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Doug Marrone details how Thad Lewis was named starter

Posted Oct 7, 2013

The Bills head coach gives a detailed description into the process of naming Thad Lewis as the starting quarterback.

Head Coach Doug Marrone

Monday, October 7, 2013

Opening Statement:

Alright, we’re going to have a lot to talk about. I’ve got some things, I’m going to go right down, try to give everyone as much information as possible and then obviously you guys have questions. We’ll try to answer them.

We’ll talk about the quarterback situation first. I think it’s important for everyone, when you get in to this situation you kind of answer the questions that you get asked a lot of times. Sometimes I’ve been trying to be a little bit more proactive with philosophy, thoughts and things like that so everyone can get an understanding of what goes on. The one thing I think I always have is an appreciation of, at least from the media’s perspective of being able to give the message of what you’re trying to do to the fans. I think I have a great appreciation of that and I think that’s what is important when we get together.

As far as the quarterback situation, I want to go back to the beginning a little bit. I want to talk about the thought process that was involved. Obviously when I took the job I understood that we were going to go ahead and draft a quarterback, I don’t think that was a secret. The process from the beginning was we were going to draft one and then we start looking at if we’re going to draft one, what’s the best way to develop him? I really think it’s probably, there’s two ways when you look around the league how quarterbacks were developed. I think if you look at some of the recent quarterbacks, you’ll see that they’ve played early, really struggled in the first games and then separated themselves in the last eight. I think the next tier after those have been the quarterbacks that have been able to sit behind a veteran player and are really playing well right now. Like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I think when you get to the ones before that, you get the quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Troy Aikman that were kind of thrown in there early. I think that you go two ways about developing that player. What we wanted to do was in the beginning when we knew we were going to draft a quarterback was to make sure that we did have a veteran on the team.

At that point it was a process of trying and going out and getting the best veteran possible that had the ability to play and win, that was the best fit for the team. At that time, right, wrong or indifferent we went obviously with Kevin Kolb. The next situation that came in was how many you go to camp with now. Now you’ve got a young quarterback, obviously we liked Jeff Tuel and we had Kevin Kolb with us. So the situation went back to how do we develop the young quarterback, how fast do we bring him along? So we went to camp with three. Again, if someone was to tell me you were going to have these injuries, I would have went to camp with four, but that’s difficult to know because obviously our goal was developing the quarterbacks. Obviously what happens is Kevin gets injured, EJ is in and really develops faster than we expected in that short period of time. Now we’re in a decision of, “Hey, this guy is going to play. He’s going to be our quarterback.’ Then we get an injury to EJ and that’s where Jeff had been playing and playing very well. Jeff at the time that Kevin Kolb was injured and EJ was injured, was the only guy that knew the system of what we were doing, that’s why we didn’t play him in the Detroit game. So what we did was we went out and brought in two veterans in our opinion. Even though Thaddeus might have been a younger guy, Matt Leinart has been around longer and really put them in a tough situation. To come in here and play on a short week and go in there. We made a decision to go with obviously Thaddeus. We were fortunate at that time that Thaddeus had practice squad eligibility.

What we didn’t want to do if you look at it from the standpoint of Jeff Tuel, the way he played in the preseason and you look at his numbers, really outside of EJ probably played as well as any young quarterback in the league. What we didn’t want to have happen is someone go ahead and take away our young developing quarterback from under us. So we made a decision to go with two on the roster, with EJ and Jeff. Then having Thaddeus on our practice squad. So in doing so we’re working the reps going in and then I think what happened the other night is obviously an injury occurs to EJ, we put Jeff in there which is a tough situation. I think you always look at yourself and I brought Jeff in and spoke to him, ‘Hey it was a tough situation, it was a short week, very difficult to go in there. We feel that you’re a good young developing quarterback. We’re very excited about having you’ and Jeff’s response to me was, ‘Coach I appreciate it, but my job is to go in there and win the game.’ That’s the way he went about it.  So I talked to him about the next process after that is obviously at first what you want to do is you want to make sure at any position, never mind obviously the quarterback one also, is you go out and you say ‘Ok, is there anyone outside that is out there that’s better?’ I think you’re doing that with every position all the time. You want to look there to see if anyone is better and then what we did is we went out and we had conversations with some quarterbacks. Again you’re involved with Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, myself, Jim Monos, Nate Hackett obviously are involved with what we’re trying to do. Then all of a sudden all of this stuff starts going out. You’re going to this person, talking to that person.

We wound up bringing in two quarterbacks for a workout. I think that was well documented. We brought in Pat White and we brought in (Dennis) Dixon. We brought them in for a workout, at the end of the day we worked them out and we thought after working them out, which was the best available to us at the time, we thought it was best to us to move on and play with Thaddeus. Thaddeus will start. What happened today was this has been going on, obviously a long thought process. I’m one guy that tries to make sure that as soon as I get information I get it out. The decision was going through the night, sleeping on it, waking up this morning. I had a team meeting, I wanted to make sure that they knew as soon as I knew, as soon as the team found out then after that I was fortunately or unfortunately I had a media session that I was planning on not answering that question unless I was asked. I was asked that question and I just shot him straight. Scott (Berchtold) didn’t know about it until I came out of the meeting, Russ and Doug and myself, we knew about it prior to that meeting. Then I had to get with the players because I really showed up two minutes late to the meeting because I was still talking to Thaddeus and I wanted to talk to Jeff. Whether it’s right, wrong or different, I’m trying to give you guys a time frame of the process of everything we’ve done.

The next thing was the punter. Obviously, we brought in two punters: Brian Moorman came in with another punter with a competition for that job. Brian did extremely well. We know we have a great chance to win with him and we know obviously he’s a great fit for this team. We’re excited for him being back.

The injuries, with EJ obviously I’m still not at a point with John Marzo, our team doctor, to put out an exact timeframe. As soon as he starts working, I think we’ll have a good idea of that. I don’t know a timeframe on that yet. Stevie Johnson, like I said before, I felt good about it, but I still think, I don’t want to misinterpret that, I think it’s going to be day-to-day with Stevie. Ron Brooks will get out there and I’ll have a better feel once he’s out there Tuesday afternoon. Obviously you’ll know a lot if he’s on the field with us Wednesday. I think Stephon Gilmore will be the same thing. He’s going to be out there working tomorrow and then we’ll get him on the field Wednesday. Leodis McKelvin obviously played quite a bit so I feel good about him, but he’s just another person that might be on your list. What we did with Dustin Hopkins is we brought him out there and we really haven’t gotten him better from when we started to actually do drills, so we put him on IR. So Dustin Hopkins went to IR. Marquise Goodwin, he’ll be out there, he’s training, working. We just have to see if he is good enough to play, meaning catching and stuff with his hand. Obviously C.J. Spiller is again coming back. We may rest him a day or two and then bring him back at the end of the week for practice.

I think the other situation that you guys have asked quite a bit about is left guard. We do need to improve our play there. Doug (Legursky) is coming back from an injury, I’ve said that before. He’s back and that’s going to be an open competition. Both those players will play left guard this week versus Cincinnati. That’s where we are with that. How we’re going to do it, we still haven’t finalized that plan. Quarters, series, whatever it may be. That we’re going to work out during the week with the players and what's the best situation for all of us to get the stuff out there. I think it a nutshell that’s where we are.

Q: Did you jump the gun slightly when you said Ron Brooks is back and Stephon Gilmore is back? Did you mean just back to practice?

A: Yeah, probably back to practice. It’s always going to be hard for me when I'm asked about injuries because I want them back. I always have to make sure I take a step back and do a good job of not miscommunicating it. I think it’s going to be a sense of whatever the pain threshold is and whatever obviously the skill level is with some of the players. One of the things and I talked to the team about this today, the players who’ve been injured, Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks, even Jairus Byrd and Marquise Goodwin, the one thing they’ve shown is they want to be out there. Then the guys that are playing that are hurt, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Aaron Williams, Stevie Johnson, Marcell Dareus, obviously Mario (Williams) and what he’s done, Kyle Williams, there are a lot of those players. The one thing that I see and that I appreciate is that the players are having a tougher time not being out there competing. I think we’ve all been around sports long enough where you can have an injury last for another week or whatever you may do. I think that’s an important process and an important point of this football team in keeping that type of, for lack of a better term, culture. That’s what you want. Those players are trying to come back. Did I jump the gun on it? I think at the end of the week when we see who is going or not we’ll be able to say yes or no. Again I’m just telling you what the facts are. If you’re asking me, I feel good about a lot of those players if not all of them.

Q: So Thaddeus Lewis replaces Dustin Hopkins spot on the roster?

A: Yeah. He’s out for the season.

Q: So Tuesday with all those guys working is that to get them medically cleared to practice?

A: Probably more Brooks, that’s it to medically clear for practice.

Q: So talk a little bit about Thad Lewis.

A: You sit here and you look at it and really if you look at it from the beginning you’re down a three-four. When you look around the league it’s difficult when you get down to your third or your fourth quarterback. The thing with Thad is he’s been in a game before. He played there and he’s been around. I would’ve felt uncomfortable doing something earlier. We really couldn’t do anything from a roster spot standpoint because we had some injuries. Obviously a kicker and with the DB’s where we couldn’t bring him up the roster. Now we have the ability to bring him up. He’s someone who has a 66, and granted its one game, but he’s a 66 percent completion, one touchdown, one interception, so he’s been in there. He can run and he can extend plays--he can run the read option. He can throw the ball extremely well and having him with us from the time at Detroit to now, he’s made some great gains because he knows the whole system. Now we just have to fit and game plan what we think he does best. It’s not a point of one of the questions people normally ask is does he know the whole system? He does, he knows everything, he’s bright as hell. Now it’s the point of making sure we give him a plan that he can be successful with.

Q: Do you wish you had done more to get a veteran when Kevin Kolb went down?

A: I’d be naive, if you were to say to me you’re going to have two injuries, should you have done something different? Absolutely, but that really wasn’t the plan going in to what we were doing. I think that I’ve said it before, the plan going in was bring a veteran in, how are going to develop the young quarterback, Tuel being as good early on as a young guy. For the most part when you look at a roster it’s veteran player, maybe a young player that could potentially be a starter and then a young guy on the practice squad that you’re looking at. Our thing going in was we had a rookie first round draft pick which is obviously a lot and then trying to have a veteran in Kevin Kolb. Then probably putting a guy like Jeff Tuel on the practice squad initially. Then when Jeff started playing well it kind of hurt us a little bit because now we became exposed where some other team could go grab this guy who is a good young quarterback.

Q: Can you clarify reports about any interest in that was had by the Bills in Josh Freeman?

A: We had discussions not only with his people, but with other people. I always say this, granted those reports are out there, however they get out there, whatever sources and whatever they may be, but we talked to a couple different people on that situation. No different than like the punting situation, we talked to a couple different people before we got the two down. I think when these situations come up that’s always going to happen. We’re going to talk to a couple different people, how real it is, that’s something I really can’t tell you. I just say, ‘Hey where are we and tell me when they’re coming in.’ That’s when I start thinking about it.

Q: Was there a financial hang up with Freeman?
A: As far as what I know, the club and Russ (Brandon) and Doug (Whaley) have never talked to me about, ‘Hey you know what we’ve got to do this because of financial reasons.’ They’ve been up and open about let’s go get the best player in that we can.

Q: Can you clarify what happened with Dustin Hopkins? Did he have a setback?

A: The problem was we were bringing him along, one step being kicking field goals and then the bigger issue was once we did the kickoff which is obviously a much different type of movement and it was like, ‘Whoa.’ So we didn’t really know where we were at until we got to that step. The baby steps of going in and getting an extra point, to kicking a 20 to 25 yard field goal we were feeling good. It’s a limited amount of movement, different than the kick off. Once we started doing the kick off it was like wow that movement is far behind. So to say whether it’s a setback or not, I don’t know. We weren’t able to have that opportunity because we were just trying to get him back.

Q: Do you feel you misjudged Jeff Tuel’s ability to play in the NFL at all at this point in his career?

A: No I think a couple things. Let me just clarify it. I don’t doubt when people look at it and they say, ‘Well wait a minute now, this guy was here behind your starter and this guy was on the practice squad’ and that’s why I tried to really explain myself well, people would be like that doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t you go with the other guy and bring him up. My point with Jeff was is Jeff in my opinion going to be a very good player; he can do a lot of good things and is a great young talent that works hard. My point is the reason we had to have him the position he’s in is because he played extremely well in the preseason and we didn’t want to expose ourselves to lose that guy. Our judgment on him and our belief is that he can do it is yes. Now am I going to be wrong down the road, could I? Yeah, I could do that with everyone. What happened was we couldn’t gain a third roster spot for the quarterback to bring Thad up because we had injuries at kicker and we had injuries in the defensive backfield. We were going in with two knowing that we had Thad, but in a perfect world it would’ve been EJ, a veteran and Jeff Tuel is a perfect practice squad candidate until he started to play so well in the preseason that we need to in our opinion, right wrong or indifferent, we needed to protect him.

Q: Did you think Lewis was better all along?

A: In the beginning I didn’t know because he came in so late. Going through it we were just working both of those players. I think that the skillsets are a little bit different and I think the skillset of Thad with the ability to run and extend gives us a better chance.

Q: What assurances can you give?

A: Something happens to Thad, Jeff is going in.

Q: Beyond Sunday, what is the plan week to week?

A: This is the direction we’re going now. Obviously I think it’s something you have to look at from week to week and I think that a lot of times the situation is going to dictate what you do next. I think in these situations where players are going in, not just at quarterback, but any situation, the player is going to to dictate that. I’ll give you a great example. Corbin Bryant went in one game and plays a limited amount of plays and played well. The next game we went in there and said we need to increase his total of plays. He went in there and played 20 something so he increased his play total 10 to 12 plays. I think the situation dictated itself. I think if he went in there and didn’t play well we might have reduce his plays. I think the situation dictates itself in this deal.

Q: Would it be fair to the team to go through yet another quarterback change if Thad doesn’t play well this week?

A: Is it fair for the Head Coach, how about that one? That’s even a better question.

Q: Essentially if Thad stays healthy you’re somewhat tied to him for the short term?

A: I think what the team would want and I think what my responsibility is to put the players out there that gives us the best chance to win. I think that’s what they want and I think that’s what the team looks for. I think that’s the best way to answer that question.

Q: How handicapped will you be game plan wise with Thad?

A: That’s one of the things that went in to the process. You go ahead and bring some in and you say to yourself, ‘Can you bring someone else in and go play?’ I mentioned it the other week, what’s his background? What does he know? How does he do it? It’s going to be very difficult, our system is different. Unless they come from the same background and relate it. So for us with Thad he knows the whole system inside and out. At least for us we can give him the things that we feel he’s strong with which gives us a better chance. I think if it would’ve gone the other way around, and let’s say there was someone on the outside coming in, then right now I wouldn’t even be able to answer that question until we sat down with him.

Q: How soon do you want to get to a single answer at left guard?

A: I’d rather answer this question this way, which is the truth. I want that position to play better now. If two guys playing that position gives us better production, then that might be the way we go. I don’t have a problem with that. If one guy clearly separates himself while they’re playing and we’ll be able to watch that and see that, I don’t have a problem with that. That’s a position that obviously we need to get more production out of.

Q: Has it been frustrating to not have many opportunities to return kickoffs given the strength of some of your returners? You’ve got some guys who can make big plays.

A: Yeah, we do, we do. That’s one of the things, Leodis is getting healthier, if not fully healthy, I don’t want to say fully healthy because we talked about him on the injury report. Goodwin is coming back. You have two guys that potentially can make plays for you. It does and I have to keep reminding myself because I think the players will feel the same way sometimes. You have to say to yourself, ‘You don’t know when you’re going to get this opportunity. Maybe a guy that puts the ball in the end zone 60 to 70 percent of the time, he gets a little mishit and it’s 3.96 minus two, we’ve got to be ready to go. If your question is would I love to have more opportunities, absolutely because we have players back there that can be special. The one thing is we can’t get frustrated and when the opportunity comes, not be ready. That would be the shame of it all.

Q: Can you comment on a report that the team is actively shopping Jairus Byrd?

A: Sure. The only insight I know on that on is I’ve just been working on getting him ready for Cincinnati. I have not heard nor has anyone approached me or told me anything about that. My goal is to get…Jairus has been working hard to get back on the field, so my goal is to be working him to get back on the field this week.

Q: You expect him to play this week?

A: I do, I do. I think that he wanted to play last Thursday and he said he was ready to go. I think we have a week of practice to go ahead and look at it and make sure what that means. Where is he at, what’s going on, how we want to do this. I think we’ll work on that this week. Yes, I’m looking forward to him going.

Q: Did you see what the Bengals did to (Tom) Brady this weekend?

A: I did, I saw some of it. They did a nice job. Coach Zimmer, I’ve known for a while. He’s always had good defenses. I think that they played extremely well, they held them out, they didn’t score a touchdown and that’s a challenge. The one thing about this league and you say it all the time, is there anyone that doesn’t play real good defense? We’ll have a great challenge against them, but the great part is we have them at home. That’s been a big difference for us right now. Our crowd has been outstanding, our players are ready to go, which leads us down the road to I have to get this team playing better on the road.