Had a chance to talk with offensive coordinator Greg Olson Thursday afternoon, his first interview since an introductory meet-and-greet with the media following his hiring. Wrote a story on the developing offense for print in Friday’s papers, and the following is the Olson interview in its entirety:
Q: We haven’t talked since after you were hired and just getting to know your personnel. What do you see right now after a full off-season?
Olson: Well, we’re trying to identify, throughout this whole process, we’re trying to identify who are playmakers are, and I think we’ve done a good job with that. Certainly Darren McFadden’s going to be a very important piece of what you’re doing. We’ve got good competition at the tight end position and that will sort itself out as we go to training camp. Wide receivers, we found out that we’ve got a number of talented players there. It’s been a pleasant surprise. I think we’ve got great competition at that position. I think the offensive line is the strength of our unit, they show that throughout the three phases, the OTAs, the minicamp, the Phase I part of the program, and we’ve got good competition at quarterback right now. The biggest thing for us as a staff is let’s try to identify who the playmakers are, who to get the ball to, and let’s put in a base system, build it from the ground up, and get the players familiar with a lot, kind of throw everything at them so they’ve got a real good feel of what we’re going to try and get accomplished.
Q: Last year, a system was brought in and the philosophy was, `these are the plays we’re going to run.’ Players say you’ll stop them in the hallway to talk offense, sharing ideas . . . do you see offense as sort of an evolutionary concept as opposed to a system and a series of plays?
Olson: Yeah, I believe that, based upon collective bargaining and the way free agency is now. You can no longer put together a team of players and have them six or seven years together as a group. There’s a tremendous amount of turnover now because of free agency, so I think you’ve got to try and adapt your system based upon the players you have available and the players that have been drafted by the particular team that you’re on, then try and play to those players strengths. I’ve been exposed to a number of different systems and I think that’s helped me throughout my career. I’ve been in the West Coast system early on with Bill Walsh, through Steve Mariucci. I was in the Mike Martz-Scott Linehan system in St. Louis, which is also kind of Al Saunders’ background. I’ve been exposed to a number of different systems. I’ve been with Jon Gruden, and exposed to his version of the West Coast. And then with Mike Mularkey a guy that came from a very successful franchise in Atlanta. So I’ve been exposed to a number of different systems and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, you’d better adapt to the players you have on your team. You’d better not pigeon-hole yourself as in, `This is my system and this is what we’re going to do’ because that personnel may not match that system.
Q: Seeking player input, selling players on the system, was always a big thing with Gruden . . .
Olson: I would consider Jon probably my biggest influence in football because of his passion, his passion as a coach, his preparation, and his presentation, his presentation to the players is what you’re talking about, how to present it to him. He talked about that, let’s find out what these guys can do and when you get in that position, Greg, make sure you’ve identified, who are the guys you’ve got to get the ball too and what ways creatively can you do that. That’s what I’m trying to find out here. I’m relying a lot on the staff, some of the guys that were here a year ago, someone like Al Saunders that’s been here for a number of years, as an assistant, and look at some of the things they did before and getting input from the players as well.
Q: As much as NFL considered a passing league, how much will you hang your hat on a tough, hard-nosed run game?
Olson: Yeah, I’ve been in deep conversation with Tony Sparano, who excels in the run game, and has everywhere he’s been. With the thought in mind, when we came together, we watched a lot of tape of what they’ve done here, not just last season but the previous system, and we feel good about the system we’ve put together based upon the players we have right now. A lot of what you’re doing with your passing and your throwing will be dictated by the players that you have, and right now, where we’re at, not just at the running back position, but at quarterback and wide receiver, we’re a team that feels we’re going to need to run the football and take some pressure off that quarterback position and play to win the game that way.
Q: You’re not only putting a system together for team, but for three entirely different styles of play at quarterback. Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor and Tyler Wilson are nothing alike. Is that a challenge?
Olson: Sure. Certainly it is, but those are the players that are on this team, so we’ll try to play to their strengths and you’ll have packages, do you really want it that way? No, but you do with what you have. We’re not sitting here claiming we have Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady. We never made that statement or that claim. But we’ve got guys we feel are very capable of running an NFL team and an NFL offense and they both possess different types of skills, so we’ll try to play upon those skills until someone separates themselves.
Q: Conventional wisdom is when you’re in offseason, with no contact, no one’s getting hit, and receivers know they’re not getting hit, then the ball shouldn’t touch the ground . . . you’ve been up and down _ Dennis Allen says he’s worried about the progress and not what it looks like . . .do you see that progress?
Olson: Yeah, and I think what we’ve tried to do, we’ve asked Jason Tarver, we want a lot of pressure. We want pressure. It’s a blitz practice, guys. We want to understand how to pick blitzes up, because if we just stand back and play straight Cover 2 and they bring a four-man rush, I’d like to believe our guys would be able to protect it and know how to make the calls. But when you get into those pressures, we want to put them in as many pressure situations as possible and find out who would rise to the top and who may take over a game in that situation. Those are things we’re trying to do.
Q: Have seen lots of blitzes during practice, even safeties . . .
Olson: It’s very good for us. We want it, and we’ve got to get these quarterbacks with very little experience, they’ve got to get up to speed quickly with that. We accomplished a lot. Was the execution where we wanted it to be? No, it wasn’t. But at this point, we still have time to prepare, but we feel now those guys have a much better understandings of protections, schemes and what they need to do in order to protect themelves. A lot of it was by design.
Q: I suppose if it’s like 7-on-7, summer high school flag league, it’s not of much benefit . . .
Olson: We eliminated 7-on-7, which a lot of teams do. We didn’t want that. Let’s put these guys under some pressure here. I always go back to Gruden, we’re not a team that wants to feel pressure, we want to apply pressure. We wanted to put as much pressure on our players as we could, we wanted to stimulate them, we wanted to motivate them, so when they come to work, you’re going to have to work, guys. You’re going to have to study. You can’t just come in and put in the time allotted. You’re going to have to go home and study at night, because not only are we installing a lot, because of the different variables we have at quarterback, but you’re also going to have a lot thrown at you, so not only are you going to have to learn this new system, but you’re also going to have to learn to pick up some of these exotic packages that are going throughout the league.