"The guys that aren't here right now – there are two rookies that are in school, Malcolm Jenkins and Lynell Hamilton/Shawn Flanagan.aspx">Shawn Flanagan, the offensive lineman. Then we had two veterans – Darren Sharper and Jeremy Shockey – and I've talked with both. To say they were excused today wouldn't be the right word because it's not mandatory, but I did talk with both of those players and we'll get them back in the fold here ASAP."
Were their absences family-related?
"Yes. Just stuff they have to take care of at home."
Today's practice seemed very spirited. Is that how it has been all week?
"Yes. You just have to be mindful – and one of the things that I said to them afterwards was that we have to be careful that it doesn't get escalated too much. The competition is good and that aspect of it is healthy, but again we're just in helmets with no pads and we're getting good work. Today was nickel, third down, a lot of substitution groups for both sides and I thought we got a lot of reps in in a short period of time."
If Sharper ends up being the starter at safety, how much can that help the younger players?
"There are a lot of nuances to playing that position and when you have a veteran player, the players that are playing alongside of him can benefit from that. I think that can help."
Do you see your guards – Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks – as a particular strength on the offensive line?
"Certainly in Jahri's case. He has come out and played at a real high level. We think he's one of the better guards in the league. Carl came in as a rookie and got a chance to step in there and play and has done a real good job. Both of those guys are built similarly and they give us some size and some mass, which I think helps you in the run game and also as it pertains to your protections and keeping the pocket stout, which you want for the quarterback. Obviously we feel pretty good about two young players at those positions."
What differences do you see from Lynell Hamilton this year as compared to last year?
"Probably the same difference that you see in a lot of these rookies. They're in the program for a year and they understand the terminology more so the learning curve is lessened."
What does a healthy Dan Morgan bring to the table?
"He's experienced and he's a guy who has been very productive and very successful in our league. The key with him is that he's in real good shape. He works extremely hard and he has trained well so I think the layoff in his case in regards to the physical aspect probably isn't as significant. The key is the mental work that he's doing along with the rest of these guys as they're picking up the system. As we move into training camp and put pads on, him staying healthy will be the big thing."
Do you like what you've seen from your core running backs in these three days?
"I think that we have good competition. We have two young free agents that are working to pick things up and Mike Bell and Lynell (Hamilton) have been here and have a pretty good grasp as to what we're doing, and certainly Pierre (Thomas) and Reggie (Bush) have had more of the playing time. I think those guys understand their roles and understand what they're competing for. They're all competing for touches – be it hand-offs or passing plays or reps in a game – and we have three fullbacks that are doing the same thing, all with a little bit of a different background and experience. Nonetheless, this early part of the OTAs has been good for those guys."
Do you feel a sense of urgency to add to that mix?
"Not right now. I know a lot has been written about that but like I said, I think those players have a good chance of staying in the building."
Is the intensity that the defense was showing something that Gregg Williams has implemented?
"They've been flying around and you can see that there's a big emphasis in turning the ball over, getting your hands on the ball and trying to take the gray area out of whether it was complete or not and whether it was a fumble or not. Anything that's on the ground, they're doing a good job of getting to the ball and I think that's a big first step in playing good defense and I think Gregg and the staff have done a good job of starting with that emphasis of speed to the ball and getting hands on the ball."
How is Reggie Bush? When do you expect him to be full go?
"He has practiced the last two days and today we backed off him. We expect him to be ready for minicamp. This four-day OTA week was week that we were going to limit him and make sure he got all the walkthrough stuff. He's feeling good and has had a good rehab so we expect him really when we start up our minicamp in June. Even then we'll be smart in regards to how much."
What impresses you about Gregg Williams as a coach?
"He's a good leader. He's a guy that outside of the scheme aspect of football, his defenses have played real hard. That's something you can see on film and it's something that we're having a chance to see now and that's one of the reasons why we wanted to hire him."
Where is Marques Colston right now in regards to his rehab?
"Colston is with Reggie in that he's going through walkthroughs. His goal date is the minicamp in June and the OTAs following. We have a minicamp the first weekend in June and then eight more OTA days. He and Reggie both are slated to begin full-speed work at that time."
Are all of your offensive linemen healthy?
"Yes. (Jonathan) Goodwin is doing well. Jahri (Evans) is full go. The guys that aren't – obviously Lance Moore is still recovering and we had a hamstring yesterday with Earl Heyman/Rod Coleman.aspx">Rod Coleman, but other than that, Reggie and Marques will be ready to at least get some work in the minicamp, but we'll be smart about it."
Has Sharper been playing with the ones when he has been here?
"He has gotten a lot of the reps with the ones. Today he obviously wasn't here so Usama (Young) moved in there to get some work. But Darren has gotten a lot of work already."
How is Usama Young's shift to safety progressing?
"I think he's doing well. It's only our third day in without pads, but I think he's picking things up well."
How do you see Tracy Porter and Adrian Arrington – two guys that missed most of their rookie year due to injures – progressing?
"The difference between the two is that Tracy came out and played and started for a third of the season. After his injury, obviously it set him back for the rest of the year. In Adrian's case, his injury came earlier. For both of those players, we're going to have a better chance to see a lot more from them. Porter is probably a little bit ahead just from an aspect of playing time than Adrian is. They're both rookies from a year ago that we expect to compete and contribute."
Has there been anything in particular that has impressed you through the first three OTAs?
"The biggest thing has been the overall attendance, as it pertains to our lifting and running and these practices. Everyone is here. I think that commitment is important. These aren't mandatory – these are voluntary. We try to emphasize that the most important part of this part of the year in May is the weight room and the running. We're giving them some football right now but I don't want them coming to the building feeling like we're in season. The season is long enough and we're in May right now. We have a lot ahead of us before we get to training camp and before we get to our in-season schedule. But I'm encouraged most importantly with the overall attendance and effort. That has been real good."
When you sign a guy like Anthony Hargrove, obviously a red flag goes up. How much weight do you give that?
"I think you give it a lot of weight. You look closely at it and you try to treat each case individually and spend a lot of time asking questions that we feel like are the right questions. If you get the right answers and you feel like your research is positive, then you're in position to sign a player like that. If you don't, then you move on. In his case, we felt good about those answers."
Do you feel like your locker room is one that can handle someone with that kind of background?
"We have a strong locker room. That being said, that's something that we don't take for granted and it's something that can change quickly. I think that aspect of who we're bringing in is very important. In his case, we feel like we're bringing in someone – and we have a little bit more insight in regards to him being that he was with Joe Vitt in St. Louis and we felt real good about signing him."
How is Tracy Porter progressing and what do you expect from him this year?
"He's coming back. To his credit, after the injury he was very involved in meetings and very visible in regards to what we were doing. He's 100% healthy now. We saw a lot of good things from him early on before the injury against Minnesota and he's definitely a guy that is going to be pushing to be on the field, not only in a sub position but as a full-time starter."
How is your depth at cornerback?
"I think we've addressed it and done a good job in adding guys like Jabari Greer and drafting Malcolm Jenkins. Losing a player like Mike McKenzie is pretty significant. He's a guy who has been a real good corner, not only for us but in the league for a long time."
What have you liked from what you've seen so far from Jabari Greer?
"I think he has pretty good instincts. He has pretty good quickness and agility and good ball skills. He's a guy that does a good job in man coverage and can play zone. He provides us with another player that can come in and compete at that position and I think all these guys understand that. They're not going to earn starting positions in these OTAs. That's going to come in training camp. This is designed to get these guys as best as possible for training camp and the upcoming season."
When you look at all the changes in the defensive backfield does it feel like a fresh start? Did they need a fresh start?
"There are a lot of new faces so it's different. I think each year your team really changes and each year you start from square one again. I think that approach – not only in the secondary – but in a lot of aspects of our team is noticeable."
What disappointed you most about last year?
"The biggest thing was in those eight losses, three or four of those games we had opportunities at the end of the game or the latter part of the game to finish and we weren't able to do that. Certainly that's an emphasis for us as we approach the '09 season. That would be the one area that all of us would look at. You can go back and hit a number of these games but our ability to finish was something that we struggled with a year ago."