Q: How does it feel to be back here in Kansas City?
LILJA: “Feels great. It took me a couple of weeks to really grasp that I’m back and I’m a Chief. It’s cool. Usually in the off-season I come back here and spend time with my family, nothing different about this (off-season). I was here when the Colts released me and I was here obviously when I signed and it’s been great.”
Q: Did you think about anywhere else or was this the only option?
LILJA: “No. There were some other options but as soon as this one presented itself, I got the old feeling that I had six years ago when I was a member of the Chiefs for a short time. It’s a special thing to be able to play in your hometown. I talked to some people that I trusted and that was the common advice, that this opportunity doesn’t happen very often and so it just kind of validated how I felt about coming back here.”
Q: You still have all your family here, right?
LILJA: “They’re all here. I’m getting married in July to a girl I went to high school with and her family is all here. We’re getting married here and we have a house here and now I’m working here and it couldn’t be better.”
Q: If there anything you took from your time in Kansas City the first time around that helped you in your career in Indianapolis?
LILJA: “Sure. Absolutely. When you’re a rookie, especially an undrafted guy, and you come into a group like they had on the offensive line, you just kind of keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open and some of the stuff that I learned from C Casey (Wiegmann), G Will (Shields) and G Brian (Waters) in particular has helped me throughout my entire career. That’s the great thing about those guys, they’re not ashamed to help a guy out who is wet behind the ears, comes in doesn’t really know much, so I learned a lot from those guys.”
Q: Is there anything tangible that you can point to?
LILJA: “Just technique stuff. Casey’s about my size so we have to do things a little bit different than say Brian who is just brute strong. We’ve got to play with a little more leverage and technique and stuff. Casey doesn’t talk a whole bunch, but he offered me some things that I never learned in college and as I’ve been in the NFL, you see it done by pretty savvy centers. He offered things like that.”
Q: Is it surreal that you are back here and possibly playing next to C
LILJA: “Yeah. I am not sure exactly where I will be in the lineup, but it is pretty cool. When we signed him, I wasn’t a member here yet but I got really excited, not only for Casey, but for Chiefs fans. I have always admired how he plays and carries himself. It is cool to be in the locker room with him again.”
Q: How do you translate your success in Indianapolis to help these guys here?
LILJA: “A successful team like that, there are certain aspects of your organization, team and locker room that I don’t know if guys know of from a team that has been struggling . . . Games are won and lost in this league by such a thin margin and I think if you bring that kind of attitude, expecting to be successful, that might get you over the hump a little bit.”
Q: Are there things here that are different from the first time you were here?
LILJA: “Yeah, obviously there is a different facility and there are different people in the whole organization; coaches, front office and obviously players. It is a young team. I looked down the roster after I signed and I noticed that there are a lot of young guys on this team and I am one of the older guys. In Indy, you had some older guys who were leaders of our team. Everything is new really, strength coaches, trainers and coaches, obviously.”
Q: You experienced the high of winning a Super Bowl, is losing one the ultimate low?
LILJA: “It is 10 times worse to lose one. I can’t believe I am saying that, it doesn’t make sense, but it is tough to wrap my mind around it. As good as it is to win one and be a part of that team that wins it all, this last one stung more. It was funny. I came in here and talked to (Strength and Conditioning Coach) Mike Clark before I signed who was in Seattle and he said to me, ‘what does it feel like to lose a Super Bowl?’ We sat there and talked for 20 minutes about how miserable it is, and how there are a lot of things that make the difference. But yes, I would rather win one.”
Q: When you left Kansas City the first time, was your initial feeling disappointment?
LILJA: “Yeah, it was. I wanted to be here and it was great to sign here and be a part of the team for a small time here. I wanted to be here and be on the team and I really was excited about learning from those guys who I mentioned before, who in my opinion, for several years nobody did a better job. That was exciting for me and obviously all the things about the location were great. I was disappointed, but it has worked out and I have had a great run. It has been awesome but now I am even more excited to be back here and trying to do it again.”
Q: Where do you feel like you are at in your career personally?
LILJA: “I don’t know. To be totally honest with you I play every year like it is my last. Somebody told me that as a rookie and I held on to that. I have that mindset. I was just talking to Casey and he is going on 15 years. I would love to play that long and have that opportunity. This is a great job and a great game. Who knows? You never know, a lot of the other factors that go into it can come up. I would love to play as long as I can.”
Q: Can you talk about QB Peyton Manning and his work ethic?
LILJA: “The thing about Peyton is, nobody outworks him and he is literally the first guy in and the last guy out. His capacity to process film, I don’t understand it personally. I think he is more of a cerebral guy and I think most of the time that he puts in goes on in a dark room with a cowboy (remote) in his hand, watching tape.”
Q: When Peyton would go through his checks, signals and movements, would you ever be sitting there thinking, ‘just snap the ball?’
LILJA: “For sure. That happened a lot early on and then you get used to it. Your legs start burning a little bit and you get a little impatient. But once you play in that offense a little bit, the whole offense is predicated on him computing what they are giving you and trying to take advantage of that.”
Q: You went from one old grizzled veteran offensive line coaches to an older, grizzled veteran offensive line coach. Do you see any comparisons between Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd and Chiefs offensive line coach Bill Muir?
LILJA: “I came in and met him, actually I talked to him on the phone first and they’re real similar guys. I came in and met him and thought these guys are long lost brothers. Howard’s great. I haven’t gotten to know Bill as closely obviously with just doing the off-season stuff, but as we get more into installing the offense and doing more field work and actual practices, I’m sure I’ll get to know him (better). My knee jerk reaction was that these guys were separated at birth.”
Q: What are some things that you learned from Howard, not necessarily technique stuff, but other things that you picked up?
LILJA: “Howard kind of said, ‘Hey, we’re coaches and we have egos and we like to see it done our way but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.’ I think that helps guys coming in. There are little tidbits of knowledge, most of them that I can’t repeat, that were purely Howard. As a matter of fact, we’re having a little retirement party for him. I’m flying back to Indy for one night this weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing him and sending him off into retirement. He’s a special dude.”
Q: You were an undrafted guy. What would you tell the hundreds of guys that are going to be sitting at home and wonder how to handle themselves?
LILJA: “You know what, they’re heads are spinning and it seems like there is so much on the line right and I’m sure guys want to get drafted higher and go to better teams but you just have to let it play itself out. I don’t pay much attention to it anymore. I think it’s kind of overhyped personally. It’s all about what happens once you get in the league. All this stuff beforehand, in my opinion, it’s just for entertainment value.”
Q: What role did Scott Pioli and/or Todd Haley and the direction of the team play in your decision to come to the Chiefs?
LILJA: “It was huge. Like you said, there are a lot of things about being back here and playing for this team that were appealing to me because I grew up here, but from a purely objective standpoint, coming in and meeting with those guys, seeing what they’ve done, their philosophies, the moves they’re making to bring in the right guys for the Xs and Os side, that was impressive. Sitting in a meeting with those guys and the new guys on staff got me really excited. It was pretty neat to sit in there and talk with these guys about how they’re turning around this organization. There is a big place in my heart for the Chiefs obviously. I’ve been a fan my whole life, so it was cool.”