Q. I know WR Jalen Reagor was back for his first game before the bye but going forward at punt returner would you like to see him mixed in a little bit more there? (Dave Zangaro)
COACH FIPP: We’ll see with Jalen. Obviously, he just got back. He had been not able to practice for a long time, we didn’t want to just throw him right back there in that situation but I’m sure as we get going, we’ll work him back in and see him more and more back there.
Q. P Cameron Johnston is fourth in net average but as far as the percentage of his punts that are getting returned this year, it’s higher than the previous two years, but I mean your coverage units have been for the most part reliable. Is that fine with you? His percentage of returns?(Paul Domowitch)
COACH FIPP: That number is obviously high, I think for a handful of different reasons, but I would say the most important number for us really at the end of that play is the net. Now, it gets a little bit different as you move the ball down the field and you get into that, what we call kind of that “fringe area”, where you’re right around midfield and then obviously that plus 50 area when you push across the 50-yard line. Then we kind of start to target some different goals, I think that goes to where like some of the statistics can get diluted.
But yeah, I mean, when our field net, I think it’s pretty high up there around 45 plus yards, when you just break down some of those punts that are out in the field. That and the field is our most important statistic. I would say if we could keep the opponent from returning some of those balls, sure, that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. I think our guys have done a really good job in coverage, they’ve been really disciplined and sound. But if we could get that number down a little bit, maybe some fair catches or even try to find some ways to get the ball rolling on the ground a little bit, some of your better nets come that way that wouldn’t be a terrible thing either. Obviously that group overall has done a nice job in the first eight games, obviously we got a long way to go and a lot of football play.
Q. I don’t know if you addressed it or not since the last game and I hate to go back to the last game but that kick, at the end, number one, were all the players aware that that’s a free ball after that safety? If so, it seemed like nobody wanted to make a fair catch, which is obviously another way to prevent what almost happened. Can you explain that whole situation to me? (Howard Eskin)
COACH FIPP: Yes, obviously a unique situation in the game there as you referred to as a kick, I would call it a punt because it has to be punted. It can’t hit the ground in that situation but it’s a post safety punt, is what we call it. Obviously, it’s also late in the game there where we have our hands unit on the field. That situation I would say puts a lot of pressure on the hands team because you now have instead of 65 yards of field to defend with the ball on the 35, now the balls on the 20. Now you’re looking at 80 yards of field to defend. There’s a lot of rules on the play, but some of them is once the ball leaves his foot it’s like a kickoff so it’s no longer like a punt and I say that because that means that the balls in the field of play anywhere, it’s a live football, to your point. I think our guys were aware that the ball would be a live ball in that situation. We did talk about in the huddle the potential of him punting the ball or putting the ball high in the air and we talked about making a fair catch for that. [WR] Greg Ward, who’s a returner back there deep did not put his hand up for a fair catch but [TE] Richard Rogers if you look at it, on the left hand side as the wing, he actually signaled fair catch. If anybody signals fair catch on the field, the protection applies for the whole field, so that’s another interesting part of that rule. Then there’s another deal where with the hands team, some of the new kick return rules, you can’t block in the first 15 yards if the ball is in the air, until the ball hits the ground. Which on a normal onside kick, the ball usually hits the ground right away, so it’s not a factor but obviously on that play, it’s a factor. So I thought our guys did a good job. They dropped back 15 yards. We had one guy blocking, I think it was [LB] T.J. Edwards blocking right at 15 yards.
Then at the end of the day, it’s obviously a unique play, unique situation. Our goal at the end of the play is to come down with the football. I thought our guys did a good job with that. I think obviously their goal when they’re on the other side is to get the ball back, they didn’t get that done. They gave us two points with the safety. They gave us the ball back, we got good field possession. I would say at the end of the day, the whole play was a net win for us. That being said, there are some things especially after seeing that play in hindsight that I would do schematically, a little bit different. Put our guys in a little bit different situation, but at the end of the day I thought our guys did a great job of digging the ball out of the bottom of the pile and making sure we had it at the end of the play there. But really unique play, don’t see it very often. I have seen a team kick a ball or punt a ball like that on that play, high and short. I have not seen a team punt a ball and you guys referenced to it, but with that spinning type kick. A couple of weeks ago that you guys were talking about [Rams Punter John] Hekker kicking, which is kind of just come into the scene. So I have not seen that play with that type of kick before, but I have seen it punted high and short like that so we knew that was a possibility. Like I said again in hindsight I would do probably a couple things a little bit different but proud of the result, and thought our guys did a good job handling it.
All those plays now are tricky plays because you just don’t know what the opponent’s going to do with the football. They had their kicker out there actually it was [Cowboys K Greg] Zuerlein, who was on the field that hit the punt. It wasn’t their punter and Zuerlein hit the ball. At that point I wasn’t sure if he was going to hit the punt, when they put him out there, but he ended up obviously punting it high. I thought maybe we might get a little bit more traditional onside kick with him out there but obviously I wasn’t sure, and I would say that’s the difficult thing with that play. You got to just put 11 guys out there who can handle something. Give them a bunch of rules or give them some rules to play with, make sure they understand the rules, and then at the end of the day you got to adjust with whatever kick you get.
Q. I want to just get back to Cam for a second, he’s had some big games for you. Obviously, his numbers are good both the gross and the net. What does he have to do to you know, get into that — if he’s not there already, get into that upper echelon, into that pro bowl conversation? (Nick Fierro)
COACH FIPP: I think Cam would say that there’s some areas that he can improve on. Obviously, we’re really proud of what he’s done, how far he’s come and his development. But I think he knows that there’s some situational stuff we can be better at. We’ve only had one punt from inside the 50-yard line that was against Dallas, our last game out there and he ended up hitting a touch back on that one which we didn’t love. There’s some things he could have done better on it, there were some things that the coverage unit could have done better on it. But I would say some situational punts, we’ve had a couple of situations throughout the first half of this season that I thought we could have handled a little bit better. But just continuing to improve his game. Being a little bit more consistent. I think the Baltimore game wasn’t probably his best game out. I think we talked about that after that game, but he’s done a lot of really good. He’s come a long way. We’re really proud of him. I really feel strongly about the player. I think he’s going to be a great player, but he definitely knows he’s got areas he can improve as well.
Q. I know in the bye week you look over the season. You kind of get a fresh view of how the first half has gone. What did you learn in that? What did you come away with? What were your takeaways from that study? Also I wanted to ask if you saw the Carolina Panthers fake punt yesterday against the Kansas City Chiefs, and what you thought about that? I always wonder how they know, the Chiefs have pretty good special teams, how teams know that you’re going to be able to get a guy free to throw the ball to there? (Les Bowen)
COACH FIPP: Where we’re at after the first half a year? I would say nowadays we do so much scouting throughout the league. Kind of getting to your point of the Carolina play, like every week that it’s less of like “get to the bye week and then go through and review everything”. I feel like we’re self-scouting yourself all the time, and we’re looking around the league every week. And then I will answer to your point on the Carolina play, I know it was a throw. I have not seen the throw yet. I know it was a fake, but I usually get to that probably later today or tomorrow. So next week I can tell you more about it.
And just kind of where we’re at in general? I would say our coverage units have done a nice job, I think overall just been fairly consistent. Obviously, our punt is a little bit better than the kickoff. I think when you take off on the kickoff cover, we had the one second level punt and I don’t know, I think depending on what statistics you look at, that drive start might get incorporated into our overall drive start which to me is a little bit different play and a little bit different situation. But I think if you take that out of that I think we’re probably up there on the top third somewhere, something like that. I think those guys have been consistent. We’ve had one return over 27 yards, I think it was to the 37-yard line. Other than that, everything’s been held inside at 27 yards with our kick covers. I thought those guys for the most part, have been really consistent.
Punt has obviously been a positive. A lot of good plays, some situational stuff we can get better at. Kickoff return you know we had the penalty early on in that Rams game on a really good return which was unfortunate. I think that’s kind of where we’re at right now with the kick return. We had the bad Pittsburgh game we didn’t play well enough in that one. Then, I think, for the most part it’s been averaged, but we haven’t had those really good returns. We got to find a way to get a little bit more out of that. I think if we do that — and then I think what happens when you have a really positive return, the numbers jump up in your favor and we’ll be kind of sitting where we want to be. But we need to have some explosive plays there trying to find a way to create some of those.
And I’d say the same thing on punt returns, I feel like we’ve gotten better and better. We had our best return of the year against Dallas on the 22-yard return. We set up good field position. I don’t think our opponents are still not netting a whole lot or they’re still not grossing a whole lot of punt yardage against us, so that makes it a little bit harder to return the ball, but we could still do a better job in that phase. So, I would say, I don’t know. I mean we’re always looking for ways to improve. I know that we have a lot of area, or room for improvement. But, yeah, we got a lot of football left in us. I think we got a bunch of good opportunities sitting in front of us. I’m happy with the effort that the guys have been giving, the way they’ve been practicing and working, and I feel optimistic about what we’ll do the second half of the year.
Q. As I went back through the Giants game, I realized we didn’t ask you about the first half punt, when the gunner was uncovered. What did you take from that play looking back on it? (Zach Berman)
COACH FIPP: They ran a late substitution there. They actually ran that same substitution this last game. They ran a late substitution on us. We just had some miscommunication we didn’t get a guy out there to cover him down.
Q. How much is set for you in terms of personnel? Who’s going to do what? How they are going to be used week to week, and how much do you have to create a brand new specific template for what you’re going to do for the next opponent? Then kind of related to that, what’s it like for you in terms of in-game adjustments and the way the game can turn quickly? How do you make those adjustments and keep the players ready to roll with whatever has to happen on the fly?(Tim DeMoss)
COACH FIPP: I would say that’s a huge challenge. Obviously, injuries make that a challenge, new players coming up. There’s a lot more than just a handful of plays that we run in a game. We’re also talking about all the situations obviously, like the hands team versus a punt and the hands team versus regular onside kicks. This week, the next week and then that depth chart changes obviously week to week. So it’s not only the just the traditional plays that you see but all those situational plays. Punting out of your own end zone, punting late in the game when they bring extra rushers off the edges, how are you going to handle that? You got a new gunner in here, does he know the rules? So, there’s definitely a lot to work through. I think the easier you can make it for the players, the more straightforward, the less they have to think, I think it helps them, especially when you’re rolling through players. Obviously, we had some injuries and stuff like that. In terms of how much am I involved? At the end of the day, I get notified, who’s going to be up for the game. We do a great job of communicating that in the building here. I get notified fairly early in the week who we think it’s going to be and, or if we don’t know for sure, this may be Player A or B, and that helps me out plan and practice and get those guys prepared.
But yeah, I would say it’s a challenge. It is definitely a challenge of the job, it’s part of it. Everyone’s got to deal with it, we’re all on the same boat, but that’s definitely a part that makes it difficult. Then it’s like okay this week, these guys are up, now are you going to change your scheme? Are you going to run the same scheme? Well does it fit with those guys? You’re trying to make the scheme fit to the players the best you can, but you also don’t want to change it too much week to week. So those are all the things that I would say go through your head from a coaching standpoint. They’re difficult. A lot of time gets spent on that, but you try to put the players in the best situation to win with the group that you have. Obviously, a part of this game in this league is that the group is going to change every single week for a number of different reasons, and that definitely adds another challenge to it.