Q. I wanted to ask you about CB Michael Jacquet and his play on Sunday. You could look at the numbers and nothing else and would think he probably had a bad game like everybody else, but he seemed to battle Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins from beginning to end, even on that game-winning touchdown, seemed to have good coverage. I’m curious what your thoughts are on his performance. (Paul Domowitch)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He was set back in training camp because we didn’t have preseason games. Every player goes through — every rookie goes through a system where they start off looking really good and then they go through the doldrums of training camp where they really struggle, and everything becomes overwhelming. It was easy at first and then it just becomes super hard. Everybody goes through that.
And then they play some preseason games and get some stuff under their belt, and they gain a little bit of confidence, and that sort of carries them through, like ‘Hey, I can do this.’ But unfortunately, we never really had that with Michael this year.
So after we were able to get him back on the practice squad, he was able to keep practicing and go and then against the Cowboys the last time had to go in and play. One thing about him is he is a confident player, and that means a lot at the corner position. He doesn’t get down if he gives up a play. He knows what the score is out there, meaning he knows that you don’t pitch many shutouts on the outside part of the field. You’re going to have to battle, particularly against great players. They’re going to win some, you’re going to win some.
I think that’s been the thing I’ve been most impressed by him. He is also for a former wide receiver he’s played really tough. He hasn’t been shy about contact, getting into the mix, and has played with a lot of spirit. I’ve really been proud of him. Just like a lot of other players, the whole process we’ve gone through this year has really stunted a lot of players’ development. But he’s gaining ground. He’s improving every day, and I was — just like you, I was more impressed with the way he bounced back and the way he kept competing and the way he kept challenging as opposed to the plays that he gave up.
Q. We’ll follow up with the other move in the secondary, S Marcus Epps kind of filling in for S Rodney McLeod. He came up with the big red zone pick. What have you seen from him and his ability, particularly it seems you like him in that single high spot at times? (John McMullen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He did that for us last year when he came in as a rookie, but pretty much the only thing he ever really had to do last year for us was play the middle of the field. He’s another guy that got hurt this year, and it sets guys back, the ability to learn different positions and do those things.
Obviously with Rodney hurt, a lot more fell on him and fell on [S] K’Von Wallace, also. Both of those guys went out, they made some plays, they made some mistakes. Getting a red zone turnover is big, takes points off the board. So that was huge. Getting a couple red zone takeaways in that game was huge. We weren’t playing great. We were giving up a lot of yards, but in a bend-but-don’t-break world, those turnovers mean a lot, as did 4th down stop. You get a 4th down stop, in my experience, a 4th down stop is basically three points because if they go for it on 4th down in the red zone they’ve turned down a field goal, and if they go for it on 4th down around midfield, you get a stop, you’ve put your offense in really good position to get a field goal, maybe even a touchdown.
We’ve always counted a 4th down stop like a three-point play and we were able to get one of those, also.
Yeah, Epps, excellent break on the ball in our Cover Two. We were playing a lot more two with some of the stuff we were doing, but they tried to hit a ball that people try to hit in Cover Two, tried to get one down the middle and he had a great break on the ball to break that one up. I really thought that was his best play, the interception, the quarterback just sort of threw it to him. He wasn’t perfect, missed a tackle on a touchdown, but he battled. He’s a very competitive player, and he does a good job of directing traffic out there.
That was a little bit of an issue for us, particularly early in the game. We had so many guys out there, a little bit like our offensive line. So many different combinations of guys, Robey [CB Nickell Robey-Coleman] playing outside and Key [CB Kevon Seymour] coming in and Jacquet and K’Von and all those other guys, and he did a good job directing traffic for us back there. Took a little while, but we were able to get our feet under us in that game and get settled down, and Epps had a lot to do with that.
Q. I want to ask you about DE Brandon Graham. He gets his first Pro Bowl nod last night. One, what was your reaction to the news? And just what has he meant to your defense this year? (Rob Kuestner)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Man, there were some tears shed in the coaching staff rooms last night. Just a totally deserving guy. He’s had a long career and he’s been a very good player for a long time, but to get his first Pro Bowl nod, it sort of choked everybody up because we know what kind of guy — you guys know what kind of guy he is. I think the fans know what kind of guy he is. He’s persevered through some tough times early in his career. He’s battled some injuries. He’s an incredibly hard worker. He plays with a lot of spirit, all the things that you respect about a player, Brandon Graham personifies. So, for him to get that nod was big.
Fletch [DT Fletcher Cox], also, those guys up front, to get recognized was big. I mean, it doesn’t count on the win-loss column, but there’s some personal stories in the game that you root for guys. We talked about young guys like Jacquet or Epps or anybody else that’s trying to make a career for themselves and trying to experience some success, and you root for those guys and you celebrate their successes, and it’s the same thing with guys like Fletch and BG and [C Jason] Kelce.
Q. You’ve had about a month now of seeing LB Alex Singleton as an every-down linebacker. How do you think he’s grown in that role, and is that something you think he can be going forward? (Zach Berman)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, he’s another guy that’s been improving. He’s another guy that had a hard time starting his career, got cut a bunch of times, had to go to the CFL, came back, earned his way on special teams and then started being able to get a little bit more for us.
I think you see a lot of plays that he makes in the run game, and where he was still sort of a work in progress was in the pass game. There was a lot of things in the pass game that — mistakes that he would make or things that he could do better. But I really see his arrow being up in those categories too, now. He’s become a much more consistent, zone player. He’s become better at directing traffic back there, making all the calls and being on the field for every snap is a lot different than being a complementary player, so he’s grown in all those things, and knowing the kind of guy he is, he’ll continue to grow, and that speaks well for him and for us.
Q. If I could follow up on Brandon Graham, do you have a favorite story about Brandon in your five years together? (Jeff McLane)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Probably my favorite Brandon Graham story was I coached him in the Senior Bowl when he was coming out of Michigan, and we sort of sat the D-line down and said, ‘Hey, this is the way the game is going to be played. Hey, it’s an All-Star Game. Nobody is interested in running the ball. They’re going to pass on every down, so we’re not playing the run, we’re pass rushing, and this is the way we’re going to do it,’ and those different things. He had an outstanding game and had a lot to do — I think at the time he was considered like maybe a second-round draft pick or something, and a lot based off of that game. People could see him rush and see a lot of the things that we use him in now. And he moved up significantly in the draft.
So anyway, the night before the game, as I was the head coach, I had a coaching staff meeting and I said, ‘All right, I’ve got $500 for whoever picks the game MVP, but I get first pick.’ And I picked Brandon Graham, so I didn’t have to pay out any money to anybody because he was MVP. But that’s probably my best story with him.
Also, I think what you can’t overlook with Brandon is he wasn’t an immediate success as a rookie. It’s a tough business in the NFL. There’s a lot of scrutiny. There’s scrutiny from the fans, there’s scrutiny from the media, there’s scrutiny from the locker room, scrutiny from the coaches. It’s tough to deal with. He never lost his faith. He never wavered, and he got past that and has gone on to have an outstanding career, and he has a lot left on his career. I’m really proud of him.
Q. Generally speaking, how do you balance playing a veteran who is a little bit more reliable versus potentially playing a younger guy who might have some more upside? (Bo Wulf)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Just in general?
Q. Generally speaking, how difficult is that as part of the coaching business? (Bo Wulf)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, everything is just bottom line: Do what’s best to win a game. We’re a short-term focus group. It’s our job to try to go win on Sunday, and whatever we think gives the best opportunity to win on Sunday, that’s what we do.
Player development is an important part of what we do here, but it doesn’t compromise doing whatever is best to go win the game. We’d all sell our souls for a win. I think you’ve got a pretty good example of that with the Jets. The Jets were trying to win. They didn’t care what happened in the draft or anything else. They’re selling their souls to win that game. That’s the way players are. That’s the way coaches are. We’re all competitors, and we’re going to do whatever we can to win on that Sunday.
Q. You had mentioned about using guys in a variety of roles that you might not have had to do if it wasn’t for a season like this with all the injuries and COVID-19. But the flipside of that is sometimes you get to discover things about players that you might not have otherwise known. Have you had any of that with some guys this year, that you might not have seen had you not been forced into these kinds of extraordinary circumstances? (Nick Fierro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I don’t know. I really don’t feel that way. I think it’s more just a result of guys getting opportunities because of an injury, and you see more that way.
I do think the only thing that’s COVID related this year has been our expanded rosters and our ability to bring guys up on game day. So you have some practice squad guys that you can add to the Sunday roster, that you couldn’t do really before because you’d have to expose them to waivers and you’d have guys you didn’t want to lose and stuff like that. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I’d go with your question is those have been more opportunities for guys. We’ve seen it across the board on our team, both offense and defense being able to elevate practice squad guys and go out and play special teams, might even have to throw in the mix and play on offense or defense. So, there has been more opportunity for those guys as a result of the expanded rosters.
Q. When you were talking about Mike Jacquet, you mentioned the difficulty this year for rookies in this unusual season. How much of it has just been on them because of all this? How much extra work have they had to put in to try to catch up? (Dave Zangaro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I mean, again, everybody works hard in this league. I mean, if you guys were able to come to our practices, you would see a significant portion of our team staying afterwards. Our practice is over, Doug [head coach Doug Pederson] calls them all off, gives them their marching orders and then they go right back to work. It’s really impressive, because everybody is hungry for that. They’re hungry for meetings. They can’t be in meetings in person.
It’s really changed. Guys are always hardworking. It’s really just changed the avenues that they’re able to get some extra seasoning and get some extra attention. It’s become doing it remotely, it’s become staying on the practice field after practice is over, trying to get some individual attention hands on, and they also do — the way our stuff goes, there is more free time in the day because of transition time and guys having to stay home to do meetings and stuff.
So they do have a little bit more time for sort of self-directed film study, but it’s really just sort of just shuffling their time. This has benefitted guys that are good workers and diligent and organized guys and disciplined guys when it comes to their work process.
Q. I was just kind of curious, you kept S Jalen Mills at safety. I know he played some corner because CB Kevon Seymour got hurt, but I was wondering what the decision was as far as keeping him there, and how do you think he did overall? (Martin Frank)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, I really wanted to keep him there because of our communication. We knew we were going to have all those guys playing different positions, and it was like, look, let’s keep one rock in the same position, and I thought that was important. His communication was outstanding.
He had a bad play in the game, gave up a short completion and then missed a tackle, and it was a big play. But I think a lot of the rest of the stuff sort of goes unsung with a player like that. He was working really hard during the game, sort of hand in hand with me to give me my eyes on the field, my ears on the field, ‘Hey, what’s going on out there, what can we do to settle these guys down?’
J [Jalen Mills] is outstanding on the sideline. I mean, he’s intense. He’s competitive. He is always positive. I’ve really been impressed by his demeanor. He was a little bit more sort of fiery as a corner and as a one-on-one game out there, but he’s outstanding as a safety when it comes to communication on the sideline, when it comes to getting the guys together, putting fires out, communicating with linebackers, communicating with his coaches. I think that’s been a big step in his career.
He made a big — was able to get [Cardinals QB] Kyler Murray on the ground, get the ball back for our offense one time, and we know that’s not an easy tackle to make. It wasn’t a tackle that will go down in the form tackle, but most important thing about tackle is get him on the ground before the sticks and we were able to get the ball back for our offense, and that was a big play in the game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win the game. It’s hard to point to things like that, but some of those things fly a little bit below the radar with Jalen.