Head Coach Bill O’Brien
HEAD COACH BILL O’BRIEN
Do you have to sign another quarterback this week or will QB Taylor Heinicke be good to go?
“We’re talking about that right now. Obviously Taylor’s in the protocol, but we haven’t made a decision on that yet. As soon as we do, we’ll let you guys know.”
In last year’s season finale, you rested a lot of players because you were playoff bound. What’s the difference in this situation compared to last year’s in terms of coaching and preparation?
“I think there’s definitely a difference. I don’t think it means you’re putting in less time or anything like that, it’s just that, look, if you’re in a playoff run, you’d be crazy to say that it’s the same as where we are now. The thing that’s key for our players and our coaches to understand is that we have to prepare and be ready to go on Sunday because that’s what our responsibility is as professional coaches and professional players, and that’s what we’re going to do. These guys are going to prepare hard, they’re going to practice hard and we’ll go up there and try to find a way to win.”
How challenging is it to have guys prepare hard given the circumstances?
“No, I don’t think it is with this group. Maybe with other groups it might be, but not with this group. I think these guys, they’ll be ready to go when they show up here tomorrow.”
What did you think of WR DeAndre Hopkins’ touchdown catch?
“Yeah, it was a great catch. I mean, I don’t even know how to describe it. He tipped it to himself, kept his feet in bounds. He’s had a phenomenal year. I think he’s the best receiver in the league. I’ve said that before. It was a great play.”
How great of an example is WR DeAndre Hopkins and his work ethic to the younger players?
“No doubt. The way he approaches every game, he wants the ball, he’s competitive. I wish we could have gotten it to him more. I think he’s a good example for our younger players. I would say especially on gameday, the way he approaches every game, every snap, every play, he wants the ball. So, I think he does set a good example that way.”
Is it encouraging to see an interaction with QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins about their potential next season?
“I didn’t see that, but yeah, those guys are tight. They’re Clemson buddies, too, so they go way back, right? Look, I think that Deshaun was watching the game and he saw the play – I mean, it was a great play. So, I’m sure he has visions of him being able to do that with Hop next year.”
How did T Julién Davenport do in extended action and what happened with the Steelers’ success on the corner blitzes?
“I thought the young guys played pretty well. I think Julién held his own in there against some good competition. I thought that Kyle Fuller did some good things. I thought Quess (David Quessenberry) did some good things having not played in a real game. I mean, that’s a long time. I thought he did some really good things. The Star blitz, the nickel blitz got us, you’re right, and that was just something that was (a) missed assignment, execution problem that we have to coach better. We just got to do a better job of making sure of making sure that either the back knows who he has or the tackle knows who to fan out to or whatever it is. So, we have to get that coached up better and the guys have to execute that better.”
How confident do you feel that you and your staff can turn this around next year?
“I think every year’s different. I think a lot of that has to do with the offseason. I believe very strongly in Deshaun Watson. I mean, that’s obvious. I think he’s a great player. But I think things have to be evaluated. Like, you have to go into the offseason and you have to figure out what are the strengths and weaknesses of your team, of your coaching staff, of your organization, and you have to make sure that you’re trying to improve. I think that’s the big thing. So, for me to sit here and say, ‘What are we going to do,’ that’s a long way off. I think it’s very, very important to focus on this game and then once this game’s over, now, OK, let’s evaluate where we are in all facets of what we do.”
You’ve mentioned before that you have a five-year contract with the team. Next year is the last year of that contract and you’ve said you won’t resign, so would you be willing to coach this team next year if you don’t receive a contract extension?
“Sure. Oh yeah.”
It doesn’t happen often in the NFL where a coach coaches in the last year of his contract but it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
“Yeah, sure. Yeah, I’ll coach this team. I mean, as long as they want me to coach this team, I’ll coach the team. We have a good staff, we work very hard. It hasn’t been a good year, we know that. We know the business. Like, we’re not blind to what goes on in the NFL. Everybody understands that it’s a bottom-line business but we believe in what we do and again, a lot of those decisions aren’t made by me. So, I just do the best job I can to work with the staff and the players to try to get a win on Sunday.”
What did you see form QB T.J. Yates yesterday and what are some things he can improve on?
“I haven’t seen him yet so I’ll say I probably need to wait until I see him, just because we played yesterday. But I think there’s’ a lot that goes into playing that position and it’s not just him, it’s protection, it’s route-running, it’s his execution, his reads of the coverage, his ability to go from one side to the next as far as making the proper read within his progression. So, we’ll work on all those things and he’ll work hard to improve. He’s a great guy. He’ll work very, very hard to improve and we’ll get it better this week.”
Is there a chance for G David Quessenberry to have an increased role this week?
“We’ll have to see. I thought he did some good things, so we’ll have to see how it goes this week in practice and things like that, but there were definitely some good things that he did out there.”
What’s it like to evaluate and discuss G David Quessenberry as a football player?
“That’s a great question. That’s the big thing, is there was a lot of unknown about where he was at relative to what he was coming back from, talking about everything from strength to weight gain and just overall his ability to move relative to he had a bad form of cancer. Yeah, we just wanted to make the right decision to activate him so when we did activate him, we were going to play him and see where he was at, and I thought he did some really good things yesterday. He’s got a long way to go to be back probably to where he was in ’13 when he was going to start the first game, but I think he’s on his way.”
How much does pride go into the last game?
“I think that’s a big part of it. I think that there’s a lot of pride relative to being a professional but also a division rival, somebody that’s been our rival for a long time. I think there’s a lot that goes into it and I think part of it is making sure that we’re ready to go against – AFC South, neither one of us are going to the playoffs, but this is kind of like our playoff game. Playoff game right here, let’s see how we can finish the season and kind of a reference to your last question, see if that puts us ending on a good note heading into the offseason.”
How important is it to stay out of last place in your division?
“Important. In the division, you don’t want to end up in last place. No, it’s very important to go out there and try to win this game and not be in last place, no doubt about it.”
What have you seen from WR Will Fuller V since his return from injury?
“I think he’s done a good job. I think his injury was a very tough injury. I think that he was banged up in a few spots and I think he’s come back and I think he’s done some really good things. I really have admiration for him and high hopes for him. I think he’s got a great future in this league.”
A lot of top players have voiced support for you coming back. What does it mean to hear that players buy in to you and believe in you?
“It’s kind of an interesting team. I mean, I think we have a bond here with the coaching staff and the players and maybe it’s because of all the things that we kind of had to deal with this year. But those guys are good guys. Look, you guys know me now for four years, (I’m) pretty emotional when it comes to those players. They put in a lot of time, they put it on the line for us in a pretty violent game and so that means a lot to me when they say that.”
What changed in the running game that allowed it to be so effective?
“I think there were a few things. I thought that the line – I thought that these young linemen, they weren’t perfect but I thought that they had good games. I thought that Alfred Blue ran very hard. I thought Lamar (Miller) had some good runs in there. I thought Jay (Prosch), when he was in there, did a nice job lead-blocking. We had a run early in the game where they were blitzing the Star and Jay kind of picked him off and we were able to gain good yards on that. So, I don’t know what to tell you, I just know that we did a good job. It’s just the passing game was terrible, and if you can’t throw it and all you can do is run it, you have no chance of winning in this league. That’s kind of what happened to us offensively.”
Did the young offensive linemen you mentioned give you confidence in them going into next week?
“Yeah. Look, I think there’s some good, young offensive linemen here that have to continue to improve and get better (and) have great offseasons. We have one more game but once the Indy game is over – I’m talking specifically about these young linemen – they really need to have great offseasons. You think about it, they go from their college season to preparing for the draft, which is not really getting ready for playing football, it’s more about getting ready for a track meet, to be honest with you. Then, they go to rookie minicamp, then OTAs and they really never have a true offseason. So, between your first and your second year – that goes for any rookie player – you have to make great strides between your first and your second year, and that offseason is huge.”
How big is Sunday’s game for QB T.J. Yates?
“I think it’s a big game for everybody. I think it’s a big game for everybody. I think it’s a big game for the coaching staff, I think it’s a big game for the team. I wouldn’t say it’s bigger for ‘this’ guy than – you know what I mean? Like, ‘It doesn’t mean that much to this guy but it means’ – it’s big for everybody.”
How do you keep everyone focused on Sunday’s game when jobs are on the line?
“Absolutely no problem doing that, really. I’ve been doing this for a while. I’ve seen a lot. Haven’t seen it all but I’ve seen a lot, so I think it’s very easy for me to focus on trying to get this team ready to play, good game plan, trying to get the coaches, make sure they understand how we want to practice this week, how we want to meet, what we want to talk about, how we want to play the game. So, that’s not a problem for me at all.”
How did DE Carlos Watkins do in his most extensive game action of the season and what do you think of him?
“I like Carlos. I think he’s really improved. I think early in the year, I think he struggled, just like most rookie defensive linemen do. Everybody’s bigger, stronger, the game’s a lot faster, there’s more double-team-type plays. In pro football, guys are getting in the three-point stance, grown men, and coming off the ball, and I think that’s different than college. I think he took a little while to get used to that but he’s a big, strong guy and I think he’s really improved. I really like Carlos. I like him as a person and I think he’s going to be a good player.”
How crazy was that for you to have the referee mandate QB T.J. Yates be checked for a concussion?
“I thought the officials did a great job there of basically seeing whatever happened – I don’t know how they look at it – that he needed to be checked out. It was the same thing with Taylor (Heinicke). Relative to that happening, as soon as that happens what you have to do is you go – because they go into the tent, you go right to the next quarterback and make sure that he understands, ‘Hey, look, this is how I’m going to start the drive, this is probably the second-down play, if it’s second-and-this, I’m going with this, if it’s second-and-this, hey, here’s my first third-down play if it’s this, are you good with all these plays?’ Maybe ask him a few questions about the plays as fast as you can, get him snaps with the center. You have to make sure that he gets snaps with Greg Mancz. That’s a big thing. So, we try to do that as fast as we can and that’s kind of how it went. Then, when he went out, T.J. had already been cleared to be able to go back in the game. If that hadn’t happened, yesterday, Braxton Miller would’ve been our third quarterback. Yesterday. I’m not saying that will be this week, but yesterday he had the dot, yeah.”
How do you prepare a young quarterback like QB Taylor Heinicke for that?
“Look, he’s a bright guy. He was very focused, his lips didn’t turn blue, his eyes didn’t go like this (get big). He was kind of ready to go. He was like, ‘I like these plays.’ He feels better in certain formations than in other formations right now, still kind of learning the offense but very calm, very poised. I kind of like the way he handled it.”