Q. There are all these numbers that would suggest that play action is one of the most efficient things that an offense can do and specifically under-center play action, what makes that so difficult for the defense? (Bo Wulf)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Any time that you put the defense in a bind, you put players in conflict between playing the run and also playing the pass, you create an advantage for the offense. It’s a lot easier to pass rush on third down when you know it’s a pass and it’s a lot easier to play the run if you don’t have to defend the pass.
It’s probably that. I don’t know that quarterback under center really means a whole lot. You can run effective play actions from shotgun. There’s a lot of teams in the league that run almost exclusively shotgun and most of the runs out of shotgun. But if you do have a good run game and it’s forcing linebackers to step up and safeties to be in the box, it isolates corners a little bit more and also opens up space behind linebackers. That being said, if the run game doesn’t have a whole lot of teeth, generally play action isn’t effective because players don’t have as much conflict.
There’s a lot of ways to conflict the defense. You have the zone read stuff. You have a lot of the jet motions and the eye candy that offenses give. But run pass conflict is probably about the oldest conflict in the book when it came to a defensive player.
Q. Speaking of defensive conflict, you’ve seen QB Jalen Hurts now in practice for a couple weeks. His skillset both running the ball and throwing, how much stress can that put on a defense? (Dave Zangaro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He does have a good skill-set for running, which is not unusual in our league. It’s a little bit different in training camp obviously to play a guy like that but also not be able to hit him. That creates a little bit more of a difficult situation because there’s a lot of times that he’s really a running back but you’re trying to stay away from him, and same thing with scrambles and stuff like that. Really, at this point in camp, we are not planning for — we don’t change our calls for [QB] Carson [Wentz], for [QB] Nate [Sudfeld] or for Jalen. We’re just sort of taking care of us on defense and rolling through our calls and trying to get us ready. So, we really don’t take into account what the quarterback is. We are more down and distance in game situation as opposed to what quarterback [is out there], and most of the time, I don’t even look up until the ball is getting ready to snap to notice what quarterback is in the game.
But again, any time that you can put stress on the defense and conflict on the defense, you’re dropping into zone, but all of a sudden, the quarterback is scrambling, that presents problems for the defense. They hand the ball off, but the quarterback pulls it and he’s on your perimeter, that creates conflict for the defense.
Jalen certainly has those abilities.
Q. After getting LB Duke Riley in here in season last year and getting a look at him in the first few weeks of camp, what are some ways he can help the defense? (Jimmy Kempski)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, he helped last year. He was out there in a bunch of our short-yardage situations and our four-linebacker situations and did a good job every time he was on the field. He was ready to play a more expanded role if we had had injuries and he had been forced to, but I would sort of put Duke in the same category as [LB] T.J. Edwards. Both of those — one guy was an undrafted free agent and another guy was an acquisition partway through the season.
As the year went on, both guys provided quality snaps for us, and their knowledge of our scheme and everything sort of increased throughout the season. Duke has great speed. He’s not the biggest linebacker in the world but he does have good movement skills and good speed. He’s not in a situation where he’s trying to learn the defense during training camp. He was learning sort of in the middle of last season.
But you can see him sort of present his skillset a little bit more clearly when it’s not the middle of the season and you’re just preparing for a specific opponent and you’re also trying to prepare guys that you’re expecting to play in the game. He’s had a good training camp so far.
Q. You’ve used CB Avonte Maddox in a variety of roles in the two years he’s been here. Now it looks like there’s a good possibility he’s going to be one of your starting outside corners in three weeks. Any concerns at all about putting a 5-9 guy outside in today’s game? (Paul Domowitch)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think that size matchups are always a concern, but what I would say about Avonte is the only time he looks short is when he’s in the lunch line. When he gets on the field, he’s never in my mind played small. He’s a physical player. He has great timing and ability to jump. There’s been a lot of guys that have that kind of skill-set. He brings some things to the table that maybe some of the taller guys don’t have. He’s got great quickness and change of direction ability. He can get up to speed super quick, which allows him to play a little bit different technique on the outside. And the thing that he’s probably most deceiving with is he’s really strong. Let’s not confuse small with little with him because — or short with small; I guess that’s probably the best thing there, because he’s a physical player. He’s strong and he’s matched up against big receivers his whole career. As far as settling him in, he has played a million different positions for us. He’s played safety. He’s played nickel. He’s played outside corner. He’s played special teams.
I do think that even though that served us well as a defense, maybe that wasn’t the best thing for him, but it was just what we needed to do in a particular season or a particular game and he’s been settling in at the outside corner. He still has that skill-set that he can go inside but we have guys like [CB] Cre’Von [LeBlanc] and [CB] Nickell [Robey-Coleman] that are playing a lot of nickel snaps in there and Avonte is available to do that if he has to, but he’s been able to concentrate more on the outside corner. Same thing with safety. He could go in and play safety, but I think he’s going to benefit from the focus of just staying at a position.
Q. How would you assess the job that LB Davion Taylor, LB Shaun Bradley and LB Dante Olson have done so far, especially being rookie linebackers? (Chris Franklin)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think the last part is the important part of the question. Rookie linebackers is always a difficult situation. Linebackers and safeties, they are the people that have the most on their plate when it comes to scheme. So in a typical fashion, you draft a safety or a linebacker, and you have a whole season of phase one, phase two — or a full off-season, phase one, phase two, phase three and mini-camp and then a full training camp and then four preseason games. It gives those guys plenty of time to get their feet under them and to go.
But in some ways, a little bit like talking about [LB] Duke Riley last year coming sort of halfway through the season, these guys have not had the benefit of that. They did a lot of meetings just like we are doing right here, which is good, it’s productive, but it doesn’t replace being on the field. We can have scrimmages and we can have shoulder pad practices, but it doesn’t replace that live-game speed that those guys need.
So I’d probably throw our linebackers and our safeties all in the same basket. All those guys are making good, steady progress. They have a lot on their plate, not just with defense but with special teams, and all those guys have shown some really good things in training camp so far. It’s just a matter of being up against the clock and how quickly they can have complete command, not just mentally but then command physically to be able go in and play the position for us. Been very impressed by those guys, though. It’s a tough situation, but they have handled it really well.
Q. You talked I think it was last week about certain positions being tougher to get up to speed than others, like linebacker, safety. You have some young guys in those spots. Anybody that’s really jumped out at you or surprised you so far? (Nick Fierro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I don’t think anything has really been a surprise as far as where we are right now.
No. 1 is I don’t want to read too much into a particular practice. So whether it’s a surprise good or bad, if a guy has a great day or a down day, we want to take the long approach and play the long game with those guys and a little bit like looking at a graph. They are going to have ups and downs, but if they can maintain that good, steady rise, that’s what we’re really looking for with those guys.
But again, based on what we have done right now, it would be really unfair to single anybody out as being ahead or behind or anything else. We are still in a work phase and have a couple more weeks of this to sort some of those things out.
Q. We’ve seen DT Malik Jackson being really active at practice. He seems to bring a lot of energy to that defensive line and the production from that group has been very good this first week. Malik said last week that maybe he has a little something to prove, Jaguars, benched his last year there and last year he didn’t play most of the season. What are you seeing out of Malik in terms of his mentality as he enters his ninth season in the NFL? (Jeff McLane)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He knows what it takes, No. 1. He also has that perspective of an injured player. When you say he missed most of the season, 15 out of 16, or 16 out of 17 it fits the standard of most.
Malik did a great job last year of staying active with our team. Even though he was injured, he did his rehab here. He was in our meetings. He still served a role on our team and I was really impressed by that. It’s hard for a young player to do that but a veteran guy like Malik who has seen a lot of different things, he’s still brought something to our team and I was really pleased, and it just shows you what kind of man he is, what kind of player he is that he was selfless enough to do that. He never felt sorry for himself. He went out and did his rehab and found a way to contribute and that’s all we can ask for players. You can see his excitement. Maybe it would be a little bit different if he had played 17 games last year and went out but he’s excited. He’s got that sort of almost a rookie excitement about being out there every day because he realized how quickly it can be taken away from you.
Malik is long. He’s a little bit different than some of our defensive tackles. He’s in the quarterback’s way an awful lot because he is so long, and he can be a different kind of match-up from some of our other defensive tackles on those guards. He can get on some edges inside and he also has the ability to swing inside and outside. That’s something that we wanted to use him a little bit last year and things like that, and never were able to do it, but he’s played 3-4 defensive end and he gives us a good physical presence doing those sort of things, whether it’s by game plan or because of injury.
Malik, I know this: He brings my spirits up every day. You see him around the office. I mean, obviously you guys have seen it. He’s just a guy that is embracing every day and taking advantage of every day, and he does it with such enthusiasm. It’s fun.
Another guy that’s been that way for us was [DE] Vinny Curry. Vinny missed the first whatever segment of camp and we signed him back late and he’s just brought energy every time he’s out on the field and that’s another guy that’s been around awhile. It’s not his first rodeo, but he still treats it like his rookie training camp. Those guys are important for our team.
Q. Staying on the defensive line, it seems like when we watch practice, it seems like DE Josh Sweat is all over the quarterback. What have you seen from him compared to last year? Does it seem like he’s taken a big leap in your eyes during that time? (Martin Frank)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think the biggest thing is Josh always had some flash plays his first couple years. Rookie year, he really didn’t get a chance to be on the field very much because we had a lot of veteran players at that position. But last year he was on the field quite a bit, and like a young player, he had some inconstancies. But Coach Burke [run game coordinator/defensive line coach Matt Burke], Coach Washburn [director of player personnel/senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn], Coach Ollie [assistant defensive line coach Nathan Ollie] have done a good job, not just with Sweat but with all those defensive ends of just getting our technique and an attack mentality and getting consistency in that technique.
A lot of our stuff with our defensive line is a lot of repeatable motion. I think anybody that’s covered baseball, with pitchers, they talk about repeatable motion, and the guys that have a repeatable motion are consistent around the strike zone. The guys that don’t, they can throw a wicked pitch and get a strikeout, and then can’t find the strike zone after that.
Josh is making really good strides toward that, having a repeatable motion at defensive end and it looks the same all the time and that consistency has shown, and as a result, I think his production has shown a little bit more.
Let’s be careful about reading too much into thud practices and non-padded practices and things like that because sometimes that stuff can get a little bit skewed, and a guy can look different in practice than he’s really going. That being said, Josh has had a good camp and I think he’s a much-improved player and we look forward to him playing a big role for us this year.
Q. I came into camp thinking I would see CB Sidney Jones and CB Avonte Maddox fighting it out for the outside corner spot. I just see Sidney with the bucket hat watching every day. I know that’s not his fault, but is he in the running at all here? Is there time for him to get back out there and show anything to you? (Les Bowen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Our time is starting to run short, and the only thing we can do as coaches is coach the guys that are available to practice.
Sid is into it. He’s done a good job of staying up and everything else when he hasn’t been able to practice. But as coaches, guys that are on the field are the guys that are getting the reps, and the guys that are available and doing those kind of things and just unfortunately he has not been there for this last week or so. There’s still time, but time is starting to creep in on us. We’re less than three weeks from our opener right now.