Welcome to CoachSpeak, which runs each Monday here. We sit down with an assistant coach for a question-and-answer session. Today: Inside linebackers coach Rick Minter ...
Q. Do you ever think back to what you thought you might have had from a personnel standpoint, back in August?
Minter: "Next man up is our motto. If you think about who would've been our guys, and now injuries come in to play, it would be mind-boggling. But to know who we have now is who we have, and they're playing extremely well and doing a great job. We hate to lose DeMeco Ryans. He's our captain. He's our leader. Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho step up. Mychal Kendricks comes back from the injury and has played really well since the injury."
Q. Mychal Kendricks. You got him last year, teaching him a new position. Compare him from then to now.
Minter: "If you look at our defense, we're playing better this year, and I think you have to give credit to the fact that consistency and continuity and doing it all over again, not changing week to week, has helped a guy like Mychal. He can make up for a lot of things just by getting from point A to point B as fast as maybe anybody on our team."
Q. When you're drawing up a game plan, is your idea to try to get him in space as much as possible?
Minter: "Well, like when you saw us against (Seattle quarterback) Russell Wilson, we used what we call a spy on the quarterback. Let the defensive line go. They have some freedom up front when we're doing this sort of hugging technique, the spying technique with the linebacker. Just let them eat, delay and go. Pick up the scraps. The scraps were Russell Wilson running around. Mychal played well. He did a great job running him down, forcing his hand. Never really sacked him, but had a bunch of hurries and pressures and kept the game in the balance for us."
Q. How has Mychal come along from a maturity standpoint, as a leader, as somebody who has to grow into being a really outstanding player?
Minter: "He's made great strides, I'll be honest with you. A year ago, it was such a calming force to have DeMeco line up beside him. And now, coincidentally, we lose DeMeco, Casey's done a great job, Acho's done a great job and Mychal has continued his role. The natural assumption would be, you've got two guys, they're two starters. When one goes down, the other becomes the man. That's not the way our system operates. We like to say our MIKE linebacker is our point linebacker. He makes the calls."
Q. Not sure many fans would've predicted that Casey Matthews would be on the team, and playing so well. Let's talk about Casey and how far he's come.
Minter: "I've known Casey since about 2005, 2006. He was a high school guy out in California, and we recruited him when I was a defensive coordinator for Notre Dame. I really liked him then. When I was at Marshall in 2008, I was working with Jerry Azzinaro. In 2009, Jerry leaves for Oregon and joins Chip, who becomes the head coach. Azzinaro and I maintain our friendship, which actually has a lot to do with me being here today. He says, 'Oh, you won't believe this guy we have out here at Oregon. He runs our whole show; we can do all kinds of check-with-mes and blitz-with-mes.' And I said to him, 'That wouldn't be a guy by the name of Casey Matthews, would it?' And he goes, 'How did you know that?' So I told him the story of how I had recruited him at Notre Dame. I love the guy. I love the family and he has a lot of things going for him. He's a guy who's an example of knowledge is strength, and knowledge is power, and confidence exudes into success.
"Casey's always in the right place at the right time. He's got great football instincts. He's got pedigree. He's got a sense of where to be. He's got intelligence on how to set the fronts. We didn't have any drop of at all, to be honest with you. When (Ryans) went down and Casey stepped in - and Emmanuel's got very similar traits in the leadership and setting the points, giving the right things - we haven't dropped off a beat right there. I'd like everybody to be a little faster than they are, but he ends up in the right place at the right time."
Q. Marcus Smith II, what's important for him from this season and heading into next season?
Minter: "I know people are dying to see Marcus a little bit because he just hasn't exuded the qualities of a No. 1 pick's instant impact. He's really been a developmental player. Had he stayed at outside backer, he probably still wouldn't be playing a lot. Because of the emergence of our Super 3 out there, who have played great - I mean BG (Brandon Graham), Trent (Cole) and Connor (Barwin), really all three have come on - so it would've been hard to play out there regardless. The opportunity came, when Mychal went down, to move him inside and just see, just use it as an experiment, because we weren't going to hire anybody else.
"We weren't going to expand the roster. We had a guy on the roster, so it was like picking up a guy off the street in my room. He's a guy who knew a little bit about what we were doing. He's got some abilities. It's an entirely different world to go from outside to inside, and that's where people have to be fair. We didn't draft him as an inside linebacker. We're just seeing if he can play inside backer, particularly during this emergency period of time.
"We think he has some attributes that involve some planning. He needs a good offseason weight training program, put on a few more pounds, get more assured of himself. But playing in my room really is going to expand his knowledge, vastly, of what we do, whether it be inside or outside. After another season of offseason training, OTAs, Training Camp, I'm sure his dust will settle where it does. Whether it's inside or outside, depends on what happens with the roster. But I've been pleased with him. He's a great young man. He's eager to learn. I wish we could get him in there a little bit more, but it's hard to take Mychal off the field now. We're rolling in that linebacker room."
Q. What role has DeMeco played since his injury?
Minter: "It's good that we keep DeMeco in the building. He's still in our room. And I keep referring to him now and again. I know he can talk to these guys on the side. Just the confidence and the calmness; he was always that to Mychal, and I know he stays that way. He knows that Casey and Acho know what they're doing, so it's not a matter of babying those guys and saying, 'Hey, here's what you do.' He's just there for moral support for everybody, and I love that the guys admire him. Here's a guy rolling around on a little scooter right now, a fallen leader so to speak, but he's got enough pride that he doesn't let that bother him or slow him down.
"He comes in to work every day, does exactly what's asked of him, and he'll do more and more as his rehab begins to take hold. Here's a guy who's been through this before, but he's not embarrassed by it. He's a proud man and we love him greatly. Our guys admire him for wanting to be around and we love having him around. He's a great presence on our team."