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The words from Sparano's mouth [Part deux]

You didn't think an hour or so of interview time could be handled in only one blog post did you? Below is the second and final part of Tony Sparano's interview with media present at the NFL owners' meeting earlier this week.

In the second half, Sparano talks extensively about Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. He talks not so extensively about John Beck.

He talks about the Patriots. He talks about Tony McDaniel. He gives Ernest Wilford some attention. He discusses how he came to not call the plays in Miami after longing and to do that when he was in Dallas. He talks about Tony Romo and how Bill Parcells knew when the time was right to put the young quarterback in ahead of Drew Bledsoe.

It's interesting stuff. So digest it all. And comment at will.

On the projected use of defensive lineman Tony McDaniel, whom Salguero didn't know existed before last week: "We’re going to bring him in and start him and take a look at him at defensive end first. I think that’s kind of where he belongs right now, and then see if he can go in there and play. We have a couple of candidates in there with Fergie right now, with Joe Cohen and Paul Soliai that we need to see a little bit more of. This gives us a chance this spring to see a little bit more of them too. We’re going to start Tony out at end and we’ll see. It’s kind of like the offensive line. At the end of this, if he’s a better nose we’re going to end up having him there. I just have a feeling that’s going to be a pretty hard position for him."

How many plays for Ferguson per game (294 for Charlie Anderson was No. 1 on special teams): "Ferguson averaged 33 plays a game. Some games he played 17. Some games he might have played 40, 40-something, so it just depended on the nature of what was happening out there. As the season went on we got Ferguson a little more involved in what we called big nickel, and we were able to put him out there in the sub package, when people went to sub against us thinking he was going to come off the field and they were going to run the ball we kept him out there a little bit and got him involved in that. That’s right around what we thought Ferg’s play count is. If we can get him 30, 35 plays, that’s where we want him."

On the need for a back-up nose, which is not as important as the need for a backup cheek: "Very important to find someone who can back him up and go in and help Ferg that way a little bit. That’s the question. If you look at where we are right now compared with where we were a year ago, well where we were a year ago some of these front line players, Ferguson, were question marks. When you look at that there were a lot more question marks. Now we have some of those question marks answered a little better, but there’s still these other questions – Who’s going to back him up? Soliai and these people, Randy Starks, whoever it might be, these guys have to step up and play. That will be interesting to watch the competition between Starks and Merling, maybe, and who’s going to do what. These guys have to step up and we have to see what we have. I always use this with my coaches. Look, if we don’t get one other piece right now, one other player, when we’re looking at our team, what do we do? This is the process we go through. One of the things from our end right now is, hey, we have to make Paul Soliai a better player. We have to make this Joe Cohen a better player, continue to get Randy Starks, Randy I thought was one of the players who improved the most as the season went on, started to feel a little more comfortable in our defense coming over from the 4-3 defense. We’re in the business of making these young players better.

On paying attention to New England getting second-round pick for Cassel, getting three compensatory picks, Peppers trade talk and threatening to bring a young Jim Brown out of retirement: "It doesn’t really get a reaction from me. I feel like we need to take care of our own house. As we look at it, we have done that. We feel really good about the moves we were able to make right now, and bringing back the players we were able to bring back. We could be sitting here right now and not having a right tackle, and not having a mike linebacker. So when we look at what we did to keep the three players from being free agents out there right now, with Vernon and Channing and Yeremiah and then bringing in some of the players we were able to bring in, we feel really good about where we are right now. At the end of this our goal is we get better. I don’t know exactly what that will equal at the end of this whole thing, but I know we will get better."

On the need for a big wide receiver who can run faster than Ernest “The Human Glacier” Wilford: "I mentioned that before, every team may want one of those guys. But from our end, I’m really happy with the group of guys we have because I know their strengths. I clearly know their strengths right now and clearly know their weaknesses. What I don’t know is there are some young guys on the roster right now who have the ability to go in and do some of this work, London being one of these guys, Lowber maybe being a guy who can go in and do some of those things, Anthony Armstrong is a guy out there I’m interested in watching a little bit more. When you see some of these guys, that gives us a chance to watch a few of them. But there’s no question when you’re looking, if you find one of those players, that’s great. It depends on how we enter this draft situation.

Ok, Tony, who is the team to beat in the AFC East, and please be completely honest: "No comment. You’re never going to get me on that one."

Well, perhaps we can get you on this one. What about the impact of young quarterbacks last year and why you sat your young guy: "With Flacco and Ryan, those guys were outstanding this year, but when I look at Chad Henne and think about all the knowledge he’s getting, knowing every day what Chad Pennington puts those guys through. He really does put them through the ringer that way. He challenges them. I can’t imagine that’s not the most valuable information that this kid can get."

Do you see Pennington rubbing off on Henne and Beck -- in work habits not arm strength, of course: "Yeah I do, in his study habits, in his work habits. All those things. Take nothing away from Chad Henne. Chad Henne went to Michigan, won a starting job as a rookie (freshman) and didn’t look back and started for four years there for a heck of a program. But at this level all the little things that go into playing that position, that make Peyton Manning what Peyton Manning really is and Tom Brady what Tom Brady really is. When you’re able to get those kind of things on the job, I think it’s critical – and watching what Henne has done during the offseason and during the season a little bit at the end of the year and watching how he’s grown a bit. I was really impressed with that. So I think the kid has been smart about it. I think he’s said, this is my job right now, this is my challenge, so I’m going to make sure I get everything I can out of this guy. The great thing is Chad Pennington is willing to do that for him."

On Brady saying Michigan is great environment to learn in, although lately not to win football games in: "When I watch Chad out on the practice field or watch Chad even in some of the ball games, preseason games, or the one game he played in this year. Everything is water off a duck’s back to him. In other words, nothing really fazes him that way. He’s a very cool, calm character. I think that comes from being in that environment. Every week, 100,000 people breathing down your back and you’re the guy."

Dumbest question in the world, does Henne want to play: "If he sits another year, that’s a good problem. What I mean by that it’s a good problem all the way around in that if he sits another year he’s learning a little bit more. He’s do all those things. I know Chad Henne and I know the competitor in Chad Henne. He’s not going to settle for that. And I know Chad Pennington. There’s going to be great competition out there when it goes on. I just know whenever he gets the opportunity I feel like he’s going to be very ready because of what Pennington has been able to do with him. How he’s been able to him. And what the kid has done himself. This guy has been there in building a month and a half right now, an easy month and a half, three or four days a week."

So when is the right time for Henne as if everyone doesn't know it'll be 2010 the latest?: "You just said what David Lee says, ‘You know when you know.’ I think that’s true. You do know when you know a little bit. I think a large part of that is contingent on what Chad Pennington does. I just know how hard he’s working. This guy is working his tail off as well. When you see that, and you see a guy who has however many years Chad’s been in the league now and you see him working the way he’s working, that’s impressive, too. I know how prepared Chad Pennington will be and I know Chad Henne will be prepared as well, when it happens, it happens. From our standpoint, I just hope we continue to do well and these guys continue to have success and when it’s his turn it’s his turn."

Did you know it was time for Tony Romo when the time came?: "I knew when we put Romo in."

How?: "At that point with Tony every time you put him the game, every single time you put him in the game something good happened. We had a lot of exposure with him, more exposure certainly than what we had with our quarterback Chad Henne now. We had Tony for a couple of years and preseasons, Tony got a lot of playing time that way. Nothing against Drew Bledsoe at the time, but you could just see where we were. We were 3-3 and just lost to Philadelphia down in their place. At that point, 3-3, and this guy was beating the door down, I mean Tony was beating the door down at that point. It was just the right time. We were 3-3, we were a .500 team. We needed to be able to make a change. We put Tony in there and didn’t look back."

But some bad things happened with Romo early on, and that was before he was dating Jessica Simpson: "The Giants game, yeah. I think his first pass was a play-action pass that ended up getting tipped by Strahan and intercepted, if I remember the play correctly. But we’ll chalk that one up to us as coaches. Bill felt Romo was a guy really to stay on top of: I really felt like Tony was a pretty easy guy to coach. He’s an intelligent guy that is a competitor. This guy is a competitor. He loves competition. If you’re walking down the hall with Tony Romo, he’ll try to beat you to the door. I think that with him it was always easy to motivate Tony. I never worried about that."

Can you confirm Salguero's story about Henne getting a bunch of work in the coming preseason and being the guy in 2010?: "We want to get Henne as much work right now as we can get him, in the spring, as we get on in these OTAs and in the preseason, yeah. That’s our time to find out. That really is. That’s not saying we don’t get Chad Pennington his work. We know he needs his work. He’ll get work to get ready to play. But the nice thing about Chad Pennington is he can communicate with you on what kind of work he needs, too. He’s far enough along in this thing, last year when he came in I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall and I’m saying to him, look what do we need to do, how much work do we need to get, he tells me exactly what he needed at that particular time. Where Chad Henne, even last year we knew, we have to get this guy as much work as we can and we tried to get him as much as we can get him. He’ll play a lot. We’d like to him play a lot."

What about what'shisname, your third-stringer, John Beck: "It will be hard to get John work. But there’s only three quarterbacks right now. That’s all we’re carrying. With John, he knows his job first foremost is to compete with Henne. He gets his reps in practice. He’ll get some reps in the preseason games as well. He’s done a nice job staying focused as the season went on. That wasn’t an easy situation for him. He was in the middle of a quarterback deal, enter Pennington and Henne and all of the sudden that thing changes, so it was really not easy for him. But at the end of the day, he was the guy we kept. He’s a young quarterback, only two years in the league. So he’ll continue to get better, I think. He’s a pretty diligent guy. He’ll work at it. But his first worry is Henne and competing there before we can worry about taking the next step."

What is the difference in threatening motivating guys off an 11-win vs 1-win season: "I wouldn’t worry about deflating. When these guys walk through that door Monday of next week and it’s Day One of the off-season program, they’ll figure out that we really don’t care that we care what happened a year ago. At this point we can’t worry about what happened a year ago or any of those things. It’s our job to get better. They know how I’m going to approach this thing. The nice thing about my team right now is they know we did good this last year, but it wasn’t good enough. We need to take the next step. They’re pretty hungry to take the next step. I’m pretty excited about what their attitude would be like when they come back."

On the impact of 17- or 18-game schedule cutting down on preseason and interest in baseball sooner: "Without having a lot of time to spend thinking about that, but just hearing a little bit about it, particularly in the last few days. From our end one of the things we’d have to do, your springs would have to be a little more productive. I think really more importantly some of the things you’re not able to do in the spring, the 7-on-7s, the 1-on-1s, the things you’re not allowed to do in these OTAs, we’re not allowed to go and do. Those kinds of things when you’re trying to make evaluations with them, the less practice opportunities. The college have, if I’m correct, 29 practice opportunities before they play their first game. Some of these situations, depending on how you practice, you really have to make a conscious effort looking 15 days out from the first preseason game and starting to think about practice opportunities now and starting to count the number of practice opportunities you have to get those players ready."

As a former offensive play-caller, how did you decide not to call plays in Miami: "When I was hiring coaches and I went around and started to look at some different people and started to visit with them, I had two different deals going on. One was if I found somebody I was really comfortable with, who had the experience to run the offense, they would run the offense and I would be the head coach and make sure I was able to touch both sides of the ball, special teams, have my hand involved in all that and bring this thing together a little bit more. If not and I found somebody who maybe needed to be coached a little bit, then I would call the plays. I found Dan Henning. He has 30-plus years of experience and has been a head coach in this league, has called plays for a lot of head coaches and I turned the offense over to Dan. Dan and I communicate very well together. That’s all I can ask for. I trust him and Paul Pasqualoni with both the offense and the defense and I am very much involved on both sides of the ball that way. What this team needed at the time when I came in here certainly wasn’t a guy who was just an offensive guy or just a defensive guy. In fact, in the last couple, several years, they may have had that back and forth. They needed someone who was going to be a head coach and let Channing Crowder know, I’m with you and this is what I see and at the same time be over here with Teddy Ginn. That’s really helped me a lot."

Was Lord Big Tuna like that?: "Bill was like that. But early on, Bill wanted to call the plays. The facts were the facts, Bill Parcells at that time had come from the whole New England staff and the Giants staff where they had been together, Romeo Crennel and that group, they had been together so long that he trusted them. When he came to Dallas he wasn’t able to get any of those people. At the end of the day, we were all new faces sitting there. I think you have to earn Bill’s trust. So finally I got to that point and he was able to turn that over to me and let me call the plays. But until then, Bill was going to call the plays. If I didn’t find Dan Henning maybe, I might be doing that."

Do you miss it even though you were making about one-tenth the salary you are making now?: "During the course of the game when I’m out there communicating with our offense and our defense I don’t really give it a second thought because I have too much on my plate to be honest. The game management part of this thing every week presents something different to the head coach. Every head coach will tell you that no matter how long they’ve been doing that. To me that’s a great challenge. I kind of get excited about it. It helps me not miss calling the plays."

What if Dan Henning, who was present at the founding of the world, retires: "I can go back and call it – and would. If I didn’t find the right guy, I’d absolutely would."

Please talk about Ronnie Brown going forward as going backward is bad for a running back: "I would think that Ronnie not having to battle the offseason deal with the rehab and doing all he had to do, I would think Ronnie would be able to take the next step with his progression with another good offseason. Ronnie had great offseason in that rehab, but we had to kind of wean him into the spring a little bit. Now we don’t have to guard those reps. Ronnie can go and we can get him going early in this process which should help him. At the end of this he should be a lot sharper."

On Ronnie Brown carrying the ball 25 times a game like a real featured back: "As long as we have Ricky and Ronnie and both of them have a great offseason, I really don’t see that. I look around the league and I see fewer and fewer teams that have one guy running around. The teams that do, you better guard them pretty well because these guys are too big and too strong on the other side for one back to be bringing it up in there 35 times a game, 16 weeks of the season. That’s a hard deal. I don’t think that’s something I’m that interested in now."

Another idiot reporter who wasn't present before sits down and asks a question that's already been asked about Henne: "He’s done really well. He’s been at the facility for about six weeks now, three or four times a day now. He’s been throwing, he’s been running, he’s been lifting. He got a lot better at the end of the season last year. He’ll continue to get better. With him you see the ball jump off his hand and you see him making these throws against your defense. He spent a lot of time this off-season with our quarterbacks coach David Lee preparing, watching film, watching Chad Pennington’s stuff and at the same time really learning an awful lot from Chad Pennington, which is so valuable."

Do you have a comfortable situation at quarterback: "It is the right situation. You go back into and you know Chad Pennington is the guy. He just came off arguably one of the best years he’s had and you look at it and say this is still a young football team and our hopes is we want to get younger. We want to be young for the long haul. Chad Pennington is a guy who shows great leadership there. But Chad Henne is a guy I think won’t be comfortable in that position and will continue to chase Chad Pennington."

You have a young team with big expectations: "Just that they understand, my area of concern would be when we come back we understand, and I said this to them before they left, you don’t pick up where you left off, you go back to the beginning and start all over again and try to do better. If they come back with that attitude and that mind-set, we’ll be fine. This group is a pretty gritty group so I think they’ll do that."

How does Brady getting healthy and married change AFC East: "I think it changes it tremendously. When you bring a player like Tom Brady back in the division on a team with weapons like the Patriots have, you bring more firepower to a team that already has a lot of firepower. This team won 11 games and however many they won without him last year, you could argue if Tom was there, who knows what would have happened. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in our league and has been for a long time so when you bring a quarterback like that back like that on a team like that you’re going to have to step up and everybody is going to have to play their best when we play them."

What about Pennington's four interception game that ended his and your season?: "If I know Chad Pennington like I know Chad Pennington, he doesn’t deal with that very well. It’s probably something that drives him during the off-season, his training, his preparation and the way he goes about his business. If I know him, he can’t wait to get out there and get another bite at the apple a little bit, just because of the kind of guy he is. He wears that on his sleeve a little bit, a lot like I do. I don’t erase that vision very easily in my mind. He being the quarterback in that situation I would say that’s something he’s thought about a lot during the off-season."

Did the Ravens D show you Pennington can’t play against good teams: "It’d be hard for me to put my finger on what Chad Henne can give us without Chad Henne really being out there in games in those kind of situations. What I do know is we turned the ball over both times we played Baltimore, particularly in the playoff game. So did everyone else who played Baltimore. That’s not an excuse for it. My point is if you turn the ball over against a team like that the possibilities of winning the game are slim and none. You put yourself in a massive hole. Going into ball games like that, if you can play your best football, not turn the football over, I would really like to see what the outcome would be. Chad Pennington in that kind of situation, the guy’s been rock solid for 15, 16 weeks, we get into that ballgame and one gets tipped, one gets picked, and all the sudden you have three turnovers and you start to put yourself into a little bit of hole. I would say he’d want that back. Knowing Chad, he would really want that opportunity back."

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