Jason Tarver: "We're about playing with passion"


Q: Losing Sio Moore, you guys have had a lot of losses on defense this year. What's the key to keeping these guys together when you have so many changes on defense?**

Coach Tarver: "What we're about is we're about playing together. We're about playing with passion. We talked a lot about that last week here, and what's been great is the young men just keep jumping in and keep rallying around each other, and that's what it's about. It's about whatever 11 guys are on the field at the time playing together. We've improved steadily in that. So, we don't think of it that way. We think of it as, 'Here's your opportunity. Let's go to work.'"

Q: Do you have to simplify things at all with guys coming in at new spots, new places?

Coach Tarver: "We've been teaching in the same teaching patterns all year, the defensive staff and myself, so that we just continue to hit the same things and getting better at them. We just change the situations in which we call the calls, so there isn't that many new things. Sometimes, I think I said it about three weeks ago, we like to just switch two guys and run the same call, so a lot of times we'll just do things like that. And, we've been in the same teaching progression all year, so we've continually gotten better."

Q: What did Ricky Lumpkin show heading up to being promoted and getting time on the field?

Coach Tarver: "Once he got healthy, he really started flashing the ability to use his hands and run his feet and knock people back. As he went in that game, he did that. He was able to trip up the quarterback and get his first sack. He's able to move people with his hands. We're excited about what he did. We saw some of that coming. He just had a setback early, so as he got healthier, he got more and more practice reps and then he was ready to go. What's great about it is he took advantage of his opportunity along the lines of what you guys are asking question-wise. He took advantage of it."

Q: You thought Ray-Ray Armstrong did that too?

Coach Tarver: "I thought Ray-Ray did that too. We thought Ray-Ray did some good things. He loves playing football. He's got long arms and he uses his hands, so there are some things where he wasn't perfect, but he's learning as those plays happen and he's really conscious of how to fix it. He fixed anything that happened to him, anything he didn't do perfectly, he fixed it the next time it happened, so that's good."

Q: The Chiefs had some success with the screens and the short passing game. What did you see on film?

Coach Tarver: "I thought early in the game they held a bunch of times and got called. Then later, we were tackling pretty good. We had a little streak in that game, which is what we need to continue to push through 60 minutes of football. We had about 10 plays where we didn't tackle well. Other than those 10 plays, we played pretty darn good defense. We have to find a way to push ourselves mentally through that little spell. We kind of had it in the first game against the Chiefs too, but we fought our way back out of it. We fought our way back out of it with four straight three-and-outs right after that. We just have to keep our mental focus regardless of where they get the ball. It doesn't matter where they get the ball – it's our job to stop them."

Q: Is there a theme or something specific that you've seen why the third-down defense is so drastically different?

Coach Tarver: "Since the bye, it's up there. I don't know what the stats are, but it's up there. We're taking it one down at a time. We've built more an identity in every situation. We talk a lot about our identity in our defensive meeting; who are we? What do we do? What do we do in this situation? No. 1 is the emphasis of situations. Understanding when it's third-and-12 what's happening to you and how we need to stop them. If they get 11 and we get off the field, that's fine. We have to get off the field – that's our job. So we've gotten better there and the other thing is this group executing and learning how to play together. We've talked a lot about the changing personnel. We've talked a lot about having a whole bunch of new starters this year. That's what coaching and working together is – coaches and players – you continually get better at what you emphasize. And you see these young men, that's one of the things we're most proud of as coaching staff is these young men improving in situational football."

Q: With regard to Khalil Mack, how would you compare how you would want to rely on a rookie and use him in your game plan as a focal point from the beginning of the season to now?

Coach Tarver:"We've been able to move him more and more. But what's great about Khalil is he's a one-time correction young man. He can see it once he does it. He's very conscious of what he's doing, so when he sees it he remembers the play and you say, 'Hey, what did you feel here?' or, 'What did you do? Next time you feel that, do this.'* (snaps fingers) *He's got it. That's what's great about him, is that focus within the moment – Khalil has that. So therefore, a rookie, veteran, any player with that feel, you can just keep the progression going. 'We've put you here. Now we're going to move you over here. Now we're going to move you here. Now we'll take this match-up.' Not to get into everything so people don't know what's coming, but he's conscious of the moment and he corrects things so quickly that you can move him and what's great about him is he listens to some of the veterans. They work together and that process – on your question – the guys working together has just gotten better and better, and that's what happens when you're allowed to progress with the group. You just get better and better."

Q: Trust with a rookie is always an issue, but at what point was the curve with Mack specifically, even going back to maybe rookie camp or training camp?

Coach Tarver:"Coaches and players have to work together. I'll answer it this way: The trust has got to go back and forth. From experience and just working with people, you've got to talk and ask questions back and forth, and then you see how the answer comes back. This young man is so honest, he'll tell you, 'Hey, I didn't know that,' or, 'I knew that, but I did this.' That honestly level is really amazing in a young man, so therefore you can fix things so fast. So the trust level is way up, because as long as we're having honest conversations and working together, you feel like you can do anything together."

Q: Does the fact that he had very little high school or youth background, and not to disparage the Mid-American Conference, but he's probably not getting the elite type of instruction. But he arrives here almost as a borderline finished product. What do you think of his career and his life in football? What is it that stands out to you?

Coach Tarver:"One: I do think he was coached well there. Two: He was moved around and played a lot of positions, which helps him feel. He's got a great feel for what's happening to him – where blockers are; where the ball is. He developed that by being able to play all over the place there, so that was good. A lot of things that happened to him were really good. When he played against the upper level competitions, he rose his level. That's obviously what he had to do at this level and he's continually done that here. So his pattern from where he came from, he just keeps raising his level. As long as he continues to do that, because he's in the process of doing that right now, it's impressive."

Q: Tarell Brown seems to be in an injury management period where he's still able to play. At his particular positon, it's difficult if you lose speed or mobility, but he's still been a stabilizing force. How important has he been, especially during this period where he's not 100 percent healthy?

Coach Tarver:"IMP – Injury Management Period. I like that. He's a professional. He's so good at learning the routes and studying, and he's studying and he works. He knows what's going to happen to him and he's really developed that, because we've obviously had a long time together, 'T' and I, and I'm very appreciative of him because he's great in the room and he just studies. He's able to do it. As guys go through their careers, some guys can do it with less and less practice. Everybody needs practice, but some guys can do it with less and less time. So he's been able to do that and play at a pretty good level for us."

Q: Do you need to have that kind of mental awareness if you aren't' 100 percent, where normally you'd be able to rely on your physical gifts?

Coach Tarver:"If anybody is 100 percent right now, (laughing) I'd like to know because I'd like to play them a lot. But everybody has got their nicks. That's part of being a professional, is you've got to know your body, you've got to deal with your body. A lot of your young men are learning that right now, but one good thing about T is he's learned how to do that throughout his career."

Q: Is that whole tackling issue you talked about earlier of paramount importance with Sammy Watkins coming up?

Coach Tarver:"We've got to continue to get better. We've had some good times this year in knowing where our help is. 'Where is our help?' When you can take a shot, take a shot. Sometimes – I wouldn't say sometimes – I'd say it's progressively gotten better, besides the one half of the one road game. You've got to know where your help is and when there are shots there, you've got to take it. Take your shots on those great space players and run them back to your help. Even if you don't make the tackle, if you send him back to your help, then we have a chance. If you wait and miss at the wrong angle, now we're in trouble. So it's about using your leverage and sometimes in space, just finding a way to get him on the ground – whatever you've got to do. We've improved in that area, finding a way to get them on the ground this year, and that will be a challenge this week."

Q: Can everybody learn that, or do some guys never learn that – to actually push a guy toward help? It seems like that would be a hard thing to do when you're going after tackling somebody.

Coach Tarver:"That comes from playing together. That comes from repetition. That comes from coaches saying, 'Shoot the outside leg.' When they work together, when two guys approach a tackle, we do a lot of drills and a lot of teams do a lot of drills – 'Inside, inside; outside, outside.' They tell each other where they are. You keep emphasizing that, you keep getting better. But the only way to get better at it is just to do it a lot. We've improved because we've done it together so far this year, and as this group works together, they get better at it. But yeah, of course it's not easy. You've got the best athletes in the world in space, and sometimes that's like being one-on-one with LeBron [James] at the free-throw line. Where's your help? Well, I hope I have help on LeBron. But that's what it's like sometimes, so you better know which side you're going to take away. 'OK, I know I play on his right.' He'd just shoot over me. But it takes rep and you've got to work together to perfect it."

Q: What stands out when you watch Watkins on film? Coach Tarver:"He's improving in his route running, he's very explosive and his relationship with their quarterback seems like it's improving as well. It looks like he's right in the process of where a young receiver with his athletic ability should be."

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