Q. Now that we’re through the training camp process and obviously there’s been no pre-season games, I wanted to get your thought process on the evaluation period, how it’s changed for you, and how it’s been different. Is it more difficult? Have you been able to overcome it? (John McMullen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think ‘different’ is the best adjective that you use there. I think there’s still plenty of time to evaluate players. In a normal year you draft a guy or you have a guy that’s left over from the year before, and you see him progress through the off-season program, whether he looks stronger, faster, better technique, those kind of things. Then you get him in the classroom. You’re saying, okay his understanding is better. Then you validate that by going out to do position drills in Phase II, then validate that again with OTAs and mini camp. And then you have a month off, then you come back and validate it again in training camp, then evaluate it again with your first scrimmage, then pre-season games.
The only thing we really have now, we missed that spring. We didn’t miss the knowledge of the scheme and things like that because we were able to evaluate that just doing things like we’re doing right now, just going over Microsoft Teams.
You did see where guys were at the beginning of training camp. You did have a couple scrimmages you could see. We did miss out on those pre-season games.
We’ve had enough practice time, enough individual time, enough technique work and things like that, that we have a good evaluation of our guys. Nothing really replaces live game reps.
I’ll just tell a quick story. Whenever we have rookies in particular, they always start off, they’re overwhelmed, and then they come back, they seem like they got it. Then we have the open practice at the Linc and there would be 40,000 people over there singing Fly Eagles Fly. Those guys would sort of go to pieces. Things that a couple days ago they had mastered, all of a sudden they would blow circuits because it was their first exposure to that kind of environment. Same as the first pre-season game. Then you saw the players settle down, and they are like, yeah, I got this. They knew what to expect.
There is that little bit of uncertainty because even when we did go over to Linc, and we did see some of that stuff that guys had stone cold a couple days before, we had some missed assignments over at the Linc. Even when there were no fans, we saw that.
Now we don’t have pre-season games. Even though we had a lot of time to evaluate, you’re still missing that, okay what about the real bullets flying and how is this player going to react to that? Is he ready for that? Those are things we’re just going to have to go with practice film and instincts and experience to evaluate.
Sorry, that was a super long answer.
Q. What have you thought of the play overall of DT Fletcher Cox? During the two and a half weeks we were allowed in, we have seen him matched up on G Jason Peters quite a bit. What kind of matchup was that and how do you think Fletcher has done? (Martin Frank)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Fletch is such a great player. One of the joys of training camp for me over the last four years has been watching Fletch compete with [G] Brandon Brooks, who is one of the top guards in the NFL. That was always fun to watch. Brandon would win some, Fletch would win some.
You just talk about two supreme players at their position, two of the best players at their position in the National Football League, and get a chance to watch that every day in practice. That was just great.
Now you have a guy that has had a Hall of Fame career as a left tackle that now moves in there. You see that same kind of thing. It was new for J.P. [Jason Peters], as J.P. is learning how to play guard. There were times you just sat back and said, these are potential two Hall of Famers going at it in practice. Those are always great for your evaluations.
I’d say our competition, mainly [DT] Malik [Jackson] against [OL] Isaac [Seumalo] on the other side, has been outstanding also. Those are top players at that position also. Then having an experienced center like Kelce [C Jason Kelce] in there that adds a completely different dynamic.
Those interior guys, that has been outstanding competition for us. It’s made us better. I hope it’s made the offense better.
Q. One of the guys that we haven’t asked you about yet is DB Grayland Arnold, who isn’t the biggest or fastest defensive back but seems instinctive, made a lot of plays in college. What are your thoughts of him throughout camp? (Jimmy Kempski)
JIM SCHWARTZ: How big or fast a guy is, all those measurables, pro-day workouts, combine workouts… When we get to start the first day of training camp, those things aren’t even on anybody’s mind anymore. It’s how you perform on the field.
Grayland, along with a lot of other young safeties, [S] K’Von [Wallace], [DB] Elijah [Riley], those guys have done a really good job in what they’ve been asked to do.
I said this last week. It’s a very difficult situation for safeties. There’s a lot to learn, a lot of moving pieces. They don’t have many opportunities to get chances to sort of get their feet under them.
What you’ve seen from those guys is you’ve seen the ability. All of those guys have shown really well. There’s been plenty of safeties that are shorter players, there’s been plenty of guys that are taller players, that have had success in the NFL. It’s not about that anymore. Once you’re in the mix, it just becomes about your ability to perform, your instincts, your work ethic, your heart, all those things. All those guys have all those characteristics.
We’re going to have some real tough decisions at a lot of positions, but particularly our safety position.
Q. Jeremiah Washburn was on your coaching staff in Detroit. Now he’s listed as a senior defensive assistant here in addition to his front office role. What is your relationship with him like? What kind of value does he add? (Brandon Lee Gowton)
JIM SCHWARTZ: First of all, he’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever met, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Just has a great nature about him. Nothing ever fazes him, very even-keeled. He’s a triple threat. He’s outstanding with the players, he’s outstanding with technique, and also got a really keen eye for scouting. He’s done all those things.
I started my career in scouting in the NFL. Jeremiah started his career in scouting. Flipped over to coaching. He flipped over with me. Had a great way to connect with players. He’s been a great addition for our staff.
I mean, having a former offensive line coach that can tell you sort of the keys to the kingdom as we evaluate schemes or we try to figure out the best way to attack an offense, it’s just a great asset.
I think he’s got such an outstanding future. I think that guy can be a GM in the NFL, a head coach in the NFL. I think he’s probably one of the hidden – the people in the NFL know about him, but I think just as far as people in the general public, media and stuff, he’s sort of flown under the radar. That’s not going to be for very long. He’s way too talented for that.
Q. Have you had to reassess your expectations for the role for DT Javon Hargrave because he hasn’t had this time to learn either the scheme or the new position? (Zach Berman)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I mean, it’s set him back from a standpoint of time on the grass. It’s just been a perfect storm or an imperfect storm, however you want to put it.
If we would have had a complete off-season and he would have missed the time in camp, you’d feel real good about just plugging him in. But you combine no off-season, new to the scheme, new to the team… I mean, he was introducing himself to the locker room in the beginning of training camp. Generally, that stuff is all below.
There’s been some stuff he’s been able to do. He’s a student of the game. He’s stayed really active. He’s up on all of our stuff. But there is a difference between that and doing it in person.
Now, he also has been in the league. He’s not a rookie. He has experience under him. There’s a lot of things that we do that are different than other people, but there’s also a lot of things that we do that have some carryover for him. When he’s healthy, he’ll be up to speed pretty quickly. I’m excited about him. I think he’s going to be a great addition to us. He’s a great complement for the other guys we have.
Q. You mentioned last week linebacker and safety are two of the toughest positions for rookies to learn. When it comes to LB Shaun Bradley, how has his progression been? Do you feel he has the versatility to play two to three different linebacker positions if something were to occur injury-wise? (Chris Franklin)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Yeah, all of our linebackers have to have that versatility. There’s very few of our guys that only play one position. It’s just sort of the nature of what offenses do and the jet motions. They can make your Mike the Sam, or the Will your Mike. All those guys have to be able to play those positions.
With our young players, safeties and linebackers, we tried in this camp to settle them at one position, let him get his feet under him at that position. Eventually that’s going to be on his plate like everybody else.
I actually just had a conversation with him the other day about this. I had an economics professor in college that explained sort of the paths of learning. When you’re first introduced to a subject, you think it’s really hard. Then all of a sudden, you get past the rudimentary stuff and you are like, man, this is easy. Then all of a sudden, you get past that and you find out there’s a lot more depth behind it, there’s a lot more variables behind it and you become, oh, my gosh, this is hard again. Then that settles down and then it becomes easy again.
That’s the process that most of our guys take with learning. It’s hard when they first get that playbook, and they are like, oh, my gosh, this is so much. Then, they go, yeah, I got this. Then they go out, the offense starts motioning, flying guys around, there are different checks and calls, their heads start spinning. Then they get it, their temperatures can decrease a little bit.
It’s a little bit like driving a car. When you first drive a car, you’re thinking about putting the turn signal down, where your hands are, your feet and everything. After you’ve been driving for a while, it’s just automatic. The car’s driving, but you’re not even thinking about it.
He’s not at that point yet. None of our rookies are at that point yet. Guys like Snake [LB Nate Gerry] weren’t at that point when he was a rookie. But eventually, they will all get there. He’s probably coming out of that it was easy, all of a sudden it was hard, and he’s just getting to that point where now it’s starting to slow down for him.
That’s really typical of rookies. Seen it for 28 years in the NFL. He’s going to be an outstanding young player for us, him and [LB] Davion [Taylor], really good additions for our team there, guys that can run, guys that have some size. We’re really lucky to have both of those guys.
Q. You have been together now at NovaCare for more than a month. The latest numbers from the league on COVID are very encouraging. As we get into the season, are you more optimistic that the league can do 16 games and the playoffs on schedule with travel and things like that? What has been your experience with this? Are you surprised that guys haven’t gone out at night and gotten into situations that would compromise them? (Les Bowen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: There’s a couple things I’m good at. I’m good at doing what I’m told and leaving decisions for people that are smarter than me for stuff like that.
As far as 16 games, I figure if I show up early in the morning and leave late at night, I’m not going to miss anything. I take it one day at a time, take it as it comes.
It’s not unusual. Players are very regimented. Coaches are very regimented. You have to have discipline to succeed in this league, whether it is a coach, player, scout, front office person. It’s a long season. You have to be methodical. You have to be disciplined.
Doing that in your job is no different than doing that with different protocols that are thrown in front of us or anything else. It just becomes another part of the job.
But we’re used to complying with rules. We’re used to doing things a certain way, that kind of consistency. We’re also used to sort of sudden change, anything that comes. Every defense trains for an offensive turnover that all of a sudden, you’re back on the field in one play or a special teams turnover. You have to have that mindset. I think that mindset will go a long way to putting us in a good position with anything that’s thrown at us.
Q. Considering everything we’ve talked about today, the lack of learning, the lack of time on the grass, will you coach any differently? Will you have to coach any differently, dumb it down in any ways at least earlier in the season as these young guys are still kind of learning the whole process? (Reuben Frank)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I would say there hasn’t been any lack of learning. Really it’s been lack of experience. There’s a difference between going out in a thud practice and going out in a pre-season game.
But I will say this. We are no different in terms of where our installation is, all the things that we have ready to go. Training camp is not just about getting ready for Washington or anything else. You got to get ready for your whole 16-game season. There might be some things that you might not use until week 12, but you got to get ready for them in training camp.
A little bit like the lockout season in 2011, coming up here on the end of camp, I don’t feel any different than a normal camp as far as what we have in our scheme, what we’ve been able to accomplish, things like that. The only thing we just really have been lacking is that evaluation time. That adds a little bit more uncertainty of how guys will perform once we get to the regular season.
From a scheme standpoint, learning standpoint, everything else, we’re 100% at full throttle with all that stuff. I think the guys have really responded well. We’ve had a lot of walk-through times. The guys have really taken advantage of that. I don’t feel like we’ve been shortchanged as far as scheme and that sort of thing.