THURSDAY PODIUM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 4 AT DENVER
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
Opening statement? "Good morning, good to see everyone. Obviously, a recap of last week's game: I think we all were amazed and appreciate what Justin [Tucker] did for us to win that game. And not only what Justin did for us, but when you watch that play, the attention to details, the fundamental techniques by all 11 guys on that field, it was just incredible. It was a sight to see. Moving on to Denver, we understand, as a special teams unit, we've got to go out there and execute fundamentally with our techniques and really just play sound football. Any chance we get to impact the football game, we're going to try to do that. Questions?"
K Justin Tucker had kind of broken down the operation and about how he did a little crow hop, and he went back a little bit, so obviously it was a split second longer. Did the offensive line know that going in? Do they know they may have to hold the block a little bit longer, just because Justin might be a little bit slower to the ball than he normally is? Is that something that's discussed at all or worked on? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It's not something that we talk about. Our job is, when we go out there, we just execute our fundamentals and our technique. If we do that, we understand that we will get the ball off, and that's really what those guys did. Again, it was incredible to see what those guys did across the board – all 11 guys – but it's not something that we talk about. We just say, 'Hey, go out there, execute the exact same fundamentals and exact same technique, and we will be fine. We'll get the ball off.'"
Head coach John Harbaugh was asked just how far he would have felt comfortable kicking the field goal from. Do you go into the game knowing what the outer limits are of K Justin Tucker's range? (Jonas Shaffer) "Early on, when we're watching him warm up in pre-game, we kind of have a pretty good idea. I think when you're talking about setting records and making kicks like that, those are things that come up at the end of the game, and I say, 'Hey, can we do it?' And then we put him out there and let's find out. We don't really know the maximum range going into it, in that type of environment and that type of kick. But we put him out there, and he needed 66 [yards]; we got 66, and we won the football game."
How much does going to Denver increase K Justin Tucker's range? (Jonas Shaffer) (laughter) "We don't know. Just like I said before, we'll go out there … Hopefully, we're not in those situations where we need to be setting records on field goals to win football games. So, we'll just play it by ear, and if they call us, they put us out there, we'll be ready to go."
Because K Justin Tucker has such a big, strong leg, do you guys practice the return operations on a field goal more than other teams? Is that something that you have to prepare for because of the possibility of him coming up short? (Jonas Shaffer) "It is something that we have to prepare for if we are in a situation where we have to kick long field goals. It's something you want to work on. I think we've all seen the play from this week in Jacksonville. Those guys have got to get out, and we've got to cover, and we have a certain way in which we do that to get our guys down the field. You almost have to expect that in long field goal situations, especially at the end of the half."
Have you seen K Justin Tucker hit a field goal from 66 yards somewhere at some point in a warmup? When he goes out there, is it in your head; 'I know this is in his skill set, even though it's at the sort of edge of his skill set?' (Childs Walker) "Again, it's Justin [Tucker]. Justin will go out there, and he'll take his warmups, and he'll hit from wherever he feels comfortable. We don't really get into it; we let him go out there and do his thing. Again, the players play the game, and if he thinks he wants to try kicks from 60 [yards] and 60-plus in the pre-game, we let him do it, and we'll find out where he is. But we don't look at him and say, 'OK, well, that's his range. That's this; this is that.' We get in the situation in a game, and we kind of figure those things out."
What impresses you the most about the way K Justin Tucker goes about doing his job, how he handles it, how he prepares for it? Is there anything that really stands out and impresses you the most when people ask you about Justin? (Jamison Hensley) "Of course. It's one of those things; when you look at Justin [Tucker], it's about confidence, and that goes for any player. The more confident you are in yourself, the more ability you have to go out and do great things. And when you're around Justin, you understand that this guy is confident. He understands, and he loves the moment; he wants to be in the moment. And so, when those opportunities come up, he practices them out here on Field Three. He practices these moments, so he goes out and there's nothing to think about. Good snap, good hold, good kick, good protection – we'll get the results we want."
You played for a while, too. Have you ever been around a kicker with that level of confidence and a guy who enjoys the moment as much as K Justin Tucker does? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I have not. I haven't seen any guy like this guy. He's different. He's a different breed of guy. Nothing phases him. He went out there; on that first field goal, he missed, right? [He] put it in his back pocket, he lined up for the next ones, and he made them, and won the game; he set an NFL record. So, it's just outstanding. The guy is unbelievable."
K Justin Tucker said that he was short from 65 yards kicking both ways during pre-game. Now, that obviously did not affect your decision to send him out there. Did you have that discussion? Did you know he was short from 65 both ways? Does that come up? (Bo Smolka) "It does not come up. Again, it's just one of those things that we don't really see ourselves kicking 65-yarders in games. But in situations like that, if we feel like that gives us the best chance to win the football game, we put him out there, and we see what happens; and there you go – 66."
With other than the obvious, which is catching the ball, is there anything specific in terms of fundamentals that you guys are working on with WR Devin Duvernay to make sure the ball isn't hitting the ground, like it has in two of the first three games? _(Jeff Zrebiec) _"That's one of the things we work on all the time. As a punt returner, kick returner, as an offensive guy that carries the football, as a defensive guy that might get a turnover, it's all about protecting the football and ball security. It's a big detail. It's something that we're definitely working on. But again, we've got a lot of confidence in Devin [Duvernay]. For a guy who came in at the end of the year – I think it was the last two games of the season – and returned punts for us … We will get those things fixed. But I think what we're seeing from him is he's resilient in what he does, [and] those little things don't affect him, but we need to put an end to those things before they do affect us. And we're just going to let him keep going, because, right now, he's a sight to see, and we love having him back there."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "How's everybody doing? Seen anything exciting lately?" (Reporter: "Not for the past three weeks.") (laughter) "Well, we're hard at work on this Denver Broncos defense. They're loaded with talent. They're playing at a historic level through three games. You watch the tape, they stand out. The front ... It really starts out with the front, obviously with Von Miller, [Shelby] Harris, Dre'Mont Jones and [Malik] Reed up front. [No.] 45 [Alexander Johnson] is an extremely physical linebacker and a very good blitzer. The secondary is really well organized. [They have] really good players, [Pat] Surtain [II], obviously, and then Kyle Fuller is a really smart veteran. He went to Mount St. Joseph's [High School], so he has to be smart, right? (laughter) Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons back there, they really like to change the picture on the quarterback as the ball is snapped. They do a great job at disguise, and when you look at their statistics, they pretty much speak for themselves through three weeks. So, I think our players are well aware of the challenge we have. We're very excited about it, and we're hard at work at it. So, any questions?"
You mentioned LB Von Miller. I think that's the first name everybody thinks of when you think about the Broncos. What's the biggest challenge in trying to slow him down? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a great question, because he looks as good as he's ever looked right now. The fountain of youth has been kind to him. So, you can try to do some things. Do you run at him? Do you run away from him? Do you do this? Do you do that? So, you have some things at your disposal, you just have to throw a good mix. I think he's a very, very instinctive player. So, he can smell a rat pretty quick – it's not his first rodeo. But he's a real challenge, as everybody that plays them know."
Because you've been working-in so much personnel over the first few weeks, is there still a sense that you're still figuring out what you have, to some degree? Or do you feel like you know at this point? (Childs Walker) "That's another really good question. With the nature of training camp this year, I think there's a little bit of that with the new players and whatnot. I think you could say that. We're getting a feel for the new guys as we go, and I think, hopefully, we can develop a real good sense of what they do well and where they flourish. I think that's a process – that doesn't just happen overnight. So, I think you'll see some of that, for sure. It's good to see, we have some guys out here practicing, [Rashod] Bateman and [Miles] Boykin. I know you're all excited to see that. I saw you guys yesterday taking notes on every move they made. But it's good to have some healthy guys back, and we look forward to adding them. We love who we're going with right now, and I love their attitude. I think we'll kind of grow with them throughout the season."
Someone that we haven't seen is RB Le'Veon Bell. Obviously, he's been on the practice squad. I know he's had to kind of get back into football shape after not being in camp. What have you seen from him so far? (Garrett Downing) "That's exactly right. Le'Veon [Bell] wasn't in camp, so he's really had some time now to really kind of get in shape. I think he has a really good enthusiasm. He's a smart guy, and it'll be interesting to see how he can help us. So far, I've been very impressed with him. You can see why he's been so successful, and hopefully, he can add something to us at some point this year. But [I've seen] nothing but positives."
Speaking of getting guys back, do you expect QB Lamar Jackson to be back on the practice field today? (Jeff Zrebiec) "You saw the injury report; he's dealing with a little back flare-up. I don't think it's anything serious, but we're just going to have to kind of wait and see. I think he's going to be in good shape, but we'll wait and see."
When you guys kind of switched things around a few years ago with QB Lamar Jackson, emphasizing the run in your system, a lot of people didn't think it was going to work, certainly to this degree. You guys always believed it would. What are some of the things that made you guys believe, 'Hey, we can emphasize the running game in the NFL and be dominant with it?' (Cliff Brown) "It's not just the running game. A strong running game, I don't care who you are, is going to set up opportunities elsewhere for success of skill position players, of the quarterback, certainly, and of the offensive line. So, it's really a philosophy of how to win. Some weeks, we're going to run it more than others. So, really, last week, they were doing some things and we saw some opportunities, so we threw it a lot more. Every week is a little bit different. It's more of a philosophy to win. It's a mindset as well. I think it gives the whole offense an opportunity to flourish when we're in sync. Obviously, utilizing the talents of players is kind of the cornerstone of any tactical coaching decision, right? So, I think that's pretty obvious there with Lamar [Jackson] and his skillset. It's not just running the ball. You have to be able to run and complement the run, and work on all your situational stuff as well. When you can control a game on the ground and in the trenches, it changes the price of poker."
Have you been pleased with the ability to push the ball down the field? QB Lamar Jackson is leading the league in yards per completion, and I think he's eighth in yards per attempt, so far. (Luke Jones) "I think we should probably have some more yards per completion. We're working at it, and he's doing … He made some incredible 'dime' throws the other day. So, it's something we'll continue to do, but we're going to take what the defense gives us, as well. When we see opportunities, we're going to take them. Hopefully, we're smart about when we take those opportunities and play winning football – that's what it's all about."
I know that WR Miles Boykin and WR Rashod Bateman are still working their way back, but when they are fully healthy, just how do they kind of change what it possible with this offense? (Jonas Shaffer) "I think we were very impressed with Rashod [Bateman], obviously. We know Miles [Boykin] a lot more. Miles, I think, is probably one of the more physical blockers in the league. [He's] really probably Top Five, maybe Top Three, if you're really honest with yourself if you watch the film. Bateman, we feel great about what we've seen. So, it's going to be kind of a little bit of what you were alluding to, and we're going to kind of get a feel and a sense as we go with what he does really well and how we can apply him. It certainly gives us opportunities to basically just take Rashod's ability and put it to use. So, we'll see how that goes. Certainly, yesterday was his first day back, and we're excited about that. From what we've seen, I think good things are going to happen there."
With WR Miles Boykin, because of that physicality, I think we saw in the preseason when he was healthy more reduced splits than maybe in years past. Because of how often you guys kind of like to condense things, is that really a useful tool for him and for you guys, just being able to have him as a receiver but also be a potentially devastating blocker? (Jonas Shaffer) "Exactly. He's a big target going across the middle. You remember the Dallas game last year, he caught that … It was like a 50-yard touchdown pass over the middle. He's lights out as a blocker. [He's a] big target, dependable blocker, dominating blocker, really – that's a good combination."
You've made it clear since the summer that you're going to use all the running backs and that the game situation is just going to dictate. What have you seen so far from RB Ty'Son Williams? Is he a guy you'd like to get the ball a bit more to? Last game, he played the most snaps out of the running backs, but he got a couple fewer touches. (Jeff Zrebiec) "We're just starting to get a feel for our [running] backs, really. I think you'll see that evolve as the year goes on, as well. I think they all kind of have been learning our system. The first game, they got here a couple days before the game. But we like what we see with all of them, and we want to keep them fresh and ready to roll. Whoever has the hot hand … Sometimes, stats can be misleading. Some guys get the short straw, and some guys get the long straw. So, I don't really look at stats; I look at everything. If I'm running the ball and it's a hole that's wide open, you and I could run through it, right? But what do you do when that isn't the case? That kind of thing, so you take the whole picture into account. But we're excited about those guys [and] how they're going to evolve this year."
With QB Lamar Jackson, he's been in the system for four years now. One missed practice, is that … I know you'd like him to be at every practice but are there any adjustments, or do you have to do anything for him to catch up with what you did on Wednesday? (Jamison Hensley) "We definitely want him and everybody out for every practice – period. OK, next paragraph. Indentation. (laughter)
"When they're not … When they're not, you adjust accordingly. Thankfully, we've been in this system going into three years now. So, with Lamar [Jackson], it's a little bit different than a guy who just got here and that kind of thing. We're definitely going to have to have a feel for that." (Reporter: "Do you want to write our stories today?") "That's OK, I'll leave you guys to that." (laughter)
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "Detroit – it was one of the greatest experiences I've ever gone through. To see that record be broken and to be there is going to be a bucket-list thing for a long time for me. I'm going to try to get a picture and have him [Justin Tucker] sign it and have Sam [Koch] sign it. I just think it was one of the coolest things ever. We played well. I know that we had some tackling issues there in the second half that cost us, because of the way we were playing on third down. I was really pleased with the first half. I think the first six series they were minus-two passing, and I think the longest drive was six plays, and there were a lot of three-and-outs and four-and-outs. We've just got to make sure that we can go all the way through and finish this thing out, and that's what we're working towards. With that, I'll open it up to questions."
I know you'll never use excuses, but I think you had four active defensive linemen and when OLB Daelin Hayes went down, you were down to three outside linebackers. Towards the end of the game, did numbers work against you and maybe being out there too long? (Jamison Hensley) "It goes back to the old [former coach] Lou Holtz [saying]: '90% of the people in the world don't care about your problems; the other 10% are glad you have them,' but it might be switched nowadays – I don't know. (laughter) I think there was some effect of that, but you also look at the game with the heroic effort of Calais Campbell, [who] played 52 plays, which is more than we want him to play. Same thing with 'Phee' [Pernell McPhee]. 'Jelly' [Justin Ellis] played 41 plays, and I don't think he's played 41 plays for a long time. But how hard those guys played was really impressive, and our secondary did a heck of a job. They did. There are a lot of positives to pull. I know you people don't like to usually talk about positives, but that's the way I work. So, there are a lot of positives to pull from that game, and I'm going to do it."
When you get in regular-season mode, the physicality of practice is obviously ramped back for clear reasons. Yesterday you were in pads. What is the benefit of having a padded practice, like that, yesterday? (Garrett Downing) "I think it makes the point of just getting back to basic fundamentals of the game – blocking and tackling – and I think it helps our players' mindset. There are certain situations why we couldn't be in pads, and I was right with 'Harbs' [head coach John Harbaugh] on that. It was good to come out on a Wednesday and be in pads. It felt like the regular season, which we go into pads a lot on Wednesdays. So, I think that's going to work out to our benefit – yes."
There's been a lot of talking about Denver's defense, obviously, but what do you see from their offense and problems they could pose to you guys? (Cliff Brown) "I think [Teddy] Bridgewater is playing at a high level. I think this system really fits him, if you will. They still have a Pro Bowl wide receiver in [Courtland] Sutton, and the other receiver [Tim Patrick] is just as big, if not, bigger – who was here. We've got another tight end [Noah Fant] – imagine that? Four weeks in a row, with Fant, and his running mate [Albert Okwuegbunam], is the No. 1 target in the low red zone. So, it's going to be a formidable task. I really respect [Broncos head coach] Vic [Fangio]; I've known him for a long time. I know they're going to want to try to run the football. So, it's going to be a great challenge."
How pleased were you to get CB Jimmy Smith back, and how do you think he did with his first action of the season? (Luke Jones) "Thank God we got Jimmy [Smith] back. (laughter) I'm waiting for some more guys to come back. Here he comes. (Jimmy Smith approaches media session) I think the numbers show, with [T.J.] Hockenson, the job that he did. He played a big role on third down for us; it's going to be expanded this week. But he played a big role for us on third down – Jimmy did – and made a big play on a scramble play there at the end of [the] half – two-minute [situation] – and broke up that pass."
Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater has been very successful, specifically against the blitz. Is there anything in particular that the Broncos' offense does that makes them so successful? (Melissa Kim) "Well, I think that he gets rid of the ball quickly. So, we'll see. We'll see if those numbers hold up."
What are you seeing out of ILB Patrick Queen and ILB Malik Harrison, as far as wanting to see them take the next step in Year Two? (Luke Jones) "I think that they've come a long way since last year. It's still just little things of the game, and the more games they play in, they'll see it, and like I said, by the time they're in their third year, they're going to go, 'I can't believe … Yes, that's what we're talking about.' And I think that's with any rookie, though."
CB Jimmy Smith
On how it feels to be back on the field after his injury: "It feels great to be back out there. I hate sitting on the sideline with an injury. It's the story of my career, right? It felt good to get out there, especially getting a 'W' [win], get my feet wet again [and] get this ankle moving."
On if he expects to play more snaps moving forward: "I mean, they're going to definitely still ease me in and expand my roles each week, I'm sure. But they're definitely playing it a little safer to make sure that I'm out there and I can do everything fully."
On what he was looking for from this injury to know he was ready to come back: "The pain tolerance. Pain – period. Just being able to go out there and play corner with a bum ankle. The ankle injury itself ended up being a lot worse than we expected; it was inside and outside. So, I was having trouble moving. So, to go out there and cover Henry Ruggs [III] and all that, I just needed the right amount of time to be out there and be able to cut, move and do all of that."
On if he sees himself as a matchup defensive back: "Absolutely. I'm like a little mercenary now. (laughter) I see a fast tight end on film, I know that week, I might have that guy. Any type of matchup situation where they can put me in, they're going to put me in. It's my third year in this type of role, so I'm used to it, and I'm excited for whatever challenge it is. Playing safety is a little more interesting for the simple fact that you play corner forever, you see the same thing. At safety, you're a little more free, and you're doing different things. Being back there, it gives you a little jolt because of how interesting it is – what you get to do and moving around. It's a little bit more fun."
On what he makes of the endings of the first three games: "[They were] just straight exhilarating games, to be honest. [If] we come out on top in [Las Vegas], that's just three straight games of crazy plays being made at the end. Of all the wins, these are some exciting wins to be a part of. Obviously, you look at the game and want to be like, 'Oh, we have to fix this. We have to fix this. We have to fix this.' And there's no doubt about it; we have to to get where we're trying to go. But the way that we won the games and the fashion that it happened, the big plays at the very end, it's just hard not to be able to live in that moment and celebrate those types of wins."
On if he feels like he has a sense of what this team can be or if it's too difficult with the constant moving pieces from injuries: "I think the core is there. The core foundation is going to be there. The fact that we've lost so many people and kind of had our left hand tied behind our back a little bit and still being able to come out and be victorious, it just shows you what type of team we really are. So, we get all of our players back and everybody is running on full cylinders, it could be a lot better, I'm sure."
On how CB Anthony Averett has grown over his career: "He's a very young, quiet guy, I should say. He kind of has a lackadaisical approach, but he's really locked in. He learns a lot. Just this year alone, we talk a lot about being in a full-time role is a little different than spot playing; you kind of have to up your game in a lot of ways. You have to be a little bit more savvy. So, I think as he's studying film, as we go through and just talk, he's starting to learn and understand more and more things about playing corner every single play."
On if the team talks about the bad luck that comes with the injuries the team has faced: "It definitely is bad luck. What else could you call it? You can't blame one person for season-ending injuries when your tendons go. It is what it is, it's part of the game. It's definitely a little black cloud. You could sit and cry about it, but we still have to play. Nobody cares. You're still going to write what you're going to write. You're still going to talk about the players. So, it's our job just to, like we've always done, it's next man up – get out there and play."
On how long it took before he appreciated K Justin Tucker's personality: "It's definitely a personality … (laughter) It's definitely a personality that grows on you after a while. Not that I ever hated [Justin] Tucker or anything, he just likes to be seen. He sings all the time. He might say the corniest joke in the world, but after a decade of being around him, those jokes are funny to me now. I think he's hilarious. He's a good dude to be around. If you really sit down and talk to 'Tuck' [Justin Tucker], he's a hell of a guy. So, I'm really proud of him. Just to watch something develop like that, to be so great, to be the greatest of all time possibly, it's just kind of an honor to be around him."
On if K Justin Tucker's sense of humor has changed or if his has: "No, mine hasn't changed. (laughter) I mean, like I said, you have to get used to it. You have to get used to his little quirks and those little things. Some people might get annoyed, but I feel like he's hilarious." (Reporter: "Could he pull that personality off if he wasn't one of the best kickers?") "Probably not. Probably not."