Head Coach Jay Gruden
On the plan for the starters on Thursday:
"Yeah. It's my intent now for after a couple good days of practice to let the other guys play, let the backups play. So, we can solidify those roles, very important. I think we have our starters. In general, we feel pretty good about who they are and now we need to find the key backups and who they are and make sure they get the ample reps to make the football team and show what they can do on the field."
On safety Phillip Thomas:
"He's going to go to the same doctor that did his surgery and get it checked out from him and get another opinion from him and see what's going on with it. He's got something down there. He feels some soreness and we're just going through all the avenues to make sure that he gets checked out the right way. He's going to be out for the game though, for sure."
On safety Brandon Meriweather's suspension:
"We don't have a lot of say in it as coaches. It goes to the board up there and they make their decision and unfortunately for Brandon he's got a history of these types of events. Whether or not it was significant enough to warrant a suspension is what they decided. Now, we have to go through the appeals process and all that and do the due diligence and do whatever steps we need to do necessary to get that thing reduced or dropped. So, it doesn't really matter what I think, unfortunately. I know Brandon's been working very hard at lowering his target. He's done very well since his last suspension. He hadn't had any issues. This is the first one that's come up and it was an unfortunate incident. He tried to lower his target, I thought. I thought it was a legitimate football play but the NFL didn't see it that way. We'll just have to fight it the best way we can to get that thing dropped or reduced."
On plans at safety if Meriweather's suspension is upheld:
"[Bacarri] Rambo also could slide in there. We've got [E.J.] Biggers. So, we have some options in there. Obviously, it's a loss for us because he's been playing extremely well, but we have to step up and Rambo probably right now would be the first option."
On how difficult it is to cut players:
"It's hard, you know. I'm a sensitive guy and I've been cut before and I hate it. We had to do a couple more today and guys that I know very well. It's just part of the business though and they understand that, but it's never going to be easy when you have guys that work extremely hard to get to this point and they've busted their butt for you at training camp, OTAs, and been in the weight room, been on time to meetings and really done nothing wrong. It's that situation everywhere in the NFL, not just here, but it's no fun for anybody in any league to have to cut somebody."
On the difficulty of communicating the strike zone to players:
"Yeah, it's hard. It's not just Brandon. It's other players around the league and it's the flags that really hurt the team, also. You're taking about a third down and five and a punt, possible punt to first down and a 15-yard penalty, so it's a very, very tough call, not only hits the pocketbook and possible suspensions but the 15-yard penalty is rough also. But it's very hard. I showed about 20 clips today on tape of those plays that were called and we're continuing to talk about them and just continue to preach the fact that the target has got to be lowered and do the best you can and try to avoid it at all cost. Ryan Clark who's a veteran safety has got a great approach to it and he's going to share his thoughts with the guys and we've just got to try to continue to coach it. It's very difficult though because a lot of them are bang-bang plays and sometimes the receiver lowers his target right as the defensive backs has already got his target lowered and they collide, which is kind of what happened with Torrey Smith and Brandon. Torrey lowered and Brandon was already lowered and Torrey lowered and they collided. So, just a very difficult situation to be put in as a defensive back nowadays with these rules, but they are there to protect the players and we just have to adhere by them."
On emphasizing to players that special teams are an avenue to make the team:
"From day one we've encouraged that. We've stressed the importance of special teams. Since Coach [Ben] Kotwica has got here, he's made it clear and then I've backed him and made it clear that if it's close in a position battle we're keeping the better special team player, and that's just a fact. So, it is a very important part of our team right now. It obviously was a problem last year and we're trying to rectify that and you don't rectify that by keeping guys who are not very good on special teams. You've got to keep guys that are special teams players and we've got a few that are really battling that are really close in the position battles but they're doing very well on special teams. It really, really helps their chances."
On cornerback Tracy Porter:
"It was his hamstring. His shoulder's fine. His hamstring was a little sore yesterday but it looks like he's going to go Thursday."
On his expectations for linebacker Brian Orakpo and if the franchise tag is a message about production:
"Yeah, it is, and he understands that. You know, he's had a great career already. We have high hopes for him and the reason why we franchised him and gave him what we gave him is because we think he's a hell of a player. We expect great things from him not only on the field but as far as being a leader, also, of that group. He's so far done that. He's been excellent. Since the very beginning when I got here, he's been very positive, very approachable, been to all the meetings and very excited to come to work and practice and get better. Coach [Brian] Baker is helping him out a lot and I think this is going to be a good year for him, as long as he continues to work, which he is. We're happy with what he's doing so far and really excited about the possibilities that we have with him and [Ryan] Kerrigan on the outside, being a little bit more physical, being a little bit more aggressive. Obviously Trent Murphy and some of the other guys with [Jason] Hatcher, we feel good about where our pass rush is right now."
On what he plans to do at fullback on Thursday:
"Not use one. Don't tell anybody [laughter]. We have enough formations. We can motion our tight ends back and use them as a fullback-type blocker, but, yes, this will be mainly a one-back set type deal."
On younger running backs competing against experienced running backs:
"Yeah, Alfred [Morris] and Darrel [Young] are pretty much locks, and Roy Helu has done some good things. After that, we have got a logjam, and you don't like logjams because for a back it's hard to get them all the ample carries and touches out of the backfield, the catches to prove their worth. They have to do it out here. Some of them have missed some time, which has hurt their chances. Some of them have missed protections, which have hurt their chances. We just have got to try to do the best we can Thursday night to try to get some guys in question some touches and see what they can do – make sure the ball security is on point, see if they can play through some injuries, see how durable they are obviously and see what they can do in protection and out of the backfield. It's going to be hard, you know? A lot of it is going to come down to the total picture as far as what they've done since OTAs and training camp and the other preseason games. But, that right there is probably one of the tougher positions because we have so many, like you said."
On challenges undrafted players face:
"Undrafted players, they have a lot of challenges. They don't get as many reps as the guys that are already here. They really have to hone in in the meeting room, they have to learn a new system, and then they have to come in when their time does come. They have to take advantage of the few reps they get. It's very difficult on them. Fortunately for us, we've had some undrafted guys come in here and do that. They've done a very good job as far as learning from the rookie OTAs to the OTAs to now and they've taken advantage of reps to show what they can do. But, it's very, very difficult for them. The odds are very much against them, so it's very important for them, like I said, when their number is called to take advantage of it in a big way so they are seen. When they're doing scout team stuff, they've got to do the best they can to make themselves seen and heard. So far we've had some guys do that and step up, which is encouraging."
On the kicking battle between Kai Forbath and Zach Hocker:
"That's another tight battle. It's a close battle. Both of them have done a very good job in my opinion. I don't think we can go wrong either way with the place kicker. Unfortunately, we'll probably have to choose one, and that'll come down to Thursday night. I like both of them. I feel good about kicking with both of them in a game. So, that'll be a tough call."
On running back Chris Thompson:
"As far as Chris Thompson's concerned, like I said earlier, one of the top traits a running back has to have – my dad told me a long time ago – is durability, and he's got to prove to us that he can stay healthy. He might have to play through some pain – nicks and knacks – for us to count on him on a Sunday afternoon. So, this is a big game for Chris."
On safety Akeem Davis:
"Akeem Davis, he's one of the free agents that we're talking about that has really come in and taken advantage of his reps, especially on special teams. He's a force to be reckoned with on special teams. And I'll tell you what, he's an exciting player and I know Coach Kotwica loves him. From the safety position, he's a little bit behind the 8-ball as far as knowing the system, but he's fighting his tail off and learning and trying to do the best he can. But, from a special teams standpoint, he's a guy that you want out there and we might have to find a way to get him out there on Sunday because he is really, really good out there. Like I said, that's a very great example of not only is he a rookie free agent, but he's a guy that has worked his tail off on special teams to really battle for a roster spot."