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INDIANAPOLIS – The season-ending press conference from Chris Ballard lasted more than 70 minutes
As we get into all these topics throughout the next few weeks and months, we’ve narrowed down the highlights of Ballard recapping the 2019 season.
We’ve broken things up into the following categories: 2019 season thoughts, Jacoby Brissett, Andrew Luck, Adam Vinatieri/kicking situation, the defense, 2020 offseason and personnel musings.
What were the highlights from Ballard meeting the media?
2019 Season Thoughts
-Opening comments on the 7-9 season: “This is a season that will be remembered for being a 7-9 season and that’s a stain that doesn’t easily wash away. We are disappointed organizationally of where we are at and all of that, all of that, starts with me. When we don’t succeed and we don’t meet expectations, that directly falls on my shoulders. I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to blame. It’s our job to fix it, my job to make sure that we are holding the right people accountable, including myself in areas I’ve fallen short and that we get this thing moving again in the right direction.”
-On learning from going 7-9: “You can always learn more through your failures. They stink. They’re not fun. But that’s usually when you learn the most about not only yourself, but also the people around you. I think we learned a lot this year. I think we learned a lot about our team, both good and bad. Like I told our team, ‘When times like this happen, change occurs.’ When we met (with the team) the other day, it was going to be the last time that this team was going to be together because there’s change every year. To sit here and act like we are not going to have turnover on the roster, that would have been being dishonest (to the team). That’s not where we are at right now. We have to get better. We have to improve and evaluate everything we are doing within our program and we have to find answers. That’s our job.”
-On Frank Reich: “I’m fortunate to have a partner like Frank Reich. He stands for all the right things, all the right things, as a man and as a head football coach. He makes men better. He makes our players better as men and he’s a heck of a football coach. Same to our staff. We are fortunate to have all of them. I couldn’t ask for a better partner than Frank. Do we always agree? No, we don’t always agree. That’s natural. But do we work together to get to the right answer? Absolutely, we do. That’s healthy. That is a healthy thing. I love the banter back and forth with both Frank and our staff. That’s healthy. Sometimes when you are winning, you gloss over some things that maybe you should have taken care of and those things come to light, and come to light in a 7-9 season like we’ve had.”
-On starting the season 5-2, and ending it 2-7: “That’s an answer we have to figure out. I remember sitting there at 5-2 thinking, ‘We’ve got a pretty good football team. But I also knew we had won some really tight games. Usually that pops back around on you and you don’t always win those out. Point differential is big. I always look at it. I think we were plus 8 or 9 at one point, always hovering right in that middle area. We were winning tight games and then in the second half of the season, we weren’t winning those tight games, whether it was a failure offensively, or a failure in the kicking game, or a failure defensively. In each of those tough losses, something would go wrong that we would not make a play. We are a process and people driven organization. That’s how we are. I thought sometimes we got focused too much on the outcome. That’s my fault. At the end of the day, you are 5-2 and you start looking at, ‘Wow, we are going to make the playoffs. No, it’s got to be about the next game.’ Frank is not this way. He’s a great process-oriented person. That’s his thought process. I think you could hear a little chatter of 5-2, we’ve beaten a very good Kansas City team, a playoff team in Tennessee on the road, we beat Houston, who is a really good football team, so we’ve beaten three of the top teams in the AFC and if you don’t continue to grind and take care of the little things each and every week, it’ll bite you. I don’t want to be a momentum team, a momentum organization. You start over every week. You are 0-0 every week, even after the season. We are starting over and evaluating everything. I think we just got caught up in the momentum of being 5-2.”
-On not having enough depth on the roster to get into the playoffs: “It guts me, to be honest with you. I’m pissed at myself for not giving our coaching staff enough depth during this season because we had a real opportunity to do some things this year and I didn’t do my job good enough to give them enough depth for us to succeed. That bothers me. Saying that, I’m pissed, but I’m not discouraged. There is hope. We have a lot of good young players on this roster. We just have to continue to add. In the moment, not happy with myself for not giving them the things they needed to be able to overcome some of the injuries that we had. The one thing about this league is nobody cares about your problems. They don’t care. They are just glad you’ve got them. Nobody cares about injuries. And to be quite honest with you, I never make that excuse either. It’s our job to make sure that we have enough good players on the roster to win, no matter what occurs. I failed in that area.”
-On Jacoby’s play in 2019: “Jacoby did some good things. I don’t want to look at the second half of the season and say he didn’t. Jacoby did some good things. I think, as a whole, not just the quarterback position, but our passing game has to improve, unequivocally. That has to get better. You have to be able throw the football to win in this league. I think we all know. The jury is still out (on Brissett). That’s why we did the short-term deal with Jacoby. Both from a standpoint of wanting to give us some security that we knew we had a player we liked and could go forward with, but also to see, and time for us to figure out if he is the guy or not. Jacoby did a lot of good things. But he also did some things that he would tell you he needs to get better at. But it’s a constant evaluation. And, look, everybody has to be better. Not only Jacoby, but we have to help him. I’ve got to help him with better weapons at times. And Frank has to help him schematically and then Jacoby has to help himself by playing better in specific spots. But I don’t want to sit here and act like Jacoby (didn’t do anything). He did some really good things this year. It’s almost like the tale of two seasons. At one point, the world is talking about him as an MVP, and then the next moment, they are talking about wanting to run the kid out of town. It’s never as good as it seems. It’s never as bad.”
-On Jacoby starting in 2020: “Well, I thought Andrew was going to be our starting quarterback going into last season, so, I’ll says this, ‘Yes, right now, Jacoby is our starting quarterback.’”
-On needing an upgrade at QB: “Anytime we have a chance to acquire a player that makes us better, at any position, we are going to do it, any position, whether it’s wideout, quarterback, running back, linebacker, doesn’t matter, so I wouldn’t just single out the quarterback position as one. Any chance we have to get better, we are going to do that.”
-On Brissett’s strong start, poor finish in 2019: “When you look at Jacoby’s performance early in the season, versus the second half of the season, all of a sudden you flip out T.Y. Hilton, (Chester Rogers, Eric Ebron), and then you have to flip in a new group in there, I’ve got to do a better job of getting them enough for him to be successful and for our staff to be successful.”
-On if he’s the QB from the first half or the second half of the 2019 season: “I think it probably falls in between. I think time will show us…He has to be more consistent: I think he’s got the talent. He’s got to be more consistent.. The good news is … if all of a sudden, things go a little bit differently here, we make a couple catches, the Chargers, Miami, maybe we make a kick or two in a couple of games, and we’re sitting here at 10-6, is the narrative different? I’ve asked myself that. Jacoby has to play better. He knows that. We do think Jacoby has talent. We do think he’s a great teammate, and he’s a great leader. But like I said with any position, we’ll continue to evaluate, and if we’ve got a chance to upgrade at any position, we’ll do that.”
-On Brissett’s two years of starting: “He’s a young quarterback that’s played two seasons. I’m taking that one out in ‘17 when he got the crap beat out of him. This is really his first season. I know we want guys to come in and light the league up right away. But sometimes they have to go through it and continue to rep it and see it. One or two years does not make a successful quarterback in this league. I think you can just look at the history of the position. Some guys have early struggles. Lets not forget, at one point, I want to say he finished the season 18 (TD) and 6 (INT). It wasn’t a total wash away like people are trying to make it. He had a good start, good first half of the season. And did some good things in the second half of the season, too. We just need more consistency out of him. He knows that. One thing about Jacoby that I like, he’s honest with himself about things he needs to fix and work on. That’s what makes him pretty cool to be around.”
-On the sprained MCL for Brissett, which will not need surgery this offseason: “That’s tough. That’s tough. Look, injuries happen. You got to be able to still produce – I’ll tell you this, when the season starts, everybody starts at 100 percent. When they hit the first practice then they’re never 100 percent again the rest of the season. And you still got to be able to still produce when you’re not 100 percent. Do I think it affected him some for a couple of weeks? Yes, I do. Long-term, did it affect some of his mechanical issues? Maybe. Did he fall back into some old habits? He knows he’s got some things to work on this offseason. But you still have to be able to produce at the end of the day.”
-On Andrew Luck possibly coming back: “Look, Andrew is retired. Do I talk to Andrew? Yes, I do. Haven’t talked to him here in a few weeks. I’m sure he’s been busy being a father. But Andrew is retired. And I think we all need to accept that. That’s where he’s at. He’s retired.”
-On if/when it has set in that Luck is retired: “Two days ago. let me explain because I didn’t have time to think about it – now I’m just being real and honest – I didn’t have time to think about it (during the season) – when Andrew retired, ‘Let’s go no excuse, no explanations but I wouldn’t be honest and real with y’all if I didn’t say that when the season ended, I didn’t have a moment or two when I thought about it.”
Adam Vinatieri/Kicking Situation
-On any regrets over the handling of Adam Vinatieri: “No, not at all. Let me explain why. In the preseason he had the injury. We shut him down for two weeks. And then Adam got off to a slower start. But then Adam settled down. There was a point in the season where we weren’t even talking about this. And then it got sideways again. And then after the Tennessee (home) game, his knee flared up and that’s when we ended up putting him on IR. I don’t think the only reason we lost some close games was because of Adam Vinatieri. I think we can all look to other plays in the game and in games that we lost that cost us at those moments, too. It usually never comes down to one play. Do we need to be better at making kicks? Absolutely, we do. Adam would tell you that. He’s very prideful. He would tell you that. Do I regret sticking with him? No. We worked out a ton of kickers. And the one thing I kept my asking myself when we would do that was, because Adam was kicking great in practice. His practices were outstanding. I kept asking our group and Frank, ‘If Adam was working out with these group of kickers that we brought in, I think we brought in 8 or 9, Who would we pick? We would have picked Adam. I told Adam that. Every time we worked out kicker, I looked at Adam and said, ‘Adam, if I had to tell you who I was going to take out of this group, I’m taking you.’ Do I wish we would have produced more at that position? Yes, I do. But saying that, I do not regret the decisions we made for Adam. Not at all.”
-On discussions with Vinatieri about returning in 2020: “That’ll come down the pike. We have to let him rehab his knee and see where he’s at. We’ll visit at the end of February and see where he’s at physically.”
-On Chase McLaughlin having a future in Indy: “We’ll see. We liked him. The 50-yarder against Jacksonville on the grass, that was a pretty cool moment. I think he would have made it from about 65. I’m happy with Chase. You come in and you have to follow Adam Vinatieri, you have a little something to you. He’s got a very calm demeanor. He’s got a good process that he goes through to kick. We like Chase.”
-On the defense: “Young. Young, still needs work. I’ve got to help them there. Disappointed in the last month of the season. I thought we were really making strides up until about the second half of the Tennessee game. That’s where it was just like a slope. Ball got rolling, and we couldn’t stop the ball from rolling. Saying that, we were playing with a lot of young players on defense. I remember looking up against Kansas City and seeing five rookies playing. That’s tough sledding on your coaching staff. I don’t care how good they are as players. They’re still rookies. Then when you start talking about first, second or third year players, I would say 19 to 20 players that we play on defense are all on the first or second or third year. And look, that’s an area where, look, if I can tell you one of the real problem — and this is my fault. We missed the leadership of a guy like Al Woods, a guy like Mike Mitchell. Those players, maybe I took it for granted a little bit that I could just throw in a bunch of young players and they would — I don’t think you can ever overestimate the power of veteran leadership, even if they’re not frontline players for you. Just when it gets a little hard, they’re a calming factor. That’s my fault. And I’ve got to do a better job of acquiring the right type of veterans on the defense and on the offensive side of the ball who can help guys get through these rough moments… I don’t want to underestimate the loss of Kenny Moore. I think you all know my thoughts on Kenny Moore. I think he’s the best nickel in the league, for what he does. I think time will prove me right on that. I think he’s a real special player. We had a major drop off when we lost Kenny.”
-On the schematic approach defensively: “It always starts up front. I thought we were solid up front, I thought we had a couple of guys that had some really good years. I think the interior, we’ve got to be able to get some more interior pressure. The 3-technique drives this thing. It does. Every time I’ve been a part of this, the 3-technique drives this. When I’m in the box watching our games, if a team goes 80 on us, dinking and dunking the ball down the field, I can live with that. What I can’t live with is us giving us shots.” Houston? Five of them. That can’t happen. Giving up explosive plays gets your ass beat. If you look at the tight games we lost, that’s what happened. Houston, we gave up five of them. Tennessee, we gave up a couple of explosive runs and the big shot at the end of the game. You can’t give up explosives. There’s two areas I talked to (Matt Eberflus) about: Explosives, and then I said, we’re not taking the ball away at a rate that we need to, to be successful. We have to be better at that, and that falls on me, too. I’ve got to find players that can take the ball away. We have not done that at a level that I think is good enough yet… We mixed the coverages up last year, too. To me, we probably played a little more man coverage this year than we have in the past, but we had our moments last year where we played some man coverage. A lot of times, it’d be a line of scrimmage technique, where they’d get beat off the line and not stay on the top and they get out-run. It came down to technique, focus, being in the right spots. Those things get you beat.”
-On fixing ‘glaring holes’ on the roster: “I might disagree on the glaring holes. We have things we need to work through. We have a lot of young players and young players take time. Walking in here three years ago, we had a lot of work to do on this roster just to fill some homegrown players, especially on the defensive side. I think you can just see it. Other than Clayton Geathers, there’s nobody left on the defensive side. And we still have work to do. I think you all know my philosophy on free agency, you cannot buy a championship. You cannot buy a locker room. We will continue to go down the same road that we’ve been going down. Saying that, when we get opportunities to acquire players that we like, we’ll do it. It’s not like we haven’t gone into free agency. We’ve signed Justin Houston. We’ve signed Devin Funchess. Devin Funchess is just bad luck. The guy splinters his collarbone and misses the entire season, that’s just bad luck. But when we have a chance to acquire players, we will. But our general philosophy is always going to be to build through the draft. That’s how we are going to do it.”
-On the Colts continually ranking high in injures: “We’re having too many. And look our guys do a tremendous job. I have great faith in both our areas back there, strength and training. Some of these… how do you avoid a high ankle sprain? How do you avoid a broken collarbone? The soft tissue stuff, which is down, believe it or not, and I think our staff saved a bunch for, that would’ve lasted even longer, they wouldn’t have gotten ahold of it faster…Saying that, we’re delving into every aspect to see what we can limit. We’ve got to do a better job of keeping our players healthy during the season. Injuries are going to happen. You’re not going to go completely through a season scot-free, and nobody gets hurt. That’s not realistic. That’s going to happen. We’re going to do everything we can to limit (injuries) and we’re delving into that now.”
-On if the Colts are changing their approach to evaluating quarterback in this year’s draft: “That’s a good question, because every year we focus on them. We’ve studied them every year since I’ve been here. I learned this in Kansas City, we always go through the process of studying quarterbacks. No. 1: Because you never know when you’re going to be looking one in the face, so you just take him. No. 2: Because you got to play against them. So, you want to be able to interview them, study them and at least know some history and background when they enter the league. So, I don’t know if the process will be any different than it has for us.”
-On finding a QB in the draft: “These are my thoughts on this. I think one of the biggest mistakes teams make is they force it. You can’t force the evaluation of a quarterback, can’t do it. Because then what you do is talk yourself into a guy, and then you set your organization back 4-5 years. We’ll going to continue to evaluate the position. We would’ve done this no matter who the quarterback was. And if we felt like we found the guy we liked, who was a good fit for the Colts, we would’ve taken him. and we’ll do the same thing moving forward.
-On quarterback traits Ballard looks for: “The character of that position, I think we all know, is paramount. Those are things we won’t bend on. There are certain things within the quarterback position that we will not bend on. They got to be smart, they got to be great teammates. I’m not saying they have to be rah-rah leader guys, but they have to be a leader in some way, whether it’s their presence, their actions, in some way they got to lead. And then on the field, you’re never going to get … none of them are a finished product, and if they are, they’re the No 1 pick in the draft. We’ve got to be able to look for the attributes that we want, and figure out what we can make better. What we can improve the kid upon. I think you’ve you seen cases across the league … and then you play to their strengths. I mean what Baltimore is doing with Lamar Jackson right is pretty impressive. Lamar’s doing a heck of a job. He’s playing his tail off. When we practiced against them, the work that kid’s put in, credit to him, credit to that coaching staff. There’s guys, there’s guys we like. We’ll go through it. We’ll go through it. Timing, they got to be available when you’re picking, all that stuff’s got to play into it.
-On what the Colts are looking for in free agency and the draft: “We’ll be consistent in how we continue to evaluate rookies and FA, character always going to be a paramount thing with us. Have we been perfect? No, but we’ve been pretty good. Teammates willing to sacrifice for others, that was a topic I talked to the team about, you’ve got to be willing to give and serve, great teams serve each other, they give to each other, it’s not about what they can get out of it but what they can put in. We’ll continue to look for players like that.”
-On coaches: “We are still working through that right now, but we do like our staff. I’ll say that. But Frank and I are visiting, visiting with the coordinators. We’ll make some final decisions going forward.” Ballard added that neither Nick Sirianni, nor Matt Eberflus have been requested for head coaching interviews around the NFL. Both were requested by the Browns last year, with Eberflus interviewing.
-On Anthony Castonzo returning to play football in 2020: “Let me say this, I hope he does. I hold Anthony Castonzo in high, high regard. It’s a shame that (this is) the first time he’s even been voted as an alternate to the Pro Bowl. I thought, since I walked in the door, Anthony Castonzo has played at a really high level at left tackle. I can’t believe people are just now starting to recognize it. We’ll see. Anthony and I will be in touch here over the next two or three weeks, and he’ll make a decision. I know this, Anthony loves the Indianapolis Colts, he loves being here, so we’ll see what decision he makes, and, if he decides to retire, then it’s our job to find an answer.”
-On the Colts re-signing free agent Eric Ebron: “We’ll probably move on.”
-On the safety position: “We’re solid at safety. There’s points at the season, especially during midseason, where I thought, ‘Man, these guys are really playing well.’ (Khari) Willis got dinged up at the end. I’m really encouraged by what Willis is going to bring to our team going forward. We think he’s young, he’s aggressive, he’s fast, he’s athletic. He’s everything you want. Malik (Hooker) was solid. He was solid. Wouldn’t say he was great. He had some moments of being really good. And I thought he tailed off a little bit there at the end. I really like George Odum. I think George Odum had some really good points during the season, especially tackling. The tackle he made in Kansas City to get it to 4th-and-1 was about as good a downhill space play as you’ll see a safety make. I would say that group overall was solid.”
-On what Tyquan Lewis has shown in two seasons: “I need to see more. I had a long talk with Tyquan yesterday. Last year, he missed, really, all of Training Camp and the first eight games with the injury, and then comes back and plays pretty good at end for us, solid at end, and then this year, gets hurt again, and the one position we’ve got a lot of depth in, we’ve got a lot of guys at defensive end, and then at defensive tackle we had some guys in there playing, and he was at a point where he wasn’t even active because he was coming off the injury. What I told Tyquan was, (2020) is a big year for him. We’re going to expect him to come in and really show what we think his talent level is. Where we end up playing him, we see him as a guy who can play both at end and inside, and he’s got to be able to give that to us.”
-On possible contract extensions for Ryan Kelly, Marlon Mack and Malik Hooker: “First thing, you know I’m never going to talk about contracts in the media. I won’t ever deal with contracts in the media. Two, that’ll be part of our offseason evaluation, who are guys that — we know, we’re going to try to take care of our own. All those guys we like. They’ve been good players. Ryan Kelly, really proud of Ryan Kelly. 16 weeks. Fought through, tremendous leader, is really starting to understand about the group, bringing the group together, being the leader of the O-line, fun to watch his growth. And then Marlon, unfortunately he missed the games with the hand, but Marlon, he easily could have missed more games. But he didn’t. He fought to get back in because he wanted to play. One thing about our locker room, and I talked with our locker room a lot about this the other day, we have good guys. We really do. And that’s an emphasis for us. Guys that’ll fight, fight for each other, play for each other. You’ve got Marlon, T.Y., who’s banged up all year and still fights to come back, Mo Alie-Cox. I don’t think people realize what Mo Alie-Cox fought through all year to play. Between a groin, a hand, I mean, he breaks his thumb in the (home Jacksonville) game, doesn’t miss, plays the Thursday night game, surgery, plays the next game, think about that. But the one thing that I did talk to our team about was, we need a little more friction. The team runs it. It does. They run it. Coaches, we’re going to give you direction, we’re going to give you where you need to go, but the locker room, we’re going to go as they go. And there’s got to be a little more friction within it and pure accountability, and they have to be willing to challenge each other. They do, to an extent. They practice hard, but there’s got to be a little bit more challenging aspect to each other, that when things aren’t going right, when things aren’t getting done the right way, they’ve got to be able to challenge each other to do it the right way.”
-On the wide receiver position: “We’re still encouraged by Parris Campbell. I think you all saw the potential. Misses most of the spring, you saw it early in training camp, then you saw it in the Tennessee game, remember he catches the over in the red zone where he runs away from the slot defender? Then he comes back in Pittsburgh after only four or five days of practice and you saw the explosive element of how he’s doing to add to our offense. This is a big offseason because we’ve got to get him healthy, up and going because he’s an important pieces for us going forward. I really like Zach Pascal. I’ve always liked Zach Pascal. I’ll tell you a story. Last year, I was pissed at Zach. Especially after the New England game, he had a rough game. I remember Andrew telling me, ‘Chris, this guy can play. This guy can flat play. Stick with him. This guy can play.’ Jacoby had the same feeling. And that’s two quarterbacks now that enjoy throwing the ball to this guy. All this guy does is go out there, he blocks, he produces, he does whatever role you ask. That’s exciting to see. Do we need to add more explosive elements to our offense? Yeah. We do. Just guys that have the ball: I don’t know if you ever get one out of the college ranks who is completely polished. They have traits to be ready. It’s one of the harder positions coming in this league. Can it be done? Yes. It can absolutely be done. You see it in the league right now. With all the press coverage, with all the different looks they get. Then with the physicality and all the things they have to deal with in our league. It’s not an easy transition. Just want somebody who can catch the ball and go score.
-On the free agency for Devin Funchess: “We’ll see. We’ll have some visits. I give him credit, it’s been frustrating for him. He was discouraged. He cares. We’ll see how it works out.”
-On Quincy Wilson entering the final year of his rookie contract: “His role early in the season was good, made a big play in Tennessee, played well vs. Kansas City, then we got healthy all the way through at all of the positions. We had five safeties we were dressing and four corners, and then a lot of it came down to special teams. Quincy’s not a core player on teams. Then you add (Rolan) Milligan, who plays on teams, you add (Clayton) Geathers, who plays on teams, you have George Odum, who plays on teams, you had Marvell Tell ascend, who plays on special teams, and it ends up… if you’re not in that starting three at corner, that ends up taking precedent. Special teams was a big role. And there down the stretch, I think his confidence got him a little bit down the stretch, and it’s something Quincy and I talked a long time about it the other day. ‘This is it, a big year for you.’ So it’ll be interesting to see how he comes back, and his mindset, but I think it’ll be good.”
-On Pierre Desir’s up and down season, dealing with a hamstring injury: “The Houston game was tough, he practiced like three days in six weeks, comes back that Thursday night and really off a week you don’t practice, and all of a sudden he’s thrown into the mix and he has some struggles. And when you have some struggles in big games, sometimes it steamrolls on you. I think it’s a combination of both.”
-On free agent Jabaal Sheard: “After Jack Doyle, he was the next guy we signed here when I got here. What a pro, what a pro. Fun to get to know him, the way he works, the way he’s in the locker room. He’s everything you want a player to be in terms of being a pro. You want to talk about a guy who fights through injury? He’s battling the knee, misses all of training camp, misses the first four weeks of the preseason, he just battles, great teammate. We haven’t made any decisions yet on who we’re bringing back and who we’re not, but I hold Jabaal Sheard, wherever his future may be, whether it’s here or somewhere else, I hold Jabaal Sheard in high regard. Appreciate him, what he brought to the Colts.”
-On Quenton Nelson and Leonard: “Pretty special. Q is unique, not only as a player but as a teammate. You all don’t get to see the raw stuff right after a game a win or a loss, I love going in the locker room, you hate it after the losses, but when you see this kid’s care factor, it’s like somebody shot him when things don’t go well for us. It is a deep hurt and it’s infectious. So fortunate to have him and he’ll continue to get better. He hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.”
-On Darius Leonard: “He’s a natural playmaker. You saw it in college , he took the ball away and made plays in college, and that hasn’t changed. Reminds me of Charles Tillman. Tillman was the same way in college, they found ways to strip ball, take the ball away, there’s things Darius need to get better at and he knows that, but those two are really special, special players and young men.”
-On the special teams: “That unit needs to be better There’s some moments in the season…like 17-17, 5 minutes left in the (Tennessee home) game and we get the field goal blocked for a TD when about to take the lead, that was a critical moment. That unit has to be better. But saying that, we did some good things. Everything focused on field goals and the extra points. But in the return game, really good. And I think we found some guys who can be explosive elements that we’ve been looking for in Nyheim (Hines) and (Ashton) Dulin with his big return against Jacksonville. Those are exciting things going forward. I thought (Rigoberto Sanchez) had a really good season.”
-On his thoughts about the right side of the offensive line: “Really good. They had their struggles. But they all did. We had struggles early on, especially with stunts. I thought they played pretty good, especially the second half of the season. Really good in the run game. The pass protection, the one game they had some struggles was against J.J. Watt. Then against Pittsburgh when they were in tee off mode at the end of the two minute. I thought they progressively got better and battled. All five of those guys play together. Live and die. One gives up a sack, the unit gives up a sack. That’s a good group. A really good group of guys who play together. I’m very pleased with that group.”
-On young rushers Kemoko Turay and Ben Bangou: “I think they have big upside. Losing Kemoko Turay was a big hit. I think you saw it. You saw it against the Chargers. I think you saw it against Kansas City. Neither one of those teams could block him. He was a fastball that we needed. I thought he really took another step. You always see a pretty big step between Year 1 and Year 2. Sometimes it takes a little longer with pass rushers. He took the step in the right direction and he’s worked his butt off to get healthy. Flashes from Ben, but need more. I think he’ll continue to develop. He has some of the same stuff Kemoko has. It’ll be fun to watch those two continue to develop.”
-On the linebackers, not named Darius Leonard: “Really encouraged. Anthony Walker had a good season. Bobby Okereke has some real special in his body. Saw the flashes. EJ Speed, even though we didn’t see a bunch of him just because he’s young and raw. It’ll be fun to watch him develop and see if he can become what we think he can become. We have good depth at the position, good competition. It’ll be fun to watch that group compete here during the offseason and in training camp to see how it fleshes out. We feel good about it.”
-On rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin: “He had some really good moments, and he had some ugly moments. Let me tell you what I love about this kid, he’s exactly what we thought he was going to be in terms of grit, toughness. Holy crap you line up 16 games and you’re asked to play some great players. All he does is work. A lot like Braden (Smith). Good day, I’m going to keep working. Bad day, I’m going to keep working. That’s why he’s going to get better. I thought the Jacksonville game, he gives up the deep shot where he got stacked, shouldn’t have got stacked. Saying that, I thought the last part of the season he played pretty well. He was getting better and ascending. It’ll be a big offseason for him. We’re happy for Rock.”
-On rookie cornerback Marvell Tell: “It was a learning experience for Marvell going to corner and asking him to do what we ask him to do. I thought he had some really good moments. And then he had some moments that were not so good. We have to even those out going forward. But encouraged by what we saw and we think he has a good future.”