THURSDAY PODIUM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 7 VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
Opening statement: "Good morning. Good to see everyone. Just to start, I'm just really proud of how our guys are playing right now. We talk about it every week; we just want to the physicality and the effort show up on the tape, and when those things happen, I think good things will happen for us. Right now, we're really focusing on the Bengals, because we understand that this game is always a good challenge for us. This team will be well coached. They play hard, they play well, and we understand the challenges that lay before us. Questions?"
I assume K Justin Tucker could put the ball into the end zone at will, and last game, it looked like a design to have him kick it and to have the ball returned, and you did great job pinning them in. What goes into that decision making? (Bo Smolka) "Like I said before, it's just one of those things; 'How do we feel during the week?' If there's opportunities where we feel like our kickoff team could be a weapon, then we put those guys out there. We practice very hard on kickoff coverage. You guys see us out here on Thursdays running our tails off. So, we want to get out in the football game, and we want to play. It's just kind of one of those things throughout the week [where] we just figure out what we want to do going into the game, and if we want to kick touchbacks, we'll kick touchbacks. If we feel like, every now and then, we want to cover something, then let's cover; let's see where we are."
RB Devonta Freeman has returned kicks in practice. Is he an option back there? (Todd Karpovich) "Every guy is an option. If he's back there, then every guy is an option. We want to have as many guys up [and] ready to go, because you never know what can happen in a game, so we just want to give every guy an opportunity, and it starts out here in practice. If you do a good job in practice, and your number is called in a game, we expect you to go out and perform well."
We know how well K Justin Tucker can kick from 50-60 yards. How hard a skill is it to be able to kick within a four-yard range on a kickoff, with a certain hangtime, so that you can kind of get the kickoff coverage that you want? (Jonas Shaffer) "It's very hard. You've got to have a little bit of skill. We're seeing kickers across this league be able to hang that ball up there 4.6 [seconds], and it's at the goal line. So, we're seeing a lot mor guys being able to do that. And just with Justin [Tucker], we know what kind of weapon he is, we know what type of kicks we can cover, and sometimes you've seen those kicks go to the 8-yard line. Obviously, when those things happen, it's really not designed that way, but when they do happen, we've got 10 other guys, and we've got to cover; we've got to make up for maybe not getting the kick that we want. And that's why we practice."
We've seen WR Tylan Wallace be a gunner on special teams. Is that something you thought he could do when you were scouting him before the draft? Or was that more of a matter of, "Look, let's see how much he could do," when he got here and needing another player for that role, since you've had so many injures? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It was one of those things … When you watch the tape – when you watch the tape of Tylan [Wallace] – he's a physical guy, he was a good blocker, so you knew he had some of the traits to be a good special teams player. And then, you don't really know until you get him out there, you put him in certain situations, you let him run. And he can run, and he's turning out to be a really good player. Again, [he's] another guy that's never played any special teams in his career. After five, six weeks, he's done a great job for us. I think every week, he's just going to continue to get better."
The kickoff thing – is that something that has changed in the time that you've been in around the NFL? Maybe early on, people didn't want the guy to return the kick, and now, in a lot of situations, maybe you do want to induce a return? (Childs Walker) "I think it's changed a little bit, obviously. With that rule change back in 2018, teams needed to just figure out what they wanted to do, what advantages the kickoff team had [when] having their foot on the 34-yard line and not being able to run, what advantages the kickoff return team had [when] not being able to use those wedges and kind of create the same type of returns they had in the past. I think it's become a little bit … Teams are starting to figure out what they want to do, and I think it's been really good. It's been really good for our game, as well."
Chargers' coaches were effusive about how you guys outplayed them in special teams and the core special teams group you guys have. Coming from a game like Sunday, is it tough to find areas to correct, or were there legitimately a few things that you think you didn't like about the performance? (Jeff Zrebiec) "There were a lot of things I didn't like about that performance; I'm just being honest. Obviously, we talk about creating great plays, and in order to create great plays, all 11 guys have to be great in fundamentals, technique and execution, and there were a couple things that we didn't really execute. So, you've got something to look at, you've got something to go back to work on and say, 'OK, if we just did this, maybe we're not looking at a 50-yard return; we're looking at a touchdown.' So, there are always things to correct coming off a game like that, and we know that we're still not playing our best football. We're trying to get to that level, and we will get there. With the way we work, the way we practice, the emphasis we put on fundamentals and details and things like that, our guys are just ready to play. Those guys are hungry, and we're fired up to get every opportunity we can."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "Well, I trust everybody is enjoying another beautiful Thursday here in Baltimore. The weather, there's not a cloud in the sky. So, we can just count our blessings there. It's been a really busy morning getting ready for this Bengals' defense. They've really retooled this defense at every level, starting with the D-line. They have some … They've been playing really stout defense up front. The linebackers are playing really well. They've added to their secondary as well, and they're doing a really good job. When you look at them statistically, it doesn't take you long to see that these guys are playing at a high level. Schematically, they do a lot of things. They really push the envelope, and they've really settled into, it seems, a scheme that's really working well for them. So, we're really excited about the challenge. We get to play another game at M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday at 1 [p.m.] – I can't wait for it. Any questions?"
You had all three of your running backs reach the end zone against the Chargers. I know you're kind of focused on game by game with this, but do you ever take a moment to go, 'We have Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell, guys that are pretty big names, all on the same team?' Is it unusual to see all three of those faces as part of your running back corps? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a good question. It's just such a unique situation that all three of them are with us. Two of them were with the Saints when we played them in the preseason game, and Le'Veon [Bell] has been a great addition as well. So, it's a very unique situation in totality. I don't care who scores as long as we score, but they're doing a nice job. I think we'll continue to further get on the same page and understand everything we're doing together as we move forward."
You talked last week about how the way that defenses play you has kind of adjusted the way that you gameplan because it can be so different every single week. I'm curious, does that change how you build an opening game script? How does that affect things? (Garrett Downing) "Without going into too much detail, yes, it definitely does affect. I think we know what we're going to start out with, and then from there, we can go in a lot of different directions. But the old, 'Here's the first 15 [plays], we're going right down the list,' that doesn't really apply here. I don't know how much it applies for anybody, but I've been part of that as well. So, I definitely think that we have to be ready to adjust early and often throughout the course of a game. So, traditions have kind of changed a little bit in terms of that. But for sure, our whole model of how we attack the offseason [and] build through training camp into the season, as far as game-planning and preparation, has really changed quite a bit."
What do you see from that Bengals pass rush and how well they've been able to get to the quarterback? (Todd Karpovich) "Well, [No.] 91 [Trey Hendrickson] is always around the quarterback [and] always getting hands on the quarterback. They're a big push-the-pocket team. They try to cage rush quite a bit and collapse the pocket, and they're a heavy pressure team at times as well. So, they can do it all. It's something that we're … A lot of times, they're not just trying to get on an edge and get up the field; they're trying to knock the offensive linemen back and collapse everything on the quarterback. They can kind of do it all."
Are there times where you're calling plays up high and QB Lamar Jackson does something that's just so jaw-dropping, do you even get to appreciate that? Or is it just onto the next play? Do you find yourself going, "Wait, did that just happen?" (Pete Gilbert) "It's on to the next play, for sure. No matter what happens, it's on to the next play. You really … After a win, you get, what? Three hours to enjoy it. And then it's like, 'Alright, who do we have next? Oh, jeez, they do this, that and the other.' During the game, there's zero lag time, no matter what just happened. So, I might say something like, 'Great job, Lamar. OK, now here's what we're doing next.' That's how it is – you're on the clock." (Reporter: "When do you appreciate it then? Surely at some point, because you must look back at the game.") "After the game, for about an hour or two." (Reporter: "Just then?") "Yes, then it's onto the next one. I was thinking about that the other day, looking at some of last year's film. It's like, 'Jeez, that was pretty good. I really didn't appreciate it or enjoy it very much, because I was worrying about the next thing.'" (laughter)
I know you don't talk about game status, injuries and so forth, but C Bradley Bozeman is dealing with a back injury. If there's a problem and he can't play, what does C Trystan Colon bring to your team? Other than the obvious with the snap, what is the biggest challenge with a change at center? (Bo Smolka) "We feel really good about Trystan [Colon], because he's been in the program for a couple years. He's continuing to evolve and grow. So, I don't really expect much different with him in there. We're pretty much a billboard for, 'Next Man Up,' and that's how every player in that locker room has to feel. They might start the week … It's the same with any team. They're probably not starting, and then all of a sudden, something happens, and they're the starter. They have to carry to weight. So, we feel really good about Trystan. I think 'Boze' [Bradley Bozeman] brings you a certain style. Trystan might bring a slightly different style, but I think we can do everything we do with Trystan."
You told us last week that it'd be kind of a ramp-up period for WR Rashod Bateman, and then he played 45 snaps. And made some key catches. He jumped right in. What did you see from him? What are your thoughts on him moving forward? (Garrett Downing) "Rashod [Bateman], he got a nice chunk of action. It wasn't all deep balls and all that stuff. I thought it was great experience for him. I thought he handled it really well. [There are] always things to work on. He knows it, [and] we know it. That will never change. But I think he has a high ceiling, and the more he plays, the better and more productive he'll be. Coming into the NFL as a rookie receiver, it has its adjustment period. Some conferences in college, they don't even know what press coverage is. Everybody is just hanging back and trying to not let something horrible happen, and guys are wide open all over the place. So, this league brings a lot of different challenges, and the preseason is really important for that, which he missed out on. So, we're really excited about him as he gets more experience."
I know you strive for excellence and everything. What's made what you have personnel wise with 21 personnel so effective throughout the six games you guys have played this season? (Jonas Shaffer) "Players. Football players make football plays and win football games. So, I think those guys … I guess you're talking about with [Patrick] Ricard and Mark [Andrews] on the field. … It's been productive. All the different personnel groups can certainly be productive. You saw in the Colts game a different personnel group was productive. So, we have confidence in everybody, and we try to get everybody involved. Usually, we have 19 to 20 people playing in a game on offense. So, really, whatever personnel group … It'll change a little bit from week to week. There will be a little bit heavier emphasis in one area, but we're ready to go in a million different directions if need be."
I asked you a couple weeks ago about RB Ty'Son Williams, and you mentioned in evaluating who plays among the running backs, you don't just look at yards per carry, you look at the big picture. He's been a healthy scratch now two of the last three weeks. Obviously, RB Latavius Murray is banged up, but if he plays, what do you need to see differently from RB Ty'Son Williams that you may not have been seeing early in the season when he was up each week? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I don't think there's anything I need to see differently at all. Every week, it's a little bit [of a] different decision tree on who's up. I think he's doing a really good job. He's a good, talented young [running] back that [has] his best football is in front of him. He does some good things. He's done some really good things, and he'll continue to do so. We have total confidence in him. I'm looking forward to him getting out there at some point. But it's a long season, and we just have to take it one week at a time."
TE Mark Andrews is having a great year. Teams obviously want to take him away, but it seems like obviously whatever they're trying to do isn't working. What qualities does he have that are allowing him to do what he's doing, despite the fact that everyone knows how good he is now? (Cliff Brown) "When he first got here, like one day in, maybe two [days in], I was coaching the tight ends at the time, and I went upstairs and basically told everybody, 'This guy has got a feel. He just has an instinct.' I think that's one of his greatest strengths. He knows pretty much how to get open. He has a good feel for it, setting up defenders. He just has a really natural feel for it. He's always trying to improve. I think he spent a lot of time this offseason working on releases and different nuances of route running that's really, really showing itself on gameday. But he's doing a great job, and we have high expectations for Mark [Andrews]. He does for himself, and that's where it all starts."
RB Le'Veon Bell has such a distinctive running style that we kind of all learned watching him in Pittsburgh about his patience on the outside runs. When he's in the game, are you tailoring your run calls to his style? I guess that could apply to any of the guys. How much is that a thought process? (Childs Walker) "I think it definitely factors in, but I really don't think we're limited with any of our [running] backs. You've seen them all run inside and outside. I think definitely … It's a definite consideration in the grand scheme of things, but if something is really looking good in terms of attacking a defense, we're not going to shy away from it based on who the [running] back is. But if all things being equal, I'll probably try to tailor things and move things around accordingly based on the [running] back. But you can't get too 'tendencied' in that, either. 'Oh, he's in the game, so they're going to do this, this, or this.' We never want that to happen."
Do you think WR Rashod Bateman is complementary, in a lot of ways, to what you ask WR Marquise Brown to do and what he can do? You know, just one guy can be this, the other guy can be that and it makes the other guy's life a lot easier. (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, I definitely think so. Everybody is different, and I think he definitely complements 'Quise' [Marquise Brown]. [With Marquise Brown,] Sammy [Watkins], 'Duv' [Devin Duvernay], [Rashod] Bateman, it's kind of the old saying [that] you're trying to build a basketball team in your receiving corps, you know what I mean? You have all different styles you can do different things with. He's a pretty … I think he's going to be a really good all-around player. I think he's going to be able to attack all areas of the field."
What position is WR Rashod Bateman on the basketball court? (Garrett Downing) "Power forward." (laughter)
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "To sum it up [regarding] last week, I'm really fired up about the way the guys focused and the energy they brought to the game; that was one of the biggest things going into it. Marlon [Humphrey] was the head of that – talking with the defense beforehand and talking about bringing the energy to the game. And the way those guys executed and played, they were just relentless for four quarters, and you love the outcome, you love the result from it. So, with that, I'll open it up to questions."
On the energy front, S DeShon Elliott also … (Garrett Downing) "No doubt. DeShon [Elliott] is like a positionless player – we play him all over the place – and that helps and disguises, and it makes it hard for the offense to see who's who and who is going where and everything else. But the way he pressured, and the way he's moving this year – and I've talked about that before, coming [to] the second year off the knee injury – he's really playing at a high level, and I'm really happy for him."
Do you see a fiery edge to S DeShon Elliott? (Garrett Downing) "He always has that, though. Half the time, I'm telling him, 'Just breathe, just breathe.' (laughter) He has an edge to him, and I think that's part of the reason he is who he is."
QB Joe Burrow is obviously having a great season, and he has a ton of talent. He's also not afraid to make a mistake, so he'll put it in some places that a lot of quarterbacks would shy away from. As a defensive coordinator, do you try to bait him a little bit, because he is so confident in himself? (Pete Gilbert) "I think that he's playing at a really high level – as well as he should be – with the weapons he has around him, and that's the reason they drafted him where they drafted him at. You're just seeing a lot of hard work and detail in the offseason from Joe [Burrow]. And I think, a year away from his last game, when we played him and everything else, they're a completely different team. I think [offensive coordinator] Brian Callahan has done a heck of a job with him, especially down in the red zone, and it's going to be a tough challenge."
When we talked to head coach John Harbaugh on Monday, he talked about how everything just seemed a little calmer and seemed to fit a little better with ILB Josh Bynes at middle linebacker. Why do you think that was? (Childs Walker) "It's one of those things where … [It's] a situation where it's like, when you take your kids to the beach, and you build a sandcastle – a game is like that – and then the next morning, it washes away, and you have to build that same sandcastle. It was just what fit for that game. And Josh [Bynes] is like … I talk about the NBA and how the NFL has become a matchup [game] like the NBA. He's like our Udonis Haslem down in Miami; the guy that [president of the Miami Heat] Pat Riley has with him for years. And [Bynes] is a Raven. You know he's a Raven. You guys know he's a Raven from covering this team for as long as you have. I love the guy. And he did – he brought a calmness in the middle of the defense and settled everyone down."
You've had games where you've given up 400 yards of offense (Martindale: "Thank you.") (laughter) and had games where you look like the best defense in the NFL, like you did against the Chargers. What's been the biggest difference with those games and the way you've played? (Todd Karpovich) "I think there's just a bunch of different series of events that happened, and you've heard all the way from 'Harbs' [head coach John Harbaugh] all the way down through all the players you interviewed after the game, it was a total team effort. And when you have all three teams – offense, defense and special teams – clicking the way it was on Sunday, I think we're a tough out, and I think that's what you saw against the Chargers."
On the flip side of the ILB Josh Bynes question, do you feel like for the younger guys, in that other linebacker spot, can that be a good place for them to grow? Is there something about that WILL linebacker backer job …? (Childs Walker) "Sure, sure. Yes, it takes pressure off of them a little bit. But it's one of those things that, week to week, we'll play different guys in different spots and see them grow from that."
Anytime you hear the opposing coaches throughout the week, when they talk about the Ravens' defense, they know you're going to be aggressive, they know you're going to be coming after them. How much does that force you to be creative to change things up? (Jamison Hensley) "Well, what's their definition of aggressive? Is it a simulated pressure where we're still rushing four guys and hitting quarterbacks? It all depends on what their definition of aggressive is. I think we change it up, and that's part of the system of how we put different guys [in] different spots and try to give everybody a different look of what they've seen in the past. That's a credit to all the coaches and all the players. And to get out there and do it and play fast, that's a credit to these guys – how they practice and how they study throughout the week."
On third-and-long, passing situations, there's been a lot more of ILB Chris Board the last few weeks. What does he add to you in that situation? (Bo Smolka) "I think for the same reason that he's such a great special teams player is why he's a great defensive player. I think he tackles well in space, he has really good speed, and he knows how to cover people. And when you ask him to blitz, he does the same thing; it's like running down on a kickoff. He's always answered the bell whenever we've asked him to do anything, and I'm really happy for him that he's getting the playing time that he's gotten. He deserves it. And that's the thing I was telling you about; each personnel gets different looks every time, and when you have a room full of guys, we don't just say it's these 11 or 14 guys that are going to play; we play whoever is up that day. It makes it fun for the players, and it makes it fun for us as you prepare that week."
WR Ja'Marr Chase just looks like a veteran out there with his playmaking ability. What do you think has allowed him to so seamlessly transition to the NFL? (Pete Gilbert) "I think if he came out of a lab, it's [somewhat of a] mix between DeSean Jackson and Odell [Beckham Jr.]. It's one of those guys that stands out, and you say, 'Oh man, he's going to be a great one,' and he's already making great strides. Everybody wanted to talk about his preseason, when he had the drops; well, I haven't seen any of those. He's going to be a really good one. And let's [not] forget about [No.] 83 [Tyler Boyd], either. We all know 83 and know where he's at, because he's having a great year, as well. And all of them – 83, [No.] 85 [Tee Higgins], the tight ends. As soon as you start worrying about all the receivers, the tight ends showed up. And let's talk about [Joe] Mixon: 70% of his yards come after first contact. Tell me, is he a hard runner? Yes, he's a hard runner, and he's a problem to deal with."
I know you trust all of your defensive backs, but to have CB Marlon Humphrey be a guy who you can put on an island, like we saw on Sunday, and trust to win in one-on-one matchups again and again, how nice is that to have? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, that's really nice. And it's one of those things that I feel about … Any corner [that we have], in a matchup, we can do that with. It's a little but harder with 'Tay' [Tavon Young], because he's inside doing those kinds of things, but with both [Humphrey] and 'Double-A' [Anthony Averett], I have that kind of confidence in them. Marlon, to me, was the closer of that game. And whenever you guys see him start smacking his helmet … I try to stay as calm as I can be on the sideline, but when I see him start smacking his helmet, I know we're going to be just fine, because that means he's into it, and he's ready to roll."
WR Devin Duvernay
On what's been the biggest difference offensively in presenting different challenges to defenses: "I just think we've been on the same page. We've been playing together for each other, and we're executing at a high level. I feel like we just roll with 'G-Ro's' [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] plan, and we believe in it. The future is bright, we feel like."
On how much he enjoys plays where he can run the ball out of the backfield: "Whatever I can to help the team win, get some yards [and] first downs. The coaches believe in me. So, if they keep giving me the ball, I'm going to keep doing what I can with it."
On what players stand out to him who set key blocks on his punt and kick returns: "Really, the whole unit. I always tell them, 'I go as you all go.' So, if we're off beat, I can't really make anything happen. But if we're all on the same page doing our job, it makes my job easy. So, big credit to those guys on the return unit."
On if they had been waiting for a good kick return after having so many touchbacks all season: "Yes, for sure. We hadn't had a lot [of kickoff returns] this season. I think I didn't have one until Week 4, or something like that. But we talk about [how] we have to be ready when we get our shot, and we'll bust one as soon as we get our shot and get a good opportunity. So, we're just continuing to make strides in that."
On if it feels like everyone in the receiving corps gets a piece of the action: "We have players everywhere. From [James] Proche [II], to Sammy [Watkins], [Rashod] Bateman, Miles [Boykin], Tylan [Wallace], Marquise [Brown], myself, we can make plays, and the coaches believe in us. We do things in practice that can translate over to gameday, and we just continue to build their trust. I feel like the sky is the limit for us."
On Cincinnati Bengals S Jessie Bates III saying that defenses only have to worry about WR Marquise Brown and TE Mark Andrews after the Week 5 matchup last year: "We never really pay any attention to what the opponent says. At the end of the day, it just comes down to us executing and playing as well as we can."
On if it's strange to be on the same offense as RB Latavius Murray, RB Devonta Freeman and RB Le'Veon Bell after how successful their careers have been: "I mean, it's part of the game, I guess. But it's cool looking back on it. You know these guys have had [good] careers, and it's kind of cool seeing that and playing with these guys as well. [There] are a lot of guys that just come in and out that you get to see that you grew up watching, which is pretty cool to me."
On how much he pays any attention to NextGenStats and the fastest ball carrier speeds: "I never really pay much any attention to it." (Reporter: "You have the third-fastest [speed] this season.") "OK, that's fast." (Reporter: "That doesn't … You're like 'whatever?'") "Yes, I mean, I never really pay too much attention to it. But no, I guess that's a pretty cool stat." (laughter)
On what he remembers playing against WR Ja'Marr Chase in the LSU-Texas game in 2019: "There was a ton of talent. [There was] a ton of talent on the field at the time. But he's a great player. It was fun watching him, and he's been doing his thing these first couple of weeks. So, I look forward to seeing him in his career."
On if he enjoys punt/kick returning and if he believes he can take it to another level: "For sure. I for sure look forward to doing it. [I'm] having fun doing it. Yes, of course. I think I can keep turning it up a notch. We're talking in meetings [about how] we're there. We're close to having touchdowns. So, that's my motivation, [and] that's the unit's motivation. So, we're going to keep going."