Jonathan Gannon

Q. The position that LB Genard Avery and LB Patrick Johnson and LB Joe Ostman have been playing, what do you call that just so that we know what to call it? (Jimmy Kempski)

JONATHAN GANNON: Sam linebacker. So an outside linebacker. Sam linebacker.

Q. How are those three guys coming along because it is sort of new to all three of them? (Jimmy Kempski)

JONATHAN GANNON: They are doing a good job. Like I’ve said, they have been developing their game what we are looking for in that position, how it fights into the scheme. It’s a multiple skill set position for us, and you know, each of them bring a different asset to the table I think, and they are all doing a really good job just improving their game every day.

Q. The way you’re evaluating that position, does it change the way you look at the entire linebacker group? Do you maybe evaluate maybe the Mike and Will in one group as opposed to the Sam? (Mike Kaye)

JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, I think so because I think what we are asking them to do within our scheme is a little bit different. The Mike and the Will are mostly stacked and the Sam, sometimes he’s stacked but sometimes he’s on the ball. So, it just presents a little bit different skill set for those three guys and what we are asking them to do.

Q. Is DE Ryan Kerrigan going to fit there at some point potentially? (Bo Wulf)

JONATHAN GANNON: He’s done it. So, we’ve talked about that. We always talk about, ‘Hey, who is our pair and our spare?’ So, we are always looking for guys that can play multiple spots, especially on game day, and I know he’s done it. Obviously, he hasn’t taken reps at it but yeah, possibly down the road if it fits for us, for on game day or for the depth of that position, yeah, possibly.

Q. What about that particular position, Sam, do you like about having guys with experience rushing from the edge? (John McMullen)

JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, absolutely. We like it a lot. You know, that’s one of the skill sets and that’s why that’s a little bit different than the Mike and the Will because they are rushing tackles, tight ends from the edge, so we like that guy to have the ability to win one-on-one around the corner. The other thing that that skill set for that position is when they get turn-outs and they get pin pulls and they have got to set an edge, a firm edge, that’s a little bit different than the Mike and the Will because the Mike and the Will are flowing behind the ball. That’s like a point of attack block that the Mike and the Will don’t get a lot; that those guys have to be able to do that.

Q. Seemed like tackling was an issue on Thursday night. Do you think there’s a link between not tackling in practice and that issue? (Jeff McLane)

JONATHAN GANNON: I don’t. Like I said, we tackle every day in individual. We’re talking about it constantly. Now, you know, that is a skill and to improve a skill, you need to practice it. So that’s one of the exposures that it’s live and they get to tackle people to the ground. That we have to clean up a little bit. But I didn’t feel like it was terrible. We missed more Week 2 than we did Week 1, and a lot of the times, though, it’s not just the tackle. It’s how you insert. It’s your angle. It’s your track, what we call it as you’re approaching the ball carrier.

So you can clean a lot of those things up, that will help you not miss tackles before contact is even made. So that’s what we stress with our guys about this week is, ‘Hey, make sure we are tracking the right way, make sure the angle is the correct angle, we’re inserting in the run game the correct way,’ and I think that will show up a little bit this week.

Q. How do you tackle in individual drills and what position groups do that? (Jeff McLane)

JONATHAN GANNON: They all do that. So we won’t take guys to the ground, but they will work on those things of the track of where they are aiming point is, what they do with their body what they do after contact with their arms and their legs.

So you know, we’re always working on that in individual and even though it’s not 100 percent live, they are working on the skill of that.

Q. Seems like recently CB Zech McPhearson has maybe started to struggle a little bit. What do you tell a young player like that, especially at that position? (Dave Zangaro)

JONATHAN GANNON: I don’t think that he’s struggled. He got a couple balls caught at him where he’s in tough duty. We put a lot on our corners as far as mentally and physically in this defense.

What he knows is, is he has a couple things that he’s going to work on and improve when we come out of — I challenged our guys and said, ‘Hey, we have got four exposures this week. So we have practice versus ourselves, two against the Jets and then we have a game.’

So I said, ‘Everybody, I want,’ — and the position coaches did a great job of this, everybody got one thing that they needed to work on to improve individually that will help us as a unit.

So his thing was just eyes and really alignment assignment, key technique. So do you know how to get aligned because if you’re misaligned with certain coverages, it puts you in a hard spot to cover for the down. So a lot of that, he just needs to clean up is pre-snap, we control everything. He just needs to control that, which he’s done a good job. But like I said we put him in some tough spots in the game, and you know, he’ll learn and rebound and he’ll have a good week of practice.

Q. How valuable was that for him to get that experience starting against the Patriots going against a first-team offense? (Martin Frank)

JONATHAN GANNON: Excellent because that’s who he’s going to be playing against when we line up Week 1. We like to see our guys that are going to be playing against the other team’s best people. And that’s a really good evaluation tool for him, and he had a good week of practice versus them, and he got a couple balls caught on him but that’s not out of the ordinary for that position.

Q. With the hits principle, is there a points system that you utilize? How do you incentivize that? (Tim McManus)

JONATHAN GANNON: No, our guys have bought into that, and it goes into that’s how we want to play, and they have a very clear picture of that standard and we’re looking to always get better at that, and our guys have done a good job to buy in and continuing to improve with that.

Q. When it comes to the takeaways portion of that, heavy emphasis on swiping, getting the ball away. How do you walk that line to ensure that they are not — that they are doing the first thing first of getting the tackle? (Tim McManus)

JONATHAN GANNON: There’s a lot of times we don’t want that guy, the first guy in, to make the tackle. We want him to punch the ball. What goes into takeaways for me is the more opportunity you have for takeaways, it comes down to the guys being in the right position.

And all 11 being in the right position because there’s different things that come alive where we have population to the ball, everyone’s taking the right angles. We have more than one guy hitting the ball carrier and that’s when you see those plays start to happen. You know, the one with [DT] Raequan [Williams] in the game, he plays his block and the ball creases through, and he runs to the ball, which is what we want, and then the ball carrier doesn’t see him and he was ball aware and violent.

So what we talk about is once you get there, if you either are the first guy in making the tackle or the second or third or fourth guy hitting a guy, you have to know where the ball is, and you have to be violent with how you try to take it out and that’s what you saw with Raequan. He came up from behind him and punched the ball and it came right out, and the guy never saw him. So that was a good example for our guys to see that as, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be ball aware and violent. Has to be on our mind. If you’re going to take the ball away it’s got to be on everybody’s mind constantly all the time,’ and that’s why we practice the way we practice.

Q. The play caller gets more attention on the offensive side, but it’s your first time calling a defense. What goes into that and how much of your job is the game day play calling and especially in situations where it’s third down? (Zach Berman)

JONATHAN GANNON: I would say, our staff’s been great because I don’t say, ‘Hey, here is a call sheet, guys.’ We talk about all those situations and what we want to call as a staff first. And you know, where I kind of switched this year a little bit is, you know, I knew when I was working as a position coach, I knew what the coordinator was going to call and I always felt it was my job to prep those guys for certain situations that can come up with these calls. I tell those guys, ‘Here is what you should be thinking. Here is what you node to do, here is what you should be thinking.’

Now I just go from the flipside. So like yesterday we got into meetings and I said, ‘Hey, guys here are the calls, here is what I’m going to call the next two days and in the game and here are the situations that can come up,’ and all 11 out there have to know what they need — how they fit into that puzzle. I think for me it just went from small picture to big picture just a little bit more. But you know, it’s a collaborative effort with our coaches and that’s why I’m so excited about our coaches that we have on our staff because there’s a lot of good expertise and a lot of good ideas and we throw those ideas around a lot. Then our guys, honestly, like there’s nothing that should come out of my mouth in the headset that they are like, ‘What?’ It’s not like that and they know that. They know pretty much what I’m going to be calling.

Q. How are those logistics working game day, communication? How do you feel first time doing that? (John McMullen)

JONATHAN GANNON: Pretty good. First thing I said on a head set for our guys was, ‘Calm is contagious.’ Everybody has been on a head set where ten dudes are talking and it’s moving pretty fast. We have a very clear picture of, ‘Hey this guy is responsible for this and this guy is responsible for this and here is the communication that goes into my ear, I make the call, goes to the mic and we play.’

So I think we’ve streamlined a lot of the communication and in my opinion, I think the deal went out one time on me yesterday and we — or the last game and it was awesome to see, because I kind of sit back from the defense and you’ve got the position coaches on the line of scrimmage subbing and you saw the Mike go like this [taping his ears] right, and I didn’t even see it. I was actually looking at my sheet. I was making the call and looking at my sheet and [Linebackers coach] Nick Rallis saw it, and he’s responsible, if it goes out, you signal it in. Signaled it in, boom, got the call. Our guys are versed to know, ‘Hey, these are the mechanics on game day, and this is how we are going to function.’