JOHN HARBAUGH – HEAD COACH
Opening Statement: "Alright, good to see everybody. I appreciate you being here. Just continuing with our process right now, honing in on the game. We're getting closer. Our guys are getting excited about that. You can feel it at practice, and that's really the update for now. We just continued this morning with meetings [and] workouts, and we're heading over to the stadium this afternoon. So, we're kind of excited about that as well."
It seems like this year, the prevailing thought coming into training camp was that rookies were going to have to kind of drink from a fire hose, make up for lost time and kind of have a steep learning curve to get ready for the season. But even with that, you've had a number of guys who've looked like they're ready to play really significant roles. How impressed have you been with this rookie class and the way they've handled all of that this offseason and this camp? (Garrett Downing) "That's been a real plus, no doubt. We did spend a lot of time in the offseason with the Zoom meetings. I think that was very good for them, and then we built it up with the conditioning. In the conditioning periods, we were able to have walk-throughs and lots of meeting times. So, we really did a lot of mental work with those guys. Our coaches, I have to give our coaches a lot of credit. There's a lot of grinding that went on to get those guys ready, and those guys really responded to it. It is a group that really does love football. So, they've worked hard, and they're doing a good job. For the most part, as a group, they really know what they're doing, and they seem to be mentally prepared in terms of assignments at this point."
Related to that, we talked to G Tyre Phillips back when he was drafted. He said he had not played guard at all until, I think, the Senior Bowl. And now, he's come in, and having no OTAs, no minicamp, having really not [gotten] on the field until August, what have you seen from him in terms of … What has made him stand out and gotten him to the point where he's played the way he has? (Bo Smolka) "He's just done a good job. He's a good football player, I think that's the main thing. We saw the ability to play guard or tackle, I think he can play on the right side or the left side. He's just a really versatile type of player. He's a good athlete. He bends well. [He's] smart, very smart. [He] comes from a great family. He has a really good demeanor about him. He doesn't get down on himself at all, he really just pushes through it and learns from his mistakes. So, all of those things probably contribute. I think we have a versatile offensive line, too. If you look at our guys, you probably have noticed we've been moving all those guys around in different spots. So, it helps us to determine, really, how we want to go into the first game, but it's also going to bode well for the future having flexibility to move guys around when needed to different positions."
Your scouts, to their credit, have been able to find those hidden gems for years and years. I'm wondering, is there an undrafted free agent or two that have flashed for you? Does the streak continue? Do you know yet? (Kirk McEwen) "[We] don't know yet. It's a good question, it's just [that] we don't know yet. There are guys that are doing well. This year, I think something to really bear in mind is that the practice squad is probably just going to be as important or more important than ever. So, being on the practice squad this year, in my mind, is like making the team. I think most teams are going to really want to hold on to their guys for their practice squad, because they know the system. They're kind of schooled up now on the offense and defense. You have to assume that there's a possibility that those guys will be playing any given week. You can bring two guys up each week from your practice squad to actually play. So, making the practice squad, in many ways, is like making the team this year with the new rules. So, it's kind of interchangeable this year a little bit."
Along those lines, and I'm sure this is a question that's better for executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta, but we don't get to talk to Eric. For this weekend, when there are cutdowns, do you feel that there will be fewer trades [and] fewer waiver claims because of the protocol? Once you get a guy, you don't know how long it's going to be until he clears, travels and can participate with the team. (Jamison Hensley) "It is a good point, and that has to be all factored in. I know [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] has given that a lot of thought. He's taken me through some of his thinking on that. They've built a lot of contingencies, but it makes it just tougher to move players around, for sure. There's no question about that. So, I do think that will factor into people's thinking to some degree. We'll just have to see to what degree and how much and how."
I know you outlined a little bit about your plans for today. I know it's not going to be a scrimmage, but what are you looking to get out of today? Because this is, I guess, presumably the final visit before the big day and the season begins. (Jerry Coleman) "A number of things. We're going to have our guys catching punts and catching kickoffs, catching passes, throwing passes in a 1 o'clock environment in our stadium, which we play the first game at 1 o'clock. So, that's a piece. The other part of it is something that we would do, especially in a training camp without preseason games, [is] an emphasis on situations and substitutions; operating the game, making sure we have a good idea of how we're going to sub in our games and get the right guys on our depth charts, who for what and [any] contingencies that could come up. And also, game situations that would come up, probably, in the four preseason games more often [where] guys would have a better feel for how to operate on the sideline. Just kind of those kind of things that you don't get to work as much in a preseason without preseason games."
Are you going to use any effects in terms of noise or the scoreboard or clocks or anything of that nature? (Jerry Coleman) "Yes, we'll do a little bit of that. I'm not going to use, probably, the scoreboard quite as much, but we'll probably have some noise out there. We're still kind of testing that a little bit. We're still waiting on the protocols. We don't really really know for sure what we're going to be permitted to do in our stadium or how it's going to work in other stadiums for sure. All that stuff seems like it's evolving all the time."
It seems that the NFL will allow fans, though, for some teams if the states do allow it. Do you think that's a disadvantage for teams that don't allow it? Do you think it should be one standard for all 32 [teams]? (Pete Gilbert) "No, I don't think it should be one standard. It doesn't really matter to me one way or the other. I think every situation is a little bit different. Every team will decide what's best and how it works best for their environment, where they're at geographically, whatever … and kind of their philosophy, their stance on it, too, I suppose. We can't really worry about that from a football standpoint. The thing that's going to matter the most is who plays the best. Whoever plays the best and executes is going to be the team that wins the game. I don't think it's going to matter whether there's a few thousand fans in the stands or no fans – it's going to be the team that plays the best football, still."
I know you said that you wanted to see the tape of C/G Matt Skura after the scrimmage. How did he look in that setting? And do you feel like he's where he needs to be both physically and from a performance level based on his past standard? (Luke Jones) "We still have a little more time to determine that. We have more practices, so we'll keep looking at that. He [Matt Skura] did well [in the scrimmage]; he had no hiccups, no issues. And we're just going to keep pushing him forward with some more challenging things each day, and we'll know by next week where he's at. It really … Matt will know where he's at – as much as anything. He's the guy who's in that body, and the knee is attached to him. So, we'll see how he's doing with it as we get close to the game."
In that vein, have you decided on a starting offensive line? And just more generally, these next couple of practices, are you still having those competitions, or do you feel like you've honed in on certain situations like that? (Aaron Kasinitz) "We're honed in pretty well, I would say. There are still some things we need to talk about. We have a couple more practices before Game Week, so we'll be there Game Week. I'm sure we'll be there Game Week, but I wouldn't say we're 100% there yet."
We're used to seeing FB/DL Patrick Ricard move around the field and do a lot of different things. Obviously, he's been on offense this training camp – strictly. I know he did some tight end stuff last year, but what have you seen from him in his development in that role? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, [Patrick Ricard] has grown. He played some tight end stuff last year – like you said – so I think he keeps expanding his in-line stuff, his motion, lining up even as a wide receiver out there. He's been in all those types of situations in training camp – just like all of our guys do. Really nowadays, if you're talking to a coach, they'll tell you, 'The tight end, the H-back, the U-back, the fullback, those guys become more interchangeable than ever.' Those positions … You can do the same things with different personnel groups on the field, and it just takes a little different flavor on because of the type of athlete you put in those spots, but they end up still being the same types of jobs. But the defense has to deal with it differently, because of who's out there and the type of player they are. So, Pat gives us a lot of flexibility there. He's very different than a lot of players who have played those positions. So, he's been learning more and growing, and I'll always like Pat. I think Pat is a heck of a football player."
Today looks like the last day that you guys are going to get out to the stadium to practice. Is that true? And if you don't like what you see today at the stadium, could you guys 'pull an audible' and just go back there? Obviously, next week is Game Week, and that usually wouldn't be the case, but could you go back there this weekend or something if you don't like what you see today? (Shawn Stepner) "That's not the plan. I wouldn't see that … It's really not that kind of practice. It's just more of a – like we said – situational, substitution, operational, fast practice, somewhat like an in-season Friday type of a practice – execution, timing, those kinds of things. So, it wouldn't be anything that would bring us back to the stadium before the game. This will be the last time we'll be there – last time we'll need to be there, I know. And we'll be ready to go. It's somewhat similar to if we had played a preseason game at home on Thursday, which would be tomorrow; it would be a kind of similar type of a format – as far as being in the stadium."
I did have a question about the NFL coming out with the rule yesterday. I don't know if you're opposed to it. I know nobody likes wearing a mask, but they're requiring all non-players to wear a mask on the sideline. So, that means that you don't have to hold a clipboard in front of your face anymore. (laughter) Is that kind of an advantage in that respect? Do you look it at that way? (Jerry Coleman) "I feel like now, you kind of look at it like, 'Why didn't we think of this before? We wouldn't have had to do that [with the clipboard]. We just should have been wearing masks all along to hide' … But then where would we be with the … Don't they put that lip-sync thing out every year? (Jokingly) It's going to kill that industry. They're dead this year, obviously – at least to coaches. But, yes, it's alright. It's a little hard to communicate sometimes. That mask, you breathe it in sometimes when you're breathing heavy, which can happen during a game; it gets a little tense out there. So, it's part of it. We've dealt with it. We've worn our mask in meetings. Sometimes you hear, 'What? Huh?' more than you want to hear, and you really have to enunciate. Hopefully, we're better communicators. But it's the way it works. We're happy to be playing football. We're excited to be playing football. I'm really proud of the league, and I'm proud of the players, and I'm proud of the union [National Football League Players Association] – [executive director of the NFLPA] DeMaurice [Smith] and his people; I'm proud of them. I'm proud everybody for doing what it takes to get football – to get it played. Everybody wanted to play. And with that, I'll throw a little controversy out there. This is my position: I say, 'Free the Big Ten. Free the Big Ten! Let's go. Let's go play some football. Let's get Michigan and Ohio State and all those great teams playing amazing football out there.' Michigan [football] had zero positive [COVID-19] tests in August. They're doing a great job with their protocols, and those guys want to play. And for anybody that wants to opt-out, they can – they can. Their families should have that choice just like the Southeast Conference gave the players and families in the Southeast Conference that choice, and most of them, as you know, decided to play – as a family. So, I think the Big Ten players and families should have that same choice. I'm on record. There you go. You got it. Free the Big Ten. They can wear masks, too. They can wear masks on the sideline." (laughter)
You said today will be a fast practice, so how will today affect your judgement on picking out the players for the final roster? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "It's an ongoing process – for sure – to pick the team. And as you know, the roster cuts are coming up here by Saturday, and we'll have some difficult decisions to make. Some of that carries over to the practice squad. There are certainly some … [Executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] has to really think through, [with] his staff, in terms of strategic moves you make – in terms of where guys are at with their contracts and other teams possibly claiming players or not claiming players. Those are all things that come into Eric's thinking on that. So, we'll just have to see how it goes. And we like our guys. As coaches, we really love our players, we're excited to coach them, and we'll so what direction it goes. We'll certainly have conversations. And Eric and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] have always done a great job [of] including the coaches' input and thinking very heavily on what the coaches are looking for. I think we work really well together that way, and I know that will be the same. We've already had those conversations. So, it'll be interesting. Not everything has been decided; much has, but not everything has. So, we'll just have to wait and see what happens, and I'll be right there with you."