Posted Apr 24, 2010

“We became a faster football team today..."

SCOTT PIOLI: “Good evening. A little bit longer than we anticipated here, quite busy obviously. This is why I was waiting until the end of the night because there’s always a chance that we can move up and we were able to move up. We made four picks today rather than the three that we were scheduled to make and I think something that Todd (Haley) and I spoke about that we feel very good about that we got accomplished today was one of the things we set out to accomplish when we first took this team over and that was to improve our team speed.

“We became a faster football team today. [We] picked up a number of players that meet a lot of the things that we’re looking for. As a matter of fact, along with the team speed, talking about the right fit, the right kind of guys we drafted today along with the player that we drafted yesterday all happen to be captains at the schools they played at. Overall, going back to the football character thing in what we’re looking for, we feel that these guys all fit into the mold of the type of player that we are looking for, all very different individuals but four guys that are certainly the type of player big picture that we are looking for.”

Q: Would you say that so far this draft has been a method to address the entire team needs, such as speed like you mentioned, rather than a chance to address needs at a certain position or positions?

PIOLI: “I think we need to improve our team speed. When we first got here, watching ourselves on tape in preseason games and in regular season games, something we thought we saw as a difference with the other teams we were playing was team speed – overall team speed. That was one thing we needed to improve. Along with that, you want to get good football players that are fast. Again, we are trying to become a faster football team. Positionally, we got faster at positions, as well.”

Q: Can you talk about roles for your two second-round picks, WR (Dexter) McCluster and DE (Javier) Arenas?

PIOLI: “Those roles will define themselves a little more clearly but as we looked at the first pick with Dexter, Dexter’s a guy who has lined up at running back, he’s lined up at receiver, he’s done some return work prior to becoming a big part of their offense. He’s lined up in the Wildcat. He’s done a lot of things and something that we talked about upstairs and something that we talked about at length with him with our offensive coaches, I think we’ve got a number of really strong offensive minds on our coaching staff. Some of what Dexter can do very well and what he is from a prototype stature-wise, he’s very similar stature-wise and skill-set wise in terms of his hands, his quickness, his speed, his elusiveness – different places that I think our coaching staff will be able to use him and utilize him in different positions on the field, different places. This staff has worked with guys like David Meggett, guys like Troy Brown, guys like Wes Welker, guys like Wayne Chrebet, again not comparing this guy to those players but a similar type of player skill-set wise. Dexter can do a number of those things and he has been a running back as well so he’s done third back, change-of-pace back, he’s been a receiver. He’s done a lot of different things and again, with this coaching staff, I think they’ll be able to figure out a number of different roles for him.”

Q: What do you see in Arenas as well? Kick return possibilities?

PIOLI: “What he did down at Alabama in Nick’s (Saban) defense is he lined up quite a bit as what we refer to as the star, which is the slot corner in sub packages. So when they put multiple corners on the field, as the third corner, he lines up on the slot receiver because of what his skill set is. He matches up well with the slot receiver skill-set wise, but also that position in particular needs a very smart player. He’s a person that has to do a lot of adjusting and is the guy between the outside corner, the safeties and the linebackers so when there’s a lot of motion, when you have multiple-receiver sets, he’s going to be the person that does a lot of communicating and the other thing he can do from that position, he’s one of the best blitzing defensive backs I’ve seen in a long time. I think he had 12 or 13 tackles for loss this year. He’s had seven sacks over the last two years. He’s a guy that knows how to blitz in terms of timing. He’s a good back so his role will be more clearly defined. He’s coming in to compete for playing time but he does have the skill set and the mental capacity to be that slot player. He also brings the obvious dynamic of being a good returner. He’s been a kick returner; he’s been a punt returner. He ranks second in NCAA history in a number of different categories as well as overall kick returns.”

Q: Did you seriously consider drafting QB Jimmy Clausen?

PIOLI: “We drafted the guys we drafted. It’s not really relevant. He’s with another team right now.”

Q: It seems like every player that you’ve taken in the draft so far can play somewhere else or can do something else. Was having versatility and being able to move them around important to you in this draft?

PIOLI: “Versatility is very important. It speaks to a couple different things. It has to do with athletic ability obviously, but I think it also has to do with intelligence. For players to be able to do multiple things, they have to know a lot. Again, whether it’s the H-back or the F-position or the Y-tight end on the line of scrimmage, an outside corner, an inside corner, Dexter playing multiple positions, OL Jon (Asamoah) started at guard for three years, but he has also played quite a bit of center in practice – we know that about him. Versatility is a very important part because it does a number of things: it allows you to save roster spots not only on the 53-man but it also allows you to make better decisions on game-day as you prepare your 45-man game-day roster. A guy that can play a couple different positions allows you to have more flexibility or have other players up for that time.”

Q: Does Asamoah have any offensive tackle possibility?

PIOLI: “He hasn’t played tackle. He’s played guard and he has practiced quite a bit and we have seen him play center.”

Q: What did you like about TE Tony Moeaki that made you give up a few draft picks to move up and go get him?

PIOLI: “We actually only gave up one pick. We swapped spots, so we gave up one pick, I believe it was number 144 overall. He was a player we were talking about earlier – didn’t know what the sweet spot was going to be to try to pick him up and he was a player that as we were sitting there and as you run out of picks at the end of the day, you’re kind of looking at the board saying ‘Ok, we’re going to be picking the next day. Who are the players in play for who we’ll want at that point in time when we start the next day?’ You don’t know if you have enough ammunition to make the trade and move up. I’ve been in a situation sometimes where you’ve got your eyes on couple that are your top guys knowing that we were going to be the top of the next round tomorrow, we were sitting there and the opportunity came where we felt like giving up that late of a fifth-round pick, our last fifth-round pick to be able to move up into this round and get a player that we really felt would have really been the guy, one of the couple guys that we’d have been disappointed if we lost before it was our turn to pick because there were still a number of picks left today and then the three picks before our spot tomorrow.”

Q: What did you like about him that got you past the injury problems that he’s had in the past?

PIOLI: “Again, we like his leadership. We like his toughness. He’s never had anything significant from an injury standpoint, nothing that significant. He’s been a leader on their team, he’s been very productive. When he has been on the field, he’s been a very good player and blocker. One game that stands out to me is you go back to the Georgia Tech bowl game this year where he’s going against one of the best defensive players in the entire country and in this year’s draft and he did a heck of a job – he caught the ball well. There are a lot of things to like about Tony. He’s a big, strong, fast football player who is a leader within their team.”

Q: You had the scouting reports that you and your staff did, but what did (Iowa coach) Kirk Ferentz say about him?

PIOLI: “I’ll say Kirk’s very fond of him, very fond. Again, I don’t like to talk about conversations that I have with other people. I’m sure Kirk will be willing to talk on the record with you guys. Kirk and I have talked about a lot of players but again, I would prefer that he characterize what he said to me. Generally, very fond of the player: his makeup, his toughness and his ability.”

Q: Just to be clear, you gave up your fourth-round pick in that trade and also the last of your three fifth-round picks?

PIOLI: “Yeah, we gave up 102, our fourth-round pick tomorrow.’ [TEICHER: And 144?] ‘Right. So we moved up from 102 to 93 and we then gave up 144.”

Q: So all you’ve got tomorrow is two fives?

PIOLI: “Two fives. Correct.”

Q: I know we are only halfway through but do you feel good about what you have got so far? Were the guys you wanted there?

PIOLI: “I feel very good about where we are. I think we have improved our football team on the field, in the locker room, from a leadership standpoint, and an eventual leadership standpoint. Yeah, I feel really good about what we have done so far.”

Q: What kind of guys are you trying to target in this draft? Is it good character, speed, intelligence, etc.?

PIOLI: “You said it yourself. Those are the things we knew we were looking to get. Smarter, faster, we are looking to get better. The big thing is, we are trying to improve the competition on this football team. That which makes everyone better.”

Q: Do you feel good about that thus far?

PIOLI: “Yes, I do.”

Q: A lot of people talk about drafting high character guys. It seems like you have really backed that up these past two days. Is that a case of wanting to build a foundation before taking on any higher-risk guys?

PIOLI: “I think it is an important thing for a number of different reasons. Backing up, I think one of the best things about the team that we took over was the character of this football team when we got here. I think there are a number of people on this team who are strong character guys that we inherited. Again, there are always a couple individuals in every locker room where it is not perfect, and it is never going to be perfect. As much as we try to get 100 percent perfect, when you have 53 guys in a locker room, it is never going to be perfect. But I think there is a pretty good foundation of some solid citizens here and I think those players needed to learn some things too. Building and improving and enhancing the character goes into development, too. Some of these young players need to learn a little bit more about football character, they need to learn better work habits. They come from big programs, they don’t know what the NFL is and when you bring in the right kind of guys and you mesh them (it’s positive), and we have some of those guys here.

“We just had a guy, G Brian Waters, who was the NFL Man of the Year. Again, talking about a personal character standpoint, but Brian is a guy who I watched go through the season last year, he had an ankle (injury) and everyone saw him go down during training camp. He came back; his football character is pretty darn strong. I think there are some other guys here, the LB Matt Vrabels, the QB Matt Cassels. I think there are a number of good people that are here. That being said we want to continue to do that because it is the foundation. Here is what happens in this game, as we all know there are good times and bad times. In bad times you have to be able to have people that you can depend on, rely upon, that instead of jumping off the ship, they are going to try and find a way to rally together. The more successful teams that I have been a part of, high school, college or professional football, the most successful teams at their core had a lot of people with strong football character and strong work ethics. Again, we are talking about character and there are different types of character here. I go back to some of the less successful teams that I was a part of and I have been on both ends of the spectrum. For the most part, the teams that were not as successful were lacking some of that.”

Q: So just so I understand, this team you inherited had character, just not enough football character?

PIOLI: “I think you need to be improving and I think there needs to be some direction. I think our head coach and our assistant coaching staff has done a great job of providing that.”

Q: Where is TE Brad Cottam in his recovery from his injury?

PIOLI: “Brad has been working out in the off-season program. Where he is at, he is at a stage where he can work out and he is working out.”

Q: So there is no long term reason he wouldn’t be able to play?

PIOLI: “We don’t know, we are taking it day-to-day on that. There is someone with a lot more degrees than me that is going to let coach and I know what we can do.”

Q: Is the pickup of TE Tony Moeaki a reaction to Cottam’s injury status?

PIOLI: “None of these moves are a reaction to anyone specifically. Like I said, we have a lot of positions we have to improve upon and create competition for. The other thing is, when you bring in competition, it makes the players that are here better. The players themselves that are here, once they feel, see and sense competition, they are going to get better. There will be no entitlement in this building. Whether it is in my chair, the coach’s chair, the assistant coaches’ chairs or in the locker room. People are going to work and earn jobs around here. You bring in players where there are other players, competition is healthy. It is a really healthy thing.”

Q: You mentioned Arenas’ ability to blitz. All defensive backs love to blitz. Is timing the secret to his success?

PIOLI: “Until they get hit. I think part of it is timing and part of it is the calls that are being made by the coaches. It is twofold. You can call certain plays all day long and at the end of the day, the player needs to execute. You can get out the greatest scheme in the world but unless the player executes (it’s not successful). With that being said, sometimes if a player is not being put in a position to execute and given something to do to execute, they are not going to be able to do it. He has good instincts, he has good timing. When someone is blitzing, it is not that they just line up (and go). You have to have a little savvy.”

Q: Is there any truth to having bad guys in the locker room along with the good in order to make the team better?

PIOLI: “I don’t know if you have to have bad guys. There is a difference. Maybe I haven’t done a good job of explaining it. We are not looking for bad guys. When I am trying to describe the football character, again it goes back to professional character. Being on time, pay attention, work hard, do your job and be accountable to your teammates and coaches.”

Q: So you wouldn’t want a Lawrence Taylor type?

PIOLI: “I would love a Lawrence Taylor. You can have those guys and I don’t think I will ever sit up here and say that you can’t have guys that don’t do things the right way and if you have a couple of guys that don’t do things the right way, you aren’t going to be successful. There have been plenty of successful teams. What you want is the greater core of your team to be the right kind of guys. It is like a family, it is like anything. There are going to be some strays here and there. Even the players who act out differently, if they are buying into what you are trying to accomplish, which at the end of the day we are trying to win and win the right way with the right kind of guys, you can do it. It is never going to be perfect, no matter how you try; it is never going to be perfect.”

Q: Does having a good base of high character guys make it easier to go out and get a guy who has a lot of talent, but not necessarily the right character?

PIOLI: “I think it depends on what you are talking about when you say character concerns and what stage. I am getting to the point where I am tired of talking about the New England experience, but I know we went out and there were certain players that we went after, at a time during their career that had some issues, but people change. If I was being judged here today by the way I acted when I was 21-years old, I probably wouldn’t be sitting at this table. People change, people buy into things at different times and people have different reasons for buying in. Sometimes when people get tired of their life and/or situation or their professional situation in terms of wins and losses, they are willing to buy in differently or to do things a different way because there goals change. Sometimes that happens and I believe in second chances, I believe in sometimes third chances because people change. It is a very delicate balance between trying to make the right decisions for the people that are depending on you or depending on me to make the right decisions and going over board and judging people to harshly.”

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