This afternoon, I sat down with Rex Ryan in his office to discuss the 46, his expectations for the defensive unit this season and the players who will execute not Rex’ defense, but the defense of the Baltimore Ravens.
TL: Rex, compare how the defense looks right now, to how it might look in week 3 and then finally later in the season.
RR: So far, right now I’ve been please. Obviously we’ve made a few more mistakes than you’d like but I think that’s to be expected early. Now game 3 or whatever, our plan that we talked about with the players, is to eliminate all of the mental mistakes and make it a physical game where you have to beat us physically. Then we’re going to be a tremendous defense.
And I think that’s what we are striving to do. As coaches we’re just trying to get all that part of the game where it’s just automatic for our guys to pick up anything. We’ve made some mistakes so far in the preseason, but there’s been a lot of great things in the preseason as well. A couple things. Third down efficiency defense – I think last week we gave up 6% on third down. One of 16 conversions against a heck of a football team. So we’ll take that any day of the week.
Our red zone defense, we’ve given up one score in 15 or 16 opportunities down in the red zone. You are going to win a ton of games that way. So those are the things we’re building on.
TL: And on a couple of occasions, your first defensive set was in or very near the red zone.
RR: Well, when you’re in there, you’re in there. Take Zach Norton for instance. He got beat on a 47 yard pass or so. What people don’t notice is the safety missed the tackle. Zach kept running, kept playing and made the tackle. And then what happens? We get off the field – they kick a field goal. You’re going to win a lot of games if you hold people to field goals and not give up touchdowns.
TL: There’s been a lot of talk about the 46 and when it will be employed. From what I’ve seen, you might start out in a 3-4 and then mix in the 4-3 before you ever get into a 46 base defense in the traditional sense.
RR: Well it is probably more like a 2005 version of the 46. That double eagle, the true standard 46 defense, we are probably in a third of the time right now. But our other defenses are prominent as well. So it’s just the fact that we can play the 46 every snap of the game or we don’t have to play it at all. And I think that’s going to help us when teams have to prepare for us.
TL: Rex if I recall correctly against both the Mannings last year, Peyton and Eli, it appeared as though you used a bit of the 46 against the Colts and the Giants.
RR: Well we did a lot of movement and things like that. I don’t know what percentage we were in the double eagle or the 46 I’m not sure, but with those guys, a couple sharp quarterbacks, you just can’t stay in your standard defense or your standard coverages or the guy will carve you apart, especially Peyton or even Eli in a couple of years. So you really can’t be traditional against them.
TL: In getting after the quarterback, you are sending players from many positions, flipping personnel around to either side of the ball. Talk a bit about Adalius Thomas and his versatility. Coming out of Southern Mississippi, he was referred to as a tweener. Yet in your defense, those kind of players are invaluable.
RR: That’s right but it’s really “our” defense. I appreciate you saying my defense but it’s really our defense – players, coaches and Brian’s obviously. But that is something we look for. Get a good player. If you get enough good players, we can fit them into a system. Adalius has the flexibility to play defensive tackle sometimes, defensive end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, a dime back…so you know he can line up all over the place and I think that’s something that very few people in the league have — that flexibility and we’re fortunate to have him obviously. And be a Pro Bowl Special Team Player.
TL: With Peter Boulware now in the mix, do you see him taking snaps away from Adalius?
RR: Peter will not affect Adalius’ playing time whatsoever. The thing that we have to do as a team — and this is something that Brian has talked about — for us to be a Super Bowl contender, Adalius HAS TO be a contributor on special teams. He’s that kind of player – that kind of impact player on special teams. We have to have him do that. And obviously playing at such a high standard on defense as well, we are going to have to spell him on defense. We can’t afford to give him plays off on special teams but we will give him plays off on defense. It may be a combination of four or five guys that are taking his plays.
TL: It’s third and 12 and you’ve got your nickel or dime package on the field. What or should I say who does that consist of?
RR: Well we’re not telling anybody what that consists of. If people want to sit back and say ‘Well Peter Boulware is this or AD is this or whatever’, let them try to figure it out. We know who’s going to be out there and it’s a combination of guys that can get after the passer.
TL: Maake Kemoeatu is really coming on and was dominant against the Saints. Talk a bit about his play so far.
RR: He has been outstanding. In fact five times he took a Pro Bowl center, LaCharles Bentley in New Orleans who by the way dominated New England’s nose tackle… Kemo put him on his back five times. So that’s hard to do. If Kemo has always had that kind of ability and if he can stay low and keep driving those feet, he can be tremendous. And that’s what you are seeing so far this preseason. We’ve been just going crazy over his play.
TL: You have the rotation of Kemo and Kelly Gregg along with Aubrayo Franklin and Dwan Edwards. Talk about Aubrayo and Dwan a little bit.
RR: Those guys can play and they can start for a lot of teams in this league but they can’t start for us. And that’s a good thing. The fact that we have those guys…there are people in the off season that wanted to trade for both of them. But you can’t play in this league and go through a whole season without having injuries. These guys are great contributors for us and they’re going to contribute to our success and both are really coming into their own. Dwan has made leaps and bounds – great strides this off season under Clarence Brooks. He’s done a tremendous job and he’s working his tail off. And you see the strides.
Aubrayo Franklin made similar strides last year. And he’s still progressing in his play so both of them can line up and play and compete in the NFL every Sunday.
TL: One thing that I’ve noticed about Dwan is that he doesn’t quit. He may miss a tackle in the backfield but later on the same play, he’ll make the tackle a few yards downfield.
RR: Well that’s something when Ozzie and George (Kokinis) and Eric (DeCosta) were looking at players, that’s something that stood out about him. Ozzie always brings in those kinds of players. Guys that don’t need to be taught effort. These guys come in with a great work ethic and they fly to the football. That’s the kind of players they bring in here and it’s probably why we’ve been so successful.
TL: Now Rex with that rotation in mind and the contributions of Edwards and Franklin and your statement that they could start for other teams, there’s now talk of Corey Simon. During the off season, you made it clear that one of your defensive objectives would be to keep offensive linemen off Ray Lewis. So far this preseason, your guys are doing exactly that. Corey Simon doesn’t seem to me to be that type of player. He seems more effective collapsing a pocket.
RR: Well he is a one gap guy. He can make plays in the backfield and all that. You can’t have too many good players and it would be kind of a logjam. But if they want to bring Corey Simon in the mix, we’ll find a spot for him. He’s a tremendous player but it won’t be at the expense of Kelly Gregg or Kemo. Right now quite honestly, those guys are playing terrific. But if they want to give us Corey Simon or Jevon Kearse or anybody else, we’ll take them.
TL: There is no official word regarding Samari Rolle as of this moment regarding the one game suspension and how that may play out for the first game against Indianapolis. What’s the plan if Samari can’t play Opening Night?
RR: Well we’ve gotta fill in.
TL: Is Deion the starter or Dale Carter or doesn’t it matter?
RR: It doesn’t matter. With us if one corner goes down another Pro Bowler goes in. If two guys go down another Pro Bowler goes in so we’re ok. They don’t have to feel sorry for us. But obviously we hope everything works out with Samari’s situation because he’s a tremendous player and I know how bad he wants to play so hopefully, everything will get resolved and we can have him back in the line up.
TL: What are you looking for in the game this Thursday?
RR: The same thing we always [look for] — play with great intensity, great passion and play a smart, tough, physical game.