(On taking pride in history of linebackers and being the next in line…)
Yeah, absolutely. I think anytime you can help your team out, defensively speaking, with the history as you mentioned, with Urlacher in Chicago and with myself in Green Bay, there's so much history. Nitschke and other great players…it's only my second year but we can take another step in the right direction with a win this weekend.
(On what has been the key to success this year…)
Well I think we just stuck with what we know how to do. Obviously last year was our first time with a 3-4 defense and we executed it very well, but we still gave up a lot of points and yards in key situations. This year it's the reverse really. We're not giving up as many points, and the yards may be up, but points are what really matters and I think we finished second overall. It's a testament to the players that we have, the coaches, everybody buying into it and the fact that we're really gelling, this late in the season, especially with all the injuries.
(On being in playoff mode throughout December and how that has helped…)
Well it's really helped. Starting with that New York Giants game and then Chicago and then going into the playoffs, every game has been kind of a win or go home, so we've been in the playoffs for four weeks now, going on five in the fact that we've had to win or we're going home. I think those last two games really helped us out in preparing for the playoffs, understanding that we need to win. The atmosphere around here and as well as with the fans, the coaches and the players really understand what's at stake, and here we are in the NFC Championship game.
(On cleaning up the penalties after having 18 in the first game against the Bears…)
Well I think that game is pretty much an anomaly in the fact that it's pretty impressive to have 18 penalties called on you, 19 I guess but 18 accepted. But we just really had to refocus on tightening things up, and that's exactly what we've done. Obviously there is some personal calls that you can help improve on. There are the combative penalties which you can kind of accept and try to improve on, the holding and the face masks, but obviously you have to be smarter, and we've been playing really well. We're not putting ourselves in a compromising position where we can get a penalty, and I don't look for that to happen again this year.
(On biggest difference from year one to year two in his development…)
Even though I'm in my second year, I feel like I'm a veteran on this team in the fact that I was brought in here last year and I was able to start within four or five games. They look to me to be kind of a leader on this team with through how I play and my voice. Obviously coming into my second year, the defense wasn't new to me anymore. I was much more comfortable with not only the defense, but the players around me, the city, the organization, so it's just been a seamless transition for me. I look forward to continue that way and continue my development as a leader on and off the field, in the locker room and with my playmaking abilities. That's really helped me out tremendously with my success here.
(On whether he thought he could be defensive player of the year in his second season…)
I play this game for a number of reasons, and obviously it's truly an honor to be in the talks with some of the greats around the league, but in all honesty, we play this game to win a championship. That's what I'm going to do, and if I can pick up some awards along the way, that's fantastic. We'll find out once the Super Bowl rolls around, but hopefully we can be there instead.
(On the respect he has for Julius Peppers…)
He's a tremendous athlete. He commands attention all over the field. He's physically a freak out there, and he moves around like a guy who's not whatever his attributes are. He's really helped that defense turn around from where they were last year.
(On what the defense needs to do on Sunday to get to the Super Bowl…)
We just need to continue doing what we've been doing. The first game, I'm not sure what the score was, but I think we did a pretty good job. Obviously we gave up a little too much in the special teams game, but last time holding them to three points was obviously a great accomplishment with the offense they have and the way they've been rolling. Obviously we have to stop the run as it starts with every team and really force (Jay) Cutler to beat us with his arm. That's kind of the plan we like on defense because then we can bring our pressure and hope to get him off the spot.
(On what it is about his game that has made the transition to the NFL so seamless…)
Well it helped out tremendously going to a program like USC where it's conducted like a professional environment. There's no professional team in LA, so we're treated in such a manner. With Pete Carroll and his history in the NFL, he kind of groomed us to transition into the next stage. I think more so than that, it's really my family and the fact that I've grown up around the game since I was born really. With an uncle and father that played 19 years, with a grandfather that played, it really helped me out with how to be a consummate professional, how to go about my business and understand what I'm here for and understand the rigors of the game and not only be able to play the game but excel at it as well. I think that's why I've had a little success to date.
(On whether he had any four-year offers before walking on at USC…)
I had zero scholarships from Division I schools.
(On how hard it was not being a great player throughout high school after coming from a bloodline of great players…)
In all honesty I wasn't looking that far ahead. I just took it year by year, and perhaps that helped me out in the big picture, not looking too far ahead and being focused on what was in front of me. I didn't start my junior year, and my dad was a defensive coordinator and he didn't start me. I wasn't that good. My senior year I got better. I was able to get a few opportunities to play at I-AA schools and JCs, but I decided to walk on and take that path. I took it a year at a time. The first goal was to earn some time on special teams, get a scholarship, get on some defense, and five years later I was starting for a top-ranked university. I just continue to progress in my career, and I don't really see an end in sight.
(On Aaron Rodgers…)
He's definitely put himself in the talks with some of the greats the way he's been playing in the playoffs. I'm not sure if this is his third or fourth year starting, but it's pretty amazing. To watch what he's been able to do over the years, with my two years being here, he's improved tremendously, even from last year. I know in training camp this year, I tried to step my game up, especially in the pass coverage area, and he was still fitting in balls to receivers to where it almost seemed like I had no chance. So he's really taken his game to a new level. I know personally he wants to excel and be one of the best, and that's only going to continue to help our team out, having a leader like him in charge and being very good at it.
(On playing with Charles Woodson and taking this year to the next level after the 2007 Packers came so close…)
Charles is another one of those amazing athletes. He's a guy that I really look up to how he goes about his business and how he performs on the field. He is a true professional as well. Looking up to a guy like that who has been in a championship-like game and came up short, to listen to him and understand where he's coming from. He's been playing this game for over a decade now, and I think this might be his second time going back, and here I am in my second year, you really can't take that for granted. You have to understand the opportunity we have at hand and really take advantage of it. I think that's what our team is going to do come this Sunday.
(On Jay Cutler's mobility in the pocket…)
He has great mobility, and obviously you can see that from this last game and the fact that he was able to make some plays with his feet and score two touchdowns rushing too. It's just like any quarterback we play; we have to keep him in the pocket. We have to keep him corralled and not let him make plays with his feet. Obviously the responsibility lies on the front four, five, however many are pass rushing to really get to him, have integrity in your pass lanes and keep him corralled. We can't get too high or too low but really have to collapse that pocket on him.
(On whether playing Chicago adds anything to this game…)
For me personally, not really. Obviously you want to beat them with everything that goes on between Chicago and Green Bay and the historic organizations that we both have. I think the fans, Chicago would like to beat Green Bay that much more and Green Bay to Chicago, so like (Urlacher) said, it's an NFC Championship game. You have to understand that no matter who you're playing, you better bring you're A-game because you're one game away from making the Super Bowl. You need to show up, and you wouldn't be in the position you are if you hadn't been.
(On whether he's been able to take it in what this week means to Packers fans…)
You see little clips here and there. I think a prime example is when we got home around 3 or 4 in the morning at the airport from Atlanta, and there was a line out the door of our airport of fans wishing us the best and congratulating us on a great game. I expect to see that line twice as long taking off to Chicago and coming home. Yeah, this does mean a great deal. Obviously I think it was '97 the last time we brought home a championship to this city. This city is small, and that's what everybody relies on and everybody is proud of is the Packers, and we'll try to not disappoint and try to make everybody - not only ourselves but the city around us proud.
(On remembering Urlacher as a kid…)
I can't remember when I started remembering him, but I know he's been around for a while. He's been holding it down out there for a long time and he still plays with that same energy, drive and emotion. He still plays with that energy and continues to make plays that I even admire. It's something special to not only play for a year or two but for him, 10-plus years. He's a great athlete.
(On importance of B.J. Raji…)
He's been tremendous. Obviously he's really continued to progress his game this year, taking it to what I believe is a Pro Bowl level how he performs on the field. He is making plays in the backfield, not only in the pass game but is being disruptive in the run game as well. He's only helping guys like myself out tremendously in the fact that all 3-4's start with a big guy in the middle who can eat up double-teams and get pressure and collapse the pocket. That's what he's been doing as of late, and I look for him to continue his progression as well with him and myself only being second-year players.
(On the difficulty of winning on the road...)
It's very hard. Obviously it would be easier to play at home where you have your home field advantage. You're more comfortable; you don't have to fly anywhere. But that's kind of the path we've taken. We understand we're going to be on the road, and it's not a crutch. It's what we've bought into, the fact that we're going to have to go on the road, beat a good Philly team, beat a good Atlanta team and hopefully beat a good Chicago team. It's just part of the deal, and hopefully we can do that.
(On being able to enjoy this week at all…)
I think the enjoyment comes with a victory. Obviously we're not uptight here. We've done something special these last several weeks, but at the same time, you play this game to get to a championship game, and not only to get there but to win it. So obviously if we started celebrating now (it would be premature). We're in a position where 28 other teams aren't, but at the same time there's a lot more to get after.
(On how adversity has helped the team this season…)
Well it's helped us out tremendously. Obviously we've gone through a lot this season in terms of injuries with Aaron, like you had mentioned with his two concussions. We lose our stud tight end, our stud running back, guys all over the defense. I'd fathom to say we have the team with the most guys on IR, especially starters, so it's put us through a lot. It's been a season of ups and downs, but we've been playing some good ball as of late. We understand who is on our team and what they bring to the table, and the coaches and players and everybody has bought in, and I think that's why we're at where we are today.
(On A.J. Hawk this year…)
He's been a fantastic player. He obviously doesn't get the recognition that he deserves, and for whatever reason I think it's easy to downplay what he's been able to do. He's remained healthy all year. He's kind of been the rock of this defense. He calls the defenses and gets everybody lined up and has made plays too. We're looking for his continued excellent play this next game, and I look for him to make a big impact.
(On when the team realized they could play at this level and make this run…)
Well obviously you question yourself throughout the season. Are you as good as they say or are you not? For us, we had a few tough losses to teams in which we felt we should have beat. But really we started to come together, and it was through our play on the field and on the practice field that we were able to see what we were truly capable of with the players that we had and that losing some of the players we did wasn't as devastating as we thought it was. All the work the coaches had been putting in and the players that remained healthy and the playmakers continuing to step their play up as well as younger guys getting in here and putting in the extra work to help out. It'd be interesting to see all the guys that are starting offensively and defensively and how it stacks up to week one to this game coming up this Sunday.
(On Mike McCarthy…)
He's kept us on the straight and narrow in the simple fact that – like I just mentioned – we have obviously gone through a tough year. But just like any team, he kept us level-headed, kept our eye on the ultimate goal and just taking it one step at a time. Obviously each week it's to get a win and ultimately to make the playoffs and continue to win. He's done a great job, and at times he is underappreciated, but we don't take him for granted. He does a great job of keeping this team together and putting us in advantageous positions to win games, and that's what we've continued to do.
(On playing for Dom Capers…)
Yeah, he's a fantastic defensive coordinator and he knows so much. He's been around the game for so long, and he puts the right players in the right positions to make plays, and I think that's what's so special about this 3-4 is the fact that it's not just one or two guys who are the playmakers for this defense. It's everybody from the outside linebackers to the defensive linemen to the middle linebackers, corners, safeties. Everybody has a chance to make their plays, and that's what they do. Obviously he knows what he's doing but puts everybody in the right position and we just execute what he calls. The majority of the time it works out.
(On being surprised by the infatuation with his hair…)
I guess it's part of the deal really. You look at guys like Polamalu, Chris Johnson and other guys with long hair, and they get some attention for it. So I guess I expected that, but it has reached a level that is pretty impressive, so I don't know whether to be thankful or what because obviously the fans here might like it but those down in Chicago might not.
(On the closeness of the two previous games putting any more pressure on the defense…)
I don't think so. Obviously the games have been close because you have to understand you have two fantastic defenses playing out there. The game is going to be close no matter how good these offenses are. Obviously I'm defensive-minded in how I think, and it's going to be a tight game. It's going to come down to a couple plays to determine the outcome, and hopefully we can make those plays to help our team out. Get some turnovers to give the ball back to our offense to let them put some points on the board, but they're very capable of doing the same. So we understand the task at hand, and obviously it's to come out there and perform as we have of late.
(On how the Bears playing their starters in December helps Green Bay get ready for this game…)
It's the same as every other game. The fact is we got their best shot. Chicago will say it's nice that through four quarters they were able to keep it close, and it's nice for us to know that we were able to get a win with them playing full tilt for four quarters. Really, here we go again. They got one win; we got one win, but this is for all the marbles. To see their best shot in both games is only going to help both teams out, so it should be fun. I think it's going to be a fun game, not only for us but for the fans and everybody watching.