Welcome to CoachSpeak, our new feature here. Each week we sit down with an assistant coach for a question-and-answer session. Today: wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell ...
Q. There was a lot of talk after last season about the receivers improving their releases against press coverage. Have you seen what you wanted to see?
Bicknell: "We've had a lot of improvement in terms of releases and the plan that each player has going into press coverage. But truthfully, we haven't seen as much (press coverage). It may have something to do with the rules and with what people studied to stop us, or whatever their thought process was. We just haven't seen as much straight press coverage. I think we have improved in that area and that's helped us."
Q. Those rules were such a topic of conversation in the summer. Are they talked about at all in your room now?
Bicknell: "No. I think when it started we had to have discussions about what was going to happen to us and, more importantly, what we were going to be able to do to be able to combat. There was an emphasis on offensive pass interference also. It's not talked about as much. I don't think it's really a topic anymore. But I do think it's improved the game. We're able to run more routes. I think people will have to cover a little more honestly. I think it's really improved playing the position."
Q. You had limited time last year to work with Jeremy Maclin before his injury. Now that he's back, what are your thoughts on what you've seen from him this year versus the little bit of time you had with him last season?
Bicknell: "Last season we saw what type of player he could be and what type of player he could be in this offense. We saw how he went through the injury and we had an idea of how he was going to attack a game plan and a game. He attacked his injury. It's a credit to him. Coming back from that injury was not easy. Most people would say, 'Well, you're not going to quite be the same.' There is no doubt in my mind that he's better than he was and that's 100 percent up to him. I also think it's about the people that are here. He stayed here the whole time and he stayed involved in everything he could do in our meetings and he has come back and has been the player I thought he could be."
Q. What are some of the things that Riley Cooper brings to the offense that maybe fans don't see?
Bicknell: "I don't think anyone will ever be able to appreciate Riley the way a coach will. He comes to work every day. He's downfield. He's one of the guys we ask to do a lot of the different blocking things and all of the different times we might not give him the most glamorous job or the job that gives you the best statistic, but if you ask a coach, or you ask somebody who has to try to run an offense and establish ourselves to be a really good offense, he's as important as any of them and he's done a great job. I really think he's ahead of where he was a year ago and I think he will get stronger as we go on, too."
Q. Jordan Matthews seems like he has come in and learned a difficult position very quickly. How is he coming along?
Bicknell: "He's exactly what we thought he was. We went out and spent a lot of time, our whole organization – our scouts do an unbelievable job, (general manager) Howie Roseman, Coach (Chip) Kelly, (offensive coordinator) Pat Shurmur, all of us – we went out and tried to identify a type of player, a type of person, the skill set, the guy that we wanted. Jordan came down to being the guy. We looked at him as 'that's the guy we want.' He has been everything that we scouted, everything that we thought he was. I haven't been around too many rookies that can handle as much as he has handled."
Q. What is Josh Huff doing to impress you?
Bicknell: "The first thing about Josh is, when you watch him on special teams, when you watch him run some routes that he hasn't gotten the ball, he is an explosive, fast, very physical, very strong football player. Rookie years, when you're only given eight games, and really he wasn't because he was banged up and hurt, you don't always get a chance to say, 'Josh is this' and 'Josh is that.' I've been very impressed with him, also. He's a very intelligent player. He understands our system and does the things that we ask him to do very well. He didn't catch a ball in Houston and that's going to happen. He gets on to the next play."
Q. How about Jeff Maehl and Brad Smith?
Bicknell: "I looked at the special teams and I've always said that our fourth and fifth wide receiver, I want them to be the best special teams players on the team. Now we're four, five, six. I look up the other day and Jeff Maehl is one of the top guys on our special teams against the Houston Texans. And when you have a guy who goes down at any position and have someone like Jeff who can go out and execute any play exactly as you want it, that's a real important thing. He's been a big plus.
"I've known Brad a long time and he's a true pro. I'm looking forward to seeing him come back from this injury and help us."