MONDAY PODIUM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 8 BYE
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "OK, [it's] good to see everybody. I appreciate you being here. It's another beautiful day. We're very deep into studying the tape. We had coaches' meetings this morning and had the team meeting, then we broke up [into] offense and defense, and then individually in our groups. [We're] just going to work on looking at the last game, making the corrections, and also applying to any long-term corrections that we want to make that we'll study over the rest of the week. So, we have 10 games left. We need to keep growing as a football team, building on what we've done and what we haven't done and make the strongest run we can for the next 10 weeks, and that's what we're planning on doing. OK, what questions do you have?"
There was a report that OL Patrick Mekari has a high-ankle sprain. Can you confirm that? (Childs Walker) "I don't feel like I need to. He has an injury to his ankle at this point. We'll just see where it goes."
With the Bye Week coming, we hear a lot about sometimes players just needing a little bit of a break from football just to get their body rested. Do coaches have somewhat of a similar opportunity? Whether or not that's something you're going to do, do you have the option to do that? Or is it just a little bit different? (Kyle Barber) "No, you get some time. There will be the weekend. We'll get off on the weekend for the coaches, and it'll help. It's a long season, it really is. It's a grind. Guys are in here … My brother used to always say, 'The season is long on the players and the coaches.' He was a player and then he was a coach. Then once he was a coach, he said this, 'The players never give the coaches enough credit for how hard they grind and how long they work on the gameplan and the preparation. And the coaches never give the players enough credit for how hard it is on their bodies and how physically demanding the game is.' He said, 'If you're a coach and you're a player, and you can kind of get your guys to understand each other a little bit ….' He felt like that was a big plus. So, yes, we've tried to do that, too. You have to recognize how hard it is on the players, mentally and physically, and how hard it is on the coaches, too. So, the coaches and the players will get a little bit of time. The players get more time; they need more time physically. The coaches will get a little bit of time, and we'll be ready to go."
With players having a little bit of a break off, does that give you an opportunity with the front office to have more time together with fewer practices going on right now? (Kyle Barber) "What's your real question?" (Reporter: "That's it.") "Sure, we get more time together. We spend a lot of time together anyway. (laughter) My office is right there, (points to a window of the building) and [executive vice president and general manager] Eric's [DeCosta] office is right there (points at the window right next door). So, we're talking all the time. … You have some other question you want to ask, but that's OK." (laughter)
Last game against the Chargers, you guys had the most complete game so far. Against the Bengals, was tackling or lack of concentration maybe the main factors of the loss? (David Andrade) "No, those are just terms. There are a lot of things that go into it. When you watch, yes, we didn't tackle well. There is no question about that. The biggest problem we have on defense right now, in terms of the big plays, is not getting guys on the ground. Whether it's been underneath slant routes, or screen routes, or in one case, we got the screen and go – that's the first time we've had one thrown over our head, really, I believe this year. Most of them have been catch and run plays, and that's going back to the Kansas City game. That's been on and off a problem all year. Until we get that fixed, we'll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking. Our guys understand that. We played like … You said a very complete team, that was your word. When we play really good defense, we're tackling, and that has to get done. There are a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes, we're not pushing to the right zone, so there's more space in there than there should be. Other times we take a bad angle. Sometimes, the guy is not covered. There are different reasons for it, but the results are uniformly not good. You're a consistent good defense when you consistently do all the little things well. When we start doing all the little things well, then we're going to be a better defense."
What can be done as far as in the running game … Specifically talking about the running backs, what can be done to get more efficiency or productivity from the running backs in the run game? (Jamison Hensley) "We just have to block better, scheme better, run better. I mean, it's a very general question you're asking. It doesn't really get a better answer than that. There is no better answer than that." (Reporter: "I'm just saying when you look at the numbers, it just looks like in past years, you've gotten a lot more rushing yards [from the running backs]. We're just asking, because you would know better than us.") "We have to run it better. We have to block it better. We have to scheme it better. That's a general question, and that's a general answer. There are specifics in there in terms of schemes and every play stands on its own, but we can't go through it all … How many run plays have we had this year that haven't been successful? We could go through every one of them, and you'd get the specific answer. So, it's a general question; it's a general answer."
With WR Rashod Bateman, it looked like he had a big game with 80 yards, beating zone coverage on all three of his catches. How good is it to see a rookie kind of sniff that out and find those empty areas to make plays in? (Ryan Mink) "I mean, he just ran the routes. He ran them well. I'm thinking of an over-crossing route; man or zone [coverage], it's the same route. There are some routes where you have to make man or zone adjustments based on the route. There aren't that many of them in any system, really – it just depends what they want to play against you. I think he's just doing a good job, generally, for his second game, and I plan, as a head coach, on him being better and better every single week. That's going to be good. We'll get Sammy [Watkins] back, and that's going to be good. We get Nick Boyle back, [and] that's going to be good. We'll just kind of build from there."
Given K Justin Tucker's success – 57 yards and 58 yards, I think those were the two situations – how much did you consider sending him out there, and was it a field position thing? (Jeff Zrebiec)"That was past our line at that point. There was a crosswind coming pretty hard from their bench, their sideline to our sideline, and we didn't feel like that was really a … It was a low-percentage kick at that point. Could 'Tuck' [Justin Tucker] make it? Yes, in a situation where you had to make it, but it was a pretty low-percentage kick at that point, so we said no."
Yesterday was obviously not the day you guys wanted, but you are 5-2 going into the Bye Week. How do you balance putting things into perspective, as far as you are 5-2, while you are coming off probably your worst game of the season? (Cordell Woodland)"Yes, you put it right in perspective. I think it's a very good point; we made the point in the locker room after the game; we don't make any excuses. We played our worst game of the season – worst game in a long time – [and the] Bengals played very well. They were very prepared [and] played a great game. So, it's week-to-week. Just like you said, a week ago, you're being crowned the best ever, and we're sitting there going, 'Woah, woah, it's one week.' Now, you want to say, 'What's wrong with the run game? What's wrong with the pass game? You guys are terrible.' And we're like, 'Woah, woah, it's one week.' It's the same message from us. So, that's how it works. That's how the National Football League works. We're 5-2; that guarantees us what? How many games are there?" (Reporters: "17.") "So, what's that make us, 5-12 at worst? OK? (laughter) The worst we can do is 5-12 – I can promise you that. What's the best we can do?" (Reporters: "15-2") "15-2, all right? So, we're going to be somewhere between 15-2 and 5-12 – that's a guarantee. What we end up being, will be up to us [and] how well we play." (Reporter: "I probably wouldn't mention the 5-12 in a team meeting.") "I'm going to try to keep it real. [I] try to keep it real." (laughter)
You had mentioned a few weeks ago that DE Derek Wolfe was feeling better and starting to train. How close is he to returning to practice? (Luke Jones)"Very close, very close. Yes, we'll see. This week [or] next week hopefully, and we'll see."
We haven't had a good chance to look at the All-22 film yet, but did the Chargers and the Bengals limit what you guys wanted to do downfield? I know you had the long throw to WR Marquise Brown. (Jonas Shaffer)"I think their deep coverage is pushing out pretty deep, and the linebackers are playing play-action, because they've seen it a lot, so they're recognizing it pretty well and playing it. And as your point, if you don't run the ball really well, your play-action pass doesn't get as much respect. So, it all goes together. You have to run the ball to throw the play-action; you have to hit passes and spread them out to run the ball. Executing across the board makes everything better, and we have to get better."
I know you guys talk about stopping the run, and on defense, a lot of what you do starts with stopping the run. Through seven games, how would you assess that part of your defense, and where do you guys maybe need to pick it up? (Cliff Brown)"Inconsistent. We can sit there and say, 'Well, the average is this, or if not for these plays, it's this.' We've had dominant run plays. We're capable of being a dominant run defense, and we are on very many plays. On very many plays, there is nowhere to run. I think a couple teams gave up on running the ball a few times when we have the lead. But we've given up too many big runs. We've been cracked a couple times, even in zero blitzes. A couple times at the end of games, we've given up big runs that affect your stats, for sure, but those aren't what we're looking for. So, it's just not as consistent as I want to see it. I believe the players feel the exact same way."
When you hear other coaches say it's different to watch QB Lamar Jackson on film than in person, would you say that same thing applies to WR Ja'Marr Chase? (Cordell Woodland)"I haven't thought about it like that."
Quarterbacks Coach James Urban
If you look at all seven games so far, how do you see QB Lamar Jackson's development, and how comfortable do you see him playing in the pocket? (David Andrade)"I see improvement in some areas, and we're trying to continue that improvement. It's something we set out to do the whole offseason, and a lot of the work that we've set out to do we're starting to see."
With QB Lamar Jackson, you can see in the numbers that his passing has improved. What do you think has been the key for him to take that next step as a passer? (Jamison Hensley)"I just think it's a natural progression. Not to discount all the hard work that he's put in – he has. Not to discount some of the schemes that we've put in; I just think it's a natural progression. He's in Year Four in this league, and that's the progression you need to make. Like I said before, if we're not changing our game, then people are catching up to us or you're not getting any better. So, that was an area of his game that we wanted to get improved upon, and that's what he's done."
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has talked a lot about this offensive scheme and how he's built a lot more things into it so you guys can be a little more versatile. Can you talk about how QB Lamar Jackson has made adjustments in games, seeing what defenses are going to do, because they bring something unique every week – and him being able to adjust to that? (Ryan Mink)"Yes, he's always been that way – since Day One. He is not a 'paint by numbers' kind of guy. So, we are constantly talking between series. 'This is what they're doing. This is what might come up. These are what plays we're liking.' And then he applies the things that we've talked about and what he's seen into how we're doing it. Schematically, it's not [written]; like, he doesn't have to do it 'this' way. We can go various directions that we need to go within the gameplan."
A popular topic is about the different looks that you see, and how teams don't put stuff on film, but all of a sudden, in the first quarter, you see this look that you hadn't seen. I know you can't prepare for that specific look, but how does that affect your preparation during the week with QB Lamar Jackson, and kind of what you look for? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I don't chase ghosts, and we don't chase ghosts in our room. We don't talk about 'what-ifs' and 'what could be.' So, we look at the film, we study the film, and then we're focused on us. That's our goal – our execution. Our mentality is, 'It doesn't matter how they line up, we have plays and schemes, [and] as long as we execute, we'll defeat those schemes.' So, that's kind of how we go about it. I cannot prepare him for every eventuality, and he knows that. We don't try to do that; we try to learn our offense, learn what we're trying to do and then apply it as it fits."
Talking about QB Lamar Jackson's improvement in the passing game, has that opened up more possibilities and more throws that he can make consistently enough to where you say, "All right, we feel good about building that in and giving him that green light?" (Ryan Mink)"Yes, there have been some areas where we've certainly been able to magnify that a little bit more than what it's been in the past, but some of that is [that] we have some players on the outside who are really making plays, as well – with all of our wide receivers outside."
You guys have had injuries at basically every position on the offensive side of the ball. What has impressed you about QB Lamar Jackson's ability to handle that, and whoever is out there to just keep plugging forward and improving? (Garrett Downing)"We're all NFL players. Everybody that is out there with us is an NFL player, and we're proud of the guys that go out there with us. It doesn't matter. The cliché 'next man up,' it is what it is, but all of these guys that are out there, many of them have lots of experience in this league – more experience in terms of years than he [Lamar Jackson] does. So, we're good to go."
We're seeing QB Lamar Jackson make a lot of great throws from different arm angles this season. When you talk about athleticism as a quarterback, usually the connotations are as a runner, but how much does that athleticism play into what he's able to do beyond the stuff that people were doing 15 years ago? (Jonas Shaffer)"Well, look, I grew up with Randall Cunningham posters on my wall, and he made crazy plays, so it's not just been 10 or 15 years. Fran Tarkenton – I mean, there are guys you can name that have been crazy athletic quarterbacks that have done things. My philosophy … My approach has always been [that] I'm not going to coach him out of what he's done his whole life. What he can do naturally, why would I ever take that away from him – what's worked? So, some of those unique arm angles, or the ability to race back and throw off platform or whatever all those things are … The things we chase out here [that] you see us doing all the time is that when it's clean, and it's easy, and you can drop back and throw it, to do that."
One of the knocks on QB Lamar Jackson had to do with coming back and leading the team from behind. He's done that several times this year. Did you notice any chance in his demeanor this year, as far as just being more patient, calmer, or anything where if he's in a situation where you need to make a play, he's more ready to do that? (Cliff Brown)"What I think that maybe the Colts game magnified a little bit is it just happened a different way, right? If you think back to Seattle a few years ago, there were a couple times he just broke contain and ran, just because that's what the play dictated. His approach, and certainly our approach here is we will do whatever it takes to win the football game. So, if he has to drop back and throw it, and that's what the play, the way they're playing us dictates, like in the Colts game, and they're giving us checkdowns, and they're giving him the ability to do that, and there's not this crazy pass rush where you get … then he'll do it. And if he has to tuck it and run, then we'll tuck it and run. But he's going to do whatever it takes to win, and that has not changed; that's the way he's always been."
Just generally speaking, how much better do you think QB Lamar Jackson is this year than he was last year or even during his MVP year? (Ryan Mink)"I think he's better this year than he has been, and I hope that he's better next week than he was this week, and that's just how we have to do it. We're always trying to get better – every single day, tick by tick."
Are QB Lamar Jackson's week-to-week mechanics this year as good as you've seen him put on tape? (Jonas Shaffer)"The consistency with the mechanics is much improved, yes. Yes, it's been much more consistent."
How fun has it been to coach someone with QB Lamar Jackson's demeanor and also the skill set, as well? He's a win-at-any-cost person with the ability to win with a plethora of options. How fun is that? (Kyle Barber)"Listen, I'm blessed. I pinch myself every day. In my quarterback room, I have three [Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley and Trace McSorley] great guys who work hard. They're a joy to be around, and we're all in it together – we're all rowing the boat the same way. So, they interact, they coach each other, there's lots of discussion, and he's certainly a big part of that. So, I feel very blessed."
When QB Lamar Jackson had to miss time at the beginning of training camp, were you concerned at the time, or did you feel that it was just a bump in the road he'd overcome? (Cliff Brown)"You mean with the COVID thing? (Reporter: "Yes.") My immediate thing was concern for him, concern for his health. You hate to hear someone have that thing for the second time. And who knows? There are so many unknowns about it. That was my immediate concern. Football, we'll take care of. And when he got back and got healthy, we just went back to work. I wish he didn't miss the time, but we certainly made up for lost time."
Given all the injuries around QB Lamar Jackson, do you ever have to kind of say to him, "You can't make every single play, and don't try to do too much to make up for some of those losses," because he clearly has the desire to do it? (Ryan Mink)"That really doesn't have much to do with the injuries. That has to do with him always wanting to make a play, which is a great thing, right? You'd rather coach him down than coach him up. You'd rather say, 'Hey, listen, just take what they give you,' instead of, 'Go try to do it.' So, that's a good fault to have. He's maturing in that way."
Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin
What has impressed you so far with WR Rashod Bateman and what he's done so far? (Jamison Hensley) "His maturity. First of all, just how he came into training camp, he was in shape, really worked hard and was playing really well before the injury. Then you get hit with an injury, and you're out. You're kind of going on this temporary deal where [you wonder] how many games you're going to be out, then to mentally fight himself through that, get healthy and then come back in shape and ready to go. So, that's the main thing, is how mature he's been through adversity and getting himself ready to play."
WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown has talked about how you guys have kind of changed his mindset a little bit and that he's fighting for extra yards, turned up field. Can you talk about kind of instilling that mentality in him a little bit? (Garrett Downing) "It was something that you watch on tape over years to come that was an area of improvement. He was good, but I just really wanted to push all the guys, not just him, of let's get all that we can, because you don't know how many opportunities we're going to get to catch the ball. So, it was something we rehearsed and talked about during training camp [and] during the offseason in the spring, and we've seen an improvement. We're still working to get even better. Him, Devin [Duvernay] is doing a good job after the catch. [James] Proche [II] and all of those guys are doing a heck of a job of running after the catch."
Where have you seen WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown make his biggest strides? (Ryan Mink) "I just think with his preparation, I'm the proudest of him with how he's approaching the professional side of the game during the week. Sundays are a result of during the week, and I think he's made the best strides of being out early every day, asking for more, [asking] what drill can we do to work on this, and really attacking issues. It's one thing to recognize it, but it's another thing to accept it and then go and work on it. I think he's done a really good job of just coming to work every day, and we're seeing the results of that on gameday."
What do you say when WR Marquise Brown makes a catch like he did yesterday? (Garrett Downing) "Oh, that's God given. (laughter) I'd like to say as a coach, 'Yes, we coached that.' But he's one of the best trackers of deep balls that I've ever coached. It's a natural thing. You saw it in college. I recruited him out of JUCO [junior college]; he's always had that ability. I've known him for a long time, and he's always been one of the better deep ball trackers of the ball."
I think you've mentioned all the young wide receivers you have. How valuable is WR Sammy Watkins to your room, a guy who's a former fourth-overall pick and has been in the league for a number of years? (Luke Jones) "He's been great, because Sammy [Watkins] is just steady. Sammy understands as a veteran the professional side of mental prep, physical prep, playing at high levels, winning a Super Bowl, playing for a Super Bowl. He's seen it all, and he's helped with everybody in a different way. Sammy is not a big talker, but when he does talk, the guys listen. We share a special relationship as well, because I worked with Sammy before the [2014 NFL] Draft when he was coming out of college. So, we have a relationship that connected when he was on the free agent market. Now, having the blessings to be able to coach him every day has been a treat. But he was a great addition, not only just as a player, but just [with his] veteran leadership. [He has] the right type of veteran leadership, because that could go the wrong way, too, on the free agent market. I was happy that we were able to bring in the right type of veteran leadership in Sammy Watkins."
He's been injured and just came back recently, but how ultimately do you think WR Miles Boykin can fit in the offense and what he can bring since he's obviously got a different body type than the other receivers? (Jeff Zrebiec) "No question. He's a special talent. He's a big guy that can run and can make those 50-50 balls playing above the rim. He's a physical blocker. You've seen his presence in the last two games since he's been back on special teams. So, he's very, very valuable to how we play offense and what we want to do on offense. We're continuing to integrate him into the passing game as well. First game back … He caught a pass [in] his first game back. But as we go, we're going to continue to integrate him more and more into the offense. He knows it. He's been around. So, we look forward to seeing more of him in weeks to come."
How much is buy-in … I'm not just talking about WR Miles Boykin, I'm just talking about all of them. I'm sure you'd like to get WR James Proche II involved every week and WR Devin Duvernay. When you have a lot of guys that are playing well and you like, how difficult is it to get everyone to buy in and kind of wait their turn? (Jeff Zrebiec)"We just keep the main thing the main thing, and that's winning the game [by doing] whatever it takes for us to win the game as a team and playing our parts as an offense, and then as individuals and as coaches. Our job is to get prepared during the week. I don't know what plays are going to be called. I'm not the play-caller. I don't know if it's going to be a game where we use more receivers or not, but the ultimate goal is to win the game. We just keep the main thing the main thing, and that's getting better every day, focusing on doing our jobs, and when our opportunities come, we take advantage of our opportunities. I think that room is so special, because that's all they think about. That receiver frustration of, 'Man, I didn't catch 10 balls today,' or 'They're not targeting me.' We haven't had any of those issues at all. Obviously, as competitors, you see that look in the wideouts eye like, 'I need to be getting the ball right here,' but they have done a heck of a job of managing it. Their communication with Lamar [Jackson] and what they see on the field and making adjustments during games, I have not seen any selfishness out of this group, and it's a credit to those men in that room."
When WR Rashod Bateman broke out, I think he was primarily an outside guy at Minnesota. They moved him inside last year. What have you seen from him versatility-wise? How much does that help how you guys want to play offense? (Jonas Shaffer)"That's a great point you noted. We noted that during the draft process of his last year playing more inside than he had played outside. What that showed me was his value just went up, because that's very rare. Some guys are a fish out of water outside when they come in, or inside when they go out. Rashod [Bateman], just like Sammy [Watkins] and those guys, they just have a good feel regardless of where you put them on the field, and that just helps us. We have three … We have four receivers, actually, that can play all three positions. No. 1, that's very rare to have. I'm thankful it's for us and we can move guys around. Because really, if you couldn't do that, it would have been really hard for us to get to this point with the injuries that we've had. But it's a credit to him. Us seeing it on tape from him in college during the draft process and him being able to adjust to the NFL [and] the speed of the game. This team was blitzing and doing all kind of stuff, and he did a really good job of reading blitzes and making himself available for catches. As a rookie, that was really good to see."
WR Rashod Bateman
On how he feels after playing in his first two NFL games: "It definitely feels good to be back on the field – back healthy. [I'm] being able to play comfortable; shout out to the coaches and my players for helping me out [and] leading me through the week as it goes. It's definitely fun to be back out there playing with the team."
On if there is anything that has surprised him so far about the NFL that he didn't expect: "Nothing really. I would definitely say the speed of the game has picked its pace up. I feel like guys in the NFL play faster than guys in [college], so that was definitely an adjustment coming to the league."
On if he had modest expectations about what kind of impact he could make after having surgery: "No, not really. I was just nervous to play, period. It's my first injury ever, and my first time ever having surgery, so I was just kind of nervous to make a cut or to run, period. But after treatment, I went on, I progressed, I got better day-by-day, so I was able to go out and perform."
On how tough it was mentally to go through the injury: "It was hard at first, but when I got back here around the facility, around the coaches, around the guys, they helped me [and] picked me up when I was down. So, just having them by my back, having the coaches by my back, that definitely helped me out a lot."
On if he spoke to anybody that may have experienced something similar: "DeShon Elliott has kind of been my right-hand dude when it comes to that. He kind of explained to me [and] talked to me. Since he's an older guy he's been through some stuff, and just talking to me and helping me out that way."
On if it was encouraging for him to come out and make an immediate impact with the team: "Yes, it did. It just reminded me that I can still play football. I still know how to catch a little bit and those type of things, but I've just got to keep getting better with the team each and every day."
On if the timing of the Bye Week is weird for him since he just got back to playing: "I don't know what my schedule is like here every day; I just show up and go to work. (laughter) The days kind of run together now, so I'm just getting used to coming to work every day and just looking forward to it."
On how he goes about grading himself after each game: "First, it starts with effort. I look at myself in the mirror like, 'Did I give it my all, or did I not?' And then after that, it comes down to technique and wide receiver play. There is a lot that I could critique of myself, and there's always room to get better, so I know I have to do that."
On Coach Harbaugh saying he may have learned more from the ball he didn't catch in his first game than the ones he did catch: "Yes, that does happen in certain situations. That drop, that was definitely something that I learned from – look the ball all the way in. But there is always opportunity to learn and grow."
On if he was thinking worst case scenario when he got injured because he hasn't often experienced that: "No, to be honest, I just didn't know what was going on. I just felt it pop, went to the trainers, got an MRI, and it was torn. So, that's really it."
On how it has been playing with QB Lamar Jackson and gaining chemistry: "It's definitely been fun playing with Lamar [Jackson]. Growing up, I watched him do his thing at Louisville, [and] it's just an honor to play alongside him and be here with him. But we go out, we practice, and it just shows the work that we put in. We go out, we practice, we put the work in, and it shows up on Sundays."
On how much he's looking forward to getting all of the receivers healthy and back on the field together: "I look forward to everybody getting healthy. But sometimes some guys have to step up at times when needed, and I feel like we've been able to do that as a team. But we're definitely excited to get those guys back as soon as they get healthy."