QB ALEX SMITH
Q:** Now that the week is here, how excited are you to open the season on Thursday night against the defending Super Bowl champions?
SMITH: "Yeah, I think the hard thing is it's not here quite yet. I think it's easy when you have big games and big challenges, certainly the opener for everybody is a challenge, you still have to handle the week of preparation the right way. We can't play the game yet. We need to prepare the right way every day and build towards Thursday night. It's a big, big challenge for us to play the defending world champs on the road to kick off the NFL season. That's why you play the game, that's why we're all here. Pumped about it, but obviously we have to do the right things leading up to that."
Q: How long ago did you start game planning for this game?
SMITH: "Probably a better question for the coaches. For us, certainly as preseason has been going on, you know this is sitting there, right? You know that it's there. As you run camp you're not sure what's in game plan and what's not as you're running plays. This is probably a little more unusual in the sense that you do have some extra days usually – the end of last week, like a bye week almost."
Q: It's no secret what Tyreek Hill brings to you guys, but this will be the first time the Patriots see him. What are they going to be dealing with as it relates to them?
SMITH: "Tyreek's extremely talented, tough, versatile and I think just continues to show that he can handle a lot of different roles. He does a lot for us, not just on offense, but special teams. There haven't been many things that we've asked him to do that he's failed at. We move him around and do different things and he's so fluid and natural at almost all of them. Really, really talented guy who's worked really, really hard, especially at the stuff outside of receiver. He works really hard to handle all those things we do with him. He's a really, really talented kid who's on top of it."
Q: When you looks back at the Patriots postseason game two years ago, did it just feel like you were playing uphill the whole day, that you just couldn't get on an even field with them?
SMITH: "Yeah, I have watched that film. It's hard, it's from a couple years ago. The system is the same, there are some same players, but there are a lot of new faces too, so that's always difficult. I remember [being] disappointed. We were pretty banged up when we went up there and played. Both teams have had a lot of turnover as well. I think one of the things you do look at with a team like the Patriots, especially on defense, they can throw a lot at you. They can do a lot of different things from a personnel standpoint, fronts, coverages, you name it, they can do it a lot of different ways and it's hard to predict what's coming. Certainly it being an opener, even more so – what un-scouted things can they spring on you or play that you can't prepare for. It's tough."
Q: It's hard to play from behind against anyone, but is it harder to play from behind against those guys in that stadium?
SMITH: "I think against a really good team in a big environment, a noisy environment, yeah it's tough. It's really tough. You've got the combination of both of those things – big homefield advantage and a really good football team – and you combine the two, if you get down, it's that much more going against you."
Q: Just like what you mentioned about their defense, do you think it is an advantage for you and the offense to maybe run some things that they haven't been able to scout and prepare for also?
SMITH: "I don't know if it's an advantage or disadvantage. A little bit is going to depend on how those things mesh, how does that match up, un-scouted things. Sometimes you can worry too much for trying to prepare things you don't know or you can't see. You've got to prepare for what we do know. You can't worry about a lot of the other stuff, you've got to rely on your rules when you get out there, what you see with your eyes, trusting your instincts, things like that."
Q: Does that make season openers different?
SMITH: "Yeah, they're different. A lot of emotions, guys have been waiting on this a long time. How you come out of camp is always different. Here now it's going to be a full game, a four-quarter fight. I think it's easy to get caught up in the emotions. You've only been used to playing chunks here and there up to this point and know that this is going to be a four-quarter fight. Last year I think serves as a great example for us, to come out as emotional as we were, couldn't handle it early and dug ourselves a hole. Now luckily we were able to dig ourselves out, we certainly don't want that to happen again."
Q: Do you have any advice that you will share with Kareem this week since he's a young guy stepping into a big role on a big stage for his first game? Is that something you'll talk to him about?
SMITH: "For me, it's just communicate. I think the more I can communicate, the better I can communicate with him – whether it be run game, pass game, protections – the more that will help him. Treat it for what it is, we've got to go out and execute one play at a time, I'm not trying to build it up or make anything more out of it. But the better I can communicate with him, whether it be in the huddle, at the line, with protections, things like that, I think the easier it will be on him."
Q: What was your reaction when Larry Duvernay-Tardif got his contract extension and how have you seen him transform through the years?
SMITH: "One, really happy that we locked him up, and then happy for Larry, he's worked really hard. Not many guys make that transition successfully, to come down and really kind of learn the game a little bit as he goes as a young guy, and then to continue to work on his craft and perfect it. Early on it was very apparent that he had a lot of ability, but that's not always enough in this league. He certainly put in the work and the time to be a consistent player and it paid off for him. So happy for us that we got to lock him up for a while, and happy for him, you love to see hard work get rewarded."
Q: Travis Kelce has now been getting more and more attention from defenses for the past couple years. How have you seen him adapt his game to that so he can continue to get open and make plays?
SMITH: "I think the biggest thing is just identifying those and then having an answer. Identifying what they're doing to you, how they're playing you, and then have a comeback to it – how can I defeat this, how can I best defeat this? And then sometimes they're doubling you and sometimes the other guys have to win and you're doing your job by taking two (defenders). It's a mixture of those things. I think the biggest thing is just how good (Travis) Kelce is mentally at seeing all that stuff, seeing how teams play him, leverage, things like that. He seems to always have a plan to combat it."
Q: Do you have any thoughts on the extra responsibility that JJ Watt has chosen to take on to help Houston through his fundraising efforts?
SMITH: "Just from afar, it's hard for me to speak. I don't know a ton about what actually is going on there. But certainly from afar, the headlines of what I see, probably like most other people, it's remarkable the fundraising and attention he's helped bring to it. All of us are trying to focus on football and it's our livelihood and we can get caught up in it. Those guys are obviously dealing with a much bigger issue down there and to be able to juggle both is difficult. It's admirable, what they're doing, that entire area. Obviously JJ is getting a lot of headlines, but they're raising a ton of money that hopefully gets to go to really good use to people that really need it. Yeah, getting ready for the opener is hard on its own, certainly to be juggling something like that compounds things."
G LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF
Q: **How excited are you guys going up on national TV on Thursday?
DUVERNAY-TARDIF:"We are ready. It is going to be a great feeling. We have been preparing for that throughout training camp, throughout OTAs. We have four preseason games behind us. I think everybody in the locker room is looking forward to it."
Q:Do you think you guys have an advantage with the extra time off when playing someone like New England?
DUVERNAY-TARDIF:"Absolutely. In that regard, in terms of strategy, I trust 100 percent Coach Reid. He has been in the business a long time. I think my job as an O-lineman and the job of the whole offense is just to execute the game plan well."
Q:They have been very good against the run, how do you get the running game going?
DUVERNAY-TARDIF:"They have a pretty good run-stopping defense. Well, a good defense in general. I think for us the point of emphasis for us is to finish our block and execute the game plan and play every play with a purpose. I think when you go out there and your main focus is to dominate the guy in front of you while keeping your composure, that is a recipe for success."
S ERIC BERRY
Q: **How tough is it when you are going against the Patriots tight ends and knowing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are orchestrating it all?
BERRY:"Everybody has a hard job. Everybody has to hold their own and play good football. Any given time, he can go to any one of them. They are all solid players so you have to keep that in mind and just trust that every play you could be the guy that is getting the shot."
Q:What is your advice for the young guys that are playing for the first time in the national spotlight?
BERRY:"Just take it one play at a time. Understand that the game is going to have ups and downs, but just stay consistent. Continue to grow each play. Just focus."
Q:This game is built up, but you have 15 games after this, do the players have to down play it a little bit?
BERRY:"Nothing is down played. We have our own perspective in the building amongst each other and we have big expectations for this season, but it takes place one game at a time. We are going to put everything we have into this game and this game plan and take it from there."
LB DERRICK JOHNSON
Q: **Do you feel like you are back where you were before you got hurt last year?
JOHNSON:"We will see Thursday night. I think I am back to where I left off. At the same time, the more games I play, the more reps I get, the better I will be. I am ready."
Q:Are you expecting to see a lot of wrinkles that you haven't seen on film on Thursday?
JOHNSON:"Of course. You are going against the best QB ever and the things he possesses on the field. Even if you have a lot of film on him, you are still going to get a lot of wrinkles. But for the first game of the year, of course it is going to be a lot of adjusting during the game. And the best team that adjusts during the game usually has the most success."
Q:Looking back on the playoff game against New England, is there a reason you didn't play like you had the week before?
JOHNSON:"The game was still fairly close. They made more plays than us. We learned from that a couple years ago. But at the same time, every team is different. Every scheme is different during that year. We have the same core players. They did a good job of executing the plays better than we did. We were a step slow that game and, hopefully, we can make up that time during Thursday night."
LB JUSTIN HOUSTON
Q: **What are your expectations for yourself for Thursday night and beyond?
HOUSTON: "I just want to play as hard as I can and be the best player I can every play and every snap."
Q: What kind of opportunity is this for you guys Thursday night?
HOUSTON: "I think it's a great opportunity not only to see where we're at, but just our mindset. It's going to be a great atmosphere, it's going to be loud. Pretty much it's going to be like a playoff atmosphere when we go in there. So it's going to see where we're at mentally and to see where we're at on the field. It's going to be a big test for us."
Q: Individually does it mean a little more? Last time you were there it was for the playoff game, you weren't fully healthy. Now you're feeling better?
HOUSTON: "No, I don't think that has anything to do with it. It's the first game of the season. So that's what I'm focusing on. One game at a time, let's take care of business."
Q: What's your approach when you go against a guy like Tom Brady?
HOUSTON: "To hit him. Because the ball comes out so fast, he's a smart guy. My main thing is the defense, don't lose confidence in what you got going on because he's going to make plays – it's Tom Brady. Just got to stay together through four quarters."
WR TYREEK HILL
Q: **Last year, some of your biggest games of the year were in primetime. What is it about playing in these games that brings that out in you?
HILL: "Like I said last year, I just like playing under the lights because it reminds me so much of playing in front of my hometown, like Friday Night Lights. It's crazy, so I'm always trying to make that big play up under the lights because everyone's watching."
Q: How was this preseason different for you this year? Last year you came in as a rookie and were trying to prove yourself and it had to feel a little different?
HILL: "I wouldn't say it was too different, I was basically doing the same thing. Coach (Reid) added a little bit more to my plate, but that's what I get paid to do. I'm able to adjust and learn."
Q: As the season went on last year and you got more attention from defenses, what did you have to learn as a player to continue to get open and make plays? HILL: "I just had to study more tape on our opponents and then just go from there."