Opening Statement: **"Injury report today: Larry Asante today was limited with a shoulder; TJ Carrie was limited today with an ankle; Jonathan Dowling did not practice today with a back; Gabe Jackson was limited today with a knee; Brian Leonhardt was full today with a concussion; Latavius Murray was limited today with a concussion; Carlos Rogers did not practice today with a knee; and Neiko Thorpe did not practice today with a hand. Guys came back to work today, had a good day on the field, a lot of enthusiasm and real solid day."
Q: Latavius Murray has not been cleared to play for Sunday?
Coach Sparano:"As of right now, there is still another step in the process."
Q: If he is healthy, will he be the feature back?
Coach Sparano:"We'll see."
Q: Has Gabe Jackson been wearing braces on both knees all year?
Coach Sparano:"No. I'm sure just off of the injury, just coming back and putting them both on at this point."
Q: Can you talk about the challenges of blocking a guy like Aaron Donald? He's been pretty active in their front.
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, that actually surprised me, but I mean, Aaron is a good player. A really good player. We watched him a lot as we were getting ready for the draft, really liked him a lot. Had seen him a bunch at Senior Bowl and all those films and some of those type of things. This guy is a really active player and that's what is hard inside when you get a guy that has speed and power inside and his speed and power inside, that combination is kind of rare. You either find a guy that's a fast guy that plays inside or a big guy that plays inside, but when you get that combination like that it's really dangerous. It's a challenge, we've got to know where he is. They've got a lot of good, outstanding players up front there and [Robert] Quinn being one of the guys you always have to know where he is and this guy gets to the quarterback quite a bit, but they're an active, active front. Something like 21 sacks in the last five games, six games."
Q: What were your assessments of Greg Robinson in the draft?
Coach Sparano:"I really liked Greg coming out. Really liked him, had him rated really high coming out of the draft and I thought he did some really good things. Thought he could be an explosive player, a really good athlete for a guy his size out there. I think he's going to be a really good player. It looks like they've bounced him around a little bit positionally, at times there, but I think he's going to be a really good player."
Q: For Derek Carr to engineer a 17-play scoring drive late in the game, what can that do for a young quarterback's confidence?
Coach Sparano:"I think it's tremendous. When you win a football game on a big drive like that, at the end of the game, I think it can really help a quarterback's confidence. Derek has been doing that all year long, towards the end of ball games, it's just in some of those situations it hasn't been very, I don't want to say meaningful, every score, every time a young quarterback can punch the ball in the end zone there is meaning to it, every single time. It's just it hasn't been the deciding factor in the football game at that point. Some of them have brought us within a score of the football game and just haven't given us a good enough chance that way. This was one that put us over the hump and I thought he showed great poise in the drive, but obviously he was aided by a lot of good plays in that drive too and made a good throw to James [Jones], James ran a heck of a route, [Mychal] Rivera makes a good play during the drive. We draw a pass interference penalty during the drive and we ran the ball really well. There were a lot of good things that happened in that drive that the players did and that was just one of those deals where really both sides working together worked out pretty well."
Q: Because you have so many young guys on this team, you had talked about the need for them to learn how to win. How important is it to follow up last week and this week to play well these final five games to set the stage for the offseason?
Coach Sparano:"We're only looking at this week's ball game, but we know how many weeks are left. We're only worried about this week's game against St. Louis and the challenge that presents itself in going down there into their place where they've beaten the Denver Broncos down in that place, they've won some big games there, in their building. We're worried about that challenge right now, but I think it's very important every week that you continue to show progress, that you continue to get better. To me, I think one of the big things is you try – you're hungry at this point, you're late in the season, you're hungry. You want to stack as many wins as you can together and you feast off of success."
Q: Is it hard to believe that this team hasn't put together back-to-back wins since 2012?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, it's been a long time. We talk about that and we know it. It's been a long time, it's been a long time since we got on an airplane coming back from a road game and felt a win. Those type of things. So, there's a lot of things out there and a lot of reasons to go out here and to do what we do, but none greater than the fact that we want to just keep getting better as a football team. These guys are having fun doing what they're doing out there. They come out there and work their tails off. I told you my feeling on these players here. The men in that locker room are of the highest character and we just want to be able to put wins together. At this point in time, good teams play good. At this point in time, late in November, in December, you start to play better. You start to play some of your better football and we just want to play our better football and continue to get better and better."
Q: Is this week's test about as good as you're going to get in doing better on special teams?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah. I said to the team today in our meeting that that's usually an area on paper for us, and again, it's all paper, but on paper when you're looking at, usually an area that we either stack up very good in or maybe have an advantage in an area or two. In this ball game here it's an area that we have to pay obviously, very, very close attention to. They faked a bunch of kicks since Coach [Jeff] Fisher has been there in 2012. I think they've faked seven kicks right now and been successful six times and thrown a bunch of passes and done a bunch of those things, run the ball, so they take chances and do some things that way. We've got to be prepared for all those things in that phase, but the return game, their punt return unit is a really solid unit and they do a great job that way and our punt team will be challenged that way as well."
Q: Ideally would you like to have TJ Carrie back as your return guy?
Coach Sparano:"We'll see. I mean, we'll see how it goes during this game, but just getting him back there out on the practice field right now was a good thing for us and seeing him running around out there. We're going to do whatever is in our best interest here as the game unfolds when we get out there, but TJ has been a guy that has returned the ball for us and has done a lot of good things."
Q: Does that mean that Charles Woodson could be back there again?
Coach Sparano:"You never know who you can see back there. There's only one guy that you can't, well there's a few guys. You're not going to see any of my guys and you won't see Derek [Carr] back there."
Q: Did Gabe Jackson take any work with the starters?
Coach Sparano:"He took some work today. He took work, rotated him a little bit in and out. I just need to see him – again, like I said, you need to see him move at a faster pace and today was a fast-paced practice. Actually the guys did a great job today, we finished eight minutes early and they were moving pretty high and pretty fast at a good tempo and Gabe was in and out of there. I thought today was a good gauge. We'll get a chance to watch it on film, see how he moved, see how he feels tomorrow when he comes in here and those type of things." Q: Has Mychal Rivera made strides as a blocking tight end?
Coach Sparano:"I think honestly, and this is the truth because I've coached this position before, I think short of the quarterback position, the position that Mike Rivera plays is probably one of the most difficult positions to play on the football field because they wear so many hats. This guy is involved in the pass game, he's involved in the run game in line, he has to be a fullback at times, he has to play on the move. They've got to know the protections. So, he wears a lot of hats and I think Mychal has gotten better and better and better at his trade. I think Mark Hutson does a great job with him. I think those guys, Al Saunders, they do a good job working with them, but a kid, you've got to have a guy that's willing to do that. Right now in college, when you're looking at some of the tight ends, a lot of the tight ends that come out in college either he's just the blocker or he's purely the receiver. You've got to take this player and one way or another make them something that kind of he hasn't been and teach him that. That's always a position of development and Mychal is developing at a good pace right now. Mychal would tell you there's things footwork-wise and fundamentally that he needs to get better at and continue to get better at, but he works pretty hard at it."
Q: Charles Woodson is AFC Defensive Player of the Week at age 38. The way he's playing right now, if he played into his 40's, would it surprise you?
Coach Sparano:"No, nothing he does surprises me. Well, no, I mean, hard to say that, it really is. The guy I'm watching play out there, with the energy he has and the way that he flies around the field, and I know in his body, at the end of this, usually they take a little time and they evaluate where they are and all that good stuff, but I know that he's a competitive guy, really competitive person, so it would not surprise me if he played into his 40s. (laughing) That's hard to say."
Q: Charles Woodson has given a lot of credit to Marcus Robertson's influence and Brandian Ross said the same thing last week. Can you talk about his influence?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, I think one of the big things is that when you're a player like Charles, or even a player, those are two different extremes. You have the guy that's 38 years old running around back there and doing what he's doing and then you have the young player in Ross and I think with Marcus, because Marcus has played the position in this league and played it at a high level in this league, at the same time he has great eyes, when I say great eyes, when he talks and he gives me input at the end of a game, it's almost right through the players' eyes, meaning him being the player. I think that that part of it helps those guys. He knows, he has a very clear understanding of what's happening back there and he knows kind of what the dos and don'ts are from the backend in the safety position and he's seen quarterbacks look him off before, he's felt those type of things. So, I think when they're hearing it, they're hearing it through a player's eyes there. That's a guy can get his message across pretty easily and I think they respect that.