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Doug Marrone: "Our goal is to make the playoffs"

Posted Nov 6, 2013

The Bills head coach talks about EJ Manuel returning to practice and possibly starting on Sunday, and facing the Steelers defense coming off their loss to New England.

Head Coach Doug Marrone

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Opening Statement:

Obviously did not participate in practice: Marquise Goodwin with the hamstring, Robert Woods with an ankle, Kyle Williams with an Achilles. Full participation was obviously EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis. Obviously we had both quarterbacks taking snaps today. I feel good. I think both guys have been out for a while so there is a little bit of, for lack of a better term, rust that they are working through. I am just going to keep it going during the week and I think that we will see where we go as far as who the starter is. EJ has obviously taken more reps than Thad right now. I just want to make sure I feel comfortable before I come out with a statement. Right now we are working with both those guys.

Q: How did EJ Manuel throw the ball and move around?

A: He was not limping or anything. From the standpoint of being healthy, it is fine. Now it is just the point of trying to get him back and like I said, last week we did a good job of getting him out there and working. With Thad, he has been out for a while, hasn’t thrown for a while and we have been working with him, too.

Q: Russ Brandon basically said this morning barring any setback EJ should be ready to go.

A: Yeah.

Q: Is that a fair assessment?

A: Yes, it is a very fair assessment. I just want to make sure that in my mind he is doing all the things that we need to do to win. Then you can say, ‘Hey, go ahead and do it.’

Q: What do you think it means to the team to see him out there taking reps?

A: They probably feel the same way that I do, you know what I am saying? When you say mean to the other guys, like is it gonna…?

Q: Get excited to see him back?

A: I would probably ask them. I do not want to speak for them. I know that EJ has worked extremely hard, both him, Thad and a lot of players from the injury standpoint. For me, I am happy to see him out there because from what I have seen from our players is that when they have been injured, it is almost like you have to work twice as hard from my standpoint of managing them because they are down. You do not want to see that from players. You want to see them excited and ready to go. It is tough when you get injured, especially when we are not getting the results that they want and those players think that they would make a difference—which many of them can.

Q: Do you feel EJ will be able to pick up where he left off and help improve the offensive efficiency?

A: Well I think obviously the expectation if he is out there is obviously for us to win. I have said that quite a bit. I think that what we have to be able to understand is that here is a rookie quarterback that missed some time in the preseason and obviously now he has missed another four weeks. We have to do the best job that we can to make sure that he is ready. Our expectation is that if we put him out there, that we are putting him out there to win.

Q: Do you think the timing of this will help the team believe it can make the playoffs?

A: What I spoke to the team about today is, I told them this ‘A lot of time when you are not getting results that you want, even the most confident of coaches and players a lot of time they start question and believing what they can and cannot do. What happens a lot of times with people that get themselves in trouble is that they forget what they are doing well and really try to wave a magic wand to make complete changes. That is not where we are at. We have done a lot of things well. There are really two areas of concern that we have.’ Meaning that I spoke to the team about  ‘Hey, here is what we are doing well and can improve on, but these are the two areas that are really getting us right now. One of them is obviously the turnovers. We are minus six in the last two games. We are minus three in the last two games, which we haven’t won a game here when you are minus three and not many teams do. And from the other standpoint prior to that, we were getting about two takeaways per game from the defensive side. We were not able to get any takeaways in our last two games. Obviously what we have to do in the red zone, our red zone touchdown we are 31st in the league at 42%. So for us we are going to have to make some changes and do some different things in the red zone because we have to be more successful. But there are other things that we just have to keep doing the same and do them better.’

Q: Does the topic of the playoffs come up with the team?

A: Yeah, our goal is to make the playoffs and until we are mathematically out of it that will continue to be our goal.

Q: You have been more efficient in turnovers with EJ as compared to Thad and Jeff.

A: Well one of the things obviously last week and when you look at things you are trying to build. It is like I said before, you never really start where you left off—like when we were talking about EJ. Last week we are playing the number one team in the NFL, the fifth best defense and the number one team at sacking the quarterback and we do not give up any sacks. A lot of the fumbles have come from sack fumbles. Obviously that is something from a turnover perspective that we have to do a better job with our quarterbacks of knowing where to put the ball.

Q: Any difference in facing a team who just gave up 55 points in a loss?

A: Well I think the first thing that comes to my mind and how much respect I have for Mike Tomlin is that they are going to come back and they are going to get after it. They have a lot of pride in that organization, a lot of pride in that program and a lot of pride in that defense. A lot of those players I have even faced when I was (coaching) in the league even though I took four years off. There is a lot of pride in for that defense in Pittsburgh. They are going to come back and they are going to be ready to go. We will get their best game.

Q: What do you see on defense from watching them on film?

A: They are tough obviously. The defensive backs and the veteran players, they do a very good job. Up front, they have some big linebackers that can rush the passer. It is just one of those situations that Dick LeBeau, and I have always said this, I have always thought that he is one the toughest if not the toughest defensive coordinator. At least I know from my point when I was heavily involved in the game planning and the protection. I always thought that he did the best job in breaking down peoples protections.

Q: With the Richie Incognito story going on, have you ever set specific parameters with your team as a coach?

A: The first thing that I want to make sure of is how do we define hazing? I think that is important. I think people use that word. We are looking at the practice of basically rituals and other activities that involve harassment, abuse and humiliation done to be part of a team. I think that when you use the word hazing those words come to mind. I have always talked to the team constantly on a pretty good scale of respect—that is the word that I use quite a bit about respecting each other. I believe in treating people like you want to be treated. Obviously there is a lot of information about that not just with the league, the league does a good job with their policy in their policy book and then obviously we have an organizational policy that we go over with the players and have it in there. Throughout the time and I have been on a lot of football teams, unfortunately because I have been cut so many times, in high school and college…or maybe fortunately for me I have never seen anything to an extreme where I would call it hazing. Everywhere I have been it is always been with respect with the things that have been done. Maybe I am one of the few, but that has been my experience.

Q: What was the level you were put through when you were a rookie?

A: I will tell you, if you think about it I was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders at the time, and there were a lot of older players on that team. Matt Millen was on that team, Howie Long, Rob Martin—there was a lot of older players that were in the old Raider regime that had a reputation for being a little bit wild. I don’t think, of all the teams I have been around they treated us with great respect. They really did. There was really nothing outside of maybe carrying some pads off the field. I credit a lot of that to the veteran leadership. Matt Millen was a linebacker at the time who was one of the leaders of that team. He was a big part of how all the players were treated with respect. I think that when you look at things that go on, I think A.) it is not one person’s responsibility, I think it is a whole organizations responsibility of what goes on from the top all the way to the bottom—even to the people that work in an organization to make sure that it is a great environment. I think a lot of it falls on the accountability of the team and the veteran leadership of those types of players. I think there are a lot of people that are involved that can help in those situations.

Q: What is your policy on it all?

A: Treat people with respect. If you look at the definition of hazing, it is obviously abuse, humiliation and we use the words respect and accountability. Being accountable for your actions.

Q: Your thoughts on Goodwin and Woods?

A: Yeah, Woods…we are going to see where we are with Woods. I do not feel that good about Robert Woods being able to play. Goodwin worked with the trainers today and tomorrow he will be limited. I will have more information about him tomorrow. I think that is a good sign, but again it is a hamstring so you are going to have to wait till he goes 100% on it to know if he will be able to play or not.

Q: Who fills Woods’ void if he cannot go?

A: I think there are a couple things we can do personnel wise. It all depends if we want to do something on the inside or if we want to do something on the outside. Goodwin coming back obviously would help. If he plays we will be fine. If not then we will have to look at Marcus Easley playing a little bit more. He is more of an outside player. Chris Hogan is a little bit more of an inside player for us right now. Those are the type of things that we would be looking at.

Q: Is C.J. Spiller fully healthy now and do you expect him to see more action than he did last week?

A: I think it all depends upon how the game goes and how he is going. I did talk to him again today. I asked him how he felt and he said he felt good. That is exciting. Like I said before, the more we can get his hands on the ball there is an opportunity for him to make a big play. I think that is something we are always striving for.

Q: Considering he is off the injury report, is his ankle not a factor anymore?

A: I think you answered that question when you said, ‘Hey he is off the injury report.’ I look at it that way. When they are off the injury report then I feel they are fine. The one thing you want to know as a coach is that even if a guy has a little bit of something I would rather put him on the injury report so this way we can monitor it and make sure that we watch it. As soon as someone comes off the injury report then I am thinking that he is full-go.

Q: What do you make of this offense that has really maintained its yards production through what has been a carousel of quarterbacks?

A: We have left a lot of yardage out there. Like I said, there are some things that are doing well. There are some situations that I mentioned before, like the red zone touchdowns. We have gone back and looked at honestly how other teams have been successful in the red zone. Looking maybe how we are going to do something different? How are we going to get over that hump? Obviously if we keep doing the same things we are not going to get any different results. (Nathaniel Hackett) has done a very good job. We have rotated quarterbacks out, we have lost receivers at certain times in the year. Obviously we made changes in the offensive line and at left guard. Those things have gone on. Like I said before with the players, what I am trying to do is concentrate on the things that we are doing well and focus in on ‘Hey this is where we are going to have to make a change. This is where we are going to have to do something differently.’ I want to make sure they understand where we are going. That is one thing that I am excited about. I think that when you look at that we came in with three different systems. We have a lot of young players. As you grow and as you are in that system, you just become better and better. That is the one thing that I am starting to see. Now what we have to do is convert the results. Everybody knows that and it is not happening as fast as we would all like. I think there are a lot of good things going on. I think sometimes when I stand up here and you guys are like ‘Boy coach is happy, coach is enthusiastic or why isn’t he down more than he should be?’ It is the fact of I see some really, really good things going on. It is just the results and that is what we have to get over. Again this week, do you think we are the favorite or the underdog? (Underdog) again.

Q: It looks like there is more on your mind today?

A: I struggle a little bit when people question the integrity of the league. Not saying that you are questioning it. When we start talking about the league and you start talking about the game, I always get concerned and you guys have heard me say this before that I have learned so much from this game. I think that anytime something negative comes up about the game of football, I think it has the opportunity to sway people away at a young age. I think that we put so much into in making sure we go with the youth leagues, working on the contact and how to tackle—all of those things that here we are trying to strive to have more people play which I think will better our communities and better ourselves within the sport. At the same time you are still fighting these things that can hurt the sport. I think that is why I probably feel a little bit subdued because I knew I was going to be asked that question. That question hits me a little bit to heart because I love the game more than I love anything else about this.

Q: How concerned are you about the future of the game given everything going on around it?

A: I am concerned. To sit up here and say that I am not, I am a big advocate for this game. A lot of times in my position whether it was as a coordinator or as a head coach of Syracuse or even now, you get asked to do a lot of speaking engagements. A lot of times it gets strenuous because when can you spend time with your family? You do not really spend a lot of time with them during the year. The one thing that I have never really turned down is the opportunity to speak to youth groups, youth football or youth groups in general whether it is boys or girls. For me, I do have a concern because I am standing here today as a product of the sport. Like I have told you before, I would not be here if I did not play the sport of football. I would love to say ‘Hey I would have gone to college and I would have gotten an education.’ I do not think I would have gone that route, but because of football I was able to do that and better myself and hopefully better things for my family and my children. Plus I learned so much about respect and accountability on a team sport. I am kind of a soapbox guy when it comes to it because I do have concerns for it. We have to continue to do a good job and keep pushing to do a better job of how we talk about our game it what it means.

Q: Seeing what happened to John Fox and Gary Kubiak does it make you think at all about how your time is balanced?

A: Well I do not know if my wife would love me as much as she does if I was home that much (laughs). I think everyone has that responsibility to make sure they take care of themselves. I learned a long time ago. It was interesting when I was in college, I was a college coach for a while, but when I first came into the league there was a coach who had been coaching for about 30 years and he gave me the best advice. I was at the time of sleeping in the office, doing all of those things—working crazy hours on three to four hours of sleep. Had a lot of responsibility. He told me right of the bat, he said ‘You are never going to make it. You are never going to make it in this league.’ I was like ‘What do you mean?’ I was gung-ho. I was like ‘I am going to kill it. It is great!’ he said you have to get into a routine. A routine to where take a half hour, 45 minutes to yourself. Which I do. I talk about, Scott (Berchtold) rolls in a lot later than me but I am usually in there by 4:45 just to make sure that I do get that in. Then watching what you eat and watching what you do. Really the key is how do you deal with the stress? How do you deal with it? I think every individual is different on it. I think what has helped me and I am not going to lie, at the beginning of my career I did struggle with that, but I think I have learned over time how to manage that—which is still very difficult and challenging.

Q: Is the public cry over hazing and concussions—is that warranted or more of a snowball effect?

A: I would not be able to give an opinion on it till I knew all the facts. I just know that you hear things and I think when it comes to you start getting asked questions on it then there is obviously something going on. I think I will wait till afterwards, look at it and see how I can help promote the sport after the season is over.

Q: Do you feel like there needs to be more positive publicity for the game?

A: I have always struggled that even when I was in college I think that I do not know if positive publicity sells. Honestly. I do not mean that as a knock against the newspaper industry or anything like that but a lot of times you will see, like a lot of times in college our kids would do a lot of community service, do well academically and do all these great things but it’d be on page seven and be in this little small tiny thing. You’d just be like ‘Oh, there it is.’ When players have made mistakes and granted, they are accountable for those mistakes now it is headline and there you go. I understand it. I am not sitting here saying I do not get it. I think that it is very difficult because I will tell you this, there is a whole lot more positive for sure then there are negative things that are going on.