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EJ Manuel "Really starting to get it" says OC Hackett

Posted Jun 18, 2014

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett talks about the difference in tempo, EJ Manuel's growth, and the key to getting more touches on offense.

Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 

Q: What has the difference in tempo been between the past few days and the weeks leading up to now?
A: Having a new defense coming in, we wanted to make sure we huddled up and let them get that system in. Coach Schwartz and I worked together to work out of a huddle as much as we could. That’s also still a very big component of the game, we have to come out and huddle for each series. Once we got back to minicamp we jumped right back into our normal offense. So it’s been really good to see that start working, and see EJ [Manuel] grow within that. Simply put, it’s a lot faster.

Q: Speaking of EJ’s growth, where is he at this point?

A: He’s doing a very good job. He’s put in a lot of work, all the quarterbacks are. They’re understanding the system, understanding what we’re trying to get. It’s nice to see him make plays within the pocket, step up, find his check downs, throw the ball down the field a couple times. He’s really starting to get it all. It was funny, when he came into minicamp he was like, “Alright, no more new installs, let’s work on what we’ve been doing.” I think that’s a refresher for a quarterback that he knows what he’s doing right now with what we’ve got in.

Q: How concerned are you, if at all, with his accuracy?

A: Not at all, we just need to keep on practicing, keep on working, and let him get more and more comfortable hitting moving targets.

Q: What are the main things coming into camp that you need to see from EJ?

A: The biggest thing for EJ is just a command of the offense, command of how he runs the whole thing. I think with the system we have, there’s a lot of responsibility on the quarterback to be able to run the whole thing, getting the guys lined up and communicating with everyone.  We put a lot on him from that standpoint. How he operates the offense, how he commands it, and how he picks up the new stuff has been something we’ve really strived for and he’s done a really nice job with it.

Q: Would you say his confidence has gone up?

A: Oh, absolutely. They say you have to do something 10,000 times to become an expert on it, so that means we have to call one play 10,000 times so he can get all the looks at it.  And the looks continually get exponential, compared to the stuff we saw last year, now the stuff we face against Coach Schwartz and that defense. It’s as many reps as he can get, throwing to the left, to the right, to different receivers and all that stuff. It’s endless the amount of stuff he can do to gain confidence.

Q: You mentioned last week that in order to get the running backs more touches you need to run more plays, you did place third in the league in plays run though, so how many more can you really run? And secondly, Fred [Jackson] has said many times, that he gets into a rhythm the more he touches the ball.  How do you balance that?

A: The big thing for us right now is converting on third down. If you look at us last year, that right there is going to extend so many more drives. We have to continue to be better at that, and it’s something I’ve really challenged the guys with. Third down and red zone situations, that’s what we need to work on and that’s what’s going to get us more plays. We just do what we do, the same amount of drives and opportunities we’ll have will be the same and it’s just how long those opportunities are. When we would go on a 12 or 15 play drive it was awesome and those guys got in a rhythm and they got touches and they got a good feel for how the defense was playing. When you three-and-out, or four or five play drives, that’s when they can’t get that. So, I think that just converting on third down can extend a lot of drives for us.

Q: Do you think that with the makeup of that room that they’ll be happy splitting carries however many ways they end up doing it?

A: I think so. I hope so. You just got to keep on giving those guys the ball. That’s a great room, we’ve got a lot of good players on this team, they all want the ball, and that’s what you want as an offensive coordinator. You want guys that are hungry for it and want the ball every single second.  Receivers, tight ends, and just like I said earlier, the more plays we run the more touches we get. That’s what we always preach and that’s everybody working together because their time will come as long as we get those plays and keep being able to feed people.  Just like we did, I think we had two 900-yard backs last year, just a couple more plays here and there and we could have two 1,000 yard backs in addition to the entire passing world that we can increase on.

Q: What effect on your job is having Todd [Downing] there?

A: It’s awesome. Both Todd and [Jim] Hostler, they’ve been great. It’s one of those things as a coach, just like a player, I want to get better every second. You bring in guys like that, like Todd that has coached guys like [Matthew] Stafford in the passing game, it’s not only great for EJ but it’s great for me, just to keep on learning and see different ways to do things. For anybody in any career, you always want to push yourself, and with Todd, it’s one of those things where I can then focus on something else and coach another position. Today, for example, I got to go out there and work with CJ Spiller. I would have never been able to do that last year and talk with him through a couple things. Now I have that opportunity to spread around and start talking to other guys and really coordinate, like the big title suggests.

Q: At this point in time, how would you sum up the offense?

A: The good thing about the offense, I’ve been really challenging them with this too, is just their competitive edge and wanting that to show. This is football, we play this game, it’s fun and we have got to get that competitor out of them. And we saw that just there. I wasn’t even in the huddle with them, I was off back calling the plays and you could see the whole thing just switch.  Last time we did the two minute it wasn’t very pretty and I think they realized that. The more that they hold themselves accountable, it’s going to be special. That was something we saw, they really pushed it, they got after it, they were fighting for it, and I think that’s what we need all the time and that’s something good to build on.

Q: Why was todays two minute drill an improvement?

A: Yeah, this last two minute, it was much better today. They were on the same page, they were winning routes, EJ was delivering the ball and there was a lot of good stuff.  Even the first play with the screen, yesterday we ran the exact same play first and we had a couple mishaps. This time they got it and that’s what it’s all about, getting better every second, and pushing yourself for all those little things.