Welcome to CoachSpeak, which runs each Monday here. We sit down with an assistant coach for a question-and-answer session. Today: offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland ...
Q. What has it been like for you with all of the injuries and the challenges you have had with so many different starting lineup combinations along the offensive line?
Stoutland: "Not that you anticipate this happening, but during the course of a season you have a mindset that the players you have, that you are working with every day, you want to maximize every day and every meeting that you have, every session of training, because if something does happen during the course of a season, players are prepared and are ready to go. We put a major emphasis on that."
Q. What are the positives you take out of it? You've had a lot of players step up and play well.
Stoutland: "The good thing about it is that they've done well when they've gone in to play, and then when we've gotten the injured player back on the field, we have another player who is available who has all of that game experience. You can't substitute that game speed and that game experience. You can't practice it. We try to prepare during our training sessions like that, but you can't get to that level of speed until you're in a game."
Q. From your standpoint, how important and how long does it take to develop continuity along the offensive line and why is it so critical?
Stoutland: "Because of the communication that takes place. Prior to every play, there's a protection call, whether it's a run play, there are a lot of things that are going on. Obviously our center, Jason Kelce, starts the process with that. When he went down (with a sports hernia injury) and David Molk went in, he did a really good job for us with that. But it's not easy to do and you've got to have everybody on the right page. If you don't have all five players – and a lot of times the tight end is involved and the quarterback is listening to the protection call and he's going to direct some things, too – but it's all got to be tied together. When you have the same five guys, they get used to hearing the same things back and forth and it's just a way of life for them. When you have new players in the game every single game, there's a learning curve."
Q. What do you take away from working with left tackle Jason Peters on a daily basis?
Stoutland: "I'm just blessed to have the opportunity to coach such a great player and great person. He's as good a person as he is a player. He is an old-school guy. He's a 'yes sir, no sir' guy and it's great to have him around, obviously, for his talent, but he also does a great job with a lot of the younger players. There is a major emphasis for the younger players to develop and grow and I could see him one day being a coach, because he loves to teach the things he's been able to learn over the years."
Q. Even with the success Jason has had, there isn't an ounce of complacency with him, is there?
Stoutland: "That's not who Jason is. He loves the game so much and I think that's why he's been able to be so productive for so long. He truly loves the game."
Q. You had Lane Johnson as this piece of clay, a talented piece of clay as a rookie. How much progress have you seen from him in a year and a half?
Stoutland: "A lot. Number one, he knows this offense now, he knows this system, he understands the different calls and different techniques that we're utilizing. There is still room to grow, believe me, but you watch him in protections and you can see how fluid he is and how sudden he is when he has to move and change direction, and it's because he knows what he's doing."
Q. Andrew Gardner has had success here in his three starts, two at tackle and one at guard. Why has it been successful for him here?
Stoutland: "Andrew Gardner will do exactly what you tell him to do. He's a very thought-out player. He thinks things through. He understands his angles. He understands where he needs to be in protection. He puts himself in the proper spot, whether it's a run or a protection, to be successful."
Q. Along those same lines, David Molk never really found an anchor in his career and then you sign him and he's playing and the offense is moving the football. What kind of progress has he made?
Stoutland: "David is a very explosive player. If you talk to the coaches in the weight room they will tell you that he is one of the most explosive players on our team. He's got the quick-twitch suddenness to him. He utilizes his hands and he's getting better at that. The big part of it first was to understand. Once you give him a few reps at something, he's got it."
Q. Why is Jason Kelce so important to the success you've had up front?
Stoutland: "He's a born leader. I don't care whether he's played linebacker, which he did in college at one point, that's just his mentality. He's the perfect personality of what you want your center to be. And it's not just his personality and the way he conducts things and takes charge, but it's also his ability to move and to burst. He's the whole package. Now that he's on the field after the injury, he's just going to get better and better down the stretch."
Q. What do you want to see down the stretch? What is your daily mission?
Stoutland: "At this time of the year, I don't care whether you're in the National Football League or in college or in high school, I think what has a tendency to happen with all players is that over the course of a season, the grind of the season, a lot of the little things become kind of not as important. And I don't want that ever to be the case here. When you take care of the little things, the big things really do take care of themselves. We still work on our footwork. We still go in the trap chute and go work on the angles and the punches and all those things with our hands. We still work on the little things. Even if it is a three- or four- or five-minute period in a day, we're going to still do those things over and over and over. I don't want our players to lose that part of the game. I think that will give us a little bit of an edge going down the stretch here."
Check out our previous CoachSpeak features with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell and running backs coach Duce Staley ...