Jerry Angelo from his sit down with media on Saturday at the combine:
It looks like a pretty good draft. It looks like the defensive line position will be real strong. We had a lot of receivers come out as well as the running backs, so those two positions look like they're going to plentiful too. The linebackers should be real strong due to the fact that I thought potentially four could have come out last year and were thinking about it and they all four stayed in. So that looks like it's going to be pretty deep as well. Those are the positions that I think will be most fertile going into this draft. There's probably not as good a crop of DBs as we've seen in the past. Defensive tackles, just a few ... it seems like every year there are fewer of those guys, given the fact that probably more emphasis is put on the pass rush and they become a little bit less important. Again it's a strong draft with the offensive line, in particular the tackles. I thought last year as we saw was a big year and this year could be every bit as last year, and in part I think it's a testament to what the colleges are doing. With the tackles, it's all about pass protection. It's a little harder to find guards. You don't hardly see any in a three-point stance anymore. It's shaping up to be to be a pretty good draft. There are some quarterbacks, all underclassmen, that people are talking about right now. They have to go through the process a little bit early because they weren't able to do as much during the year given that they were underclassmen."
HOW MANY PLAYERS FROM HOW MANY DIFFERENT POSITIONS WILL YOU BE PREPARED TO TAKE WITH YOUR FIRST PICK?
That's in part what we're looking for to fill a need or upgrade, more so this year than what we probably had in past years. We have more positions where we want to create more competition, probably have a few more holes than what we've had in past years, so that's going to be open. The good news is that when you give yourself the latitude on draft day, then you could ultimately get the best player. Everybody says they want to get the best player, but this is the best player with a need. We just have more areas of concern this year. In saying that, it should put us in a position where we can really get the best player.
HOW DOES CRABTREE'S INJURY NOT GET EXPOSED UNTIL THE COMBINE? COULD HE DROP?
I think so. We see it. It's not uncommon. We had I believe David Terrell was in a similar situation. We saw Jonathan Stewart. When we bring them in, finite is the optimum word in terms of what we do with the players, particularly with the physicals. I'm not saying that they don't get good care at the colleges, but obviously there are some things that aren't recognized until they get here. We do the A-to-Z and that really was the genesis of why we set the Combine up was for the medicals. Once we got them all here, somebody said, "You know what, it would be sure nice for them to run a 40," and then everything else kind of took on a whole new dimension as what we're seeing now. It's unusual. It will impact him somewhat because there are very few players to my recollection that you draft in the first round without a 40 time. Only two come to mind: Peyton Manning and Heath Miller were the only two players that I remember in recent memory coming in and getting drafted in the first round. This one will be interesting because he's projected to go so high, and saying that, are you going to draft somebody that I don't want to say his speed's in question, but he is a big man and we just want to know how fast. So, it'll be a concern.
SO IF HE DROPS, WILL YOU TAKE HIM?
It creates another option. We try to prepare for everybody like everybody does. We really try to prepare because you don't know what's going to come up on draft day. If there are any real red flags on a guy, we'll know them before draft day and then we'll have to assess what are the chances of that player getting to us. Is that a possibility given that scenario? Certainly. You have to look at it that way.
IS THERE A FREE AGENT FREE SAFETY OUT THERE?
We have somebody to line up there. We have Steltz, so to say it's a need is premature. We do have somebody. We like Craig. I thought he did a nice job when he did play last year. He did a very good job on special teams. Why do I bring special teams up? Because players that usually show on special teams, when their number's called usually play well too. Danieal, we put a lot of time into him last year at nickel and from what we hear in our meetings, Lovie would like to keep him there. But he's still counted as a safety. So we do have players there. Obviously Payne's there. In my number counts, we have three safeties. There are going to be more positions that we're going to have to look at this year in the draft and free agency and we'll just see what we can accomplish, if nothing else create better depth and/or competition if we can't get a for sure, frontline player so-to-speak.
IS JOHN TAIT'S RETIREMENT GOING TO IMPACT DRAFT PLAN/COULD YOU TAKE A TACKLE IN FIRST ROUND TWO YEARS IN A ROW?
Yeah, you can, for the reasons that you're touching on. We like Chris. John has said he's going to retire. In all likelihood that's probably going to happen. But that's not a certainty yet until the paperwork is turned in. That door isn't 100 percent closed. We've got to look at that. We're talking to John St. Clair. We certainly like John. We've got to create some opportunities there for us. We'll just have to in positions where you potentially have a need let it play itself out. We'll see how things unfold.
WITH A HIGH BUST RATE FOR QBS AND WRS IN FIRST ROUND AND THE FACT THAT ALL THE TOP GUYS AT THOSE POSITIONS ARE UNDERCLASSMEN, DOES THAT MAKE IT EVEN MORE OF A GAMBLE?
For the most part I think anytime ... it depends on the position. I think a great player regardless of being a senior or a junior, if he has a talent and he has the aptitude and passion to play, he's going to come in and play pretty quickly. Some positions are easier to project. We know that with running backs. We saw that with our team and we saw that with other teams. The receiver position, there's a little bit more of a maturation period. Certainly there is with the quarterback position; we know that. The receiver in part is affected by the quarterback. You've got a good quarterback, the receiver will develop. Continuity of scheme ... it's unfortunate ... you only have to look at Alex Smith. He's probably had a coordinator every year, so keeping a staff together and a system together on offense is probably more important to the skill players--quarterbacks and receivers in particular--than it is maybe to defensive players. So I think there's probably something to that.
WERE YOU OK WITH NO CHANCES ON THE OFFENSIVE COACHING STAFF?
We were fine. Lovie was very comfortable with the staff. We hit our valleys during the season with the offense. We've got to do a better job--coaches, players--we've got to get better competition there too. It's collective. It's not looking at one thing. There's enough to go around. We can get better. We need to get better. But fine with the staff.
RON RIVERA WAS FIRED AFTER REACHING SUPER BOWL XLI. WERE YOU OK WITH BABICH RETAINING HIS POSITION AFTER THE LAST TWO SEASONS?
This isn't the time to get into that. I'm looking where we're at now and moving forward. If you want to live in the past and talk about that, you could ask that question. This is not a time to address those things. We made decisions on players, we made decisions on coaches, we moved on. Is every decision we make a right decision? I can't say that. It's a tough business, but e very decision we make is in the best interest of the football team going forward. So anything we've done in the past was done in our best interest looking at it collectively from the organization and the football team.
WITH ROD MARINELLI, DO YOU RELY ON HIM TO MOLD CURRENT PLAYERS OR DO YOU HAVE TO GET HIM BETTER TALENT?
In our situation, it starts with our present cast. We've got a pretty good nucleus. Disappointed that we weren't able to get more consistency with the pass rush--pressure, sacks, etc. Rod's I feel an excellent football coach. I think he's going to get the most out of the players and hopefully they can take another step collectively as a group and individually. I don't feel any reason why they can't. Some have higher ceilings than others, but I feel that will be an improved group. I like the way our defensive staff is shaping up, and I'm counting on the fact that we're going to do a better job of coaching, and that in itself is going to make us a better football team, irrelevant of what player personnel that we infuse in our football team this year.
14 PLAYERS WERE LOCKED UP WITH THE FRANCHISE TAG, HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOUR FREE AGENT PLAN?
Me personally, it's hard for me to go into an offseason and be relying on the free agent marketplace. It's so tough now. It's a supply and demand business. It's not free agency that's hurt football, it's been expansion. With 32 teams it's tough to generate the number of quality players that each team wants, and then you bring in injuries, you bring in coaching changes, scheme changes, everything is different. So when you multiply that over and over again, it is very tough with free agency. I think what those teams that franchise players are saying is what's out in the marketplace if I lose, what do I replace him with and what's the replacement cost? I think it's a domino effect. Everybody is kind of taking that stance and I'm understanding of it. So I don't really look at free agency like we did way back when when there were going to be probably a=2 0pretty good pool of players. There are going to be some players. You have to pick the right player. What you really have to know, you have to know who your team is in terms of its identity. You've really got to know your player profile, what you're looking for in positions because there's not going to be anybody out there that's going to be a perfect player and you're trying to get a square peg in a square hole, and you have to be patient with it. With all the attrition that we have with the staffs this year, there's probably going to be some attrition on the rosters. There always has been. Teams go from a 4-3 to a 3-4, teams want to do something different offensively, and then you have to look at these players in a finite way and maybe you can get somebody in there that can come in here and help you create more competition, depth and maybe a starter if you have a real need. I just feel like you have to be patient in free agency. It's not nirvana.
CAN YOU MAKE A DENT IN YOUR NEEDS IN FREE AGENCY BEFORE THE DRAFT?
It's hard to say that right now. We won't know officially for another week who's going to be out there. We have a pretty good idea. Again, I don't go into free agency with a sense of desperateness. We've paid handsomely. What you have to do you've got to do. We've created a plan ... When I'm talking to you now, I feel better about what we're doing than I did a week after the season because we've had the time to evaluate the football team, we've had time to talk, and again, we're much more in a pragmatic state of mind and we're not reacting emotionally.
DID HUNCHES COME TO FRUITION DURING MEETINGS?
Because we've been together for a good while, not a lot is going to come out of anybody's opinion that's going to be shocking. I pretty much know for the most part how the coaches feel about our players. But there are certain things that we definitely needed to flush out and make sure we were all on the same page when we did do that, for no other than when we make a decision it has to be a sound decision. Not everybody's going to agree 100 percent, and certainly you have to be respectful of everybody's opinion. But in the end we all agree on what we need, we all agree on what we have, and what we need to do to get better. And we all do understand this to, that we all have to do everything we can to make it work. So we're all on the same page there. To me, that's the key to evaluating the football team.
WHAT ABOUT THE QB SITUATION AND WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT KYLE AFTER THE SEASON?
I could see where you would run with what I said. What I did is I wanted to embellish the importance of the quarterback position. That's what I wanted to make sure everybody came away with. I know there was a lot of talk about receivers, there was a lot of talk about the offensive line, in particular the tackle position, which I'm very understanding of. I'm not putting my head in the sand and saying we're not looking at those positions either. But we have to get the quarterback position stabilized. That's first and foremost. That's what we have to do. So we talked quite a bit about that. I feel the course we're taking is a good course and a sound course. We spent a goodly amount doing it. We all believe in Kyle. We feel very strongly Kyle's got a pretty good track record as a starter. We need to do some things to help him and he needs to do some things to get better. But we do feel good about him. When you bring somebody in from the outside to create competition, to have potentially co-starters, that takes away reps from both guys, so that retards the progress potentially of both players. It certainly doesn't do anything for those backup type guys that you'd like to continue to develop. There are only so many reps. There are only so many practices and you want to maximize on those. Sure, you would like to say, throw the ball out and best man wins, but we just don't have that time. We can't afford that. We have to make determinations. We did and I feel real good. Is that to close the door on something, whatever that something might be? No, we're never going to close the door. But I feel good right now with the plan that we put in place and moving forward with is a sound plan, and when I say a sound plan it's a winning plan.
DOES VASHER NEED TO PICK UP HIS GAME? IS HE A STARTER?
Well, he has to. I don't know where he is now. I touched on that. He has to re-establish himself, he';s competing to start. We talked about that, he's got to take his game to another level. I didn't see anything physically speaking that would tell me personally that he can't, but he's got to get it going. He's had some injuries that's kind of retarded some of the things maybe that we're used to seeing from him, but he hasn't been the guy that we've been accustomed to seeing and certainly not the guy that when we gave him his contract extension. He needs to be a better player. He knows that, I feel strongly he's going to accept that challenge and we're going to see a much better Nathan Vasher.
DID HE HIT A COMFORT LEVEL WITH HIS CONTRACT?
I'm not going to put myself on the player's ... I could speak for what I see. I'm not going to get into being a psychiatrist. I've got enough things that I have to deal with. He knows what he has to do, he';s a good person, highly competitive, all the things that he needs to do to be the player we want him to be he can be, and that's assuming he stays healthy.
THE OFFENSE IS SUPPOSED TO GET BETTER BECAUSE YOU HAVE YOUNG PLAYERS IN KEY SPOTS. THE DEFENSE IS OLDER AND ESTABLISHED. HOW IS IT GOING TO GET BETTER?
Two things. I think attitude and coaching I think both those things could get our defense back and going and being a very good defense. Do we want to infuse it with more talent,, yes we do and we're going to be looking at some positions on defense to do that, but I certainly feel like we have a pretty good nucleus and there's no reason to believe that we can't play good defense this year and be the defense, maybe not what we were a few years ago but certainly be a more consistent defense and be a more opportunistic defense. I feel very strongly about that, and it starts with the front. There's no reason to believe that we don't have the talent up front to do that, and the front drives the train, we know that, particularly in our scheme.
ARE YOU TRYING TO TALK JOHN TAIT INTO RETURNING?
I can't answer that right now. Lovie's talked to John a few times, I know Harry Hiestand has talked to John and I'm sure John has talked to a number of people about his decision and it's February. He's obviously in the twilight of his career, so these things are understandable but we'll wait and see, but in all likelihood we're moving on as if John's not here, but until it's official with the paperwork and I've talked to John's agents and we're pretty much saying the same thing.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU EXPECT MARINELLI TO HAVE ON TOMMIE?
My opinion on any player is this: If he wants to be great there shouldn't really be anything outside of injuries to keep him from being great and with a coach like Rod, if Tommie wants to be great, he can be great. Rod's got a great track record but the mindset starts with the player. The coach is the facilitator and Rod's got a great track record with defensive linemen, but again it starts with the player, the player has to have th passion to be great and I believe Tommie has that passion. But, if they want to be great they're in a real good situation with Rod Marinelli.
GIVEN TAIT'S SITUATION IS RE-SIGNING ST. CLAIR A MUST?
It's something we want to do, again we're not going to run desperate on any position at this point, we certainly want to keep as many players that have been Bears as we can, that's always been our philosophy, and we'll be consistent with that with John St. Clair. John's been a fine player for us and a great person in the locker room, a professional in every sense of the word and n
IF YOU RE-SIGN ST. CLAIR DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK AT TACKLE IN THE DRAFT?
No, not necessarily. We still need to continue to bring in young offensive linemen and develop them. We've gone through a big changeover with our offensive line in the last few years. Some of it had to do with the age and players moving on and we have to replenish it. IT's no big deal, it happens with everybody at some point in time. Every year you're having to look at a few positions where that's going on. Right now it's with our offensive line.
COULD YOU TAKE A TACKLE LATER IN THE DRAFT?
You could, we talked about tackles so there's some depth in this draft so I'm saying if you don't get a tackle in the first round you can't get a tackle and I'm not saying that with John we still wouldn't take a tackle somewhere. Anytime you sign a player and you bring a player back it gives you a little more latitude, that could happen at any position, so if we bring an offensive lineman in here it gives us a little bit of room where it might not become a priority need No. 1 and that's what we have to wait and see as we go through this free agency period where we're at that way.
IF YOU BUILD THROUGH THE DRAFT IS IT FAIR TO UNDERSTAND IT WILL NOT BE A QUICK FIX?
The only thing I can say to that is that every year you have teams that come from nowhere that nobody thought and are making a run for it and making a strong run for it. When I look at the Super Bowl this past year I saw two great teams, maybe not in terms of talent but they had some excellent football players but two really good football teams. I don't know if anyone thought Arizona would be there but they certainly thought Pittsburgh was going to be a contender and they did a great job, but they had a tough road to get there. I think that's the hope that every team has when you see that, when you see what Arizona did and you see what the Atlantas do, you saw what the Dolphins did, I don't think anyone would have given them much hope, so to me it's about making sure you've got a good core in place, obviously knowing your core and playing to their strengths and then playing well as a team, you can't minimize that, and I think al those teams that did well that nobody anticipated to do well had those common denominators, so I'm never going to say "rebuild." You'll never hear that word out of my mouth. We'll go through transition, we'll retool in some areas, but we're always going to put out a good product and as long as we stay together as a team, if we don't get an inordinate amount of injuries at certain positions there's no reason why we can't be a good football team. I know going into the year from what I understood a lot of people didn't give us much opportunity but I felt we played pretty good for the most part. I'm not saying we played well al the time but we were pretty competitive all but maybe one game and then you kind of let the chips fly where they may.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "ATTITUDE?"
It comes back to players wanting to be great and then putting that into action in terms of their work ethic, in terms of doing all the things that they need to do and hold themselves personally accountable to be the best they can be., That's all we ask of our players, just be the best you can be, stay within the framework of the team and hang tough, and if you get a locker room full of players filled with that mentality, you don't need great talent to win on Sunday. That's very, very important and I also believe this that every year a team takes on a whole new identity. I've said that in the past but that's true, you can't look at last year and say well they're going to pick up off here to the good or the bad. A team takes on that identity starting when they come back in that off-season program, and that's incumbent of the players. Coaching will take you so far. Our coaches will be driven to be a great football team, that's what we're expected to do and we're all paid to win, but we're all incumbent to do our jobs, we're all held accountable.
CAN YOU FIND AN ELITE PASS RUSHER WITH THE 18TH PICK?
If he's elite there is a reason why he is there at 18 so I can't say he's elite. He might have elite traits but to say he is going to be an elite pass rusher, there is going to be probably one flaw is the reason why he is there. There are only probably in any draft maybe eight elite players, in any given draft, sometimes you might get to 10, sometimes it might be as few as three. That's a strong word. You might get a player with some strong traits that has some potential but there is going to be some real areas of concern too and one thing I have learned in my experience with pass rushers as there have probably been as many gotten on the second day, meaning rounds four through free agency as gotten on the first day. That is one good thing about pass rushers. You can get them really in any round. There are certain traits that they have to have, very difficult position to project as well.
IS IT HARD TO IDENTIFY GUARDS WITH THE PROLIFERATION OF SPREAD OFFENSES IN COLLEGE?
It makes it harder, more difficult in our game with the spread offense. It really ties into some with defense too given that they want more athletic defensive linemen so you are not seeing as many as those defensive tackles anymore that we're prone to seeing and certainly they're not out of vogue in our league. The quarterback position has become a little bit tougher because everything is done in shotgun. I think the guard position, I think those are two that are not more difficult to evaluate but they're not developing like they used to maybe in the past. The spread offense is great for college football. They talk about the 85 scholarships and everybody keeps saying that is the reason, I don't think that has much of a bearing on it as a spread offense, a spread offense gives everybody an opportunity to win because they eliminate one position that you can't find--offensive linemen. They don't need great offensive linemen. That's why it's allowed these schools to come in and do the things that they have been able to do offensively. It used to be in the old day, whoever had the best offensive line, traditionally in the Midwest, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, when Wisconsin got better it was because of their offensive line, Kirk Ferentz when he got to Iowa he instilled that offensive line. But the spread offense has kind of taken that out of place. That's what you're seeing now. That to me has been the great equalizer.
HAVE YOU SEEN ENOUGH OF A SAMPLE SIZE IN RECENT YEARS TO BE ABLE TO KNOW?
You're just not seeing those players anymore. To me, you play what the field is and that is what you have to stay on top of. What are the colleges producing? I remember this, when people were doing the 3-4 defense there were just so few 3-4 teams so they can get these Joey Porter types, Greg Lloyds, late in the draft because most teams were 4-3. Again, a supply and demand business. There was a greater supply of those types of pass rushers because there were fewer 3-4 teams. So it's just a matter of what you're looking at and what you're trying to do offensively.
MUCH HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT IMPACT ROD WILL HAVE ON DEFENSE, WHAT ABOUT THE IMPACT LOVIE WILL HAVE AS PLAY CALLER AND IS HE PUTTING HIMSELF IN A POTENTIALLY BAD POSITION IF THE WIN/LOSS RECORD DOESN'T SHOW BETTER?
I don't know. What he's doing has been done, is being done by other head coaches. He's got the ability to know what the head coaching position is. He's been at it a good while now. So I feel he is very comfortable and I think it makes us better. I promote it personally because we're drawing on everyone's expertise. I said that before. We're drawing on his expertise of what he is as a football coach, obviously Bob's, Rod's, have a new secondary coach in Jon Hoke with a very good track record, and Gill Byrd. So I feel real good about the defensive staff and I think collectively they're going to make a difference. I feel very strongly about that and we go on the other side of the ball and the continuity of having our coaches, knowing our players, we know we have to do some things on both sides of the ball and hopefully we'll get what we want accomplished, accomplished.
WITH BOOKER AND LLOYD LONG GONE, DO YOU NEED A VET PRESENCE AT WIDE RECEIVER?
We went through this a few years ago in Chicago. I know what people were hammering us that we didn't have the veteran receivers, you know, when we sent Bobby Engram down the road. And we went with Marty Booker. We turned out to be OK. I like our receivers. Do we have to look at the position? Yes, we do. Does it need to be addressed in free agency? Not necessarily. We tried to do that last year. It really didn't work out the way we liked. So I like what we have. They need t continue to develop. But again our play starts with our lines. I don't want to get so focused on the receiver position although, yes, we do need to look at the receiver position as well. And that's why I say we can go a lot of ways on draft day. And that's the silver lining because it will allow us to create more options and allow us then to get the best players at those particular rounds. And that's the positive of what I am playing off personally.
IS THERE A CHANCE KEVIN JONES COULD COME BACK AS A COMPLEMENT TO MATT FORTE?
I'm not going to rule Kevin out of the mix. We like Kevin. Wish we could have saw more of him, we didn't Won't bore you with all the reasons why it didn't happen but a good competitor, feel that he showed some good things there, but wouldn't rule that out.
IMPORTANT TO GET SOMEONE TO TAKE UP SOME OF THE SLACK FOR FORTE?
I think it's real important. I've said that. I think our coaches have said that as well. Only because you're seeing the two-back system and it's working. We've done it up until last year so it's not foreign to us. I feel that is part of our plan going into the '09 season.
EXPECT TO SEE ANY TRENDS IN THE FIRST ROUND THIS YEAR?
Just given how I evaluate the draft until we come out of Indy, until we know what the medicals are and until we know how these guys test, but coming into the draft that defensive line, I feel there could potentially be eight defensive linemen drafted in the first round. I see a good handful of offensive linemen, six to eight again this year. Again, I think that the linebacker group is very good. Won't see as good a group as this linebacker cast, as many as five and really quality. And then again with the underclassmen coming out at the receiver and running back position, there are going to be good nucleus there too so I think it will be a good first round. It'll be a healthy first round.
I'm looking right now, potentially three. These kids that come out early are all very talented, very talented. Now they have a real litmus test to go through given the position and because they did come out early but in terms of their talent level, haven't really studied all of them A to Z, you know because I didn't know for sure on really any of them, so we just waited. So we had at least a feel for all of them and they're all very talented.
HAS WHAT MATT RYAN AND JOE FLACCO DONE PUT PRESSURE ON TEAMS WITHOUT QB'S TO MAKE IT HAPPEN BECAUSE IT CAN HAPPEN WITH ROOKIES?
It will. But again the makeup of those players was special, too, not just from a physical standpoint but I think from a mental standpoint and from a character standpoint. They were very mature, they were both well coached, they played a lot of football. They were ready to come in to the pro game. The colleges do do a good job of developing the mechanics of a quarterback. And I feel like when they came into this arena, it wasn't too big for them obviously and that was a testament to their character and their work ethic and to their play history. So it can be done. We've seen it. It's not foreign. Even Dan Marino did it when he came out of Pitt. If you have that little something special to you, not just from a physical standpoint, it can be done.