Can you assess Wilton’s play through five games?
“He’s doing a nice job. He’s making really good decisions, which is obviously the first thing you look for in a guy who’s in his first year starting. Hasn’t turned the ball over very much at all, so that’s exciting. Has found ways to complete balls—he’s over 64% or so—and really good touchdown:interception ratio, and has managed the game really well. So, so far, so good.
“But the next half of the season will be another test. You know, he hasn’t been on the road yet, so that’ll be obviously different. And then we’ve just got a chance to continue to see how he improves.”
He’ll often talk about a play that you’ve dialed up that week and you can see that he likes the creativity. Talk about that side of the job, looking for something new every week or periodically that could be a good play for you.
“I think we’re just—we’re always gameplanning every week, every day. Every day we gameplan and put together the best possible pass game and run game we can, and then, you know, try to deliver it in a way they understand why the plays are in, and then maybe show them examples of plays where whether or not they’ve worked other places or whether or not they’ve worked here or whether it looks like they’ll work based on the coverages we get. Spend a lot of time just kind of explaining in our meetings—all position groups, all coaches—why plays are in and how to go out there and execute them.”
Some of the protection issues with veterans at times: are those mistakes guys shouldn’t be making at this point?
“I think that I don’t know much about whether we should or shouldn’t be making them. I don’t think there’s many being made. I think we’re still—well, we’ve only been sacked in five games eight times or nine times. I don’t know. That’s not much. We do a really good job of picking up almost everything. We get the kitchen sink thrown at us and our guys work really, really hard to pick it all up, and over the course of 17 games or so we’ve probably been as good as anyone in terms of not getting sacked and getting the ball off, so I don’t think there’s much of an issue there.”
When Jabrill’s working in the wildcat, are you hands-on with him in practice there, or who has the most input?
“Oh, with everything, it’s a group collective effort in everything that we do. You know, the wildcat stuff, we throw him in and quarterback roll, then he kind of deals with some of the ball handling with us, but really kind of everybody’s talking to him about what that job entails and what plays we’re putting in and really what he’s going to do with those plays and the footwork and the reads and all that.”
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Your thoughts on how he’s handling that?
“Great. Great so far. He’s done a great job. He’s a football player through and through. He could probably do anything. He certainly has shown that. So, he can jump in there and most positions on the field and be as good as anyone on the field. That’s pretty cool. It’s pretty special.”
Wilton was talking the other day about how much other film from NFL players and other places you use with him; Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger. What do you think that does and how do you decide what you want to show?
“Each day we start a meeting off with about eight or 10 clips of an NFL quarterback or an NFL offense. Really just there’s different things to show them all the time, whether it be pocket presence, whether it be how they throw the screen game, whether it be how they maintain a base in the pocket when they’re going to throw the deep ball, and really what I try to do is I try to look for something we struggled with the day before in practice or in the game and kind of give him examples of guys and show him some clips of guys executing and exceling in that role.
“Ben Roethlisberger is obviously a big, strong quarterback who sometimes has guys hanging on him and he has to shrug some guys off. The other day he might have mentioned we just tried to show him how he gets back: he gets back to a great base, he gets back to a great throwing position, he doesn’t get tangled. So, there’s different things with all these guys we like to show, and obviously there’s nothing better than watching the guys at the highest level doing it, so that’s why we do that.”
So you just have a giant library of all that stuff indexed based on what you want to show them?
“Well, we have every—we get every NFL game and we have a lot of things tabbed. Over the course of the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve developed a pretty good base of things to show ‘em. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I’ve had a lot of first-year starters over the last seven years. I think every one I’ve had, every quarterback that I’ve coached, it was their first year since Matt Hasselbeck, I guess, and it was his first year in our system. With that, with Jacory, and then Stephen, and then Blaine, then Blake, then Jake, and now Wilton, every year somebody new taking the starting role, so I try to index some things up to be able to show it to them.”
Not to compare two different players, but Wilton is ahead of where Jake was through five games in almost every measureable. Is that just a matter or circumstance—he was here longer, everybody’s been here longer—or has he done something different?
“Yeah, I think it’s probably all of the above. I think it has to do with the face that we are now in year two, so we have a good feel for what our guys can and cannot do. We’ve had--Amara and Jehu are now in year two, and Jake [Butt], so there’s probably a little more familiarity there in terms of our pass concepts, so it helps Wilton in that regard versus maybe with Jake, they were all learning it together. Wilton was here in the spring, where Jake wasn’t.
“Not ready to make that comparison just yet. Jake did some amazing things for us and continued to get better every single week, and hopefully Wilton will take the same—the second half of the year that Jake had last year, let’s hope that Wilton has that same second half of the year this year, if not a better one.”
Is that the bar you’re comparing it to? This is about the time where Jake started to really take off.
“We don’t really talk about that. No, no, we just talk about raising the bar every game and raising the bar every practice. The more he knows, the more he’s expected to know [and] the more he’s expected to be better. Not better than Jake, but better than the week before. So, we continue to just kind of work through that with him and see if we can get him better.”
To that end, was it good to get the level of defensive challenge you got out of Wisconsin at this point?
“Yeah, that was an exciting game. You go look back at Wisconsin and since the Alabama game, which was the first game of the year a year ago, no one even got over 330 yards against that defense. So about 15 games or so that went without 330 yards. That was a tough defense. They are good. So for Wilton to have an opportunity to go against those guys, that’ll be great for him as we go. Now we get on the road for the first time. As the games continue to be all Big Ten play, all those things will be good for him that he had that Wisconsin game.”
Do you have a formula for first-year starters every year? Did you come up with something a couple years ago and now repeat it every time you get a new guy, or do you change it every time?
“No, because guys have been—it’s been different, because it’s been first year in the system, then second year in the same system with a new guy, then first year in a system, then second year in a system with a new guy, so trying to get out of that cycle. Maybe we’ll be able to not be in that cycle any more.
“Just happened to be when we were at Miami it kind of happened that way that we had a senior, then we had a sophomore. Then at Jacksonville, we had Blaine and then Blake. Then here we had a fifth-year senior and now a sophomore again, so it’s kind of just try to work off of where they’re at. Everyone’s mentally at a different place, everyone’s physically a little bit different, so just try to continue to find what the quarterback for the year can do and try to build off that.”
When you introduce a play like that train formation in practice, is it for sure that you’re going to run it in the upcoming game, and when and how do you decide you’re going to use it?
“A lot of things that we do are—it’s been a few weeks of doing things, and then, okay it’s ready or it’s time. Then you kind of work through different special plays or different formations. As it evolves and you feel that everything’s clean and crisp, then it’s game-ready.”
How many of those do you have?
“Oh, I don’t know. I can’t remember. I don’t have that good of a memory.”
Sure you do.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Is going to New Jersey and coaching in New Jersey mean anything to you?
“Yeah, it’s great. I mean, I grew up there. My mom lives there, my brother lives there, my whole family’s still there, so it’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting time for me. It means a lot, obviously.”
Have you been there before?
“I have coached against the Giants and the Jets in New Jersey, but no, this is my first time ever coaching [against] Rutgers. It’s certainly special. We have a huge group coming to the game and I don’t know, I just have great memories. Great memories. I left New Jersey to go to the University of Florida, but still the fact of the matter is it’s still home.”
When you were in high school, was the football talent as strong as it seems to be now?
”As I think back to it, I can’t remember as many names or players as we have now in New Jersey in the world of recruiting. Probably was. I don’t know, I wasn’t looking at it the same way, but I feel like New Jersey football has gotten very good or is very good and we’re just very involved in the recruitment of it, so it makes it really fun.”
You guys have generally been really good in the red zone. Last game was there a theme or was it just different plays getting blown up at different times?
“Yeah, yeah, that was a strange one for us because usually when we’ve gotten down there we’ve scored touchdowns, and then that didn’t happen this past game and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t. They played good defense. Maybe it was a penalty one time, maybe it was a missed throw one time, a good defensive call that they got us on, took a sack at a bad time and went backwards. But all in all, we need to score touchdowns when you get down there and we usually do that, but give them the credit for that. They played really good.”
Is it difficult for younger guys or inexperienced guys? Wilton took a couple shots downfield that weren’t there, but then he comes back to it in the fourth quarter and makes it when you need it. Is he just a gunslinger-type guy or did you have to convince him to keep going with it?
“Yeah, some of those shots were more of like a throwaway where the underneath guys got caught up in protection and you really, well, what else are you going to do? You overthrow a guy and call it an incompletion and move on. Don’t put yourself in position where you’re just trying to hold the ball back there if you know your backs are in protection.
“The first third-down of the game we wound up throwing a ball to Amara that we probably could have hit on that we missed, but yeah, he’s going to always take shots down the field. He doesn’t care. He’s got a great demeanor about himself where whatever play is called and whatever the purpose of that play is, he does everything he can to go out and execute that play.”
Are you more Springsteen or Bon Jovi?
“Bon Jovi. See ya, guys.”