Running Backs Coach Craig Ver Steeg
Opening statement: "I'll start off by just saying it's great to be back all working together this year after what we went through last year. I know everybody has been saying it, but I have to get that off my heart. It's fun being here. The other thing is, every time you walk off the field, you see guys at the podium and you kind of listen. What I've heard for 14 years now is guys talking about coming from other places and what a great culture and organization between [head coach] John [Harbaugh] and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and just all the people that we have here and the great set up. I hear that so much, and I've heard that because I've been here the whole time. It just … It makes you almost feel like a proud papa, you know? Or at least a proud uncle. If John is the papa, I feel like I've been the uncle all the years doing different things on offense. It's really fun to be in the room with a position I've coached before now. Thanks to [offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] and John for making that available and doing that. I've been doing so many things over the years. [I'm] ready to go, and what a great room that we have. We have a bunch of guys – I know you've seen it – that are in there for each other. They come out to work every day. There are critical things in our room that are vitally important, like we're toting the rock for the team and the organization – that's never going to change. We're protecting the passer – that's never going to change. Beyond that, each guy kind of has his own little ability to do something and bring something to the table – even the young guys are coming along. So, that's where I see it. That's where we're at. Any questions?"
You have a young room in there with your running backs. Are you the fun uncle with all that youth in there? How do those personalities kind of mix? (Ryan Mink) "I always tease them about … I'm always reminding them of my age. Like what year this is for coaching, I forgot. I think we're somewhere around [Year] 40. I'm always talking to them about the 60s, so I'm reminding them of that. But I think that does keep reminding them that they're young. They have the energy. If I bring the energy too, then they have no excuse. If a 60-year-old guy can bring the energy, let's go."
With RB J.K. Dobbins, what have you seen in his progress from last year to this year? (Jamison Hensley) "[He's] real focused on specific things. It was really fun last year to watch him in the OTAs say, 'I want to become a more viable, multiple route-running, receiving threat.' That's what he wanted to do. Can he do it? I don't know, let's see. And guess what? Over the last few months, he's worked hard at that. [He's worked] hard at that to expand his toolbox – we always call that a toolbox. So, we keep looking at that toolbox, and we'll see. If 'G-Ro' [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] decides there's a tool he's developed that will help us, we'll plug it in. But, he's really working on that part of his game."
When you look back at RB J.K. Dobbins' receiving load last year and the balls he dropped, was there anything that you could diagnose as to what went wrong on those? (Jonas Shaffer) "No, I think it's more like, 'You have natural hands, we know that. We saw that in training camp.' You guys remember training camp last year, there was some, 'Oh, he can do that.' But you have to be in the fire doing that a lot. I just think going through the season and becoming seasoned at this level of football that way, and then coming out and saying, 'Alright, I'm going to work on this part of my game – catching the football.' And he did. I mean, let's see. Let's see how that goes, but he really worked on it."
We saw early in practice, I know you guys do this often, the blitz pickup drills with running backs against linebackers and all that. How much is that being emphasized this year, especially when you have a young group, and some of these guys might not have done it that way? How much do you work with that? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Right. You get in a season … You know this. You watch guys go in on third down. Third-down [running] backs are in there to make plays, but they're also in there to protect that guy. This is our emphasis; we have to be every-down backs. To be every-down backs, you have to protect the passer. There's not a guy [who is] not expected to not only know it, but be able to execute it. Our game is for all of the guys in the room to be able to execute those protections at the highest level."
I think a lot of people are curious how the rotation is going to work with RB J.K. Dobbins and RB Gus Edwards. Do you see it as kind of a 1A/1B situation? How do you look at that? (Jamison Hensley) "Right now, I see it as a 1AA. It's like we have toolboxes with Swiss Army knives, hammers and no nails. We have no nails in our toolbox. We have different types of knives; we're going to use them. If a guy can catch or run a route, if a guy can protect, if a guy can run downhill or outside zone, all those different things, let's use that and not only be balanced the way 'G-Ro' [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] is talking about on offense, but let's be balanced in our room. [Say,] 'Stretch you, Gus [Edwards], and stretch you, J.K. [Dobbins] right now in camp to do that and see how wide we can get our skills.'"
What are you seeing with RB Justice Hill's development? The third season is a pretty critical time for a backup reserve player. What are you seeing from him? (Luke Jones) "He has a great start with his understanding of pass protection – that's never wavered. So, that allows him to play on a lot more downs. He probably has to take the next step in his downhill game, but he knows that. There were plays last year where that was widely available, too. It's not like he doesn't have that, he's just more of the space player. That's OK. You know the sharp knife you have, let's keep that really sharp, and let's develop some of the other things."
Is there anything different about RB Gus Edwards this year than last year? (Edward Lee) "Gus [Edwards] has been working like J.K. [Dobbins] on the receiving stuff. I like the way he's ... I don't know if you saw a couple of screens he's caught [and] things like that in camp, but he's going to bring that whole checkdown level of his play up a notch."
RB Gus Edwards missed the first 10 days of camp. How has he looked after missing all that time? (Jamison Hensley) "[He looks] really impressive with the kind of shape he's in. Really impressive. So, that just tells me something. … You don't get there without doing something during the 10 days you were off."
Pass Game Coordinator/Secondary Chris Hewitt
Opening Statement: "How are we doing guys? [We had] a great day today. Great for our guys to come from a not-so-good day yesterday. But I think what our guys did … We took a step in the right direction of trying to become great, and that's our high expectation. We've got a standard that's set, and we'll see what happens going forward. I'll open it with that, and I'll open it up to questions."
You talk about the standard that you have for your guys. With CB Marlon Humphrey, it's very noticeable – we know he's a great player – how hard he practices day in and day out. How critical is that – for him to kind of set the tone for the rest of the young guys in their development? (Luke Jones) "Well, that's a great question, but the reality of it is, that's what I expect from all the players. It's not only Marlon [Humphrey]. That's kind of what we expect from all the players, regardless of Marlon, where he's at as a player, and where he's going as a player. 'Wink' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] already talked about it in the meeting room; we expect great things from him. We're thinking he's a Defensive Player of the Year-type player, so we'll see what happens with that. But like I said, as far as the standard that is set going out on the field, that's where we're at. Our guys have got to play hard all the time."
Along those lines, it seemed like there were a few plays where QB Lamar Jackson threw in CB Marlon Humphrey's direction three- or four-straight times. Did that fire guys up? (Garrett Downing) "I think Lamar [Jackson] needs to go throw to the other side then. I mean, you get four straight – go to the other side."
What about DB Brandon Stephens? He looks smooth out there. What have you seen from a guy who switched over to defense? (Kirk McEwen) "When we drafted the guy … He's a guy that's only played two years of defensive back, so as far as [him] as a DB, he's an infant, but he's learning fast, he's a great athlete, and he's going to continue to keep on learning. And we'll find out where he ends up, as far as a player, but right now, he's heading in the right direction. I'm happy that he's around right now."
How do you see the competitiveness with the new group of wide receivers and one of the best secondaries in the league? (Gustavo Salazar) "No offense to any of the receivers that we've had in the past, this is a great group of receivers. We're facing more speed than we've ever faced in the previous years. What 'Dub' [pass game specialist Keith Williams] and [wide receivers coach] Tee [Martin] have done with those guys has been remarkable. Those guys are coming in and out of their breaks, they're running fast routes, so they're putting stress on us. So, the reality of it is, what we've got going on is iron is sharpening iron, and we're getting each other better. So, it's definitely a plus that the guys that we're going against are making us better."
There's been a lot of talk about CB Tavon Young. What have you seen from the progress he's made just since he even got back to the practice field? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Well, right now, it's kid gloves with Tavon [Young]. We're just trying to continue to keep on increasing his workload and just try to get him to September. You'll see him throughout the preseason, and we'll see what happens there with that, but we've just got to keep him healthy. But as far as how he's done, when he gets out on the field, I see Tavon Young; I don't see anything different."
You have so much cornerback depth, but a guy like CB Chris Westry just keeps making plays. With the size that he has that nobody else possesses, how does he fit in with what you're trying to do? (Pete Gilbert) "Right now, like I said, we're just in training camp, so I'm not ready to crown anybody yet. I mean, he's still got to go out there and go make plays. But right now, what I'm seeing from him … Hopefully he continues to keep on going. I'm not the GM [general manager], I'm not the head coach, so I don't know how we're going to cut the roster, but he's definitely making a case for himself."
How do you see CB Shaun Wade? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Like I said with Brandon [Stephens] … Again, he's another young player, so like I said … When we get these young players coming in here, they've got to go out there and make plays in real games. He's not playing against Michigan. We play Michigan every week. (laughter) He's just got to go out there and just continue to keep going and getting better every day. So, I'm not too high on him, not too low on him. We'll see what happens come towards the end."
RB Gus Edwards
On what his comfort level is now that he signed a two-year extension: "I try not to be comfortable. The only thing that changes is the coaches; they know what I can do now. It's about being consistent now. If anything, it puts a lot more pressure on me. I have to prove myself."
On how he felt coming back from COVID-19: "I had three days that were really tough, but I think I did pretty well. It wasn't too bad. I was able to train a couple times. I just tried to stay as much in tune as I could not being in the building."
On what it meant for him to buy his family a home after his new contract: "It was great. It was a great feeling. It was something I always wanted to do and something that … The reason why I play football was to change the conditions that my family was living in. Just to be able to accomplish a dream is always a blessing, and I'm just grateful. I put it up [on social media] to try to motivate people, and I got a lot of great feedback. I hope that it did that."
On if he was able to train with the other running backs in Arizona: "I wasn't able to go. In the offseason, I trained here in Baltimore. I wasn't able to attend that."
On what goals he has for himself this season: "My personal goals are I want to get 1,000 rushing yards, be more a part of the passing game, just do my job and improve in all my stats."
On if he had a goal to slim down in the offseason: "I don't think I'm too far from my weight. I play at 235 [pounds]. I'm a little under that right now, but I think I'm at a good spot right now."
On RB J.K. Dobbins and the anticipated running back rotation: "I'm excited for it. Just seeing how much better he got, how much more comfortable he is in the system and all the things that he brings in, he brings out the best in me. He brings out get competition in the room. Justice [Hill] looks really good, too. I came back, and I wasn't shocked, but it was surprising to see how good those guys have gotten."
On how often he hears from fans about fantasy football: "I hear about it all the time. I just don't … I know nothing about fantasy football, but I hear about it all the time. I guess I'm doing good with it, I don't know." (laughter)
On if he feels people need to be reminded that this this is a run-first team despite the developments in the passing game: "I think they know. At the end of the day, we're a run-first … I like to think we're a run-first [team]. Our passing game feeds off of our running game. We're still building, and we're still getting better."
On how his trip to Costa Rica went: "It was great. I got to go fishing. Fishing was tough. [I went] deep sea fishing for the first time. We were on the water for about six hours. At first, it was really fun, and then … Then I tried to take a nap on [the boat], and I couldn't because of all the waves and everything. I had a great time overall. I even caught a fish. So, it was great."
S DeShon Elliott
On if he's excited to see Texas join the SEC: "Yes, I want to see if they're going to expand, and some play will be better. I think with the new coaching staff, they will be [better]. I like [Texas head coach] Steve Sarkisian. I went to his spring game, so I got to see them work hard, and I see there's a different energy over there now; like they love to play. Instead of just sitting out there, they actually want to be great. So, yes."
On why he is moving better this training camp: "It was just my first offseason not having to worry about injuries, so I was able to get back right. After my knee, honestly, last year, there were a lot of things I couldn't do on the football field; I was just kind of playing anyway. So, it's just a blessing to be able to play and get back to how I was my second year, and I feel like I might even be better mentally. I just feel like, not only me individually, but us as a whole, as a team, we've got a lot of great things coming this year."
On if creating more turnovers is a big goal for him this year: "Yes, because last year, I didn't play up to my standard. That could have been a couple reasons, but I'm not going to put a reason on it. I've just got to go out there and do my thing, and I feel like, at this moment, I'm getting back to myself, and I feel it, and it's been showing on the football field. I'm just going to keep doing me, and God bless, I'll be a better DeShon this year."
On if he's becoming a more vocal leader: "I think yes, just because I'm a natural vocal guy, but last year, I was the young guy on the defense, so I was just trying to do my job and be consistent and do what I can do. But I feel like now it's my job to step up and help try to lead this defense, lead this team, so hopefully I can do that. I'm working my butt off right now to get that done, so we're going to see. I plan on us being great this year, so yes."
On being more comfortable in the role he earned last season following the release of S Earl Thomas III: "Well, first off, I hope Earl [Thomas III] is doing well. God bless him. But second, I just feel like last year, when I came into the role, it was more of a mindset of … Excuse my language; it was like, 'Don't [mess] up,' and that was my job. So, I'm not competing for a spot on this team. I'm competing to be the best safety in the league. Now, I just feel like, being on this defense and having a year under my belt … I feel like I really didn't grasp the speed of the game on the defense until like the playoffs, so I feel like coming out here – even in OTAs – I was moving faster, I can break on things quicker. I see it. I see it. The game has slowed down for me now, so now it's time for me to go out here and do what I do."
On how he reacts to people on social media saying he's a breakout candidate this season: "Hmmm, it's just … We talk about it all the time – don't worry about the outside noise, so I'm not really worried about social media, to be honest with you. We talk about what we're going to do as a team on this field. At the end of the day, if you play well, and you play as a whole, then you're going to get the results that you want, and whatever comes after that, comes after that."
On what impresses him most about CB Marlon Humphrey: "'Marlo' [Marlon Humphrey] – that's my best friend right there. That's my dawg. That's the homie. Now, Marlon, he's before his time. Well, actually, he's way after his time. He should have played back when Ray Lewis and those guys were playing. He's so physical as a cornerback, and he cares. He cares about the game of football. Anything technique-wise, and anything that happens at practice, he's going to go back and watch that film to make sure, 'Dang, how can I get better?' And that's what I like. I like the fact that he strives to be great, and he wants to be great. And at this moment, he's definitely [a] Top 2 cornerback in the NFL – arguably, No. 1, in my [opinion]. But I feel like the more we grow together, the better he's going to be. He's becoming a leader of this defense. I mean, he's the '100-Million-Dollar Man,' so he's got to be a leader of this defense." (laughter)
On if he got fired up when he saw CB Marlon Humphrey break up four-consecutive passes: "Hell, yeah, because we know if you try 'Marlo' [Marlon Humphrey] four times … You're an idiot to try Marlo four times. (laughter) What is wrong with you? And the fact that he was able to do that today and just break it up every time, it gave us the energy like, 'Hey, let's get it, bro. Let's keep going. Let's be great today.'"
On if being in the final year of his rookie contract affects his mentality at all: "No, that money is going to come. I'm not worried about that money; I'm worried about this Super Bowl and playing with my guys. The money is going to come. I don't play this game for the money; I play this game for football. I love football. Of course, there are other things that come with it, and if God blesses me to get that opportunity, then of course."
On DB/LB Anthony Levine Sr's leadership.: "'Co-Cap' [Anthony Levine Sr.], man. Me coming into this league, I had been through a couple things, dealt with certain circumstances and whatnot, so he was kind of like a mentor to me. He always tried to make sure I kept my head up. [At] any time, you could just go talk to him. I was able to go talk to him. I just feel like he is a core part of this defense, part of this team. He is the one, true … Like, when we say, 'Co-Cap,' he is literally the captain of this team – for a fact."
On DB Brandon Stephens' development: "'B-Steve' [Brandon Stephens] – he's from the Dallas area [Plano, TX], so I train with him with my [personal] DB [defensive backs] coach Clay Mack [at Clay Mack Skills Academy] in Dallas, so when I got the notification that 'B-Steve' was getting drafted by us, I was like, 'Oh, that's live. Alright.' Because I know how hard he works and how hard he wants to be great and how great of a person he is. So, I think it's really cool. But as a player, he has a running back background, so he has great feet, he can move very well, and right now, he's just trying to learn the defense. I'm trying to get that boy to talk a bit more. He's a little silent guy, so I've got to get him to talk more on the football field. But he's going to be great. He's got potential to be great, and if he keeps working and following the leaders we have on this team, he's going to be a great player one day."
On wearing his unique thigh pads during games: "Oh, yes, I wore mine last year. These are my things right here. I might get some more. I need two more, because I think I lost a pair last year in the playoffs." (laughter)