BB: We’re kind of winding it down here. This is a tough day to finish up with San Diego, with their red area offense. They’re, by far and away, the best team in the league in the red area. They do it all pretty good. They almost never get stopped down there. We’re going to have our hands full with that one. We’re winding it down. We’ll leave after practice here and get everything sown up here this afternoon and get out to San Diego.
Q: Any adjustments to your routine because of the early trip?
BB: No. We’ll have a normal Friday today, and then, instead of going home, we’ll just get on the plane. Tomorrow will be a normal Saturday. It will be about as much of a normal road trip as we could make it, other than traveling Saturday afternoon. We’ll just be there tomorrow.
Q: Was there a thinking to leaving earlier? Is it just to get acclimated because it’s a long trip?
BB: Well, it’s a one o’clock game on Sunday. If it were a night game, maybe we would do it differently. I don’t think we want to travel all day there Saturday and then get up early and play the next day.
Q: Will you have use of a facility out there?
BB: We might go to the stadium. We’ll talk about that and see what it looks like out there.
Q: Shawne Merriman was saying that he has seen a lot of different blocking schemes. Do you notice teams throughout the course of the season have tried to do different things to slow him down?
BB: Sure. Well, I think you could say that about every team. I think over the course of the year, you’re going to see tight ends staying in. Backs staying in. Lines sliding to you. Both backs coming at you in play action. Both backs going away and the tight end staying in. I can’t imagine any 3-4 team, any outside linebacker, not seeing all of those combinations through the course of the year. He’s definitely seen them, but that’s what the teams do in the NFL.
Q: What kind of matchup nightmare is Antonio Gates?
BB: Yes, it’s tough. It’s tough. He gets on a defensive back and he has a size advantage. He gets on a linebacker and most of the time he has a speed and quickness advantage. No matter who is on him, he has tremendous ball skills. He has great ability to position his body to where he kind of boxes out the defender, almost like rebounding a basketball, and he has terrific hands, so he can extend his hands away from his body and make those catches and just kind of box the guy out behind him or in front of him. Once he gets position, he can hold that position and the quarterback puts the ball on the other side of the defender and you just can’t get it. He’s tough to cover. Yes, he’s really tough to cover.
Q: Looking at film, is there anything that you’ve seen, any one way, that teams have been able to slow him down, any one coverage that seems to work?
BB: Well, if you double him, it just squeezes the space off. He makes some catches against double coverage too. Anytime there’s one guy on him, whether it’s man or zone, whichever side the defender is on, or whether he’s in front of him or behind him, you have the other side of the defender. Now I wouldn’t say anybody has just taken care of him. Sometimes the defender comes in and makes a play on the ball. He doesn’t catch every one of them, but he catches a bunch of them, and he’s tough in the red area. He’s very good down there too.
Q: Is that one of the things that makes them tough in the red area?
BB: Absolutely. Yes. They run it in. They throw it in. They do some different things down there, like go unbalanced line and stuff like that. Their receivers are good. [Keenan] McCardell. [Eric] Parker. [Vincent] Jackson is a big target down there. Gates is a big target. They toss it up there to those guys and they come down with it on fades and posts. In one-on-one situations, they do it like Gates, I’m not saying they’re as good as Gates, but they’re good at getting position on the defender. [Philip] Rivers puts the ball where only his guy can get it. A lot of times they get it.
Q: I know Nick [Saban] recruited him to Michigan State when he was in high school. Was there any connection there where you guys took a look at him before the Chargers got him? Can you remember?
BB: No, I personally didn’t. No.
Q: Had you heard anything about him? Was there any buzz around the league about him at all or was it just one of those under the radar things?
BB: I don’t know all the details of how that all transpired. You get to the guys that are drafted, that’s 250 guys, and then there’s probably another 1,000 guys beyond that who are scouted in one way or another. I don’t have knowledge of every single one of those guys. No. Clearly that was a great evaluation and vision by A.J. [Smith] and whoever was involved in that. Those guys did a great job of finding that player. Obviously he’s developed into one of the top tight ends in the league. You have to give them a lot of credit for their vision and their development of the player.
Q: Do you typically look at least a few non-football players every year?
BB: If we think they’re good enough. Believe me, I could show you 1,000 tapes a year of guys who send in stuff, ‘I can play. I was great in high school flag football. This Thursday league that I play in…‘ we get 1,000 of those, maybe more than that. Are there any of them out there? More than we have time to deal with.
Q: Does somebody actually look at all of them?
BB: Yes. I’m telling you, some of those are just classics. The guy has his girlfriend out there throwing passes to him. He’s the receiver. I ran a 3.8 in high school. You can imagine. You can imagine.
Q: When you looked at [Stephen] Neal, and he was a wrestler, were there certain things from wrestling, like hands, things like that, that made you say this guy might be a good lineman?
BB: Well, I think when you look at wrestlers, typically you see a guy with good balance. Of course strength and leverage is a part of it. You have to have leverage as a wrestler. You can’t really be an upright kind of top-heavy guy or you’re not going to be a very good wrestler. Being able to bend your knees and play with a low base and be able to get tossed and stay on your feet and all of that, a wrestler would do. There’s a lot of players in football and the NFL that have background in high school or college wrestling. Again, I think that’s a testament to their balance and their lower body strength and their ability to stay on their feet. Now that doesn’t mean they’re a good football player, but it does mean they do have elements of that and that’s part of inline play. It’s sort of hard to teach. You work on it, but a guy just can naturally do it or has a lot of experience with it, like wrestlers do. They can toss, but they’re able to drop their weight, lower their center of gravity, stay on their feet and balance up. A lot of that is inline play on the offensive and defensive line of scrimmage.
Q: Would it be wrong to say that wrestling actually helped him work in space the way he has, maybe be able to engage a blocker on the edge and everything else?
BB: I think it’s helped him more in close quarters, like in pass protection and how defensive linemen try to toss the offensive linemen off of them to get to the quarterback. It’s helped him more there than out in space. He is a good athlete, but his instinctiveness as a screen blocker is something that he’s had to work hard on. That’s not a skill that you learn, I don’t think anywhere, other than running screens in football. Like I said, in pass protection, if you have a guy on you, and he tries to throw you off, that’s a wrestling move. They try to work their leverage on you and try to get under your pads and take you down and wrestle you or stand you up in football, that’s another skill that a good wrestler knows how to bend his knees and drop his bottom, and play with a good base so he can’t get thrown from side to side. That’s true of defensive linemen too. It’s the same thing. Offensive guys trying to do that to them. I think there’s some carryover there.
Q: Is this one of those fields where there’s still dirt from baseball?
BB: I think they re-sodded. It looks like it’s, just on a film, patched together a little bit. I think they might have re-sodded the middle and I think they re-sodded, it looks like, the helmet area in there. I’m not sure exactly. I think the baseball field was definitely part of it. I’m not sure exactly how that whole thing is put together. So that’s one of the things that we’ll want to definitely take a look at.
Q: Do you get a feel from watching their home games, I know their kicker hasn’t missed there in a while, but have you seen it affect the kicking game at all?
BB: He hasn’t missed anywhere. I think that we need to be aware of the footing. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’ve seen guys slip on the field. You see guys slip on a good field sometimes too. I don’t have enough familiarity with it, but I think it’s one of the things that’s just part of our preparations. It’s one of the things that we need to look at and make sure that we have the proper footing and proper shoes, and also, more importantly, play with good body control and balance.
Q: How has the offensive line improved since the second half of the season?
BB: I think the more any group works together, the better they do together. I think our line has been consistent, really, for most of the year. There’s always plays and there’s things in the game that could be better, and it’s certainly not perfect. I’m not saying that. Through the course of the year, from the running game [standpoint], there’s been a level of consistency through the course of the year. Like I said, it hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s been consistent through the course of the year. Pass protection has too. That’s not saying it couldn’t be better.
Q: How did Steve Neal come to your attention?
BB: He was a world-class wrestler and he decided not to wrestle anymore. When he did that, his name came to us through a couple of different contacts, that he would be interested in playing football, and he played it in junior high school. It was over the summer, so we worked him out over the summer. Physically, he had a good workout. He was a good looking athlete and could run and had really natural size. There are some guys that put on a lot of weight through lifting and strengthening and all of that. Steve is just a big, strong kid. Not that he doesn’t lift weights and all that, but he has a lot of natural size and strength too. We saw that there were some things to like. He’s a smart kid. He has a really good work ethic, which we knew that from this training and experience as a wrestler, just his competitiveness and his toughness and his work ethic and all that. He just had a long way to go as a football player. That’s kind of how it got started.
Q: A couple of weeks ago, you were asked about players that you picked up in the middle of the season that went on to be impact players. Does Artrell [Hawkins] fall into that category?
BB: Definitely. Absolutely. He came in a tough situation last year. He came in as a corner and then we moved him to safety. I think that was something that Dean [Pees] kind of saw and suggested. As it turned out, it was a great move, both for him and us. There were a couple of times where he had to go back outside as a corner, kind of in an emergency situation, but I think that he’s had a good season this year inside. At this point in his career anyway, I can’t speak to when he came out, because he did play corner and played it very competitively in this league, but at this point in his career, I think that safety is probably his best position. He’s done a great job for us and he’s made the transition, I’ve had a few guys that have done it, but I think he’s done it about as well as anybody has, going back to Everson Walls and guys like that along the way that have gone from outside to inside.
Q: What about the Patriots play, what about their attributes makes you really confident? What makes you like their chances in this upcoming game?
BB: Why do I like their chances?
Q: Well, we talked a lot about what San Diego has and how they’re great, but what about our team makes the fans watching think…why are you confident that our team will win on Sunday?
BB: Well, we’re going to prepare for this game just like we do for all the rest of them. We’ll go and try to do the things that we do best and try to matchup against San Diego to try to gain whatever advantages we can. I think we have a lot of good players and I think that they’ll do everything they can to play their best against another good football team. Hopefully we can play better against them than we did the last time. It will certainly take more than that.