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What We Learned From Thursday's Media Availability

Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton, Co-Offensive Coordinator Brad Childress, Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub, LB Derrick Johnson and DT Dontari Poe spoke with the media on Thursday


Q:What are the difficulties with going up against an offense with depth in tight ends and formations like your own?

SUTTON:"I think anytime you have groups of personnel that can play different ways, it obviously makes it a little bit more challenging on defense. You have to encompass more thoughts on that. Of course, San Diego has been like that for a number of years. They've had some really good tight ends and [Antonio] Gates is one of the special ones in our league, so you're dealing that with that. You have more runs and  sometimes with the wide receiver formations, but I think the unique thing about most of the teams that do it, these tight ends can play like wide receivers, so they can morph into that three wide receiver type of personnel grouping, and that's the real challenge. Of course, that's one of the things they're looking for – who's the matchups? Who can we handle? Who can we get on who? It makes you work hard. I don't want to say it's the norm, but it's fairly common in our league. Like anything, the more you see it, the more you get used to it, and you just have to decide how you're treating the formations."

Q:Is that one of the more difficult things for you on how to defend that with personnel you put on the field?

SUTTON:"Yeah, I think you always have a feel for that. Like every group that goes out there, you're matching the situation and the group together. There's always two factors that come into your thought process as you get ready to put your personnel group out there. Who are they sending? What's your situation? Where are you at on the field, down, position, field position? All those things factor into how you end up playing in that particular group. It often varies during the game and of course, it varies by game, based on what your strengths are and what their strengths are."

Q:What allows D.J. to play the way that he does? How rare is that?

SUTTON:"Well, I think anytime you're in the NFL, you're looking for guys who can play – from the linebacker standpoint – you're looking for a three-down player, because again, so many of these personnel groupings can play out like the wide receiver groupings that you see on third-down and that. It forces you to do that, and you want to be able to do that. Really, a year ago, or two years ago, [Josh] Mauga really did the same thing. He played in 1,000-some snaps, and so I think we've been lucky to have guys that are physical enough to stay in there in the running game, but skilled enough to cover and do those things. Derrick [Johnson] has always had those attributes about him since he came to the league from Texas. He's always been a guy himself that can do a lot of things for you. He can matchup with tight ends, he can match up running backs, splits, cover, good run defender. That's a real blessing for us to have him. I know that for sure."

Q:How does having the changes within the linebacker group change what you're doing on the defense?

SUTTON:"I don't foresee it changing anything. We have our system and a lot of other players that are developed in that system. So, we haven't really changed anything dramatically of what we do. Every game has its own flavor based on what you think going in and what happens during the game. You know, as we say the enemy has a vote on this too. They don't have to do exactly what we say we're going to do. You got to be flexible and adjust, and certainly in an opening game that's probably even more true."  

Q:If you had to compare and contrast Justin March and Josh Mauga, how would you do so?SUTTON:"Josh has played a lot longer -- that's one thing. So he has the experience. I knew Josh when he first came into the league so I was able to see how he approached the game and developed into the player he is today. I've really seen Justin start down that same path. He obviously doesn't have the experience that Josh had. One of the things that he's always done since his first day here, he's always had a knack for being around the football. Whether it's tipped, causing a fumble, reaching in, etc. He's got the natural instinct that you want to see in every player. We're excited to see him play and we've got high hopes for him."

Q:How about Phillip Gaines' recent practice performances? How has he done? How has the corner spot changed in depth after Marcus Peters?SUTTON:"I think Phillip, like we've talked about many times at camp, is his continued improvement each week. Most importantly, he's comfortable doing so. I don't mean that from an injury standpoint, he's feeling confident and fine there. I think he's feeling more comfortable as a player and his reaction time is improving. That's where I think he's really making some strides and he's feeling good about it."

Q:Is Philip Rivers as good as he's ever been? SUTTON:"Yes. I can say that. He's an outstanding quarterback and as you know, one of the most competitive and fired up guys to go against. As a coach, you love and hate to play him. He's a competitive, all-out football player. He can make some of the best throws from the worst angles. He has that unique ability to release the ball from any angle. He's been that way since he entered the league. He's really an outstanding player who moves in the pocket better than people realize. His ability to scramble in the pocket to make throws is the real deal."


Q:What's different about this year's group of tight ends with the addition of Ross Travis?CHILDRESS: "Anytime you're in those three tight end sets, you can be powerful. All those guys in that group have the ability to detach from formations and create mismatches with defensive backs extended away from formations. Anytime you can get those types of players that can do both things well is great. All those guys can move away and play tight."

Q:What does Ross bring to the table now that it looks like he'll be getting some snaps?CHILDRESS: "He adds some athleticism. Even though he's a little bit of an unknown quantity, even though he was with us all of last year, with another year of being in the system we'll be able to find some different things for him to do."

Q:Would you still refer to Ross as a 'Push and Pester' type guy at tight end? CHILDRESS: "I think he's improved in that. When you're in shorts, that's all you can do is push and pester. You can't really knock people around. He's playing pretty well underneath his pads and I think he's improved in that area."

Q:What is Albert Wilson capable of on the inside?CHILDRESS: "Albert is a strong receiver. He has the ability and speed up feel, and he's got a good feel for the position. You have to be able to work off of safeties, corners and linebackers in there. It's something he was capable of doing last year, he just wasn't doing it. It's nice to have him in there. He's powerful and he does good things in there."

Q:With it being an official game week, do you feel a different atmosphere? Are the guys getting fired up for Sunday? CHILDRESS: "I think so. That's what they do for a living and everything kind of elevates here during a real game-plan week and a week of installations."

Q:How much fun is it to game-plan with this many offensive weapons? CHILDRESS: "It's an embarrassment of riches, it really is. It is fun. There's different guys and we try to go about it and find different ways to get different guys the ball -- on any given read. It could be drawn up for one direction but Alex [Smith] has the final say in all of that. We don't want to force it to someone who shouldn't get it." 

Q:How rare is it to have so many guys who know the entire offense, and not just their sole position?CHILDRESS: "I think Jeremy [Maclin] said it well in that when you come into this thing, you're fixated on learning your one spot and what you do along that line. As you start to open and grow a little you start to want to know what the outside and inside guys have. That ultimately makes everyone better when the entire unit understands what's going on with the inside and outside guys and how they're playing off of you."

Q:Are the communication channels about as good as they can be with this team? CHILDRESS: "Yeah, we're big about over-clarifying and communicating clarity. There's no such thing as over communicating. Alex [Smith] is a great communicator, whether it's a guy 20 yards away spread out or it's a tackle with his hand down. Communication is very good right now."

Q:How important is that communication? CHILDRESS: "It's everything. Whether it's disseminating information inside the huddle with some of our wordier plays and looking at the guys and pointing at the ones he's talking to. Or if it's up at the line of scrimmage and he's able to do the things he does with the wide receivers that have changed since we got out of the huddle."

Q:With another year of experience under his belt, how much of a vocal change have you seen from Chris Conley and his involvement?CHILDRESS: "Chris is a very smart guy. I'm not going to tell you he's a big vocal guy. He's more of the type that practices hard and leads by example. He can be very eloquent, even though we don't ask him to do that very often. The thing that was impressive about him last year was that he was a three-position type guy. Going into New England, he played all the wide receiver positions at 'X', 'Y' and 'Zebra'. He was a guy that backed all three positions from week five or six. He's a year better and he has a full understanding of what's going on around him."


Q:Does it feel any different now that it's game week and we're into the regular season?TOUB: "Yes. The best thing about it is that there's a game tonight. I told the guys this morning, 'Let's watch this game and get a little excited.' I know they're excited and you can feel it in practice. The intensity is a lot higher and everyone knows they need to step it up."

Q:How do you expect teams to adjust to the new kickoff rule?TOUB: "Yes absolutely. I think there will be some teams to high kick it down to the goal line and force a return. No one wants to give up those 25 yards. To me, that's like giving up. I'm not trying to indicate what we're trying to do but I think that's what it is. I think there's going to be some teams that boot it down close to the goal line and force you to make a decision on taking it out."

Q:Can you imagine there being a time in the NFL where there isn't a kickoff? TOUB: "No. I think we'll make adjustments if needed. There's ways you can scheme to make it safer."

Q:How so? TOUB: "In the way that it might look more like a punt return down the road. I just don't see a reason or situation where they would take the kickoff out. The end-of-the-game situations where you need an onside kick, what do you do? Just give the other team the ball back and the game is over? There's got to be that option to be able to have an onside kick at the end."


Q: Do you notice a difference, is this the week that everyone just gets more intense, more excited, more anxious, more anything?

JOHNSON: "Yeah, everything counts now. From going through OTA's, mini camps, training camps, preseason, all for this moment. It's the starts of something great."

Q: And you're actually planning for somebody?

JOHNSON: "Exactly, it's a real game plan. Looking at San Diego, what works, what doesn't work? We know them well, they know us well, and they're a divisional opponent. It's going to be a close game, it's going to come down to the wire -- it always does."

Q: Since you know Philip Rivers so well, what is it about him that even when he's had the worst cast characters around him, he's been solid, he's been good? What do you look for when you start?

JOHNSON: "His decision making is amazing. He's a guy that puts his team in the best position possible. Philips track record speaks for itself. He's a proven winner in this league. He's beaten me more times than I've beaten him. I know the past few years we've had the upper hand but trust me he's going to have his team ready to go. Philip is one of the great ones."

Q: How's working alongside Justin March coming along?

JOHNSON: "Justin March is coming along great. Our communication is getting better. He's a guy that wants to learn all that he can. He asks me and Josh Mauga questions galore, he's a young that's very hungry and I'm excited to see what he does on Sunday. We know he can make plays. He came from my spot from being that guy that can be an overlap runner, kind of free a lot. Linebacker is pretty head on collision. The plays are a little different from the real position and he's taking the challenge and he's done really well."


Q: When you look at Philip Rivers what's the best way to prepare for a quarterback like that?

POE: "You just have to get ready for a team. One person can't do it, one person can't be off their game. Everybody has to be ready."

Q: Do some of the key absences that you all have right now; Josh Mauga and Justin Houston, does that put more added pressure on your unit?

POE: "We put the pressure on ourselves as the D-line in a way, no matter who it is. Even though some guys are missing, we still put the pressure on ourselves no matter what the situation is."

Q: What's going to be the key to you having a successful defense this weekend?

POE: "Playing fast, playing physical, good leverage, and just playing hard."

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