Thursday Practice Transcript - 01/12


Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg

What have you seen from their special teams as far as their return game? (Aaron Wilson) "Their return game is highlighted by two very good returners. Jacoby Jones is a very fast receiver, and he translates that into return game. If you get him in his space, he's one of those guys that can break pursuit angles. He's one of those guys that will beat the edge when the edge looks to be contained, so it's our job to keep him contained. Danieal Manning hasn't had a lot of experience, because he was in Chicago when they happened to have a pretty talented returner [Devin Hester]. He's a very skilled player as well. He runs hard. He's very aggressive. We've got our hands full. Our guys have been practicing well, and we look forward to the challenge."

Do you feel like you've seen progression in the coverage units over the last handful of weeks, obviously, the type of season you would have hoped for more? Do you see that group progressing? (Dan Kolko) "We've had our moments. We see individual progression. We see concept progression. We still make mistakes, and we have to eliminate those mistakes against good teams like we're playing this week."

Sam [Koch] did a good job of getting off those punts, but there was some pressure. Were you able to identify how they were able to create that pressure? (Aaron Wilson) "Yes. We did identify it and we've been working on it."

How is Billy [Cundiff] doing health-wise? Does he look like he's back to where he was earlier in the year? (Pete Gilbert) "[He's] been kicking well in practice."

Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron

Cam, last time you were 3-for-[11] on [third] down against Houston, and [when] you look at that tape, [does] anything jump out at you from what they did or what you guys were doing? (Drew Forrester)"I think that what you're saying is accurate. I think we addressed our third down, our scoring zone. There was a point in time we were addressing all that stuff. We have to continue to play the way we have been playing. I think it was really more about their defense. They've got a quality defense. I think you guys know that. They've got good players – really good players. We'll have to execute. We'll have to execute the way we've been executing the last, probably six to eight weeks. That will be the important thing. They do an outstanding job rushing the passer. It's going to be a great challenge for us, but obviously, we need to do a better job."

You talk about rushing the passer. What kind of challenges do [Connor] Barwin and [Brooks] Reed bring? They both have been able to be productive. (Matt Vensel) "They're all of great length. It's funny, these are guys I remember hearing our defensive coaches talk about before the draft. They've drafted well. Again, an extremely talented team. You're not one of the top two or three defenses in this league on scheme alone, even though I do have a lot of respect for [defensive coordinator] Wade Phillips and the job that he does. He is doing great, I think, with really, really good players. All those guys [are] athletic, play hard, [have] length, [are] smart. All of them were outstanding college players. So, we're very familiar with these guys."

And they have a lot of youth too, right? A bunch of guys that are second- and third-year players? (Matt Vensel) "They do. This is a team that has had everybody's attention the whole year. Houston is not sneaking up on anybody. We know the quality of the team that is coming in here to play."

Cam, all the opponents know about Ray Rice and what a weapon he is. How do you think he has still been able to do what he does, despite all the attention he gets from opposing defenses? (Ryan Mink)"I think he works at it, because to keep a guy alive – the way we are trying to – run and pass, it takes a lot of adjusting, it takes a lot of game-planning, making things look the same. He never misses practice. He's always out there. To do the things we are doing with him, he needs to practice, and he does. He and Joe have great chemistry. They have since the day they have walked in here. They have been together, done an outstanding [job], the two of them together, because it works hand and hand, especially in the passing game. We know everybody is keying on him. And, we've got other places to go. I think that's the important thing, too. We've got tight ends we can get the ball to, we've got receivers we can get the ball too, we've got Ricky Williams, we've got Vonta Leach. You're looking early on to see what they're doing to take Ray away because you'd like to think that that is going to open up somebody else."

You see J.J. Watt make a play like he did against Cincinnati. Does that make you pause and even think a little more about game-planning, as far as seeing that skill set? (Pete Gilbert) "What a play. That didn't surprise any of us. Here is another player that I remember our defensive coaches just raving about before the draft. If he'd have batted that down, that would have been a heck of a play. To not only catch it, then run it for a touchdown, that changed that game. I saw that one in person. That changed that game, and that's what these games are coming down to – guys making plays. When they do, then when you can take them and turn them into points, it makes it, obviously, that much better."

How much of a better feel do you get by visiting [a game in person]? (Jason Butt) "Somebody just asked me that, and it's funny. The first time I went and watched another team play was actually, I was with the Redskins. [I] came over in 1996 to watch the Ravens play. I had the Sunday off, came up and watched them play. I have just done that for years. I usually take my boys, maybe my daughter to a game. Now when you go scout in person, there is not much to it because you get the digital video, you get the TV copies, you get all the stats, all those things, and you see four preseason games plus a bunch of other games. Honestly, I go as a fan. I never went to a pro game as a kid. Any chance I get to go to a game – much less an NFL game – as a fan, I am going to go."

Cam, what have you seen from [Anquan] Boldin this week? He kind of was saying that this is as good as he as felt. Has it been pretty obvious in practice? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I would agree with that. But to me, he has always looked good. It kind of caught me by surprise when he did have his knee [injury], but he is back ready to go. I think he is really excited to play."

Cam, I don't know if you saw, but Joe Flacco was kind of playful with critics, feisty yesterday with reporters. Do you like seeing that? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That stirred everybody up a little bit. It's really no surprise to us, because we are around him all the time. We just get to see Joe for who he is. Maybe you guys are just getting to see that. The one thing that I just remember [is] shaking Joe's hand when we went to Delaware to work him out, and I just looked at him, and his dad was there. I said, 'You know what? This guy is for real.' He wasn't trying to put on. I've been through a million of those kind of workouts where you can tell that guys, that's not really who they are. One thing I have loved about Joe since Day One is Joe is who he is. He's not afraid to speak his mind. I think that's why he has done so well and has just continually improved. Look what this guy has done. I know he's excited about this game. Criticism, he knows [is] part of the deal. But, my man obviously deserves some credit, because he is one of the best I've been around."

Is there a particular criticism? Whether it's his completion percentage, his mannerisms that you find particularly unfair? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I guess I don't get a chance to read all of that stuff. And really, we can't get too high-jacked by that stuff. Bottom line is I think the world of Joe Flacco. We drafted him at the right place for the right reasons. If you do your homework, you can see the greatness in this kid. We're just fortunate. We get to see him a little bit differently than you guys do. So you guys are a little surprised by that, and we're not. So, welcome to Joe Flacco." (laughter)

The mindset for him to have a chance though, you've got this situation in the elite eight right here, you've got a home game, to shut up some people around the country who still say, 'Look at his numbers,' and say, 'Joe is not a real good quarterback.' (Pete Gilbert) "The bottom line is we're all shutting everybody up all the time these days. (laughter) You have to. And Joe is just one of those guys; he's got the courage to come out and say it. He's not going to give you just the standard stuff. That's what I love about him. You've got to have a competitive spirit in you. Yeah, it wears … We can say we all don't hear this stuff … You cannot not here it these days. It's all right there in front of you, so who's kidding who? Yeah, you get a little tired of it, but the bottom line is hey, go shut people up. But, we have to let our play speak for itself, and he's poised to do that. Hey, let's give the guy some credit for throwing it out there. Now, the good news is he has a chance to go out there and do his thing. I can't wait to watch our offense play, our team play. I get jacked up every weekend to just stand back and watch Joe Flacco play. That has not changed. That ain't going to change. The guys that are probably staying stuff about Joe don't know Joe. So, if you don't know Joe Flacco, or if the person saying something doesn't know him, then I wouldn't put a lot credibility with it, to be honest with you. You guys that know him, this guy is the real deal. End of story."

Cam, over the course of the season, there was a period where Joe said he wanted to throw more, and there was a period where Ray Rice said he wanted to carry the ball more. Are there times when you're a referee? (Peter Schmuck) "That's offensive football. Absolutely. And you don't want it, believe me, any other way. It's been like that everywhere I've been. That's what great players do. Great players want the ball. If I was a running back and Ray Rice was calling the plays, I'd be doing the same thing. I said to Joe, 'Joe, remember, if I were you and you were me, we'd both be thinking the same thing. I'd be wanting to throw it more than you want me to throw it.' That's just the way offensive football works. It's a unique thing. When guys don't want the ball is when you've got a problem. So, I love it. I love the way our guys handle it. Our guys want the ball in a good way, in a team way. That's what this thing is all about, and I have to be honest with you, I love it."

Cam, how eager are you to see how some of your younger playmakers have grown? (Mike Lurie) "Can't wait, because they have grown so far, and now they get another new experience, and they are going to have to deliver. They are going to be out there, and I have said it all along about this young group: It's the finest young group – and I am talking about our tight ends too, and receivers – of following the lead of veteran players and trying to do … Whatever mistakes our young guys make, it's not because they didn't prepare, it's not because they didn't work hard. Young guys make mistakes. That's why we haven't really been fazed by any of them. Remember way back when everybody was worried about Torrey [Smith]? And John [Harbaugh] said no one blinked, because we see these young guys continue to grow, we trust them and they're a big part of why we're in the position we're in. I believe that, and I think you guys have seen it. It's true."

How big is it to have that veteran presence back in [Anquan] Boldin? Speaking of that, but just to kind of lead the way? (Matt Vensel) "Huge. Huge. We've always had good leadership here. I think this place breeds great leadership in coaches and players. But this group, offensively, is special from a leadership standpoint. Just go down the list. These guys are great men, great leaders in this offensive room."

Following up on that, with Boldin's ability to work that intermediate part of the field, what kind of an impact does that have to open up the passing game vertically down the field? (Luke Jones) "It obviously helps. He's been a master of physical catches inside the numbers for quite some time now. We've been able to blend some other guys in. But what you see on the field is only half of what he does for all of us – as far as leadership, poise, toughness, all those things. Once the ball … I could stand here all day – I know we're running out of time, you guys got me jacked up, fired up (laughter) – but, I wouldn't be able to do justice to any of our guys, the Matt Birks, Vonta Leaches, Michael Ohers … I could go through the whole offense. These guys are a great, great group of men, and a great, great group of leaders."

Players tend to always say the same thing this time of year: "We don't know if there's going to be another chance. This is the chance, this is the time.' Players have a more finite career than coaches, but yourself, John Harbaugh, do you feel that way, that this might be your chance? (Peter Schmuck) "You hear that a lot. I don't know if I necessarily look at it that way. We all kind of … I know John [Harbaugh] does. We kind of live our lives to do the best we can do in the given moment. You don't get too far ahead of yourself. I don't [think], 'Gee, I may not be in this situation ever again.' No, we just have to go to work. We're playing the Houston Texans. They're an outstanding team. We have to prepare the best we can prepare. It's truly what everybody says: It's one game at a time. My neighbor the other day honked, 'Woo hoo, you're going to the Super Bowl!' I said, 'Wait, we've got…' This was about two regular season games ago. I get that everyone gets ahead of themselves, but we don't do that. John does a great job of getting us dialed in on one game at a time. You start looking too far ahead and you might stumble over what's right in front of you. So, let's focus on what's right in front of us, dial in on it, and go out and get after this thing."

Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano

Both of these teams are built to stop the run and run the football. Do you think that possibly the outcome could be determined by who can pass the ball the best? (Aaron Wilson) "It's a possibility. Obviously, you saw what Denver did in their playoff game to Pittsburgh. You always go in saying you've got to stop the run, and you can't afford to give up chunk plays. This team is more than capable. They live and die by that. They run it, run it, run it, and then block it up and throw it deep. With Andre [Johnson], back we certainly are going to be on point and know where he's at at all times. You can't give up the big play."

Who does T.J. Yates remind you of? Does anybody come to mind when you're watching the film of him? (Pete Gilbert) "Not really. T.J. and I were together for a year at North Carolina; he was a redshirt freshman and John Shoop was the offensive coordinator down there. He was in a pro-style offense down there, so he was trained to do what he's doing now. It doesn't surprise me that he's having the success that he's having. Again, he's surrounded with a ton of talent. They can run the football, which takes a lot of pressure off of him. He's always got tight ends and backs to take it down. He's doing a really good job. As far as reminding me of anybody, [he's] just a young, up-and-coming quarterback that's going to be pretty good."

How much extra urgency is there to pressure Yates early since he's a young quarterback in his first road playoff game? (Luke Jones) "I think that everybody would say that you've got to go after a young guy, a rookie quarterback. Our focus is, No. 1, we've got to stop the run. If we do that, their whole idea is to get third-and-manageable. There are a lot of third-and-twos, threes, fours and fives, and then it puts the pressure back on the defense. You're a little bit leery of coming after them in those situations because of the run and the pass. So if we do a great job on first-and-1- and [on] second down and get them in third-and-long, we'll be able to dial some things up."

What makes the Texans so good in that zone-blocking scheme? How much is it based on the fact that Arian Foster is so good at cutting back and finding that crease? (Kelli Johnson) "They've been doing it for a long time. They've played a long time together. That's Mike Shanahan, that's his system, that's his scheme. The offensive line is tremendous at what they do; the back is phenomenal. He's been running those tracks for a long time. He's a one-cut, downhill guy. If you don't set an edge on him, he'll bounce it outside. He's certainly got the capability to take it the distance as we saw against the Bengals. They've been doing this a long time. They understand it. They've got great coaches there. They coach the heck out of those guys. For what they do, they've got the perfect people to do it."

What do you see different from the team now from when you played them in Week 6? (Kevin Richardson) "New quarterback, plus they've got Andre [Johnson] back. They're doing the same thing. They'll change things up; they'll window dress it a little bit. There will be a different formation, different motion, a little shift, but pretty much the same team."

Owen Daniels is a pretty good tight end, but with Andre Johnson in there he might not get the attention that he deserves. How tough of a matchup is he to go up against? (Dan Kolko) "He was coming off an injury a year ago when we went down there, and he had a big game against us. So, he's obviously somebody that you've got to tend to. We've got to know where he's at, at all times. We understand there's an injury deal there with him. But you saw last week, with Andre back, I think he was targeted nine times out of 20 throws, so it takes a little bit off him. But like everybody else, they're going to say, 'OK, they have to take care of Andre, so that opens the door for guys like Daniels and everybody else to perform.' So we've got to do a great job on all those guys."

What is it that makes Andre so tough to defend? (Garrett Downing) "He's a beast. He's a freak. He's big. He's tall. He's fast. He's got a huge catch radius. He's got experience. He's a great competitor."

The year you were with T.J. Yates [at North Carolina], how much interaction did you have with him? (John Eisenberg) "Other than blitzing him down there in the offseason, we had a lot. He was just a young guy in a new system, making his way. Watching him from afar after leaving, and watching his maturation process and seeing how far he's come, he's done really good for himself. I'm proud of the kid."

Can that help you at all, the fact that you know this guy even a little bit? Even if it was a handful of years ago, does that help you at all? (Dan Kolko) "Other than maybe understanding his strengths and weaknesses a little bit more … But what we see on tape is what we're going to get – six in one, half dozen the other. I don't think so."

Why do you think you guys have had the success that you've had against Arian Foster? Relative to the rest of the NFL, he's been OK against you guys, but not spectacular. Against everyone else he seems to be. (Pete Gilbert) "Probably because our defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and [outside linebackers coach] Ted Monachino do such a great job of coaching the All-Star front seven that we have. When you have big guys … The emergence of Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata speaks for himself, Cory Redding. You've got the two best edge setters in the NFL in [Jarret Johnson] and Terrell [Suggs] and two great linebackers. So, our guys play this scheme really well. They understand the system. They understand what they're trying to do to you. If we do that, stay on our feet and don't get knocked off our feet, then we should be in great shape. That's probably why we've had the success that we've had."

You talk about Owen Daniels. What does Joel Dreessen bring to the table? Having two guys like that, I know he was productive early in the season … (Matt Vensel) "He's more of their stud, their Y-tight end, their blocking tight end. They'll send him down the middle. He can stretch the defense a little bit. They throw some screens to him, some outlets to him. He's certainly a guy that they're not afraid to use in the pass game."

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