ESPN Conference Call Transcript: Trent Dilfer Discusses NFL Conference Championships


ESPN Conference Call Transcript: Trent Dilfer Discusses NFL Conference Championships

ESPN conducted a media conference call on Thursday with NFL analyst and Super Bowl XXXV-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer to discuss this weekend’s NFL Conference Championship games. ESPN will provide extensive studio coverage throughout the weekend with a three-hour Sunday NFL Countdown pregame show (12 p.m. ET) and a postgame NFL PrimeTime (11 p.m.) on Sunday, Jan. 20. Full audio replay. Transcript: 

Q. How innovative is what the Patriots are doing with their no‑huddle offense and what allows them to operate it so efficiently to keep defenses off-guard?

DILFER:  I don’t want to use the word “steal”.  I think they’ve learned through the college games some of the best ways to implement it into the pro game.  I think they’ve studied not just the mechanism of a line of scrimmage, but the communication – both signalling the play call‑in with single syllable words and the communication at the line of scrimmage.  I don’t know if I’d use the word “innovative.”  I think they’ve just streamlined it.  I think it’s a better term and they’ve created a small enough volume to where they can execute at a very high level.  So they get a lot of repetition at it.

In order to be good at anything, you have to rep it a lot.  No huddle is always the most difficult thing to rep, because the show team, the scout team on defense, has to be able to line up and not read defenses off cards.  And that’s basically what happens in the NFL. So the whole mechanism in practice and how they’ve been able to streamline into the NFL game and kind of perfect it to this point, you know, they’re pioneering something in the NFL.  And that’s super fast.

People played fast before.  Nobody’s ever played super fast.  And they’re showing the advantage you can have when you can play super fast, because substitution issues for the defense, personnel matchups.  You saw the touchdown run last week where literally nobody’s on the offensive left side; the defensive line of scrimmage are running around in chaos.  A advantage to play super fast and they’ve capitalized on it.

Q. Colin Kaepernick’s fame has taken off since the Packers game, and I was wondering with the magazine covers and Kaepernick on Twitter, why has he captured football’s attention this way, and do you think he’s an example of evolution at the quarterback position?

DILFER:  Why do I think he’s so popular so early?  I think he’s everything you kind of want wrapped up in one.  He’s big.  He’s good looking.  He’s athletic.  He can throw. Very articulate.  And at the same time he’s a little different.  He doesn’t necessarily look the part.  And I think that’s kind of cool and cutting edge.  And he’s performing.  I think at the end of the day you get famous in the NFL when you light it up.  And he lit it up on a huge stage.  He’s had a couple of big stages where he’s played excellent football this year. So the math kind of adds up.  But between the performance, his persona, his giftedness, and the edge that he carries, too, that makes ‑‑ I guess there’s intrigue about him that people are curious about and excited about. 

Is he revolutionizing it? I was thinking about the statements, it’s funny in today’s football if you try to be wise and discerning and think about things before you say them and not knee‑jerk react, you’re abnormal ‑‑ why aren’t you reacting that he’s the greatest thing ever?  I think I’m fortunate that I get to work with these quarterbacks at a very young age.  So for a few years I’ve been kind of seeing this coming: that the biggest baddest dude is now playing quarterback.  And that was not the case for a long time.

Now they take the 6’5″, 250‑pound great athlete – the biggest baddest dude on the block – and they make him a quarterback and he gets this great training growing up and because of that, they’re bigger, they’re faster, they’re stronger.  They still have the passing skills.  They’re going to be more durable.  It’s a natural progression that the quarterback run‑driven game is going to enter the NFL.  And the NFL purists are going to continue to say, well, they’ll write a book on it, figure it out, and that’s not true.  They’ve never had to deal with the Colin Kaepernick, the RG3, the next generation of quarterback coming up that are pass‑first guys but also have this physicality and this expertise in the quarterback run‑driven game.  They’ve never had to deal with it before.  So Colin is one of many coming up that are the biggest, baddest dude that are pass‑first guys that are highly athletic and gifted in the run‑driven, quarterback run‑driven game. 

Q. Obviously you think that the quarterback running game is here to stay, but to what extent?  You still have to keep the guy healthy.  Colin has only played eight games this year.  Almost like a convergence of events that he was able to be so healthy as to be able to run like that.  If he played 16, maybe not so much.  Is there still a concern about keeping the quarterback healthy?  Or Chip Kelly is going to be in the NFL now.  Do you see a quarterback, you know, 12 to 15 running plays a game or will it be less than that?

DILFER:  No.  I think you’ll see games where it’s that many carries.  But, no.  Once again, big question ‑‑ I’ll tell you the simplest ‑‑ Steve Young and I just spent 45 minutes talking about the same thing before I got on this call.  The answer, believe it or not, for defenses, because there’s a numbers advantage ‑‑ so the run‑driven game, you have to first look at it conceptually.  The quarterback run‑driven game, you’re always going to have a numbers advantage on offense when the quarterback’s the runner, if you formation it right.  Unless the defense plays what we call cover zero where there’s no safety.

Nobody does that in the NFL because they’re NFL receivers, beat the quarter, quick touchdown.  Setting that aside, everybody thinks the most dangerous part of the zone read or all the wrinkles off the quarterback running, when in reality what you want to do is the defense gets the quarterback to run. For the same reasons that all the purists are saying because eventually the quarterback running too much, getting hit too often is not going to survive.  All that is true.

The issue, though, is it’s going to be situational.  You may not see him run for three and a half quarters.  Still show run, and read and defense is taking it away, yada yada, looks like a normal offensive day and then on the third and six, in the fourth quarter, out to the fourth quarter, they’re going to get you in a pass‑first defense where they’re defending the pass and they can run these quarterback runs zone read or whatever it is and they have not just a one‑man advantage.  Many times there’s a two‑man advantage, depending on formation and how the defense is set up. 

I know this is a long‑winded answer, but this is what people need to understand.  It’s not going ‑‑ it’s never going away if the quarterback is athletic enough and skilled enough to read it, because there always will be a situation in the game where it’s an advantage for the offense to run it.  And it really comes down to discretion of the play caller not to abuse it.  Because what happens in football is when something’s working, we live in a snap by snap world.  There’s so much pressure on these coaches.  There’s so much urgency to ‑‑ we’re not just winning a game but to win the snap, but now because of fantasy football, it’s not just winning the game it’s how you win. So, it puts a lot of pressure on the play caller to not go to the well too many times, so to speak.  You have to be very judicious in when you call these runs, because you know you can save them for late in the game and certain packages and they’re going to knife the defense.

So, I know it’s a long‑winded answer, but I wanted everybody to understand. I’ve been talking for three years now to high school coaches, college coaches that have run this and gone to the zone read and studied it ad nauseam and it’s not going away; you’re just not going to see where the quarterback’s running 10 to 12 times a game because he’ll never last. But, if you save it and you’re judicious about it, now Colin Kaepernick, Miami Dolphins didn’t have much success running the ball, but four-minute drill third and eight he goes 50 to seal the game, goes 30 the other night against the Packers.  Russell Wilson with Seattle, they would save it for the red zone against Buffalo, long touchdown runs on it. I can go on and on.  When the play caller is judicious about it, there’s some huge plays to be made. 

Q. I wanted to ask about wide receiver Michael Crabtree. What are your impressions of his development and how important that has been to this San Francisco offense kind of going to the next level?

DILFER:  It’s not surprising for those of us that have been around him.  It’s been, what, four years now in the league?  It’s surprising that he’s starting to emerge now.  I have a chance to work out with Crab a lot, just after I retired, I was in town.  He needed a guy to throw to him.  I threw to him.  And I remember saying this is ‑‑ of all the players I picked, I never played with a stable of great receivers. But in my 14‑year career he was the most electric guy I’ve ever worked out with, outside of the Pro Bowl.  And I knew it was just a matter of time before he got in the system that kind of enhanced the skill set. 

He was also banged up for a while.  When you have a foot injury like he had for a couple of years, it’s really limiting.  There’s also rumors about him not being a team guy and all that.  I understand why he’s just starting to surface.  But he’s always been this guy. I think the best thing that staff has done, especially the offensive coordinator, they’ve really ‑‑ because they’re a run‑driven offense and they can create so many defined looks, like they know where the ball’s going to go in the passing game a lot of times because they kind of dictate the looks, they put him in a position, they moved him around to where he’s most of the time the primary read. So he’s going to get involved in the game early.  And every good player I’ve ever played with and guys I’ve talked to, you can talk to Key(shawn Johnson) about this or Cris (Carter) about that.  If they get involved early and they know they’re a focal point of the offense, they’re naturally going to play with greater energy, more momentum.  They’re going to be more dominant.

And I think the Niners have done an incredible job, every game you study, those first few passes that they’re designing for specific purposes, you know, emphasize Crab.  And they get him going early.  And then as the game wears on, he just naturally becomes the dominating force throughout it.  He obviously is a very good run after the catch.  He was that way at Texas Tech.  I think the best thing he does which doesn’t get talked about a lot is his conflict catches, when he’s getting hit and catching the ball. That’s the hardest thing for receivers, tight ends, when they’re in conflict, tight cover – still catching the ball.  He’s got some huge conflict catches this year that have moved the chains and led to points for the Niners. 

Q. From your perspective of your playoff games and your career, what did you think when you saw (Peyton) Manning take the knee at the end of regulation on Saturday night?

DILFER:  You know, I honestly was ‑‑ I’ve been a little surprised, the controversy surrounding it.  I’ve done a lot of interviews this week about it.  And at the time and still I thought it was absolutely the right move.  Head coaches and a lot of us, we look at football contextually obviously. Every situation is different based on the context of the game.  I was looking at it and I sat next to Tom Jackson the whole second half, and we kept talking about how Denver could not get anything down the field. 

One Baltimore was rushing a little bit better.  So the extended drop ‑‑ but there was some real pocket conflict.  And they couldn’t get off jam.  They couldn’t get down the field.  There was no chunk yardage in the passing game. So you take all that into account, and it’s a tie game and momentum has just swung to Baltimore.  And from my perspective, it was a no-brainer to take a knee.  Because you would open up a possibility of losing the game.  And the same argument everybody’s using where you have Peyton Manning, I use the same argument I’m sure John Fox does, too, yeah, I have it in overtime, too. 

If I’m gambling on anybody in overtime who is going to make a play to help us win it’s going to be Peyton.  Obviously that back fired.  I think considering the situation and context of the game, I would have done it every single time.  But I’m also a little conservative by nature in those situations.  I’ve been around ‑‑ look at my upbringing.  Tony Dungy for four years and his methodology of very conservative coaching.  I’ve been around a lot of defense ‑‑ even my offense coaches Mike Holmgren and Norv Turner were very conservative in those situations.  That’s my pedigree.  I think that’s typical of most head coaches.  I was not surprised by it at all. 

Q. Would you say that people underestimate the shock of the bomb from the Ravens to tie the game?

DILFER:  Yes, I think that’s fair.  It’s like getting kicked in the groin.  Right? That happens and it just sucked the life out of everybody on the Denver sideline.  And no matter how poised these coaches are, and they are ‑‑ I know John (Fox) and Jack (Del Rio) and Mike (McCoy) very well ‑‑ no matter ‑‑ they are as stoic as coaches you could find.  Their brain still had to be scrambled.  That happened. Such an egregious error by your secondary, especially the safety, that you’re sitting there and you just know the life’s been sucked out of you. You’re out of breath.  And I think that’s where discernment kind of comes in. Let’s regroup before we do anything crazy here.  And that’s how I felt.  I was so shocked by the whole thing that I kind of felt the same way, like wow they just need to regroup here; they just got kicked in the groin and wiser heads will prevail.  Calmer heads will prevail. Now, they didn’t.  But I think that’s the logical thought process behind that. 

Q. The Jacksonville Jaguars hired a defensive coach.  Everybody else hired offensive coaches.  I know these things run in cycles.  Do you think this is going to be a long‑range trend because everybody’s into offense it’s going to be harder for defensive coaches to be hired or a one‑year thing?

DILFER:  I’m really impressed with the Jaguars.  Gus (Bradley) is a tremendous coach.  He’s bigger than offense/defense.  And he’s learned from Pete (Carroll), right?  Pete obviously is a defensive label coach, defensive background coach.  But he’s also very aggressive offensively.  He let his offense kind of evolve and do whatever it needs to be, whether it’s USC or down at the Seahawks.  Gus will have the same mindset. Really head coaches in today’s NFL, whether they’re offense or defense, they end up coaching coaches.  They end up doing a lot of the things from 30,000 feet.  They’re much more involved in the macro than the micro. So you need a global leader.  You need a guy that coaches coaches, that has a coaching paradigm that can influence a lot that has an energy, enthusiasm to him that’s infectious.  Gus fits all that. 

So I know the talk gets offense/defense, all this stuff, but look at Marc Trestman in Chicago, offense guru, offense all his whole life. He’s not going to be that involved in the offense.  His greatest offense is who he hires as offensive coordinator. Same thing with Gus whether he’s offense or defense, obviously defense the bigger reason he’s hired is for all the global things, all the macro things he brings to the table, not necessarily his side of the ball pedigree. 

So I don’t get caught up in the offense/defense thing.  My concern always when defensive coaches get head jobs, and maybe these are the open wounds from my career, is that sometimes defensive coaches coach out of more of a fear mentality, not mess it up mentality, which is not good — not a good offensive mindset.  But Gus doesn’t fit that mold. He’s a very aggressive guy.  He’s a cutting edge guy.  He’s going to hire a stud coordinator that it doesn’t have to be ground and pound. He’s going to do whatever is best for their personnel.  He’s going to fit the scheme of the personnel.

Q. As you said, they look at the big picture but they’re still hiring mostly offensive guys. Why are they doing that if it doesn’t make much difference – coincidence or how do you view that?

DILFER:  Owners are fans, right? Owners get caught up in the same things fans get caught up in: perception.  They’re trying to sell tickets.  They figure that an offensive‑driven team, with the way the rules are set up in the league right now is the best formula.  It’s another big issue.  I see the trends.  I’m not oblivious to the trends.  I just think that the best head coaches see things from 30,000 feet, whether they have an offensive or defensive background.  And last month, Gus specifically ‑‑ I think he’s one of those guys.  Some of these other guys have been hired, yes, they have offensive pedigrees.  And maybe why they’re attractive is because in the interview process, in their formula for building a team, they’re a little more aggressive, a little more cutting edge, a little more willing to think outside the box.  For the most part defensive minded coaches think in the box a little bit more than offensive coaches.  Not a criticism, it’s just a general statement of the ones I’ve been around, the ones I’ve studied throughout my years. You’re going to find defensive coaches tend to stay more traditional NFL rules, where I think everybody’s starting to look forward to these, there’s the Saturday game is influencing the Sunday game, who is thinking outside the box a little bit more, who is a little more cutting edge, and when all the cards kind of fall to the table, those happen to be NFL guys, I mean offensive guys.

Q. The question I have is with Colin Kaepernick and the Falcons defense. They struggled with all their running quarterbacks, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson last week.  Watching film of how he picked apart Green Bay, what do you see Mike Nolan is doing to kind of improve their chances this week?

DILFER:  I think all the defensive coordinators are starting to learn from other coordinators’ failures defending the quarterback run‑driven game.  And I spent all day yesterday trying to put on my defensive coordinator hat and studying Kaepernick and Russell Wilson and RG3 and the similarities of these zone read games and all the wrinkles off of it. And what all coordinators do is what I did yesterday is they go through hours and hours of film and they kind of see what fronts and coverages and spacing is working most often.  You don’t want to get knifed as a defense.

You don’t mind if you get the little incisions every once in a while.  You’re not overly concerned if ‑‑ make them March the ball we don’t want to give away the big play.  Mike Nolan, he’s doing the same thing, trying to develop a plan that increases his odds of not giving up the big play, the big knifing play.

The similarities have been defensive fronts have moved around at the line of scrimmage before the snap, kind of confusing the blocking schemes.  Linebackers with their eyes very much on their gap, not necessarily the mesh between the running back and the quarterback.  And then in the passing game, you know, really eyeballs on the quarterback.  And that’s all the big plays that these running quarterbacks are making, whether they’re scrambles or quarterback driven runs, the eyes of the secondary players and the linebackers are getting caught up either focusing on receivers or focusing at the line of scrimmage.  The teams that have slowed it down have really good eye discipline.  So he’s going to build a bunch of fronts.  So front seven spacing, easiest way to say it.  That’s going to confuse the blocking schemes of the 49ers, and where all the eyeballs of those defenders are very keyed in to the quarterback, especially in the pass drops.  When that’s happening, you’re forcing these quarterbacks to be passers like everybody else.  They’re really getting in trouble when they’re diving in the line of scrimmage or chasing receivers around the field, that’s when a lot of these big plays are happening.

Q. Do you think that will help them from having the experience from those other guys, just everything they did wrong to help them get it right this week?

DILFER:  I think so.  I’m not saying he’s going to come up with the genie n in the bottle plan, but I think every coordinator learns from other coordinators’ mistakes.  One of the best ways I’ve seen coaches coach, they get in the film room with the team and say here’s 15 plays, this is where the teams playing this guy have gotten in trouble so let’s avoid these situations. So we built a plan to keep you guys away from these situations.  So I think you’re going to see a lot of people on the line of scrimmage and zone‑based schemes.  That’s the easiest way to say it.  It’s seven, eight guys around the line of scrimmage, kind of moving around, and then as they ‑‑ if it’s a pass, as they pass drop, really standard zone pass drops where all their eyeballs are on Colin Kaepernick.  And in the run game you try to create as many people around the line of scrimmage as possible.  You don’t always have the numbers advantage.  But if you’ve confused the blocking schemes you can get off blocks easier and get in the gaps quicker.

Q. Continuing with the Falcons.  They got the monkey off their back, so to speak, with the playoff win last week but seems like they’re not getting a lot of respect at least for a No. 1 seed.  Underdogs at home.  Experts are picking the 49ers to win.  Does it surprise you?  Is it warranted that Atlanta still has some doubters now?

DILFER:  I kind of see both sides of it.  We’re so ‑‑ as analysts, as writers, as a football consuming audience, we love the quantifiable.  We love being able to say, hey, they’re this because here’s a number to support it.  And we don’t dive into the psychology of it and the intangible qualities teams have.  So from the quantifiable, it’s very understandable why people don’t believe in the Falcons.  They don’t do anything outside their passing game that just jumps out at you and says wow they’re really good at A, they’re really good at B.  They also play a lot of tight games against opponents that are, quote/unquote, not top tier teams.  For all those reasons, I understand it.  And at times I find myself getting caught up in that, too. 

I just know that sometimes the most powerful thing in football is confidence, which you can’t quantify.  It’s momentum that you can’t quantify.  It’s will, competitive will, to make big plays in big moments.  There’s no number to support.  When I look at the Falcons in that light, I see a lot of that stuff.  I see a lot of the unquantifiable stuff that goes, that I go, wow, this team’s really good.  Seven fourth quarter comebacks.  Some of their comebacks are 30 seconds on the clock and getting the ball where they get it.  Stops in games where they’ve been gashed on defense.  But a big third and three, they come up with a big stop.  They force a turnover.  They don’t flinch.  So for all those reasons I really like the Falcons.  But from a personnel, quantifiable matchup, they don’t matchup against the 49ers.  So to me the game comes down to kind of the hidden intangible qualities of each team and which one is going to surface the most.  I hope I answered your question.  Trying to give you both sides of it.

Q. Some of the Ravens have talked about feeling like they’re a team of destiny.  I think Ray (Lewis) in particular has used that term.  If a team has a powerful belief in its ability to fight through anything, can that have a tangible benefit to performance?

DILFER:  Absolutely.  It’s a lot of stuff I just said about the Falcons.  You know, I always use this line, because I think it’s so true, you’ve got to be a legend in your own mind, because that encompasses so much resolve and perseverance and all these terms that we kind of throw around. But they’re so true.  I mean, one of the greatest things in professional sports, in any sport, is the ability to overcome a mistake.  So many guys, they make a mistake or a group makes a mistake, they go ‘oh crap, we’re going to make a mistake again’.  These teams that have feelings of destiny, everything is going to turn out right, legends in their own mind, they make a mistake and it’s like water off a duck’s back.  Now I’m going to make a big‑time play to make up for that mistake.  So it goes into this whole psychology of sports, which is so, so powerful.  I guess the question always comes down to if you weigh the two.  If you weight the psychology of a team, the mindset, next to the skill, right, and the tactics, which is where is the ‑‑ which side is it tipped to. 

I think if you have enough talent, if you have enough skill, if you have enough of the tangible, then the psychology, the mindset is the most dominant trait that matters in winning and losing.  But again I think why these two matchups are fascinating.  It’s not like the other teams, New England and San Francisco, don’t have the same stuff, too, but we just happen to be talking more about this destiny for the Baltimore Ravens and this intangible quality of the Atlanta Falcons.  That’s what I’m fascinated about these two matchups.

Q. Your Super Bowl winning team was one of the best defenses a team has ever played.  But this year the Ravens are in the middle of the table and every stoic, do you think that Joe Flacco is underrated about what he’s doing?

DILFER:  Yeah, that’s a good question.  I think that they’ve done a nice job in Baltimore weathering the storm of transitioning from a defense‑driven team to an offense‑driven team.  And they’re still not as consistent as some of the great offensive teams but they’re still offensive‑driven.  When they played good defense it’s because their offense is playing well.  So, yeah, for that reason I think Joe is a little underrated.  I’m more from the school that Joe is one of the better quarterbacks in the league.  I don’t use this elite label very often.  There’s definitely four or five guys in the league that have a kind of a seat at the table of greatness.  That’s kind of an elite table, if you want to say it.  I’d say Joe and Matt Ryan and some of these other guys are at the next table.  They’re excellent.  They’re very, very good players.  Many times Joe is underrated.  I think he drives a lot of what they do and when they’re successful a lot of it is because he’s successful and he’s making plays that are kind of outside the scheme. For that reason I’m a big fan of Joe Flacco. 

Q. Two questions.  First, you were talking about the elite quarterbacks.  There’s so much being talked about now that we’re in this golden age of quarterbacks.  Do you believe that that is so much better than, say, 10, 15 years ago, or the rules might be more conducive to that?  And secondly as a quarterback, Super Bowl quarterback, was that day any different for you than any other day your preparation time and did anything out of the ordinary happen that day that leading up to the game that you recall?

DILFER:  I’ll start with that, the biggest thing for me, I was at Tampa where I spent six years had an unceremonial departure, that’s when the Super Bowl was played. I was very cognizant of being emotionally prepared for all the stuff that would happen Super Bowl week.  And I did the best thing I ever did in my career was handle that situation emotionally and mentally.  So I was very focused.  Things were in slow motion for me.  Very calm.  Didn’t get caught up in any of the hype.  In fact, to the point where it was about the middle of the first quarter where Sam Gash had to come up to me grab me underneath my shoulder pads in the huddle shake me saying ‘we need your passion, we need your energy, you’re the leader here.  Come on.’ They wanted more fire out of me because I was so ‑‑ I was just so calm getting ready for that game.  So to answer that question, I think that’s kind of how I handled it.  Once I let ‑‑ once Sam got my juices flowing a little bit I felt I found the perfect balance of extreme focus but also the right type of energy and enthusiasm to play the rest of the game. 

The first question with the golden age of quarterbacks, it’s very interesting because once again it goes back to I worked with the younger age groups and even the college guys, there’s more ‑‑ there’s such a high volume of talented passers now all over the country.  I’ll use Texas as an example.  We’re in Texas last year, looking at all the juniors coming out.  And I saw probably 12 kids that I could say have NFL potential. Just out of Texas.  Georgia had six, right?  So I saw 40 kids this spring and summer that are juniors and high school that have the talent, the physical makeup to be NFL type players.  For that reason alone, the quarterbacking in general is so much better at every age group.  Now, there’s a lot of factors that come into NFL game.  Is it an easier position to play physically?  Absolutely.  I mean, the Dan Marinos and John Elways and Jim Kellys, and Warren Moon.  They would dominate even at a higher level from a physical standpoint.  You can’t hit the quarterback any more.  You can’t jam the receivers.

Safeties have been absolutely reduced to nothing because they can’t hit what we call defenseless receivers.  So from a physical standpoint it’s a much easier position to play in the NFL now.  But where these ‑‑ I don’t take anything away from these guys is that mentally it’s a thousand times harder than it was in 1985 or 1993.  Don’t take my word for it. 

Take Steve Young, who I work with all the time.  We see stuff every Monday night.  He goes, ‘I played 15 years, I never even saw a defense close to that.  I never had to make those types of decisions at the line of scrimmage.’ So I think it’s a much more difficult position to play between the ears and a much easier position in the NFL to play physically.  But there’s also an incredible amount of gifted — my assistant right now is digging through all the junior high school quarterbacks in the country right now and last week we’re sitting in Bristol. He told me, ‘Trent, your mind’s going to be blown by these kids.  It’s even better than last year.’ And it’s everywhere, and the training is so good and like I said earlier, they’re not just putting the kid that can throw the ball at quarterback anymore.  They’re putting the biggest, baddest dude at quarterback and teaching him how to throw the ball. It’s a whole different generation of quarterback. 

Q. Could you give a quick scouting report of what makes the Falcons wide receivers so tough and how you think the 49ers’ secondary matches up against (Julio) Jones and (Roddy) White?

DILFER:  And a great question.  I’ve studied them a lot especially last week, I studied both of them a ton.  I’ll start with Julio, because I really believe ‑‑ I’m not taking anything away from Roddy.  But I think Julio is really the fear factor guy. When you’re a dynamic passing game, you have a skilled position guy that creates fear in the defense.  Like how they line up changes because that guy’s on the field and that’s Julio.  He creates a lot of attention.  And I don’t like to just use the word double covered, because we’ve ruined that whole term.  A lot of eyeballs, a lot of attention on where Julio lines up.  They know on the defensive side if they make the slightest mistake with how they line up, what their personnel shift is, what the personnel grouping is, their spacing, that they’re one play away from just getting gashed.  So why he’s very good at the line of scrimmage, for a big man, he has very sudden feet. 

It’s not just quick.  It’s quick and explosive.  That’s why I use the term “sudden”.  He’s very hard to jam.  He’s very competitive at the moment of truth catching the ball in contested coverage.  He runs very good routes.  And he’s diverse.  This year he’s very diverse as a route runner.  Last year there were four or five things he did well.  Everything else is kind of not quite sure if he would be in the right spot at the right time.  Now they move him around.  He’s very precise in his route running.  He’s explosive after the catch.  He catches the ball in all three levels of the defense.  The first level, second level, third level.  Creates a lot of fear for the defense. 

Roddy, the best auxiliary receiver in the league because he really could be a 1.  But in this offense, he serves as a 2.  And he gets the benefit of a lot of that attention that Julio gets from the defense.  They run a lot of stuff where Julio will take the top off the coverage for lack of a better term or generate a lot of interest by the defense and Roddy’s explosive enough and crafty enough to find those spots.  And then you add (Tony) Gonzales on there, obviously there’s middle of the field attention.  So Roddy is more of a space guy, he works well in the space for the defense.  Julio is more of a guy that creates space in the defense. 

Q. Most of us have a tendency to lump Kaepernick in the group with RG3 and Russell Wilson and some of the quarterbacks of that style.  And that’s probably true to some extent.  I’m wondering is he unique in his own way compared to some of those guys?

DILFER: It’s a great question.  I’m a big believer in what separates the better players in the league is a unique trait.  You just go any position in the NFL.  You say, okay, what separates person A from person B.  It’s usually one dominant unique trait that he has, another guy doesn’t have.  You know, Colin, RG3, Russell Wilson, one thing they’re all very similar in ‑‑ this is what I’m trying to keep hammering home to people ‑‑ is between the ears.  They’re very smart kids.  They’re very poised individuals.  They’re highly, highly competitive.  Their competitive temperament is built for the position. 

And that is more important than the physical skill sets.  But I think what maybe makes Colin unique to the other two is he’s got the thickness, kind of the strength of Russell Wilson in a 6’5″ frame with the foot speed of RG3.  You don’t see many athletes like that.  Like people keep talking about Colin is going to get hurt like RG3 got hurt.  I’ve been next to Colin.  I’m 6’4″, 238, and he makes me look tiny.  I mean, he is 6’5″.  He’s huge.  I mean he has big, thick joints in his upper body.  Big wrist.  Big neck, big shoulders.  Wide hips.  I know he’s got skinny legs, but he’s a thick dude.  Works very hard in the weight room. He’s going to be durable.  So I guess that’s what makes him unique physically is that he’s not only a great foot athlete, but he’s got the stature of a tight end that can take, that can absorb some punishment.  So I’m blown away ‑‑ even when I studied him coming out of the draft, I was like he’s different.  I didn’t want to say better.  He was just different than anybody else you studied because of his physical makeup.  And he had the mind to fit it as well.

Q. Could you talk about the Patriots and the level at which Tom Brady has been playing?

DILFER:  I think we all fall into the trap, I’m probably the biggest culprit of this, they’re so good and so refined that we tend to just look so well, they do understand all the things they do well.  So that’s what I attacked this week studying them.  Supposedly up front they’re not great in pass protection.  Their defense has holes.  I think defensively this is the best Patriots team we’ve seen in a while.  They can do more.  So much of how good you can be on defense is the volume you can execute, what you can own, dial up and know that 11 guys are going to do it right. Last year they were very remedial.  They can only do a few things well.  So Bill (Belichick) and whoever is calling defensive calls were kind of stuck, and they knew they faced really good players especially quarterback that if you line up and play and don’t give any eye candy to the quarterback you’re in trouble.  The biggest difference in this defense: they can do a lot.  They can play multiple man schemes, they can play multiple zone schemes, they can change up their front.  They can do a lot of stuff.  They can protect their weak links.  Their linebackers are big, thick knock‑back guys.  They’re not great in the athletic game.  But because they can do more on defense they can disguise that.  They don’t have to put these guys in position to play the athletic game all the time.  So I’m very impressed with their ability to hold up defensively, even against the Niners where they got gashed there at times.  They got beat by some really good playmaking.  It wasn’t gimme’s so to speak. 

And they got beat a little bit by the scheme, which they’ll adjust to.  Their offensive line, really impressed with the inside three, run game.  We talked about the run game, added a dimension to their team this year.  It’s physical.  They moved the line of scrimmage.  Their pull game, what I call them gap schemes where you see a puller.  They’re violent as pullers, they’re knock‑back players as well.  They got a little sauce to them as well.  They get saucy and mixed up a little bit, creates an edge.  And I really think that’s the difference this year is ‑ I’m sure Bill being as smart as we say he is, he really is, he knows they have to be able to shorten the game.  And they’re going to be able to shorten every game they play in and finish out the game with the ball because they’re more physical on the offensive line especially the middle three and because defensively they can play so many different styles of defense. 

And I didn’t mention Tom Brady there.  It’s just a given.  You give him all that, he’s going to do his thing.  He’s one of the greatest that’s ever played when it comes down to that third and seven in the fourth quarter and one‑score game my money’s on him being able to execute better than anybody else. 

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

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Bill Hofheimer

I oversee ESPN’s College Sports PR, while also working on ESPN soccer, Around the Horn, PTI and more. Previously oversaw communications for ESPN's Monday Night Football and NFL studio shows.
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