Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
How would you assess the overall performance on special teams in Week One against the Browns? The rookies did a really good job for you. (Todd Karpovich) "Good to see you. Looking back on the game on Sunday, I thought our guys played outstanding. It was really good to see us finally go out and just play a football game. There was a lot of unknown. We didn't really know how the guys would play, but we kind of knew one thing – they would be prepared. They would understand what they needed to do to go out and play. Watching that tape, it was fun to watch, and I'm just excited to see these guys build for next week."
When WR James Proche II, early in the game, makes an error and lets the ball roll, what do you say to him? He's a young guy, and you want to still build confidence, but what do you say to him when he's coming off the field after doing something like that? (Jamison Hensley) "From the outside, we look at it as an error. From the inside, we look at it as we gave our offense the ball back. Our offense got possession of the football. James [Proche II] understands also that we like to catch every ball we possibly can. But looking at that punt, him being the punt returner, it's his first opportunity to catch one, [and] he didn't like the way it was coming down. I thought he made a great decision. And then from there on, he had a really good day. So, when he came off, I just told him, 'Hey, let's catch the next one. You made a great opportunity. Our offense got the ball. So be it [that] it's at the one-yard line.' That could have been costly had he probably attempted to catch that ball."
What did you think about the Browns' fake punt? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Their coach came out … Maybe they thought they saw something. I thought our guys were prepared for the play. You could see L.J. [Fort], [and] you could see [Anthony] Levine Sr. getting guys lined up based on the formations and things like that. We do a good job of just preparing ourselves for opportunities and things that we see. All the credit to L.J. He made a great play of getting that ball out and forcing that fumble."
Can you expand a little more on LB L.J. Fort's play on special teams, what he's meant overall and what he's meant to coming into your group? (Pete Gilbert) "L.J. [Fort] is outstanding. He's been a really good [special-] teamer in this league for a very long time. So, when we had an opportunity to get him last year, I was very fired up about it, because his resume really speaks for itself – what he's done on special teams. He's blocked punts, [and] he's been a really good contributor at other places. So, I was just really fired up to have him; I'm still fired up to have him. He's playing well, he gets out there, he's working his butt off, and he's playing on defense. So, he's kind of expanded his role, but he's still giving us everything he's got."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: We're getting ready to play this Texans team. Guys came back in, [and] all eyes are glued on the Texans. We had a good chance to study last year's tape on them. We have a game – the last opening Thursday night game – that we can look at. So, that gives us something to go on. Obviously, they have a guy that is a multiple-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year – he's still wrecking things – in J.J. Watt. So, we have a real focus there. He looks as quick as ever. Their linebackers are very active, and they have a very active secondary as well. So, we know the challenge, we're excited about it, and we're looking to have a great Thursday."
Can you tell us more about playing against DE J.J. Watt? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Yes, that's not a fun conversation. That falls in the nightmare category, so that was a good leadoff question. Year-after-year, I've seen him wreck games, and he has a very unique style. I told the players, 'He's like Lamar [Jackson] when Lamar runs the ball; it's really hard to get a good hit on him.' J.J. [Watt] plays in the interior D-line, and it's really hard to get a good block on him. He's very unique in his style, and he's one of the all-time greats. So, we're excited about the challenge."
As far as the yards per carry last week being less than what we were accustomed to last year – which was of course all time – but how much do you credit that to the Browns for not allowing you to do that, versus some execution issues on your side? (Pete Gilbert) "Yes, I think it was a little bit of both. We can execute better, but at the same time, if they're going to try to take away this, we want to be able to attack them somewhere else, and I thought our guys did a really good job of that. As far as the run game goes, we have high standards, obviously. I thought it was very effective in getting done what we wanted to get done in certain areas, and then there are things we have to clean up. The next day, everybody was getting back to work on cleaning those things up, and it's just something that we are going to try to get better and better at every week."
QB Lamar Jackson was talking yesterday about how playing against a defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale defense every day in training camp prepares you to read defenses. I'm curious, how much of that is organic, versus how much of that is you guys trying to give him looks that he hasn't seen before or force him to read things he hasn't read before? (Aaron Kasinitz) "That's an interesting question, and it's a deep one. With what we do, it just happens naturally – organically. There are certain things you might not see in practice that you have to really spend some extra time on in walk-throughs or in the time leading up to the game, when we kind of orchestrate the looks we want to get in practice. So, it's kind of a give and a take there. But going against our defense in training camp prepares you for just about everything, and it's really a blessing to be able to do that."
Going back to the running game, it looks like RB J.K. Dobbins had 23 snaps, RB Mark Ingram II had 21 snaps and RB Gus Edwards had 15 snaps. Is that sort of a ratio you like? Or is it just going to be the game sort of dictates who gets the carries and how you spread them out? (Todd Karpovich) "There's no exact science there. It's going to be different every week. We'll see how it goes, who's got the hot hand, but also, we'll have certain things for certain guys. However that unfolds every week, it'll be a little bit different. We like to keep people guessing, so it'll happen the way it happens. I think you'll get a little bit different ratio every week. Sometimes it'll be similar to that though, too."
You mentioned that DE J.J. Watt has a really unique style. What's unique about the way he plays? (Ryan Mink) "Well, there's a lot of things. He's very talented, number one. But specific to his style, he just knows how to defeat blocks and he does it in a very unique way. Some people that would try to do that would absolutely end disastrously, but he's got the balance, the quickness, et cetera, to be able to set up the offensive lineman or the blocker and then show them one thing and give them something else, but still be productive on the play. [He] has really good instinct on when to take those chances and understands angles in real time, et cetera. So, it's hard to get a really, really crushing block on him, because he's very slippery but powerful player – very unique combination."
There was a lot of talk going into the year about how the interior offensive line jobs would shake out. What was kind of your assessment of how those three guys played on Sunday? (Childs Walker) "Well, there were some good plays, and some plays we'd like to have over – some things we need to correct. I'd say overall, as a unit [we] played pretty darn effectively, but we're always chasing improvement. I think it's going to be a situation that continues to develop throughout the season. We've got several offensive linemen that we feel really good about. We're going to go to practice every week and try to put the best five out there. But again, just like everybody, there was some really good stuff and some things we need to clean up and improve on – that's the challenge."
With a guy like G/T Tyre Phillips, when you envision a guy moving inside from a tackle spot, what sort of qualities do you look for to suggest whether a player is more suited to be inside and can make that transition, despite not playing the position in college? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Those are things that you've got to put him there and see how he deals with certain factors. Very simply, when you play guard as opposed to tackle, things happen a lot quicker in there. You're really working with the center and the tackle now, and even the opposite side guard. Whereas at tackle, you're really working with the guard, and every once in a while, you'll work with the tight end. So, things happen a lot quicker in there. Some guys can make that mental or instinctive transition, some guys not so much. That's really one of the first things that you look at, and then, after that, you really just look at performance."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Just to ask you here, we saw you were kneeling in pregame during the anthem alongside DE Calais Campbell. Why did you decide to do that, and what's kind of been the feedback you've gotten? (Jeff Zrebiec) "The feedback has been all positive, first, that I've gotten. This is four years today of [former Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach] Clarence Brooks' passing. One of his favorite sayings, which I've always used as well since then is, 'This game has been, and it always will be, about the players.' I was in those meetings with them and I just heard the hurt in their heart and their voice about what's going on right now. I have two adult kids myself, and I'm going to support the players. Until we all really attack all kinds of issues in our country and just stop the hate, it's not going to work itself out until we all … I heard 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] said the players just want to make this country great, and I believe him. That's what I hear from them. So, I think we all have to take a look at this. Until all of us take a look at it, it's not going to get fixed. I want to support the players."
QB Lamar Jackson mentioned that practicing against the defense is what makes him better. How do you respond to that? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I think practicing against Lamar [Jackson] helps us get better as well. He poses all kinds of different problems."
We all know what kind of player Texans QB Deshaun Watson is. Going back to last year, why do you think you guys were so successful at containing him, both the throw and the run? Is that a slippery slope trying to take those best practices but also not being too overconfident this time around? (Luke Jones) "Oh, we're not overconfident – trust me. He gets better every year. He's a Pro Bowl quarterback for a reason; it was just one of those days last year. He, to me, is like a LeBron James-type player in the NFL instead of the NBA. He's a general, he's a point guard out there and we all respect his game."
Three pass breakups for DE Calais Campbell in his first game. I mean, three pass breakups for a defensive lineman has got to be very rare. Can you talk about that contribution he made in his first game and how much of an impact you expect him to make on games just by getting his hands up? (Ryan Mink) "You saw the impact that he made in the Cleveland game with the three 'PBUs' [pass breakups]. I think that somebody wrote somewhere that that's a career high; I'd have to check that. I don't know if that's true or not. But who besides us will take [Space Jam's] 'The Monstar,' who's probably going to go down as a Hall of Fame pass rusher at the end of his career, and drop him out on the first third down and he causes an interception? [He's] one of the most unselfish players I've ever been around, and he's been great since he's been here. It's a lot of fun to have him."
How pleased were you with the contributions you received from some of the rookies that got out there? (Bobby Trosset) "Loved it. I loved it. It was interesting; that was an unknown going into it. You didn't know how they were going to be in a real live game. [It was] just the same as it was in practice. You saw a lot of good things that they did. I think they're going to do nothing but get better. I was really pleased with them."
The Browns broke off a couple long runs early, but you guys seemed to make some adjustments and kind of contain them. What areas do you need to improve on as far as the run defense? (Todd Karpovich) "I think we just played better, actually. That helped stop the run, or at least slow it down. We had some missed tackles early. We need to always work on that; our angles to the football and tackling when we get there. But I was pleased with how we came back. I know a couple of them later in the game got a little loose on us, but when you're up by that many points, you're thinking they're going to throw the ball. They wanted to go back and work on the run game and we said, 'OK.' So, then we made some adjustments there, but that's something we're going to continue to chase."
I almost assume it's kind of similar with S DeShon Elliott, kind of like a rookie. It's his first start and really his first chance to extend his game time at safety. For him, too, did he look like he did in practice and brought that same level without any really big mistakes? (Pete Gilbert) "Yes, I thought DeShon [Elliott] played really well for his first start. There are always little things, as a coach, that you're chasing to chase that perfection. We talk about that all the time in our room. I'm sure there are some things that he wants to work on, but overall, I thought he did a really nice job."
What was your impression of ILB Patrick Queen in the middle? From the outside, it looked very active to us, but when you watched the game tape, what kind of stood out to you? (Jamison Hensley) "I think from the outside it looked like the same way as it is on the game tape. He's very active. Like I said, you want to have your best improvement from game one to game two. That's our focus, and he did a lot of good things. He knows there are a lot of things, now, where he came back and said, 'Oh, I see what you guys are talking about with this and that, and this and that.' It was a great first outing for him. He had a sack [and] he had a forced fumble, but he is very active in there."
OLB Tyus Bowser, I think, played a career high in snaps on Sunday. What about him, or his progress, allows him to expand his role this year? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think he played his best game, first of all, since he's been here. He was another guy who was very active. He was setting the edge in the run game, and you saw the sack that he had on the fourth-down play with Baker [Mayfield]. I'm really proud of Tyus [Bowser] and the attitude he brought to that game. He just needs to keep stacking them now. I was really pleased with Tyus. I thought he played one of his better games in his career."
G/C Matt Skura
How do you see this team playing against the Texans? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I think we're going to have to have a clean, physical game against them. Their defensive line – and their defensive front in general – is very experienced. It all starts with J.J. Watt, and they have a bunch of really big, physical linebackers. And also, just an experienced defensive front. We're just going to have to be great with our technique, our assignment, communication. That's just going to be the biggest thing for us as an offensive line, and just as an offense as a unit."
Obviously, it was an accomplishment in itself for you to be not only active, but ready to roll Week One. Did you have to set aside some emotions being what you endured last year and to come back and the recovery that you're able to go ahead of kickoff? (Bobby Trosset) "A little bit. I was joking with my wife saying that it kind of helped that there were no fans there, because I was already pretty anxious for the game – getting back to the field for the first time. So, it was kind of nice. As far as that, the environment I think would've gotten my nerves up a little bit more. I was able to actually stay pretty calm, stay pretty even keeled. I was just mostly trying to focus on the game, focus on my job. I think just leading up the week of, the preparation just emotionally helped me as well."
When we talked to Head Coach John Harbaugh this week, he said, very frankly, that he did not expect to have you for the opener. When did you get it in your head that it was a real possibility? Was that from Day One? Or when did that become your clear goal? (Childs Walker) "Honestly, just from the jump. That was my goal, was at least to be ready for training camp – or at least the first or second week of training camp – getting into practices. I knew probably in the summertime – in like June, July – that I probably would be ready to go for the first game. So, I kind of had already put myself there mentally, as far as seeing myself starting Week One, preparing as if I was the starter. Also, just proving to the coaches, and my teammates on the field as well, that I'm still playing up to a very high level. I just put my nose to the grindstone and just had that mentality that I've got to work to be able to get to the point where I want to be."
We all know the running game is the bread and butter of this offense. How encouraging was it as an offense to put up the points and production that you did – knowing that, most likely, you'll be running the ball better moving forward? (Luke Jones) "It's definitely encouraging. It's also just encouraging to know that even though we didn't have our best game as an offensive line – and just me personally – it's definitely good to just know that there's so many more things that we can improve on. And if we – including myself –clean up the little things, I think the game would've gone even further and we could've scored more points. That's definitely encouraging. Just knowing that we can improve on those little technique things here and there, it was a good start. We didn't have any preseason games to get those kinds of things out of the way. So, for the first time for our offense to ever be, really, together in a live situation, going against a new defense and a different team, it was a good start."
Would you say that you're most of the way 100% healthy? Or is there still some progress there where the knee is going to get stronger and you'll get better? (Aaron Kasinitz) "It's something that I'm definitely progressing through throughout the whole season. I think I'm really close to being 100%, or right at 100%. I'm still making sure that I'm in the weight room – hitting that hard when I'm doing my lower body stuff. It's something that I think I'm just going to have to work through, through the entire season, but right now my knee feels great. I was telling everyone after the game Sunday about what [Steelers] Ben Roethlisberger said about his elbow. It's like my knee was the only thing that wasn't sore after the game. That was definitely encouraging for me – going through a whole game and looking back and knowing that my knee held up great. That's definitely encouraging looking forward."