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Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano's Monday Press Conference


Monday, December 14, 2009


Head Coach Tony Sparano

(On now being 6-0 in December as a head coach and the importance of that playing well this time of year)– "I think that sometimes during the course of a season, a long season, some teams can get worse. They can get worse in fundamentals, techniques, some of those things. I think it is something that the coaches here do a good job of emphasizing and I think the players do a good job of understanding. When I say work ethic I mean going out there every day, kind of getting hit over the head with the same baseball bat, but getting something out of it and I think that these guys do a good job of understanding the details and how the details matter. With that in mind, I think you continue to get a little bit better at some of the little things that help you win games in December or help you lose games in December."

(On if the idea you want to be a better team in December than you are in September an overriding message for the team and coaching staff) – "It is an overriding message with everything that we do. It is why we flip over so many rocks with personnel. We want to end the season with what maybe a better 53 players than what we started the season. I just want this football team to improve every week, one way or another. We didn't do some great things yesterday, but at the end of the day we got a win in December. That is important."

(On how he keeps that message fresh and effective in the minds of the players) – "I think large part of it has to do with your veteran players, they have to buy in. I think when the young guys see the veteran players buy in… everyday you guys are out at practice – the time that you are out there – you see, take a look in the corner, Jason Taylor huddled up with [defensive coordinator] Paul [Pasqualoni], Joey [Porter] huddled up with Paul over there working on some sort of fundamental pass rush. It is a fundamental period for them; that is what it is. I remember Jason (Taylor) came here; my conversation with Jason the first time I sat down with him about coming back here was 'hey my defense coordinator got this little thing he likes to do before practice. It is important to him and it should be important to you'. Jason has kind of bought into that and he knows that there is something in that period each week versus his opponent he is going to get something out of it. So I think the young players see the veteran players doing this and that has kind of rub off. By injury, I am running out of examples out there with some of these veteran players, but the young guys are getting the message and the coaches are doing a good job of driving that home to them right now. I think when you are winning and you win some games in December, your awareness gets a little bit heightened and you're starving for information. It is a good problem. You have their attention right now and it is a good time to get the information past."

(On how important it was to have a good day against Maurice Jones-Drew with the team facing Chris Johnson next game) – "It is very important, but I learn in this league that one week does not always equal the next. We will wipe the slate clean and go back to work. This guy arguably is the best in the league right now. He not only can run it, but he can catch it and run it very fast. Might be the fastest back we have played, very elusive guy [and] makes a ton of big plays. We will have to take care of the line of scrimmage again this week. It is something this team likes to do very well."

(On if he feels a specific area of the team has made especially good improvement from the beginning of the season till now) – "I think our secondary has gotten much better from the time our season started to right now. I think the secondary improved greatly; I think our two young corners have come along very well. I think the two safeties are playing really good football right now. Our nickel is playing good football right now. I like where we are there from a secondary standpoint. I think the offensive line is playing better than when we started. I think our receivers are playing a lot better than when we started. There are a lot of areas there. I think if you had said emphasis, one particular group out of everybody, I might even say our special teams, our coverage units, some of those things. I see a lot of improvement in a lot of places, third down. To stay consistent in third down in this league the way we have stayed consistent – on both sides of the ball – getting them off the field, I don't remember the exact number we were at yesterday, but it was pretty good getting them off the field and staying on the field, I think we were 53% on offense yesterday. Some of those things have been really good. Fourth down conversations have been pretty good, red zone scoring. All of those things we have been getting back at each week."

(On what has been the most important key to the success of the offensive line this season) – "Their coach, [offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo] I think has been the biggest key. I think he has done a tremendous job, I really do. I think David has done a great job staying on their back, beating them up with fundamentals, making sure that they know. There are not many mental problems out there. Yesterday, a clean game mentally, not necessarily a clean game fundamentally yesterday. On the surface, we rushed for whatever we rushed for and Chad [Henne] had some time back there, but there was a lot of things I didn't like in there yesterday and David didn't like, but the good news is David is a grinder and he will go and get them corrected. I think that is one of the big differences. I think another one of the differences is the depth that we have there right now. Some of the people that have had to step in and really have done a nice job in this situation. I think Joe Berger, Nate Garner, these kind of guys have stepped in there and really done a good job at this point of not only good physically but mentally."

(On the ability of the team to stay the course of the season, with success, while continuing to rely on younger players in some big roles)– "I would say you are right, that it is not normal. I honestly believe that a large part of it has to do with practice; a large part of it has to do with the guys up there coaching them, our preparation. We are not trying to ask these guys to do more than maybe they are capable of doing right now; we just want them to be able to it over and over again better. That has been one of the things we talked about the first day we got here. We have to get good at something. We have to be able to hang our hat on something. I am not saying that we are good at many things right now. There are a lot of things I would like to be a lot better at right now, but there are some things that we are good at. I think that players know there isn't going to be a lot of surprises when they get here, particularly these young players. I think Vontae [Davis] and Sean [Smith] have a pretty good idea of what they are going to be asked to do during the course of the week, though it is not an easy job. I think Chad [Henne] has a pretty good idea of what we are going to ask him as the week goes on. Some of these young lineman, they have a pretty good idea of what we are going to ask them to do. Coaches have been doing a good job of maybe not asking these guys to do more than what they are capable of doing, but getting them to do it pretty well."

(On the decision not to start Vontae Davis yesterday) –"It's just a decision between Vontae and me."

(On if the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are similar teams, and if it helps playing them back-to-back) –"I think it can help. It can help in that the mobile quarterback part of it is something that you don't always spend time addressing. If you have a guy back there that's a pocket passer, like Tom [Brady] was a couple weeks ago, you're preparing a little bit differently. Yeah, you have some carry over there, it's good news for the defensive line that it's not the first time they're hearing some of these things or any of that stuff. They're a little bit different style runners, although pretty elusive guys, but a little bit different style. Offensive lines are both pretty good, do a good job that way. Even on the other side of the ball, two good defenses. They're similar teams, that's why they're both where they are, and where we are. Tennessee's plying pretty darn good football right now, you score however many points they score in some of these games, it's pretty darn good."

(On Randy Starks' play this season) –"I think he's having a great season, I really do. I've said it before, but Randy was physical again yesterday, he had four or five tackles, tackle for loss in there, made a big play in one of those situations. There's still things Randy can get better at, there really are. Fundamentally, go back to that again, there's some things in the game yesterday that Randy will watch the film, and he'll know he left out there on the field. He played pretty good in there yesterday, physical, did a great job I thought. We asked our defensive ends yesterday, Randy, [Phillip] Merling, [Kendall] Langford, to do a hard job in that run game yesterday. Their job was very, very difficult from what we asked them to do from a defensive standpoint yesterday, but I thought the three of them, they really did a pretty good job in that game."

(On if it is important for him and his players to know exactly where they stand in the playoff picture) –"I don't want to sound naïve in that I just don't know anything, I try not to know too much about it right now. Honestly, I just know that we certainly didn't hurt ourselves, I know that we have a good chance here, as good a chance as some of these teams do. I understand the tie breakers and some of those types of things. My feeling when you get in December, you're playing to win. I think if we win games and continue to do what we're doing, it will take care of itself one way or the other. That's really it. I don't spend time with the team talking about 'this team needs to help you here,' or 'we need to help ourselves there,' or any of those things. We just know we have to win. If we keep winning, we'll keep putting pressure on other people. That's the conversation that we have, we just had a playoff game yesterday, we have another one this weekend. We know that it's a big one for them just like it's a big one for us, no differently than this week's game was, so that will be our approach. I think the players are excited to know that right now, these games mean something."

(On Paul Soliai's performance) –"He played well yesterday, he did. Made four or five tackles in there, had a big play, one really big play out there, tackle for loss. Kacy [Rodgers] did a good job of explaining his game to me in that, this is a hard thing to understand, for a nose, when you say to me 'he was right where he's supposed to be the whole game,' that tells me a lot. That means they didn't move him very much. I think that Paul, he did a pretty good job in those situations yesterday, played on his feet pretty good I thought, made some plays. He factored pretty good out there yesterday against a pretty good center."

(On if things come easy to Soliai when he is playing well) –"Yeah, I don't know about 'easy.' I think he's the type of guy that when he has a little bit of success, he starts to really get going. He played 35 plays, or whatever it was yesterday, and had a pretty good byline, really productive. That's good news in there when you know you're playing against a team that's running the football."

(On the importance of the inside linebackers' play yesterday) –"I'll say to you this: one of the guys that played the best – now Channing Crowder played very well yesterday, really did, all three of these guys played well, but Channing was all over the place yesterday. Made a bunch of tackles, really played well. Probably the most physical game that Channing's played since he's been back. The guy that really played, you talk about factoring now, was Reggie Torbor. Reggie played 14 or 15 plays in there for us yesterday in both base and sub defense, and had a high factor, he had a sack, he hit the quarterback, he had a pressure. He was kind of all over the place, made a tackle. Really did some pretty good things for us yesterday. Good contribution yesterday from the inside linebackers. Really, the linebackers as a whole played well. Then outside linebackers played a good game yesterday, Joey [Porter], Jason [Taylor] really did a good job punching those tight ends yesterday, really did a good job. Thos guys played pretty good."

(On the most impressive thing about the offensive line this year) –"Here's what has been the most impressive - and when you watch an offensive line play, it's never pretty, it really isn't. Their tenacity, I think is a good word, they really are, they're pretty tenacious, resilient group. They're doing some ugly things hard, and as long as you're doing them hard, you've got a chance. They're giving us a chance that way. Those guys would probably tell you that's a compliment. First of all, I don't dish many out their way, but secondly, that fact in the offensive line, it's not always pretty. It's a different position than most, yet, they're pretty tenacious, and they're pretty resilient. I think that that's the thing to me that stands out the most about it, it's that even when the game gets a little bit ugly, they keep grinding pretty good."

(On if he is approaching the rest of the season with a playoff mindset) –"Absolutely, yes. That's the approach. Again, the scenarios, any of those things, there's too much football left for a lot of teams. There's still three games left for everybody. Somebody's going to beat somebody, somebody's going to do this, somebody's going to do that. I don't have control of that, I have control of one thing, it's what we do. That's the only thing that we can worry about. You really are in this little bunker right now, that's kind of where you need to be. You need to live here right now, and that's what I told the team. You can't look ahead, you can't look down the road, you can't look behind you, you can't do any of those things. Right now, your sights are set on one thing, it's Tennessee. This ball game's over with, and we move on, and you play another day in December, and you see how it goes. If next week we're sitting here having the same conversation, it's a good problem."

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