Training Camp Transcript - Practice 8/3


Head Coach John Harbaugh

Opening statement:"Today, I am going to start with injuries. Matt Birk did not have an MRI yesterday – he had surgery. It is a minor procedure from what I am told. He will be out three to four weeks to clean up his bursa sac and some vascular issues in there. Otherwise, it would have been bothering him all year. It would have swollen up and stuff like that, so we decided to go ahead get that cleared up and cleaned up right now. We will be looking for another center. We tried to sign Casey Rabach, and he failed his physical, so we will just keep looking. In the meantime, we have Bryan Mattison coming back tomorrow, along with the young centers that we have. We will be looking for a center to get through camp and then provide some depth throughout the course of the season."

On if the team will be looking for a new starting center: "No, no, no. Matt will be our starting center, but Matt is older. I don't think he necessarily needs training camp, so that is my feeling. Let him get this cleaned up right now, and we will get a week or two of training camp with him and he will be ready to play. Jimmy Smith, he has got a minor little groin tweak. We are just playing it safe right now. Is there anybody else? *(Someone interjects: "WR James Hardy?") *James Hardy, same thing – hamstring. [He has] a little hamstring tweak. [We are] playing it safe. These guys have taken a lot of reps with few numbers, so we didn't want to put them out there another day and get a pull."

On if he is feeling good about C Matt Birk's prognosis:"Yeah, I think if we had him the whole offseason and he had been here, this would have been done in February, March, April or something like that. We would have had it done. [He] wasn't here. You don't really know what a guy looks like, so it is probably one of the negatives of having this whole [the NFL lockout] situation."

On the retirement of QB Marc Bulger:"I had heard through the grapevine that he was thinking about it, but I didn't know for sure. Not really, in talking to Marc [Bulger] last year, I thought it was 50-50, in my mind. Marc has a lot of things going on. He has a lot of charitable things going on. His family is in St. Louis, so good luck to him. I think he is a great guy. [We really] appreciate everything he did. [He is] just a tremendous friend."

On the chances of signing another veteran quarterback:"[There is] a chance. I think we will just see how our young guys do – see how No. 6 [Tyrod Taylor] does over there – and then we will try and figure it out from there."

On if he thinks about how important the backup quarterback is:"Oh yeah, obviously. Your backup quarterback is one play away from being your starting quarterback, so it is critically important. You have got decisions to make. Sometimes, you have to balance it out a little bit. Last year, we went out and paid a guy a lot of money to be a guy that we all had confidence in and he would have done well if he had gotten a shot. This year, there are not as many guys available because of the late stage but there are a few veterans. I'm also confident that in a week or two there will still be some veterans available if we decide to go that route. But right now, we want Tyrod to get the reps and see how he does."

On if today was a better practice than yesterday:"Yeah it was. It was different because we weren't in pads, so it's a little harder to say and compare. But, I thought we got better in a lot of ways."

On having a full roster available to practice tomorrow:"We'll have three offensive lines. That will be huge for us. The tempo of practice will be a little faster. We've really had to manage a lot of guys' reps which, of course, you have to do. I think we have been very creative in how we have handled it, and we have still been able to get a lot of work done at practice. As a coach, you are really proud of that. The fact that we are short guys, yet we have managed it really well and we have managed to keep guys fresh enough to compete the whole practice... Also, the effort our guys have put in to make that happen has been very impressive."

On the impact new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has had on the defense:"I think any coach – and Chuck [Pagano] probably as much as any coach – will imprint his personality on a group, and Chuck has a great personality. He has confidence and he has just always been that way. He really has a lot of fun out there, yet he is also very detailed in what he does. I expect our defense to play that way. They are going to play confident, but they are going to be detailed, they are going to play really hard, and they are going to be reckless in the best sense of the word. I am excited about what our defense is building."

On WR James Hardy and if he was hurt more or less by the lockout:"Gosh, it is so hard to evaluate on how much a guy would have been hurt. I think everybody was hurt by not being here from a football standpoint. He is valuable that he is a veteran. He had been in the League, so he knows. He has been here before – he is not a rookie. But, the hamstring doesn't help. He is going to have to get out there, but we don't want him out for the next three weeks either, so we really have to balance that out. We have high expectations for him. He is a very talented guy. The next two-three weeks are going to be huge for him."

On the opportunity for guys like ILB Jason Phillips with players being out of practice:"The young linebackers… Jason [Phillips is] probably almost the leader of those guys because he has the other two rookie free agents in there with him. It is just an opportunity for those guys to really get ready for when it counts. Now the veterans come back, not all the veterans, but some those guys come back. There will be fewer reps, but he is probably now more prepared than he would have been if those guys had been here for the last few days, so that is a good point."

On P Sam Koch taking some kicking duties in today's practice:"He hit one off the bar. I was really disappointed in that one he hit off the bar, but he made the other ones. (laughing) Yeah, that's pretty important. You have to have a backup kicker."

On how important the challenges are for whoever replaces TE Todd Heap:"We have got to have a starting tight end and a backup tight end. The fact that Todd [Heap] is not here leaves a void. That's the way it works – next man up. You have heard it before. We think we have young talent there. We drafted those two guys for a reason. We have Davon Drew sitting there [as] well. We drafted three guys for a reason – I don't want to leave Davon out. They are just going to have to step up, and that's their job. I am very confident that they are capable of doing it."

On if he knows why the signed restricted free agents were not allowed to practice until tomorrow:"My understanding is liability reasons. If they get hurt, then those contracts become null and void and then there would be damages and lawsuits and all that stuff that I am not really interested in."

On if the signed restricted free agents can practice tomorrow:"I have heard nothing yet. I even hate to comment on it because I just don't know. We haven't been told yet that they are allowed to practice. Either they will be allowed to practice, there will be another lockout or there will be some kind of compromise solution that they won't be able to practice. I am not betting on another lockout." (laughter)

On the competition for the starting safety spot between S Tom Zbikowski and S Haruki Nakamura:"Those two guys are best friends and they are great competitors. One of those two guys is going to be the starting safety, I assume, unless somebody else comes out of nowhere. That's the plan."

On if Tom Zbikowski is doing better:"Yeah, he looks better. What was that thing called? *(Someone interjects: "Impetigo.") *Impetigo. Chuck Pagano was kind of telling me and the trainer was in talking about impetigo, and I wanted to know who he played for. *(laughter) *If he was a safety that we could sign, yeah."

On what role he played in the appearance of the ice cream trucks after yesterday's practice:"What do you think? You don't think we had that all planned out, huh? (laughter) *[It was] for the cameras. *(laughter) You never know. We've got plans. It was [owner] Steve's [Bisciotti] idea. It was a great idea."

TEs Coach Wade Harman

On how the meeting room is now without former TE Todd Heap:"Being with him all these years, it's definitely a new change, but that's the NFL. We've got some good, young guys, and I've made my focus on those guys right now [with] not having that offseason, and just having that be their second season. I mean, I'm locked in with them and we're rolling."

On whether Pittsburgh is still in the back of people's minds even though there are still four preseason games to play:"No doubt, no question. First game [we're] opening up, our place, Pittsburgh, that's where our focus is. I mean, we'll get ready, we'll game-plan, do all that stuff for the preseason games, but obviously, our focus is for the first regular season game."

On what he sees out of the young TEs, mainly Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta:"The thing we knew about them when we drafted them [is] they were good receiving guys. And everything that we see out there, we're confident that that's good, and they're showing that. They're doing well; they're catching the ball. They're very willing, and they're very smart guys. And, they're doing a nice job of picking up what we're doing. We're adding things for them, showing their athletic ability – ability to catch the football [and] get open, move around a lot of spots. And then we'll continue to work on their blocking, and that's just something I think they'll be able to do, and just something they in college weren't asked to do a lot, at least in that normal traditional role. And we'll just continue to work on those things. They're getting better; they got some time last year doing it, and they're going to keep getting better."

On whether he is going to have to do a little bit more now to build them up after losing a savvy veteran and leader in Heap:"Well, Todd was a second-year player once, too. And so was Shannon Sharpe, and so were all those guys. You know, you coach every year. They work on the things that they don't do well, make sure that they're doing the things that you know they do well, that they keep honing them out and making better. Young guys are the same way. They're going to grow at their rate, and they're going to keep getting better. And I'm real pleased with their effort, their attitude and their toughness. Their attitude with what we're trying to get done, and learning, it's been great."

On how important last year's game experience for Dickson was when Heap was injured:"I think it's real important. Not only when [Heap] was hurt, but when they were out there together in two-tight situations. Game experience is invaluable, and we hated when Todd was out, but again, it gave him opportunities to play and also Dennis. So, the game experience is second-to-none."

TE Dennis Pitta

On if he feels he has an open opportunity to show his skills this season:"Certainly, with Todd [Heap] gone, there's a lot of opportunities out there for one of us tight ends to step up and fill their shoes. Obviously, we'll probably all be able to fit somewhere in this offense, but it's about competing and seeing who emerges for that spot."

On if there is a lot of competition within the tight ends:"There's a lot of that [competition]. That's just the nature of this sport. You've got to be competitive and want to one-up the next guy. And if he makes a good play, that just makes you that much hungrier to go out there and make a good play yourself. So, there's a lot of that going on right now."

On what he learned last year that will help him this year:"I learned a lot being able to, kind of, sit back and observe Todd – being able to watch how he handled himself and how he made plays and what he did to get himself prepared. I think that was certainly very helpful for both Ed and I. Now it's about applying those things that we learned and making plays ourselves."

On if Cam Cameron is modifying the offensive plays for the new offensive players:"I would hope that it would be modified. I think the mark of a good offensive coordinator is being able to modify your offense to the people that you have, and I know that Cam is capable of something like that, so I would anticipate some of that certainly."

On if he trained with Heap during the offseason:"I trained quite a bit with Todd. Not the entire time, but we spent quite a bit of time in Arizona training together. (Reporter interjects: "What was your focus?") You know, I don't' think we focused on just one thing – just overall getting faster, quicker, stronger, working on route-running and catching the football."

On how he is feeling this season as opposed to last year:"A lot more comfortable. It's tough coming in your rookie year and making that transition from college and entering camp. I'm a ton more comfortable this year just knowing the offense and understanding the offense – and that helps you to play faster with that type of foundation."

On how important it is to be a starter, opposed to just having playing time:"It's a big deal. Everyone wants to be a starter in this league. I know that's my goal, and that's everybody's goal, and I'm working and preparing myself to do so."

On if he feels he has improved in a year's time:"It's the same position. You have to block people, and you have to run routes and catch the football. There are some nuances and some details that are kind of worked out here that you don't get in college, but it's the same position. That's why we were drafted, because we were able to show those skills in college, and now it just transfers to this league."

On how much blocking he did in college and how confident he is in his blocking now:"I did quite a bit of blocking. For as much catching as I did, we had a thousand yards rushing every year that I was there. That's something I've done my whole career, and [it's] something I'm continuing to work on. But, I'm getting more comfortable with it every day.

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