OL coach Bill Callahan (5.14.20)

Offensive line coach Bill Callahan:

On what has been accomplished with T Jedrick Wills Jr. transition to LT since the draft:

“What we have done is we have attacked this thing virtually through our meetings. The way that we have laid out our program is quite interesting. We basically have given players video installs to look at and to hear and to try to disseminate information in that avenue. Then what we have done is we have kind of drilled it down where we have met as a group, asked questions and then we have tested them. We do Kahoot! programs to test the players and the rookies. Then we have also done individualized work with them, as well. We are trying to maximize our time and efforts and trying to exhaust every conceivable avenue we can to teach the players, especially to catch them up to speed to where the veterans are.”

 

On indications from video that Wills is employing the lessons:

“We have given him a number of drills to do, and we have just really started out with real basic things. Just really looking at stance and putting him in the left-handed stance, which he has been there before. What we have done is we have gathered a lot of video, he sends the video back and I can coach him through all of the nuances and techniques of what we want to get him into. Additionally, I have also sent him and we will sit down and watch tackles that I have had in my career that have done the same types of things. It has been really positive. He is really a sponge of information. He has absorbed all the content that you can give him and he wants more. I am really excited about him. I am eager to at some point get on the field with him.”

 

On what Wills showed pre-draft to show he could transition from RT to LT:

“When you watch a player on film, I think in a couple of ways your takeaways are ‘Well, this guy is a player. He is solid. He has athletic ability.’ With Jedrick, it was a little bit different in that you can feel him on film. He came alive on tape, and you got excited about what he was doing throughout the course of the game. A lot of times, people talk about make-up and they talk about characters and all these other things, which are great – which he does have – but he has these intangibles that show up in tangible ways on film. You watch him finish. You watch the detail, the technique. You watch his consistent effort and his stamina throughout the course of the game from start to finish. I think that was the appeal for me. I think our scouts did a great job, and organizationally, I think everybody contributed to his selection and really speak highly of him. All the background work that our scouts did prior to the draft and also at the combine just speak volumes for the player. When you put all those pieces, it is not a hard decision to make.”

 

On the significance of Wills transitioning to LT after playing RT in high school and college, given some coaches see it as more significant than others:

“When I was looking at him in the draft, I thought well I had (Cowboys T) Tyron Smith in Dallas and we all know that story, but the one that sticks out for me is when I was in Oakland, I had a player by the name of (former Raiders OL) Barry Sims. During that time, Barry had come to us as an undrafted free agent, he had an injury sustained in an All-Star game and was not drafted that spring. He ended up in the World League. He kind of bounced around a little bit. Then we had him in camp. We had two first-round selections in (former NFL OL) Matt Stinchcomb and (former NFL OL) Mo Collins. Mo Collins, we ended up moving him to guard, and then Stinchcomb was really a fine player out of Georgia who got hurt during that period of time in training camp. Really, our backs were against the wall. I started moving players around. I remember (Raiders Head Coach) Jon Gruden telling me, Barry Sims, he wanted to get rid of him. He wanted him out of the training camp. I asked him and I said, ‘Just give me a couple more days with this guy. I think he can play.’ He reminded me a lot of (former NFL OL) John Fina, for those of you who can remember Fina up in Buffalo. I said, ‘Just give me a couple of days with him. I think he can play. This guy has got some talent.’ We put him on the left side, and he was fixture there for about six-seven years and he ended up in San Francisco. He reminded me of Barry just because of the athletic movement, and Barry was not the biggest or stoutest tackle in the league at the time. In fact, he was a little bit of a runt of the litter with the line that we had in Oakland. (Former Raiders OT) Lincoln Kennedy was there, he was 370 pounds. (Former NFL OL) Frank Middleton was 360. Collins was 360. When I got Barry Sims, he was 320, if you can even believe that and that was the smallest guy we had at the time. Going back to the comparison, I really thought Jedrick reminded me of Barry in that he could make that switch easily because of his athleticism.”

 

On keys to helping a player make the transition from RT to LT:

“One is you have to want to go over there. Tyron (Smith) was really wide open to it. Nothing phased him because he is such of a competitor. When we made the switch, it was seamless for him. He had a few bumps in the road like they are all going to have, but he was quite confident not only that he can make the switch. From a muscle-memory standpoint, you have to get groove. A lot of that really depends on the training, the reps and all that, but when you are grooving a player, they need constant, consistent reps day in and day out to get their game up to the level that you want it. That is any position that you flex with. Let’s say we had (Cowboys G) Zack Martin, who we moved from college left tackle to right guard. We did the same thing in Washington with (Redskins OG Brandon) Scherff, who was a left tackle at Iowa and then he came over and he played right guard for us when he was drafted. Throughout my career, I have had a lot of guys that I have mixed and matched and moved around. One of the other guys that comes to mind is (former NFL OL) Damien Woody, who was a center for New England. He was drafted in the first round, and when he hit free agency, he ended up in Detroit and got hurt and was looking for another position to play. When I was at the Jets (former NFL executive) Mike Tannenbaum did a great job in signing him and we made a RT out of him for years. He did a great job there, as well. It is interesting, some guys can make the switches and some guys can’t, but it is always fun. If they want to do it, they will make the switch.”

 

On the status of RG:

“I am still getting familiarized with all the players. I have not met them all yet – just only virtually I had done that with them. We have not really set a depth chart, listed a starter or named the RG position. That is up for grabs. I really believe we have some excellent players in there in (G) Wyatt Teller, (G) Drew Forbes, (G) Colby Gossett and (G) Willie Wright. There are a lot of candidates. There will be a lot of time for competition. I think that will sort itself out as we move along. It is always such a change, and we are just going to keep assessing and evaluating the position as we move forward. There are enough candidates in there that I think someone will rise to the occasion and take over that spot.”

 

On if it too early to say that Wills will be the Week 1 starting LT:

“I do not think so. I think whenever you draft a player as high as we drafted Jedrick, I have always felt that you have to plug him in and play him immediately. That is why you draft him. No, that does not concern me, scare me or bother me in any respect. I am quite confident that he is capable of being our LT. Like I mentioned earlier, they are going to go through some lumps and they are going to have some times when they are going to get beat, but the best in the game get beat. I think what we are trying to do is establish kind of a mode of consistency with him so that he get confidence in his techniques and be that consistent player for us. I really put a lot of stock in ramping improvement over the long haul of the season. We are looking at those incremental games from week to week, from the first quarter of the season to the second to the third to how he finishes. I think that will all be assessed and evaluated as we move forward.”

 

On RT Jack Conklin:

“I really like Jack. I watched him coming out of Michigan State. I thought he was outstanding there and what he has done at Tennessee. Early in his career, I know he had some misfortune with injury, but last year, he really came on. He had a really good year. You talk about a system fit, you could not get a more perfect tackle in free agency than Jack. He fits the mode for the wide zone game and his pass protection sets, how he short sets and he jumps at the line of scrimmage, which is a tough skill to acquire. Then of course in third down and later downs, you can watch him set vertically and you can see his variance of sets. He has the toolbox and he has the skillset to do quite well. What I really like about Jack is he is a player that is really thirsty for new techniques and new ways of doing things. He is wide open from that aspect. I am really looking forward to digging down in the trenches with him and seeing how we can tweak some things and help his game.”

 

On if he has previously been in an offensive system that uses the wide zone as much as Head Coach Kevin Stefanski:

“Oh yeah.”

 

On what teams he has been with that used the wide zone scheme frequently:

“The Jets under (former NFL Head Coach) Rex (Ryan), we ran the ball like crazy and that was a wide zone system. Then going to Dallas, we ran the wide zone. When I went to Washington under (Rams Head Coach) Sean McVay, we ran the wide zone for a couple of years. The last few years in Washington, we had gotten away from it. It was really a function of the type of linemen that we had. We became a little bit more tight zone, a little bit more gap-oriented, power-oriented. I have been around the wide zone since the University of Wisconsin in 1990. I have had exposure to it. Having been in the AFC West in Oakland when (Former NFL OL coach) Alex Gibbs was at its height, I watched it first-handily. We adopted a lot of things from that system and implemented them with our own team. I have always been a proponent of the wide zone so I feel right at home with it.”

 

On implementing the wide zone system through a virtual offseason and if how that has affected the process:

“I think everyone is in the same boat. That is the one thing about the situation we are all in right now. Nobody really has a competitive advantage, but we are trying to maximize every conceivable way of teaching players and disseminating information. I turned my home office here into like a classroom where I can turn my screen around and have the TV on. I am fortunate that way I have the room to do that; whereas, a lot of coaches on our staff, they are working out of their basement. They are trying to jury-rig kind of a film setup for their players. What we have done is we have really tried to take the cutups in all the video libraries that we have and try to give that to the players throughout our meetings. It has been challenging in one way, but in another, it has been really good. We have had a lot of good dialogue. We have exposed them to the things that we want to do. It will not be as though they have not heard it before being around a wide zone system. I think by and large, everybody has had some type of exposure [to it]. Everybody in the league runs some type of wide zone or tight zone game in some respect. In that manner, they have had good exposure and we are just giving them a little bit more and delving in and kind of drilling down some of the techniques that we want them to learn.”

 

On if he ever expected he would be coaching players virtually and if he has become used to it:

“It is crazy. I was thinking about that because nine weeks ago, I had never heard of Zoom. Now, I am trying to buy as much stock as I can (laughter). It is challenging, but it is also fun. I have to tell you, between Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google, what they have us doing is absolutely crazy. If you can imagine working off of your iPad and showing film through your screen to your personal computer, you are just finding all kind of ways to be creative and try to set up a meeting room atmosphere similar to what you would have at the facility. No, I never thought this would happen in a zillion years and not in my lifetime, but I think we are all adapting. I think we are all – especially, these young players my God, they are so technologically savvy in every respect. My hat goes off to them. I think this is no big deal for them. They just want to get back on the grass again and work, but I think when it comes to technology, they are pretty well versed at it.”

 

On Head Coach Kevin Stefanski and his efforts as head coach thus far in a unique offseason:

“First off, I think the world of Kevin and what he has done and accomplished in the very short period of time that we have been together. If you just consider the fact that we really did not start until the first week in February as an entire staff, then in February, we were at the NFL Combine, and shortly after in mid-March, we were gone and all went our separate ways. That dynamic is interesting because he has been able to put together a staff, implement a system, coordinate everybody’s role and not only from the facility but from afar. His ability to communicate and connect is outstanding. The message that he gives the players on a daily and weekly basis is really no different than what it feels like if you were sitting in the team room and listening to him speak. He is very well thought out. He is well measured. He gets it. He understands players. He has been around some of the best players in the league. As a leader, I am so impressed with his ability to communicate his message and his mission to the team. It has been well received. I know it has by our group and the offensive line. Players, they feed off of that. They understand that Coach has their best well-being in mind and he wants them to do well. Yeah, we are in a tough spot, which everybody is, but he has been extremely positive. That is the one thing I have to say is that he is upbeat, he is outgoing and he reaches out. He has a really good way about himself, really even keeled, does not get too emotional and does not get too down. He just keeps forging forward. I have been impressed in every aspect. Yeah, I am really fortunate and really honored to be on his staff.”

 

On C JC Tretter and G Joel Bitonio during the offseason program and if they have been able to continue to be leaders in the virtual offseason program:

“They really have [been leaders]. JC, the day of the draft when we drafted Jedrick and Nick, he texted me immediately. He wanted to reach out to our new draftees and extend himself and let them know that he was welcoming them then into the group. For a veteran player to do that is awesome. You do not find that too often. That is special. He knows. He was in Green Bay under really good tutelage and here. He is a pro. He understands what it is and where he is in his career. I think he has a lot more years to go, anyhow, but just for him from a personal aspect to reach out and welcome those guys, that was really cool. My hat goes off to him, as well as Joel. Joel has reached out. He has talked with the guys. He is really kind of a catalyst, him and JC. They have that veteran leadership in the room. By God, these guys, especially Joel, look how many position coaches and coordinators he has gone through in his short career. Hopefully, we can bring some stability, continuity and consistency to the group in that respect. I am really happy to be around those guys. I am sure I will learn a ton from them. These players, they know a lot of things and they can certainly help me grow and help me become a better coach. Yeah, I am just very fortunate to be able to coach them.”

 

On if the wide zone scheme is a more challenging transition for Ts:

“I think it is challenging for anybody – guard, center. All of those techniques are a little bit different because of the departures and your matchup. Are you playing an even front, where the center is uncovered? Are you playing an over front, where the guard is covered? I think that all changes. I think it is equally challenging across the board.”

 

On T Chris Hubbard:

“I really like Chris. I remember a couple years ago when I was in Washington, we did in free agency really, really liked him. I thought he had the athleticism to come in and be a real benefit as a swing tackle at the time and he could help our line and eventually be the starter. He had that capability. I know he played really well his first year here. I am just really anxious to get on the field with him and try to elevate his game and help him in any way I can. I think he is a really good football player. I know his heart is in it. He has swing-ability and he could also play a jumbo tight end. Although, we have a lot of those guys right now. I really like Chris. I think he has a lot of value and a lot of upside. He will definitely help us at some point. You can never have enough of those guys. I went through 72 of them in two years – we had 72 different line combinations in Washington. We were just riddled with injuries. The value of a player like Chris, you just can’t make up for it.”

 

On if Gibbs in Denver was the only coach running the wide zone then and why he likes it so much:

“I think it has a little bit of a history to it. I remember (former Browns and NFL OL coach) Howard Munn ran it here in Cleveland when he was here. I remember (former NFL coach) Jim McNally – he has been my mentor forever – was running it down in Cincinnati when they had Ickey Woods and they were terrific with it. One of the stories Alex talks about is when he visited with Jim McNally and wanted to learn about the zone system. I think he adopted some of Jim’s principles and thoughts and he went ahead and put his own interpretation on it and innovated some new techniques along with it. I remember in 1995, we played Denver when (former Broncos and Redskins Head Coach) Mike Shanahan first got the job in Denver, they were running all of the west coast stuff that (Pro Football Hall of Fame Head Coach) Bill Walsh was running. They were OK with it, but I think Alex was not OK with it. He decided he wanted to get into the zone game and that is when they began to flourish. He implemented the wide zone system and they never looked back. They had incredible success. I like it personally because it is a system that is based on trust. All five guys do the same thing and it has to be orchestrated in the proper manner or else you are not going to get the results you want. Everybody is tied together. It is not like you have a power play where you have moving pieces within your scheme. This is one basic jumbo scheme where you are covering defensive linemen, you are displacing them and you are trying to create different cuts for the back and different reads for the back, based on the front you are seeing. I like it because it is simple. It has a simplicity to it. There is a physicality you can really grow in. All of those aspects of what you are looking for in a run game, whether it be toughness, being hardcore, being physical, and not stressing your linemen too much with too many schemes. I think there is a real value in that.”

 

On the prevalence of the wide zone scheme in today’s NFL: 

“When I look at the league and look at the playoff teams, Tennessee, wide zone team; San Francisco, wide zone team; Minnesota, wide zone team. I look back at some of the teams that were in the playoffs – and even New Orleans has really gone to more zone-type schemes – there is real value in that. I think you can create more explosive runs, and within that, you can also limit negative plays or TFLs. I like that, but most importantly, it all ties into the passing game and it all looks the same. When we were in New York, we always talked about sameness and likeness in your run and pass games. So Many things can come up in the wide zone – the bootlegs, the waggles, the shot plays, there is just a lot of variety. It all starts out looking the same, but it is different.”

 

On uncertainty around COVID-19 and how the season could be different:

“I really feel that the league and also the organization, they will make the best decision possible. I think they have everybody’s best interest and health and safety at heart. I do not think anyone is going to do anything foolish. That is my take. I do appreciate the fact that we are trying to move forward and go forward, but I have kind of been pragmatic my whole life so I take it day by day and just try to control the things I can control. I really do not try to worry too much about it. I think it will all work out in the end. That is how I always look at life in general. At some point hopefully the medical society, the people working on the virus find a way and find a vaccine for this. I am hopeful of that. Hopefully, it happens sooner than later. I am watching all of the healthcare workers and what they are going through and the stress on their families. There is no reason to think we could not play if everything is in order and everything is right. I just feel that the league, the organization and the owners will do what is in the best interest of everybody and they are not going to put anybody at risk.”

 

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