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31 December 2015

Week 17 Conference Call Transcripts: at Carolina Panthers (1/3/16)

HEAD COACH RON RIVERA
 
(On the team losing their first game of the season last week and what it was like pursuing a perfect season)
“So far it’s been good. It’s been a good week of practice. The weather here is kind of lousy, but yesterday we had good tempo, today we had good tempo, so I’m feeling pretty positive about their attitude in terms of getting ready to bounce back. Like you said, it’s been a while [since we have lost] and fortunately enough for us, we have an opportunity to get back on the saddle and get riding again. This will definitely be a big challenge, because I think this is a much-improved football team [in Tampa Bay].”
 
(On balancing playing hard to finish the regular season while avoiding injuries for the playoffs)
“That’s exactly it. We’ve got a lot to play for. We’re going to play the guys as needed. They’re intent on winning the football game, that’s the truth of the matter. I’m not really as torn. If we had won last week, I most certainly would have been torn.”
 
(On if Tampa Bay should feel encouraged by the progress the team has made this season)
“I think they should, I really do. I think their offensive line is starting develop and solidify some rapport that they need. I like their playmakers that are around their quarterback. I think having Austin [Seferian-Jenkins] back at tight end for them and what the other guys have done has been good at that position. The wide receivers have playmakers, definitely, with Mike Evans – I know Vincent [Jackson] won’t be out there, but still, there are playmakers there. I love Doug Martin and Charles Sims, I think those guys give them a great tandem and Bobby Rainey is most certainly somebody too you think about in terms of the development of their football team.But I think it all starts with Jameis. I think Jameis has done a nice job, I really do. I like who he is, I think he’s a competitor and I think he’s teammates are buying into that. You watch when he runs the ball, the thing you always look for is how his teammates respond when he runs and gets tackled and you see those offensive linemen go running over there to pick him up and push anybody that’s around him. I think offensively, they’ve done exactly what you need to do in terms of development. You look at the defense, I was fortunate enough to work for Coach [Lovie] Smith and learn from him the system. You watch these guys play the system and you know they’re well on their way.”
 
(On the importance of staying the course during difficult times)
“I think that’s exactly it – not overreacting, but being steady, staying true to form. That’s one thing about Coach Smith I’ve always respected. He had a vision when he got to Chicago. He stayed true to form to it. I think that’s what he’s doing right now. He has a vision of what he expects, of what he sees and what he sees this team is becoming. He’s going to stay the course. Truth be told, the thing everybody has got to do is just be patient. This is a young football team, with a young quarterback. We’re in our fifth season with our quarterback – look at where we are now. I look at Jameis and I see so many similarities between him and our guy, I just go, ‘Man, this guy is going to be competitive for a long time.’ I think everybody just needs to be patient. The third year is where you really start to expect things to happen. I expect them going into next year ready to roll.”
 
(On the NFL flexing this weekend’s game to a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff)
“Well, what I don’t like about it is it puts people in a peculiar position. We should be playing at 1:00 [p.m.], and whether we win or lose, that puts the decision now on the head coach in Arizona. He’s the one who makes the decision on what he wants to do. Doing what they did to us, that kind of puts the onus on the head coach to make – there’s no more decision. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair to put coaches and teams in positions like that. Believe me, if it was the other way around, I would be disappointed.”
 
(On how the team’s receivers have responded to losing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin before the season)
“I think the biggest thing, more so than anything else, our group of receivers play as a unit. Teddy [Ted Ginn] has got the speed to get over the top. ‘Philly’ [Corey Brown] has got the quickness to work underneath. Jericho [Cotchery] has got the experience to sit down and find the open creases. It’s been really nice watching Devin Funchess come along and develop. Brenton Bersin is a savvy, young player that’s a lot like Cotchery. It’s been by committee. Kelvin did so many things for us last year individually that it’s been kind of spread amongst those five guys. Don’t forget the tight end position for us. Both Greg [Olsen] and Ed Dickson have done good things for us, as far as the tight [end] is concerned. The thing that has really helped too is that we’ve run the ball consistently as a football team.
 
(On what he has seen from his team following their first loss of the season)
“I know this: I know we took it hard. I know we really did. I thought Monday where the guys really took it hard. They came back in on Tuesday, we had meetings, and the disappointment seemed to be dissipating. Yesterday we had a good, spirited practice, which was exciting, then today, the tempo contained. I like to believe that these guys have gotten over it and they’re focusing in on playing Tampa Bay, because this is an important game for us.”
 
LINEBACKER LUKE KUECHLY
 
(On the team’s response to its first loss of the season last week)
“I think guys are excited with how this season’s going. Obviously guys were bummed and upset when we lost. Anybody that’s playing a competitive sport, when you lose a game, you’re going to be upset. But I think the one thing that’s good about this team is guys have a short memory when you win, a short memory when you lose and really take pride in making improvements in areas where we didn’t play so well. That’s kind of the goal this week, to make improvements on some stuff we didn’t do as well last week. That’s been the goal from the start of the season, even when we were winning, until this past week when we got a loss. Just find ways to improve on what we weren’t as good at and then keep improving the areas that we’re doing well.”
 
(On Tampa Bay’s linebackers and if there is anyone who stands out)
“Lavonte [David]. I think he’s a fun guy to watch. I don’t watch a whole lot of Tampa defense to study it, but I watch it when we watch the Saints or the Falcons or when we played the [NFC] East this year, obviously the Bucs played them, so you get to watch those guys. The one thing I like watching about him is that he’s everywhere. He’s fast, he’s athletic, he moves well, he’ll hit you. He’s fun to watch. He’s always around the ball; he’s done a great job. I think he’s one of those guys who’s a lot like Thomas [Davis], that sometimes doesn’t get the Pro Bowl recognition, but he’s one of those guys that deserves it. I think it was maybe ’13 when he was an All-Pro or second team All-Pro and I think he’s still playing at that level. It’s just a tough position, that outside linebacker, to get a whole lot of recognition with those 3-4 guys.”
 
(On the challenges that Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston presents)
“With him, what I’ve seen from the start of the season to now, I think he’s confident and I think he sticks up for the guys on his team. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. There was one play in the past few weeks where I think he threw a screen pass and went down and tried to block someone. He defends his guys. Obviously, he’s a great player and he’s improved a lot, but the thing I think’s really neat about him is little stuff like that that he does. He’s trying to go block someone, or he standing up for his teammates. I think that part’s cool. For a young guy to be able to do that, I think that’s cool. Obviously, he’s made a lot of strides – I think his numbers over the last few weeks, his touchdown-to-interceptions, the ratio is great in his favor and I think he’s done a great job.”
 
(On Carolina’s success against Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans)
“You just have to know where he is. He’s a lot like Kelvin [Benjamin] – a big, athletic, strong guy that can run. But you have to really figure out where he is. You can’t let him sneak around. You have to identify where he is and make sure you know, maybe if he’s in the slot he runs this route, or if he’s at the backside X, he might run this. So you just have to know where he is and make sure we’re communicating, because a guy like him, if you let him get open, he’s going to catch it and make something happen.”
 
(On quarterback Cam Newton and what he brings to the team)
“I think his competitive drive is something that really gets him going and keeps him going. You got a guy that doesn’t like to lose, and you got a guy that hates to lose and you got a guy that hates losing more than he likes winning. Those guys are the guys that you want on your team, the guys that can compete. There was  a play last week where I think he was running for a first down and shook a couple guys off, took a couple hits but he was still moving forward. I think that’s cool. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. I think he’s made a ton of improvements in the offseason. He’s spreading the ball around really well, I think the run game has helped him out a lot, but Cam has done a great job of throwing the ball, running the ball, making some drives at the end of the game that help us win. He’s doing a great job. He studies hard, he works hard at practice, and I’m really happy for him that he’s having a great year.”
 
(On what he thinks has helped turn the team around)
“I think we’ve got a great team. Our locker room is awesome; everybody gets along, everybody has fun together. I think there’s a lot to be said for that. A group of guys that gets along, plays for each other and plays hard and counts on each other. I think we had that and I think that helps you when you get in tough spots. Nobody’s blaming anyone, everyone said, ‘All right, I’m going to do my job and I’m going to count on you to do your job.’ That theory has worked for us and a lot of that credit goes, one, to Mr. [Jerry] Richardson for setting that tempo and then Mr. [David] Gettleman and Coach Rivera for continuing it. They’ve brought guys in who fit the mold, and guys that didn’t fit the mold, they got let go. So I think they’ve done a good job with making stuff happen and making our team a real team.”
 
(On his experience with concussions)
“I think you’ve just got to be smart with it – that’s the biggest thing. You have to understand, when you have one, you have to understand the way to get better. Our guys here did an excellent job. They had me do everything I needed to do. They watched me, they helped me, they put a plan in place and they told me from the first day, ‘Listen, you have to come back when you’re ready; don’t come back too early.’ I was told that you have to let it heal, because, obviously, if you don’t let it heal, you’re more prone to new ones. And if you get a second one right after the first one, they’re going to sit you longer. So, my thing was, I’m going to wait until I’m ready to go. And our guys, Ryan Vermillion, our head trainer, and Mark Shermansky – those guys did an excellent job. Coach Rivera and Gettleman told me from day one, ‘Let this get better and when you’re ready to come back, we’ll have you back.’”
 
(On how much Newton has developed)
“He’s done a great job. That quarterback position is a tough position to come to in the NFL and start from day one. A lot gets thrown on your shoulders and he’s improved every year since he’s been here and that’s what you ask for. Obviously the leadership ability has always been there. He’s a guy who comes in every day. He works hard, he stays late. He takes a lot of pride in what he does and this year he’s controlling the offense, he’s putting guys in position to be successful. He’s done a great job and I think it just comes as a result of him being with [Offensive Coordinator Mike] Shula for the past few years. He’s comfortable with the offense and they’ve put those guys in position to be successful. Cam has made a lot of strides and he’s a big part of what we do on offense and our whole team.”
 
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