WEDNESDAY PODIUM AVAILABILITY: WEEK 18 VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "[It's] good to see everybody. I appreciate you guys being here. We're in our preparation here, obviously, for the Steelers. It's a very important game for us. We're all locked in, and we're just working right now. So, that's where we're at. What questions do you have?"
With this possibly being QB Ben Roethlisberger's final game, I think a lot of Steelers fans are going to try to find their way into M&T Bank Stadium as much as possible. Do you have any kind of message to Ravens fans who are possibly thinking about selling their ticket for profit at all? (Jamison Hensley) "No, I really don't."
RB Najee Harris versus the Browns, 28 [carries] for 188 [yards] and a touchdown. Your defense was able to hold him to 71 yards on 21 carries when you met a month ago. How do you keep him in check a second time? (Kirk McEwen) "You have to do a great job against a very devoted, determined run game. They want to run the ball. Obviously, he's a great [running] back, but they have other [running] backs. They have two other [running] backs who are very physical, downhill guys, but Najee Harris is one of the great young backs in this league, I believe. He's big. He's physical. He knows how to make you miss. He's elusive. He got some yards on us in the fourth quarter last time, that we weren't real happy about that made a difference in the game. So, we study that real closely. We have to play well at the point of attack. We have to be good on the edges, frontside [and] backside. He will bounce it outside if you give him the opportunity to do it; he'll cut it all the way back. He runs the zone scheme, especially the inside zone scheme, really well. They may run a little stretch or run a little toss with pullers and crackers and things like that. They'll run their power play that they've been running forever and ever. He's good at all those plays, but especially the RPOs [run-pass-options]. The gun zone, inside zone RPOs are kind of what they're leaning on and living on right now, and he's really good at it. So, we're just going to have to be ready for it, and we're going to have to win up front."
We asked you about QB Lamar Jackson's availability on Monday, I think it was. Is there enough time even for him to get ready to play Sunday, given how long he's been out? Or do you have any update on whether he's going to practice or not today? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I don't have any update, and I really don't even see the value of talking about it at this point in time. We're trying to get ready to play the game. It's really not something I want to put a lot of information out there about anyway. That's where we're at with it."
A little bit off topic – I have a colleague who's working on a story about Texans head coach David Culley, and I know you've known him for a while. I'm just curious if you could speak a little bit to what he contributed to your staff and how you think he's handled this season in a difficult situation? (Noah Trister) "From what I've seen from afar, he's done a great job. The team is playing really hard all the way through. They won some games here at the end. I don't really watch them that closely; we don't have time. We haven't had too many common opponents, actually, and we haven't played them, certainly. But David is a great guy. He's a tremendous football coach. He's a very hard-working guy. He has a great demeanor with the guys. [He's] an excellent leader, high energy person [and] is always the same guy in the building every single day. He's never up and down – he's always up. That's kind of his style. He's not even like that. (draws a line with his hand at chest level) He's kind of like that. (draws a line with his hand at eye level) He's always up and even. So, I just always enjoy being around him. He's just one of the great guys in coaching, and I think he's done a really good job."
I listened to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's press conference this week, and he spoke glowingly about his admiration for you and the way that you have cultivated your culture here for 14 years but also sustained that. Do you look at him as one of your counterparts that maybe, as a leader of men, you have certain similarities that you've learned over the years? (Bobby Trosset) "That's nice to hear. I hadn't seen the quotes, but I certainly appreciate them. I have had just a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Tomlin. I didn't really know him early on. We're about eight or nine years apart, I think, maybe, but we kind of sort of took a similar path. When I left [University of] Cincinnati and went to Indiana and then a year later I was in the NFL, he went to [University of] Cincinnati. I was there for eight years, and he was there for one year. So, he was a quicker learner, I guess. (laughter) He was more talented, and he moved right into the NFL. We ended up in the NFL right around the same time. Even though he's younger, we ended up as head coaches kind of just a year apart also. He beat me to the punch, and it was well-deserved. He's really one of the great coaches in football. You have to go against a great coach like that who has built, like you said … It's a great organization, but the culture is his. He's the guy that organizes the building. He organizes the approach. He organized the interactions. He puts it all together, and he's responsible for it all. I think his imprint is on that team; it has been, and it will continue to be. It's a big challenge going against a great coach like that. I admire him, respect him [and] like him personally, but would really like to find a way to win a game here. So, he's gotten a couple here in a row. They have done a great job the last three times we played them; we need to step up."
I know you don't know if you'll be playing again after this weekend or not, but CB Jimmy Smith is coming near the end of his career. We don't know if he'll be back or whatever. When you look back at CB Jimmy Smith's career overall, what comes to mind? (Bo Smolka) "I go all the way back to the first year when he got hurt. He had the sports hernia injury his rookie year – it's a story he probably should tell. He was really disappointed about it and really was at his wit's end as far as playing. I remember having a conversation with him that year and I said, 'Oh, you're playing. You're coming back; this season is not going to be over. If you've got to play special teams, you're going to play gunner. If you've got to play on the kickoff team, whatever it's going to be, you're going to be out there playing.' He didn't really want to hear that at the time. He was a first-round pick. And I said, 'Let me just tell you something. Before this season is over, you are going to be the guy that makes the difference in our season and wins us a championship.' I might have said that like, I don't know … He would know better than I would, the middle of the season somewhere, or maybe even earlier. And be darned if it wasn't him on that last series that made the plays that needed to be made to win the Super Bowl in that game. So, every now and then, we'll kind of talk about that and kind of laugh about it. That always stands out for me. And then all the way through, he's been through a lot personally. He's done a great job with his family and his kids. He's had to battle some adversity in terms of injuries and things like that, but when the time comes, he always shows up and plays good football. I think he did that last week – he showed that last week. I have a lot of respect for him. I really admire him. I consider him a good friend, and I'm just really grateful that he's been on the team for the past 10 or so years. So, yes; Jimmy Smith has been an anchor here in the secondary in Baltimore for many years."
I know the goal is to win. Even with that win, it might not be enough. How much has that filtered into your conversation, and, piggybacking off that last question, that this group, these players and this staff, this might be it for this particular group this game? (Morgan Adsit)"Our focus is on really what you said, it's on winning the game. The stuff that we can't control, we can't control. What you certainly don't want to do is have those things fall in place and then not do your part. So, you have to do your part if anything is going to happen. There's no guarantees. You can't say in life, 'If I do X, Y is going to happen, and therefore I'll be successful.' But you have to do your part. If you don't do your part, you're not going to have any chance. So, that's our part. Plus, it's a big game against a team that's in our division that we have a lot of respect for and that we want to beat, just like they want to beat us. It's in our stadium, and we have a winning season at stake, too. We have plenty to play for, and that's what we're looking forward to doing."
Piggybacking off that a little bit, there's the idea that this is one of, if not the best rivalry in the game. It's the last game of the season, and you're both fighting for a playoff spot. LB T.J. Watt is going for the single-season sack record. It could be QB Ben Roethlisberger's last game. OLB Terrell Suggs is going to be on the sideline as the Legend of the Game. Is there anything … Could you imagine a better way to showcase the NFL? Isn't this what it's really about, kind of the best of it? Do you feel that way going into it? Or is it even hard to do that because of the focus? (Pete Gilbert) "I think all those things are true. It's all true and right, but I'm not thinking about that. That's not really where my mind is at right now. My mind is on how we're going to stop these guys, how we're going to get first downs, trying to find ways to put the ball in the end zone [and] cover the kicks – all the little things we have to do football-wise is really what I'm thinking about. Along with our guys, that's what we're talking about and working on. So, yes, it's all true, but it's not our focus. Although, I do respect what you're talking about."
I know you've talked about 'Big Ben' [QB Ben Roethlisberger]. He's coming in for the last time. It was mentioned that OLB Terrell Suggs is going to be the Legend of the Game. I don't know if OLB Terrell Suggs retired or not, but he sacked him more than anyone else, maybe he has one more in him? Do you expect the team to have any type of tribute to QB Ben Roethlisberger whatsoever – maybe showing all the sacks that you guys have recorded against him over the years or something of that nature? (Jerry Coleman)"I'm not privy to any of that information; they haven't shared that with me. I'm just trying to focus on coaching at this point, not game ... What do they call that?" (SVP of communications Chad Steele: "Game entertainment.") "Game entertainment. I'm not aware of any of that. There are some things I'd like to change about that. I've actually talked to [SVP of communications] Chad [Steele] about a few things here and there. I have some ideas about game entertainment, but nobody seems interested. So, I think I'll just have to stick to coaching."
(Reporter: "Can you expand right now?") "Like I said, I think I need to stick to coaching."
DT Calais Campbell
On the Ravens' playoffs hopes and if he'll be doing a little bit of scoreboard watching during the game:"Yes, it's only natural. We're human, and as much as you say, 'Just do your part; don't worry about anything else,' of course I'm going to be looking up at the scoreboard. It's football; obviously, I'm going to play my heart out and leave it on the field, even if we have no chance. I'm always going to do that because I love the game. But the fact that we have a chance just gives me a little bit of hope, and we're going to hang on to it. It's going to be scary, going to be interesting. Obviously, we'd prefer to be in control of our destiny or already have it locked up – we envy the teams that already do – but in this football world, there's always a chance, and I've seen crazier things happen. I know percentage-wise and all that stuff doesn't mean anything. It really comes down to a couple ballgames, and I definitely made a couple texts to my guys down in Jacksonville. Hopefully, they come through for us."
On what has made QB Ben Roethlisberger such a worthy competitor:"I think it's that – he's just a competitor. When the game is on the line, I think that's when he's at his best. I've played against him quite a few times, and I feel like he's had a lot of up and down moments. We've had some games where we picked him off, I think, four times, and there's games where he lit us up. But I feel like no matter what, no matter what happened in the game, when the game was on the line, he was at his best. And, my first time going against him was the Super Bowl – we lost, and he won. That still breaks my heart every time I think about it. But you've got to give him his respect. He's a legend in the game. And I've always appreciated playing against true competitors – guys I respect and admire – and on the football field, he's one of the greatest to ever do it. It's always good going against another person that I feel like is a legend in the game."
On how he approaches this game knowing that there is a level of uncertainty regarding his future:"I guess, you've got to kind of appreciate the possibility of the finality of it, but it's just so much unknown. You've got to take it [for] what it is at the moment, and whatever it may be, I think I've got to go out there and just lay it on the line, leave it all out there and just see how it goes. But, I feel pretty good right now, so who knows. I might be willing to do it again. You've just got to see how it goes. But at the end of the day, I love the game of football, and I'll never cheat the game. I'm going to go out there and give it my all no matter what the circumstances are. But in this particular moment, in this rivalry that I've always had so much respect for, I'm looking forward to going out there and competing. And as a Raven, I've never beat the Steelers, and that's a big deal to me. So, if anything else, I'm going to go out there and try to make sure that, as a Raven, I can beat the Steelers."
On if there is as much consideration for the non-physical aspects of the game as all the other stuff when mulling over his NFL future:"COVID[-19] has definitely made football a lot harder – no ifs, ands or buts about it – and I haven't really … I don't think that's going to be a big factor in my decision, though. I think a lot of it is going to be just the physical – the way I feel – and just the mental grind of all that somebody has to do to be able to feel good and play football, but that does play a role into the mental grind and just the mental toughness that goes into it. There are a lot of factors out of my control, too. I'm not even sure I'm going to have somebody that wants me to play football next year. In this business, you're always looking to get younger and cheaper, and so, I don't even know if I'm going to be sought after. So, at the end of the day, you've just got to take it for what it is. And once the circumstances change, once things start kind of coming to fruition, I'll evaluate the situation, and then we'll go from there."
On if the Ravens are the only team he would want to play for next season or if he'd consider signing elsewhere:"I've put zero thought into that at all, so I can't even answer that, honestly. But I do know that I love being a Raven. This has been a great journey these last two years. This place is definitely special, and I've got a lot of guys in this locker room who I respect, and who I'd want in my foxhole any day of the week, and to me, that's definitely something that is important. And I know there's some guys in here who believe that if circumstances were a little different, and if we had all of our guys together, that we'd be a tough team to beat, and I think that being a part of something like that would be fun. But it's just … I have no idea."
On the big-picture outlook of the team's fight and "next man up" mentality:"I'm not going to let you say it's probably going to be the last game, because we just don't know yet; there's a lot of possibilities. But, just given the circumstances of the season, it's been a very unique year. In all my years, I feel like this is the most beat up [team] I've ever been a part of, especially [with] the type of guys who were going down. But you can't make any excuses. You had the COVID[-19] stuff and all that. That's just football. Everybody is going through it. Everybody has the same chance to go through all the same circumstances, so it's just the way it was meant for us. I always say, 'football gods,' which is kind of interesting, because I'm a very spiritual person, and I only believe there's one God. But I don't think that God really cares about who wins and loses the Super Bowl as much as just that we can use our platform to affect change and make the world a better place. But I do believe that there's 'football fortune,' and so I call [it] that [instead of] 'football gods,' and this year, we didn't have a lot of 'football fortune.' Things didn't bounce our way. Early on, we had some, but things … It's just one of those years where we had a lot less 'football fortune' than other teams, but that's part of the game. It's going to be that way. But I was proud of the guys that got opportunities to step up, and what they were able to accomplish. And just the experience that some of these young guys got that, I think, is going to make this team really good going forward. A lot of young guys got some quality reps, and you saw that they can play football at a high level. And when the team gets fully healthy again, the depth and the experience is going to play a big role in the future success here.
"And you said the word 'fight,' and I think that's kind of the epitome of what a Raven is – it's maximum effort. You can have all the talent in the world, you can just be gifted in so many different ways, but one thing's for sure: If you're a Raven, you're going to go out there, and you're going to give maximum effort and play with your heart, and you're going to play to win the game no matter what the circumstances are. You're going to fight until there's zeros on the clock. And it was definitely fun to be a part of that. Even though we've lost five straight … There are some games there … With the exception of the Cincinnati game, all of them came down to the last play. I definitely have a lot of respect for the guys in the locker room, because no matter what the circumstances were, nobody's going to complain, nobody's going to make an excuse; we're just going to line up and play football [with] whoever is available to go, and we're going to give it our best shot."
On if he's ever been through a season like this, where the team did so much to put itself in a good position but wasn't able to finish, and if this has been one of the most difficult years he's been through:"Yes. (laughter) Yes. I don't know how many times I've seen it. I guess, as a fan and just following other teams, but it's just so rare – just when you put yourself in position and then, literally, you go through so much hardship and different things that [makes it] just hard to win a ballgame. You do everything you can. We were preparing the same way in those first games when we put ourselves in position, and we were the No. 1 seed and [had] the best record in football. To, then, now, being where we're at now, where we need a lot of help to get in … It's definitely a very unique year, and you don't see it that often. This is one of those that … It's definitely painful, frustrating, but if guys are not frustrated, I'd be upset, because this is something that we care about it. This is our livelihood. There's a lot of passion, a lot of time and energy spent to being great at this. So, it's definitely been a frustrating year, for the most part, but at the same time, there's hope, and we're definitely embracing the hope, and we'll relish in the moment of being able to play this kid's game that we love so much. But yes, you don't see this too often, and it definitely is painful."
RB Devonta Freeman
On if he speaks to his teammates about having confidence – as a leader on the team: "I just try to talk to all the guys and just give them my experience that I've experienced throughout my years in the NFL, and just let them know how important it is to finish strong and finish out what you started. Just to try to aim for excellence, try to aim for high execution every single play. Every single day, get up and just come to work – even when it's tough, [and] when it's hard. I understand, because when I was a younger guy, I understood what it took, and I remember how hard it was when I was a lot younger – just to get up and consistently do it. That's a challenge. So, just trying to encourage where I can encourage and help all the guys – whoever needs help. And that's just all around the league. We all share some of the same struggles. Just trying to share with each other all the positives as much as I can."
On what he's learned about the Ravens organization since he's been here: "Just attention to detail. A lot of things … I don't want to leave anything out. But a lot of things that stick out to me is the attention to details, the importance to finish and fight, and be physical. Just come in and do your job and try to execute and be the best version of yourself. And do whatever you need to do to have success and come in and win."
On what has aided him in executing good ball security this season: "Just because the NFL … I feel like it's all responsibilities. Go out and … It's all about who's more trustworthy, and when your number is being called, can you execute at a high level in that moment? It's important to take care of the little things all the time – and for me, that's ball security, blocking techniques and just making sure I'm securing the catch, securing the ball and just securing my job. Whatever play is being called, just make sure my attention to details is really, really on point, so we can execute this play the best way."
On if he's ever been in a situation similar to this with needing help from other teams to potentially make the playoffs: "For me and my experience, I just try to focus on my own destination, controlling my own destiny and controlling the controllables. Whatever is in front of me that I can control and sharpen that up and make that as crisp as I need it to be. That's what I try to control, and I realize that I can't control things that's out of my hands and my reach. So, I don't try to put too much energy and focus on that, on the things that I can't control. So, the main thing for me is to control the controllables and make sure that my ball, my world, and everything I'm doing is in order and right, so I can help my team have success."
On if he's ever been a part of a season with this many changes to the quarterback position and how challenging that may be for an offense: "I think just because everything is so well managed, and everything is so well … Like I said, I'm going to go back to the details. You've got guys that are starters, backups, first-, second-, third-string guys. So, we all hold ourselves accountable, because we all are at work, and we're all doing our job. The 'ones' prepare just like a 'three,' and the 'three' … All of us should prepare the same. I know that's how I like to prepare, and a lot of guys that I talk to like to prepare like that. So, just preparing and being ready. It's a team effort. The teams that I've been on that's had success, it's never really been a one-guy show [or] a one-man show – we all needed each other. And on offense, you know how important it is to have all 11 guys on the same page to execute whatever play is being called. So, I think preparation from everybody helps get this thing going. We just control what we can control. Of course, you can't control injuries and things like that. You just continue to move forward. The NFL, it's a … You've got to be ready."
CB Jimmy Smith
On if he ever thinks about the "what-ifs" at this point in the season:"I mean, we could all play that game, but you know the old saying of, 'If, if was a fifth, we'd all be drunk.' (laughter) You can't really hang your hat on those types of things. But 'if,' we'd be in the Super Bowl. 'If.'" (laughter)
On his fondest memory of QB Ben Roethlisberger, and if he's been thinking about his NFL future at all:"First one was about 'Big Ben' [Ben Roethlisberger] and just the moments. He's just kicked our butts numerous amounts of times, and we've had some good games against him. But one game that stands out the most for me was obviously when I got two picks, but one didn't count, (laughter) when Courtney [Upshaw] jumped offsides or whatever it was, and I had that taken back. But [it's a] great rivalry, [he's a] great competitor. [They're] never out of the game, [he was] always trying to make plays until the last second. But I guess that's something huge that I'll always remember about him – is just how tough of a competitor [he is]. And the game is never over with that guy, until the last, final whistle blows.
"As far as my future … It was a weird year – a lot of up and down – and I'm not going to sit here and act like I don't think about it. But then again, I get out there last week, and I'm like, 'I don't know, man; I can probably still play still.' It's tough, because I'm a football player. I love it. Like, this is my life, and sometimes just even thinking about not playing, I'm like, 'Ugh, I don't want to do anything else.' But it is a grind, and it's something you have to mentally prepare yourself [for] the older you get. [And] having kids now, all the time, they're like, 'Daddy, you're going to work again? You're going to work again?' And it's like, I've been doing this my entire life. I don't know what it's like to be free. So, part of it is a little bit like I kind of want to go to the other side and be able to spend that time with my family and do those things. All the stuff that I worked hard for to get to this spot, I want to go enjoy that, but the other part of me is like, 'Bro, you know dang well [that] you're a football player, and you want to be on that field.' (laughter) So, I could talk about it, but if the Ravens come to me and be like, 'Hey, we've been thinking about this. What do you think?' I'm definitely all ears, because that's just who I am."
On how he's gotten this far in his career and what he would tell a young guy asking him how to play for a decade:"You've got to be a good football player. You've got to be good, you've got to be smart – your body obviously wears down – but at the end of the day, especially being here, you've got to work, you've got to take care of your business, you've got to be a pro. I see guys … It's kind of weird, because you always hear about people just falling out [of] the NFL so fast, and then you get here, and you kind of see people that have stuck around for 10, 11 years that don't get talked about, because they're not a huge name. Somebody like Anthony Levine [Sr.] – he's made plays. He's not a defensive starter, but he's made plays throughout the years, he's a great special teams guy. But he does everything the right way, and I think that's something that's important, along the lines, for any player trying to keep their career going – is just making sure that every year you're bringing your best, and you let the chips fall where they may, but you're putting in all the effort, the work, doing things right, not getting in trouble, taking care of your body. All those things count [when you're] trying to make it that far."
On the Ravens-Steelers rivalry and if OLB Terrell Suggs coming back as the Ravens' Legend of the Game adds anything to the game: "Absolutely. Absolutely, I mean that's kind of how … When I came here originally, that's the first team we talked about, because it does matter. It's a red dot game; it's the Steelers. But the culture here before, it was just how they talked about the rivalry coming in and how they spoke of it to the rookies. You're not even a Raven until you make a play against the Steelers. So, it was just like we put them up here, (raises his hand to the top of his head) because that's the team in our division that we looked at as our clash. That's who we had to go against. So, I think over the years, it's become such a big game. Coming into it, you want to just keep that juice flowing and that rivalry going. I don't know, it's just one of those games in the NFL that everybody is going to click on whether they like to watch football or not."
On what it is about the Steelers that makes it such a strong rivalry:"I truly believe it's because it was two physical defenses, probably the best defenses back in the day. You had Ray Lewis, and they had [Troy] Polamalu. You had all these guys and these great names on those two teams. The one thing that never escapes this game is physicality. Every team is not the same, but in the AFC North, there are going to be some physical games. I think that Steelers-Ravens is the most physical game, because there's never a time where we don't leave that game bruised and beat up pretty good."
On if it feels like the end of an era in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry with QB Ben Roethlisberger likely retiring:"Definitely. When 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs] left, it was kind of an end of an era, because Roethlisberger and 'Sizz' are more in their age group coming in. There are only a couple guys left that Ben [Roethlisberger] has even played against numerous times on our squad. I wouldn't say it's the end of the rivalry era, but it's definitely the end of those big-name guys, and it has to start anew. I guess a little bit of it right now may be the Bengals, since they're getting hot and all of that. That might be the new thing, but I think the Steelers rivalry will always remain the most physical game in the AFC North."
On if he would consider playing for a different team if he does not retire and when he anticipates making a decision about his future:(laughter) "I don't know. (laughter)I really don't know. Like I said, it's something that … I can say it a thousand times. Anybody who knows me knows that I've been retiring since my rookie year. I always say it; it's just how I talk. But to actually really think about it, it's too surreal, to be honest. Just walking in today, I was talking to [Alejandro] Villanueva, and he kind of … I'm not sure where he's at with it, but you can sense that he kind of cherishes this [potential] last [week of the season]. … I don't know if I'm not cherishing it, because I think that in my mind I might play again. (laughter)But I just don't know. It definitely is going to be for the Ravens. I don't see myself picking up to go play for the Browns or something like that for a year, to be away from my family. No disrespect towards the Browns, but I just don't see … I don't see myself wanting to do that. This is home for me. I've been here for this long; it just wouldn't make sense for me to go play a year for some random team."