Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur, 5.27
Brian Costello, NY Post: We’ve heard a lot about this offense in the last five months or so and Robert (Saleh) says it’s the best offense in the world. What makes this offense so effective?
I don’t know if it’s the best offense in the world. I do think the people that I’ve learned from are some of the best in the world for sure. Just the detail and everything that they know about this offense but what’s really separated this thing and, it doesn’t really matter what offense you run, it really comes down to the players. What’s cool and unique about this offense is yes, it’s the West Coast system, we’re trying to run the outside zone and do the play action stuff off it, but we fit it to our players. That’s something that I think I’ve learned from all the guys I’ve been around, obviously mainly Kyle (Shanahan). But just knowing Sean (McVay), knowing my brother (Matt LaFleur) and stuff like that so I think that’s something unique and kind of what separates this offense is that it gets fit to the players.
DJ Bien-Aime II, NY Daily News: Mike, in 2014 you were the offensive intern in Cleveland when the Browns had two rookie quarterbacks that started some games in Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw. How will that experience, just you being around that environment, help you with the development of Zach Wilson in his rookie year?
That was a little different than I think what we’re going through right now. Obviously, we had (Brian) Hoyer there when we got there to Cleveland where we haven’t had technically a (veteran quarterback) here when I first got here. And then we drafted Johnny. Then the other difference to that was Johnny didn’t play in an NFL system. He really never played under center at all. We were going to fit some of that skillset that he had to play more in the gun and do some of the zone read, Robert Griffin-type stuff. But it was a totally different circumstance in terms of what he had been accustomed to. So, the unique part about Zach getting here, obviously we don’t have a true veteran in the room so he can kind of step right in and get going with it. But also, the fact that at BYU he played under center so often. Obviously, he was in gun too because that’s where football is going and that’s where the NFL is going a little bit. But obviously just having that foundation to be able to play under center I think makes it quite a bit different than what that 2014 year was.
Brian Costello, NY Post: On Zach, I’m going to ask a two-pronged question. What stood out to you in the pre-draft process about Zach and then what have you learned about him over this last month or so you’ve been working with?
The pre-draft process was just when you pop on the tape you just see the natural thrower and I think that’s what we’ve all seen. People that kind of know football, people that really know football, they all saw this guy that had this unique throwing motion that was just so natural. But then there’s a lot of guys that throw the ball really well. What else can this guy do? And when you watched him you saw him be able to, albeit he didn’t have to play in the pocket too often with an NFL pass rush by any means coming at him. But when he did, he played well. When he had to stand in there, he could stand in there. When it wasn’t there, his ability to make quick decisions whether it be throw the ball away or go off schedule and make plays. So, there’s just a lot of factors that just popped right off of the tape that you saw that could translate to not just this offense but any offense. Then on top of it, again, having that background of somewhat of playing under center and doing some play action-type stuff so you can literally see it correlate to the system that we want to run which was unique because you just don’t always get to see that in college. I think for what I’ve learned about him here, obviously we got to know him quite a bit before we drafted him, but even since he’s been here, he’s a junkie. I mean he just wants film to the face. It’s almost like, by talking to my brother, he’s like, “You better not burn this guy out. You’ve been taking a lot of film with him.” But he’s the one that wants to watch this film. So, it’s unique and it’s cool to watch him be able to sit there and stay focused and process all the information we’re trying to give him.
Dennis Waszak, Associated Press: With that said, Mike, do you try to set the pace at which he’s hitting benchmarks in his progression at this early stage or do you let him dictate that at this point, how he’s kind of taking everything in?
Yeah, that’s a good question. We definitely have a system and an order of which we want to go about it and giving it from the ground up. I think I kind of joked with him early because when he first got here, he was starting to, he wanted to ask questions that were probably two questions away. And I said, well let’s get that formation down, and (he says), “Oh no, I can do that on my own I got that stuff, I’ll figure that out.” And he would, any quarterback would. But he wanted to do that on his own. He wanted to learn the stuff that there’s no way he can learn on his own. So, he wanted to hear it from us so he can start to process all that. But I don’t feel like we rushed it with him by any means. But there’s no doubt, obviously, the more film you get to watch with the guy, the more he wants to take in. We’re going to adjust to what he can take in. I think he’s done very well with it.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Mike, the West Coast offense is known for its very long and wordy play calls. Does that apply to your offense as well, where there’s a lot of verbiage for the quarterback to absorb?
Yeah, Rich, it definitely can get wordy at times and I think all of our systems, everyone that runs it from Cincinnati to Green Bay to LA to obviously San Fran, every year we try to find ways to simplify it and make it less wordy. There’s going to be times where it is going to be pretty wordy when we’re trying to do the can system, two plays at once. But we’re not, just because he’s a rookie and hasn’t called a ton of plays in the huddle, we’re not trying to trim it off. We’re just trying to make it the best system we possibly can, and he’s done really well with the words. We really challenge all three of those guys, James (Morgan), Mike White, obviously Zach. The biggest thing is obviously, yeah we have the foot work, we have the timing, we have the progressions. We have all that kind of stuff. Oh wow, you have a pass rush, you have to get the play calling first and you got to get fluid with that stuff. The more and more comfortable they get with it, the better we’ll be.
DJ Bien-Aime II, NY Daily News: This is obviously your first time being an offensive coordinator in the NFL. But obviously, you were an OC for Davidson in 2013. OC in 2012, 2011 for St. Joseph College in Indiana. And, obviously you’ve had your experiences in the NFL, being the pass game coordinator, things of that nature, an offensive intern. How does that experience help prepare you to be an NFL OC?
I think it’s like anywhere, whether you’re at the lowest level of college or high school all the way to here. You’re always learning. I joked that my first three years I probably learned the most out of anything. I came right out of college and had an incredible opportunity to call pass plays a year out and I look back at it like, ‘I knew nothing.’ But then I look back at it the year before that and I got moved to safety my senior year in college and that was probably the only thing that gave me a chance that first year because I actually kind of learned what defensive football was from a player perspective. It helped me for that next year and so on and so forth. Every year you go, you just continue to grow and that’s the cool part about watching some of the older coaches in this league. You see the ones that are kind of stagnant and pretty content with where they’re at and then you see all these other older coaches that are just continuing, wanting to learn. I watched Greg Knapp right now and he just, every time Saleh has a team meeting, I’m right behind him and he’s taking notes about the team meeting. He’s going over the schedule and Knapper (Knapp) is going to learn about whatever he wants to learn about that day. So, I think just this whole process it’s every year I’ve been learning something new and I’ve been very fortunate to be around some really, really good coaches.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Mike, I have a two-part question, more on your background. How much of an influence has your brother had on you, and secondly, did your relationship with Robert just grow out of his relationship with your brother? Was that just like a natural byproduct of that relationship?
Yeah, Rich, I’ll answer your second question first. He obviously, Matt and Robert were GA’s together. And I remember the first time Saleh came over to our house. My brother and I grew up in Mount Pleasant. My Dad was a coach at Central Michigan for a lot of years. When he got let go, he just stayed there and was our high school head coach. So, Mount Pleasant is not a very big town and Matt and Saleh lived about a mile down the street in an apartment with no cable or anything like that. They were trying to save every cent they could because they were GA’s and they knew that my parents were right down the street so they’re going to come eat our food and watch all the TV that I was trying to watch, and use our pool. So, I got to know Saleh obviously at a pretty early age. My wife Lauren, I was dating her in high school, she’s known Saleh since then too so you could tell right away that first year, when they were GA’s, they were really tight with each other. When Saleh went his separate way, going down to Houston, they just remained that way. So, I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve always looked at him as a really close friend. But then obviously getting to work with him in San Francisco, that’s when my respect for him as a worker, I think he’s very, very smart, but he’s an incredible worker and he’s really good with the players and he’s truthful. So, when he had the opportunity and he asked me it was a no brainer because of the respect I have for him. And then to answer your first question, just with Matt. I truly mean this, and I didn’t really know it, I did know it because I always idolized him growing up as he’s eight years older me. I always saw what kind of worker he was whether it be working as a high school football player, basketball, track, whatever it might be. But then the two years I had with him in Atlanta, there’s no one that I’ve ever been around that works as hard as he does. It’s like there’s 25 hours in a day for him. Then at the same time he doesn’t blink. It’s like he’s never tired either. I’ve always said that I wish I could work as hard as him. I don’t know if I can. He’s wired a little bit different. But I strive to and it’s something I’ve really always looked up to.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Did you offer him any advice on the Aaron Rodgers situation?
You’ll have call to Wisconsin on that. I know he loves him though.
Kim Jones, NFL Network: Hey Mike, we haven’t met yet but it’s nice to meet you over zoom. What are the qualities that Zach Wilson has that neither you nor any other coach can teach?
He’s got a lot of qualities that, first of all, again the way that he can move his arm all around. It’s hard to teach that. There are not many guys that can do all the different things he can do with his arm slot, and how big that is. In football, it’s always been big, but it’s just kind of, obviously been pointed out a little bit more I feel like recently with the (Patrick) Mahomes and the Rogers and stuff like that. Guys that just do it at such a unique level and that popped off right away. It’s something that I would never try to force another quarterback to even learn how to do. They got to do it at sometimes when they’re throwing some of the short passes, but he has a unique way of going about it so that’s obviously something from a physical standpoint. Then again from the mental standpoint, just in terms of how much he wants to learn per day. It doesn’t look like he gets tired of learning. It’s a pretty unique thing that if we only have a few hours, two to three hours and that’s all a quarterback’s mind can process for the day, then that’s good. That’s a full day’s work in terms of knowledge of an offense. He feels like, and we all feel like he can even a little bit longer with it so it’s pretty unique.
Kim Jones, NFL Network: Mike, I know that the hierarchy of the Jets, including, probably the guy who actually drafted him, loved that he was a point guard. And pointed to that, both neck up, but also I believe the arm stuff and everything. Do you see any of that there with Zach?
Yeah, I think you see, when you think point guard, you think leader of a team and obviously being the quarterback you’re the leader of a team. But not only that just his charisma with the guys, too. A lot of times the point guards are going to be the voice too, not just the guy passing the ball and that’s what you want the quarterback to be as well. Not all quarterbacks are like that and that’s okay. You want them to be a leader within their own personality. You can definitely see kind of that point guard mentality, that quarterback mentality, where he’s not afraid to talk it up with these guys. He fits in, from my vantage point, pretty well.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: What traits do you look for in your running backs to fit this outside zone scheme? Also, if you could just give a thought on the backs you have now.
Yeah, we get that question a lot. I think it kind of dates back almost to Mike Shanahan and that’s when this run game really started rolling with the West Coast system. And, honestly my answer to that, Rich, is they come in so many shapes and sizes. There’s definitely an element of being able to put your foot in the ground and go north and south. You don’t even need to be the most loose guy in the hips and be able to dance around and all that. You got to be able to just press it, put your foot in the ground, and go. I think that definitely stands out when you’re watching, whether it be pro free agents, the guys you have, or the draft. But like I said, and I truly mean it, there’s so many shapes and sizes that these guys can get it done with. We’ve been fortunate enough and I’ve been fortunate enough to be around a lot of good backs within this system that we feel like we’ve gotten the most out of. Could you repeat your second question?
Rich Cimini, ESPN: How it applies to your current personnel and how those guys stack up right now.
Yeah and it’s been pretty cool to watch them. I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with those guys. The thing that pops out is not even physically with them, these guys are mentally really, really sharp and it shows in the meeting room. I was joking when I was installing today that I got to come up with some better questions because they are popping off answers so quick to me. And I think that’s a credit to their position Coach Taylor Embree, he’s doing a heck of a job with them. But those guys are on it and that translates to the field. All of them have a unique skill set in terms of they’re all a little bit different. Ty Johnson’s different than La’Mical (Perine), that’s different than Tevin (Coleman). But I do believe they all can be productive backs in this system. So, it’ll be exciting to see how this thing shakes out. I know they’re going for it. And like I said I’ve really enjoyed working with them.
DJ Bien-Aime II, NY Daily News: Mike, you have Corey Davis who you really brought in to be the number one receiver and he was extremely productive in the play action game last year with Tennessee, and obviously play action is going to be a major part of this offense. What will go into making sure that that aspect of his game is able to translate into this offense?
Yeah, and Arthur (Smith) obviously ran a very similar system. Really for Corey, it’s just kind of what words did we change here that probably is a little bit different than in Tennessee. But a lot of the route stems and all that kind of stuff are the same thing. So, I think he has a level of comfort getting here and getting going. Corey could be good in any system. I just think he’s really good in this system because he’s got physicality, he’s got size, and he can put his foot in the ground, one-foot cut, and separate and that’s what this offense kind of started to become. It’s a lot of just one-foot cut, separate, let’s get the ball and go. And when you have a guy that can put his foot in the ground sharply, still run away from you, catch the ball, and like our quarterbacks feel that guy. You can feel him going over the middle. You feel like he’s got a big radius and on top of it, he’s fearless and the reason you know that is because you’ve seen it on tape. Corey can be successful anywhere. He’s made up of all the right stuff, but I do think this system fits him really well.
Brian Costello, NY Post: Mike, how do you see Denzel Mims fitting in? Obviously, a tough rookie year injury wise. How do you see Mims fitting into your offense?
He kind of goes in that same mold as Corey in terms of just the size and the ability, just if the ball is anywhere in the vicinity you expect them to get it. The thing that stuck out with Denzel, and obviously we watched him when he came out a year ago. We took Brandon Aiyuk in the first round. So, we were kind of done with receivers at that point. And then obviously coming here in the second round, but being able to really study him. You knew he was big but then when you get to him in person, he’s actually a little bit bigger than even I thought. And then on top of that, he’s looser. What I mean by that, he just looks like he has a wingspan of like Kevin Durant. He’s got tons of range as long as that balls anywhere around him. I think for him it’s just going to be that transition to the NFL. It’s no excuse, but the reality is, all those rookies last year, particularly the receivers, I think it’s so hard to translate from college to pro because it’s such a different game for receivers because of the coverages that they’re seeing in terms of the tight bump. He just needs to work and get out there and put as many reps on tape to start to get adjusted to this game because he didn’t have the offseason last year. Then he came in in training camp and was hurt so then he ended up missing the first part. And, he ended up having a pretty decent back half of the year but I’m excited to work with him. He’s eager. He’s a really cool dude to work with. But he’s just going to have to get out there and again, it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.