Q: With all the injuries at defensive tackle for the Raiders, has this provided you with a unique challenge?**
Coach Tarver:Well not only a challenge, but an opportunity; we get to see what our defensive line and our defensive tackles can do. For example, in the first two preseason games, there are guys who may not normally enter the game until the third quarter, that are in, in the first quarter against Drew Brees, which gives us a good opportunity to evaluate them. And, we had some guys respond last week; our younger defensive linemen, Jack Crawford, David Bass, Ryan [Robinson], they made some plays. So, they've been able to get some experience. Now, we do want to see – and this is what's good about our defensive line getting healthy – we want to see our first unit play together. So it'll be closer to that in the next two weeks.
Q: How nice was it to get [Pat] Sims back today, [Vance] Walker back yesterday?
Coach Tarver:It was good to see those guys in. Vance is doing well. Pat practiced today, so that was good. It's nice to see those guys.
Q: Did you get set behind in terms of all the communication issues that you talked about earlier, all the things you have to learn, with all these new parts on defense?
Coach Tarver:There's more communication from linebackers to DB's then there is to D-line. But what you want to establish with your D-line is your fits, especially in the run game. You've got to know that once your guys get singled-out, how he's going to fit that so you can fit off of him. So we do want to get Nick [Roach], Kevin [Burnett] and our starting linebackers working behind our starting interior tackles, so we're creating more drills to do that. But, what's been good is they've had to learn more technique playing behind a lot of different guys, and that's been good for them learning the defense.
Q: Do you have a timeline of [Vance] Walker and [Pat] Sims starting this preseason?
Coach Tarver:I don't know that. That's up to [Head Coach] Dennis [Allen] and [General Manager Reggie [McKenzie]. But what I do know is I'm glad they're out here practicing. Vance did well today, and it was good to see Pat.
Q: Coaching Pat [Sims], how careful do you have to be of getting him up to speed with only such a short time window and not risking overdoing anything?
Coach Tarver:What I like about [him] is he knows his assignments. Pat is a smart football player, so I don't think mentally he's too far away from knowing his assignments – it's more of just getting reps. And that can be accomplished through drills and through team periods. So I'm excited about that as we go forward. So it's just going to be practice time and things like that. I'm not in control of the other stuff, so we'll play him on defense, as many reps as we can based by the plan built by our trainers, our head coach and our general manager.
Q: There's been a lot of talk of how much it means to have Charles Woodson back out there just as an example and a mentor. How much does he have left as a player?
Coach Tarver:Charles, his bursts surprise me every day. The guy just covers ground. He had a couple interceptions at practice today. He's an amazing athlete. That's why he's a big piece of getting this defense to where we want it to go in our black jerseys, and hopefully that cements his legacy – because he can still cover ground. He has those great ball skills, he's got great feel for when the quarterback is going to release the ball and that's still there. He's practiced all camp and he's still as explosive out of his stance, and that's what makes the great DB's great, is that ability to close the distance at the point of no return when that ball's in the air. He's showing that, and obviously we hope it continues.
Q: Getting back to [Charles] Woodson, is he able to be a mentor in other ways on and off the field?
Coach Tarver: Yes. The more aware you are of the football … Obviously there's only one on the field like I tell them all the time. It's my sarcastic comment. There's only one ball. That's our job, to get the ball. The ball scores points, not the player, and when the ball is in the air, we've got to go get it. Having Charles around, that stuff can be contagious. In the second half you saw it, three-straight drives, a sack fumble, a tipped interception. Most interceptions come on tips and over-throws. We emphasize that a lot and it happened on three-straight drives last week, and we got back in the game. So it can become contagious, and on teams that Charles has been on, that's happened. So our guys are learning, and he'll whisper to them. He does a good job. He's been great with the young players.
Q: I noticed you were working on one of those tipping drills this morning.
Coach Tarver: Yeah. We start the practice with one of our coaching circuits that is an emphasis on taking the ball away in all situations. We found some pieces. We studied in the offseason. We found some pieces that we can do better to take the ball away more, and we emphasize those on our third-down practice day this day of the week.
Q: You guys have incorporated the pistol. I know Denver and Kansas City are doing it. More teams are doing it. How much time did you yourself spend in the offseason studying it and coming up with a defense to counter that?
Coach Tarver:Well one of the reasons that [Head] Coach [Dennis] Allen and [General Manager] Reggie [McKenzie] brought me in was my time at Stanford. Of course you're playing the Oregon offense with Chip Kelly, who does a great job at it. What we did is, when we constructed our defense and went into a room and said what's best for the Oakland Raiders, all of our defenses have rules built in to play the pistol read option and the pistol formation. It's a formation where it's easy for the quarterback to get away from the ball to see a little bit. That's why people use it. Some teams incorporate the read option or the things that you see. Others don't. Some people use pistol like Denver's using it, with drop-back quarterbacks, but it's just so they can get the ball out of their hands faster. It's just like a shotgun. When that showed up everybody was like, "Whoa, this is cool." So people used it. So our rules are built in whether they're under pistol, whether they're under center, whether they're in gun, and then we have some certain things that we can get to when we play those teams.
Q: Are you looking forward to seeing DJ [Hayden], particularly you could get him out there against maybe Brandon Marshall?
Coach Tarver: Yeah Brandon Marshall, all these guys. I'm very excited to see DJ. I can't say enough about the character of the young man, and he has the movement skills to play corner. He's had a good week of practice. He's had an interception both days so far. Excited to see him. He looks good in the black jersey too. He looks good.
Q: In what area are you hoping to see the biggest improvement in week three as opposed to last week?
Coach Tarver:We played fast last week. We did. We played fast if you watch us and compare us to others. I mean, we were moving around. Drew [Brees] made some throws in little areas. That's what he does. He's very good, but overall, [I want] just a quicker process, quicker, just quicker. [I want it to be] more like that as opposed to having a couple of pauses in there, and to be able to handle those situations. We don't care on defense ... I don't care where they get the ball, what time is on the clock. It's our job to go out and stop the offense. We need to handle that situation better, and the players, they're ready. They said, "J.T., we're going to do this," so that's a good thing. That's what we want to see.
Is there something to be gained from the fact that you guys have been put in some off-color situations and held teams to three [points]? I think Drew [Brees] only had one touchdown pass. The Cowboys had you pinned, and you kept it to three. Is that something good you're seeing?
Coach Tarver: Yeah. That's exactly what I'm talking about. One of the things that we say when we take the field is, "Who cares?" We don't care where they get the ball. It's our job to stop them. That's what you have to do to play great defense. The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last year. They weren't a great yardage defense, but what did they do? Where did they stop them? And where did they stop them when it mattered the most at the very end of the game? In the red zone. They're third in the NFL in red zone defense. So, it's opportunities that have presented themselves in preseason that have made us better. We like it when it's that hard because that's when you get better. You've got to like things hard. This is a hard business. Those quarterbacks are good, but we like it when it's hard because it's only going to make us better.