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Safeties coach Dave Merritt, 08.02.09

Q: Is it safe to say that Michael Johnson is going to do a lot of the verbal stuff on the field?

A: You’re right. Michael is going to be the guy that I put pressure on to make the calls. Kenny Phillips did an unbelievable job this spring. I was thoroughly surprised that he was able to go back and able to make the calls. But Michael Johnson will be the one that I will put the pressure on when it’s first and second down. Of course when we go to the third down package, Mike, as you guys know, last year was the wheel linebacker and it’s going to be for the other guys in the back end to make the calls. But right now it’s not too simplistic to say that Michael will be the one making the calls.

Q: When Kenny Phillips came to camp last year he made a ton of plays and it looked like he was going to have one of those spectacular rookie seasons. What happened? Why didn’t that translate from training camp to the regular season?

A: That’s a good question. I think Kenny probably asked himself the same thing. I think he started over-thinking the game and with the pro game, as you guys know, the playbook is a little thicker than it is in college. I think he was over-thinking his responsibilities and things that he needed to do and he became like a robot. But he did make a ton of plays as a rookie and hopefully he’ll be able to turn the plays this year into the plays we saw last year. Overall, Kenny had a phenomenal rookie year. James Butler and Michael Johnson stepped in and we didn’t miss a beat when Gibril Wilson left. Overall, I’m looking for big things out of Kenny.

Q: Are you concerned with depth after the top three?

A: No. To be honest with you, this is the first year that I’ve had depth and the athletic ability that we have at the safety position is unbelievable. You look at CC Brown, who’s coming from Houston; he started there for four years. He’s coming in here to compete for a starting job and all of the guys know that. I told them that everyone is penciled in right now, but there’s no ink. CC is going to come here and compete for a job. You look at CC, you look at Kenny, you look at Mike, and then you say okay, after that, just as you’re questioning, where do you go next? Well you have a young kid, Sha’reff Rashad, who came in and I’ll tell you, I was impressed and still am impressed from the beginning when he stepped into my office. The kid is very smart, high IQ, he’s able to make the calls. I don’t want to take away from his ability to play as a deep ball specialist, because one thing he can do is track the ball. Travonti Johnson, he’s making the transition from corner to safety and I think TJ has picked it up very well. I play my safeties right and left during training camp and the spring so they all learn the strong safety and the free safety position. But as far as depth, one of the things we’ve done a good job of here is preparing the second and third group and hopefully if something happens, like a couple years ago when we went to Dallas for the playoff game and had to put our practice squad guy out there for about 30 plays. Hopefully those guys will be ready to play and I’m sure they will.