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Coach Munchak's Sept. 2 Practice Report

Posted Sep 2, 2013

HEAD COACH MIKE MUNCHAK

(on the starting cornerback opposite Jason McCourty)

(Alterraun) Verner.

(on factors that influenced the starting cornerback decision)

I just think overall we weighed everything. We had a plan. We explained the plan to both of them going into the OTAs. After watching the body of work from practice to OTAs and games, we just felt Vern (Alterraun Vener) was the right amount of most consistent. We’ll start with him obviously starting but obviously Tommie (Campbell) will still be part of what we’re doing on defense,  still be part of special teams. He’ll still play a big role, but just to start the game out, it’ll be Vern.

(on whether Tommie Campbell is disappointed with the final outcome)

I always look at it the positive way that Vern (Alterraun Vener) stepped up and handled it well. From the first day we started talking about making adjustments and some other things, he’s handled himself really well. He just got better out here and continued to make plays on the field. Even when we were talking about moving him to free safety, he was working that during OTAs. He’s a player. He’s a guy that’s got good instincts. He communicates well. I give him as much credit as everything. Right now it looks like if you’re going to put together a group, you weigh a lot of factors not just the individual play. With the defense, right now we think that the best way to go starting the season is with Vern starting at corner. Again, there’s always packages and things that can change up where people play, but that’s how it’ll start out.

(on whether Coty Sensabaugh will play nickel in certain packages)

Yes.

(on what happened to Tommie Campbell and how he lost the starting bid at corner)

Well, it’s not over yet. Tommie (Campbell) is still here. Tommie’s still a part of our team. At any position, the timing for everyone is always different with how quickly they come on, how quickly they can contribute, how quickly they can take over a position. It’s still a work in progress, and like I said, give Vern (Alterraun Verner) some credit, too, for playing well and doing a good job. So, right now, we still have both of them on our football team, and it’s a long season. This conversation can change quickly if anything happens. He’s still in it, he’s still going to keep getting better, but as far as who starts first, it’ll be Vern.

(on whether the team will play less man defense than originally anticipated)

I think we’re going to be able to do what we want to do. I think some of it will be who we’re playing against. You have to look at matchups and Vern (Alterraun Verner) and his size and who he’s playing against. So, I think you just have to do smart game planning that way as far as what you’re going to try to do with him. There’s ways to protect people in man and do things that you can protect a man just like they do on the offensive line when you have a matchup. Week to week it’s ‘hey, so and so doesn’t need any help this week. Hey, against this guy we better do this and do that.’ It’s the same thing with the secondary. You just be smart. You pick and choose how to protect a guy if you can feel he’s at a disadvantage. Because of his quickness and maybe the other team’s lack of a big receiver we should be able to do a lot of things we want him to do.

(on the decision to cut Fernando Velasco)

Like we said from the beginning, we knew that was going to be a very competitive situation with the whole group. We had four guys with Rob (Turner), Fernando (Velasco), Chris (Spencer), and (Brian) Schwenke. Schwenke got injured, so it kind of put him in the backend, kind of hurt his chance of winning the spot as far as starting because of how much time he missed. We let it play out like we said. We let them all play some center. We went through the body of work of all of them and how they were playing. We felt that Rob did the best in terms of running the group. As far as the center, we thought when he was playing the group played better. That’s when we started leaning that way as we did for the Atlanta game. He handled himself well in that game, so then we knew now it’s just who is the best swing guy for this football team. They’ve both been in the league. Fernando obviously grew up with us here with me as a line coach. You know how we felt about him. It was just a matter of doing what was the best thing for the team, and when the time came, Chris did a nice job. Chris came in and got better since the time he’s been here. He missed OTAs which I thought would hurt him more than it did. He came out here I thought when he played guard and got better over the six-week period. It was hard. It became a very difficult decision between those two. All of them could play in this league. We’ve said that before that we felt they will be. No matter who we let go, there’s going to be quite a few guys we let go playing in this league on another team. We think Fernando in this case is one of them. It was hard. We thought about keeping all of them. But, again, a lot of factors go into that, too. I would have loved to keep 10.

(on whether it is unusual to have three new starters at the interior line positions)

We knew it could happen that way when you draft one that is going to start like Chance (Warmack) and you go out and get (Andy) Levitre. If Fernando (Velasco) wins the spot, then it doesn’t change that way. I think the kind of players we have, we’re not looking at it saying we’re going to have to work this thing out. I feel this group is playing well, and they’re veteran enough with Levitre and Rob (Turner). We don’t have three young guys playing next to each other. We have one young guy that is growing up real fast and does some special things. I think the other guys manage well with Stew (David Stewart) next to him and Rob. Again, I think when it all plays out, that’ll be the strength of this football team is how we play upfront.

(on the decision to put Marc Mariani on injured reserve)

Again, you’re looking at all the options there when you start predicting when will he be ready. You’re trying to figure out the roster and how much time will he miss, who you’ll want to cut if you keep him on the 53, and what if he’s not ready in the three weeks, four weeks whenever it is he’s coming off the shoulder. We still wanted to see how he came off the leg injury. He only had one game, half a game under his belt playing wise. He’s been through a lot of rehab and a lot of work. Everyone knows how we feel about him. He’s a great kid. You want him on your football team. You’re tying to find a way to make it work. It just made it hard to figure out how do we do all that with what’s best for him and what’s best for us. He may have been ready, no doubt. He would have had a chance to come back on the field at some point, but there are no guarantees after that. We felt the best thing now was to put him on injured reserve, so that’s what we decided to do.

(on whether Marc Mariani needs surgery or further rehabilitation)

Not right now he’s not. We’ll see as he goes forward. I look at all the advantages for him. We’re going to sell him the advantages the fact that his body will get a year to rest, that the leg will really get a chance to recover the way it needs to. With the shoulder, hopefully it would have been OK, but who knows. There’s a lot of unknowns. But, could he have come back and played? We assume he could have at some point. The way it fit and how we get to that spot, this was the best way to go. We talked to Marc (Mariani) about that. I talked to him two or three weeks ago about all the different options that were out there. We talked about that, and we made our decision. He’s disappointed. Obviously, he wants to play. He doesn’t want to sit for another year technically. I think he’s happy that we’re committing, and he knows how much we want him here. It’s going to be hard on Sundays, there’s no doubt for him, at least 12 of them. It’s going to be hard.

(on whether it was a strategic decision to keep Marc Mariani with the Titans)

I think it’s more for us to keep him no doubt to not lose a good player, who we feel can help us at receiver and help us at the return game. But, we didn’t get to see it all. D-Rey (Darius Reynaud) is pretty good, too. They would have competed like they would have the year before, but injuries has kind of stopped that competition two years in a row. There’s no telling how things would have worked out if he stayed healthy. I wish we could have found that out for his sake and ours. There’s no doubt part of it is if we can’t have him out for the first month and we’re not quite sure how we keep him or if we’re going to have to lose another player to keep him then all of a sudden we lose Marc (Mariani) because his health isn’t right. So, there’s a lot of things in play there with what’s best for everybody. As it turns out, we get to keep a player that we feel is a great player to have on your team and part of your organization. Maybe selfishly we’ll say he’ll have a full offseason spending time in the rehab room and he’ll be ready to go next year. Hopefully it’ll add to his career even though it’s disappointing now.

(on whether Daimion Stafford’s play against the Vikings helped him secure a roster spot)

It helped him there’s no doubt. He’s a guy that went in there and we liked what we were seeing in that first preseason game and during camp. I think once he got in there in that (Vikings) game he was in the right spot at the right time with a couple of turnovers. We need a guy like that, a guy his size that brings that kind of power. It definitely helped him, and now we’ll see how he does on special teams and growing up in the position as he’s getting some safety work.

(on what Rob Turner brings to the center position)

I think he’s a good-sized guy. We like his demeanor to the game and his approach. I think he’ll help Jake (Locker) in the huddle as far as taking control. He’s very confident in what he does. He handles the huddle well, handles the players well. He works well with Chance (Warmack). He’s a guy that’s down by the pile. He’s kind of like (David) Stewart in that way that he has that edge to him. I say Stew (David Stewart) but also Kevin Mawae with all the little tricks within the game that people don’t notice until you really watch tape. He does the little extra stuff that just adds to his game. That’s just part of who he is and how he plays. He’s a tough guy. He’s battled through it. He’s been a swing guy. He’s kind of done a little bit of everything in a couple different places. That’s what attracted us to him when we brought him in as a free agent. We figured he’d be a great guy for the group plus if he could play well, if he could win the spot it would be great. He came in and handled himself real well. We saw a lot of those positives and saw a lot of that leadership in the huddle. He managed things well. It’s good for him. It was tough. Like I said, we had three guys, really four, that we felt can all play the spot.

(on Jack Doyle landing a spot on the Colts’ roster after he was released)

He’s a guy that you liked the way he developed. He was a guy undrafted. We liked what we saw, but to carry four tight ends is hard when you carry a fullback. You never know with that whether it’ll be over or not be over. That was a guy that worked well and earned a spot. I’m proud of him, happy for him. A guy that could be undrafted and make a 53, that’s pretty good.

(on whether there was competition between Jack Doyle and Taylor Thompson for the third tight end position)

I think right now, no, we’d say no. I thought it was more for the fourth spot how we could keep four. Do we keep him instead of keeping the extra receiver or D-lineman, that conversation. Again, you play things well with the chance of getting picked up. Did he do enough on tape where someone would pick him up on the 53? Obviously, he did. That’s tough. Like I said, we have some good players here, and we’re going to see that a lot of these guys are going to show up somewhere else.

(on the importance of getting Rusty Smith on the practice squad)

That was good. Again, we talked about that position that that was a possibility. I talked to Rusty (Smith) about it back in May and June. Because of the way the team was going, this was probably an opportunity that we could use only two, more so than in the last couple of years. For us to get him back meant a lot because we have confidence in him. My feeling is that if we have injuries, I’d much rather have him here than anyone else that we could go out and get at that position. He knows our system well. He knows our players well, and I think he’s got a good command of what we’re doing. I think it was good we didn’t lose him.

(on Pittsburgh this year compared to last year)

I think for them, they’re in the playoffs every year it seems like. They’re always in the conversation and they’re one of the favorite teams in the country with their fan base and the way they travel. I know for them, they don’t stay down long when they do have a couple of bad years. I was around them when I played them all those years. If they had one off year, they usually came back with a vengeance the next year. They find the right people. They do a good job I think in that organization of finding guys that fit their system and play well. They had a lot of injuries last year like we did and at the quarterback spot and a lot of spots that I think hurt them throughout the year. They lost some offensive linemen early. They battled through it and obviously, it was a disappointing year for them, too. This is a huge year for them and for us. Anytime you play Pittsburgh, you know how physical it’s going to be. So, it’s a great challenge for both sides. We anticipate them being one of the best teams in the league again.

(on whether Moise Fokou will start at linebacker)

He’d start the season. He’d start the game this week and kind of go there with it. Again, as we find out every year, just like we found out with (Colin) McCarthy last year, guys get hurt and guys get nicked. I’m just glad he’s healthy. He looked physical in the game as he got to the second half. He’s playing with a lot of edge. He wants to play. He wants to get back on the field. He’ll be on the field between special teams and maybe being part of some nickel packages. He’ll be out there, but with the base defense, we start Moise for now.

(on whether it is possible for guys to pass each other during the season)

If Moise (Fokou) plays like we think he can, you hope not. You don’t have a crystal ball. I mean, can it happen? Sure. Anything’s possible. You want them both to play well and see what happens. For now, Moise’s played well. He took advantage of the situation he was given, and now we just have to see how we play as a unit. If guys don’t play well, then yes, you start looking for different combinations that maybe change the way we play. Hopefully, we’re not going to have that conversation. But, it happens at all positions, the offensive line, receiver, linebacker, defensive line. If guys that start the season don’t get the right fit, then you keep making adjustments. He just has to keep getting better, stay healthy, keep working, and he’s going to be a big part of us winning games.

(on concerns about the linebacker position because of injuries)

It has been because of all those guys being nicked up. We have six guys that we believe in, but like you mentioned, five of them will be active this week because (Zaviar) Gooden will be out probably for another week. We got guys that’re coming back, that will be all back. Zach (Brown) practiced and looked good. Akeem (Ayers) should be practicing by Wednesday. So, we think all five of those guys will be ready to play and help us win on Sunday

(on whether the mood in the building was different today)

I think definitely there was. I think like you said, Saturday’s the hardest because of the transition. When you go from 75 guys to 53 in the building, it seems like half your team is missing. That was hard. We came out here Saturday and had a nice workout. I think today you start moving on. You know the roster is always going to have some tweaks as we go forward, but for the most part, the guys that are going to help us beat Pittsburgh are in the building. I think they’re excited that they’re on to the next phase. Let the game week begin, and let’s find out what we’re all about, what we have. It’s hard the first game because no one’s played more than 30 or 40 snaps. A lot of it’s about who’s going to be in the best shape, who’s going be able to endure a tough, physical game if you go to 70 plays and you have to win in the fourth quarter. Those are always huge factors in a game like this. Hopefully we’re assuming that’s the kind of game we win. It’s going to be up to us to go up there and play well.

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