FREE AGENT ACQUISITION FRIDAY
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "Good to see everybody. Thanks for coming out on short notice. We're really excited, obviously, to be able to announce some moves. Obviously, we have been very patient, and we've been working, trying to do things that will put us in position to make our team better. We are methodical in our approach. We want to [make] smart decisions. We want to make wise decisions, and nobody is better at that than [general manager and executive vice president] Ozzie Newsome. So, announcing these four moves today gives you an indication that we are shoring up our team in certain areas, areas that we think we need to improve in, and in some cases just by keeping the guys we've got, which is not easy to do, as we all know. We're excited about where we're going, and [I'll] open it up to any questions."
When it comes to bolstering the special teams, everyone is familiar with your background. Are these kind of moves a way of reminding fans of how important this part of the game is? (Joe Platania) "Well, yeah. It's certainly a reminder. It's certainly something that we felt, coming out of the season, that we really needed to do. We weren't as good there as we needed to be. We need to be more explosive; we need to cover kicks better. We have good specialists, we feel like, but that core group needs to be more dominant. These are the types of guys that will help us do that."
You talk about being patient. Was it hard watching all this happening and guys leaving? You know Ozzie has the plan (laughter) but … (Pete Gilbert) "It probably wasn't as hard for me as it was for the fans, I would say, because I had a little bit more of a front seat into what we were doing and those conversations are happening every day. We were involved with guys all the time, but we had our limits as to what we were going to be able to pay certain players. That was for our own guys that left, and it was also for free agents out there that we were interested in. There just weren't going to be big numbers that we were going to be able to spend on guys. Early on in free agency, those guys are worth every penny they can get, but they are not worth the same to every team. Some teams have bigger needs, some teams have more cap room. It was just something that we knew we were going to have to ride out a little bit, and again, to try to make some wise decisions as we go forward."
Last offseason, you let a few veterans go and some guys got away. Does what happened last year give you some vindication, knowing that you guys made the tough decisions to let these guys go, but then you still came so close to getting to the Super Bowl? (Matt Vensel) "Great question. It would be hard to say that we feel good about letting guys go, but I think we try [to be optimistic]. This is a tough league. There is always going to be turnover, players, coaches, media people, guys are turning over all the time. There are a few new faces around her today, right? And a few old faces. (laughing) It's part of it. What you try to do is, through all that, you try to find a way to make your team better. Whatever move is made, whether it is a coach leaving, whether it is a player leaving, you try to do everything you can to improve through that and look at it as an opportunity. Don't look at it as a setback, necessarily, but look at it as an opportunity to try to become a better football team."
Coach, do you foresee the team making further moves, or will you delve into the draft? (Jerry Coleman) "Further moves are possible. We would like to fill as many spaces as we can between now and the draft. You can only do that when the move presents itself. In other words, when there is a player available that can make your team better and the economics work out that you can actually get him, then you try to make a move. There are some areas, still, that we would like to continue to shore up before the draft, but I don't think we'll say, 'Hey, we've got to do this. We've got to do that.' You can't make a move unless the player is available and you can actually sign the guy."
If offensive guard, if it's a situation where the market doesn't fit what you want and maybe you don't go there in the draft, how do you feel about Jah Reid maybe stepping in there and being your guard? (Aaron Wilson) "That's definitely a possibility. Jah [Reid] is a guy that could play right tackle for us, really he could play any position along the front line. He played every position last year in practice. He is definitely a possible answer at left guard. I would say right now, today, he is the left guard. He has to earn that spot, but we'll continue to be looking for players. Our goal will be to put the best five offensive linemen on the field. Jah, I'd like to see him be one of those guys, but it's going to be up to him to earn that spot."
With Cory Redding gone, does it create more of a competition for Pernell [McPhee] and Arthur Jones this offseason? (Jason Butt) "Absolutely. Those two guys are excited. They are disappointed to see Cory [Redding] go. They learned so much from Cory; Cory was such a great mentor for those guys. But, I've talked to Pernell on the phone, and I've seen Art here twice in the last couple of weeks. I could hear Pernell smile, and I could see Art smile. They are both really looking forward to competing for that spot. They have flexibility, too. Art can go inside, and Pernell can go outside. So, there is some flexibility with those guys as well."
John, how confident were you in being able to get Jameel [McClain] back, especially the first 10 days of free agency where that inside linebacker market was pretty slim? (Luke Jones) "I probably wasn't real confident early on because we just know what kind of a player he is. I think you guys have seen him. Our fans know how good of a player he is. For whatever reason, the inside 'backer market just didn't really go crazy like the outside 'backer market did, for instance. The more it went, the more excited I got that maybe he would be able to fit into our economic situation. He got a really good contract. It's going to be something that is going to give him an opportunity, even down the road, to do well financially. He is a Raven. He is one of us. He helps define what it means to be a Raven. Look at his character, look at his story, look at what he has done. I just have so much respect for him, so much admiration for him as a person. He is a big part of who we are."
John, in terms of adding Corey [Graham], how will that help the special teams with the kind of things he can do? (Aaron Wilson) "Corey Graham is going to help us on defense and special teams. But just talking about special teams first, he is a tremendous gunner. He is an outside guy that makes plays as a gunner. He is a dominant gunner. He is a dominant kickoff-cover guy. He is going to make a big difference on our coverage teams. But, he is also a heck of a corner. He wanted an opportunity to expand his role on defense, too. We've got a history of that here. Look at what Brendon Ayanbadejo has done on defense. We play a lot of different players on defense. [Departed free agents] Haruki [Nakamura] and 'Zibby' [Tom Zbikowski] had big roles, so he is excited about that also."
OLB Brendon Ayanbadejo
On returning to the Ravens: "I never really planned on going anywhere. Through this whole free agency period, I never really stressed or worried about anything. I went on vacation and waited my turn patiently. I figured it would get done, I just didn't know exactly when. Now that it's here and it's done, for me, it's kind of anticlimactic. But, it's done."
On how much his decision hinged on the Ravens being close to winning a Super Bowl: "That's a major factor. I've been chasing a championship. I've wanted to be a World Champion my whole life, and I've been chasing that for 35 years. Now, I have three more seasons to try and get it done. I think the Ravens have all the pieces, and now we've just got to go out there and execute and get it done. We feel like we've had the team to do it in any of the last four seasons, so I think we're really close and are on the brink. So, that was the deciding factor – being on a winning team and having a chance to win a championship with this group of men and with coach Harbaugh and coach Jerry Rosburg who've I've been with the last four years. So, that meant a lot to me."
On how he still plays well nearing the age of 36: "Hey! Don't tell anybody how old I am! They don't know. Unless you mention it or look at my birth certificate, they don't know. (laughter) I think I need to do what some of these baseball players are doing and go fudge my birth certificate and come up with a fake one, because I'm feeling good, and I'm still going strong. (laughter) I'm excited for the 2012 season. This is the first year since 2009 that I'm not coming off a surgery. So, I'm excited. I train hard and I train every single day with a bunch of NFL guys and a bunch of young guys, and I'm still out there leading the pack. I'm one of the leaders out there, and they're following in my footsteps. I've got to show these young guys how to stay strong and keep it going and have a long, successful career. I'm excited to be that guy."
On what new acquisition CB Corey Graham brings to the special teams unit: "He's a football player; he's not just a special teams player. One thing about Chicago and why players leave is you don't have the opportunity to show people what you have outside of what role they put you in. The thing about Baltimore is they can … It's open. Whatever you're good at, Baltimore is going to find out and they're going to let you do that. We're going to find out that he's more than just a special teams guy. If you want to talk just special teams, he's kind of a guy like me who you're going to have to scheme against him and double-team him and come up with ways to stop him. And anytime you double-team one guy, that's going to leave someone else open. Between me and him, if he and I are hogging up double-teams, you can expect a whole lot of production from all the other guys. If they want, they can go ahead and double-team him; he's a Pro Bowler as well – just like myself. They can double-team him, and then I'll go make all the plays. I'm happy to do that as well."
On fixing last season's mistakes and being motivated for 2012: "I think the best thing we have – our best weapon – is coach Rosburg and coach Harbaugh giving us the time to dedicate to special teams and letting us go do what we do. I think the biggest failure is that the players failed the coaches. The coaches did the same thing they've done every year. In past years, we ended up in the Top 10, in the Top 15, and for whatever reasons, we didn't get that done this year. And don't make any mistake; it wasn't the coaches' fault. It was purely on the players. And what was different last year, you'd have to ask yourself. The main thing that was different was that we didn't have that offseason time to gel as a special teams unit and to really learn how to play as a special teams unit. When these young guys come in, they have to understand that they're going to cover a kick before they go out there and cover a receiver. They're going to cover a kick before they go out there and run a route. I don't think last year's group got that. They felt like they were going to come in and surpass special teams and go play defense. Their priorities were in the wrong place. It' not just on the young guys. It's on guys like myself; I missed some tackles and I did some things wrong as well. But, as a group, we have to focus and put that time in and dedication and understand that there is an order to how football is played. Special teams is one-third of the game, but to some guys, it's the only part of the game and it's the most important part of the game. You have to dedicate and focus yourself to that part of the game and not to the other phases."
CB Corey Graham
On the impact he sees himself making on the team: "I definitely see myself making an impact. I'm just happy to be here; I just want to start out with that. But, I just want to get an opportunity to compete, honestly. I don't know what the future is going to hold. Obviously, on special teams I want to go out there and just try to lead by example and go out there and make plays and try to help our team win any way I possibly can."
On whether he also visited Tennessee and Cincinnati: "Oh man, you're putting all types of teams out there! It was actually Seattle and Detroit."
On what made him choose the Ravens: "Honestly, it was the tradition – the tradition of Baltimore and the Ravens and the way their defense plays. They play hard, they play physical, and they win. When it came down to it, I wanted to come to an organization that wins, and I felt like I would get an opportunity to play, and I feel like I can grow as a player."
On whether the process with the Ravens came about quickly or if they were in touch early on in free agency: "My agent was talking to them. At first, it wasn't one of the teams that really came up, but as time went on they got in the mix, and some of the things that they had to offer I was really looking forward to it and I really thought could benefit me and my family. I just wanted to be here. I felt like it was a great organization, and I was just happy to be a part of it."
On what he was told his role might be on the defense: "Just going to get a chance to compete. Honestly, when it comes down to it, they said they'll make places for guys that earn it. I'm not asking for a spot or anything like that; I just want to compete. If I go out there and I play well, then I'll get a chance. And that's all you can ask for from a team. I'm not asking to go out there and be put at the starting nickel spot or anything like that. I just want to go out there and have fun, compete, and if I play well, then I know that I'm going to get put on the field."
On how excited he is to be around guys like LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed: "That's exactly what I was talking about when I said [it was the tradition that attracted me here]. As a kid, you grew up watching Ray Lewis and you see some of the things he's done. Ray Lewis is an amazing football player, and not just a football player, he's an amazing person. So, I've always enjoyed watching Ray Lewis play. Even when I was in Chicago, I'd pay attention to what he'd done and what Ed Reed was able to do out there, and it just seems like they have fun playing the game of football, and that's what you want to do. Sometimes you can lose the context of having fun when you're playing, and they definitely [have fun] out here, and I look forward to being a part of it."
On whether there was any recruiting by players to bring him to Baltimore: "No, it wasn't like that. The only person I really talked to was B.A., Brendon Ayanbadejo. I talked to him, because obviously I was there in Chicago with him in 2007, and he's a special teams guy that came over here and he's gotten more [opportunities on defense]. He's gotten the opportunity to play on defense here, and over the years I've watched and I'm like, 'Wow, B.A. is out there playing.' And so I knew there were opportunities here. I knew that if you go out there and you show what you can do in Baltimore, that they definitely will give you an opportunity to play, and that's something that I wanted. So, I'm just happy to be here."
On whether he can sum up what special teams means to him: "Everything. Special teams, honestly, I've been playing special teams my whole career, ever since I've been in the NFL. I've played some on defense and I've played different positions, but special teams have been constant the whole five years I've been in the league. It's what got me by, it's what made me who I am today, it's what kept me in this league. There were times where that's all I was doing, so I put a lot into it. I study, I care about the way I play, and I figure if I'm going to be doing special teams, I want to be the best special teams player in the league."
LB Jameel McClain
On how pleased he is to be back with the Ravens: "It's great. It's an honor to be back, to be back a part of this organization, to be able to represent these fans, this city. So, it's great. It's a good time for me and my family right now."
On what it means for him to go from where he was being undrafted to where he is now: "To be able to go from the bottom – literally in every sense of the word – to now being here, it's a blessing. But once again, it's just a stepping-stone. I'm nowhere near where I want to be. There are a lot of things that I want to do in my career and where I want to go. So for me, it's just another step and a part of my journey, and my journey is not complete. I'm fortunate to be able to do some more years with the Ravens and hopefully end it all here with this organization."
On whether it was frustrating that the linebacker market was moving slowly at the beginning of free agency: "Of course it was frustrating. To be a person that believes in taking things into control … I work hard, I put my heart into everything that I do, because that's what I can control. But free agency is something that you can't control, and it shakes out the way that it shakes out at the end of the day. So, it definitely was frustrating, but it was what it was."
On what ultimately brought him back to Baltimore: "What ultimately brought me back here was the city, the organization, the players, the coaches. But more importantly, the city, the players and the coaches – it's something that I'm familiar with. These are people that I know and I respect, and so what better way to represent yourself than representing a bunch of people that you respect already."
On whether there was a point where he thought maybe he wouldn't be back: "Everybody always thinks at a point in time that they won't be back. There's always that possibility, because this game is unpredictable. We never know what's going to happen at the end of the day. But in the back of my heart, I always knew that Baltimore was home. So, this is what it was, and this is where I'm at."
On whether it was strange to go visit the Denver Broncos: "Yeah, it was strange. And that was something that I really wanted to take away from free agency. I didn't really want to take visits. Visits weren't up to me. I believe you go into it and you go into it anyway. You go in and you make the best out of any situation, so the visits were just visits, but you know, Denver was Denver. It wasn't the same as Baltimore. None of it was the same, but of course, it's always going to be like that if you're somewhere for four years. You're always going to compare it to this. So, it was just a trip. That's all it was to me."
On if Denver was the only other team he visited: "Yeah."
On the potential of this Ravens team for next season: "We can get better. We can be a better team. We can be a better defense, but at the end of the day, all I can speak for is the defense. On the defensive side, we are going to improve. We have great leadership, great players. With Brendon [Ayanbadejo] and myself coming back and Dannell [Ellerbe] and all of the other people, the linebacker corps, it's still going to be strong. Where can we go? The top. That's everybody's goal. At the end of the day, you want to be at that one spot where everybody wants to be. Hopefully we can reach that."
On where he can improve as a player and how he can justify the team's investment: "[I have] a lot of room to grow. I have a whole lot of room to grow. I am nowhere near where I want to be. If it was percentages, I wouldn't even be close to anything. So, as far as upside, there is tremendous upside. To me, all I can do is improve because last year is a blank to me, it never happened to me. All I have to do is start all over again and keep proving to people that I belong to be here, because at the end of the day, that's what this game is about: proving to everybody else that you are supposed to be here. You don't play for all of the other stuff. You play for the respect. If I can get respect from a fan, a player, a reporter, that's something to me. That's why I play this game."
On if there is still a chip on his shoulder: "It's even bigger now. It's a chip on my shoulder the size of a golden nugget."
On how upsetting it was to see departed free agents Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding as staples of the defense leave: "It's disappointing, but like I say, at the end of the day, this game, you never know … You never know when you are going to lose someone great, someone you respect, someone that you looked to for guidance. That's just how it goes. It's not like college where you are guaranteed a certain amount of time with people. People go in and out, and people's departure becomes new leadership. That's just how the game is played. Losing them is definitely a blow to the organization. There are going to be other people that step up, because it's always like that."
On if he feels that he has to be one of those players to step up: "I feel like I have to be me. I feel like I have to be the person that [I was when] I came in – continue to be humble, continue to be a hard worker and continue to be determined to be better than the person that is in front of me. If I continue to be that, if it's called the leader at the end of the day, so be it. If it's not, it's not, as long as you get respect. In order to get respect, you have to put in the time and do all of those things. When you do all of those type of things, people respect that, and I think they consider those people leaders at the end of the day."
On how important it was to show that he can be the leader of a defense when ILB Ray Lewis missed time this past season: "It was big. It was big to be able to showcase what I can do. Still, at the end of the day, there are speculations on everything: 'You did it a little bit, can you really do it?' It's always going to be something to keep that chip growing on your shoulder. It's going to keep growing every day. It was nice, it was a good experience, but I am looking forward to having the chance to be able to run the show, to be able to go out there and be able to be the best person that I can be. Patiently waiting, that's the name of the game."
On the first thing he will do financially with the new contract: "The first thing I do financially … I am going to put this money in a sneaker box. (laughter) No, no, no. I am going to put it in the bank, invest it. I am trying to secure my future, trying to take care of my family and generations behind me. This is just a small stepping stone. It's not where it needs to be, but I will get there. What am I going to do? I am going to spend it right. I am not going to make it rain." (laughter)