Transcript of Tuesday's media session with Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Opening Statement: Welcome everybody. Appreciate you coming out today. This is an exciting time for me obviously and something I’m excited about is the coaches that we’re bringing in and trying to get an all-star staff together, but more importantly an all-star staff that is just like this: we are together with just…as we had mentioned before: one ego and one plan and that’s really what we have and these two guys really represent that. Very fortunate to get them. I’m fortunate in that my owner has deep pockets because it cost a lot to get both of these guys and for good reason. They’re wanted by a lot of people but they weren’t wanted by anybody more than we wanted them and Dennis Thurman has been with me for a long, long time and is a tremendous coach. There’s no question about it and both of these guys, quite honestly, we’re going to enjoy them while we can because both of them will be head coaches in this league soon and as I told them before, I said all I want you to do is hire my son one day but it is true, these guys are terrific and they’re going to be terrific together. As a team, I think that’s going to be important. We’ll play complimentary football and recognizing sometimes, we’ll play to the hot hand. If we need to play to the defense to win, we will. If we need to play to the offense and air it out, whatever it takes: that’s the mentality we’re taking to win the game. As I mentioned before about Dennis, he was great with the Cowboys for years. People remember the Thurman thieves and all that. I think Dennis…how many picks? 58? A hundred and…yeah I think that’s second or something….Seattle? Ok. Anyway, pretty dang good. Knows what he’s doing there as a player there obviously but as a coach; tremendous. One of the smartest guys I’ve ever been around. He gets things quick. The players love him, respect him and like I say we’ve been together for a long time and it’s because I need him. Happy to have him here…it’s one of those things: I hope you sign me quick so I can keep Dennis you know? He makes me look good.
Greg Roman and I were together just a short time in Baltimore and I knew right then that the times when I got to talk football with him that this guy gets it. He’s all about wins and it was never about, when I talked to him about, “Hey, we want to have…want to lead the league in passing and all that,” and if that comes with it, that’s great. We want to lead the league in rushing, that’s even better but we just want to win and that’s him and the philosophies and obviously when he got a chance to be on his own and to be a coordinator going to three championship games, a Super Bowl…I think speaks volumes and when we had the opportunity to get him, we took a shot. Right when I…We brought Dennis in immediately, made a phone call, got him on there and got a hold of Greg as fast as we could and very fortunate that we were able to get Greg but I think our fans…We talked about this football team representing our community and like-minded with our community, that’s what we have here. We’re going to do what it takes to win. We’re going to be physical on both sides and these two guys represent it but anyway, let’s hear from these guys. Thank you.
Q: Does the familiarity you have with the coaching staff…most of the biggest challenges for new guys coming in is getting guys that you’re unfamiliar with and you’ve worked with Greg and you’ve worked with Dennis. I’m just wondering if that’s an advantage?
A: Well it definitely is an advantage and I think part of it is when you go through this a second time, you realize how important that futility is and because you can think you really know people and all of that and I was fortunate to work with a lot of great coaches. Mike Westhoff’s a guy and I just loved Mike Westhoff and basically inherited him…that was a great hire. I think it’s important to make sure that everybody’s on that same page and we all see it. We’re going to do things to win regards to what that is and if that means, “Hey: statistically if my guys looks as good in that area or this area.” It doesn’t matter. The only stat we care about is wins and losses. Are we going to have…are we going to lead the league in defense? Yeah, I assume we will. Are we going to be able to lead the league in rushing? Yeah, I assume we will. Obviously, if we don’t, it doesn’t matter. As long as we win. Ok? But those are things that we’re looking to do and with Greg, with Dennis, with a lot of coaches that have been fortunate to get here, you’re right. We’re very familiar with it and we just kind of move on and it’s a smooth transition. Certainly.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman
Q: Expound on what Rex just said, it’s almost like you guys have the same brain having worked together so long. Can that kind of be the case here?
A: Yeah, we have similar brains. We’re like-minded in a lot of things. In a lot of ways. The most important things for us: Rex already said is to do things as a team. For us defensively, our number one goal is to prevent points. Every time we step on the field, our job is to prevent the other team from putting the ball in the end zone or minimize the opportunity to score, kick at a field goal, or what have you. There’s a lot of talent here and they played good defense here a year ago and that’s a credit to Coach Schwartz and his staff. They did a good job. There’s talent on this defense up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. Our job is to put that talent in the best position to be successful and that’s all we’ve ever tried to do. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do and whatever comes from that, comes from that. Coaching all-pros or coaching future Hall of Famers…if that comes with the territory, that comes with the territory. Our job is to put each and every player in the best position to give him the opportunity to be successful and to succeed.
Q: The scheme is probably changing back to maybe…do you run a 3-4? Is that what it is? Or is that what you prefer? What is your philosophy as far as that?
A: Whatever talent dictates. We’ll play a 3-4. We’ll play a 4-3. We’ll get in a Forty-Six. We’ll give them an odd front. It’s whatever our guys do best and we’re going to play to their strengths and when you do that, you’re giving your guys a chance to be successful and that’s what it really comes down to…is those guys that are out there on that field, are you giving them the opportunity to go out and succeed? So it doesn’t matter. The scheme will be dictated by the personnel that we have.
Q: What were your impressions of the Bills’ defense seeing them on the other sideline?
A: Well they play well enough to kill us twice. Like I said, they did an excellent job. They played well. They were a cohesive unit. They have talent up front, in the middle, and on the back end and they did an excellent job with the scheme that they had.
Q: Might it help that your predecessor was here only as recently as two years ago, Mike Pettine, coming from under Rex and knowing that a majority of these guys played under that type of system?
A: Well, there will be some carry-over, some familiarity to it but we feel like we’ve expanded the defense a little bit more. We’ve changed up a few things. We’ve gone back to doing some more traditional things than what Mike was doing here, but there will be some similarities to add and some carry-over, so it won’t be brand new to some of the guys but we feel like we can teach anybody this defense. It’s really a player-friendly defense when it comes down to it and that’s what we want.
Q: In terms of game day and how responsibilities get doled out between you and Rex, are you the one calling the plays? Is it sort of a collaborative effort? How does that shake out?
A: Well it’s more collaborative except for most of the words come out of Rex’s mouth first and we game plan together every week. We set up our game plan and how we want to call the game the closer we get towards the game and we’ll get the whole defensive staff together and we’ll go in an office and we’ll sit down and we’ll collectively go through situations and what calls we like best in those situations so we try to do things as much as a defensive staff as we can. One, two, three, four, five brains are better than one. No one guy is going to be able to do this job by ourselves. We take collective input from everybody and I think that’s one of our strengths. We have an excellent coaching staff. Karl Dunbar, as far as defensive line coaches, I promise you it won’t take long before his name got called if you were talking about the best in the league. Donnie Henderson’s a guy that we retained. Donnie and I been knowing each other since we were 17 years old and we coached together in Baltimore, coached against him when we was in college. He was at Arizona State and I was at USC. We’ve been friends for a long time and he’s here. He’s one of the best in the business. Tim McDonald is an excellent secondary coach. We’ve got a young linebacker coach in Bobby April. We have a good staff and we love working together and our job is to go out and get it done and I believe we will.
Q: How did you and Rex first meet and what were your initial impressions when you met him?
A: We met in 2002 when I came to Baltimore. Brian Billick and I were rookies together in Dallas and Brian made breakfast and missed lunch. That’s how quickly he got cut. We established a friendship that has sustained itself and lasted a long time so when he had an opening on his staff in 2002, he invited me up to training camp and offered me a job after training camp was over and so I stuck around with Baltimore and in meeting Rex, the first thing I remember about meeting Rex was that his Dad’s team…his team in Chicago in ’85 had come in to Texas Stadium and beat us 44 to nothing and we were good enough to win the NFC East that year and go to the playoffs but nobody had beaten us that badly in Texas Stadium so when I had met Rex, I happened to mention that to him and he said, “Yeah, they were pretty good but watch this,” so he’s always had a lot of bravado. He’s always had a strong belief in himself and what he’s capable of doing and the friendship has been ongoing ever since.
Q: As the top corner on this roster, how vital of a role do you envision Stephon Gilmore having in a scheme that we’ve seen in previous years that cornerbacks are on the island so to speak?
A: Well we’re in the process of evaluating everybody right now. I can tell you this, he’s a talented individual. I like what I’ve seen so far. I liked him when he was coming out of college, but we’ll see moving forward how we choose to use him but we expect him to play at a high level because he’s talented enough to do so.
Q: You talked about coaching to the players. Obviously the pass rush is something that’s been elite here. How aggressive do you intend to be when it comes to that?
A: We’ll let the game’s dictate that but every game has its own strategy to it and you may look at one game and say, “Wow. We blitzed more than we blitzed in another game,” and another game, “Hey: we’re rushing four and the guys up front are getting their job done.” The games are dictated by matchups a lot of the time and your strategy is dictated by matchups a lot of time so we usually let the matchups in a lot of ways dictate how we call the game.
Q: But you obviously are keen to see how that line will work under you?
A: Well, we want to be aggressive. I can tell you that. We want to be aggressive. We don’t want to sit back and have an offense dictate to us. That’s never been the case. When Rex first took over as the coordinator in 2005, one of the things we talked about was back then when you were playing against the San Francisco 49ers and Bill Walsh and his offense, a lot of the times, they did the dictating and we said, “Hey: why can’t we build a defense like that?” where we’re the ones dictating how we want to play and what we want to do. Just because you go three wide, doesn’t mean we have to go to nickel defense or dime defense that we can stay in base defense and play you because we’re good enough. You can get in your base offense and we can go to nickel and dime defense and say, “Ok. We’re good enough to play you however we want to play you,” and that’s something that this defense this allows us to have because it has a tremendous amount of flexibility and we want to be the ones dictating rather than be the ones dictated to.
Q: How far along are you on the evaluation? You mentioned that you’re going through that, I’m sure player to player, with Jerry Hughes who could be an unrestricted free agent?
A: Like I said, we’re evaluating everybody and we have to. I have to pretty much leave it that. The guy’s a talented guy. He played well, but I can’t say any more than that.
Q: Just how nice is it, I know you already touched on it but this isn’t a rebuilding defense.
A: To a degree, it makes your job a little bit easier but at the same time, you still have to teach your system. You have to teach the techniques and fundamentals that you want to employ but there’s always growth and room for improvement when looking at each guy as an individual and the thing that I’ve always tried to do is look at a person as an individual. Not put them all collectively in one box and be cookie-cutter so to speak and you want to look at a player and see what his strengths are and if you can improve on his strengths, you want to look at his weaknesses, you want to try to improve his weaknesses and that’s what we’ll always try to do. We’ll try to play to our players’ strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Q: There’s still going to be a little bit of pressure that comes with inheriting a team like this because everybody looks at this job as maybe it’s going to be a bit easier for you but in reality, you want to take them from the fourth best defense to the best in the NFL.
A: Well, I mean, if you understand this league, there’s pressure anyway. Every week you go out there, there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with the territory and comes with the job but you wouldn’t get in this business if you weren’t used to handling pressure so yeah, we have a tall order but we never run any of that and our expectation has always been to be if not the best defense in the league, to be one of the best defenses in the league and it’s all based on talent and can you get the talent all going in the right direction all guys playing for one another pulling on the same end of the rope. Understanding exactly what you want them to understand philosophically and number one goal, like I said, is go out and prevent points.
Q: This has been a large and big topic of discussion and you’re familiar with the Patriots. You ever encounter them with the whole football thing?
A: No. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. That’s for them to deal with and the league will handle it the way they see fit to handle it.
Q: You referenced the ’85 Bears, coaching in Baltimore and then obviously with the Jets, you’ve had some great defenses. What’s the best defense you’ve ever been a part of or seen? Played against or been a part of? Was it that Bears’ defense or maybe one of those Ravens’ defenses?
A: All I’m going to tell you is this: I don’t know where they rank that ’85 Bears team but during that game, if the quarterback had gotten hurt, I would’ve had to go in and play quarterback and I’m just glad I didn’t have to go into that game so I’ll just put it to you that way.
Q: Does it help you at all having that transition with you staying in the AFC East where you’re familiar with some of the teams?
A: It depends on how you look at it. That means that they’re familiar with us as well but I mean yeah, we’re familiar with the teams that are in this division. We’re very familiar with the team that’s on top and we know what the task is at hand and our job is to go and see if we can put ourselves up there with them and I believe that if we do things right, we’ll have the opportunity.
Q: Are you as excited as Rex is to continue to get a shot at the Patriots?
A: I’m a little more low key in my approach to it but do I burn inside? Yeah, I do.
Q: What about Rex’s swagger? The brashness? His persona?
A: We all have that but some people just know how to mask it a little bit better than others
Q: Sure but how does that affect the team? What does that do to a team?
A: Hopefully, it inspires them. If you’re good and you know you’re good, who cares if you talk about it. What do you have to do? You have to go out on the field and prove it. Talking doesn’t win games. Being brash and having bravado doesn’t win games. You have to go out and back it up so who cares.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman
Q: What is your take on the quarterback position?
A: We’ve been evaluating really the entire roster and EJ (Manuel) and Jeff (Tuel) are two guys on the roster. I think we’ve got some film on both of them and we’re going through it. I think both of them possess skills to play the position. I think projecting this or thinking that, I think we’re really just going to focus on rolling the balls out on the field and getting our hands on them and working with them and going from there. Everything else really at this point is water cooler talk.
Q: Will you be involved in quarterback development as the coordinator?
A: Without question. We’ve got a very capable staff that I’m very excited about. David Lee will work with him some, I will work with him some and we’ll go from there. I’m very much hands on, really at every position.
Q: What have you seen that you like from watching EJ and where does he need to improve?
A: I’m not going to get in to specifics. I definitely think he’s done some very good things and displayed some good traits. I’d say we just have to get his level of consistency a little bit greater. Really he and everybody else, once we get through this evaluation process we’re going to have a very clean slate. What they might’ve been asked to do or done in the past is really not relevant to what we may or may not ask him to do. So to sit here and pontificate about this, that and the other is a little premature.
Q: When Rex’s teams in New York were at their best they were very good at running the ball. You seem to have the same mindset. How much will the run game play a key role here in Buffalo?
A: I think we want to build a team that kind of reflects the city of Buffalo. I think part of that is being smart, tough and making Buffalo a place that nobody wants to come in December, January, etc. I think if you can exert your will at the line of scrimmage, it’s going to open up a lot of other things in the offense. To simply say we’re just going to run the football, well nobody simply runs the football. We want to run the football to a level where people respect and fear us and our ability to do so. That will help everything else in the offense open up. It will help us control the game, which is ultimately what we want to do.
Q: A lot of coaches and coordinators that have been here have said they would be committed to the run game. We’ve heard it before.
A: ... Look at my track record. The greatest predictor of future events is the past. I could stand up here and tell you that we could have been number one in the league in rushing in San Francisco every year if that was my goal. If I wanted to be number one in rushing, I could’ve done that. But my goal is to win and I think you have to strike a commensurate level of balance to do so in this league. Every game is a little bit different. Some games you’re going to be real run heavy. Some games they might put nine up, etc. and you have to find other ways (to move the ball). I think we’ve got some guys in this offense that are here in the building right now on this roster that are going to really thrive with some of the situations that they’re going to be put in based on how defenses are going to try to play us.
Q: It seemed like you wanted (Colin) Kaepernick to stay in the pocket more and not use his legs. Do you want your quarterback to stay in the pocket even if they have running ability?
A: No. It’s play-by-play and game-by-game. I don’t agree with your statement that that was my intention. No, I think you have to have the ability to manipulate the pocket and be in control of the pocket. If that means vacating the pocket, then you want to vacate. Then there’s times where you want to simply move around within the pocket. Sometimes you want to do one and sometimes the other. A lot of it is dependent on how the defense plays you. You don’t want to escape the pocket when they have a guy sitting there waiting for you. If they don’t though, you’d like to wouldn’t you? It’s play-by-play. It’s not an overall philosophy.
Q: You had interviewed for the head coaching job here. Can you tell me what you took away from that process and what still made Buffalo a good fit for you as the offensive coordinator?
A: To answer your first question, after my interview with Buffalo, I walked away with one thing - that was the Pegula’s and their commitment towards making a winner in Buffalo. It was very positive. Very positive on a lot of fronts. That’s what I took away from it. When Terry and Rex called me up, it didn’t take a whole lot of cajoling because Rex is somebody that I have a lot of respect for and I think we both felt that if we ever got together at some point it would be pretty good. The passion in the city of Buffalo, you can’t manufacture it. It’s not something you can just go purchase. It’s real; it’s at a level unlike any other place really save one or two. That’s a pretty unique opportunity because that means something to me. We get this thing going the way we want to, I can only imagine what it’s going to be like here in this city of Buffalo. I think that was big. I think they have a very good nucleus of talent on this roster. I think that was also a definite selling point for me.
Q: How much did it also help that you had some previous relationship with Terry going back to when you interviewed for the Penn State coaching job?
A: Yeah, there was a little bit of a relationship there. But I had never really sat down and met the man and talked in-depth with him, so that was a great opportunity to speak with him and Kim and Russ (Brandon) and Doug (Whaley) and get a feel for what their actual goals were. It’s very important to me that this step in my career was one in lockstep with people at the top of the organization, that their goals were pretty simple and straightforward. They want to win and build a winner.
Q: Rex and Dennis have talked about adjusting the scheme to the talent on the roster. How important is that to you, especially with the quarterback situation?
A: Critical. It’s part and parcel with any coaching decision. Whatever we end up being, whatever we end up looking like is going to be a reflection of what our players can do. It might look a lot of different ways. Maybe our tight end position gets really beefed up. We like our receiver position. Where does a fullback fit into all this? It might look a lot of different ways, but ultimately we’re going to try to do what our players do well and try to minimize what they don’t do well.
Q: Coming from a head coach who has offensive experience to now working with a defensive head coach, do you have full autonomy on the offense?
A: Yeah, I had full autonomy at my prior employer. I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as I know for us to be successful we have to be in concert offensively, defensively and on special teams. Now when I was in San Francisco, nobody did it better than us when it came to that, up until this past year I would say. I understand the importance of that, so I’m in this, this is a partnership and I am in this thing. I’m sure I will be running things by Rex and floating things off him. He’s a great football mind; I’ve always felt that about him. We’re just going to work together. We’re all in this thing together and we’re just going to help each other and Buffalo become successful.
Q: What do you envision Chris Palmer’s role being?
A: Chris is an invaluable resource. I think he’s going to help in all aspects of the offense. Be a great support mechanism for all our coaches and also provide some really good game-planning input.
Q: What’s your impression of Sammy Watkins?
A: Very positive. Very positive leading up to the draft and I thought he had a pretty solid rookie season and knowing him from what I’ve gathered on him and meeting him, he’s just going to look to improve as time goes on. That’s what we’re looking for. I’m very excited to work with him.
Q: You’ve worked with Harbaugh and now with Rex. Are they both just lunatics when it comes to passion?
A: In a professional setting?
Q: In a professional setting or if you want to get off track, feel free.
A: I had dinner at the bar around the corner the other night and there were a couple guys in there that were crazier than them. I think both of those guys are very similar in that regard. Very similar in that regard. Very passionate and very single-minded. When they wake up every day, they have one purpose and that’s pretty simple. I think there are a lot of similarities there.
Q: C.J. Spiller is a question mark as far as his contract goes, but how do you see the backfield shaping up?
A: I think C.J. is a dynamic back. He’s a playmaker and a pretty versatile guy that has had a lot of success in this league. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out. It’s an exciting process that we’re going through right now, going through all the personnel. We’re all getting inundated into this. I’m not as familiar with the AFC East, we played them a couple years ago, as Rex and some of those guys are. I’m playing catch up a little bit. (Aaron) Kromer is playing catch up a little bit. It’s fun and it’s exciting. I’m loving every minute of it. It’s going to take a little time here and then we’ll kind of get together and draw the battle plan out.
Q: Do you have a preference when it comes to type of offensive lineman?
A: I want to eat the whole pie. I want guys that are big, strong, fast, can run, can pull, can pass protect, can run block. I want it all. I hope that answers your question.
Q: Is your entire staff in place now?
A: For the most part. I can’t comment on that, but I really am excited about what we’ve assembled thus far. We have a lot of experience, we have some really good energy and a group of guys that are selfless and we’re going to work to do this thing together. That’s what it takes, that kind of teamwork.