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Steve Spagnuolo: The Focus is on Tampa Bay

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo met with the media following practice on Monday to discuss Sunday's division contest against the Buccaneers


New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo

Post-Practice Media Availability

Monday, October 15, 2012

Opening Statement:

"It was good to have a couple of days (off) last week. I think everybody was refreshed. I know I am, but I'll tell you what, it's equally as good to have all the guys back today. That was important. I'm going to go back a little bit. The last game we played, there were a lot of positives, but like we talked about this morning with the defense, we have a long way to go. There are a lot of places to improve. We started on that a little bit today with some of the things we worked on. The coaches last week did a lot of self-scouting. Two of the areas we focused on today were red zone and third down. They're areas we need to get better at and we'll continue to do that. That and run defense, there were some telling things when we went back and looked at that. This is interesting. This is not an excuse, all the plays count. Bill Johnson did an extensive study on this. We've had 172 run plays, 20 of them account for half of our yardage given up. We've given up 800-plus yards and half of that yardage has come on 20 plays. We talked about that this morning as a defense. We're not that far off, and yet you can't allow those explosive plays because they lead to bad things. Having said that, we'll move on. I'll answer your questions. Before we do, I know a lot of the conversation is going to be about Jonathan Vilma and certainly Will Smith. I think Aaron (Kromer) addressed most of where we're at with that. Jonathan did not practice today. He's technically still on the PUP list. The sixth game doesn't end until tonight's game is over. Week six isn't over until tonight's game. It's my understanding that he'll be able to practice on Wednesday, which I think is a great thing for our football team and defense. My understanding is Will Smith's status hasn't changed until somebody tells me differently. He's out there practicing and away we go. Do we have some things to figure out? Yes, but it's a good problem to have. I mentioned that weeks ago. I've talked to Jonathan. I've talked to Curtis (Lofton). I've talked to a bunch of the linebackers. Open conversation is always good. We have a bunch of team players and we'll figure it out. It's not figured out today, but it will be. I know one thing, it's good to have a guy like Jonathan Vilma ready to go. We know he's a long way away and he does, too. But you just have to love the guy. He loves playing, competing, being with the guys and wants to be out there. They all do, so we'll get it figured out."

With Vilma having a ways to go, is it more physically or more getting to know the system?

"It's a lot of everything, but we're talking about a guy that picks up things like that (easily). He's been right there step-for-step with all of us right along the way. He knows he has to get out there and get a feel for the game. The game's fast. It's one thing to sit in there in a meeting, but my guess is he's a pretty quick learner and he'll be up to speed pretty quick. That's my guess."

With Curtis Lofton playing so well so far this season, how tough is it to bring in Vilma and have to deal with a possible numbers game?

"We'll have to see where we're at. Like I said, Jonathan has to get in there and get back into the flow and the speed and all that. Unfortunately, that didn't happen today. For a while there, we thought he'd be able to practice today, but he didn't. That's just the rule. We're going to get the best 11 guys on the football field. We're doing that at all positions. Just as an example, you've seen Akiem Hicks get in there more. I think he's earned that, and yet we still have a lot of confidence in (Brodrick) Bunkley and Sedrick (Ellis) and all those guys. I will go back to Curtis Lofton, who I agree with you has done a terrific job for us. I talked to Curtis this morning. He's everything we thought he would be when we got him here. It's like Mickey (Loomis) said way, way back, get as many good football players as you can. Let's get them all in here, let's figure out how to use them. Jonathon Casillas is coming off an injury. We want to get him back out on the field, too. David Hawthorne, we want to get him back out on the field. We'll find ways to do it. It's a good problem to have. I've been on thin teams where you're looking on other rosters to see if you can get some guys, but at that particular position we have a bunch of guys. Let's get them out there and practice with the one focus being on figuring out what's best for our team to beat Tampa Bay. That will be the number one focus this week with nothing else in sight other than that."

What is one thing you've seen about Aaron Kromer as a head coach as opposed to when he was just a positional coach?

"To be honest with you, me being new here, I don't think you fully learn about all your counterparts until you've gone through a whole cycle. We're only a little bit over a quarter of a season in here, but I've been impressed with the way Aaron has handled things. Let me tell you something, that job, the shoes that he stepped into, it's not easy. I don't know who could've stepped in and done a better job. It just wasn't an easy thing with everything going on and all the uncertainty. Aaron has stepped in and he's been himself for as much as I know Aaron. I'm probably not the best guy to ask that. I think you'd probably be better off asking people that have been here before, but I know we've tried to rally around Aaron. I was very happy for him last week that he, as an interim head coach, has a win under his belt. I know that feeling, so I was happy for him."

Even if Jonathan Vilma isn't 100 percent ready to go, how much do you think it would help just to have him in meetings helping other players?

"I know when I talked with Jonathan last week, it's hard when you're injured and you're on the sideline to be the focal point of leadership and the rally-around guy. It's just difficult. We talked about that, so somebody else steps in there. I go back, I think Curtis (Lofton) has done a heck of a job. Now, Jonathan's juices will be flowing. He'll be able to step in there and do what he does best, which is control and manage the game. I think both of them working together is going to be helpful. I know I've worked with a bunch of Mike linebackers, and it's always beneficial to have somebody next to you that you know knows what's going on and can kind of be a helpful guy in the course of the game. Some outside linebackers just want to play outside linebacker, just line up and go and they're not saying very much. I can remember Antonio Pierce saying to me one time, 'Coach, do I have to tell these guys everything?' In other words, we're asking him to tell the line to get in a certain alignment and move the linebackers in, but he'd do it and both of these guys do it, too. I think it's nice to have somebody there that gets it."

Can we expect to see Jonathan Vilma in the middle?

"We're looking at that. We're looking at all different combinations. Again, we'll just wait and see. All the other guys come into play, too. We're focused on two names, but David Hawthorne is fighting through the injury, hopefully we get him back. Jonathan Casillas, who was playing good football for us before he got hurt, practiced today and hopefully we can get him back. So let's just get all the good football players out there that we can and try to win a football game."

What kind of roster move do you have to make to get Jonathan Vilma back?

"I don't know that. That's not my decision to make, but I'm sure Ryan (Pace) and Aaron (Kromer) and those guys will figure it out."

Do you think you'll get Jabari Greer back this week?

"(We're) hopeful. He did some things today, but he's battling that injury. It's an up-and-down thing. I feel bad for him because it's tough enough in this league to play corner out there on the edge on that island so to speak, and yet he's been fighting through an injury doing it. It would be nice to get him back healthy. Hopefully, the week has helped."

What stands out to you about Tampa Bay's offense?

"What struck me yesterday (and) I know there'll be a lot of talk about the quarterback, and I have a great deal of respect for Josh Freeman. I think he is and is going to be one of the better quarterbacks in this league. I thought they ran the ball pretty good. They ran the ball for 145 yards. That can't be lost on us. That's a team that really wants to run the football. I know they defend the run very well, so we're going to begin there and make sure that we don't overlook the fact that they can run it. They have a young running back there (Doug Martin) and then the kid that they've had (LeGarrett) Blount, he's a good football player. We've gone against him before. He's big. I just know their temperament is to run the football, and yet they have a really good quarterback pulling the trigger. He had three touchdown passes yesterday and looked pretty good. This is a good football team coming off a good win and an offense that kind of carried them with 38 points."

Where area you think the defense has made its biggest strides through the first quarter of the season?

"It's been ongoing. Quite honestly, none of us have been happy with where we're at. I just think that the number one goal of a defense for the football team is to limit points on the scoreboard and we haven't done that well enough. The other part of it is to give our team the chance to win the football game. We would've liked to have some instances in there where we would've done it. The explosive plays certainly have hurt us. This past game, we got the win. Certainly the pass rush was better, so there's improvement there. It's hard for me to look at anything other than we need improvement everywhere if we're going to do what we're hoping to do."

If you're trying to get better at the pass rush this week, what do you try to do?

"I haven't seen enough, I mean I saw a little bit of Tampa Bay last week obviously. Try to attack where their weaknesses are. In this league, it is about getting pressure on the quarterback no matter how you do it. You'd always like to be able to do it with four pass rushers, but that's not always possible. Maybe we have to mix things a little bit more. Certainly in our third down study, we learned that. We need to mix it up a little bit more, so we'll find ways to generate. They're another good play-action team though because they run the ball pretty effectively, or haven't but did the other day. It opens up play-action. Really what stands out about these guys is those big wide receivers that made, I don't know if you guys have seen much of the game, but a couple of wideouts made some big plays."

Still having Will Smith here for at least another week, how much does that improve your pass rush?

"Those guys were generating a little bit of that against San Diego. Hopefully with some fresh legs and the time off we'll continue to do that."

Junior Galette said one of the positive things about the San Diego game was that they saw progress with being able to get pressure on the quarterback. How much does that confidence help them to know that they can get to the quarterback in the game?

"I think that means everything. It's one thing to go against each other, go against the scout team, get a look, et cetera, but you have to do that in the heat of the battle. I'm hoping that they build on that. We need that. First of all, we have to be able to get people in third down. Let's go back two games ago, I do remember talking about how we didn't get them in enough third downs, only eight, so we have to get that first. That's why I come back to stopping the run. If we can get them in those unmanageable third downs for them, then we have a chance of doing some of the things we did two weeks ago."

With the self-scouting you guys did last week, how much did you question the approach to what you guys were doing?

"We believe in the scheme. It's proven. You're not going to get me on that, but I'm always evaluating not only the players and the scheme, but my play-calling. There were some things there that I think that can change. We evaluated it all. I talked about this before, you look in the mirror first, so I did that, the coaches did the same. We think there are some little wrinkles there that we can add or pull out, or continue to do some things that we've been doing well and do more of it. It's a lot. It's ongoing. That's our job, so hopefully we do it right. Again, the focus is on playing enough good defense to help our football team win the game against Tampa Bay."

Are you a guy that, when you have the opportunity to watch games on a bye weekend, sits down to watch games?

"There were a couple of games on. We had the (Tampa Bay) tape at five o'clock this morning, so we're already watching it. I turned on the Baltimore-Dallas game for a little bit because John Harbaugh is a friend of mine. So I enjoyed that. But I didn't want to spend too much time in front of the TV watching football when my wife doesn't see me the whole season, so I spent more time with her yesterday than I did watching football, which was good."

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