Opening Statement: **"All right, Khalif Barnes did not practice today; Keith McGill did not practice today; Derek Carr was limited in practice today; Sio Moore was limited again today; and Marcel Reece was limited again today. What questions do we have?"
Q: Is Derek Carr continuing to improve?
Coach Sparano:"Carr is continuing to improve. I thought he was better today than he was yesterday and again, I'll say we'll see where he is tomorrow. These kind of things, you've just got to wait and see, see where we are, but he was little bit better today I think than he was yesterday."
Q: Is there some concern that Khalif Barnes could be out for a little bit?
Coach Sparano:"Well there's concern right now that he wasn't out there today, so we'll see where he is tomorrow and we'll continue to play it by ear here with Khalif right now, but he hasn't practiced for a couple days here. Obviously, that doesn't look great."
Q: Do you expect to see DJ Hayden next week?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, we expect to see DJ next week in practice. Again, with his treatment right now, the way that everything has been going right now, DJ has done a tremendous job that way and our trainers have done a really good job of that right now, so that's part of the plan as we speak right now, so we'll see what the timetable is when we get him out there. Obviously, we have a couple weeks there to make a decision."
Q: Sio Moore hasn't practiced in quite a while, was he good today?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, he was good today. Again, probably a little bit better, like Derek [Carr] that way today. Both of those things, like I said, are going to take a little bit each day as you look at it, so when we get back here in the morning. But they've done a good job of taking care of them and Sio got a little bit more work today than he did yesterday."
Q: What have you seen on tape out of Antonio Gates? The guy is 34 but he still makes plays.
Coach Sparano:"Well, you just answered your own question. So, good job, you're a coach [laughing]. He's been a matchup problem from the time he's come in the league, and he's a matchup problem now. We'll try to address it the best way that we can that way. We certainly have a plan going into the game. They have a lot of weapons, but Antonio, his skill set is unique. The really good tight ends, the Jason Witten's, those kind of people that are really good tight ends, they present big match-ups, particularly when you get down there in the red zone and on third down, which is one of the reasons that they're so good on third down. This guy has made a lot of big plays and he's a guy that you've got to pay a lot of attention to."
Q: Why do you think Philip Rivers has gotten so much better over the last couple of seasons?
Coach Sparano:"Honestly, I just really think it's a combination of things. I can't comment on their team or anything like that, but I've played against this team a lot of times and I see the skill around him number one, and the skill around him is really good, Antonio Gates, these people, he's got some skilled people around him that are good. But, I just think he's really comfortable right now within this offense and what he's doing in this offense and what [Chargers Head Coach] Mike [McCoy] is asking him to do in this offense. The way he's getting through his progressions and what he's doing with the football and how fast the football gets out at times, those are all things that I think I've seen improvement out of. Maybe early on, not that he didn't do those things, but you could clearly see that he's doing it right now. His efficiency is really high, his quarterback rating is off the charts over the last couple weeks."
Q: As an offensive line coach and an offensive coach, what defenses give you the most trouble? How do you want to see your defense play?
Coach Sparano:"The one thing I want my defense to do first of all, is to play smart football, but not afraid to make a mistake out there. I want them to fly around, not be afraid to make a mistake but play smart football. Again, we talked about this before, we just don't want to watch the tape at the end of this and watch Oakland beating Oakland. If you're playing in a game where there's 75 plays on both sides of the football, they're going to win some of those plays, no question about it. We'd like to win our portion of plays. I think what we have to do is eliminate on the defensive side of the ball, really on both sides of the ball, we have to eliminate the times where we put ourselves in a bad position one way or the other, whether it's fundamentally, whether it's mentally, whether it's schematically via the call that maybe we make, and we've done a bunch of analysis on that right now, self-analysis which is hard. Looking yourself in the mirror and saying, hey, we didn't do this well enough, we're not doing this well enough, we have to be better at this. Those things sometimes are hard to do. A normal person doesn't do it, where in football, we do it quite often."
Q: They're down to their fourth-string center. Is that a matchup that you have to win?
Coach Sparano:"Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I think any time there's a scenario there where somebody is handling the football every single play, that's something that you have to pay attention to. We're well aware of it in that scenario. You saw an instance in our ball game last week, just one of those center, quarterback things, that happens with a snap or any of those type of things, it can change a game quickly. So, we need to make sure that we pay attention to that and that we test it."
Q: Has Donald Penn been better than even you expected?
Coach Sparano:"That's a good question. You know what, because Greg Olson had a history with Donald, and I didn't have a history with Donald, I obviously had a history with Austin [Howard] and some of those guys, but Greg had a history with him and what I had seen was Donald on film and in games. Obviously, I think if you talk to Donald Penn, Donald Penn would tell you that a year ago, in some scenarios, he maybe wishes he had some plays back. I think he would say, 'Look I went into that thing and I wish I would have done this differently or that differently.' Right now he's been playing with pretty good confidence, so to answer your question, I would say I had high expectations for Donald Penn when we took him, but he is playing better than I anticipated, even at that point. So, I'm happy with that. He's an easy guy to coach. Sometimes you get veteran players and you're trying to break them of habits and quite honestly they're stuck in their ways a little bit, but I don't really have that in my room and we're going to try hard not to have that on this team."
Q: How is this last week and a half been? Is it a 'been there, done that'?
Coach Sparano:"It's been a week and a half already? Well, it's been fast, long, a lot of hours, those type of things but I'm used to that. That's not anything different, but when you're doing that and coaching and coaching the line at the same time, it's just been really, really busy. I get to see [director of media relations] Will [Kiss] every day and that type of stuff and see you guys. It's been a lot of fun, this is what I want to do. Been there, done that, I never, ever take it for granted, not one day. It doesn't matter what the scenario is or any of those things, I don't ever take it for granted. I love what I do and I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."
Q: Can you gauge the importance of this game because you started 0-4 and you've taken this over?
Coach Sparano:"I just think it's the next football game and it's very important. I mean, we're an 0-4 football team and it's the next game, it's not about me, it's not about anything else. It's about really, we're trying to kind of focus on us right now and the message that I've given our team is that this is about us. All due respect to our opponent, they're a very good football team, but we need to worry about us right now. It's the next football game, it's a division football game. We haven't played in our division yet. The school I come from, you need to take care of your division first. We have an opportunity right now. We've put those other games behind us, learned from them, didn't forget about them, but we have an opportunity right now to play our first game in our division and be measured that way. We're looking forward to it, we're looking forward to getting out there and I think these guys are excited about it."
Q: How was today different from previous Thursdays with the tapering of the week?
Coach Sparano:"What was interesting about today is we went out, normal Thursday practice for us we would have been out on the field for two hours and 25 minutes. Today, it was two hours and 12 minutes scheduled, so that's a taper of about 13 minutes for the players. It's like boxing, those minutes, those are long minutes. We finished seven minutes early today, so the pace of practice was fast. Guys did a great job moving around, the energy was outstanding out there today and as I told them, it isn't just about moving fast if you don't execute it well. Yesterday we had to run eight more plays because we didn't do it right, and we're just not going to go on to the next play if we don't do it right. So, we ran eight more plays in practice and still finished three minutes ahead of schedule. Today, really only had to repeat two plays. It was a good day out there, it was fast. The players can feel the taper down, I believe that. That'll continue here over the next couple of days."
Q: Is it too early to tell if Kenbrell Thompkins is going to play this weekend?
Coach Sparano:"Yes, but there were some things yesterday in practice that we saw that are reasons why we brought him in here. He clearly jumped out at you, fast. It's just really a matter of getting to understand it and learn it. I don't think it's far away from where he's been, mentally, with what we do and where he comes from, what they've done in New England, but the terminology is just a little bit different so, get him to understand that. He had another good day out there today, so we'll see as we get closer."
Q: When you were doing the self-evaluation process and looked at third-and-short situations, what was the main thing that you saw?
Coach Sparano:"Oakland beating Oakland. And I would tell you honestly, I tell my players that if we get beat physically, I can live with that, I really can. I can live with getting beat physically. When I say that, I mean it's one-on-one, me and you, you beat me, I give you my best shot. I can live with that, I don't like it, but when I watch the film and it's not that way, then I have a problem with that. That's the thing that really gets me going a little bit. We have to eliminate that. In a couple of situations we've had some third-and-ones when offensively we had come off a good drive. We had just come off in that Miami game of a scoring drive, then we go down and have four or five plays, we've got this third-and-one sitting in front of us and we don't execute the play properly. When you're watching the film, you've got to give credit to Miami there, but when you're watching the tape and you come back and you look at it, you're saying, 'Look fellas, let's be honest with ourselves a little bit.' That's a chance there to change the game and Oakland beat Oakland in that situation. All due respect to Jared Odrick in making the play and doing those type of things. They watched the film, they know."
Q: You have used Latavius Murray and Jamize Olawale in that situation, why not use Darren McFadden?
Coach Sparano:"That was a little bit shorter, kind of and-one, and we felt like we could get into the line of scrimmage a little bit quicker. Sometime you're on this quick hitter. To be honest with you, if you went through the National Football League right now and you looked at all the short yardage snaps, which we've done, all the short yardage snaps, and you broke them into category right now, that play is probably one of the plays that is run the most times in those situations. Different teams, everybody uses the thing. When I was in Miami, ah I said it, I was in Miami, I had a player named 'Lou' [Lousaka] Polite, and everybody in the ballpark knew Lou Polite was going to get the ball in that situation, but he just kept converting them, 17, 18, 19 in a row, just had a knack for running that type of play. It's just one of those things where I think different teams have different philosophies in those areas, ours is not always to hand the ball to the fullback, but it is every once in a while to hand the ball to the fullback."