OK, I'll start with the injuries. I just have one injury to report on. Ryan Pickett has an ankle sprain. His availability will be evaluated for Minnesota, but we don't feel that it was any worse than the initial injury. With that, I'd also like to comment on Al Harris, the release of Al Harris. I want to thank Al personally for his time, his dedication, and his time here as a Green Bay Packer. We made a decision based on the overall depth and future of our roster. A number of different variables went into that decision. It was a tough decision, but we want to wish Al the best with his next opportunity that I'm sure lies ahead. With that I'll take your questions.
(Did Harris look restricted in his rehab at all?)
No, I thought Al did a tremendous job throughout his rehab. As far as getting into an evaluation, I thought he progressed throughout the three weeks. It was important for him to get back onto the field, get into the football movements, the competitive drills, the ability to tug and pull in space and things like that. But I thought he did an excellent job of getting himself back in shape and so forth. This is not a physical decision. This is a big-picture roster decision.
(Are you concerned about how this decision will go over in locker room?)
You look at all those variables. With that, you always trust the leadership in your locker room. Al is a veteran player, a very productive player, popular player. But these are decisions that need to be made at different times of the year. We felt that Al had an opportunity to come back, had the serious injury, and he did an excellent job in his rehab. But as far as the locker room, we trust the leadership in our locker room.
(Did you have to take special teams into account too?)
I think that's what I'm referring to. The big picture, as far as your overall roster, all those variables are part of the decision. There was a lot of conversation. We actually broke and made the final decision about 10:30 this morning. You look at the health of your team, the development of your younger players, special teams, all that was part of the conversation.
(Did you get to see Al or talk to him?)
I have not talked to Al since I think Friday. Ted and I both have been very up front with Al all the way through the process. I know time and time again he wanted to know what his options were and where we felt that he stood and so forth. We've been very up front with him throughout. I know Ted did try to get a hold of Al after I left that meeting about 10:30. I do not know if he has talked to Al in person, but I know his representation has been contacted.
(Was there any option of putting him on injured reserve?)
We discussed all those options. But this is the one that we felt, after completing the game last night, and once again, just going through all the different variables, this is the direction we decided to go.
(What does that say about Underwood and Lee if one of the first three guys gets hurt?)
Well, I think we have a little experience at getting players ready to be the next guy up. It's part of any season, any challenge. You look at everything involved. You look at the development of all the players, particularly in the secondary from the beginning of the season until now, and we feel very good about the progress that we've made individually, as a unit in the secondary, and most importantly as a defense.
(Based on what you saw in practice, do you think Al could have played?)
I think Al Harris will definitely play again in the National Football League. I have no doubts about that.
(Where is Pat Lee at with his injury?)
Pat Lee is improving. Just met with the doctors before I came in here. He's making progress, but I don't have a status until we get down to the field next Monday. They feel like he's made a lot of positive progress here over the last seven days.
(You mentioned the future, but you do have a championship-caliber team. Isn't there some value to having a veteran guy around in case one of the other cornerbacks gets hurt?)
I don't want to be redundant here. It was a tough decision. Al Harris played top-notch football for us over the years here. He had over 100 starts. But we've been evaluation this situation week to week. This is a big-picture, overall, and I'm talking about the future – my future is against Minnesota. That's the future I'm talking about. I'm not talking about next year. We feel this is the best path for us. Like I said, there are a lot of different variables involved, and those were all discussed. We just felt that the course that we've taken, particularly at corner, the whole secondary, all the players involved, the other responsibilities that the players also had, this is the decision we made.
(You said that you and Ted have been in front with him. He told someone that you weren't up front with him. Did he know that being released was one of the options?)
Al Harris was told point blank all the options, yes. I'm not going to sit here and get into he said, she said. I have no qualms at all about the professionalism that we've dealt with throughout this whole process. And I've been thanked numerous times by Al throughout this process.
(What is James Starks' status?)
Well, James is in a different category as far as timeline. We will definitely look at his situation, and we will evaluate him until Wednesday.
(What has been the biggest change since the back-to-back overtime losses?)
Well, we won some games. That's the biggest change. I would definitely say the last three weeks, just the players, and the coaches have stayed the course. Nobody blinked. I think it says a lot about the volume of character in our locker room. The leaders that continue … the development of the leaders in our locker room. I'm very pleased with the growth we've had the last few weeks. It's about winning games, don't get me wrong. But I think this team is improving week to week, and I think that says a lot about the individuals in that locker room.
(Did the clock on Starks not start when it did for Al and Atari?)
Atari and Al, if you recall, we worked them out on a Tuesday. We had a specific practice just for them the first week. James didn't start until Wednesday.
(Was the plan all along to give the guys the whole week off or did that come together with the winning streak?)
Talking to the medical staff and the strength and conditioning, I think it is pretty obvious that this team needed a significant amount of time off. It was something really in the preparation for the season, having such a late bye week, I anticipated giving them a number of days off. We also have the 'Victory Monday,' which they have the opportunity with the win against Dallas to have an extra day off. So that is really how the full week came together. Going into the season, I just always felt nine weeks before the bye that we were definitely going to be challenged from a health standpoint on top of the numerous injuries that we did have. This is clearly in the best interests of the health of our football team.
(What is your schedule and the coaches' schedule since you do the self-scout?)
We'll do that the next couple of days, and then the coaches will have some time off at the end of the week.
(As you go into it, how much better do you feel about your team going into the self-scout compared to a few weeks ago?)
Football, it's amazing how it can humble you day-to-day. It's just no different watching the film. I haven't watched all of the film yet. I have had a chance to watch with the offensive staff. It's never as good as you think it is and hopefully it's not as bad as you think it is. It's no different. There are things in last night's contest that we need to do a better job in offensively and we'll continue to work that. We'll have more time to do individual reports. Each position coach will go through his situation, red zone, third down, and we'll continue to bullet point and make sure that we are set for these next seven games. It's an important process. You really do self-scout every week, but this just gives us a chance to step away, particularly in division games. You have to make sure that you pay more attention to these division games as far as what you have done in the past because now that we have played everybody in our division once, obviously starting with Minnesota, we've got to play them a second time. Those are the kind of things we'll look at.
(Did you look at Nick Collins' hit today and is there something different he could have done?)
Actually I was standing right there, and actually I had an opportunity to talk to Rick Patterson, the side judge, about it. It was a bang-bang play and I felt that really when I saw the replay on the Jumbotron, it looked like Nick hit Roy in the back and came up to the helmet. I understand why Rick threw the flag and we actually talked about the mechanics of it. That's a tough call. I think the referees are doing a very good job with the awareness of player safety, but I was standing right there and I can see what Nick Collins saw too. The ball was in the air and he was trying to run through the proper target line and I think he hit Roy in the top of the pads and went up into the helmet.
(How does Clifton's play over the past four or five weeks compare to how he has played during your time here?)
Chad I would say the last three weeks has played as well as I have seen in my time here. No. 1, he is healthy. Last year, I think coming off of the four surgeries the year before kind of held him back a little bit. The practice time, it will be good to get back in pads when we come off of the bye because I think the linemen definitely need it. Our linemen were actually able to get the padded practice this past Thursday going into Dallas. I would say for the most part he is healthy. Chad, he is a dynamic pass protector. The run-blocking has always been our emphasis with him. He is doing a better job and he is a big part of the game plan. When you have a left tackle that can go out and block the premier pass rusher, it definitely helps you from a game-planning standpoint. We need him to stay this course.
(Is Shields your kickoff returner going forward?)
I would say so. I like what Sam did throughout the practice week last week. It was a decision that we made with him starting on nickel, we didn't want to max him out as far as his special-teams responsibility. He has a unique talent as a kickoff returner, just with the one opportunity. He definitely has a chance to be a big-time returner for us, so we'll stay the course with Sam.
(How did he improve catching the ball?)
Catching the ball is a fine-motor skill, and a lot of extra time was spent doing that with Sam, especially this week when we felt he was going to have the opportunity to do it. It's a tribute to Sam and the special teams coaches, and we'll continue to do so.
(What does it say about Dom Capers since he has been able to plug several different guys in?)
It's all about his system. Dom and the assistant defensive coaches have done a great job integrating these new players and keeping us flexible and versatile as far as our game-planning and ability to attack the offense. I think that was evident playing against Dallas, just with the number of pressures we were able to keep coming after their offense. It's all about the tempo of defense too, and it gives you the ability to make sure you are playing faster than your opponent. Dom does an excellent job.
(Do you expect to still have some guys as questionable for Minnesota when you get back?)
Unfortunately I think we are going to have some questionable players when we get back on Monday. My hope is the injury report goes from two pages to one. I am being sarcastic in a way, but I think this will really help us. I'm sure we're going to have Patrick Lee and we're going to have a couple of guys that still aren't going to be probably ready, but we'll definitely be healthy enough as a football team to get back to the practice structure that we are accustomed to around here. I think that is just so important when you get into November and December football that you are spending the proper amount of time on fundamentals and things like that that we really have gotten away from here the last couple of weeks.
(Is that the most difficult thing about the injuries, the effect on practice?)
I think the biggest challenge definitely is practice because you are going throughout the week and you're really not sure who is going to play. So a number of times you have players that are working in combinations that they are not playing that way in the game too. It's all about the fit and the trust next to the guy you are playing with, and to me that has been the biggest challenge preparing for football games.