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Coach Sparano Caps the Week


Opening Statement: **"Injuries today: Khalif Barnes right now is listed as questionable – he was limited today; Vincent Brown did not practice today, he's out; Derek Carr was full today – he's probable; Keith McGill did not practice – he's out; Sio Moore was full today – he's probable; Marcel Reece was limited today – he's questionable; Justin Tuck was limited today – he's questionable; Usama Young was full today – he's probable; and Benson Mayowa was full today and he's probable."

Q: Are you optimistic about Marcel Reece and Justin Tuck?

Coach Sparano:"Based on what I saw today watching them out there today, I thought they did some good things. I'd be curious to see what happens tomorrow when they get in here, but we'll play that one by ear. But [I'm] cautiously optimistic."

Q: You said Tuck didn't need a lot of work to be able to play. Is Reece in that same boat?

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, Marcel's a really smart player, an intelligent player. He doesn't need that kind of work to have to go out there and to play. Ideally, obviously, you'd like all those guys to be out there getting the practice time, but this happens during the course of the season. You've got to make sure that you're smart with it and handle it the right way. That's the way that I chose to handle it."

Q: If Tuck can't go, will it be C.J. Wilson?

Coach Sparano:"If Justin can't go, it would be by committee, but C.J. would start."

Q: Wilson has a team-high two sacks this year. What are your impressions of him so far?

Coach Sparano:"Honestly, C.J. has done a good job all the way through right now, since training camp, and having to block him every day and do those types of things. He's a heavy, thick player and he comes with a lot of power. So he can really push the pocket, he does a good job in run downs and he has given us, by pushing the pocket because he plays with a high motor, the ability to get around the quarterback. He did it in preseason in some games and he did it, certainly has done it, right now. I've been pleased with what C.J. has done."

Q: Is there one factor above the rest that would indicate why you're having issues on third-down defense?

Coach Sparano:"Honestly, I really think a large part of third down has to do with challenging – I can't tell you one factor, but I'll answer your question – a large part of third down, to me, has an awful lot to do with challenging the football, number one, and number two is affecting the passer enough – not necessarily sacking him, but affecting him so that he's not comfortable and getting him off of his spot in those situations. Then of course, there's what is the down and distance? Have you been playing well enough to keep them in longs, or are they in really shorts? The really shorts are a little bit easier to convert on, obviously. You can run the ball, you can throw the ball, so it's a little less predictable. I would say that those areas, right now are the areas that we've been spending an awful lot of time on. Just coming off the practice field now, challenging the football – I mean, on a Friday these guys are out flying around and challenging the ball. I was pleased to see that today."

Q: Is the 51.4 percent conversion rate one of the sore thumb stats for this team?

Coach Sparano:"I would say to you that anytime a team is converting that high against you – and we all know it, it's not a knock on my defense right now, it's not a knock on anything else. The fact is what the fact is. At the end of the year, if a team finishes on offense at 51-point-something percent, they're going to be in the top two or three in the league in that category. Defensively, we can't be up there like that. That number has to continue to come down. Now we've got a lot of time. We have time to get it down, but it's got to start this week. We can't let this team stay out there on the field on the other side. Obviously, we have to keep our defense off the field so that they're not playing as many of those situations as they need to."

Q: Is there something mental about third-down defense, like a psychological lull you have to get them out of?

Coach Sparano:"No, not really. It's not a mental thing or anything like that. Our guys compete hard on third down, it's just been one of those situations where we've faced some pretty darn good players right now on third down. When I say that, I mean you've got to give credit to your opponent and you're looking at a couple of quarterbacks that we've played that have been pretty good, and we're playing another one this week that's darn good. With that being said, we just have to do a better job and more concentration and more focus in that area of getting off the field on third down. Now every once in a while somebody on third down has got to step up and be a hero. You've got to step in there and you've got to make a play when your team needs you to make that play. It can be anybody out there in that situation. It only takes one and all of a sudden, you get a pretty good situation going. There was a game a couple of games back where we really did a heck of a job on third down and it was just because one or two guys made plays early in that situation."

Q: Has how Menelik Watson played last week had any impact on whether you would rush Khalif Barnes back after missing two weeks?

Coach Sparano:"No, to answer your question. It wouldn't affect my decision on what to do with Khalif. I'm going to do what's in the best interest of Khalif Barnes from a physical standpoint right now. But, that being said, with what Menelik did in the last game and what he did against Miami when he had to come into that football game, it certainly makes you feel a little bit more comfortable in that scenario than prior to that. He's done a good job that way. He's going to have a hard challenge this week. One thing with any player, but particularly with young players, is, you don't want to see that roller coaster. You want to see some form of a consistent level so that you know what you're getting at the game. With Menelik, he hasn't played in a lot of football games, so what I've seen so far at the game I've liked, but there's a lot more football to be played here and you just want to know what you're going to get at the game. Right now, I know what Donald Penn is going to do at the game. I know what [Stefen] Wisniewski might do at the game or what Antonio Smith might do at the game. With a young player, sometimes they can get on that roller coaster and consistency is going to be the key for him."

Q: Have you made a decision on DJ Hayden yet?

Coach Sparano:"I haven't made a decision yet. We're going to talk it over as a coaching staff here, but DJ was out there again. He did a little bit more today. Every day is a good day and as I said to you guys, and I don't want to keep repeating it, but it is a fact that in this situation for a guy like DJ, it's important for him to walk off the field feeling like he had success today. It's also important to play himself into shape a little bit. He's been very much involved in what we're doing from a defensive standpoint, but also getting some scout team work so that we can prepare him that way and make sure that he's getting reps, getting enough reps, because there aren't enough reps to go around."

Q: Are you seeing a productive player out of Khalil Mack?

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, that's a good question. I'm glad you asked it because some people measure, and I've been through this before with guys like Jason Taylor and these type of players, DeMarcus Ware, I've seen it before. What I mean by that is they're sackers, by nature, they've done this. All of a sudden you go through a string where maybe they don't have a sack. Naturally, people think, well that guy doesn't have a sack, so how good is he playing? When you really watch the film and you sit down and you look at the film, and you see how much this guy affects people, how they attack him, how many people are involved in attacking him and what he does on every single play and how much chaos he causes out there, you really understand how good the kid is playing right now and how good he can become. He's just getting better and better every single week. I know when I watch the film, if I take this hat and turn it the other way right now and go to the other position that I coach, I don't want to block the guy when I'm watching him. That's a hard job, based on the film that I've watched, of blocking him."

Q: He's getting a lot of double teams, in got one last week where one guy hit him and a second guy came and crushed him and then the next play, he made a play…

Coach Sparano:"Yeah, and he's a resilient guy that way and he really learns fast. That's something that again, I've been part of with a lot of good rushers and been fortunate to be around some really good rushers in their younger years. A guy like Cameron Wake for example, not an old player, but I got Cameron when he first came into the league, so as he started to see things week by week, you can all of a sudden see him emerge a little bit more. With Khalil, that's happening right now. He's starting to see things even play by play, he'll see a double team and all of a sudden that double team will come back to him again during the course of the game and he understands it and sees it and reacts to it completely different than he might have done the first time. He doesn't have to get hit in the face with a skunk 10 times to know it's a skunk. He kind of sees it, and he's in pretty good shape there."

Q: Do you think Kenbrell Thompkins will be in the mix this weekend?

Coach Sparano:"I would say that he's going to play this weekend, yeah."

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