Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur, 6.16
DJ Bien-Aime II, NY Daily News: How would you assess Zach Wilson’s performance throughout the entire offseason?
How would I access it? It’s been a learning curve for him. We’ve thrown a lot at him. We had a plan, like I told you guys last time, we go through an installation schedule; you get your two minute, you get your situational football. I thought these last two weeks have been awesome for him. We’ve done so many “call it” periods where you know he doesn’t have the script and he just has to hear me through the walkie talkie and make sure not only is he calling it correctly, but getting everyone else aligned as part of the quarterback’s job. And when you’re basically in your third week of just calling plays within this offense and an 11-on-11 situation, I thought he did a really good job with that. He put so much time into it. You know, it’s funny because you get asked the question, “How is his day-to-day?” Well, we look at it kind of like play-to-play. I don’t even know how his days go half the time, I’m just like ‘How was he on that play?’ Because each play is its own story. And just because it’s one concept, he might have that concept three times in a day against the same coverage, but because it’s different guys in different alignments it’s a whole different world to him and to see it all in that space and stuff, so it’s cool because he recognizes all that, he learns, and he’s eager.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Were those last two team periods today an example of going off and unscripted stuff, you looked like you were in live game situations? Those two long drives, was that all unscripted too?
Yeah, so everything that was not seven-on-seven today, was unscripted. We obviously go in with a plan, Rich, just different stuff that we want to run, but really the last two weeks, (Robert) Saleh has given us a lot of opportunities to do unscripted. Even seven-on-sevens last week which normally you don’t do unscripted because, ‘How real of football is it?’ But we thought it was important because we had such a lack of amount of team reps, just with some of the low numbers of D-linemen. That was important that we just had some “call it” periods in the seven-on-seven, not only for Zach and the other quarterbacks, but also for receivers just hearing it, not getting to a script and getting with Miles (Austin) and, “Hey what do I got on this? What do I have on this one? On that one?” But seeing what you know and challenging yourself. So, we had a lot of them over the last two weeks, and for the most part, the guys did a pretty good job.
Brian Costello, NY Post: Mike, Elijah Moore has been pretty impressive from our vantage point, watching during practices that are open to us. I’m curious what you thought of him and what has stood out to you about him.
Obviously, you guys have been here quite a bit, you’ve seen him making plays, you can’t hide that. The cool part about Elijah is that this guy just works. And I know a lot of people say that, but he does, and he puts in a lot of time whether it be 7:00 in the morning, on the Juggs in the indoor, taking it to the meetings, or being prepared with the scripted plays. Understanding it’s really tough on rookie receivers in any system, and with the moving parts in our system, and I think it can be even a little bit tougher in our system. I think it takes some time, and Miles Austin’s done an awesome job of putting them at X putting, putting them at C, putting them on F, which when I was a receiver coach, I was almost a little bit nervous to do. I wanted to see these guys have a little bit of success, I knew how hard it was, and he’s embraced it and goes after it and he’s a fun dude to coach and whatever success he has, he’s going to earn it.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: It seems like you ramp things up a little bit with Zach, in terms of aggression. We saw you at least call plays in which he was going down the field more to Elijah, we saw him even on the first play of practice yesterday he got more aggressive taking a shot at Corey Davis. How far along in his progression is that, is that what you wanted to do this week, ramp up a little bit and having him take a little more shots?
It’s funny you say that, Connor, because it kind of organically happened. I know yesterday, with all of the “call-it” periods, we looked at it and was like, ‘Man, we took a lot of shots. We put a lot of mileage on their charts yesterday.’ And it did kind of just happen. At the same time, we just noticed, and last week, you know you don’t gameplan your own defense, but you’re watching how defenders are starting to defend you, and we’re doing a lot of short stuff, and getting the ball out and all that. And guys started squatting, so I think organically, we just say we got to push the ball a little bit down the field. Some success was happening yesterday, so it just kind of naturally was happening more and guys were feeling good about it so we just kept pushing that so I think it organically happened to answer your question. But it was definitely good to have a mix of both, especially over these past two weeks.
Andy Vasquez, The Record: One of the things that Zach said today is that even on the good days, there’s a lot of frustration. So, I’m just curious, how does he kind of deal with that frustration? Is he a guy you need to pep talk, or does he kind of just put his head down and go to work? What has it been like when things aren’t going?
He certainly does not need a pep talk. He is so internally motivated to obviously be the best and all that, whatever, but to learn, and that’s what’s unique. And then there’s that whole quarterback room, it’s not like we go in there good day or bad day or whatever. Like I said, we watched it as a staff, we put it away from a staff perspective, then we go into our individual rooms, myself in the quarterback room, and we talk about each play and you almost forget about whether it was a good day or bad day. How were you on this play? So that’s kind of how he approaches it, so that’s what is cool about it, he understands that this whole thing, like I said- it’s kind of cliché- but each play is its own story and you just hope you can retain as much as you can. These guys are gone for 40 days and it’ll be crucial for them, not to just check-out completely, particularly, in the first year, and go back and revisit these practices on their iPads and stuff like that, trying to relive that moment.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Mike, could you give us an overview of the tight end position right now, how you see it?
They’re all competing. It’s a cool group because there’s a good mix of a little bit of youth but also a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. Griff (Ryan Griffin), (Tyler) Kroft, and (Chris) Herndon going into his fourth year, and obviously (Trevon) Wesco. I got to know Wesco before I knew any of these guys from our Senior Bowl. It’s a group that, they’re pros. They approach it the right way, they’re prepared. Ron Middleton, their tight end coach, does an awesome job of coaching these guys and finding ways to simplify it and say very efficient words which I think is a key to really good coaching. But at the same time, you just know what you’re going to get from them. Every single day, it’s not like they have ups and downs. I know, yeah you have a drop and stuff, but I don’t consider that ups and downs. I want to see guys breaking the huddle, understanding what they’re doing, staying focused, and being on their details. You’re going to drop balls, that is what it is, and in this league if you drop too many you’re going to be out of it anyways. We don’t really worry about that, they’re going to catch the ball when the time comes. But that’s what has stood out with this group. They’re pros and they’ve played on Sunday’s before, you can tell.
Connor Hughes, The Athletic: How would you assess Chris Herndon? He’s a guy who obviously had a pretty difficult season last year, not what he expected or what this team expected. You’ve had him now throughout OTA’s, I know he wasn’t there today but a couple Mini Camp practices, where would you assess where he is?
It’s like a lot of our guys, it’s the first year in the system for him as well. I believe he’s learned three systems in four years already. Obviously, it was documented last year just how he came on towards the back half and had a good rookie year that put him on the scene. He’s a talented dude and it’ll be fun for those guys, right now, particularly in the last few weeks I feel like we’ve been in a lot of 11-personnel sets so we’re having one guy out there. He missed a little bit of time with some things but it’ll be huge for him when he gets back and rehears this system, talk to him again and gets in there with pads and we’re out there in those unscripted periods where he has a chance to go out there and make those plays.
DJ Bien-Aime II, New York Daily News: Mike, we’ve been seeing Keelan Cole run with the ones, what have you seen from him so far that’s put him in that position where he could possibly be a starter?
Again, kind of like what I was just saying with the tight ends, Keelan has played in this league. He had a really good rookie year and he’s had three pretty solid years after that. He’s a dude that, like I said, the games not too big for him. He loves to be out there, he loves to play. He’s got an infectious personality. He loves coming to work, he’s going to have fun out there but that’s cool, he’s within his own personality. He’s going to be a little goofy at times and stuff like that, that’s cool, that’s who he is, that’s who we want him to be. He’s out there making plays. I know, for me, every time he’s out there you just feel like he’s going to get it done in his own little way. It’s a unique way but he’s very confident in himself and I know we all are as well.
Brian Costello, New York Post: Mike, we all saw what you did in San Francisco with (Kyle) Juszczyk at fullback and that’s kind of unusual to use a fullback now in the NFL. There’s not a natural one on this roster, I know Wesco has done a little bit in the last offense. How do you see that right now, would you use Wesco there? Do you need a fullback in the offense, what’s your philosophy there?
You like to have a fullback. You like to be in those traditional 21-personnel formations, Brian, it just keeps the defense balanced a little bit more. You can go lead their way so you can control the angles, particularly in the run game and obviously all the play passes that come off of it. Juice (Juszczyk) was the traditional fullback, there’s no doubt, and he’s obviously performed at a high level, maybe one of the best ever, who knows. He’s certainly gotten paid like the best ever, and I love Juice, so he deserves all of it. And that’s kind of what Wesco has been doing for us. It’s cool because, again, knowing Wesco from the Senior Bowl, we played him a little bit at fullback, and got to know him. He was really the same guy there as he is here in terms of his personality. He’s a very confident dude, he loves being out there and yes, he is our fullback right now. Is he going to do all the same stuff that Juice could do? Probably not. Is he going to do some stuff that Juice couldn’t do? Absolutely. He’s a bigger body, he’s longer. He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations. So, he’s embracing it. The fullback, kind of like our tight end, which obviously Wesco is a tight end, has a lot of moving parts and you’ve got to be able to process what’s going on post-snap and change direction, do all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a challenge but he’s a guy that has done a really good job at it and it’ll be really cool when we put on the pads and get into training camp and preseason.
DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Mike, when it goes to the evaluation period, whether it’s the o-line or running backs, obviously we’re in t-shirts and shorts, how difficult is that evaluation on reading, watching the film, understanding, how much can you take away from when people are in t-shirts and shorts versus when they get in pads?
It’s tough. The cool part at least all 32 teams are going through the same thing. So that makes it a little easier, having that unknown, knowing all the other teams are going through the same process. What you can see is, do they fit what we’re asking to do? Particularly, the O-line with our outside zone scheme. Are they getting the techniques down, you’re not always going to be able to see the finish. You’re not always going to see the strain that you need on Sundays to win football games. You can see the technique stuff, you can see if they have the movement skills, no matter what position. It’s the same for backs. I thought our backs, I said it last time, have done an awesome job, DJ. They all bring something a little bit different to the table. But the moment of truth will come when the pads are on and we’re in that first preseason game, to the third, to the first regular season game. That’s when we’re really going to find out who some of these guys are.
Al Iannazzone, Newsday: Going back to Elijah for a second, when you talk about him coming in at 7:00 in the morning, Brant (Boyer) said something like that last week too, have you had a lot of receivers do that, especially as a rookie? And what do you think that says about him?
Yeah, I’m not going to throw any other names out there, but it’s not like any other rookies or vets aren’t in there at 7:00 or working their butts off, that’s just what Elijah is doing. I think it says that this guy wants to be really, really good in this league, and he wants to make a name for himself. He’s so internally motivated and driven, you can just tell, even on a good rep, it doesn’t matter to him he’s just like, “What can I do better.” Sometimes it’s like, ‘Elijah, I really don’t have a coaching point for you right there, it was really good.’ You got your own flair to some things and we want you to do that. We’ll talk about it and, what’s cool about him is it’s like, ‘Well, what did you think?’ And he’s going to give you his honest answer, and he understands the ins and outs of playing receiver. Now he’s just adjusting to the speed of the game and stuff like that. Again, I know it’s a broken record already but, when we get the pads on and it’s real, and I’m not standing back there, and Miles isn’t standing back there, it’s going to be fast for him, because it’s new. There’s no doubt he’s going to work to be the best he can be, starting right from the get-go. To continue on with him, you can see it with some rookies that come into this league, like just give me a year and I’ll figure out this scheme, he doesn’t want to wait a year. He wants it now, and he’s going for it and I think it shows out there.
Rich Cimini, ESPN: Mike, can you think of a specific example, regarding Zach, of something that he did in these last two days, against a certain coverage, or a certain decision he had to make whereas maybe a month ago that he wasn’t doing that? An area where he specifically improved in?
Yeah Rich, the first thing that pops up is literally just his footwork within any of our concepts, particularly our drop back stuff. You say take a five-step drop on a concept and yes, no matter what level you’re at you have to know who you’re throwing to and you got to be able to tempo that drop out. All the sudden, everyone here is a little bit faster. Well then, all the sudden we get down to the red zone and things speed up, and he organically, we wanted him to do this, he somewhat changed his drops to marry the timing of this offense. If (Greg) Knapp, Rob (Calabrese), and I just tell him it’s got to look like this drop, it’s not going to be as natural. That’s where I thought it was cool, we stood back a little bit and just watched him organically understand, ‘Why’d you think this was off?’ “I just was a little bit late with the drop, I could speed up my drop.” ‘How are you going to do that?’ We can talk about it but, he’d go show us, and it was pretty cool and that was the thing where you’ve seen him evolve. You didn’t have to overly talk to him about that stuff because he understands when something is a little bit off and how to fix things.
(follow up) That’s just football instinct, right? That’s coming out in him?
Totally. Not only that, sometimes coaches talk to these players and (they think), “Coach said it, I’m going to do it.” He’s thinking about it. He’s not just thinking about it when he’s in the building, he’s thinking about it when he’s back at the (hotel), just sitting away from the facility, he’s trying to process all this kind of stuff and it’s pretty cool to watch.