Rams head coach Sean McVay took questions from the Charlotte media on a conference call Wednesday. Below is a transcript of the Q&A session.
Expectations of the Panthers’ 3-4 defense
It’s going to be a great challenge. You look at the respect, number one, that we have for Coach Rivera and his staff and then there are great players all across the board. You add some big time players when you look at [Gerald] McCoy, [Dontari] Poe and [Kawaan] Short up front. You got guys on the edge in [Mario] Addison and you draft [Brian] Burns. You add Bruce Irvin, that’s a really, really, tough, physical front. [Vernon] Butler has done an outstanding job and then obviously, what more can you say about Luke Kuechly. The leadership he provides, the athleticism coupled with the smarts. Been really impressed as you continue to watch Shaq Thompson with what a versatile player he is. The secondary, you can’t say enough about just watching Donte Jackson, how tough he is. I think [James] Bradberry and Jackson are two physical corners with ball skills. Then you have some physical safeties in [Eric] Reid and [Tre] Boston. It’s going to be a great challenge from their defense and it will be interesting to see kind of some of the new things they activate with Coach Rivera taking over, going from the last four games which they did an outstanding job and then seeing how the transition takes place. We have got to be ready.
Challenge since there is not a lot of tape of Carolina’s 3-4 defense?
Absolutely. It’s always a great challenge. Usually you feel that way at the beginning of the year whether you implement new things or change some of the personnel groups you want to use from an offensive stand point, or you make some tweaks and adjustments defensively. But it’s definitely a great challenge and something we have to be ready to handle right away.
Did anyone on staff go back and study when Ron Rivera ran a 3-4 at San Diego or was that too long ago?
I don’t think you want to leave any stone unturned. But it’s a balance between that and understanding how much things have evolved and adapted just like I’m sure Coach Rivera has. A lot of the core principles that made him a such great defensive coordinator with the Chargers I’m sure will continue to be some foundational elements that will enable them to be really good on defense again under his guidance and leadership. You don’t want to leave things out, but it is a good delicate balance of if you go back a handful of years or you just kind of say, ‘here is what we anticipate, let’s play our roles and make sure we are ready to adjust accordingly based on what the game looks like from the start.’
If you had to game plan for Aaron Donald, what would you do to combat him?
Take a knee every play. [laughs] You know what, I would say this – he is a great player. I’m not going to give any secrets away even though I probably wouldn’t be able to stop him either. But he is a great player and I think just having him here this offseason has been instrumental in the way that he has been able to influence and affect his teammates. It’s just such a refreshing thing to be around somebody that is such a special player, but he works that much harder. He is a great person. He is a great dad and I feel really lucky to be able to work with Aaron Donald. We are looking forward to him making a huge impact again this year for our defense leading the way.
What is the difference for a quarterback between interior pressure a guy like Aaron Donald provides to edge pressure?
It’s a good question. I think in a lot of instances sometimes depending upon what the rest of the pocket looks like if you have edge pressure you can step up and negotiate it. Where in a lot of instances if you get that interior push it’s just kind of right on your lap and there is nowhere else to go. It truly just depends on what else the pocket looks like around it. I think in a lot of instances that interior pressure can really provide some problems for a quarterback because you can’t get your hips or your feet through to be able to have a good base balance and body position to finish your throws. In a lot of instances sometimes that interior push does influence and affect the quarterback more than the edge just because you can step up and negotiate it if you just get edged on one side of the pocket.
What is your assessment of Luke Kuechly over the years?
I think he is a great player. I have so much respect for Luke. Just the type of competitor he is and then also, you watch and see the cerebral approach he takes to the game, the way that he prepares, the way he can communicate to his other 10 teammates and recognize things. When you got the elite above the neck approach and then you have the talent and the athleticism to match up, I think you get a player like him who is a special difference maker who is going to be a great challenge for our offense. Those are the things you always talk about. I think he is one of those guys that he uses every opportunity to learn and really bank it in the memory bank of experience he has. You can see he draws on it consistently and I think that’s why he is able to anticipate and play at such a high level snap-in and snap-out.
How difficult is it trying to defend for Christian McCaffrey and his versatility and the prowess he offers as a receiver out of the backfield?
It’s a nightmare. He is a great football player. We were huge fans of him coming out of Stanford and you see why you guys drafted him when you did and then the production has matched up. Just the versatility. When you got a guy who can make an impact on the game in so many different ways, it’s a nightmare to prepare for. You have to account for where he is at. He is a big play waiting to happen. The problem is you don’t know if it’s in the pass or the run game. Then he will compete without the ball as well. It’s going to be a great challenge for our defense like we have said, and you see why he is one of the premier backs in this league.
Have you had any interaction over the years with Cam Newton?
I’ve said hello to him here or there. You know, he is from the Atlanta area. I was a little bit older than him, but I remember watching him do his thing. I was a couple years ahead of Cam but I always admired him as a competitor. He is an impressive player when you watch him and then you see him up close and personal and he is even that much more impressive. I wouldn’t say we have had too much interaction, but I know Chris Shula, our outside linebackers coach, his uncle Mike was on the staff and loved Cam. You feel like you kind of know him just because you hear so many great stories about the way he has been over the last handful of years.
Is there a style of play that most adequately descriptive of what Cam Newton can do?
I would say no because there is so many things that he can do. He can beat you with his legs. He can beat you with his arm. He can make plays in the pocket. He can make plays outside the pocket. He can run over you. He can shake you. He can run away from you. In terms of the limitations physically, there are none. He can really do it all. He is a smart player that has a bunch of experience. Anytime you are talking about a guy that was a run-away MVP player within the last couple years, it’s a nightmare to prepare for. I think really his career and his production speaks for itself.
Are you going to test out Cam Newton’s ability to throw deep Week 1 because of his injury last season?
Its hard to say this because so much of what offenses do dictates a defense’s response. We just want to play sound, fundamental football. We want to make sure we do a great job communicating. We know all the problems that he can pose as the quarterback. Not to mention, I think Norv Turner does an excellent job at putting the players in great spots. When you have Cam and you have guys like Christian [McCaffery] and Greg Olsen being healthy and then you get some young playmakers on the perimeter, you see why this offense is going to be a nightmare to deal with.
Do you do anything to prepare for what is essentially a 10 am kickoff for your team?
We try to adjust. We have a great strength and conditioning staff and training staff that does a good job adjusting. I’ve learned more about circadian rhythms and all this stuff than I ever thought I would know in the last couple of years. This is something that isn’t foreign to us, going from the west coast to the east coast. We made a bunch of these trips in the last couple of years. Traveling two days out for a 10 a.m. kickoff in our head is something that it is a challenge, but it is something that we have done and we make no excuses for why we wouldn’t be ready to go at 10.