Welcome to CoachSpeak, which runs each Monday here. We sit down with an assistant coach for a question-and-answer session. Today: outside linebackers coach Bill McGovern ...
Q. What kind of things are you seeing in the development of your outside linebackers – Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham?
Bill McGovern: "It's their second year in the defense and you obviously see how much more comfortable they are in the scheme and as a result, how productive they've been. They all work very, very hard and they've learned some of the little things it takes to get better in this defense. They understand the coverages better and the relationship within every part of our defensive group. The effort has always been there and this season all of them have really been complete players."
Q. Trent spent eight seasons with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. He makes this move to linebacker and has still been a force. How does that happen?
McGovern: "You have to give him all the credit in the world. One of the things Trent brings to the table is his competitive spirit. He wants to be good no matter where he plays. If you put him at safety, he would work his way into being a good player there. He is one of those players who just loves the game of football and being the master of his craft. He's special in that way. He loves hard work and kind of thrives on it. He takes everything on full speed."
Q. Did you think some of the physical demands of making that positional switch would be challenging for Trent to overcome?
McGovern: "Once I got to know Trent, very early on in our first OTA's (in 2013) I came to a quick conclusion that Trent was going to get this down. That's just the kind of person he is. He's relentless. It took him a little bit of time to see how the game is changed from that vantage point, but he just prepared so much and worked so hard that once it clicked in, the natural football instincts took over and Trent, as we know, is a great football player."
Q. You watch the game from the coaches' booth and you review every play. When you watch Connor, what stands out?
McGovern: "Really just what a complete player he is. He does everything well. He sets the edge for us. He rushes the passer and he drops back into coverage. He's an unselfish player, completely. Connor's success getting to the quarterback is part of the overall improvement within our defense. The coverage on the back end has improved and everyone on the front is in sync and we're getting home more. That has always been part of Connor's game. We haven't changed our defense and asked to him go rush the passer more. It's just that every part of the defense is meshing and we have that little bit of extra time to get to the quarterback. Connor has such great football intelligence and when you combine that IQ with his length, it just makes us a better football team. Sometimes we can get him on matchups that we think will benefit us. He studies so hard and he's so prepared and so when it gets to gameday Connor plays within the scheme and he's very productive."
Q. What has Brandon Graham shown you this season?
McGovern: "He's one of the guys we are really excited about because he made such an investment in the offseason to improve himself and get ready for the season has paid off. His approach, his demeanor and his conditioning this season has helped him contribute so much to our defense. You see now a player who bought into what we are doing in every way and who has played well not only on defense but on special teams. He plays both linebacker spots for us, he plays with his hand on the ground and he plays away from the ball and he fits what we're doing."
Q. What is the difference, if you could explain in laymen's terms, between putting your hand on the ground and standing up to start a play?
McGovern: "From a player's perspective, when you put your hand on the ground to start, you basically know you're going forward 99 percent of the time. Your eye level is down and you're looking at the hip of the offensive tackle and then you see the ball. When you're standing up, you're off the line of scrimmage and your vision area expands. You don't want your eyes to drift and you don't want your eyes to see different things than they should see and giving a player false reads. Two years into this, players like Trent and Brandon have developed their eyes and they trust what they see and we've really seen the positives that come with that."