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Transcript: Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott talks 2020 NFL Draft, Stefon Diggs, Josh Norman with media

What did coach have to say on all the moves?

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott met the media from his basement via Zoom call on Thursday afternoon. Below is the complete transcript from the presser following the 2020 NFL Draft but also discusses the offseason going forward, the coronavirus, and so much more.

The transcript is unedited.

HC Sean McDermott
Thursday, April 30, 2020

Q: How do you feel you are handling this virtual offseason period and what are you getting out of it?

A: I felt like about a week into this, we got together as a staff and we tried to really anticipate where it could go and certainly, you know I’m not a rocket scientist, but you could kind of get a feel for where this was headed, at least, that we probably weren’t going to be back into building for weeks on end. And so we got together as a staff and really tried to put our collective minds together and put together a plan so we would we would have our act together. We felt like the team or teams that came out of this the most prepared, the most unified would potentially have created a competitive advantage. That remains to be seen, but we felt like when things kicked off, when given the option to kick off really a week ago that we were ready to go. And I give our staff the credit for that.

Q: What was draft night like for you in this environment?

A: Yeah, there’s certainly parts of it that were special because of the uniqueness of it, right? So the family, I think the environment of having the family around was certainly unique and made it special at the same time to be able to share those moments with my kids. My oldest two are getting to the point where they are taking a vested interest and want to hang out and watch some of that go on. But on the other end of it there are certainly challenges where I couldn’t obviously be looking at a full board in real life. I had it on my screen, but that that presents some challenges. There was, I know there’s some talk about, ‘Hey will they go forward with this? Will the NFL do this again?’ Obviously it’s up to them I think there are some, to me I thought it was pretty intimate and a cool kind of look into real lives of GMs, head coaches and decision makers out there. So I think that part was pretty neat and a maybe a once in a lifetime situation.

Q: What type of player do you believe this team is acquiring with Stefon Diggs?

A: At the end of the day, I think when you look at the production that Stefon has experienced over the course of his career, that speaks for itself, right? He’s had big roles in games and then we’ve faced him at least once during the regular season in the most recent past here. So I think at the end of the day, we believe that it’s been shown and proven to this point that people are able to come to Buffalo and become the best version of themselves. He’s certainly been awfully good to this point. It’s an opportunity for him to continue to grow. It’s an opportunity for us to get a good football player that will help us win. So, I’ve been very happy with him since he’s become a Bill and since I’ve gotten to get to know him a little bit. Certainly it’d be a lot easier if we were together to get to know one another, but the communication to this point has been top notch and he’s been a nice addition.

Q: How do you ensure the guys get to know each other in this situation?

A: You’re right and that part is certainly a challenge. What we’ve tried to do is keep things as normal as we can this time of year. Albeit certainly aware of this situation and the circumstances that make it different and unique. That said though, I mean our players this time of year are used to other players sharing their stories, players sharing in some way shape or form in order to help bring our team together. And so we we’ve continued with that during our meetings where players are sharing, coaches are sharing some of maybe where they live. They tell their story a little bit. They talk about their family. So we have not gotten away from that because at the end of the day these are real human beings that we’re trying to develop a sense of family, a sense of camaraderie and then the resulting culture that comes from that. So we’ve, we’ve continued with that.

Q: What does bringing competition into your locker room do to a player?

A: That’s what we look for. Part of the DNA that we look for in our players is that these guys love what I refer to as the confrontation. That’s what it comes down to is it is confrontation. I’m not talking simply about the physical piece, I’m talking about walking out in your front yard and playing pickup hoops. That’s a confrontation and when the lights are on guys that love the confrontation are the types of players that we want in Buffalo. There’s certainly a business side of this and this is where the business piece comes in when you add players to a locker room, six to 12 or more every year based on the draft or free agency. That’s the real piece of this, but in the middle of it all, listen these guys know I love everyone. Every last one of them the same and so that doesn’t change, but it is competition. The goal, part of the goal of competition is that it brings out the best in all of us. If someone was fighting to take your job, it’s going to motivate you to be better at what you do and develop a better set of habits. It’s no different for me and no different for our players.

Q: How much of a shot does Jake Fromm have to become the backup QB? How do you see him fitting in with this team?

A: There’s a long runway for all these rookies. I know everyone wants to say was this a good draft class or was it not a good draft. There’s grades out there, I always laugh that the day after the draft or the night of the last pick of the draft because someone puts out their draft grades and then the next person puts them out. I think that’s part having fun with it, right? We won’t really know, as you guys know you’re veteran reporters, you won’t really know for multiple years between what happens from the time they’re picked to how they develop. But with Jake, what we can talk about is what we know about Jake and it’s well documented the type of person he is, the type of player that he’s been. The competition to the point earlier that he’s faced and what he’s done at Georgia. He’s played at a high level. He’s won a lot of games and I know that he’s committed to coming in and really being the best teammate that he can be. Earning every last inch of what he gets here and I think that’s a that’s a great way to start.

Q: How much can the offensive line improve from one year to the next without the addition of a new piece?

A: Yeah, good question. It’s interesting because you look at it and there is added value in continuity, right? You look at, we all hope we’re better in the second and third years of our job than we were in the first year. And I think if you’re a true pro that’s what happens. And so when you have a group like we had last year that for the most part had not played a snap, or many snaps together as we headed into the season. I thought that they really did some good things and took some significant strides as a group. And now to be able to have that group back and then to add a piece or two in there is valuable to us. It is a veteran group that we do have. There’s a lot of work to do between now and the time we kick it off in September. So we recognize that. We did look at some things in the draft. But overall, we’re very comfortable with the group that we have, and I’m anxious and excited to watch these guys take another step under Bobby Johnson and the other coaches we have there.

Q: With how the offense has been built up, is there a new willingness to win a high scoring game now?

A: Well I like the 35, I don’t like the 30. But I would love to sit and take a seat on the bench in the fourth quarter of one of these games and maybe eat an orange slice or something. Drink a Gatorade and have my heart not going a million miles an hour. That’s the league though too I think, and you guys have been around this league, it’s a touchdown, give or take, game every week. And so you do find some of those games. Listen, I am maybe a little bit different than some defensive head coaches out there. I say that because I think a lot of defensive head coaches, and maybe head coaches overall, have a tendency to pad their side of the ball personnel-wise. I don’t want to do that. I know you’ve got to score points in this league to win games. And I think to have a balanced football team, we need to score points and that’s been an emphasis and a theme that we’ve talked about since the end of the season last year. I’m encouraged by what we’ve added personnel-wise to help us in that category, as well as the work that our offensive staff has done this offseason.

Q: This is the first time we’ve had a chance to talk to you since you guys signed Josh Norman. What did Josh say or did you see when you met with him that proved to you that he could have a bounce back from a nearly rough year in Washington. And where does he stand right now in terms of the competition in that, in that cornerbacks room?

A: Yeah, Josh is, you know, Josh, you know I’ve learned a lot in my experience being around Josh. Several years ago, in Carolina. They used to say give a give a player two years. And, you need to make a decision as a team in two years and what I learned through being around Josh, I think it was really his third year in Carolina where he really came into his own and understood the defense and matured and became a consistent player. And so, you know, now with Josh watching Josh’s film where we had the chance when he got released from the Redskins, and seeing how we played – I think look, there’s been talk of a lot of talk of how he’s how he played and how his chapter in in Washington maybe didn’t unfold the way that a lot of people had hoped, but here’s what I would tell you about Josh is. He is a highly competitive individual, and sometimes to the grass isn’t always greener from a from a system or scheme standpoint, and culture as well. And so, that’s, that’s another potential example really of, you know, people coming to Buffalo, and regaining in this case, a better version of oneself with Josh you know he certainly had experienced great success in Carolina. With our culture, there in the system and so now hopefully to a to a similar culture and in a similar system. The same system really, he’ll be able to regain his form and I know he’s working extremely hard at it and, we’re happy to have him.

Q: Is that a is that a Shawn McDermott jersey in the background there?

A: Yeah it is. I’ll sign and get you one, Sal.

Q: Hey, not only Josh Norman but you know since we spoke at the combine you’ve done a huge amount of roster tinkering, especially on defense you get a lot of free agents, could you kind of just give us an overview of I know it’s kind of a drawn out thing, but you sign a lot of guys and they’re all going to be it looks like key players. Can you kind of go through some of the moves you’ve made to bulk up the defenses about seven free agents there.

A: Yeah, I’ll hit, hopefully as much as I can here, so up front, I’ll start up front and I’m just going to go free agents, not draft. But free agency up front, we added at the end position Mario Addison and, again, going back to the Carolina roots Mario was a key piece to our defense in Carolina, and again, another highly competitive individual that played really good football for us. And so, we felt like adding Mario would help us not only from a skill level standpoint, but also some of the leadership in the defensive line room. He’s been a nice addition to this point. Then inside there we added Vernon [Butler], who we – I think Vernon and I overlapped a year or two in Carolina and he was hurt a little bit and got off a little bit of a slow start, but when you watch him what he was able to do this past season in his contract year, we were impressed. Now, it’s about how he can sustain that and continue to grow beyond that. Quintin Jefferson, position flexibility I know you guys know how much I love that, and versatility I think is huge. So, Quintin Jefferson played really good, really good snaps for the Seattle Seahawks and a good defense. He’s played inside, he’s played outside, love his relentless attitude and approach and a true Pro. We’re fortunate that we have some ex-Seahawks either on our staff or on our team, so that was a good addition for us. Linebacker wise, Tyler [Matakevich] and A.J. [Klein] and Derek [Boyko] help me out if I skip over someone, but linebacker wise, Tyler and A.J. Tyler is a guy that played football not too far from where I grew up. He went to Temple, and so I’m very aware of his college resume, his background and then you know him in playing for Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. When you face teams and you know who their top special teams players are that’s a good thing. And Tyler comes with a decorated resume as a special teams player and also I’ll say I think he’s a he’s an undervalued line of scrimmage player at the linebacker position also, so just the fit there DNA wise for us was certainly there. A.J. kind of speaks for itself, right? A.J. played alongside of Luke and Thomas Davis forming Carolina. Then he went off and kind of, you know, it’s like the little brother going off to do his thing and he did that in New Orleans, and it was fun to watch A.J. from a distance in New Orleans. And then for us to reconnect in through the free agency period and he’s now got a family which is, which is really cool to hear and just to see how far he’s come in his career. And as a coach I think just like a teacher gives you a lot of joy to watch a young man develop like that both on the field and off the field. And then Josh we’ve talked about Josh already as well, so yeah just overall pleased with the guys we’ve added on the defense. Did I hit everyone?

Q: Yeah, I mean E.J. Gaines you brought him back too I guess the other one.

A: Yeah, again, it’s the cool part about that one for you guys, was it’s neat when you have players that are available that reached out to us and are interested in coming back even though they’ve left. And so I think it really speaks volumes about our culture, our team, the guys, the people in our building at the Bills and so for a guy to really have only been here a small part of his career, but to then you know really want to kind of finish things out as a Bill I think is outstanding for what we’re trying to do here.

Q: I’d like to follow up on Joe’s question on the offensive line. You know there were you didn’t take a tackle Cody Ford coming back just how do you feel about what he earned from his play at tackle from his rookie year.

A: Yeah, Cody, you know, got off – I think he’s off to a good start. He had the injury the offseason surgery and whatnot, but when you look at I think we got what we thought we were going to get in the first season in particular. He played, he bounced in and out of some guard role as well in there which is not easy to do. Really what you try look at the first season is some of the intangibles with respect to what type of person he is, the toughness he brings to the table and the smarts. And so, we continue with that evaluation excuse me this offseason by the way he’s handled his rehab through the course of the offseason has been outstanding. So, which is not, I should add, not been easy to do, especially since these guys are not able some of them to be in our building or there was a time where our building was shut down for those as well. So it’s been a challenge, but I appreciate the way he’s attacked it from the from the day he walked in the door.

Q: Brandon Beane talked with us when the virtual offseason began and just said that you guys had some conversations about how to create competition during a time like this. How have you been able to do that? Also, with chemistry and culture be so important right now with new pieces on the team, have you had any conversations with veterans about how they can start creating that chemistry with the new pieces on this team?

A: Yeah, Maddy you know it’s been a challenge right? The competition piece because we do pride ourselves in having different forms of communication in our offseason program, excuse me competition in our offseason program. And so you know again I give credit to Eric Ciano and his strength staff and what they’ve done getting creative. Really, really finding different ways to reach out to the players to at least establish some sense of accountability in terms of how we know that they’re working out and all that type of all that type of jazz. And so, he’s come up with some pretty cool pieces or new pieces to our offseason program in order to do that. And then the other question was, give me, help me out refresh my memory.

Q: Just with the veterans on your team and all the new pieces on this team creating chemistry with how important that is to the culture. Have you had any conversations with those vets as to how they can help do that right away even though we’re in this virtual period right now?

A: Yeah, so these guys I think a lot of these veterans. It used to be that most of the young players, the young draft picks in this case, were not really counted on other than maybe the first round draft pick or maybe the second round draft pick. And even those guys would come in and sometimes sit for a year or so. Now, I think a lot of these older guys are aware that the only way we’re going to make progress, and be on time with progress is if they reach out to these young players and get them up to speed or help at least get them up to speed. And so, that in and of itself has developed a little bit to this point of some camaraderie and some chemistry, but with a lot more room to grow at this point because of they’re really separate right now, the rookies from the rest of the team by league rule. So, who knows? Give it a week or two here when we’re allowed to blend the two together, and I think it’ll grow exponentially more than when they can at least interact like this like we are this afternoon.

Q: I want the opposite I’ve got; I’m grown here while you’re shaving it.

A: I know you look good. My wife is getting on me about shaving my beard and everything and I just said I know. I told her I said my skin needs some, you know, to be pampered some moisturizer and all that type of good stuff that’s out there. She gets mad when I use her products that are in the shower.

Q: Question, this team is built to win, isn’t it right now the way it stands?

A: You’re beautiful man right away. Throw the fastball high and inside. Chin music fastball. No it’s listen we’re, we’re definitely further along than where we were when we got here and that’s the part of the goal you want to be able to say that. Our roster give a lot of credit to Brandon and his staff. They’ve done a phenomenal job of not just via the draft, but also it’s a 365-day a year job, you know. So, filling gaps and holes via free agency and filling gaps and holes via the waiver wire at times when we can. Although we have not been very high on that with where we rank in terms of the claiming order, but I’m just finding different ways to make our team better. Whether it’s the top third, middle third or the bottom third of our roster.

Q: And just, just like my other question was about Josh Allen. We had Josh on one of these things about three weeks ago and he does set expectations higher on him, especially entering his third season. Do you did you agree with that, that he that coming into his third season expectations are higher, and how much of a drawback might it be the lack of chemistry he’s able to develop with some of these guys such as Stefon [Diggs], given what situation we’re in right now.

A: Yeah, I’ll answer the end of your question first. I mean, that’s real I mean it’s you, to be able to be developing that chemistry, and the continuity and the timing the rapport with one another. Now, certainly we know we all know we can’t do that, but we can only control what we can right. And so, look those two are professionals. Josh in his third year and Stefan and whatever year it is now for Stefan and the success he’s had. I don’t – I am concerned about it, but I guess I’m not worried at this point. I think that we’ll have to do a really good job with our practice plans, making sure that we’ve got enough of that scripted so we can get those two on the same page and develop that chemistry that you talked about. So, yeah, I mean, look, there’s challenges for everyone right? I mean that’s – but what you do is, is you try and find ways to adjust and adapt and like we said before our theme this offseason has been find a way. And I think that really, it really fits the time and the situation and circumstances we’re in.

Q: How much did you get to know A.J. before the draft rolled around? And how much did your relationship with the [defensive line coaches at Iowa] and the knowledge that you can get with them from them, how did that make you comfortable when A.J. was still on the board?

A: Yeah, I mean as you look at the guys in the first and second round, you can only spend so much time. You try and divide your time up as best you can. I’ve got some ties to Iowa and different guys I’ve coached over the years. I know Coach Parker the defensive coordinator who’s been out there for a number of years as well. So, I’m fortunate that I’ve got some communication ties there. At the end of the day, this is where you… Also because of the situation, usually as coaches, we’re able to get our hands on the players at basically two or three exposures or interactions. The combine being one of them, which we still had, and then on-campus workouts, which were very limited before things got shut down and then the top 30 visits, where the players come to us, which we didn’t have that either. This is a big draft, where I think that the power and the value of the scouts comes into play. Right. I’m not just talking with just respect to A.J.’s case but overall. I mean, these area scouts. Let’s give them a lot of credit. They spend all season, when we’re here in Buffalo with our season, they’re out on college campuses getting to know these players, spending time with some coaches as best they can. And this is where we really have to in a lot of ways, bank on as coaches, during times like this where we weren’t as accessible to these players as we normally are, or they weren’t as accessible to us as they normally are. With that being said, Brandon and I, as well as Joe [Schoen] and Dan [Morgan] had a good core of communication with our coaches and we went through our normal routine like we normally do leading up to the draft.. So we felt pretty good overall about our preparation.

Q: What are the position groups you’re most concerned with when it comes to what we’re dealing with this offseason?

A: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is, when you talk about the timing of the passing game is...If you look at how we shape our offseason we usually spend about 70% of our offseason…I should say spring, trying to shape our passing game because there’s no pads on, so there’s not a whole lot of sense in spending a whole lot of time on the run game during spring ball. And then in training camp, it flips a little bit, not totally, but it starts to even out a little bit more maybe 60-40, or 50-50, because you do have pads and you are able to work the nine on seven drills and whatnot, but that’s probably the biggest, my biggest, thing we’re missing right now, is that time on task and developing that passing game, and that’s where a lot of timing comes in. So if there was one area, that would probably be the biggest right now.

Q: When it comes to your staff, what is the plan and what are the expectations for your assistant coaches and their jobs and how they’re able to carry them out here over the next couple months?

A: Yeah, we’re all professionals and so to me, this is where to me passion and discipline, play a big part. Right. If you’re passionate about what you do, you shouldn’t need a kick in the butt to go to work, get up every morning and go to work. The longer this has gone on, and I’m sure you guys feel the same thing, the longer it’s gone, the more discipline it’s taken. I would say, at the beginning it took discipline to find a routine. And then as the weeks have added up and stacked up, to me, that’s when those that have a high amount of discipline out there are able to thrive in environments like this. As one of the players said, that he’s built for the quarantine you know just, with all due respect to all that’s going on, he just meant, he usually this time of year prior to coming back to Buffalo is, training his butt off, studying his butt off. It does take a huge amount of discipline right now to stay disciplined in your approach or routines, to get up at a certain time, to take a break at a certain time, and then go to bed at a certain time so you can stay on a good healthy routine.

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the last six weeks? Having to go through all this, take a step back, I know you’re always evaluating what you do and certainly nothing makes you do that more than six or seven weeks when you cant leave your house.

A: Yeah, boy, we could be here for hours. Let’s just start with trying to do my job from home. Even just a great example is the draft the other night. We’re on a call like this, I’m trying to talk to Brandon. I want to have my family close to me so they can experience it but I’ve got kids that are young and young kids sometimes don’t always understand and so they’re yelling out and I’m trying to talk and so I hit the mute button. And so, I’d say this, I think probably for a lot of us out there, I’ve learned more about myself as a person through this, than anything. Just in terms of, again, the patience that has to go into moments like this, where I want to have the team in front of me, where I can’t. You want things right here and now and we’re not able to have things sometimes that we want right here and now, in front of us. I’ve also learned some things about myself around the house, that I’ve had to figure some things out, that I normally have not had to figure some things out. So, I’m learning in that regard. I do love working around the house. I think we’ll look back on all of this hopefully one day. I think this is part of my goal too, is to look back and say you know what, I’m glad, and I’m happy with how I handled this, right? On a personal level, on a professional level, on a spiritual level, all that. There’ll be books written and, I mean everyone on this call, we’ll never forget this right? So I want to be able to say that I handled it the right way.

Q: First going off your previous answer about the importance of discipline this time of year, with A.J. Epenesa specifically, how much does coming from a program like Iowa influence his selection? A program that’s culture is really centered around discipline and accountability.

A: Yeah, great question. I’ve never spent a day with Iowa football. My mom is from Iowa and I was born in Nebraska, obviously so I’ve got some really close ties out there to those programs. But overall, I feel like their culture is known, to your point, it’s admirable the way that they’ve built that culture. Coach Ferentz. I’ve coached players that have come from that culture. The minute we drafted A.J., I immediately got a couple of texts from players that I’ve coached that went to Iowa that know him or know of him or know of his family. It seems like there’s a lot of parallels between their culture and our culture here. Not intentionally so, but I do have a lot of respect for what they’ve been able to do out there over the course of time and sustain it.

Q: What kind of impact has Eric Washington had on the guys you’ve been able to bring in?

A: Yeah, I think that speaks volumes about coach Washington. Eric and I first were introduced to each other when he came to Carolina. I was the coordinator, he became our defensive line coach. Both of us were rather young in our respective roles in terms of experience and so I know it’s been just really cool to watch Eric grow over the years, and to see him with his family. And then for me to grow over the years in hopefully some similar capacities. And now to be reunited in Buffalo is really… I appreciate it because he did not have to. He had choices and did not have to come here and he wanted to come here and move his family here, so I think that I’m very appreciative of that and I can’t wait to see what value he adds to our defensive line.

Q: We already touched on how scoring more points was an offseason priority and obviously Stefon plays pretty heavily into that. I know scoring in college is different than scoring in the NFL but do you believe some of your draft picks have the potential to help in that area?

A: We do. As I mentioned earlier, they’re good football players. Think I was on with [John Murphy] and Steve Tasker and these guys are good football player. Sometimes people get enamored with 40 times and, you know, flashiness and all those types of things out there, but these guys at the end of the day…. What do you want receivers to do? You want receivers to be able to catch the football and score touchdowns, right? You want a running back that’s had a history of production, year after year, carrying the football, breaking tackles and I know they may not be, you know, the fastest guys out there, but at the end of the day, they’re right for the Buffalo Bills in the fit for us. So, I give Brandon a lot of credit for adding those players. You spend time watching them on film, which I know many of you have, and it doesn’t take long to be impressed by the receivers, the way they catch the ball in contested areas and then with Zack [Moss], what he’s been able to do year after year, in gaining a lot of yards.

Q: Now that the pieces that you added via free agency and in the draft, how much does life change on pass rushing downs, without Lorenzo Alexander? And how do you feel the roster you have is equipped at Big Nickel, which is a spot you’ve been trying to get better at over the years?

A: Yeah, so the big nickel piece remains to be seen. Dean Marlowe did some of it for us last season. Siran Neal is a candidate for it as well. That’s another piece we’re missing some of those reps or we will be missing some of those reps potentially coming up in the coming weeks. And then, just with rushing the passer with Lorenzo…. it’s a similar feeling to when Kyle [Williams] retired. You can never replace a Kyle, you can never replace a Lorenzo, you just try and fill it in. So you saw us add a couple of different pieces to the roster. Quinton Jefferson, Vernon [Butler], Mario [Addison]. A.J.’s skill set is a little bit different from Lorenzo’s. Lorenzo’s skill set is unique in that he can do both, where he can play off the ball as a linebacker on early downs and then put his hand on the ground, or in passing situations, so there’s only a few people that I’ve been around that had been able to do that. So, we’ll miss his leadership off the field and his influence in our locker room, that’s for sure. But you know he’s reached out a couple times between the time where he left and now and he reminds me he’s still available. He showed me a video of himself in his new weight room and said he stand ready just in case. I appreciate that. Thank you guys, good to see everyone, good to see your faces and stay safe and healthy out there.

Q: I know how you covered those hybrid safeties, those safeties that could do linebacker things, guys like Jeremy Chinn and Kyle Dugger were high on your board, Espenesa is just too good to pass up. So is there still room for improvement with some veterans releases or are you content with what you have?

A: Well we’re never content, and that’s not really a word that fits my vocabulary or our vocabulary. Brandon, I think mentioned to you guys a few days ago, he left a couple of spots open on the roster for moves like that if certain players become available that we feel like can help us. And this will be an offseason where I think you’re going to see some more veteran players added, because of the lack of time, to certain rosters around the league.

Q: How are you impressed with the way that your players have embraced this community during this pandemic?

A: It’s been awesome. I just think the whole community, Western New York. I’m not able to see everything obviously across the country but what I’m able to see and the people I’m able to talk to through this, it just to me, reaffirms what I first believed about the people of Western New York and our fan base in particular, it’s been incredible. And I’m just glad to be a part of it. Thanks a lot. Thanks guys take care of yourselves and your families.