(How was practice today?)
Good practice today. We accelerated our installation of our game plans, very similar to our approach the last two weeks. We had everything in. It was a padded practice, took an extra 15 minutes for individual and fundamentals today. I felt like we accomplished a lot.
(What do you like about accelerating things?)
Just concerned about traveling, and cutting back on Fridays, it gives our players an opportunity to rest their legs longer than normal.
(So will you take the same approach tomorrow as last Friday?)
Very similar approach tomorrow as last week.
(Any concern about the quality of the field after you guys played on it and the Fiesta Bowl the next day?)
I do not. I don't have a whole lot of knowledge on what the field looks like today, but I lived in Arizona. They can grow grass in Arizona, so I think we're going to be fine.
(How's Woodson with the shoulder?)
Good. Charles practiced today. He took his normal reps, and he looks like he's ready to go.
(What do you think of your special teams play the last 4-5 games?)
Our special teams has really picked it up the last five or six weeks. I've been very pleased, particularly with the coverage units. I think we had four or five new starters on the coverage last week just due to some injuries and moving some people around. It's the challenge in the NFL with your special teams, all the different moving parts that you have, and I think Shawn Slocum has done a very good job, and they have responded to some of the bumps in the road we hit earlier in the season. They're playing with a lot of energy, they're playing with a lot of confidence. So they've played very well.
(What have been some of the keys to the offensive line and their improved play the last eight games?)
The biggest key for us offensively, really, it starts with the offensive line, is the health of our offensive line. Just to have the opportunity to have continuity now for the second half of the season has been a huge boost for us. Just having the ability to practice the same five offensive linemen week in and week out and play with the same five during the course of a game, and just get that continuity that's building each week. That's something that we didn't have in the first half of the season.
(Is the O-line righting the ship one of the reasons you are where you are today?)
No doubt about it. It's no different than on defense. It starts with the line. If you don't have quality offensive line play, you can't exercise your full menu of offense. I think it clearly is the biggest reason why we've had the success we've had as an offense, and it's probably the biggest reason outside of the quarterback why we're able to be as versatile and as multiple as we are. Our offensive line is a huge part of our success on offense.
(What can you say about Mark Tauscher's desire to get back on the field and play?)
Mark Tauscher has been a big boost for us, just from the day he came back. He didn't play there for a couple weeks and we were working him back into the fold. Just his veteran presence, he's a steady individual, well-respected individual, and he brings a consistency to your locker room, and also it carries over to your offensive line. So he deserves a lot of credit for us bouncing back from our earlier days.
(I know when we ask you about worrying you say you don't worry ...)
I'm Irish-Catholic. We worry.
(But when you go back to the time the O-line was going through all the rotations and injuries, was that one of the more challenging times for you and the coaching staff?)
Well, as we reflect back on the season and hopefully it holds true -- I hope that was the most challenging time that we have on offense this year. It was definitely something that we tried a couple of different avenues to get through it. But you can't control injuries, and injuries are part of the game. You have to overcome them. It took us awhile to do that. But our guys responded. It's just the way it goes sometimes. But yeah, it definitely was a big challenge for us.
(Do the veterans get involved in helping out the younger guys, talking to them about playoff football?)
Definitely. It's not something we hold a group meeting for, but there's definitely a lot of conversation in the locker rooms and throughout. You see the players here at night more the last couple weeks, getting themselves ready, more physically. You see them in the hot tubs, you see them in the ice, the tank, the cold-water tanks. There's a lot more excitement, a lot more conversation going on down the stretch. I'm sure it will continue this week. That's just all about the maturation of a football team, the team-building, the group dynamics. I really like the way it looks, and our veterans are definitely echoing their experiences and making sure that we're all ready to go.
(Do you have to guard against over-confidence this week?)
I don't think so. It's playoff football. The regular season ended last week. We made that clear, and I think everybody understands that. This is an accomplished football team. It's a football team that played in the Super Bowl last year. They're still the defending NFC champions, and that's the way they're respected. We've had an opportunity to go back and watch more film on them earlier in the year, just making sure from a schematic standpoint that we're ready for anything unusual, because they do have a history, particularly with our defense and their trick plays and things like that. But we expect a totally different environment that we're walking into this week.