FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA MEDIA CONFERENCE CALL
SEPT. 1, 2015
12:45 P.M. ET
CHRIS MCCLOSKEY: Welcome to our Football Night in America conference call. In just a moment we’ll be joined by Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Hines Ward, and our executive producer of NBC Sports, Sam Flood. As usual, we’ll begin with opening remarks and then turn it over to questions from the press. There will be a transcript available in a few hours after the call ends. That’ll be available at NBCSportsGrouppressbox.com, so feel free to go there to look for the transcript.
As you probably know, NBC’s coverage begins with NFL kickoff on Thursday, September 10th, Pittsburgh at New England, and that’s followed by the Giants at the Cowboys on Sunday, September 13th for the first official Sunday Night Football game. Let’s begin now with opening remarks. First we’ll start with our executive producer, Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Well, thanks for joining us today. We are excited to get going with the season. We think it’s going to be another fun one for the Sunday Night Football gang and the Football Night in America crew. I know Tony is looking forward to this opening night match up with the two coaches involved, Belichick and Tomlin going head to head. Always a good match up and nothing like these two teams in the AFC, certainly two of the elite franchises out there, and having Hines and Rodney on the show makes it a little bit more special because built in rivalry, both guys used to like to whack each other on the football field, and now they get to do that on the broadcast itself. So it’s an exciting start to the season with a wonderful match up, and then obviously the Sunday night game in Dallas afterwards. It’s going to be another great way to start the Sunday Night season with the No. 1 show in television.
All is good. I’ll hand it off to Coach Tony Dungy.
TONY DUNGY: Thank you, Sam. I’m excited, too. I’m down here in Tampa where I live, watching the Buccaneers’ practice and training camp and trying to get their No. 1 draft choice, Jameis Winston, ready, and just brings back a lot of memories to me of coaching and being so excited at this time of year, putting your team together, trying to get the right balance of work and chemistry, and everybody is excited at this time of year. Everybody has high hopes, and I think that’s what a football season is all about, so we’re looking forward to it.
Yes, we’ve got a great game on opening night, but there are so many teams that you want to see play and see how they come together. This is the fun time of the NFL season for me as a former coach, just watching these teams come together. So definitely excited, looking forward to getting started a week from Thursday night. I’ll pass it on to Rodney Harrison.
RODNEY HARRISON: Hello, everyone. This is Rodney Harrison. Coach talked about excitement. I’m really excited because obviously the Patriots are playing, and there’s nothing like the kickoff game, coming out and being able to hear the roar of the fans and just really the kickoff game when the entire NFL community is paying attention to that one particular game. Also when you look at both teams, they’re going through somewhat of a transition, as players move on, retire, but also both teams are going through a level of adversity with the injuries and possible suspensions.
But the one thing about it as I look at these two coaches, very experienced, very successful coaches, they know how to deal with their locker room, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens opening night regardless of who plays and who doesn’t play.
Over to Hines Ward.
HINES WARD: Yeah, and just to piggy back off Rodney Harrison, coming back and having that first game of the year, the defending champions, this is always a magical night. Everybody is tuned in. It’s the kickoff to the season. You have two great teams, and you talk about Rodney talked about dealing with adversity, having players not being able to play in this game due to injuries and other things, you know, I think these two coaches somehow some way find a way to overcome adversity, so it should be a great match up, and it should be a great game to kick off our year, 2015, and I’m excited to be a part of it, to be there, of course.
Rodney and I, we’ve had our battles over the years, but two great match ups with two great teams coming into the season. Should be a good one.
This is for Rodney and Tony: You obviously don’t know how this is going to turn out with the Patriots, but you’ve also been involved in very intense Patriots Colts games. I believe it’s week six that you guys have Patriots Colts? If the Brady suspension were to hold, how would that shade that game? Could that be the biggest regular season game we’ve seen in some time, considering the bad blood between those franchises?
TONY DUNGY: Well, I don’t know how much bad blood there is between those franchises, but it will be a big game, and it always is for the last probably 10, 12 years when those teams play there’s a lot riding on it. You’re always thinking about, hey, if we win this game, that’s going to give us a leg up on playing at home in the playoffs, and I’m sure all of it will be on the line again, and with everything else that Sam mentioned, all the other drama, that adds to it, but the bottom line is it’s still about football, it’s out on the field, it’s trying to get to the Super Bowl, so there’s certainly going to be enough energy even without everything else. I think it’s going to be a great game.
RODNEY HARRISON: Yeah, and as much as people want to say it’s bad blood, I think it’s a mutual respect on both sides. I mean, both teams have had a level of success over the past decade or so, and you look at these two teams that played in the AFC Championship, obviously the Patriots came out on top, they beat them, and the Colts really made some good off season moves adding a couple veteran players on the offensive side. They’re excited. They feel like they can get to the next level, which is the Super Bowl, and I think this is a team that can really challenge the Patriots to get to the Super Bowl.
But these are the two best teams in the AFC with the third team probably coming out of the AFC West, which I think will be either between Denver and the San Diego Chargers.
- So you don’t think that what happened in the championship game, the fact that it was the Colts involved in blowing the whistle there
RODNEY HARRISON: I don’t think that’s something that the players within the locker room it’s nothing that they’re even thinking about at this point. Belichick does such a wonderful job, is focused week in and week out or day to day on what’s in front of them. They don’t even look. They’re not even thinking about that part of the season. When it comes, obviously they’re going to be asked a lot of questions during the week about it, but he has a way of keeping these guys focused on the task at hand, and that’s knowing your job, knowing what you have to do on the football field, and not getting caught up in story lines and situations that you can’t control.
Hines, I’m doing a story on Mike Wallace. I was just wondering what Mike was like as a young guy early in his career with your time together in Pittsburgh and if you were at all surprised at times by how things ended in Miami with whatever happened, but surprised the way things ended up there with Mike?
HINES WARD: You know, I’m a little surprised how things went down in Miami. I expect more out of Mike Wallace as far as being a leader on the team, and when it comes to a huge contract, there’s a lot of pressure to live up to that contract and how he handled things. I was a little disappointed in that. But sometimes change is good, just to recharge the battery and get started in a new place. But what I do know is that Mike Wallace is still talented. When you see one on one match ups on the outside, he’s one of the best in the business as far as being a great down the field guy, and now you add in an Adrian Peterson who in my opinion is one of the best running backs in the league, is going to command a lot of eight man fronts, so for Mike Wallace it presents a lot of opportunities on the outside.
So with Teddy Bridgewater and his development coming along as a quarterback, I’m sure when he looks out there and sees Mike Wallace in a one on one situation that he’s going to give him a lot of opportunities on the outside. I’m expecting big things out of Mike Wallace this year.
This is a two part question for all of you. Is there a team or teams out there equipped to win three Super Bowls in a row which we’ve never seen, who and why, and the Patriots notwithstanding, can there ever be a true dynasty in the NFL anymore, and why or why not?
TONY DUNGY: I don’t think you’ll see anybody win three in a row. It’s so hard to even repeat because of salary cap issues, because of scheduling, evenly matched teams. What the Patriots have done to win these four since 2001 is unbelievable, but it’s difficult to do. To do it, you have to be strong in the front office, you have to be strong in the leadership positions of owner, general manager, head coach. They’ve been as good as anybody. The Steelers have been very good for a number of years. But to win three in a row, I don’t think it’ll happen.
RODNEY HARRISON: Has it ever happened? No, I think we were the last team to repeat in ’03 and ’04, and it was very difficult to do. You had veteran players who took less money to be on that team. I was one of those guys that took less money, and you have to have guys nowadays these young players, they want to maximize every opportunity they have, so a lot of guys, they’re not taking a million or two less of a contract per year to play. Then you have to deal with the issues with injuries.
We see how prevalent injuries are, just in training camp this year we’ve lost so many players. So I think it’s nearly impossible to repeat, let alone try to win three Super Bowls in a row.
HINES WARD: If there’s one thing that’s out there, I would look at Seattle Seahawks as far as what they have on the defensive side of the ball, having a good quarterback and a strong running game, so me when it comes you talk about playoff football, they have kind of the blueprint to have success. So if any team can come close to what the New England Patriots have done in the past years, I think Seattle is that one team. But to sit there and say is there a team out there that can win three and have success in Seattle, I don’t think so. Is it the Patriots, I don’t think so, but I think Seattle is the closest team that’s out there on paper that can come close to that.
RODNEY HARRISON: Yeah, but if you look at Seattle, now they’re going through the whole process of the transition. When you’re successful, other guys, the guys on that team, they want more money, and Kam Chancellor is a perfect example. You sign a contract, you have three years left on your contract, but because you’ve had so much success, guys start to think that they’re worth more, they deserve more and that’s where the tension comes and that’s where the dissension of the team comes and I think it’s a big distraction, and it’s hard to handle that type of success when you see other guys getting paid after you sign the contract, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, and then there becomes a sense of either jealousy or bitterness, and it’s difficult for the coach to keep that team together. That’s why I say it’s almost nearly impossible. As close as Seattle came to repeating, they didn’t repeat, and to even think that they I don’t even know if they’re the best team in the NFC right now because of some of the losses that they had. Kam Chancellor is out, they don’t look great in the preseason. So I think it’s very, very difficult to repeat that and to play on that level.
For Tony and the players, Tony, you obviously coached Peyton. What gives you confidence that Peyton can play at a high level this year, and will it be different at all for him in this offense with obviously a run based offense and having his head coach as his offensive coordinator?
TONY DUNGY: Well, great quarterbacks can play in any offense, so I wouldn’t say this is going to be a tough year for Peyton Manning because they’ve got a new offense or a different offense. I think he’ll play very well because he’s highly motivated to show people that last year, especially December and January, wasn’t the true Peyton Manning, and I think he’s still got a lot of the qualities that make him great. He’s driven, he’s a hard worker, he’s smart, he’s accurate, all the things you need. And they’ve got some offensive weaponry. So I think he’s going to have an exceptional year.
RODNEY HARRISON: Yeah, let’s not forget, Coach, we could talk about how he fell apart during the latter part of the season, but the guy still had 4,700 yards and he threw for 39 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions, so the guy still played at a really high level statistically.
And for Rodney and Hines, are you guys as bullish on the defense as people are out here that this team might be able to win ugly early as they figure out this offensive identity? What do you think of this defense on paper?
RODNEY HARRISON: I mean, who cares about paper? It’s all about what you do on the field, in between those lines, and from a defensive standpoint, you don’t worry about if I got Peyton Manning on my team, I don’t worry about the offense. There’s enough issues on the defense and trying to figure out and make sure that we hold up our end of the bargain just like I just rattled off those stats. I don’t worry about Peyton Manning and that offense moving the ball. They’re going to have success, but it’s up to the defense to be able to hold them in those tight games. When you’re a highly talented offense, there are going to be times when you can’t move the ball and you can’t score, but that’s when the offense looks for the defense to come in and hold it.
I think this defense could really be a top 10 or 12 defense. I think they have the pass rushers, I think they have the guys on the back end, but it’s just about being able to play together and have that chemistry and trust one another. A lot of things that you can see names on a sheet of paper, but it’s about loving one another and being together and being able to trust one another. Those are the intangibles that a lot of people don’t talk about.
HINES WARD: And just to piggy back off Rodney, you’ve got to have that chemistry. You’ve got to be able to complement each other. For Peyton Manning, like he said, you don’t have to worry about what guys are doing on the offensive side of the football. So I look at Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, they’re the leaders on defense, so it’s their job to keep everybody on the defensive side motivated just to go out there and do what they can control, and I think you talk about guys on the back end, you’ve got Harris and Talib, those are good quality cornerbacks that on paper you look at them and say, man, they have a solid defense, but it’s about playing together collectively as a group and complementing what the Denver Broncos are doing on the offensive side of the ball.
TONY DUNGY: I’ll say this from a coaching standpoint. It looks to me like this defense has been put together with the idea that they are going to score points, and if Peyton and the offense do what they’re capable of, I think they’ll be a top 5 defense, if they can rush the passer, and if you have to throw and try to keep up with them, they can suffocate you.
My question would be if they are playing a lot of those 13 10, 10 7 and it’s slug it out and run, that’s what I’m not sure of, but I think John Elway is saying, we aren’t going to be in a lot of those games, we’re going to put points on the board, and I think this defense is going to be one that plays very well in high scoring games.
I wanted to get your impressions of first round draft pick Danny Shelton. I know he was just down in Tampa over the weekend. And the second part of it is I want to get you guys’ impressions of the Browns’ secondary. They sent three guys to the Pro Bowl last year. Where do they rank do you think among the best secondaries in the league?
RODNEY HARRISON: From a secondary standpoint, I think they’re solid. I think they have some really good individual players. Obviously Donte Whitner, he’s a guy that he’s a really good leader. He’s a physical guy and well respected in that secondary. Hayden, I think he’s one of the top cornerbacks in this league. If this guy was playing in New York in a big market, a lot more people will really pay attention to him, but because he’s with the Cleveland Browns, of course he doesn’t get the attention that’s deserved. But I think ultimately this team, they have offensively that’s what people are looking at, what they’re going to do with the quarterback situation, can they put points on the board. When I look at this team, I think they’re heading in the right direction. I still think this is a 6 10 team at best, and they’re still at least two, three years away from being 9 7 or even 10 6.
HINES WARD: And the secondary, I think their secondary is built for the AFC North. You’re playing A.J. Green in Cincinnati and you’re playing Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh and you’re playing Steve Smith down in Baltimore, you have to have a decent secondary just to go against those guys, so overall I think collectively as a group, they’re probably one of the better secondaries in the league, but I think on the defensive side of the ball, yes, they still have to get the continuity together. But for the Cleveland Browns it’s what they’re doing on offense, and I think like Rodney said, they’re going to struggle still on the offensive side of the ball because they’re missing a lot of pieces.
And on Danny Shelton?
TONY DUNGY: I’m sorry, I can’t answer a question on individual players. I didn’t really see enough in having watched them. But I will say this: Defensively they made a statement when they came down here to Tampa last weekend. Tampa was feeling very good about their offensive progress, and they forced them to take three steps backwards, and it was swarming pass rush, it was very good coverage in the secondary. It was active, fast, physical play. So I think Coach Pettine has them on the right track as a group. I can’t answer your question about the rookie player, though.
My question is for Sam Flood, and I’m interested in what is some of the new technology that you are going to be instituting during the TV broadcast for Football Night in America?
SAM FLOOD: Well, we’re using the studio we’ve debuted last year. We continue to upgrade elements within that studio as we make it the best studio in television, and no real new technology in the studio itself. It’s just upgrading current systems, including Tony Dungy’s Coach’s Clicker, which we’ve enhanced with our partners at Microsoft to make it more user friendly in the hopes of giving Tony more space to play on. So that’s the one little technical play we’re working with.
But primarily it’s the studio we launched last year we’re incredibly proud of and showcases the guys and the games very well.
Is there anything coming down the pipeline in technology or virtual reality coming up soon or graphically that you are excited to look into that you might potentially institute in the next few years?
SAM FLOOD: Well, we’re looking at all of that, in virtual reality, we’ve done a number of tests in NASCAR with virtual reality and have some really cool elements that we’ll be playing with as we go forward. But until you get it right, you don’t want to roll it out.
Is this the year we finally see the Raiders finish with a better record than the 49ers? If you could give me a quick yes or no and a brief reason why, I’d appreciate it.
RODNEY HARRISON: Who has a better record between those two teams?
Yeah, if the Raiders will finish with a better record than the 49ers or not.
RODNEY HARRISON: To be honest with you, I have no idea. I don’t have any idea. I just …those are two teams, I think the Raiders are really a young up and coming team. I talked about transition earlier. 49ers are going through a heck of a transition. If the 49ers finish anything above 7 9 I would be highly surprised. That’s the best I can give you.
TONY DUNGY: I think the Raiders are going to be much improved. I watched them on our broadcast on Sunday night, and they showed me some things. Defensively, again, they swarmed Jack Del Rio. He’s going to have a good defense out there, and they’ve got some talented players. Derek Carr, I was very impressed with, Amari Cooper, Crabtree, he’s got some weaponry there. I just am not sure how well they’re going to be able to run the ball, and they are in a tough division. So whether they’ll win more games, I’m not sure, but I do think this is the year the Raiders are going to be very much improved, and they’re not going to be gimme wins for anyone.
HINES WARD: And I think for the Raiders, they’re always going to be competitive. They’re going to come in and fight, regardless of the record. They’re going to go out there and give it all they got. But I really like Amari Cooper, just watching him and on Sunday night just seeing his development. I’m like, wow, this kid can be special, and then you have Crabtree with his veteran leadership. He’s someone that can kind of mold Cooper and teach him all the little things that he has to know.
But the development of Carr, I really think that he has a big arm. It’s just a matter of just getting reps going into a second season. I think he becomes better, and they’ve got a nice young nucleus of guys that can really develop a nice rapport with each other. I see some positive things for them on the offensive side of the ball. But like Rodney said, I think both teams are going to struggle, San Fran and Oakland, especially in the AFC West with so many good teams. In the NFC West I think they’d both finish at the bottom of the division.
RODNEY HARRISON: Let’s look at it this way, too, guys. I don’t really put a whole lot of stock in the Oakland Raiders playing on national television and playing with a sense of urgency. I want to see them play when they’re not playing when they’re playing against Kansas City at Kansas City, it’s not on national television and it’s a regular Sunday, it’s week six, week seven. That’s when they have a tendency to kind of fall off and not have that focus and play with that sense of urgency. Anyone can go on national television and play and get excited because they’re on Sunday Night Football and they’re being watched by 15, 20 million people. I want to see them do it on a week in and week out basis, and I just don’t think with that bunch that they have they have talent, but the leadership and can they do it over a 17 , 18 week season, I don’t think they can.
This is a question for Hines, and Rodney, you can answer this, as well. Victor Cruz has talked a lot about how Giants’ receiver Odell Beckham in his second year is getting targeted and manhandled by defenses. Is there anything that Odell can do to combat that maybe from a technique perspective or anything otherwise that you think he can do to kind of help get away from that?
HINES WARD: All the things that I’ve watched on Odell Beckham, the guy is very explosive, probably one of the most explosive wide receivers in the league, and it’s frustrating as a defensive guy when you can’t even put your hands on Odell Beckham after five yards, so it’s going to be very difficult to kind of cover him, and I think what guys are doing, maybe hitting him a little extra, a little more when he gets tackled and stuff like that, but for Odell, he has to understand that that’s going to come, just because he’s such a great talent. So it’s just a matter…it’s more of a mental thing more than anything. The talent is there, but over time throughout the season, you’re going to see teams start to get more physical with him and start to physically wear on him and hopefully he makes some mistakes or whatnot.
RODNEY HARRISON: When you look at the Giants, the one guy you have to take out is Odell, and with Victor Cruz coming off the injury, who knows what type of player he’ll be. I don’t anticipate him being the same player that he was. Most defenses will roll coverage over there. He admitted it on television that he has problems with the press, and that’s what teams are going to do. You press him. He had 91 catches in 12 games; he had a lot of success, he was very famous, and the success came easy to him.
I want to see what happens when defensive coordinators come into the game and say this is the one guy that we’re going to beat up. Safeties, when you get a shot, hit him, frustrate him, push him, shove him, do everything you can to get in his head. I want to see how he reacts after four or five games if he doesn’t have 25, 30 catches and see what type of character he has.
I think defenses will go into that against the Giants and say this is the one guy that we have to take out because not only does he make spectacular catches, does he make touchdowns, but he gives them a sense of energy. He gives them an identity, and I think that’s big, and that’s one thing that really trickles throughout the locker room, like the fight and the energy that he brings, and it wears not only just on their offense, you get it from the defensive side because if you see a guy playing with that much energy and that much just pizzazz, that energizes the entire team.
HINES WARD: Correct, and it sets the tone for the offense. Like Rodney said, the energy that he brings to the football field, there was one particular game last year, when he played Seattle and he watched him go up against Richard Sherman, and he gave Richard Sherman everything he could handle. He got off the ball clean and really had Richard Sherman turning around in circles, and I think that just gave him confidence, going up against a top tier cornerback in the league and having success against Richard Sherman I think propelled his energy to the utmost, and I think other guys around him started to feed off that, and now you’re seeing Victor Cruz, he can’t wait to get on the field with Odell Beckham because of what he’s done in his rookie year.
TONY DUNGY: But don’t look at the stats in the preseason and say, oh, defenses are doing this or that. These guys’ first units are playing 12, 15 plays and he may get one ball thrown to him or two and the Giants are trying to figure out other things and who’s going when the regular season starts and he’s playing 60, 65 plays, it’s going to be tough to hold that stat down for the whole game.
I wanted to ask you about the quarterback situation in the NFC East. Obviously the Bills have a new starter in Tyrod Taylor and then the Jets with the Geno Smith situation and the Patriots possibly having to play Jimmy Garoppolo. Just how do you feel about the quarterbacks in the AFC?
RODNEY HARRISON: Well, I think right now I guess Ryan Tannehill is the best quarterback in the AFC East. A whole bunch of unknowns. I think it really comes down to the quarterback that obviously doesn’t make a lot of turnovers. I think the Buffalo Bills, they have so much talent and a really good defense and LeSean McCoy, two explosive wide receivers. They have got a good, young athletic tight end and a really nice defense to complement Tyrod Taylor. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense because he’s probably the fastest, most athletic quarterback in this league at this point in time. I think he will bring them some excitement, and he’ll be a pain in the butt to try to game plan for because some of the things kind of like Russell Wilson, you go into a game trying to say let’s stop this guy, but he makes so many plays. But I think Ryan Tannehill is the surprise to me. Everyone looks at his record and says he’s an average quarterback, but I’ve seen this guy continually get better week in and week out, and I think really he’s going to be the X factor. I think he can be a top 10 quarterback in this league. I really like him and his development.
HINES WARD: Tom Brady, maximum of four games out if the suspension holds up, but he’s going to be the best quarterback in the division when you’re coming into December and January, and that’s the one thing you can never forget.
The other guys, how are they going to play when the games are really critical, and that, again, is what you don’t know with these young guys. Tyrod Taylor is showing flashes, Tannehill has been pretty good, but when you get in that big game in December that you have to win, that’s going to be the question mark with all the quarterbacks other than Brady. I still think you have to say New England has the advantage at quarterback.
RODNEY HARRISON: Correct, and I think for all the other quarterbacks, Buffalo and the Jets, it’s more about being a game manager. You have a lot of talent around you, but it’s about taking care of the football and not trying to force the issue too much and just going out there and playing within themselves, to go out there and give themselves and their team a chance to win by not making mistakes.
Hines, looking at the Steelers’ offense, I know they’re going to have to wait to get to full strength, but how special do you think they can be this season? I know Big Ben was talking about 30 points a game, and second, how much fun would you have had playing in this type of offense?
HINES WARD: Oh, I would have loved it, even throwing the ball as much as the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing. But offensively I look at with all the returning starters that they have coming back, I think they’re right up there with the Green Bay Packers. But you know, Martavis Bryant, I really think he’s kind of the sleeper on that team. I think he’s a special player, and Rodney and I was just texting over, he’s the deep threat. He’s the guy that can take the top off the cupboards, get on the back end, and I think you add him, add Antonio Brown, and then you have to worry about dealing with Le’Veon Bell coming out of the backfield, and then Ben, who’s kind of maturing in his own way, this offense is dangerous, extremely dangerous, and they can compete with anybody in the league.
But I think the biggest key is losing Pouncey in the middle because over the years he was the quarterback of that line, and so I really thought coming into this year that their offensive line situation was pretty solid. But losing him, I think really dampers a lot of things, especially for Big Ben, because if you can pressure him in the middle of the pocket and force him to go outside and try to escape and create something on the outside, I think that’s something that I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to struggle as far as getting pressure up the middle and getting to Big Ben. Hopefully the offensive line can hold their own up front and give Ben time to find these explosive guys down the field.
RODNEY HARRISON: Yeah, and I’ll tell you this, Hines; they’re going to have to score 30 points a game when you look at that defense. They went out and drafted all these fast, athletic linebackers, and it just seems like they go fast in the wrong direction, and that was a big issue for this defense last year. Last year they gave up a lot of big plays in the secondary, so of course let’s get younger. But once again, we know how important chemistry is and trust in the secondary, so it takes time to build that. Probably the best player I think is Heyward on the defensive line, but he’s going to need some help, too. They’re going to have to score a lot of points because when I look at this defense, they’ve just been so inconsistent, and even in the preseason you see them flying around and missing tackles and not being 100 percent where they need to be, and when you’re playing against teams like the Patriots even if they’re playing with Garoppolo, they have to be precise. Teams look at this defense and they’re like, hey, we can take advantage of a lot of opportunities against this defense, and what happens if their offense doesn’t score the 30 points that Big Ben is talking about.
You know, as much talent as they have on the offensive side, they’re going to have to score a lot of points because defensively I just don’t think they’re very good.
HINES WARD: Correct, and that puts the pressure offensively for Ben Roethlisberger. They have to play almost flawless because of what the defense has on the football field. Secondary wise, I don’t know, I think they’re average at best in the secondary. Very talented at the linebacker position, but when you run the 3 4 defense, it usually takes about three or four years for these linebackers to really come into their own and understand how to play that style of defense in the 3 4. So I still think they’re young at the linebacker position with inexperience, so that’s going to be a development, and I think by having that inexperience at the linebacker position, it really puts a lot of pressure on the secondary for those guys when they play, and I don’t think they can do that.
RODNEY HARRISON: I think when you look at this defense and you talked about just the lack of communication and inexperience, if I’m coming as an offense, I’m spreading these guys around. I’m making them cover in open space, and I’ll throw the ball 40, 50 times against this defense. I just don’t believe they can stop anyone.
I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the New Orleans Saints. Number one, on offense how they’re going to manage without Jimmy Graham and who kind of becomes that red zone target for them, and then also with their defense, what do you see on that side of the ball as far as last year they were near the bottom of the league and tried to upgrade their cornerback positions and have some rookie linebackers now, so just those kind of two areas, if you can go ahead?
TONY DUNGY: Well, I’ll start with the defensive side, and I think with Rob Ryan, they went out to get corners because they want to play high pressure defense. They want to come after you, and I think it’s going to be a feast or famine depending on how those young corners do. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on them. I saw them play a couple times this preseason, as well. A lot of one on ones, bump and run coverage, and if those guys can hold up, they will be a good defense. But if they don’t, if they don’t play well, it’s going to be tough because it is it’s a pressure system, and it’s going to be big plays for the Saints’ D or against them.
I think that is one of the reasons maybe why they did let Jimmy Graham go, to be a little more ball control and pound the ball a little bit more on offense and not get in those high scoring games.
RODNEY HARRISON: I don’t think they let Jimmy Graham go because of that. I think they felt like he was one of those guys that was soft. I felt like they thought he was soft. They paid him that money, they felt like he couldn’t stay healthy, and they probably thought that he needed to play more. How do you replace Jimmy Graham? The guy is 6’6″, 6’7″, super athletic. I can honestly tell you I’ve faced a lot of tight ends; I’ve never faced a guy like Jimmy Graham. How do you replace him? I mean, Brandin Cooks, he looks good, and Belichick was very complimentary of this guy, but who knows what this guy, second year player, can he stay healthy? But Jimmy Graham gives you that big target. I don’t know for the life of me how do you replace a guy like that. He’s been very productive in his young career.
HINES WARD: And I think it’s also all about protecting Drew Brees, and they went out and got Max Unger really to kind of solidify the offensive line, and if they can protect Drew Brees and develop a running game with Ingram, I think that helps the New Orleans Saints’ offensive side a lot just because you take the pressure off of getting Drew Brees sacked all the time, so now, yes, you lose Jimmy Graham, but the emergence of Brandin Cooks, you still have Marques Colston, but yet the development of Mark Ingram, I think, having the run game really helps Drew Brees become more of a balanced offense, and I think that’s what helps the New Orleans Saints out.
One of the biggest story lines for the Eagles this preseason has been the quarterback battle between Tim Tebow and Matt Barkley. From what you guys have seen, how would you assess Tebow’s performance up to this point, and do you see him making the Eagles’ roster over Barkley?
TONY DUNGY: Tim Tebow is it still a work in progress. I would say he hasn’t played in a couple years, but I’ve watched Chip Kelly work with quarterbacks for four to five years now with my son playing out at Oregon, and Chip doesn’t look at things like everyone else does. He sees different things, and he had quarterback Marcus Mariota was not a highly recruited kid, but Chip saw something in him he liked and was able to tailor the style to where he could perform and perform really well.
I don’t know who is going to end up with that third quarterback spot. I think Barkley has played really well from what I’ve been able to see, but don’t put it past Chip to say, I can develop something here in the third quarterback. It’s not like he’s going to go in there and win a championship for us. He can have a certain role.
I think the question really is what does Chip Kelly want.