little bit about your process in terms of now you’ve seen where these guys fit, this is kind of the first phase of that now. You’ve got all these draft picks in here now that everybody is fired up about, now it’s kind of on you and your staff to kind of figure out where it’s all going to work. 

No, absolutely. To be honest with you, a lot of that work goes into the draft process. You don’t ever want to draft a kid without a vision for how he’s going to fit within your schemes. So, these kids, we already have a really good idea about where they’re going to be and how they’re going to be used, it’s just a matter of getting them on the field, getting them up to speed and letting them get their reps.

 

Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: What is your excitement level with you and your staff when Sauce (Gardner) and company start actually doing stuff out there and you kind of start visualizing what they can do for you?

It’s always fun and exciting because you’re adding to your team and you’re adding to the competitiveness of your team, but there’s a lot of guys, our team has been here since the first week of phase one, so there’s a lot of guys who are busting their tails off and we’re excited about them, too. We’re adding to the group, we’ve got a really good group already, so there’s really no pressure on them. Just come on in, compete, do your best and we’ll see how things go.

 

Al Iannazzone, Newsday: When you drafted (Jeremy) Ruckert, you said he’s a bulldog in the run game. What makes him so effective there and was there more that appealed to you besides that?

He is one of those all-around tight ends. He’s got ability in the pass game, which wasn’t featured as much in in Ohio State. Obviously, they have superstars all over the place. To me what makes a bulldog in the run game and whenever you get closer to the line of scrimmage, your ability to strain from the highest level. You don’t have to be the most talented person, you don’t have to be the most physically imposing person, you just have to be the guy that’s willing to go until the echo of the whistle. He will strain his tail off to do his job and that’s what makes him pretty good in the run game. It’s a mentality when you get down in there and I think he’s got there.

 

Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: How difficult is it for a guy like that for you to see the receiving ability you talked about because it wasn’t showcased that much? There’s only a handful of those kinds of plays to watch.

No, you’re right. I say this, and I’m not comparing him, so please do not write any of this stuff, it’s the same thing, like George Kittle, had no pass game looks back in Iowa. Same thing with I think T.J. Hockenson. It’s a style of offense. You try to look at the athleticism and how it fits within how you do things and from there, you try to maximize what he has, and you develop what he has. Is it a projection? Maybe. But you also have faith in what you see and the plays that you do get that you can project them into more than what he was able to do at Ohio State. Not because they didn’t use him properly, like I said, they’ve got a bunch of people.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: You mentioned, just going back to the ramping things up and the more 7-on-7’s and OTAs and things like that. You and Joe have talked over the last two years or so or year and a half or so about how you’ve constantly done these additional studies and done additional work to figure out how you can limit injuries. Is this, maybe taken a little bit of a lesser strain on OTAs, is that what you guys dug up this offseason?

Yeah, it’s a residual effect I guess you could say. You’re stacking up all this work on the guys and you think you’ve got the 40 days and all that, but there’s only so much the body can take. Just studying and seeing what teams do. Teams that are healthy year-round, obviously there’s a player participation in all this, too, and making sure that they take care of their bodies from a regen standpoint and all that. We can help them out too, with making sure that we structure our practices in a way that really, not necessary takes it easy on their body, but gives them the ability to recover so when they’re on the field they can maximize what we’re asking out of them.

 

DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: What type of impact are you expecting from Jermaine Johnson and Sauce Week One?

I’m not expecting anything from the guys except for just stepping on the field and doing your absolute best. I know it’s cliché, but it’s the truth. Rookies, and all these guys, they cook at their own rate. They evolve and they become impact players at different rates all over the place. Some guys like a Ja’Marr Chase show up day one and they are who they are and then you’ve got guys who take three, four years. So, the expectation for them is to step on the field, lock in, do your absolute best every day, absorb all the reps that you’re getting, learn from your mistakes and see how much better you can get.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, with Sauce, during the pre-draft process, there was some thought that cornerbacks in your system maybe aren’t as important as edge rushers, and you wouldn’t take one at 4. What about him made him fit your system and kind of just describe your overall philosophy. A lot of people we’re kind of guessing what your philosophy was, but your philosophy when it comes to the value of cornerbacks.

I’m not sure on that narrative. We drafted Jalen Ramsey when I was in Jacksonville with a top-five pick. We had Richard Sherman, obviously he was drafted late in Seattle, but we went out and got him as a free agent in San Francisco. Corner is very important, because it’s everything we talk about on third down and on crunch time when the whole world knows your passing the ball and the whole other side of the world knows you’re in man coverage and it’s a one-on-one football game. That’s difference making. Sauce has the ability to do that in man coverage, but he has his zone coverage ability, he has tenacity in tackling, which teams do to us. They shorten up formations if you will, to get the corners tackling and all that stuff, especially playing the AFC North this year, that’s all they do for a living is make your corners tackle. The corners are, the perimeter of football is where games are won when you talk about your edge rushers, your tackles, your quarterbacks, receivers, corners. Because like I said, it’s game on the line, everyone knows your passing and you’re in man coverage. Corner is very important.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: What are some of the traits that you look for in a good zone corner? What makes a guy good in zone and how do you know because Sauce played pretty much press man in coverage, how do you know?

I’m not going to get into too much detail on it. You do see it on tape, talking, quizzing, watching film with the guy. You can see that he’s an outside the box thinker, he can see, he’s got great vision of the field, he’s a tremendous communicator, can diagnose a play before it ever snaps. Again, I’m not comparing, but just being with Sherm (Richard Sherman), I mean the guy knew the play as soon as they broke the huddle, he was like, “Oh, I know the play.” So, he barely had to play football. If his GPA ever reached over 16 miles per hour it was a rough day for him. He’s playing a different game. So, Sauce has a tremendous mental makeup to him that allows him to see the game differently then what most players can.

 

Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: I don’t know what the number is, 30 or something tryout guys, whatever that number is right now. How difficult is it for those guys to stand out and what are you looking for out of that?

They’ll stand out. A lot of rookie mini camps, you’ll be surprised, they stand out. The ones that are able to go to that next step. I’ve been fortunate, it seems like there’s always one or two guys every year at a rookie minicamp and they find their way to the 90-man roster and some of them make the team. It’s just a matter of putting in your work and having fun while you’re doing it. That’s why we structure it the way we do, to give them a chance to stand out. So, it is difficult, but not impossible at all.

 

Mark Cannizzaro, New York Post: Is there a player or two in your experience that you recall that kind of came that route?

I’ll mention one, Benson Mayowa was a tryout guy, comes to the tryout, dominates for three days, makes it to the 90-man roster, dominates during OTAs and training camp, makes it to the 53-man roster as an undrafted, tryout guy. He’s on the 53-man roster of the Super Bowl team in Seattle. That defensive line, everyone remembers how good that one was, and he was there the entire year and he’s still in the league today. He’s the one that stands out for me.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Before comparing Richard Sherman and Sauce Gardner, you had mentioned about how Sauce can kind of see the play before it happens, that he has some of those tendencies. A couple times when he was out there, it was just the defense, I think it was linebackers, corners, safety’s out there, when he wasn’t on the field, he would take his rep, and then when he wasn’t on the field, he would stand behind the guy who went in for him and went through the same play as if he was on the field. Does that go to show that? 

It shows the level of his work ethic. You see it normally, our vets, they all do it. If you stand back there during one of the group installs, they’re all kind of mirroring their position and trying to absorb all of those mental reps. There’s never a moment on the field where you can’t learn something. For him to already have that, does it speak to that? I don’t know if it does. It does say that he is aware of trying to grasp every minute and take advantage of every second that he’s on the football field.

 

DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: The defensive line having Quinnen (Williams), having Sheldon (Rankins), JFM (John Franklin-Myers), Carl (Lawson), how much easier will that make Jermaine Johnson’s transition to the NFL knowing that he has a talented defensive line along with him?
With Jermaine, I think what’s cool is to have, Carl Lawson already, when you talk to him, he’s already watched tape on all these guys and he’s already got a game plan for him on how to maximize who he is as a pass rusher. Just to have that veteran presence for (Johnson) will make it easier. Football is still a one-on-one game. It doesn’t matter if you have an all-star lineup, if you’re in a one-on-one and you can’t win then it doesn’t matter. So, having the presence of those guys creates more one-on-ones. It’s a matter of learning the game and understanding how to win those one-on-ones that will make the difference for him.

 

Andy Vasquez, The Record: With Sauce making the transition to maybe playing more zone that he did in college, what is the bigger challenge there? Is it like adjusting his technique or just what he’s been seeing and recognizing that and having to kind of change all of that?

It’s probably going to be the speed releases that he’s probably going to get, if I was to pick one. He’s used to disrupting at the line of scrimmage and slowing things down, so when guys get free access release, they get on you a lot faster. That’s always the biggest adjustment for corners, but at the same time, our zone defenses for corners are pretty simple. Just don’t give up plays behind you. When it’s crunch time, he’ll be exactly where he’s supposed to be.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, can you explain the significance of your sweatshirt?

Yeah, tragedy. Lazar (LaPenna), a young man who tragically passed. Joe and I, and the organization, are honoring him and his family. Not issuing the No. 9 this week. I’m sure the details have been released, but an absolute tragedy.

 

Dan Leberfeld, Jets Confidential: Robert, with Max Mitchell, you get to be with him a little more now. What do you like about him, what did you like about him at Louisiana and how good of a fit is he for your zone blocking system?

For sure, Max has tremendous versatility with regards to being able to play left and right. He’s got great athleticism, foot speed, plays with great balance. His area of focus is going to be adding strength and power to his game. Once he’s able to do that where he can hunker down and anchor versus those bull rushes, he’s got a chance to be a pretty darn good football player. He’s got a lot of work to do, but at the same time, his work has nothing to do with athleticism and just becoming, I want to make sure I say that properly, but getting in the weight room, developing his strength and developing, it’s going to be a little bit different when you’re dealing with power rushes from a defensive line. He’s got a chance to be really special.

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