Q: Are you at all surprised with what Ahmad has been able to do this season?
A: No, stats are stats. I think what we've seen out of Ahmad is what we've always continued to see out of him. He's hard running, tough, determined. He's always been a hard runner, even when he was a rookie down the road during that Super Bowl period right then, he was probably one of the leading rushers at that time. The things that he has progressed on is learning how to protect the quarterback, being on the same page as Eli and those kinds of situations and areas. We always knew he had the potential, and the more carries you get as a running back, the better you are. He just now took it to a point to where he wants to be fed. He wants that on his back, and he wants to be the guy that makes a difference in what he does and he wants to win. That shows in how hard he runs. How is able to put all the other pieces together and how he can focus on everything and focus on holding onto the ball while he runs hard because he's so determined, that's the area where he's progressive. Targeting the anger into being even more focused. He runs mean and angry and he's ready to fight everybody off with his hands and whoever is in the way. Now, he has to learn how to be smarter but still be the same guy. It's a learning process that when you've had enough, now you have to do something. We have the tools for you, and we have another individual who was here before that he has to be the playmaker and everything they do has to be that play, but when you don't have the ball in your hands, it doesn't matter anyway. It's all there for him, it's just when is that energy going to come together and say, "Hey, that's an area that I really, really have to focus on."
Q: How sure are you that Ahmad can handle the responsibilities and all those carries associated with being the number one back on this team?
A: After what he has already experienced a year ago, I don't know many more tougher individuals than him physically. Let me tell you something, with this guy, when it comes to that point, your bottom fell out. The guy played every game last year with what he had, which most individuals couldn't do, and he did it every single week. There aren't many people around or on this team as tough as that. He'll do whatever it takes to be out there, to win and help the team. My worries with him are him progressing and getting to that point of saying that enough is enough, and I have to focus on a little more than that. Just like when we told Tiki, we did a three year study when he first came here of how he held onto the ball and what he had to do. He really had to put his energy towards "Hey, I can really run with my legs and my legs are strong enough, I don't need to fight with my hands." So once he gets to the point where he can believe that, and just really believe it all the time, he will have reached where we want him to be. All the other things, I don't think about his toughness and what he can handle and what's too much and all that. He will go as far as you can take him.
Q: Do you marvel at what he was able to do last year?
A: Yeah. Like I said, it's unbelievable...he's a testimony of what one individual can handle because I know I couldn't handle it. I know 95 percent of this team probably couldn't do it. He had that kind of pain threshold, and when he plays on game day, he may hurt during practice and he may look like he can't walk or run, but on game day, he's a totally different beast. He's one of those guys that, hey, if I have to go in a back alley with, you're the first guy I'd ask. The first, without a question. The guy has no conscience. When Jessie played here, Jessie played here with no conscience and a direction to win and compete. That's what you love about this kid, you really love the way he plays. How he progresses in lines? That's what you do as coach and that's my fault. I have to get him there, okay, that'll be my fault.
Q: Does he go through the hole that he's designed to go through, and what happens when he makes something out of nothing?
A: If you study most running backs, there is no hole you're designed to go through. If the defense gives you it, because they get paid, too. If they take that hole away, you have to go to the next hole. If there is nothing, you're hoping you have a guy that can make magic. There are times there when he's making magic happen out there. We wish you can picture and draw where things are supposed to happen but that's what makes him special and that's what makes a lot of great running backs special. They can turn nothing into something.
Q: When you look at film, do you find yourself agreeing with his decisions?
A: I'd say 95 percent of the time, he's where he needs to be and then he's trying to find something after that.
Q: When he was hurt, he didn't practice, and now he is practicing. What difference does that make?
A: Oh, I think it makes a difference on his confidence, knowing his job and how to pass protect and where the blitzes are coming from and all the tips and pointers. You can talk about it in the class room, but it's one thing to actually do it. In our position, most of the guys are doers. Once you get to a certain point, you do it over and over and over, repetition. Now, they can actually talk about what actually happens out there and they can see it. Instinctively, he missed a lot of that during the week and he'd see it, but it's not the same as actually doing it.
Q: Were there times last year when you thought that he wouldn't be able to go?
A: No, no. When he got hurt and everybody got hurt in that first game of the year, and they turned to me and they said "I don't know if Ahmad can go," I turned to him and said, "Ahmad, you don't have a choice." There was a period in that Washington game where they were all hurt, and one of the trainers said he's got to go and I said, "All these people here don't want to see me play right now, so you don't have a choice and get back out there." He did. From then on, no problem. You maintenance him, you take care of him, you give him what he needs. Ronnie Barnes did a phenomenal job working with him, but his heart, toughness. He's the last person I'd have to worry about on game days. Tom might worry about him sometimes and say "He's in a lot of pain." The first hit, he's ready to go.
Q: Is he dealing with physical issues from being hurt last year to the extent that he was?
A: He's fine. I don't think so, his thing is just getting his mind ready to play.
Q: Do you think getting his mind ready to play means getting used to being the number one back?
A: No, just focusing on his job. Protecting, running, and looking. As a runner, you're always looking for that one run to make the difference, and you want to be the difference whether it's a pass or a run. It's also being a complete running back and being a great blocker. So, he has a lot to focus on. We help the offensive line chip, we pick up the blitzes, serve as a receiver out of the backfield. There are times when Eli will say "I need you out, I know you're protecting but I need you out in the route to open a pattern up" or "I need to get the ball off to you because of the speed of the rush." So, he was fragmented a year ago and he would say "I'm going to protect Eli and I'm going to stay in," and Eli would say "No, I need you out on this." One of those types of things.