What’s the state of the offensive line at this point in camp? Are you pleased with the way things are going or not?
“Yeah, so far, so good. I thought it was a good start at the Hall of Fame game the other night, especially with the backups playing a good number of reps. I thought it was positive in the fact that they’re getting game-like reps so early in the process. And of course, you’ve got three more games on top of that. That’s beneficial. And then, of course, what I think is really good now is a new rule that they’ve implemented where everybody’s going to stay for the cut-down, so no one’s getting eliminated until the final cut-down. So I think it’s great for these guys to get all this work so early on in the process.”
Could you touch on the progress of the Dawand (Jones)? (In) rookie minicamp, where it looked like he really struggled to – I think, pro football focus (said) that he didn’t allow a pressure while playing all the snaps the other night?
“Yeah, I think that for any rookie coming in as an offensive lineman, it’s going to be a process, it’s going to be a learning scenario, and they’re going to learn incrementally as they go along. I really thought his pass protection took some major steps. He still has a long ways to go yet. We’re still working on the run technique aspects of his play to make him a more complete player. But it was good to see him perform under the lights against good competition, taking third down sets, which are so critical to protection. Yeah, a lot of positives, but we came away pleased. As you look at it – just a broad picture, a broad brush looking at it, you say, ‘God, that’s really good,’ because he stayed in front, he got his man, he finished off. But there are so many little things that he can improve upon and self admittingly he agrees with that. He can see where he can improve his hands and his feet and his body posture and obviously some of his overall reactions and counters.”
Are you unconcerned about his stamina after seeing him play 74 snaps?
“I think everybody’s stamina in training camp can get better. Yesterday we went through a no-huddle period where we really try to push our players and try to tax them and take them to the limit, conditionally. And so, I think they can always get better, especially with the tempo things that we’re doing right now – trying to play at a higher tempo, playing more on the ball. I think that’s really positive, and it requires a lot of stamina, especially when you get into the later portions of the game.”
What have you seen out of James Hudson as he heads into year three?
“Yeah, been really pleased with his progress coming into training camp, especially in the offseason. He did really good things from a technique perspective. He showed growth, he showed maturity. I love his passion. His tempo has picked up, his aggressiveness has picked up. I like his swing versatility that he gives us. He’s become a better player because of his intelligence. He’s smart, he can anticipate quicker. His pass sets have improved. We’re still going through training camp, so we’re excited about his progress. We just want to see that consistency extend throughout this period going into the season.”
Tyrone Wheatley is earning some kudos from you guys, some good reviews. How’s he doing?
“Yeah, we really like him a lot. He’s been banged up the last week, so he was not able to get all the reps that we wanted him to get in practice and in the game. But we’re looking forward to the next three weeks or the next three games, that is, to see him more – earlier, so that we can get a good evaluation of him against good competition. But we’ve been pleased. Here’s a guy that my God, he was a tight end a few years ago, and he’s transitioned not only from a skill position, but into a power position. He’s added additional weight. My God, he’s up around 330 pounds now. So, I think and we feel that he’s still growing into his body. He’s still making adjustments, making tweaks, but he’s really athletic. He’s shown the ability to get on the edge and pass protect against good speed rushers. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together, his run technique, his pass technique, but really excited about what he brings in terms of swing value for us.”
Do you feel it’s at all a little risky if you went into the season with only Hudson and Jones as your backup tackle without a veteran presence there? I know Hudson’s in his third year now.
“Well, you got Tyrone Wheatley, who’s been with us as well, so hopefully we can take five into the season with us. I really feel, and I know Andrew (Berry) feels this way as well, that you can never have enough of those tackles because that’s a commodity, and the more you can develop them and train them, it just adds to your depth. So, we feel like we’ve got really good depth and we’re always looking to add another player to develop at that position. But boy, tackles, they come and go. The durability, the pounding that they go through. And of course, we’re in the 17-game season now. The durability issue is really huge, so you may lose one or two for a period of time – hopefully not too long, but those guys that come in, they got to step up and play immediately.”
Thinking of a Hubbard type – six, seven years in the league, you don’t see the need right now for that type of player?
“I don’t think so. I think we have a young group of guys that have good experience, not great, but good enough where they can come off and play. And of course, when you have a young rookie player, when you draft them in the fourth round, they’re going to play. Whether you like it or not. In this day and age, young players are going to play. There’s no such thing in my mind as a backup. I think I’ve stated that before. Those guys are going to play and they’re going to play early. And whether you like it or not, if they get drafted, they’re going to play. Dawand may be in that situation, hopefully not. Hope we keep our guys healthy, but you never know. And then there’s also those extended roles where they come in as a substitute tight end. You know, (it) gives a little more power on the edge, so that goes into the thinking as well. So we can kind of spoon-feed those young tackles into the play. Similarly, like we did last year with James Hudson, Michael Dunn, where they come in there and they play that wide position.”
Such a big year for Jed (Jedrick) Wills. Just what have you seen from him and evolution or development going into, I think his fourth year?
“Yeah, I think he’s really progressed. We came out of last year’s film evaluation, the scheme eval from the offseason and we saw a lot of positive things in this play. We saw steps. Now we want it to be more physical. We want it to be more – I would say more consistent in terms of the finish. We like to see that finish become more violent, more physical. I think we’re pushing that. We’ve had long conversations about that. And you know Jed, he’s a great kid and he takes constructive criticism well, he takes challenges well. So he’s up for it. He wants to get better. He’s shown that in the offseason, he’s shown that in training camp. He’s becoming a more consistent pass protector. We’ve added some things to his repertoire in terms of technique, so we’re really hopeful, and I know that he’s really challenged to get better, improve, because there are some big things out there ahead of him.”
Bill, at this point in your career, how rewarding is to see those young guys, whether it’s Dawand or James or Jed, take that extra step, take that coaching to heart and build on it?
“Yeah, it’s really cool. That’s what we do it for, to help these guys. So, when you see players emerge and improve, it’s gratifying as a coach, but I’m really thrilled for them as a player. That’s what we’re here for, is to help them and the players. When you can show them things that can improve their game, you just develop a trust between each other and that just kind of permeates forward into the future. And so, when things come up, they lean on you. So it’s always kind of a solution-based situation we’re in. But it’s really cool.”
When you have like a standard like Joel (Bitonio) up front, how much does that help those young guys?
“Oh, immensely. Yeah. I mean, I think the world of Joel and (he is) the consummate pro. But everything he does from a technique perspective is so precise. There’s such precision in his game. At times, it’s flawless. The way he can move his feet, the way he can position himself on a defender, not only in the run game, out on the perimeter, but then again in pass pro, which is so important. He’s always in the right position. We call it positional leverage, he always has that. And then you add that element of physicality to it, you got a really good player.”
Bill, you’re going to run the ball a lot more out of the shotgun this year, it’s obvious than the pistol. How does that affect the line? Is that a big transition? How’s that going?
“I don’t think so. I don’t think it changes relative to what’s being asked of them up front. It’s the same standard of technique that we’re using when we’re in the eye, and we will still be in the eye, and we are evolving to more gun-run situations and pistols, but that doesn’t affect any of the techniques. The techniques don’t change just because we’re in the gun or we’re in the pistol.”
Would it affect the running back more than the line?
“Well, it just alters his course of action. And of course, the reads come a little bit different because you’re in the gun. You don’t have the depth of vision to see it when you’re at depth. But when you’re in the offset positions, you really have to have good vision because you’re coming across the ball. So it’s a little bit different. The vision gets skewed a little bit, so to speak.”
Bill, with Dawand, from both a conditioning standpoint and a little bit of a maturity standpoint, we saw him get sick. We see you guys are coaching hard. We saw him get frustrated at the Greenbrier. How has he come along from a conditioning and a maturity standpoint?
“Yeah, he’s getting better. He’s maturing. It’s small steps, and I think he realizes that he gets a little frustrated with some of the things that he’s not able to do yet. But we just keep preaching patience with him and buy-in and look, everybody goes through it, so he’s not the first one to come into this. Everybody’s been affected when they’re young, and all of a sudden you’re pressurized to go stand up and make plays and make the right adjustments and perform with the right techniques. And if you don’t do it, what happens? You get a little frustrated. So, they see, like a Joel Bitonio or they see Wyatt Teller or (Ethan) Pocic. He watches those guys as well as Jack Conklin, and it’s seamless for those guys. But those guys have had over 10,000 reps, so it’s a lot easier. So when you come in, it’s new, it’s different, it’s frustrating and you just have to work through those frustration levels to get players where they need to be.”
Another transition is now (Deshaun) Watson being there and the spacing he needs. How is that going? How’s the line learning their quarterback?
“I think it’s been great. We’ve really studied Deshaun. He’s a little bit deeper in the pocket. He’s taller and deeper in the pocket than what we’ve had in the past, and we’ve always adjusted to the depth of the quarterback. So, we’ve arranged the past sets and constructed them as such, where we’re still aggressive, we’re still proactive, but we’ve modified some things to take to adhere to where he’s at and what he’s doing. Because he’s an escape artist. We can do some things to expand the pocket and let him push up and pull out if he needs to. So, I think trying to create those lanes and protection is really important for a mobile quarterback.”
They don’t have eyes at in the back of their heads. So how do they learn?
“It’s feel and it’s angles. So all those linemen up front have different angle sets to what they do. So the situation, the down and distance dictates that. So, whether it’s pocket expansion or we constrict the pocket, that all changes by down and distance. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s about as simple as I can explain it. So we try to really just alter the different sets of the players to complement what we’re doing in the passing game and complement where the launch point is for the quarterback. I think that’s really important.”
If he’s trying to make plays back there, they just got to get used to that, right? He’s going back and forth?
“I think we’ve seen a lot of mobile quarterbacks across the NFL, and you see guys that are escape artists that can elude the rush. And my experience with Deshaun in the last season, watching him move, if he’s read out and he needs to move on in terms of making a play, pushing the pocket, and escaping – he’s shown that he’s strong in the pocket. And I think we’ve built enough lanes within our set angles to allow him to escape in the pocket. So we’re in tune to it. Trust me.”