ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Head Coach Joe Judge spoke with reporters after today’s practice. The practice was delayed about 45 minutes while the team held a discussion on social justice in America. A full transcript of the presser is included below. Transcripts for interviews with DT Leonard Williams and OLB Kyler Fackrell are featured as well.
Head Coach Joe Judge
Opening Statement: Guys I appreciate it. Sorry we pushed back practice a little bit. We had some important matters to talk about as a team. We weren’t going to cut those short, so I made sure we took the time to approach what we had to. Then we picked up with football this afternoon after lunch. That carried over into a situational walkthrough for us. This is really leading into our intrasquad game this Friday. But we wanted to take the time today to really let the guys get their legs back under them. Kind of have a good flow to our weeks right now as far as how we’re training their bodies. We kept on a normal pattern today as a Wednesday, give them a little bit of a down day for the team, which means we keep the same mental energy and focus within the situations. At this time, I’ll open it up to any questions you guys have.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the two key injuries, but the conversations that you had before practice with the team, Leonard Williams just talked about kind of the activism that some of the guys are taking part in away from the field. Were those some of the conversations that you guys have had? And just your reaction to maybe what other teams have done like the Lions cancelling practice the other day?
A: I can’t speak for any other team. I’m very proud of our team and how they’ve interacted. We talked a lot back in the spring. We’re not revealing everything we’re doing internally as a team, but I will say that our guys are very active in the community. Very active as far as getting out there and making a difference. Obviously, we talk about a lot of the issues around the country on a lot of different levels. One thing we decided as a team is we’re not really a bunch of talkers. That’s not really our personality. There’s a lot of people making statements out there, putting blanket things out there. We talked early in the process that it’s ok to say something, but you have to back it up. Before we started going out there and making a bunch of blanket statements, we’re going to be in a position where we’re making a difference and we’re helping people in their everyday lives. We allowed the players to really pinpoint some issues and some organizations that they wanted to work with. We have nine different teams. We call it the Team of Teams project. But we have nine different teams within our team. They are split up and they work in different areas, New York City, North Jersey. They work with different organizations. We allowed them to pick the initiative that they wanted to work with. They’ve gone full speed ahead. We dedicate time on Mondays and Wednesdays to these initiatives, being in touch with these organizations. It gives our players time to make sure we’re organized. Our Community Relations department does a tremendous job of really setting the table for our guys during training camp so they could go ahead and stay active and stay moving. These are things that we’re going to continue throughout the season as well as seasons to come. This is not a short-term project for us. This is not something we wanted to do to check a box and say, ‘Ok, we were involved in that, remember how neat that was?’ We want to actually do something involving this community. From the time I took this job, it was very important for me to express to the Mara and Tisch families and to the team that it’s our responsibility to be connected to this community. The people who show us support, we have to get out there and give them actual support. We plan on building a top-level football team with the right culture. But we plan on being pillars in this community for a long time to come.
Q: To follow up real quick, especially losing someone like Xavier (McKinney) this early in camp, you don’t have preseason games to scout guys from other teams. If you were to look outside the building, how much does everything going on this summer with COVID and the protocols, how much more difficult does that make the scouting process?
A: Well, it’s our job to know the league. Whether it’s a young guy who has college tape, we have to have grades on him. From the front end, if it’s a guy who’s got vet experience in the NFL, we should know who the players in the league are. It’s just a natural part of the National Football League. It’s a small league. You have to know who the people are. It’s really a people league, and that’s what it’s about. But we’re really focused on developing the guys on our roster right now. We have guys working hard, guys making progress. Our intention is to give them every swing of the bat and keep improving every day, and giving them an opportunity to compete for a job on this roster.
Q: Some of these things with the social justice issues are not things you can look up in a coaching manual. But unfortunately injuries are. You’ve seen it for years. How did the news of Xavier hit you? This is your first time around doing this. Not your first time around with injuries, but as a head coach, what it means to the team, do you address that to the team, things like that?
A: We keep our players up to date on everything going on on the roster. Any kind of roster moves we make, we make sure we keep them up to date through squad meetings. As far as every injury on the roster, we don’t always specifically let everyone know what’s going on with everything. But the players understand that when a player is out, they’re hurt. Everyone’s individual health, we respect that. But I’d say overall, listen, you don’t want to see any player get hurt, It’s a part of the game. Injuries do happen. These guys play a collision sport, there’s a lot of wear and tear on their bodies. Xavier is a guy for us who’s making a tremendous amount of improvement. Look, we’re still looking forward to getting him back out there on the field. I’m not a doctor, I don’t have that timetable. I’m going to let those guys handle that. My only concern at this point is that he continues to work as hard as he can to get back on the field, and that we continue to develop him as a coaching staff, mentally, that he makes progress within the situational awareness and overall understanding of our schemes and the league tendencies in his time off the field.
Q: Does this have to be a hit to the defense?
A: Any injury to our roster is a hit to us because we care about every player on our roster. But it’s our responsibility to have everyone developed and make sure the next man is ready to go.
Q: I know yesterday you were asked about the idea of maybe getting the quarterbacks and Daniel (Jones) hit around a little bit or take off the red jersey. I forgot how it was phrased. I was just wondering if you could maybe elaborate on what exactly that entails? What are you envisioning when you said, ‘We want to get him some contact so he can be ready for the season’?
A: I have the strength staff downstairs right now putting bars of soap in socks and we’re just going to take him out back and just wail on him for a while. No look, it’s our responsibility to get every player ready to play. With a quarterback, you have to be smart about the contact. Will we put him into a live tackling drill? No. Is it something we’re going to bang around a little bit with a pad, calculated time and pads and make sure his body at least feels some pressure on it? Yes. Is there a time you’re going to kind of bear hug him a little bit, let him feel the grabs? Yeah, these are things you naturally have to do to get a player’s body ready. Remember this, it’s not just the physical conditioning. It’s as important for the players to be contacted and be tackled to prepare for the game. You can’t get yourself ready mentally to be hit full speed. Your body has to learn how to absorb that hit. It has to learn how to adjust accordingly. You have to learn the feeling you get of going to the ground. That’s just something natural. Now, we’re not going to be foolish with what we do with any of our quarterbacks. We’re not going to make them live in practice, but we may set up a drill here or there to let them feel a little bit of the stress they’re going to feel within the pocket. But making sure we do it at the right tempo that they’re not going to be at risk of injury.
Q: Being in the stadium, we obviously noticed you guys all had the headsets, some guys were up in the booth. Just curious how you thought it went? What were you trying to get out of it? Obviously, I know Friday night is coming, but what was the thinking today?
A: You know, this isn’t just the players’ first time going out there together. It’s us, the coaching staff, as well. We’re building in opportunities to talk to each other on the headsets to start creating the communication we’re going to have in a game situation. It’s important for me to be able to go up to the offense and defense at different times and echoing what I’m looking for in a certain drive or a certain situation. Obviously, we had a lot of two-minute drives today. We had a four-minute drive simulated. At that point, we’re talking to each other. ‘Ok, how much time do we have left? How many timeouts? I’m looking to call timeout here.’ Whatever the call may be, we’re communicating the entire time. The exercise today was to really build the communication from the booth down to the field, from me to the coordinators to the position coaches, to make sure we just have a feel for talking to each other. That’s something that we can’t take for granted. If we had done this on a game day for the first day, we’d find out the hard way that there are certain levels of communication that we have to really practice as a coaching staff.
Q: I just wanted to clarify one thing. When you had said the reason for practice being delayed, you had some things to discuss, is it correct that you were discussing the social injustice and things that were going on? Or were there other things you were also discussing?
A: No, that was correct. That’s correct. It was social injustice. We wanted to give our players time. This wasn’t a distraction by any means, but it’s a conversation we wanted to make sure we had as a team. There are some things that are very important within the locker room and the culture and making sure the players understand that… Look, we’re concerned about them. They’re concerned about us as coaches as well. We wanted to make sure that we were all on the same wavelength. We wanted to make sure that they know that we support them, and that’s important for us. Our guys made the decision, we talked about it. They didn’t want to go ahead and miss any work. They wanted to keep practicing. Look, it’s a shortened preseason. We all have to go out there and work. Our guys have been very intent about going out there every day and working hard and making improvement. But as coaches, we can be smart about how we structure meetings and determine what’s absolutely necessary right now. Maybe we can build an install later on. It just so happened that today was a situational walkthrough day. It’s a little bit of a lighter day for us. Take a lot of time within certain meetings to watch game tape and talk through league situations, rules, things that come up throughout the games that maybe you don’t have just a basic installation meeting. I’m able as the head coach to kind of push those things around a little bit, massage them, and move them off to make sure we have time for whatever comes up with the players.
Q: I know we’re jumping around a little bit with the Zoom here, but first I want to ask you about, you said the guys wanted to keep practicing. How did you come to that conclusion? Is it something that they come to you and tell you? Do you have a leadership group that you talk about with that first, or is it just a general sense of the room?
A: Real simple. I talked to the leadership group, which we have been working really kind of through the beginning of training camp with a lot of the older guys on the team. I spoke to them. We just kind of talked about the situations. Sometimes as coaches, if it’s not on the practice tape, I’m not aware it’s happening. I had to have someone remind me the other day to call my mom on her birthday because I didn’t realize the date. Sometimes, you need to have someone draw awareness on what’s going on on the outside world. When that happens, you grab that group of guys and just touch base because I know they’re more connected with what’s going on right now with the rest of the world than we are as coaches. Sometimes, we have to be the groundhog and come up from the den and kind of see what’s going on outside. For us, we had a conversation. I kind of put a bunch of different things on the table for them to think about in terms of where they’re at. They voiced pretty clearly right away that it was important to go out and practice, that we were going to make an impact through what we did as a team. We wanted to make sure we had conversations, which we did today.
Q: With Xavier, how did he hurt the foot? How optimistic are you that he will be back at some point?
A: To be completely honest with you, I have to wait and see what the surgeons say when they go ahead and work on it. From what I understand, it’s two different options of what it could be. I’m holding out hope that we get all of our players back from injury as fast as possible. We’ll see where that goes and I’m sure we’ll have a timetable sooner than later for you guys. I would just say that with all the timetable stuff, it’s important to be nimble. Every injury is different, every person is different. The recovery time can’t be one size fits all. We have to see where he’s going with this. I know he is going to work hard to rehab and get his body ready. We have to keep his mind and moving and keep him engaged with the team.
Q: He missed the scrimmage and practiced a little bit yesterday. Did he try to play through it? How did that work out?
A: They are not all connected. We have to monitor everyone’s workload as a whole. Everything is not connected to the one injury. I’m not going to go into every stretched-out detail on it. We wouldn’t put any player on the field without believing that it is one hundred percent safe and that he was prepared for the game or practice in that situation.
Q: With David Mayo, what’s the story with him? Do you have any idea on the timeline with him?
A: Very much like Zay, we have to wait and see what the doctors say after they go in. I was told today by Ronnie (Barnes, Sr. VP of Medical Services) that he had been looking at his knee. There wasn’t anything that we thought was an issue, I guess it flared up on him yesterday. Ronnie came into my office this morning and let me know where he’s at. They are taking a look at him, they should have more news for me tomorrow and we will see where that’s at. He’s a guy that we respect a lot and we’re counting on for a lot production this year. Get him healthy and back out there as soon as possible.
Q: Just to be clear with the IR rules, you would have to carry these guys on the original 53 if you were going to put them on and bring them back right?
A: Yes, there is several ways of doing it, but that’s correct in how you are saying it.
Q: What struck you with working in the stadium today. It was an empty stadium and normally that would be something that you wouldn’t have to face during the regular season but this season, that’s exactly what you are going to have to face.
A: We’ve been doing that on a nightly basis with our walkthrus anyway. This isn’t the first time for us being in the stadium and just moving around. To be honest with you, I love having fans in the stadium, I know the players do, too. It brings a lot of juice to the environment, a lot of energy. The more heated the game gets, the less you notice the noise around you. Whether it’s completely quiet or there’s amplified artificial noise, or you have the fans in there, you are so zeroed in on the field a lot of times you don’t notice them. That’s not to say we don’t want fans at the game, we absolutely do. It’s such a key part of the game for the energy of the environment. We just preach to our players that hopefully they are full by the end of the year but right now, it sounds like we are going to start out with the fans not in the stadium. We have play through whatever the situation is and play through the environment.
Q: Do you find that in an empty stadium you have to adjust the volume of your voices because it could tip off plays and things like that?
A: To a degree. There’s different ways of camouflaging what you’re doing. Having multiple words that mean one thing. Everyone being on the same page with that vocabulary. Being smart about when you raise your voice and scream across the field. Using silent counts, using signals. There’s different ways you can go ahead and account for that. We’ll get our first taste of what the game situation is going to feel like on Friday when we have that artificial noise. That will be our first sample as coaches and players of exactly how loud that’s going to be. The NFL operations will be over here, we had a meeting on that this morning, in terms of how we’re going to set it up. We are going to simulate everything for the game as it will be on September 14th, with a few exceptions obviously. It’s going to be as close to a game as possible. After that, I’ll have a lot more answers in terms of what that noise in the stadium is actually like.
DT Leonard Williams
Q: You guys suffered some tough injury news today with McKinney and the broken foot. How did Joe tell that to the team? What’s the reaction? Losing a rookie like that who was going to be a big part of your defense.
A: I definitely think he was big part of the defense. We kind of all saw him dealing with the injury. It’s going to be hard for him for sure. We didn’t talk about it too much. We wanted to be focused on what we had to get done today. It’s news that just happened today.
Q: Does Joe bring that up to the team in a quick huddle or anything like that?
A: I’m sure he might. I don’t think he has gotten into it with the whole team yet. A lot of other stuff has been going on today, so we really didn’t have an open discussion about what’s going on with him.
Q: Have there been any team discussions about what’s going on in the outside world with Jacob Blake and some of the other situations that are going on in the world. Has that crept into the team meetings and the locker room?
A: Even before this most recent one that you just brought up. Even since the George Floyd incident when all the rioting and stuff like that was going on, us as a team wanted to focus on coming together and being more involved in our communities. Seeing how we can help in a situation like this with our platforms that we have been given. We obviously have influence on the world. Being on a team where people come from so many different backgrounds, we kind of show that people can come together and focus towards a goal. Focus towards something positive no matter where you came from or what background you come from. Something we did as a team was, we split up into different groups and focused on all the different boroughs in New York. Something in my group that we have been focusing on is police reform and trying to build relationships between officers and the community and stuff like that. It’s definitely a work in progress and it’s been even harder because of the coronavirus. We can’t really be in person with anybody right now. It’s mostly Zoom calls. I think this is a big issue going on right now and it’s been a big issue for the last 400 years. I think it’s definitely time for some change.
Q: We were talking to Kyler previously about the pass rush and I guess the challenges of not being able to finish the pass rush the way you would like to at full speed because you don’t want to hit the quarterback. I’m wondering how have you been adjusting to that in terms of timing your pass rush and getting into the backfield without compromising anyone’s safety?
A: I’ve pretty much been doing that since college started. You’re not able to touch the quarterback ever since I’ve been playing football basically. There’s definitely drills where the outside linebackers and D-line can get together and work 2 on 1 pass rush games with the offensive line with a simulated quarterback that’s someone who is not the actual quarterback wearing a red jersey. I think I have pretty much got adjusted to it by now because I have been doing it for so long.
Q: The Lions cancelled practice yesterday to address the Jacob Blake shooting. The Milwaukee Bucks boycotted today’s game. Has there been any discussion on doing something like that? I know you mentioned working in the community. Has there been any kind of discussion among the players or the team on doing something to that effect?
A: We’ve had a big discussion as a team. Not about that specifically but something that we’ve all thought about as team is that we wouldn’t want to take away opportunities from guys trying to make the team. There is already less opportunity for them without preseason right now. It would be kind of hard for them to not be seen if we’re taking away even more without them having preseason. It’s kind of a hard dilemma with that going on. We definitely saw what happened with Detroit and we were inspired by it. We want to do something about it and something similar to it. I think that’s the reason why I also wanted to share what we have been doing as a team in our community. Hopefully the 31 other teams in the country would want to focus on their communities that they are playing in as well. Just bring more awareness and bring more effort into our communities and the police.
Q: Do you have any reaction to the Milwaukee Bucks actually boycotting the playoff game today?
A: I can’t say I agree or disagree. Like I said, this is a big issue going on in the world right now. I think it’s above sports, I think it’s above any other small individual thing going on right now. This is something that’s affecting the entire country. If that’s something that they came together as a team and collectively decided on, then power to them that they were able to do something as a team and come together on something.
Q: We talked to Coach Spencer the other day and he was talking about you. He said that what he is trying to do with you is help you refine your craft and really go from being a tremendous athlete to being a football player. Do you know what he means by that and what you guys are trying to accomplish?
A: Something that we talk about is not the end result basically. Which is for me being as he called it a tremendous athlete, in his words. I was able to get away with just being better than my opponent all my life, in high school and college. Whereas now instead of just trying to be physically better or faster than my opponent, now just bringing it down to the basics. Playing technique every play and letting my technique take me to the play instead of thinking about the TFL (tackle for loss), thinking about the sack and thinking about the end result of the big play. Just play my technique every down and the big play will come.
Q: Is that even more of a focus for you now than it’s been for the past few seasons.
A: I think technique is always a focus. Coach Spencer has definitely been harping on it with me and it’s a good thing. I think we have a good working relationship when it comes to that. I’ve defintely been taking it as coaching and trying to apply it. We’re both taking steps forward on it and it’s been working.
OLB Kyler Fackrell
Q: What was it like being in the stadium there? Kind of an empty stadium, that’s something you’re going to have to get used to I guess for most of this season.
A: We’ve done some walkthroughs out there. I think it’s going to be a really good experience on Friday to do the scrimmage in the stadium and just kind of get the feel for that. But yeah, it’s exciting. It’s exciting to get back into the stadium and I’m looking forward to getting the first game going.
Q: When you’re playing in an empty stadium as a defender, can you hear the calls and the plays and things like that from the offense? Do you envision that once the regular season comes and you’re playing in these empty stadiums, that could be an advantage?
A: Yeah, I think it’ll go both ways because sometimes the defense gives calls that may tip things off as well. But yeah, I think that’s definitely something that we’re going to have to adjust to, the whole league is going to have to adjust to, as far as doing more hand signals or just doing whatever you can in the huddle beforehand to kind of communicate it so that you don’t give anything away.
Q: I know you were with Patrick Graham in Green Bay. Was he actually your position coach or was he more with the inside guys there?
A: He was the inside (linebacker) position coach.
Q: Ok, so what you’re doing here, is there much carryover from what you did there or is it kind of different?
A: It’s similar in a lot of ways, especially they’re both 3-4 schemes. But I think it’s kind of similar to the Patriots scheme, which is a little bit of what Pat has done before. On third downs and in those rush situations, there’s a little bit more creativity I would say with Pat’s defense.
Q: You obviously come in here with Blake Martinez. Do you see him kind of already stepping into a little bit of a leadership role with this defense?
A: Yeah, definitely. Especially because the whole team really, but definitely the defense, is very, very young. He’s done a great job of kind of stepping up and filling that role. That’s kind of the role of the Mike linebacker anyways. Yeah, he’s done well with that.
Q: This is a pass rush group with a lot of young guys. What have you seen out of guys like Oshane (Ximines) and Lorenzo Carter and Carter Coughlin? What have you seen out of those guys since you got here?
A: A lot of talent, honestly. A lot of raw ability. I think we’ve been working, we’ve been getting a lot better in the one on ones and everything. That work has been great. We were watching some clips from last year with pressures and stuff. As a rookie, X produced. I think he had four, four and a half sacks, which is awesome for a rookie. The same kind of thing with Zo. He’s going into his third year. I think it’ll be… It’s a fun room, it’s a fun group to be a part of. The mixture of us as outside linebackers as well as all the talent in the interior d-line. I think third down is going to be a fun down.
Q: Because you guys don’t have a preseason, you’re really not going to be able to sack a quarterback until the regular season. How much are you itching to have that chance to tackle a quarterback to the ground?
A: It’s always annoying in practice and stuff, you’re not able to totally finish your rushes. The offense always plays that game of ‘Would you have been there?’ whatever. But we’re excited. We’re excited to be able to actually play, as much as we’ve been getting a lot better going against each other. It is weird to not have preseason games. It’s weird to not be able to get that really full speed feel before we’re going to be playing the games that count. But I think, again, this scrimmage is going to be a huge thing. It’s going to be as live as we’re going to get before Pittsburgh. Yeah, we’re itching to get after the quarterback for sure.
Q: To kind of piggy back on that last question, in the scrimmage last Friday, it really didn’t look like there was a whole lot of pass rush. Is it really hard to judge what the pass rush really is when you have to pull up?
A: Yeah. I think sometimes it’s clear that you would have been there. But definitely, especially when you’re kind of bending that edge and you’re trying to stay outside of three yards of the quarterback. You’re not able to finish that rush. Yeah, it’s hard. It’s obviously what we have to do. We’re not complaining. We want to keep the quarterbacks safe for sure. We do other drills to kind of simulate it, strip sacks and stuff like that, reaching the arm out and all those things, to try to simulate that as well.
Q: Sometimes it looks like some of the pass rushes are based on you guys timing them, timing them off the snap and you’re going full speed. You can’t go full speed because if you do, you run the risk of colliding with the quarterbacks. I’m just kind of wondering how you’ve been adjusting to that so you’re not getting into those penalty situations?
A: Especially when we run games, it’s definitely timing, steps, a lot of eye control, and being able to get to the back of the tackle if you’re running a pit game or whatever it might be. I think that’s where it’s hardest, is when we’re kind of running those games to where we really need to finish hard and we kind of have to pull off because we don’t want to run straight through the pocket and there’s not a lot of room to move when we run those kinds of games. But again, we’re able to do that. We’re able to go full go in one on ones, which is good. We do two on twos as well, so we’re able to work the games where there’s not an actual quarterback. We just have another offensive lineman back there as a reference point. I think the one on ones is really I guess the only place where we can really finish the rushes the way we want to.