Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "OK, great to see you guys here. It was good to see you out at practice. [We] had a good day. The weather was very good. Guys are in great spirits. We got a lot of work done. I'm very pleased with what transpired, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the day. We still have offensive and defensive meetings, team meeting [and] special teams meeting. We have our ACT practice, and then we'll have evening offensive and defensive meetings before the guys get out of here today. So, what questions do you have?"
Just looking ahead for training camp, have you talked to anybody possibly about some joint practices? (Jamison Hensley) "We have. I would say we're still in discussions on that trying to finalize that and make sure the dates work out. I don't want to be premature in terms of announcing anything, but we're in discussions. I'm hopeful that we'll have at least one set of practices with one team."
We saw DE Derek Wolfe out there in street clothes. Is he working back from an injury? (Childs Walker) "Derek [Wolfe] got sick. I think he had a pneumonia situation, which is obviously serious. I don't know the level of it, but that was pretty recent. So, he will not be practicing this week."
On that note, we saw CB Tavon Young take the field again. Obviously, he's just kind of working his way back and is limited, but just how nice was it to see him take that step in his recovery? (Ryan Mink) "[It was] great to see him out there. I just felt so happy for him and for us. He looked good. [He] moved well, and that's a great first step for him today."
Are you any closer on T Ronnie Stanley? We haven't asked you about him in a while. I know he's not out here this week. I don't know that people expected him to be, but how is he progressing along in his recovery? (Jeff Zrebiec) "We did not expect him for minicamp as it went along. He's on schedule, that's my understanding. I hear good things about it. He says good things. He's been in the weight room. He's been running. So, at some point in time in training camp … I don't know if we'll start him off the very first practice in training camp. I probably won't do that, even if he's ready. But he'll be out there, I would anticipate, in training camp as long as there are no setbacks. [He] should be ready to open the season, for sure, but we'll just play that one as it goes here into training camp. He looks good, though. He's on schedule."
The wide receiver position is one of the toughest battles coming into training camp. How did you see those guys perform over the voluntary workouts and today? Did anybody separate themselves in that group? (Todd Karpovich) "It's really not time to separate yourself as much as it is just time to prepare yourself for training camp – that's how we look at it. We want to see them learning where to line up [and] understanding the routes. It's the NFL; it's not just 20 plays on a blackboard that we come out here and run – this is a little more complicated. There's quite a bit that they have to learn and know, so start with that. Then the fundamentals of it; the route running, catching the ball, all the fundamentals that go into that, that's really what we're focusing on. So, I feel like the guys are doing a really good job. I'm happy with the talent. I feel like it's a talented group, and I'm very excited about what we're capable of achieving. Once training camp starts, you'll probably start to see guys separate."
A while back, you guys had put out there that the coaching staff is fully vaccinated. I was just curious if you have an idea how that's going with the players as far as percentage and you guys being able to operate as normally as possible come training camp? (Luke Jones) "I do have that number. It's a pretty high number. It's pretty well above 50%, I would say, without giving the exact number. But that's really not important in terms of individual guys. I think everybody makes that choice for themselves. That's what I told the guys last night, 'It's your individual decision. There are things that go with being vaccinated. There are things that go with not being vaccinated.' So, everybody understands that, and guys will make those choices for themselves."
RB J.K. Dobbins finished the season very strong last year. What are you looking for him as he goes into season No. 2? (Jamison Hensley) "I'm looking for a guy that makes a difference for us. He's someone that we're counting on highly. Of course, Gus [Edwards] and Justice [Hill], and we have a couple young running backs in there that are going to be competing. So, J.K. [Dobbins] should take a big step this year in terms of every aspect of his game. So, I'm looking for him to be a difference maker for us, just like I am Gus and Justice."
I guess [today was] your first look at the 'bigs' inside with DE Calais Campbell and DT Brandon Williams. As they get toward the second part of their career, to be polite, do you see a hunger, a drive and a sense of unfinished business out of them getting ready for this season? (Pete Gilbert) "I haven't talked to them about that. I definitely feel like guys are highly motivated. You can't be in the league this long and play at the level that those guys you're talking about are playing at and not be just completely highly motivated, and they are. Unfinished business is a term, I guess you could apply it. There are a lot of ways to say it, but [they're] highly motivated guys. You can tell they're in shape and they're ready to go. They're high spirits, and I was really happy to see them today."
It seems like there's a lot of young cornerbacks making plays in practice today, whether it's CB Khalil Dorsey, or CB Chris Westry or CB Anthony Averett. As you anticipate position battles and some of the choices you guys are going to make, how heated do you expect that competition to be at cornerback with the mix of young guys and veterans that you have? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think that's a good term – heated. [I expect it to be] absolutely heated. I think [pass game coordinator/secondary] Coach [Chris] Hewitt and [defensive backs] Coach [D'Anton] Lynn have done a tremendous job with those guys throughout the course of the whole offseason, and those guys have responded very well. So, I'm looking forward to that competition that you're talking about in training camp. It's a very talented group, and the best players will be the guys that play the best. I can't wait to watch it play out."
The tight end group, there are a lot of good, young players there that are flashing – TE Eli Wolf and TE Josh Oliver. What have you seen from that group over the summer? (Ryan Mink) "[I've seen] the same thing you saw – I agree with you. Those are guys are flashing. They look really athletic. Let's not forget Tony Poljan from Virginia there. You saw him make some catches today. He's probably more of a guy that's going to show up even more when the pads come on. So, I think all those guys have done exceptionally well. I cannot wait to see them again in pads and, like we said, play out, in terms of who plays the best in those situations. So, I'm not too worried about our tight end situation; they look good out there so far."
DE Calais Campbell
Obviously, a lot of people are talking about COVID-19 vaccinations, as far as the NFL. Is that a conversation that happens among the players, and what are those conversations like, if you have them? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, this is a big topic in pretty much any setting, and when we're out there, it's a lot of football, but naturally, we talk through that a little bit. I think it really comes down to comfort level of the person; they have to do what's best for them. I personally am vaccinated, but it's to each their own, and each person has to do their own research and figure out what's best for them in their current situation. But as a team, we're working towards something great here, and I feel like everybody supports each other."
Given the strong finish to the year last season, you win a playoff game and then come up short … Is there a sense of unfinished business, particularly on defense, where it's largely the same group as a year ago? (Pete Gilbert) "There's only one happy team at the end of the year, and obviously, we want to be that happy team at the end of the year. And last year, we felt like we had a good chance, but we didn't get it done. I think this mentality this year is just try to make the best of this one. We know what we have as a team, as far as talent and as far as scheme, and we know that we can be very, very good – quite special, really. And so, the mentality really is just be the best we can be. It's a new year – 17 games. This year is going to be a little different than years past, and somebody has to set the standard for that, and so, we said, 'Why not us?'"
How do you look back on last season, individually, and what kind of expectations or goals do you have for this year? (Ryan Mink) "I think last year was a very unique year throughout pretty much anybody's career, really, just with COVID-19 and the way you prepared, and we all had to prepare – just how the season went – with all the restrictions and protocols just to keep us safe. It really was a unique year, as far as football goes, and I'm really looking forward to getting back to kind of my regular routine and regular preparation to get ready for the season. And I really feel like this could be a really big year for me and for us as a team."
Just to follow up about what you alluded to regarding the 17-game schedule; you having gone through several of these grinding NFL seasons, what do you think the biggest adjustment will be? Some people say it's just one game, but tell me from your perspective what that expanded schedule means? (Jarrett Bell) "Yes, I'm sure it's going to have a lot of unintended consequences, from the standpoint of just … Usually, you say to yourself you have to win 10 games. Ten games is kind of the floor to get into a position to get to the playoffs. I guess this year, you have to say at least – minimum – 11 [games]. And even then, there are years when [teams] won 10 games and didn't get in, but that was kind of like the number you wanted to get to. So, the pace you go at during the season and just how every game matters, I feel like there are going to be a lot of changes when it comes to having that extra game there. Every game is important, always, but hopefully it gives us the opportunity – if we needed – to be able to win that extra ballgame to get in, if we need to, if it's a deciding factor. At the end of the day, the biggest thing is just getting to the 'dance.' Obviously, we would love to win the division and guarantee our spot there. But just having 17 games, with the physicality of the way we play, it's going to be a grind, and we're going to have to have a lot of mental toughness. But I'm very confident in the guys we've got in this building. We're very deep in a lot of places. I think we'll be fine."
We talked to you before last season, and you said that you were a little worried about COVID-19 because of your asthma. And then when we talked to you during the season, you said that overcoming the virus was brutal for you. So, are you fully past all the lingering symptoms? Did you have any of those as you made your way to the offseason? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, I think so. Sometimes, I feel like it kind of comes and goes in a sense, so I guess I really can't be sure until we get into the thick of things. But I've been really good for the last couple months. I haven't had any real issues, but it definitely lingered for a while. I still don't wish that on anybody. It's just such a tough thing to go through, just because you don't really feel like yourself. Even when you are past the symptoms that everybody has, getting back into being a professional athlete, there's a certain level of feeling you have when you're just ready, and COVID-19 kind of made it a little harder to get to that good feeling. But I definitely feel a lot better now. I feel like I'm ready to go – go out there and dominate and have some fun – and I hope I stay that way."
The decision to just practice two days instead of three this week, can you talk about what went into that? Were you guys part of the discussion with Coach Harbaugh, or was it players only deciding? (Jerry Coleman) "I think it was Coach [Harbaugh] deciding. I wasn't part of the discussion, so I really don't know for sure, but I think it's just kind of a reward for everybody just going really, really hard. I wasn't here for OTAs. I just got here, but I kept tabs, talking to guys, watching some of the tape and just … This team, we've got a lot of good ballplayers. A lot of guys look really, really good and are working really hard, and I think we're in a good place with two good days of minicamp, and then we get ready for training camp, when it gets a lot more serious."
I'm just wondering your thoughts on the pass rush coming into this season. Obviously, you guys lost OLB Matthew Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue and DE Jihad Ward. I'm just wondering your thoughts on assessing the pass rush. (Shawn Stepner) "Yes, I think we have a plethora of talent – guys that are very, very gifted in a lot of places, who are going to have to step up and make big plays for us. Our outside rush is where we lost the most, and I see some of our young guys who can really move, and they're really just super gifted. And so, now it comes down to just getting them prepared, getting them ready, helping them develop as quickly as possible, because we're going to have to depend on them. This is one of those teams where we're going to have to depend on some young guys to step up and make some plays for us. But I think we've got a really good group of young [players] who are going to be able to develop and become really good football players in this league."
When you get later in your career, how do you approach even contemplating about retirement? Is it something you push off until the end of the season? Is it something you make a decision on ahead of time? How do you approach that? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, that's something that I'm still figuring out, I guess. I kind of take it one year at a time, and I know that I've got this year in me, for sure. I'm going to give everything I have this year, and then we'll re-evaluate once the season ends. But it's definitely something you think about. 'When?' And I used to always say when I was younger that I wanted to play 15 [years]. I didn't realize how hard 15 was going to be; I think I was a little young. But this is 14 for me, and I know I've got this in me, for sure. But I still would like to play 15, so hopefully I've got another one. So, we'll see."
I'm wondering your thoughts on DT Justin Madubuike. He came on strong towards the end of last season. What kind bounce can we expect to see out of him in Year Two? (Kirk McEwen) "Yes, I think you should see a big jump. He really has so much potential. He's strong, he's quick-twitchy, can get out of a stance very explosively, and then he's learning how to play with a good technique consistently. I think he's going to have a big year for us. I think he's a guy who we can really depend on. He's going to make all of our jobs a lot easier [with] what he can do inside, and he's developing as a pass rusher too, so I think he's going to put a lot more pressure on quarterbacks. I think he's going to be a really good player in this league."
RB J.K. Dobbins
You obviously had a strong finish to the season. Do you have any specific goals in mind for yourself heading into your second year? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, the main goal is to do better than what I did last year. This year, I want to come in, help my team in all ways possible on that field to get to the Super Bowl. It could be receiving, it could be running, it could be, shoot, if we have another 'cramp-up game,' [I'd] get out there, throw the ball – things like that – just to help my team win a game. That's what I'm working towards right now. It's going pretty great."
Having watched you in your offseason regimen from afar, it just seems like you've got a chip on your shoulder that's on a different level. So, can you describe the priorities for you, physically, throughout the offseason? (Bobby Trosset) "Yes, I'm trying to get bigger, stronger and faster – always. You know that chip on my shoulder is pretty big. Just a little fuel, like PFF [Pro Football Focus] ranking me 26th … I don't think I'm 26th, but I love that. That gives me room to improve. I've got people to prove wrong."
With just how valuable this time is – getting this offseason work in and being able to spend this time – do you feel ahead of where you were last year, trying to get your footing so late with COVID-19? (Morgan Adsit) "Yes, definitely. It's even good for the whole team, I feel like, because we all get to get more chemistry than what we had last year. Last year was my first year on the team, and I didn't get to see some of the people until I got into the building in late July. We talked on Zoom, but there's nothing like in-person interaction. So, this definitely helps with that and just doing the plays – all that stuff. It just helps with confidence, knowing the plays. It's a big difference, and I feel it."
What is your take on RB Gus Edwards and his contract extension and what Gus has meant for you as kind of a mentor? (Ryan Mink) "Gus [Edwards] definitely deserves that. The contract – Gus deserves that. I'm so happy to see him get that. He's been working towards it, and it's just a great thing to see."
What do you think about catching the ball more out of the backfield, as offensive coordinator Greg Roman and head coach John Harbaugh have talked about? (Ryan Mink) "Yes, we'll just have to see during the season. We'll see during the season." (laughter)
Along those lines, can you talk about that catch you made last week during OTAs, skying for the ball in the end zone? That got some good buzz. (Garrett Downing) "Shoot, it didn't surprise me. I've been doing that. I can catch the ball a little bit. I know I had a few mistakes last year, but this year, I've been working on eliminating those mistakes, even the little mistakes. I'm perfecting my craft and making sure I'm ready at all times to catch the ball, do all that stuff. So, it'll be great this year."
What's the mindset coming in as "the guy" this year? Last year, you came in, you waited your turn, you were patient, probably could've gotten the "car keys" before you actually got them. What's it like coming in being the No. 1 guy this year? (Kirk McEwen) "Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed with my approach. Nothing has changed. I'm going to come in and work hard, like … Let me think of a good comparison, a good example ... I am working like I didn't get drafted, like I'm not even on the team, like I am a guy off the streets, coming off the streets, working for a spot. So, that's how I'm approaching it. There's nothing different, and I'm just here to help the team win. That's what I'm here to do. I'm working hard."
What was the biggest thing you took away and you learned from your rookie year in the NFL? I know it was an unusual year, but is there something maybe you took away into the offseason thinking about for this year? (Jerry Coleman) "Yes, I think a lot of people overlook mental strength. The NFL season is a long season, especially for a rookie. It's different than college; you play a lot of games. And mentally, you have to be ready. You have to be on point with your mental, because if you're not, then your body, none of that's going to work. You're not going to be able to play good – none of that. So, that's what I learned. I feel like I've been learning this offseason to have my mental ready, body ready, all of that. I feel like I'm locked and loaded. I'm ready to go."
DT Brandon Williams
Being a veteran and being this far into your NFL career, do you do anything in the offseason, just personally, different training-wise being this far into it? (Jamison Hensley) "For offseason training, especially going into my ninth season … Pretty much it's just keeping up the cardio [and] making sure my lung capacity is there, because these young boys, they keep getting faster. So, I have to stay in the weight room. I have to keep throwing people around. Other than that, just hanging out with the kids and family, just being Dad." (laughter)
As you get ready for this year, is there a greater sense of urgency? The last couple of years in particular, you've been really close. You had the 14-2 start [in 2019] and last year, you won a playoff game but didn't get to where you wanted to go. Year Nine, do you sense that? There's only so many you're going to get as far as taking advantage of it. (Pete Gilbert) "Definitely. The older I get, you definitely want to reach the pinnacle, but at the same time, you want to do what's best for the team. You want to be there for your teammates, and you want to build them up along the way. So, right here, right now, it's minicamp. I'm looking forward to the guys on the line making it the best possible, so when we actually get to that first Sunday, everybody is ready, and we'll take it from there."
I wanted to follow up on what ESPN.com reporter Jamison Hensley was asking about in terms of you and your body and your regimen. When you think about how your career has evolved, can you shed some insight on what kind of support team you have [in terms of] people outside the building – masseuse, chef, nutritionist? How many of those people do you rely on? How important is that? How has that kind of changed over the course of your career? (Jarrett Bell) "In the beginning, the first people that you have to rely on are your teammates, because that's usually where you get the word of mouth [from] all the people before you. I took … Haloti [Ngata], Chris Canty [and] Marcus Spears took me under their wing and kind of … I followed them in their steps to be great. I kind of got Haloti's masseuse [and] got somebody from everywhere just to kind of build my own team, just so I could be as good as they were."
Just wondering if you could assess the pass rush after losing so many guys, but you gained OLB Odafe Oweh, the rookie? Can you just kind of [share] your thoughts on the pass rush going into the season? (Shawn Stepner) "Getting to the passer isn't dependent on one person – it's an all 11 thing. A corner has to cover, a linebacker has to do their job, and defensive line has to stop the run so we can get in those situations. It takes all of us to get to the passer and get those sacks. It's not just relying on one person. So, we're going to do a team effort and get to the quarterback."
I'm just curious to get your thoughts from what we saw a little bit last year on DT Justin Madubuike. What are your impressions of him? What kind of season do you think that he could have? (Garrett Downing) "Man, [Justin] Madubuike can have as great of a season as he wants to. What I see right now, after last year, he's flying around. He has the playbook down a lot better. So, you can definitely see his feet being freed up, because he's thinking a lot less. I can't wait to see what he's going to bring on Sunday. I'm already seeing so many good things, but we still have work to do."
You talked about the youth. The team is built very differently from when you came in. It was an older team at the end of 2012-13 when you came in, and then you see now the youth movement. What's it like to look around and see that and be on the other side of the coin? (Morgan Adsit) "Oh, man – now I see what Haloti [Ngata] and 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs] were going through. You just see new guys come in every year and see guys coming in and out. But in the end, you just have to always keep the main thing the main thing; regardless of when you step in this building, that's your team. When you step on that field, you have to lead them. We have to lead them to, first of all, being the best they can be in their position and their field, and then helping the team at the end win games. So, that's the biggest goal."
It feels like it wasn't that long ago we were asking you about your last contract. You are going into your last year of your deal, have you had any discussions about an extension? How much would that mean to you? You were just talking about being one of the veterans on the team and about being able to stick around longer beyond 2021. (Luke Jones) "Right now, all I'm worried about is Year Nine. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. But right now, we have a bad taste to get out of our mouths, and we plan on doing that starting today."
It seemed like last year, you were unlucky with just landing on the COVID-19 list a couple times because of those close contacts. How frustrating was that for you? Are you expecting a more normal 2021 season in terms of everything going back to normal? (Jonas Shaffer) "It was frustrating because I couldn't be out there. At the same time, I never got COVID-19 and I still had to sit out. But it is what it is. The team did well when I was out, and hopefully, I can just stay away from people and stay on the field. (laughter) But I'm looking forward to doing me, staying me, staying healthy and safe and continue to play football the best I can, regardless of if I'm in there or not. You can't help what you can't help. So, all I can do is just make sure I'm ready always."
DE Derek Wolfe made it known he wanted to be here, and they went ahead and re-signed him. He really balled out towards the end of last year when some guys were down. What does it mean to have him more comfortable in Year Two? What kind of bond did you develop with DE Derek Wolfe? (Kirk McEwen) "Man, he's a baller. Like I've always said, he's … Shoot, he's balling more than most of us. That dude, he's always out there, [and] he's always grinding. When his name is called, he's always going to show up. I love the guy. He's literally staying at my house right now. (laughter) So, we have a great bond. We want to continue to bring the whole unit [together] like that and make it one huge cohesive unit."
How hard is it to catch RB J.K. Dobbins? Do you see him becoming a special offensive player in this league? (Ryan Mink) "Well, for me, not hard at all. That's just what I do – stop the run. I mean, what can I say? (laughter) The dude is fast [and] shifty. I mean, if you think about it, the dude is pretty short. [He's] like a [former NBA point guard] Muggsy Bogues, you know? Kind of like fast, shifty [and] hard to catch him, but when you get him, hopefully, you can keep him contained. Do you know what I'm saying?" (laughter)