Miami Dolphins Press Conference 12-3-20 Needham, Davis, Fejedelem, Jesse Davis, and Flores

Thursday, December 3, 2020

CB Nik Needham

(I was wondering on the plane ride home from New York, did you get any nice text messages from family about the interception, for you guys to continue that NFL long streak you guys have with the takeaways?) – “Yeah, my mom, my dad and some of my good friends texted me and said they saw the interception, so that was cool. That was definitely a big play in the game for me.”

(In the past two seasons, you’ve transformed yourself into being a reliable piece in that nickel cornerback role. What can you say, if you can recap the past two seasons for yourself, how they’ve gone for you and how happy you are with the success you are having?) – “Definitely my first year, I started off a little shaky and I had to adjust. I think throughout the first year, just growing, learning and adapting to the NFL season coaching-wise, I think that helped a little bit. Then them just letting me know what I needed to do in the offseason to really make that big jump in the second year, I think that helped a lot. Then Coach ‘GA’ (Defensive Backs Coach Gerald Alexander) has done a really good job of coaching me the tiny fundamentals in the slot. I didn’t know it was that detailed, so he has been a big help in helping me continue to improve my game week by week.”

(I’m writing a story about DT Raekwon Davis. We talked a while ago and obviously he’s just a rookie. What’s your impression of what he does well?) – “The first impression when I first saw him, I was definitely like ‘this is the biggest dude I have ever seen.’ It’s crazy because he’s just a rookie and you think he’s going to have a deep voice, but he kind of has the light voice, all happy and funny. (laughter) When he stepped out there on the first day of pads in training camp, you could tell why they brought him here. He’s a beast. He dominates the middle of the field. We’re all still learning, but he’s definitely improving every week. He’s definitely up for the challenge and I respect that for sure. He’s taking the coaching.”

(Now that you are a little bit more comfortable playing that nickel role, I’m doing something on the slot position or space or area of the field, which is how Head Coach Brian Flores views it. What’s the challenge of when you’re playing that inside between the hash area, and all of these little scat-back receivers are running option routes on you?) – “That’s a great example right there, they have option routes. Definitely in the slot too they have a two-way go open on both sides. Just knowing where your help is and how you can play to your leverage. Really, it comes down to film study too, knowing what routes they like to run in the slot because it’s a real different route tree than the outside. I’ve been trying to learn all of that stuff and study some guys that have been successful in the slot.”

(I wanted to ask you about Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer. What is his coaching style like when he deals with you guys, and how do you describe his coaching style in terms of the way he calls the game on game days?) – “I would say they are both the same. He’s aggressive. He’s very attentive to details, just how he wants our defense. All of our checks, we’ve got to make sure everybody knows them, that everybody is on point. He’s big on details. He stays on your ass. He pushes you to be the best player you can be, which I like. Always, every day, he’s just never letting up. I think that’s what translates into the game and creating that relentless effort that we all try to play with.”

(It’s the second year in the row that you guys are facing the Bengals. At this time last year, it was a battle to see who might get the first overall pick. A year later, the Bengals are still struggling and you guys are in the thick of a playoff race. What goes into your mind when you contemplate how far you guys have come since that time last year?) – “Just the work that we put in during last year and the offseason, it’s all coming to light. ‘Coach Flo’ (Brian Flores) just says come in every week, grind and try to get one percent better every day. We’ve just really been doing that and the success is showing. We still have a lot more work to do and this is a big game this week. We have to come out and execute.”

(I had a chance to catch up with LB Sam Eguavoen earlier and he was telling me about the Last Air Bender and Street Fighter that he’s going to have on as cleats this week’s game for My Cause My Cleats. I asked him if DT Christian Wilkins is going to come in and try to get his hands on those. I was curious what are you wearing, what’s going to be on the cleats, what your cause is and if anybody is knocking down your door to get their hands on your shoes this week?) – “Mine is Allen Hurns – I did his last year too, the 88 Blessings (Foundation for) single mothers. Mine is red and pink for love, I guess. Then it has some hearts on there and then my mom’s name. I’m just going to be out there representing her.”

(I know this isn’t your position, but since you studied these guys, what makes a good slot receiver?) – “Playing to my leverage, the receivers knowing the DB, knowing how to attack different leverages. Quickness helps a lot. Speed kills. Just knowing where they are on the field, how they move around, having good ball security. That’s really what makes it real tough to guard.”

(I’m a momma’s boy too. Can you tell us a little bit more about your mom and what she means to you?) – “Well, my mom and dad too. I just lived with my mom a little longer. She means the world to me. She grinds every day. She’s very protective of me. (laughter) It’s funny. I love her. She pushes me every day so I go out there and play for her. My dad too. Just grinding. Whenever I make a play or see the smile on their face, that makes me happy and makes mewant to keep going for sure.”  

Thursday, December 3, 2020

S Clayton Fejedelem

(I had a question for you about Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman. I spoke to LS Blake Ferguson and LB Sam Eguavoen and they both joked about the frequency of getting chewed out by him. I was curious just to get your take on his personality – whether it’s in meetings, on the practice field, on game day – and what he brings to the facility every day?) – “He just demands that you know your assignment. You’re only getting chewed out if you’re not going through all the scouting reports with a fine-tooth comb. He holds the players to a standard, the guys on this team hold each other to a standard and that’s why we’re executing the way we are right now.”

(I know this isn’t specifically your role, but I’m sure you’ve probably played a gunner role at some point in your special teams career. What does it entail to be a gunner? What do you have to go through?) – “To be a gunner? I’ve taken a couple reps in practice here and there. Don’t have any under my belt – no reps under my belt in live games – but to be a gunner, you have to be able to execute in space, you’ve got to beat your one-on-ones if they’re doubling you and vicing. It’s a demanding position. When they have an eight-man box on their punt return unit and you’re out singled, you have to win because everyone else on that unit is protecting first before we can help out and cover. So it’s definitely a skill position. Your better athletes, your quicker guys are out there. Not only do you have to win off the line, but once you get down there, you have to win at the point of attack against some of the best athletes and get the punt returners on the ground. It is a demanding, demanding position.”

(I have a two-part question. I wanted to get your thoughts on facing your former team and also since I’m assuming you have guys that you still have good relationships with over there, how closely do you keep tabs on what’s going on with them and what you make of their season?) – “I still talk to a handful of the guys over there. I haven’t been doing much talking this week. You’ve got to keep everything in-house, but they have a good unit over there. (Bengals Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator) Darrin Simmons, he’s a good coach. They’re going to come out and have a good game plan; but yeah, they’ve got guys like – I talk to Brandon Wilson. You saw last week he had a 103-yard kickoff return. They have good players and we’re going to have to execute. We’re definitely excited for the challenge.”

(This weekend is My Cause My Cleats and I was just curious what you’re wearing and what the cause is for you, if you are wearing them.) – “I’ll be wearing the Pat Tillman Foundation. I just – a lot of people know the story unfortunately with what happened to him overseas; but I am a big advocate for our military. I support our military and I love what the foundation does and what they bring for opportunity and scholarships and just a military family with a military background, so they can continue to grow and empower themselves in society. I love the Pat Tillman Foundation. I’ll be representing them and that’s what I’ll be rocking.”

Thursday, December 3, 2020

DT Raekwon Davis

(There was a stat this morning about your total tackles in November. It’s one of the most of all linemen. What have the past few weeks been like for you in terms of your production and it seems like you’re being a difference-maker when you’re out there on the field?) – “Just a better preparation. I’m just trying to focus on helping the defense and trying to do what I can do.”

(I mean this question in the nicest way possible. How did you get so big? Like what did you eat? Who did you eat? Is there anybody that was like really tall in your family growing up? How did the size come about?) – “It came from my dad’s side of the family. My dad’s side of the family – well his brother, his dad and his uncles and stuff, they were real big. So I got my height from my dad’s side of the family.”

(I’ve been to a lot of places, but I’ve never been to Meridian, Mississippi. That is your hometown right?) – “Yeah, it is.”

(Can you tell me about it? I don’t know what kind of stuff people in Meridian do. I heard that people do noodling, which is where you catch fish with your hands. Tell me about some of the things you guys did growing up in Mississippi?) – “It’s a small town. A lot of poverty, I could tell you that. I don’t know about the fishing part or whatever you just said. (laughter) But it’s a nice small town with good people.”

(There is a national website that rates how you played the last three weeks really, really high. Have the grades from Defensive Line Coach Marion Hobby been really high, and are you happy with the way you played these last three weeks?) – “I don’t really focus on the outside and online grading and all of that. I let my coaches just come back with feedback and just tell me what I basically need to get good at, what I need to do better and how I need to do it. No, I don’t really pay attention to grades. Not right now. No way.”

(Someone mentioned Defensive Line Coach Marion Hobby. What is something that he has said to you or pointed out or stressed, that you have actually connected with and found to be quite helpful?) – “At the beginning of the season, I was struggling with the pass rushing and reading games and reading the fundamental part. Actually right now, I’m starting to make plays off of it. Now I’ve just got to go out there and make more plays, basically.”

(You just mentioned that at the beginning of the year you were kind of struggling. What was your mindset at that point? Did you have any doubts? Did that start to come into mind? Or did you know that it was going to come around for you?) – “No. I just knew I just – just keep working. I’ve got time. I’ve still got more time, but it’s something that’s naturally going to come. At the beginning of the season, I feel like I was just trying to chase it and make it happen on my own, without just naturally just playing.”

(With your gifts from a physical standpoint, some would say you have the potential to be more than just a starting NFL defensive tackle. Does the idea of eventually being a Pro Bowl type talent and player drive you at all?) – “Hell yeah. That’s a goal. That’s something I want to accomplish.”

(Who is the biggest person in your family or is that you?) – “That’s me”

Thursday, December 3, 2020

G/T Jesse Davis

(We’ve got My Cause, My Cleats this weekend. I’m curious what you’re going to be rocking on your feet for this weekend’s game.) – “Yeah, I did Team Never Quit. It’s Marcus Luttrell’s Foundation. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

(Any advice you’ve given the three rookies on just making it through a season? It’s obviously longer than college ball. How do you see their energy level? Obviously G Solomon Kindley has been dealing with a foot injury; but physically, how are the rigors of their longest football season going do you think?) – “Yeah, they’re doing good. Obviously injuries don’t really help but I just tell them one game at a time. You can’t really look ahead. You can’t really dwell on the past. The goal is to stay healthy and keep going.”

(The transition back to right guard, is it more like riding a bike? How difficult is it – the challenges of that position as opposed to tackle?) – “Yeah, I’ve obviously played there so it’s not something new but just re-training my eyes and re-training my footwork and obviously working in a tighter space. It just takes time to get it down; but I look forward to the challenge and wherever this team needs me, that’s where I’ll be.”

(I know DT Raekwon Davis plays on the inside so I don’t know how many practice reps you’ve had against him since his arrival but just in general, what do you view his strengths?) – “Yeah, he’s good. He’s a big guy. He’s long and tall – has good leverage, a good motor. He’s tough to deal with, that’s for sure. The way he’s going, I think he’s having a pretty good year. Overall, strength is probably the biggest factor that he brings.”

(I wanted to ask you about the run game issues. I’m sure you’re aware that you guys are ranked last in the league in yards per attempt most of the season. Last week, you guys had a successful four-minute drive where you killed all six minutes of the clock. What was different about that drive that’s maybe something that you guys can bottle and carry over to the final five games?) – “I think we just kind of made our adjustments kind of later than what we should have done. I think we’ve just got to be more physical. We’ve got to stick to double teams; we’ve got to be able to move the line of scrimmage. That’s the biggest issue we were having. Lately, everybody has been moving on us and bringing somebody extra, so it’s a little bit of communication issues, I think, than most things. We’ve just got to be more physical than them.”

(Offensive Line Coach Steve Marshall was asked this week why you at guard and why G/T Robert Hunt at tackle as opposed to reversing. He cited your experience playing there. Is that something that the three of you guys have talked about collectively through, or is it just something where Marshall said “this is how we’re going to do it. We’re not really feeling a need to discuss it at this point.”) – “We haven’t really talked about it. It’s more upstairs than anything. Wherever they’re going to tell us to play, that’s where we’ll be. I mean it makes sense. You want to keep somebody with a communication-base, especially with these rookies and trying to get them understanding things. They’re smart enough, too. They know the game plan. They know what to do. That’s a question for them.”

(To go back to DT Raekwon Davis, when a guy is that big as a rookie and with his body size, you mentioned physicality as an offensive lineman. Can you just add a little bit more about the competitiveness that he brings, just knowing that he brings that physical stature there at the line?) – “Yeah, whenever you get a guy that big, it’s hard to move. It’s hard to get leverage. Obviously the low man wins, but he also comes off the ball pretty fast. He’s got the physicality nature of the game. So for him, it’s just getting his feet in the ground. That’s the main key of how to get an offensive lineman out of their block. He’s a good player.”

(You talked about working in close quarters. What is different about that as opposed to tackle and what challenges does that present? I know you’re facing more of a 300-pound guy as opposed to maybe a 260-pound guy.) – “Yeah, just getting your feet in the ground in close quarters. At tackle, you’re kind of used to long movements versus inside, you’re used to those short movements. So not stepping on your center or tackle is key. Just fighting in a phone booth. It brings it’s challenges but it’s also – you can lock up pretty fast.”

(Offensive Line Coach Steve Marshall, the last two times we’ve talked to him, he mentioned you being the MVP of the o-line and probably the most important player because of your versatility. What does that compliment mean to you from him?) – “Yeah, that’s nice to hear. I do work hard at this position and try to balance it all or cross-train, whatever they want to call it. I just want to be on the field. The fastest way off the field is to tell somebody no, you’re not going to play the position. I enjoy the challenges that it brings. Sometimes it’s tough but it’s also good to keep it all on the line, playing left to right and right to left, and hopefully keep a future here.”

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Head Coach Brian Flores 

(I wanted to ask you about S Eric Rowe and CB Nik Needham and the roles they play in your defense and the progress that they have made over the past two seasons. How valuable have those guys been to your defense this season?) – “I think both guys have played well. I think their communication has gotten better, I think they’re tackling well, I think they are both giving us competitive coverage. I think they are both playing well and hopefully that continues. It’s a week-to-week league so how they prepare this week will say a lot about how they play. I think they’ve prepared each week, or they have attacked each week, in the correct manner and it has showed up on game day. Hopefully that continues.”

(I wanted to get an update on QB Tua Tagovailoa. You watched him practice yesterday. What would be your assessment? Do you still see the thumb as an issue that can impact his performance?) – “He was limited at practice. I’m sure you guys saw that on the injury report. We’ll take it one day at a time. Both quarterbacks practiced yesterday. We’ll just take it one day at a time. We’ll see how he progresses through the week and make the decision come Sunday.”

(When we talked to QB Tua Tagovailoa yesterday, my impression was that he was a little bit concerned about how the injury could affect his throwing. That’s my impression. What is your impression of if it is impacting him and do you feel he has some concern?) – “I think it’s pretty well known that he’s dealing with something and anytime you’re dealing with something, you’re not 100 percent, you’re not at full strength and there is always some type of impact. But I think every player in this league is dealing with that in some form or fashion. Eleven games in, everyone is nicked, everyone is bruised up, no one is really at 100 percent like they were in Day 1 of training camp. Everyone is dealing with something. That is certainly the case with a lot of players on our team. I think guys find a way to work through things in this league and Tua is no different.”

(I had a question about sports science actually. Have you guys looked into and found a game plan when it comes to managing rookies through a season where they didn’t have an offseason, where they didn’t have training camp? I know the rookie wall is something that coaches talk about. I don’t know how much credence you give to that, but certainly these are very unique circumstances for a bunch of guys whose college season would be wrapping up pretty soon.) – “We have a sports science group and I think Dave Puloka, our head strength and conditioning coach  and (Coordinator, Sports Science/Strength & Conditioning Assistant) Adam Lachance, those guys do a great job from that standpoint as far as yardage and numbers and things of that nature. I can’t really speak to it – I have a pretty good understanding but I wouldn’t speak to the exact numbers of what a player in this position, what’s the exact yardage he should or shouldn’t have right now – I would say more than anything because this is a little bit unprecedented. I think that’s kind of the time we’re in. There were no OTAs, there was a different training camp, it’s been a different year completely. That may be changing even more so. So yes, it’s something we take into consideration. It’s something we talk about. But the message to the young players, rookies – guys who haven’t been through an NFL season – is take care of your bodies, make sure you’re hydrating, make sure you’re eating right, make sure you’re getting your sleep, make sure you’re fueling yourself so you have enough energy to make it through the day. And I think communication is a big part of that and we talk to them about telling us when they’re sore or fatigued or things of that nature. We just try to work through it on a day-to-day basis. I don’t know if the numbers – we use numbers – maybe you tell me, if we had the numbers, what would we be basing that off of? Because it’s a totally different year. Maybe you could help me that. I don’t know. (laughter) If it was a normal year, then maybe those numbers would – I don’t want to say mean something, but maybe they would give us more of an accurate way to proceed. But in a year where everything is a little bit different, I’m not sure. Everyone’s in uncharted territory.”

(I also wanted to get your take on the Bengals special teams unit. I feel like that was kind of the phase that kept them in the game last week. Just kind of what you’ve seen from that.) – “Yeah, this is one of the best special teams units in the league. (Bengals Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator) Darrin Simmons is one of the best kicking game coaches in the league. You see it year-in and year-out and like you said, that phase kept them in the game last week. I think they’ve got some – Brandon Wilson is kind of an underrated player, but this guy’s a very good returner. (Kevin) Huber is a really good punter. (Randy) Bullock – they’ve got good specialists. They’ve got good players on those units. They play fast. Schematically, they do a good job. They’re not afraid to run some fakes, which they got one off last week. This is going to be a challenge, I think, for our special teams unit, and we’ve got to play well in that phase. They’ve shown that they can keep themselves in a game strictly off of special teams. We’ve got to do a good job.”

(You mentioned I guess a few minutes ago that nobody’s 100 percent at this point. I guess with QB Tua Tagovailoa and the thumb at some point you’re going to have a decision with maybe 80 or 90 percent, 70 percent – wherever he is – Tua versus a maybe healthier QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. What goes into a decision when you’re trying to see if someone is healthy enough to play compared to someone else who may be healthier, if that makes sense.) – “I think there’s a lot that goes into that decision – what’s best for the player, what’s best for the team, what we need to do, what we need to be able to do to try to win a ball game. I think all those things – I think that’s at the top of the priority list when you’re thinking about who can play and who can’t, really at any position. But like I said earlier, everyone is – I would say every player in this league that’s played a significant amount of snaps is dealing with something and you try to work through it. That’s what Tua’s doing. That’s what a lot of guys on our team are doing and we’ll see it how it goes over the course of the week. It’s Thursday and I know you guys want to know right now if he’s playing, if he’s not playing; but we’ve still got two days of practice here and like always, we’re going to make the best decision for the team.”

(I wanted to get an update on the running backs. RB DeAndre Washington missed practice yesterday with a hamstring injury. You’ve got two guys coming back – RB Myles Gaskin and RB Salvon Ahmed. With their injuries, where are you from a depth standpoint and an availability standpoint based on what you saw yesterday?) – “I made this mistake also, it’s pronounced ‘OCK-med.’ Don’t worry, I made the same mistake. He doesn’t correct people like he should, which I told him he needs to do that. It’s good to get (Salvon) Ahmed back. Obviously (Myles) Gaskin was back yesterday – or last week (at practice) I should say. ‘D. Wash’ (DeAndre Washington), we had to hold him out, but we feel good about our backs – (Matt) Breida, (Patrick) Laird, Myles, Ahmed. I think we’ve got enough guys that we can line up and play. I think everyone’s dealing with injuries, COVID, things of that nature. We watched the game yesterday with a number of guys out for different reasons – some injuries, some COVID. We just have to do the best with what we’ve got. Guys are trying to come back and practice and guys who are banged up are doing everything they can to get back as quickly as possible and get into the game. Like I said, everyone is a little bit banged up this time of year. It’s not just one position. You guys have mentioned it’s running back, a little bit on the o-line. Other teams are dealing with it and we’re no different. We’ve just got to fight through a little bit of adversity and then the next guy’s got to step up and play. It’s a team game. There’s 53 guys on the roster and if somebody for whatever reason can’t be out there, the next guy’s got to be able to step up and play and I think they’re ready to do that. That’s what I like about this team. They pull for each other, they support one another and if someone’s got to – for whatever reason whether it’s injury or COVID or whatever the case may be – the next guy’s ready to step up.”

(Closing statement.) – “Real quick, I just want to say happy birthday to Joe Cimino. He’s our head equipment guy. He does a great job for us and I would say he’s tops in the league, so I’m very appreciative of him and his staff, and just wanted to give him a little quick shoutout. Thanks, guys.”