Linebackers coach Jason Tarver (1.5.24)

Let’s start with JOK (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah) and just how he’s really come alive this season and I think you talked about that way early on and how you thought that could come together. So just wondering how it happened.

“Yeah. Proud of Jeremiah, because it did. It started with the process in the offseason. The two things that I’ve said, I think every time I’ve been up here, which is getting his body ready for a full season, he did that and then his approach, play in and play out that his next play is going to be the best play he’s ever had and he’s just got better and better at that. Even through the game on Thursday night. He had some things that he wasn’t perfect on early in the game, but as he learned, he was really rolling by the end of that game. That was impressive. So continuing to start games the way he finished the last one is going to be our emphasis going forward and man, staying in that process. I’m proud of him.”


I would assume you’re proud or excited for him to get that alternate recognition. Did you think he even deserved – like Joe Bitonio said yesterday, he thought JOK should have gotten the full Pro Bowl vote and kind of is hurt by the categories. He’s in the same thing as TJ (Watt), but how do you feel about his recognition for the Pro Bowl? 

“Anytime you’re mentioned with Pro Bowl near your name is outstanding and that’s attributed to the work that he’s put in. It can happen sometimes to defensive players because like we’ve talked about and how we use guys in this system, the safeties, the linebackers, they all do everything. Which also helps them be able to do everything and fill up the different categories of stats not only as an individual but as a team. The tackles for losses, the things like that are because of – you know with Coach (Jim) Schwartz and what we do in the scheme, it’s because our players get to do everything and that’s cool. And a lot of times defensive players, they really are positionless. We’re really proud of our guys, how they can play all the different positions and be good when they’re rushing, when they’re dropping, whatever they’re asked to do and then work together to do it. So I think one, like I said, it’s an honor to be mentioned with that. And two, is some of the defensive positions that they blur anyway.”


Jim mentioned I think it was last week, the weeks blend together. I’m sure like they do for you. JOK being on the field more, basically talking about him being more, becoming more of an every down linebacker. Can you expound on that?

“Yeah, it’s a progression of everything. It’s a progression of learning. There are certain things that Jeremiah, you could see he was getting better and better at, and then were able to do things with him that he had been on maybe a different spot in that same call and then he was in, like we said, positionless players. Now he’s in a different spot and that happened and is still happening as we go through. So again, that’s good learning and for him, being able to know both spots are where he was and he put in the work to be able to do that. So now we can use him in even more spots.”


How about Sione (Takitaki) with 16 tackles that game and just being as active as he was and how he’s come along? 

“Well, there’s one thing about short week football. When you get the short week, especially later in the year, that’s a challenge. So one of the things, and the first word in our linebacker mantra is run. And so I showed them a few things about Thursday Night Football and our goal in the linebacker group and of course with the defense is to see how many people we can get to the ball. Like, we’ve heard things that it looks like more than eleven. That’s awesome. We love those compliments and we got to keep that going. So Jeremiah, Sione, and Tony (Fields), when they were on the field, all they were talking about is racing to the football and they did that on Thursday and that’s exciting. So we need to keep that up and do that even better.”


We don’t know obviously who’s going to play and who’s not this week, but if a guy like Mohamoud (Diabate) gets an opportunity to play a lot. What has he been like kind of behind the scenes this year and kind of waiting for his opportunity? 

“The linebacker room, as we call it. They’ve been preparing as if their starters the entire time. So Mohamoud, Matt Adams, Tony Fields has started to play more. And Jordan (Kunaszyk), hopefully he’s good as he continues to get forward and keeps going. All those guys have been impressive in how they prepare and they get asked as many, if not more questions than the starters in the room. They’re in positions and walkthroughs all the time. We roll them in. So whenever these guys get their opportunity, we feel like they’re ready. Mohamoud has been good in preparing himself. Every rookie has a little lull as they go through their first year because you were talking about losing weeks. It does. It becomes Groundhog Day. And so our job is to make sure the rookies don’t live Groundhog Day, like get them ready. So he’s been good. He’s been a pro. He’s prepared his body. His body’s gotten stronger. He’s got more flexible. So if and when Mohamoud gets an opportunity, we’re excited to see him do it.”


What does this mean for some of these guys? You don’t always get a chance to, they’re going to be playing a regular season game, full speed game. So what does it mean for some of those younger guys that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have this chance? 

“Well, first, for our team, we earned it. So that’s a good thing as a team, if you can earn to be ahead of the chains and have a game like that, it’s awesome and it means everything. It’s amazing because playing time in a regular season NFL game, every play is like a bar of gold, you can’t simulate it. And hopefully any of those guys that get to play this weekend, I mean it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to watch them. If and when those things happen, it’s going to be exciting for them. I mean, it is. It’s like every play you get, it’s like, here we go. In a real NFL game, you can’t even imagine it. It’s awesome.”


You touched on Tony a little bit, but what has impressed you about him this season? 

“Tony has really become locked in, and Tony really trusts the coaching and the process now. I think that’s where he’s really grown. He lets things go. He goes to the next a little like we talked about Jeremiah, he lets things go. He has the process of the next play is going to be his best play. Even if he’s not quite perfect, he’s done a good job. Even in the middle of games, he’ll look over and check with me and it’ll be, yeah, or like, move over. Just that instant staying in the moment is a good way to say it. Like Phil Jackson with his whistle. Right? And we use that sometimes. I put him up there and he’s got his whistle, which means stay in the moment, pay attention. The next play is important. Tony’s really improved on that.”


How much do you chalk that up to, he was sort of the guy that was kind of thrust into a significantly larger role last year when you guys went through that run of injuries. How much have you seen the payoff from the second half of last season with Tony? 

“It’s just what we were talking about. The bars of gold, every NFL rep in a game. Tony, that experience now he had a taste of what he needed to do. So his offseason was better, he got stronger, he got more flexible. He knew now what it feels like. That’s why those reps are so valuable, because you’re not going to be perfect. But when you get that taste of it and you want more and want to be good like Tony does, that really helped him. Five guys going on IR, it helped Jordan (Kunaszyk) as well. So of the guys that are in the room, so that playing time experience. That was it. Because it helped him get better every play, but it also helped him know what he needed to do to become a pro and to earn his reps and his playing time.”


Why do you think you guys have handled the loss of AWalk (Anthony Walker Jr.)? I know it hasn’t been as long as last year, right?

“I think it’s a bunch of things. Some of that was that experience we just spoke about with Tony. The guys had played more and then we approached it as we’re just linebackers, too, so like our positions just, we can play. That’s a little like we just said with Jeremiah, it’s just linebackers. We’re just playing. So now it’s taught that way. But also the players are more experienced. Sione, everybody else. So we miss AWalk. We love him, but we know that certain things are going to happen in this game as you go through the year and obviously this team’s a great example of resilience at every position of playing. But I think we were more – the players and the coaches have more experience with that and then also being able to apply it within the scheme so they’re all more prepared to do everything. So I think it’s a combination of those things. But as a process, we just coach them in the room. Like, if you’re at this position, what are you going to do.”


From a defensive standpoint, what makes David Njoku so hard to cover out there? And are you glad you don’t have to cover David every single week? But what makes and how have you seen him grow over the year? 

“David, he’s a really good example of how a great athlete can now focus, play in and play out and make the next play his best play because we’ve seen him this year. He’s overcome everything, as we know, on and off the field. He’s amazing. But David is, when he is running at you, he’s just moving. And he is a big, fast human that is angry. And his Angry Run shirts could be all the time. So that’s what makes him a really good player. And he’s improved in everything that he does. He’s fun to go against in practice, too, because you don’t realize how big, how long his arms are until you actually have to guard him and how strong he is.”


You’re around these guys all the time. Honestly, at what point, if there was a point of dispute, did you see them take that next man up mentality and really, truly embody it versus just kind of being like a cliche phrase? 

“I think it’s been started all the way since Greenbrier of how both the teams wired and how we work. There was a special teams period where Mohamoud and Jordan absolutely went at it and then gave each other a hug right after. We’re able to compete as hard as we can and then talk about it. I think one thing that we do where the team has grown a lot is the football discussions. Like, if you’re having discussions, when they’re walking around, they’re talking about, ‘Hey, how are you going to tell me this? Or how are you going to do this better?’ And those discussions, when football discussions get heated, sometimes it’s really good. Other discussions, you don’t want them to get heated, but football discussions getting heated are really good. I think that started at Greenbrier. It’s even continued. And then as guys come in the way just right away when Du (Duron Harmon) came in at safety, I watched Sione go right away, introduce himself and say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re ready to work together. Let’s go.’ Like, that was just amazing to watch. That’s who we are right now, and that’s amazing because it’s the people in the team together doing that, but I think it’s going all the way through and just how we’re interacting. The question is great because that’s the key to the whole thing.”

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