Opening Statement: **"Injuries today: David Ausberry did not practice with the foot; Khalif Barnes was limited today with the quad; Vincent Brown, with the hamstring, was limited; Austin Howard was full today; Keith McGill did not practice with the groin; Marcel Reece was limited with the quad; Carlos Rogers was limited today with the knee; Justin Tuck was limited today with the knee; LaMarr Woodley did not practice; and Usama Young did not practice. It was a much better day out there today for us. Guys came with a lot of energy today. We had a really good day out there, probably one of our better Thursdays."
Q: You talked a little bit earlier in the week about doing more third-down work earlier in the week. Did you do any of that this week?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, I did that yesterday. We probably took several plays yesterday, so when the players received the plan today for third down, they had already gotten some of that work yesterday. I had seen a little bit of the plan yesterday, so obviously the install wasn't as heavy today as it has been, because we got ahead a little bit. That worked out a little bit better for us."
Q: You've talked about how time of possession and fatigue have factored into the third-down defense. Have you considered making Khalil Mack a sub-package, pass-rushing specialist so he is fresher for those third downs?
Coach Sparano:"No, I haven't considered that at all. Khalil Mack has been an outstanding player on first and second down for us right now. What I've considered is trying to figure out a way to gain snaps for him during the course of a game – in other words, shave snaps so that we keep him a little bit fresher. That's what I've considered. So that plan was in place last week, but it was quickly out of place once we lost LaMarr."
Q: Shave snaps for Mack on first and second down?
Coach Sparano:"Depends, but yes."
Q: What kind of an impact did losing Alex Mack have on Cleveland? We know it can be difficult to gauge in that first week, but he's a big-time player.
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, he is a big-time player. When you're looking at that position and you evaluate that position, I really hold that position in very, very high regard – not different than the left tackle position, quite honestly. In some situations, maybe even a little bit higher, because that guy does all the talking and all the communicating and all the thinking. Alex Mack's an outstanding football player and really one of the best at that position in the league. I think anytime you lose a player of that magnitude, I'm sure it becomes a next-man-up mentality and you have the confidence in whoever it is going into the football game. But you know you lost something, there's no question about that. To say that I didn't notice it – sure, I noticed it in the last ballgame when you're watching it, against Jacksonville. I'm sure that those guys will continue to grind at it and they'll get better and better and better."
Q: Do you guys need to sign a safety or have you been working out Chimdi Chekwa there? What's the plan for backup safety right now?
Coach Sparano:"Well, I'm not going to tell you what the plan is right now, but we have a plan in place at this particular time. Obviously, you see us out there with the safeties that we have right now and Usama hasn't practiced. So we're all set. I think we're in pretty good shape right at this particular time."
Q: It was yesterday in your radio show you mentioned that Menelik Watson had been getting work at left tackle?
Coach Sparano:"He's bounced around, yeah. We've bounced him around a little bit. What I've done is just try to take a couple plays off of Donald [Penn] at this point. So to get Khalif his work at right, I move Menelik over. Menelik, he's a young spring chicken, so he can take more plays right now and you're trying to get a little bit of rest for Donald over the course of a practice, too. That gives me a chance to get Menelik over there to left and do some of that, which he was doing before this. But it gives me a chance to do it right now."
Q: Is it mostly a developmental type thing, or is it something you would consider doing in a game?
Coach Sparano:"Obviously, I'd consider doing it in a game if I needed to do it in a game. That's why I'm working it. I don't just put him over there to put him over there. I'd consider it if we needed to do that. If that was the best formula for the five that were going to be out there, then that's certainly something I would consider doing."
Q: Justin Ellis' snap count seems to be pretty high. What has he done to earn the added responsibility?
Coach Sparano:"First of all, when you watch Justin during the course of the games, he's done a good job of not getting moved off the football consistently. He's affected the passer on several situations by pushing the pocket, kind of being able to do that with some power and some speed-to-power inside like that. He's been, really, an active player and his snap count has been going up a little bit. He's earned that. He's earned the opportunity to gain some more snaps. I actually had a good visit with Justin a couple of days ago and one of the things I told him is you earn what you get at this point right now. If you want more, you've got to earn more. To his credit, he's gone out there and he's worked really, really hard right now in practice and during the course of the games. I've been impressed with that. He's not an easy guy to move."
Q: You still have 10 games left. To some of those guys, the rookies that went through four preseason games and now they're six games in, they've still got 10 games left to go.
Coach Sparano:"They're ready for the bowl game right now. (laughter) But that came up in my conversation with Justin. It's just taking care of your body, making sure that you take care of your body right now at this point, making sure that you get your rest. Because when you really look at it, through training camp and obviously your preseason and where we are right now, their season's done for them. They've played that many games – 10 games, or whatever it is at this point – and several weeks of training camp. It's a long season. We just talked to them about taking care of their bodies, making sure they're getting proper rest at this point in time, and not taking for granted the fact that we're not even at the halfway point yet. We haven't entered the deep end of the pool yet."
Q: Is Justin Tuck fighting through some practices right now? During the open portion of practice, it seemed like he had to pull out of a drill.
Coach Sparano:"No, I don't think he was hobbling. I think he was getting his – he had a little thing taped on there today, so he was getting it re-taped. I've seen what you've seen out there. He was just getting it taped back on today. I don't think he's been fighting at all. Actually, I thought watching him practice today, he moved around an awful lot better than he did yesterday. I felt a little bit better about him today."
Q: Last night, there were two national reports saying LaMarr Woodley's injury was long-term. Is there any clarity to that?
Coach Sparano:"It's long-term. I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's not. It's long-term. We'll make that announcement here whenever we're ready to make that announcement. We don't have to do that, but for me to sit here in front of you and tell you that it's not – no, I can't do that to you."
Q: Anything new on David Ausberry?
Coach Sparano:"No. David's in there getting treatment right now. He's doing everything necessary. I want to maybe clarify that a little bit, where I was yesterday when I said this could be – it's just one of those injuries right now that could take a little bit longer. We've just got to go day by day with David right now. He obviously did not practice today. We'll see where he is tomorrow at this point, but he's just going to be – it may be a little bit longer with that one." Q: Without Woodley, would you orchestrate more of a rotation at that spot? Would C.J. Wilson take over, or Benson Mayowa?
Coach Sparano:"A little bit more by committee, but obviously we'll move C.J. up a little bit. C.J. has done some good things for us and played in awful lot in the game last week. We have Benson out there, so we have some different players and different pieces that we can plug in. Obviously – and we'll see where we are tomorrow with Justin, because as I've said to you before, I play those type of injuries day-by-day because I don't really know how they're going to show up the next day. But if all goes according to script here and we do get Justin back for the game, that will help us during the course of this thing. We feel like we have enough bodies there. Obviously, when you lose a player like that, you're going to feel that."
Q: Marcel Reece is showing progress?
Coach Sparano:"Marcel has shown progress, same type of progress as Justin. I thought he had a better day today. I think sometimes coming off of several days off – those guys had several days there off, because they didn't play in a game – yesterday took them a little longer to get going. By the end of practice, they were going pretty good, and today it was a lot easier to get going. So that was really positive today."
Q: Is there something you have not seen from Maurice Jones-Drew? He's kind of gone from being the No. 1 guy to sharing that role, and then last week he had about one-fourth the snaps that Darren McFadden did.
Coach Sparano:"No, not at all. Somebody asked me that question before – it might have been in a different situation here, on the radio or whatever – but we need to get Maurice more snaps. I think the plan is to try to get him involved a little bit more if we can do that now. One of the things we have to do is in order to get people more snaps, we have to play more snaps. In the ballgame the other day, really the ball was snapped 49 times and one of them was a kneel-down at the end of the half. So the ball was snapped 49 times, you're not getting an awful lot of plays out there and that hurts you a little bit. But we need to get him involved more and try to do that, and that takes a little bit off of Darren in some of those situations. It keeps both of those guys fresher. We need to be able to do that."