Linebacker Kirk Morrison has been a model of consistency for the Oakland Raiders in their recent years of instability. He's been the team's leading tackler every year since becoming a starter early on as a rookie in 2005. Morrison is one of the unquestioned leaders of the defense.
But that defense also happens to be one of the worst in the league at stopping the run.
As the Raiders look to turn their fortunes around in 2009, the run defense will once again be under close scrutiny. In the search for answers, Morrison has proved to be a capable spokesperson. He is articulate, unrelentingly positive, and forthcoming.
In other words, an ideal interview subject.
Here are some questions I would ask him if given the chance. Each question has a possible follow-up since most often the best nuggets are found there. Of course, it is impossible to know his answers, but it's all in the name of preparation.
1. What's been the attitude of the team during the offseason with Tom Cable returning as Head Coach?
A general, open-ended question to ease into conversation and just have him start talking a bit.
- Follow-up: How is it different this year knowing that there's no internal drama at the Head Coach position?
Carrying on the theme of getting the pulse of the team, but I would still expect something vague given his previous answers talking mostly about the positive feeling. Which leads to:
- Follow-up: Was there anything specific that worked on the field in those last two games that can be successful again?
3. One of the big defensive issues over the years has been the run defense. What has new Defensive Coordinator John Marshall done so far to address that?
Starting to focus in on the run defense to get to more personal questions, but still addressing one of the major changes in the offseason. But the big item here is still the issue of change.
- Follow-up: What's been different in Marshall's approach compared to Rob Ryan's over the last few years?
4. Are there any changes to start utilizing your speed along with Thomas Howard's in more blitz packages?
Zeroing in now on his role in the defense at a positional level. Plus, with how fast him and Howard are, they can be effective in blitzes.
- Follow-up: Are there other ways you could use your speed in the new defensive scheme?
5. Part of being a NFL player is that there are as many critics as there are fans. How do you respond to the critics who say too many of your tackles come downfield in the secondary instead of at the line of scrimmage?
The more personal and specific questions. Structured to ask a probing question without making an attack. In fairness an athlete should have a platform to defend themselves as well. Still have to talk about the issue though:
- Follow-up: What have you done to improve your run defense techniques this year and in other years?
6. You're also entering the final year of your contract, how do you keep that uncertainty from affecting your play?
One of those 'have to ask' kind of questions. Probably would get a fairly standard response, but opens to door to see if there's a possible parallel:
- Follow-up: How is the contract uncertainty similar to the uncertainty when Lane Kiffin's job security was questioned week-to-week last season?
7. Last year was the first year defensive players had a radio headset to get calls from coaches, how was that a factor in diagnosing plays or making adjustments?
Still personal, but starting to ease up a little bit as things wind down. Gotta stay relevant though.
- Follow-up: What are some improvements you can make after having a year of experience with the system?
8. What are some of the challenges in trying to stay positive and not fall into the spiral of 'here we go again' if things aren't going well?
Moving back to broader topics about the team as a whole to bring the interview full circle.
- Follow-up: What are the changes this year that might help the team snap its six year losing streak?
9. What are your goals for this season?
Just sort of back into a more general conversation, but still with a personal twist.
10. Anything else you wanted to add that I didn't ask about?
The standard end question.
The beauty of all this is that everything could get thrown aside if Kirk says something really interesting or insightful. But that's always the goal of any interview is to try and get that gem quotation.
But I'd be psyched to get to talk to Kirk Morrison for any reason.