On the importance of having CB Ron Bartell on the team: "He was able to come in and play pretty quickly for us last year when we had some injuries. I thought he played well at the end of the year, we played the Bears in the last game of the season. They tested him early and he did a good job defending those balls. He's got great size, he's got some experience, he's got a lot of experience. He's got great size and he's right in the mix with the other guys. He's a veteran player and he's seen a lot of different things, played a lot of different schemes so he's a quicker study and getting up to speed whereas the rookies everything is new to them."
On what Jeff Backus' role will be and why they brought him in: "We have a lot of respect for Jeff. He's had a long career and it wasn't just because he was physically talented. The game meant a lot to him and it's hard for those guys to step away. The only game in his NFL career that Jeff Backus didn't start was the Thanksgiving game last year. He really embraced the leadership, mentorship role that was presented to him that week. It was probably just a little bit more of an extension of that. He's very interested in the guys that are still in the room from him, particularly the young tackles and he just wants to impart as much knowledge as he can to those guys. How much, how big that role will be and how much he'll be there, he's not here every day. But it's something and football's important to him. When you do something for so long it's hard to turn it off and we welcome him whenever he has a chance to be around."
On if Backus approached the team or if they approached him: "A little bit of both. We certainly have a lot of respect for him as a player and what he was able to do. We think he's a great role model for the younger players and even though he's retired there's still something he can contribute. So we made it, even though he's sort of a coaching intern , we made it a little bit more of a formal position and I think the wisdom he's gained over all those years can help the younger guys."
On RB Mikel Leshoure's injury being a long-term thing: "It's something that's been nagging him. He's got a little bit of a hamstring and we'll get him back as soon as we can. This time of the year we don't want to push anybody, we don't want to push him onto the field and then get set back even further. It's taken maybe a little bit longer than we would've thought, but that's why we don't put time tables on those kind of things. We'll get him back there soon. He's working hard, he's just not working on the field."
On DE Devin Taylor's injury: "Same thing. He's got a little bit of a hamstring, but hopefully we can get him back there soon. It's nothing that's more than day to day, but that day to day has maybe lingered a little bit longer than we thought. But again, that's why we don't put time tables on."
On WR Ryan Broyles being on target for coming back: "There's no such thing as a target, but yeah, he's making good progress. He's working through. He's almost in the same position he's in last year with the exception that he knows the offense, he had a little bit of experience last year, he had some play time and he made some plays for us so it's just a matter of getting healthy. Where last year he was trying to get healthy and also trying to learn a playbook and try to sort of earn his way onto the team. He's in a little bit different situation; he's just trying to get healthy. He's doing a little bit more each day, but we'll probably be into training camp before we really see anything from him."
On QB Shaun Hill's rehab: "He did a little bit of stuff out there today. So he's getting back as quick as he can. He's not a long term guy."
On adding Backus to help with the transition for the young offensive line: "Well I mean we certainly have confidence in our coaches. I meant that's what their job is. One of Wash's (Jeremiah Washburn) roles when George Yarno was here was to work with a lot of the younger guys, practice squad players and things like that. We certainly aren't passing that responsibility on to anybody other than coaches. But again, that is something that Jeff can relate to the guys and does it on a little bit different level. It's a lot easier for him in the locker room or on the side, to be able to pull a guy aside and say, ‘Hey this is what I learned over the course of my career, or hey this might help you.' Maybe just another way of saying what coach Wash is telling those guys."
On how C Dominic Raiola is adjusting to the changes this late in his career: "You know this time of year, we're always rotating a lot of guys through there. He's used to playing with a lot of different guys, so I don't think it's any different. They're all used to playing the same scheme. So I think we're all used to that, and having different guys in different spots. I think our offensive line is working well, but this time of year it's really hard to tell. We're doing a lot of individual work, a lot of technique work. Until we get really competitive, until we put shoulder pads on, we really won't know where any of those guys are."
On relying on Raiola and G Rob Sims because of the dynamic of the locker room now: "I think all of that stuff develops as training camp goes on, as the offseason goes on, preseason and all those things and even the course of the season. Like I said a couple weeks ago, I don't think you necessarily appoint anyone a leader or expect anything different out of it. They just sort of naturally grow into roles like that. So it's a role that all those guys have played before. Rob Sims has played a leadership role for us and Dominic Raiola certainly has."
On having to be vocal to be a leader: "Everybody does it a little different way. It might not get people's attention outside of our locker room, or maybe outside of a meeting room or maybe standing on the perimeter watching practice, but you know, if you do the right things, if you work hard, if you're setting a good example, if you're holding your teammates accountable, then you can do it with a lot of different personalities. I think a great example of that is Calvin Johnson. Calvin's not the most vocal guy and we get great leadership from our wide receivers Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson. They couldn't be farther apart on the spectrum of personality. Both of them are very respected and both of them are very good leaders for us."
On TE Brandon Pettigrew being more consistent catching the ball: "You know I think the biggest thing last year was ball security. He had some fumbles, had some balls taken away from him that ended up costing us and he's worked really hard in the offseason. Brandon looks as good as I've ever seen him physically, which he always has but he takes his job very seriously. He's very accountable like all our players. They work hard to identify their weaknesses and try to work to correct those. Brandon is such a long guy, you know he's almost 6-6, he's 270 pounds and where that can also be a benefit , being able to extend to get your hands on balls and those kind of things be a big target for the quarterback. But that can also be something that you need to work on because it does take a long time when you catch a ball to bring it in. A guy that's 6-3 and has short arms the ball's in his frame a little bit easier. Then some balls that you can get to that you might tip that maybe a shorter guy doesn't even get to. So what is a strength for him, his length, is also something that presents some things that he needs to work on and he's worked very hard at those things."
On if adding bigger cornerbacks was a priority this offseason: "We've always sort of had that in our profile, but the opportunity to get those guys, you know, there are not many of them out there. There are probably a lot more 5-9 and 5-10 guys out there than there are 6-0, 6-1 guys. But all things equal, when you do have more size, you know, it's beneficial for you. You don't want to end up sacrificing speed, you don't want to end up sacrificing toughness and change of direction. I think that's the balance that you have to play there. It's tough to play corner. I think it's probably the most difficult thing to do in all of sports. You have to run with world-class receivers, you've got to start backwards and they're going forward. They know where they're running, you don't. You've got to be tough enough to take on pulling guards and running backs and skilled enough and fast enough to cover the elite athletes, you know, guys that are Olympic-caliber speed. So, you don't want to sacrifice change of direction or speed for size, but if you have the change of direction and have the speed, then size is definitely beneficial. I think that's been more of our emphasis, trying to find guys that have all of it. They are rare to find, something you have to develop, which we're working on with Chris Greenwood. You know, small school guy but has height and has weight and has a lot of things that we're looking for. Other guys, like you mentioned (Ron) Bartell is a veteran player, we had the opportunity to get and we were able to plug them in."
On how to evaluate punt and kick return players in practice: "Yeah, right now they're just working. They're really not being evaluated. Other than their technique and catching the ball, there's nothing like a full stadium and having 10 guys bearing down on you to really tell who can catch and who can make good decisions. You can only tell so much out here. But you can tell technique and you can work on things like that, but until the lights are on and you're doing a real game situation, that's where the real evaluation will come."
On how much of a concern Leshoure's injury is: "It's really hard to say how much the Achilles had to play because the Achilles never really made it on to the radar. But I think we've seen in a lot of different cases when guys come back from a major injury, we see it sometimes with ACLs, when they're coming back from an ACL maybe they get a hamstring or an ankle or a groin or something like that. It's possible that that could have been one of the cases with him last year. You know, he had times where he played very, very well for us, but I think you're correct in your assessment that he wasn't consistent enough over the course of the season. Again, whether that's injuries, whether that's just basically being a rookie and learning how to be consistent from week to week, those are things that are on his plate this offseason. He has been set back a little bit. You know, he has nothing that's going to hold him back long term, but this time of year we always want to be careful with everybody and try not to push anybody back too quickly."
On getting younger on defense: "I think it's just been that. We didn't look to say we needed a youth movement or we were trying to get younger. I think it just happened. We had drafted, you know, and had a lot of those players in there. I think it's just the way it's worked out, but even though we're young, a lot of those guys like Chris Houston, Stephen Tulloch, those guys are veteran players. Those guys have been around. They came into the NFL very young. So, Glover Quin, (Louis) Delmas, Chris Houston, (DeAndre) Levy, Tulloch, those guys have played a lot of football in the NFL even though they're still under the age of 30."
On the NFL moving the Draft back in 2014: "Yeah, I don't know that it really affects us. I mean we don't set the schedule. You know, we show up every day and if there's something to do we do it. It probably just gives more time to evaluate for the Draft. It'll push OTAs, you know, into the end of Draft preparation, but as long as it is, we'll probably be done with our Draft preparation by then. We've done that before when OTAs were longer, you know, when our offseason program was 14 weeks instead of 10. We were able to get on the field while we were still doing Draft preparation. So, you just split your day. Its' really nothing that's that big of a deal."
On free agency before the NFL Combine: "I just do what they tell me to do. I don't really have a preference. Whenever it's on the schedule we do it and we just try to figure out the best way to work through it. It really doesn't matter."
On signing QB Thaddeus Lewis: "You know, we saw him in the preseason last year or the year before. I can't remember which game he played against us. He ended up starting a game last year and had a pretty good game. I think it was the last game of the season. He's bounced around for a little while. He started with St. Louis and then he ended up in Cleveland, but he became available and we thought he would do a nice job competing for us. I think he just got here like recently within the last hour or so and is going and getting his physicals and doing those things right now."
On DE Jason Jones: "You know, that's another guy that when I talked about all the young vets that are under 30, I sort of forgot about Jason. I think Jason was 20, 21 years old when he came into the NFL and he's another guy that's in his sixth or seventh year and it's hard to believe that he's been around that long. He's got great length, you know, he weighs over 280 pounds, which is a big difference than a lot of defensive ends that we've had here. But he's not sacrificing speed or agility because of it. Like we talked about with the corners, there is speed and agility that you have to have to be a defensive end and he has that. He also gives us, you know, 6-6 and super long arms. He should be able to help us in the pass rush game and should affect throws even if he doesn't win in pass rush because of his length and be able to knock passes down. He's been giving good vet leadership also. You know, it wasn't just Tennessee where he played. He also played at Seattle last year. So, he has a little bit of perspective of the NFL. He's been through this before and I think when you have young players like Ziggy Ansah, they can look to a player like Jason Jones and know that he's done it before and he's done it in different schemes."
On if Lewis is a read-option, mobile quarterback: "We're not going to be running any of that stuff. No, we didn't bring him here for that. We brought him in to compete, not to be a look squad guy."
On if leadership is organic within specific players: "No, I wouldn't necessarily say that. You certainly respect leadership and there is a role for it on the team. But as a coach, you can't appoint guys leaders. Guys do it or they don't. You know, I think you're in the wrong business if you're saying this guy's a leader, this guy's a leader. Some guys aren't comfortable in that role, other guys are very comfortable in that role. Everybody does it with a little different personality, but leadership is very important to us. It's just that I don't think it's something that you can force. It has to come and it comes through experience, it comes through all the stuff that goes along with playing this game and it comes from personality."