TB: We've done a bunch of that, and it's a good game to really gauge where we're at because we're playing a really good team, a great defense – one that we played last year and really struggled with at times. So, this will tell us where we're at. We've got to go out there and execute really well in order to move the ball down the field. They've got some of the best linebackers, a very good secondary and one of the best pass rushes in the league. It's a good challenge, and I think the guys are excited. This is big week that we've tried to make some improvements, and we'll see if it pays off.
Q: When you say see where you're at, how much of that is conditioning-wise specifically?
TB: Coach always does a great job of trying to keep us in great condition, so we do a lot of running in practice, a lot of post-practice running. But you've got to get out there and play, get your mind working and get into the situations and concentrate for extended periods of time. And certainly we're going to be asked to do four quarters of that in three weeks. We've got to go out and see where we're at, and hopefully we're in good enough condition to play a half. Hopefully, we can play a lot more than that, but it'll be good to see where we're at.
Q: How has it been to watch
TB: He's done such a great job. He's such a selfless player, great teammate. I don't think there is a better fullback in the league, so I'm so happy he's on our team, and what he's been able to accomplish for our team has been awesome. He brings so much in terms of his toughness, his attitude. It's that one position on offense that can really bring a lot of toughness. You get it out of that fullback position. He does whatever the team asks him to do. I can't say enough good things about him because I think so highly of him.
Q: How is James Develin's new role as more of a pass catcher coming along with the offense?
TB: He's been so dependable for us. I think he's been so consistent since he's been here. Once he got his opportunity he really took advantage of it last summer when we put the pads on for the first time, and he really showed us what he's all about. He continued that through the whole season, became a really dependable player for us last year, and he's carried that over into this season. It's great to have him, and all the skill guys we're going to need because it's a long year. Whoever is active at the skill spots, we've got to use everybody.
Q: When you see that big neck roll out in the flat, do you hesitate to throw the ball to him?
TB: Absolutely not. I want to get it to him, believe me. I want to throw it and see if he can make the defense pay because that's what he does such a great job of. You give it to him for a four-yard gain, and he comes up and, ‘Bam!' he runs over a safety or a corner. That's a great spark for our team. I want to give it to him as many times as I can in those positions.
Q: It seems like Rob Gronkowksi has made a lot of progress over the past week. How important is that for your team?
TB: It's been great. The more that he's able to do and help us the better we're going to be. Players that are great players – like Rob, who has been such a great player for our team – he's got to play that way because that's what the expectations are. And he's working his way back, and it's been great to have him out there for more and more activity, and hopefully that continues because he's a big part of our offense.
Q: There are rule changes that involve quarterbacks as well, specifically regarding cadences. Is that hard for you to adjust to?
TB: I guess you can't [move] the shoulders, the head and the hands with the voice – they talk about calling that quite a bit. Sometimes it's just natural as you try to inflect your voice, just the movement of everything gets you going. But we've got to be cautious of it because I was warned a bunch by [referee] John Parry, who was here last week, about doing that in practice. He said, ‘Look, I'm OK with it, but there are a lot of refs who probably won't be.' So I think you've just got to try to make the changes because, like I said the other day, whatever the rules are, we've just got to adjust to them. They're going to call it the way they're going to call it, and then we've got to be able to adjust and play smart, because you can't come out of the game with 12 penalties and think you're going to win every week. You'll just give up too many free yards, too many free opportunities for the defense. So, you've got to play within the rules. You want to play to the extent of the rules. I don't think you want to just give away free plays to the other team either. So, you've got to figure out where the line is and play right to it.
Q: Are you anxious to see guys not getting away with defensive holding and illegal contact?
TB: Over the years, that rule has gone back and forth about illegal contact, and I know when I first played, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain held on every play and they never called it. They said they were going to call it in 2003 and 2004, and they called it for a little bit. And then they said they were going to call it in 2007. I think it's just one of those things that's going to be crew to crew, week to week, and you can't as a player go up and down on it, especially as a quarterback, and rely on a call. As a route runner, you've still got to try to be physical at the top of your route because they're going to try to get their hands on you – anything to disrupt the timing of the passing. And that's what the defense is always trying to do, whether that's the pass rush or whether that's the coverage, and those marry up a lot of the time. If they're going to call illegal contact a lot, that's great for the offense, but at the same time, we can't go into the game expecting those. We've just got to go out there and try to run our routes and be physical when we need to be physical to get open because who knows if they're going to call it or not. If it's third down late in the game, you've got to just use your instincts.
Q: How much do you concern yourself in the preseason with trying to adjust to the new roles?
TB: It's not so much how the refs are going to call it and points of emphasis. I think you've got to focus on what your job is and not necessarily worry about the calls. For those defensive players, yeah, they've got to understand that. The offensive players, they're talking about cut blocks a lot this year, you've got to understand the rules. Not much has changed for the quarterback, so a lot of it for me is just trying to play quarterback and do that the best way I can. That's where a lot of the preparations have been this year is just focusing on things I need to do better.
Q: Do you and your teammates work on a lot of the rule changes in practice so you don't have to worry about it in the games?
TB: Coach doesn't want us to commit any penalties in practice. You just start getting in bad habits of, for me for example, with the voice inflection on the cadence. You can't continue to do that in practice and then think that in the game you're going to settle down and not get called for that. So you've got to be conscious of them and try to work on them so that when they come up in the game, they're really instinctual and you don't have to think. Because the best part about playing when you're really in a groove is you don't think about anything, you just react, and that's when you're usually at your best.
TB: Yeah, he's a really smart player, but for all of us, you've got to go out there and do it and get the reps in. I don't know what number practice this was today, but including the spring, we've had 30-35 practices, and it's valuable for me, so it's valuable for everybody. You've got to go out there and do it. You've got to do it under competitive situations and see where you're at and just keep going after it and improving and improving so that when you get to the game, it's just instinctual. You just don't want to go into the game with uncertainties of how you're going to react or how you're going to play. The more practice you get, the better you're going to get. Everyone is in different situations. It's the preseason, so guys are working in at different times, are dealing with different injuries over the course of the offseason. Whenever they're ready to go, they're ready to go. They've got to try to come in and do the best they can with limited amounts of time.
Q: Bill Belichick mentioned Deion Branch as someone who missed a lot of time, but was able to come back and play as if he never missed a day.
TB: Yeah, he got hurt in the Arizona game on a Hail Mary and came back against Kansas City on a Monday night and caught a bunch of balls. [He] only started practicing that week, but it looked like he didn't miss a day. That's just a really unique person with a unique ability that can do something like that, but he was a pretty unique player. Personally, I need to practice. The more I do, the better I feel, so that's why I like being out there so much.
Q: How much of the ball security and endurance drills you guys are doing in practice is done with January in mind?
TB: I think it's just a building process. Coach always uses the term, ‘Put it in the bank.' I think you've got to think of these things in advance. Rather than wait for a problem to happen and then try to fix it, you've got to do everything you can to try to prevent it. When you have these opportunities in the offseason and now in the summer camp to work on ball security, to work on all the things Coach knows we're probably going to have to work on at some point, it's better to get ahead of it and understand what you're dealing with than don't work on anything and then all of a sudden you get into it and you're like, ‘We've got to fix this.' Because usually when things are a problem in the preseason, they're a problem in September, and if they're a problem in September, they're usually a problem in December. So as many of those [things] you can eliminate, the better. Coach does a great job of doing those things for us.
Q: Did the big free agent acquisitions of the spring and summer increase expectations for you guys or are expectations always high around here?
TB: I think we've set a pretty high bar, and I think that's what we're out here to achieve, and that's what athletics are about. Competition at the highest level in the NFL brings out the best in everybody. There is only one reason to play this game, and that's to try to win every time you take the field. If you like that, then this is probably a good program for you. If you don't like that, you probably won't last long. The competition starts in the meeting rooms, goes onto the practice fields, certainly onto the game field, and we hold each other accountable for the highest expectations for each individual player, whatever role it may be. And everybody's role is important, everybody's role is different, and no one can do your role except yourself. That's what makes a really good player and teammate is when you don't have to rely on someone to do their job. You just know they'll do their job, which really frees you up to do your job.
Q: (After a reporter's phone goes off) What would the penalty be if that happened in a meeting?
TB: His phone would get taken away, there would probably be conduct detrimental, which is about 12 grand. We're much more friendly here than in our team meeting rooms.
Q: Do you have to spend more time game planning for Carolina because of their pass rush?
TB: Yeah, definitely. I think this has been a good week of preparation for us. In the last two weeks, we've actually had the opportunity to practice against both those teams, which you're kind of learning on the fly. We didn't do a lot leading up to those two weeks because we figured the three days of practice would get us familiar enough. This week has been much more like a normal week. We've had scouting report meetings and have talked about coverages and blitzes and third downs and red areas and two-minute and all the different situations that come up. [They are] a very unique team that is very good. We really got everything we could handle last year. It was one of the best defenses in the league, so we're going to have to come out and play really well and have the right plays on at the right time and try to go out and execute the best we can.
Q: One of the Bengals coaches was upset that the Jets blitzed with their second and third units during their preseason game last Saturday. Would you like to see blitzes in these situations?
TB: They can blitz, they can do whatever they want to do. Every defense is right. Like every call, there is risk and reward to everything. If they're going to blitz, then you've got to figure out a way to beat the blitz. If you don't fix the blitz, they're just going to keep running them. It's the same thing on offense. If you see a weakness, you're just going to keep going to it, and that's what separates pro-caliber players from guys who aren't. There are guys who can fix problems and know that this is what a team is trying to do, and then you figure out how to solve the problem, and then they've got to work on something else. But if you know there are weaknesses, that's what you go after. That's what pro football is all about.
Q: Did you guys have a good camp now that it's officially over?
TB: It's still a building process. There have only been 16-17 practices at this point and probably 11-12 in pads, so we'll see where we're at. It's still pretty early for us to figure out the dynamics of the team. And I think the coaching, the mental toughness, the discipline, the work ethic – those things don't pay off in September. When you really see them is in December. You want to see what kind of team you are in those moments when your back is against the wall, when you've had to deal with all these different things that come up like injuries and bad bounces and everyone telling you you're great and everyone telling you you suck. If you ride that wave and then at the end of the year you're not mentally tough, then you're not going to do much. The spring camps lead to training camp, and training camp leads to a good September and September leads to a good October. You've got to build the whole way through, and you can't think, ‘Oh, well we're there.' There are no teams that are Super Bowl-ready at this point. There are probably some guys that probably think they are, but in my experience, you've got to be battle-tested, and you only do that through going out there and playing games and see what kind of team you're made of and execute under intense circumstances, day after day, week after week and month after month. It all evens itself out after 16 games. How many times after halfway through the year [does] some team that was having a crappy year turn it around in the second half, and bam, they're in the playoffs looking good, ready to go? You just want to be building, and I think our team is going to do whatever Coach asks. The best teams I've ever been around have followed our coach's advice and worked hard and tried to make the improvements so that we were primed and ready to go when it mattered most.
Q: What are your thoughts on Brian Hoyer being named the Browns starting quarterback?
TB: I love Brian. He's just such a great guy, person and friend. We've always kept in touch. I'm proud of him. He's fought through some tough circumstances over the years, being released here, going to Arizona, getting a little bit of an opportunity there, and then really taking advantage of his opportunity in Cleveland. It's great for him, and he's a great player, so I'm very happy for him.
Q: Did practice this week have a little bit of a different feel to it and serve as a good dress rehearsal for the regular season?
TB: Yeah, that's what it is. We've got two games left, and they're both very important for our season, for our preparation leading up to the opener. Coach told us we're going to get a lot of work, and what that means I don't know. I don't think anyone ever knows with him. But we'll be prepared and ready to go for 60 minutes, and hopefully it's a good 60 minutes. We've had a couple doozies in the third preseason game lately, and it'd be nice to have a good one.