Assistant Head Coach/Pass Coordinator/WRs David Culley
Everyone is talking about how QB Lamar Jackson is doing so well this year. Were there moments during the offseason when you first started working with him that stood out to you or impressed you? (Jamison Hensley)"You knew from Year One to Year Two there's always a big jump. And from watching all the video of him [from] the second half of last season and then once we got into our OTAs, watching him do some things that he had done the previous year, you could just see the maturity. You could just see the experience. He had been through this before. He knew what not to do. He knew how to do things, and that's part of the natural progression going from Year One to Year Two. And when you're playing that position, that jump is critical. He's been amazing with that to this point."
This offseason during training camp, it seemed like WR Miles Boykin was making a play every practice. Then it wasn't the same early in the season. Is that a result of where the ball was going on offense? Or did you think that maybe a couple of drops he had early affected him a little bit? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I don't think the drops affected him. I think it was just a matter of as we started putting in more and more offense as we started going into the season during training camp and during the preseason, we didn't really show a whole lot on offense. As the volume started coming in this offense, and I've always felt this way, as a wide receiver, it's probably the toughest position because of the run game and the pass game, when it comes to learning everything that you need to know. And I think the volume got him a little bit, which affected him thinking about things instead of just reacting, and I think it was more so of him just not being as comfortable as he was early when he was just playing and reacting and not thinking about things. But as the offense got more and more [complex], he started thinking about things, and I think that had a lot to do with that. But I think right now at this point, I think he's in a good place with that."
Over the last two weeks WR Miles Boykin has made a couple of plays in each of the first halves. Do you see him pulling out of that a little? Do you think the game is slowing down for him? (Jeff Zrebiec)"No question, and basically, the play he made Sunday was one of those instances where I think early in the year … The thing he did on that play – Lamar [Jackson] got outside the pocket, he started running, and immediately Miles [Boykin] took off. Early in the year in the first couple of ball games, I don't know if that would have happened. And so, that's just the natural progression for him of now understanding to just play and just react, and I think he's doing that now."
WR Marquise Brown has missed the last couple of games with an injury. He started the season so hot. What do you think is a realistic expectation for him in the second half of the season? (Garrett Downing)"I think when he comes back and he comes back healthy, which we expect him to be when we play New England, I think he'll be like where he was before. It's just that people are now going to try to take him away. They're not going to allow him to do some of things that we were able to do with him early. But when he gets back, I don't see any slowdown in him at all."
Do you get a sense that when WR Marquise Brown is on the field, it just changes the offense because teams have to account for him? (Garrett Downing)"What ends up happening with him is you have to defend the whole field. You know that he can get behind the defense. Even when the defense is playing very well, he's one of those guys because of his speed that he can get over the top of things, and I think people are well aware of that, and that's the last thing you want to do. Early in the year against Miami, they didn't know, and I think they found out really quickly that he's able to do that. And I believe now, people are now starting to play – if you saw, even in the Pittsburgh game – people are starting to play a little bit deeper. They're starting to play their safeties a little bit deeper, which basically just helps us in our run game, and it helps us in the rest of our pass game. It opens things up for it."
Beyond WR Marquise Brown, there's been a lot of talk about the other wide receivers maybe not putting up the numbers. How challenging is it for that group just knowing this offense is so predicated on the run and how heavily involved the tight ends are in the passing game? (Luke Jones)"The thing is that you never know as a wide receiver when that ball is coming. You don't get a whole lot of opportunities, but when they come, you have to be ready. And I think they all understand in this offense the way Greg [Roman] runs this thing is that when that time does come, you have to be ready, and they all have a role when they're in there. Whether it's Seth [Roberts] or whether it's Willie [Snead IV] or whether it's Chris [Moore], their roles become very big, especially in third down, because in third down we're usually in with three wide receivers in the game. And those guys have to be ready, and I think with these guys, they understand that it's about us moving the ball and getting touchdowns. And you always know that in this league in close ball games in the end, it's always going to come down to somebody is going to have to make a play in the pass game to win a game or put you in a position to win a game. They all understand that, and they all have that mindset."
How much have you stressed blocking and have worked on that? And how impressed have you been with the wide receivers' blocking? (Ryan Mink)"I can tell you this: There's nobody playing that position that would step on the field for us if he can't block. That's the first thing. The way we approach that is that you are football player first who happens to play wide receiver, which means that you block. If there's an interception thrown or if there's a fumble and they pick it up, you become a defensive back. When the running back is running, you're a blocker. When Lamar [Jackson] is back there in that pocket and he's getting ready to throw, you're a pass receiver. So, that's not an issue, because when you step in that room with us, the first thing you understand is you're not a wide receiver. You're a football player first."
Knowing how talented QB Lamar Jackson is as a scrambler, as the passing game coordinator, are there things you do to create open lanes? Or do you let that thing sort of naturally happen? (Aaron Kasinitz)"No, that naturally happens. The beauty of having him [Lamar Jackson] is that you know that when he gets outside of the pocket, very rarely does he get pinned in. And I think that's where we practice what we call 'scramble routes,' which all pass catchers – whether you're a back or receiver or tight end – we have rules. And if you follow those rules and you want a catch, there's a pretty good chance he's going to get it to you if you're in the place that you need to be. And so, they do a really good job of doing that. And again, those are what you call those off-schedule plays, and when you have them with him, they become on-schedule, because he can keep things alive."
Have you found that defenses generally are blitzing with less exotic looks because there is the fear of if there is a bad fit, a bad coverage somewhere, QB Lamar Jackson is much more dangerous finding a seam and breaking off? (Jonas Shaffer)"Without a doubt. A lot of times people like to bring five guys in a blitz, and you feel like you can get home with five. Well, when you bring five with him [Lamar Jackson] and you don't get home, there's nobody to account for him. And now what we start to see, we start to see what people call a 'spy' or a 'lurker' in there to – basically, he's responsible for him. And I'll just say this: We've seen it a number of times, and low and behold, he still beats it."
Have you noticed QB Lamar Jackson being a little bit more willing to vocalize his opinion? We all saw the video of him telling John Harbaugh that he wanted to go for it on fourth down. Is he a vocal guy that gives his opinion? (Aaron Kasinitz)"No, he's not a vocal guy that way, but I know this: He's a competitor. And when the guy that plays that position says he wants to go for it, there's a pretty good chance that you'd like to go for it, because he feels good about it."
You were right there when QB Lamar Jackson came off the field at Seattle. What were you thinking as that fourth-down play unfolded? And how much did that liven up the sideline a little bit, not only the guys coming off the field but the defensive players? (Jeff Zrebiec)"Not only when he [Lamar Jackson] first came off and he said it – and he said it with some pretty choice words, so you kind of knew how he felt about it – you could also hear [Marshal] Yanda out on the field saying, 'Let's go for it.' And so, obviously, when you've got your Hall of Fame offensive lineman out there saying they're ready to go for it and your quarterback and your leader saying, 'Let's go for it,' I thought John [Harbaugh] had a pretty easy decision right there. And he didn't hesitate."
Did you offer any input on CB Marcus Peters before he came in here? (Jonas Shaffer)"No, he was already here before I knew he was here, and all I can say is I was glad he was here when he got here. (laughter) I was with him for two years in Kansas City, and what he did in that game the other day, I've seen him do it two other times before. So, I'm just glad he's here."
Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen
Opening statement:"I hope everybody is in as great mood as I am after coming back from Seattle. [I'm] Joe Cullen, D-line coach, and first of all, just to review that game – what a great game for the organization, for the Ravens, the Ravens fans. Our guys really left it on the field there. They played their hearts out. Defensive line-wise, I thought the guys did a great job bottling up Russell Wilson. I mean he's as good as it gets. We didn't get him down as much as we'd like to, but I think they unofficially had us with 28 hits and pressures on him, and we bottled him up. We were able to pressure him and really did a good job of keeping him, as much as we could, in the pocket. He did get out some and made some big plays, but our guys really came to play. I think, when you look at it, Pernell McPhee was playing a great game until he got injured, and that's a guy that really embodies what we're all about here. He's a true Raven and just gave us great effort, great leadership, not only for the younger guys, but [for] everybody on defense. He played his heart out. And, obviously, Coach [John Harbaugh] shared with you about his injury yesterday, but he's been a great asset to our guys this year. Brandon Williams, I thought played his best game as a Raven in a long time, since I've been here. Run and pass, he gave some really good push up the middle and hits on Russell when we needed it the most and did a great job. At times, he got beat, but he did a great job finding a way to get off of blocks, bottling up the run game and getting to the ball. Michael Pierce was as consistent as he's always been, and I thought our young guys stepped up. I thought Jaylon Ferguson had one of his better games as a Raven, in terms of he had a great hit on the quarterback, he set the edge well in the run game, and he's only going to continue to get better, especially with Pernell going down. He'll get more reps there, and obviously, we're going to count on some newer guys and younger guys – 'Double A', Aaron [Adeoye], who's on the practice squad – there are opportunities there. You look at Jihad Ward, who two weeks ago was playing nose tackle for Indianapolis … He was a guy we liked coming out [of the draft]. Our general manager, Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric [DeCosta], and Coach 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] way back in '17 when he came out, we liked him then, and we liked him when we got him off the waiver wire and signed him. He's been a great addition. We have him at the defensive end spot and then moving inside in sub situations, and he's done a great job there. He played really well, had 39 snaps in that game. And really the whole defense [played well]. Credit to how the guys played."
You just mentioned DT Jihad Ward. Knowing how OLB Pernell McPhee could move all over, how critical is it for you guys to have someone else maybe emerge in that role that you can move around in different sub packages? (Luke Jones)"As you look at it, Matt [Judon] and Tyus [Bowser] are those edge rushers that we really like, and Pernell [McPhee] was kind of a hybrid that could move inside and outside. And that's what Jaylon [Ferguson] is doing right now, and Jihad [Ward] is doing that. So, there's two guys right there we can use, and then, obviously, the younger guys, too, like we talked about."
What do you think it was about DE Jihad Ward that maybe other teams didn't use him the way you guys are? Why do you see that in him? (Aaron Kasinitz)"I can't really comment on other teams. I just know when we worked him out when he was at Illinois … And then, obviously, certain teams have different needs. Maybe other teams needed someone at that spot. We just felt like with his athleticism, his size, that he moved well, that we could use him on the edge, and he's done a great job at that. And then, obviously, [he's good at] moving inside in throwing situations, which he's done his whole career, but that's where we like him."
You mentioned DT Brandon Williams, and it did seem his pass rush in Seattle really stood out. What happened in that game where he was able to get pressure on QB Russell Wilson? (Jamison Hensley)"I think it was kind of hit in a flurry where he had two or three really good ones in a row. He just recognized it, and he made a couple really good pass rush moves. And Brandon is as good as they get, in terms of stopping the run, in terms of being a run stopper. But that's a dimension that I would like to see him improve on, and I think he can. And we needed it in a big way Sunday, and he delivered."
With DT Brandon Williams, I know a lot of what he does kind of goes overlooked because he's doing the dirty work. When he wasn't out there against Cleveland, it didn't go so well. Do you feel we're kind of seeing how valuable he is? (Garrett Downing)"I really don't want to bring up the Cleveland game. I got in my car that day and was like, 'Whoa.' _(laughter) But no, obviously, there have been times here since Brandon [Williams] has come into the league in 2014 ... You guys flash the stat all the time – we're No. 1 in run defense when he starts a game, and without Brandon we're a little bit different. Now, in that situation in that game [vs. Cleveland], we didn't have Brandon, and it was a situation where we'd love to have him. But he's a difference-maker, in terms of ... You might not see it on the stat sheet, but when him and Michael [Pierce] are in there together, sometimes it takes four blockers, and that frees up linebackers and things like that. Plus, the knockback that you're going to get with a guy like Brandon is second to none."
DT Brandon Williams gets a lot of the attention, but how valuable is DT Michael Pierce? (Jamison Hensley)"Oh, he's invaluable. There have been situations in the past where we didn't have Michael [Pierce], the same type of thing. He just does a great job playing square, playing violent on the center and does a great job demanding two blockers. And usually, when they don't [double him], he's usually making a play. So, to have two of those guys is – we're very fortunate. I know I am."
Where have you seen OLB Jaylon Ferguson grow the most since training camp? And what's the next step for him knowing that you guys are going to be relying on him a little bit more? (Luke Jones)"I think where you see the growth in Jaylon [Ferguson] – he studies the game really well. Pernell [McPhee] is right in his ear. He's always looking for extra work with myself or my assistant Drew Wilkins, who does a great job. And I think the game has slowed down for him a little bit from the standpoint that he's seeing things better, because he's honing in on his keys, playing the run well and playing with great effort. When you do that, usually good things happen. And he's a really good power rusher, and he's starting to set up his games and things of that nature. So, I think it has slowed down for him, just with getting the valuable reps that he's been able to give us."
How do you feel about the pass rush overall? I know you probably wish the sack numbers were higher, but you're getting a lot of pressure, a lot of hits. (Ryan Mink)"We never have enough. I mean, obviously, we'd like to get the quarterback down more, and we're gearing towards that. Someone gave me a stat [saying that] we lead the NFL in hits. Well, hits aren't good enough. We want to get them down. Obviously, you want to affect the quarterback. The other day we had one sack, but I thought we affected that quarterback, similar to the [Patrick] Mahomes game a year ago when we had a lot of hits, hurries, and it flustered him a little bit. Now, obviously, we'd like to get him down, and we will. We'll keep working on that, but we just have to keep working together. Sometimes it's the rush not getting there, and we have great coverage. Sometimes the rush is really good, maybe the coverage [isn't], but when we hone in on our rush and our coverage is working like it did the other day, the sacks will come. It's like a hitter. He hits a line drive off the wall, and he's not going back to the dugout all upset. The home runs will come, just like the sacks will come. As long as you keep doing the little things – getting off the ball, making your moves, powering if you're a power rusher and then making sure the rush lanes are all involved, and when you blitz, blitz; things of that nature – they'll come."
What do you tell your players on how to hit and get a quarterback down without getting a penalty? (Jamison Hensley)"We do as good a job as anybody, in terms of Coach 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] presenting that to the players, and we call it the 'strike zone,' just like a batter when a pitcher is pitching to a batter. Obviously, you never want to hit them low, and you never want to hit them above the chest. And when you do hit them, if it's within a one-step deal, tackle them and roll of them. Because now the new rule, you can't land with your body weight on them, so we're continuously trying to coach that as we go. There were some great examples in the game. Brandon [Williams] had a great hit, rolled off. Jaylon [Ferguson] there on his hit almost had the ball out. He was that much from a sack-fumble, rolled off. So, we just have to continuously do those things. But like I said, every Saturday in the team meeting, Coach 'Harbs' will show those plays throughout the league, and after that, we're coaching that."
There does seem to be a fine line and some gray area [with the quarterback hits]. How difficult is it in the heat of the moment for these players to do that? (Jamison Hensley)"[You] just can't hit them low, and then when you are within the striking distance and hit them, you have to roll off of them. But it's not easy, I can tell you that."
You mentioned that after the Browns game you were a little shell shocked. What was that week of practice like for you guys? How did the staff respond? (Aaron Kasinitz)"First of all, our head coach [John Harbaugh], he never wavers. He did a great job with team, and then Coach [Don] Martindale, our defensive coordinator, 'Wink' does a great job. He never wavered, and he said, 'We're going to be great on defense, and we're going to start with Wednesday's practice doing the little things right: tackling, gap integrity, shedding blocks, setting edges.' And then we just went back to basics, and we did those things. Obviously, it has paid off, and we'll continually do those things in practice."
Offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris mentioned just how good TE Nick Boyle is as a blocker, and people say that's it really tough for tight ends to block the best edge rushers in the game nowadays. How rare is that to have a tight end who can be as competent going against defensive ends and outside linebackers? (Jonas Shaffer)"I think 'Joe D' [Joe D'Alessandris] is exactly right. Nick [Boyle] is as good as they get, in terms of blocking, and he's athletic enough to go out and catch passes. Usually, you don't have that luxury. That's why you see a lot of extra linemen come in the game like 53 [Joey Hunt] the other day or 74 [George Fant] before Duane Brown got hurt. They put in a lot of extra offensive linemen to block at the point of attack. When I first came in the league in 2006, every team had a Nick Boyle. It just seems like they're a rare breed now. Because of college football, everything is wide receiverish – the gun and the read option and the RPO game. You don't see the ground-and-pound type of games that you do in college [anymore], and it seems like there are more hybrid-type receivers/tight ends."
Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris
Can you talk about the job that C Matt Skura is doing inside and where you've seen progress from him? (Ryan Mink)"He's just growing from when we first started. And that year in '17, he started as a center and grew. And then he had to play guard, and he got some experience at that position, and then he finished off that year. And then last year, starting center. And then this year, every game, every day, continued growth. And he's spot-on. He's a coach's voice. He's a coach's eyes. He does what he's supposed to do, and he plays hard. He's having a heck of a year, I think, in my eyes. What I see is a line coach, he's doing one hell of a job."
We talked a lot in the spring and summer about the left guard position. You guys tried lots of different guys there. And then G Bradley Bozeman, at the very end of the summer, kind of took that job and has held it to this point. How do you think he's handled that? (Luke Jones) "You know what I think? Bradley [Bozeman] has done a heck of a job, one heck of a job. I mean, you look at the people he's had to block, from Week 1 to last weekend – he had to go against Chris Jones. He had to go against [Cameron] Heyward. He's had to go against the young man that they activated last week from Alabama [Jarran Reed], his old teammate. He's had the top inside people and has done one heck of a job. I've seen nothing but good growth. He's improved as a puller. He's improved as a good pass protector. We all make mistakes – coaches, players. We all have a little flaw here or there. The object is to correct it, and he's correctable, and he works hard at it. He's doing one hell of a job."
How glad are you that G Marshal Yanda decided to come back? (Garrett Downing)"Always glad. Why not, right? Seven-time Pro Bowler, just his attitude and his energy. You see it on Sundays, how he plays, right? Guess what? I see it Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at practice. The same guy. And I see it on Sunday. He displays … He is what he is. He is one hell of a football player. Everything he's earned, he's earned it because of good old-fashioned hard work and consistency."
With G Marshal Yanda, schematically, with his dependability, what does that allow you to do with some of the other guys? (Aaron Kasinitz)"He's a great leader up front, too. He brings a lot of energy. His encouragement, his experience to help the younger guys – when they're going through in teaching modes in the classroom or on the field, of helping them adapt – because at one time, he was a rookie, young and playing and having someone helping him and tutoring him. And he's doing the same thing now. And then on gameday, he does his job like he's supposed to. His famous quote is, 'Just do your job.' And what he does? He does his job. And that's what he asks all the other guys to do. Just do your job to the best of your ability. He does it, and we expect the rest of them to do the same thing."
Could you tell pretty early when he came in that there's something maybe a little different about T Ronnie Stanley? Whether it was a little more of an edge, a little more of a focus, he seems to be pretty upfront about that. (Jeff Zrebiec) "This year?" (Reporter: "Yes.")"Oh yes. With Ronnie [Stanley], you have to remember, Ronnie came in here as a very young rookie, based on age. And this is his fourth year, and he's growing into this experience. So, the experience he's played, getting his experience to play, and understanding how this game is played, professional football, and who he's playing against – because he gets the premier rushers each week, and so does Orlando Brown. They're now … This league has changed where they're moving people, but Ronnie gets the premier rusher. And he's learned how to adapt his skills and fundamentals and growth in those areas to now block that top premier player, and he's doing a hell of a job, too. I think he's had a really good year, a nice year of growth, and continued [growth]. And right now, I always say this, 'We have the whole season to play.' We're just, right now, what, five wins, two losses? We have a lot of ball to play. There's more growth for the players, for us as coaches, for us as players. [We need to] continue to grow and develop, because we have a long season."
I know John Harbaugh has always been very proud of the strength and conditioning staff that the Ravens have had here, but it looks like the linemen themselves, some of them have reshaped their bodies in a big way. Director of sports nutrition Sarah Snyder has been a point of pride for a lot of players. What kind of a role do you think she's played in helping some of these guys? (Jonas Shaffer) "I think Sarah [Snyder] has been outstanding. What she brings … I told her, I said, 'You're the only dietician I've ever met that tells the players to continue to eat.' You've had dieticians say don't eat. No, no, even the big guys. She knows how to monitor them, and she tells them what to eat and what to specialize in. And they eat. They don't go hungry, and they look great. And Steve [Saunders, head strength and conditioning coach] and his staff are doing a fantastic job with the strength program and helping us sustain our strength, and even grow with strength with the young guys. So, our hat is off to those [two], both of them. They're doing a marvelous job for us."
Do you look at TE Nick Boyle as essentially a sixth offensive lineman? (Ryan Mink) "I always kid him all the time; he's a glorified guard just playing tight end. He is a good football player, and tough and physical and dependable, all of the above, accountable. He's a good pro."
How rewarding was the fourth-down play on Sunday? John Harbaugh talked about it with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, as far as running quarterback power there and wanting to save that for the right moment the way that you guys were able to block for QB Lamar Jackson. (Luke Jones)"You know, it just came at the right time. John [Harbaugh] asked Lamar [Jackson]. Lamar was so enthusiastic to get it run. I think he asked Marshal [Yanda], and I think he echoed it. And then when we hit the field, those guys were all determined to make it work, and they did. And that's a credit to them, because they're the ones that are playing. This is a player's game. They're playing, and they love playing together. So, great for the Ravens, great for our offense, and well-executed."
A lot has been made about QB Lamar Jackson's off-script ability and how he can get out of the pocket. What are some of the things that you have to teach? (Andrew Gillis)"Lamar [Jackson] is just a fantastic, as you all see, a fantastic athlete. He can do things with his feet. He can do things with his arm. He's so nifty and elusive. For us, [we have to] block. The play starts on the snap, and it ends on the whistle. So, block until that time, and that's what we try to teach them to do, is finish the play. We don't know where Lamar is going to be. We have a good idea, but if he's elusive enough to move, sustain your block, and let things happen. So, I think that has worked out pretty good for us so far."
How do the offensive linemen handle that, in terms of not getting upfield too far? There have been a couple of penalties, because it's hard to know, is he running, is he not? What do you tell the guys, in terms of how they have to keep their discipline? (Ryan Mink) "I think they just play the play. And if they're ever in that situation, when they feel a breeze going by them, they say, 'Hey, let's go. We better follow that breeze.' (laughter)But he's such a positive young man, and so coachable, Lamar [Jackson]. His demeanor, how he carries himself, how he addresses the offense – nothing but plusses from him, from my standpoint as an offensive line coach."
Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt
What was the last week like getting CB Marcus Peters up to speed, and then to see him play the way he did, how did he do? (Luke Jones) "The guy's first game in a Raven uniform, [he] gets a pick-six. So, I say it was a good day. But as far as getting him prepared, Marcus [Peters] is a really, really smart guy. A lot of the coverages that we used, he's done before. So, it wasn't really that hard getting him prepared, especially when you're playing corner. You're playing Cover 1. You're playing some Cover 3. You're playing some Fire Zone, a little Cover 2, a little Cover 6. So, he knew all of those things. It was just about how we're playing them, and like I said, he did a great job."
CB Marcus Peters needs to pick up the terminology, that's the big thing. How do you, as a position coach, help him do that? Is there extra study? Is there like a pop quiz or something? (Aaron Kasinitz)"There aren't any pop quizzes. You just spend the extra time with him – really just putting everything into a category and using some kind of word association from any previous defenses that he's played, and put it into those categories. And it was really easy to get him up to speed. So, it was just about repetition on the field. 'Hey, what was that one again, Coach? Which one was that one again, Coach? What am I playing here?' And he was fine."
With CB Jimmy Smith being out since Week 1, guys like CB Anthony Averett and CB Maurice Canady had to step up. What have you seen from those guys, and how have they been with it? (Daniel Oyefusi)"I said it in the beginning of training camp. We had a lot of depth going into it, and those guys, at some point, they were going to have to step up and play football for us. And losing the amount of guys that we had … Tavon [Young] with the early injury, that really put a damper on things. Having to field a new nickel, and then Jimmy [Smith] going down, [we] have to field another corner. But we had the depth to [brave] the storm, so to speak, to get us through. So, Anthony [Averett] and Maurice [Canady], they did a great job. We'd like to have guys like Jimmy in the fold, but again, those guys did a great job just stepping in and being able to hold down the fort for us for a little while until those guys got back in the game."
You mentioned CB Marcus Peters. What kind of versatility can he give you guys in the back end, in terms of depth and things like that? (Andrew Gillis) "Picks, picks, picks, more picks. (laughter) But again, him being a guy that's really smart and having all the guys that we have, from a Brandon Carr to a Marlon [Humphrey], Jimmy [Smith], those four corners, 'Double-A' and even Maurice [Canady] – 'Double-A' meaning Anthony Averett – those guys, they're all flexible. And all of those guys can play different roles for us. I can plug those guys in at safety. I could plug them in at nickel. That's the way that all of those guys have been trained. You've seen in the last two weeks; Marlon [Humphrey] has been playing nickel for me. So, I'm not ready to do that with Marcus [Peters], yet, but those things will come."
John Harbaugh said yesterday that CB Marcus Peters came up to him and said, "Hey, I want to be coached. I want to be coached hard." When you look at him, obviously, as a young player, he's accomplished a lot, but do you still see a player that can get better from here with some coaching and tweaking in these areas? (Ryan Mink)"I'm sure what 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] is trying to say is any great player wants to be coached. There's not a player out there that just goes on the field and just does what he does and doesn't want to be coached. You have to hold them to a standard, and when they're doing things wrong, you have to be able to hold them accountable. And he's one of those guys that he wants you to hold him accountable. He wants you, if he's doing something wrong, he wants to know what he's doing wrong so that he can correct it. So, like I said, great players, they want to be coached. That is, I guess, what he's alluding to: 'Hey, coach me, because I want to be that Pro-Bowl-caliber corner.'"
You mentioned CB Brandon Carr earlier. How important has it been to have a guy like that, considering the injuries and his versatility and experience, to have a guy like that, that no matter what goes on around him, it seems like he can just go?_ (Cliff Brown)_"Brandon [Carr] is cool as a fan. Anything that you throw at him – 'Hey, Brandon, I need you to play safety.' 'Cool.' 'I need you to play nickel.' 'Cool.' He can handle all of those positions. And what is this, Year 13, for Brandon, I believe? Thirteen years in the league, there's not too much that he hasn't seen and hasn't been able to handle. You said it. Having Brandon Carr, that's huge for us."
Does that give you flexibility, now that you're getting CB Jimmy Smith back? I'm sure you want to figure out ways to get him and CB Marcus Peters and CB Marlon Humphrey and CB Brandon Carr all on the field at the same time. (Garrett Downing) "Right. In the NFL, it's all about matchups and how you use your tools or the fire power that you have. And being able to get the guys on the right person, and being able to match those guys up against a particular wide receiver, where we have to take this guy out of the game, or a particular tight end that's giving us trouble … Having all of those guys and having big corners, and having guys with great quickness, it's all about just being able to match those guys up and put them in the right situations so they can make plays. It's all about having corners, safeties, having versatility to be able to go out and go take guys out of the game."
CB Marlon Humphrey's physical skills and talents have been well-documented, but do you feel like the mental side of it, the preparation side, just being engaged 100 percent of the time, whether it's practice, meetings or games, is that where you've seen the biggest strides?_ (Jeff Zrebiec)_"That's been going on for the last two years. Coming in as a rookie, I didn't put a whole bunch of high expectations on him, as far as learning the defense – not saying not learning the defense, but putting a whole lot of pressure [on him] and putting him in positions where he couldn't flourish. So, him being in Year Two, Year Three, he's heard the defense over and over and over again. So now, he can categorize everything. He knows what a safety is supposed to be doing. He knows what the nickel is supposed to do. So, I can move him around, and as far as his growth is concerned, he knows the defense, and he knows what people are supposed to do. He knows what the end is supposed to do. He knows who's supposed to be dropping. So, that gives him the versatility, as far as knowing what he's supposed to do within a game, and he can make those adjustments throughout the game. He has made that great jump from Year One to Year Two and now Year Three; he knows it now. He knows what's happening."
Do you think CB Marlon Humphrey is playing at a Pro Bowl level? (Garrett Downing)"Absolutely. Absolutely. Week-in and week-out, whoever we're playing, Marlon [Humphrey], that's your guy. He's matching up against all the best wide receivers in the league, and I think he's done a pretty damn good job."
I know we're talking mostly about corners, but how would you describe what S Chuck Clark has meant to the defense as a whole these past two weeks? (Aaron Kasinitz)"Chuck [Clark] is one of those guys that, he's not going to waver. I don't care what you throw at him, he knows exactly what to do, and he's going to be able to line everybody up on the defense. He doesn't just know his job. He knows everybody else's job. And he gives you … He's one of those guys that, you put him in there, boom, he knows what he's doing. You put him at dime … I could put him at end, and he'll know what to do. And he's just cool. You don't have to [worry]. He's not going to get too high; he's never going to get too low. He handles all the ups and downs throughout the game. He never wavers, and he's a really good football player."
With how well the secondary has played the last couple of weeks, do you think there was a stretch where, and I forget John Harbaugh's exact wording, but he basically alluded, "We just need to do our role." Do you think there was a stretch where people were almost trying to do too much and that was causing some problems? Everyone kind of called it communication problems, but was it? (Jeff Zrebiec)"I wouldn't say it's so much communication issues. The reality of it is, going throughout the season, no championship team is built in three games. So, those guys are learning how to play with each other – the chemistry. A lot of times, it's all about, especially on the back end, just being able to play off each other and see the routes the way [they unfold]. If me and you were out there playing, we're seeing it the same way, so we know how to react. And if you're not on the same page, big plays happen. You've seen that in the first couple of games. We had a couple of big plays, because we just weren't on the same page. But we're building. We're trying to get better every week. New parts, new people – that's just part of the deal. But we're growing as a defense, and we're just trying to play solid football. That's all we're trying to do, is just get better every game. Hopefully, we'll be in that championship round. We're just trying to get to the tournament."
Has S Earl Thomas III settling in been big for the defense? (Jeff Zrebiec) "There was a lot of talk out there, like he's been making mistakes or whatever. But the first seven games now, seven games into it, he hasn't busted any coverages. When he talks about his comfort level, it's just about him being able to go out there and play free. But he hasn't busted any coverages. He's playing good football."
It was kind of a lost preseason for CB Iman Marshall. I know he's been on the mend, but is there anything you can say about where he is and maybe what the team's plans for him are this season? (Jonas Shaffer) "I don't know. He hasn't been on the field. When he gets activated, we'll see what he can do. But right now, all I can do is coach the guys that I have. And when he gets back, we'll see where Iman [Marshall] is."
Linebackers Coach Mike Macdonald
How much has ILB Josh Bynes sort of stabilized things for you, just his veteran presence and his knowledge of the defense? (Jeff Zrebiec)"He's stabilized things awesomely. He's walked in and he's known the defense. Shoot, he learned the defense, or re-learned it, I guess, because it's similar to a couple of systems that he's had in the past. He came in Wednesday and just knocked it out of the park. He put in a ton of work. And we lined up on Wednesday, and he was running the defense from the first play. So, the communication that he has and the confidence he has in the calls, as you get lines up, that's a big comfort for everybody else on the field, not just the linebackers."
How tough of a challenge has it been, when you have two guys, with ILB Josh Bynes and ILB L.J. Fort playing a ton of snaps this past weekend, that weren't with the team at all, two completely different starters, to get them at a starter's level? How big a challenge has that been? (Ryan Mink) "That's just a testament to them. A guy like L.J. [Fort], he's been in the league for quite a while now, and he's finally getting a good shot to go out there and show what he can do. When we looked at him in the offseason, we were obviously really interested in him. And he's had great tape out there. So, finally, it's just about getting an opportunity for him. And then you look at Josh [Bynes], his tape last year was great, too. So, they're both good players. They're finally getting a chance to show what they can do. They're pros. They go about their business. It's all ball all the time. Shoot, we could sit in there and talk football 24 hours a day, and they would stand there, and they'd love it. So, [it is a] testament to those guys and the work they put in."
How much are you looking forward to getting ILB Patrick Onwuasor back and having that three-man rotation that you guys used quite a bit last year with success? Different guys, of course. (Luke Jones)"I'm very much looking forward to it. 'Peanut' [Patrick Onwuasor] played a great game against Pittsburgh. Shoot, he played half the game with a high ankle sprain, and overtime, so that's a testament to him toughing through that game, because we needed him with the helmet with all the injuries that we're going through. Those are three good players, and I'm excited to see what 'Peanut' is doing now that he's fully healthy. And like you said, three-man rotation. You have Josh [Bynes] with about 50-something plays, plus special teams, this last game. That was probably a little high for him. You're really looking for those first … The first two games where he played were about 30-40 plays, is the sweet spot with him. And L.J. [Fort], too, with him and 'Peanut' having to take more of a special teams role with what's happened with the secondary – those guys, if you have a three-man role and you're playing fast, I think we're in the right spot."
Do you think ILB Patrick Onwuasor projects better as the weakside linebacker than the kind of ups and downs he had at that middle linebacker spot to start the season? (Jonas Shaffer)"Yes, I think he's just more natural at the dime spot. Let's call it the dime – dime or WILL, whatever you want to call it. What happens is, when you're over there, you're a little bit more on the edge of the defense. There's a little bit more blitzing to be involved in. He's a great blitzer. So, you're really asking him to do the things that he's naturally really gifted at doing, using his length, that sort of thing. So, yes, I'd say dime is more of his natural spot, and you can see it in his production."
All throughout training camp, we saw LB Chris Board running with the "ones." What happened in his situation? Was it the case that he had the couple injuries late in camp and that kind of set him back? How would you explain what he has to do to play more, and what happened there? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I wouldn't say anything happened in particular. Like what you said, the injury kind of set him back. And if you go back in time, that was really going into the Philly practice, when he got hurt. So, he missed those practices. And those were great experiences for guys like Otaro [Alaka] and the young guys to really get a good, live experience against another team going against their 'ones.' He didn't get that. So, that probably set him back just a little bit. He's practicing great, honestly, but he just has to keep doing it, keep doing it, and then the opportunities [will come]. We talk about it every week. Just look at what happened the last four weeks in our room, how things have changed. So, we talk about that every week: 'Look guys, every week is different. Keep practicing well, and your opportunity will come.'"
Quarterbacks Coach James Urban
Where have you seen QB Lamar Jackson make his biggest strides? I know it's a lot, but if you're trying to identify where he's really improved the most, what would you point to? (Ryan Mink)"I would say, just everything. I've been around a couple players from the first year to the second year, and he's improved in just about every area that you can quantify – everything from game management, to operating the offense, to mechanics, to quarterback-driven reads. I would say he's doing what a second-year player should do."
Do you find that either you guys are going to him more for his opinion, or he's giving his opinion more as he gets more comfortable in the offense? (Aaron Kasinitz)"I think that happens naturally. The more comfortable he becomes, the more comfortable we are with his input. Of course, we always want his input, but there is growth there with the ability. The first step, and it's certainly one that a lot of guys go through, is, 'OK, I don't like this play.' And then the next step is, 'I really like this play.' So, knowing what they don't like comes first, and then now, there's all this growth into what he wants to get called."
How pleased have you been with how he handles things when it's not going well, whether it's a drop, a penalty at the wrong time, delay of game like we saw on Sunday – I guess that maturation, as far as handling things when they aren't going according to plan? (Luke Jones) "He's pretty resilient that way. He's very focused on one thing, and that is winning this football game – 'this' meaning whatever game we're playing that time. He's very, very competitive that way. So, he has this ability that he's shown to blink and move on to the next one. And when we make a mistake on the sideline, it's admit it, correct it, and move on quickly to what's coming next. And he's been really good with that."
QB Lamar Jackson's game management as a second-year quarterback, is it beyond what you typically see from a guy this early in his career? How has he improved in terms of managing the game? (Ryan Mink)"I don't know how to answer beyond what I expect. He's astutely aware of the game situation almost always. He knows when it's third down and what we need to gain. He knows when it's four-minute drill and we're going to stay in bounds. He knows when it's two-minute drill and how many timeouts we have left. He prides himself on game management, and he's done well so far."
QB Lamar Jackson causes defenses a lot of stress when he breaks the pocket. As a quarterback coach, how can you help him develop when things break down, and how much is it just his natural ability taking over? (Jamison Hensley) "There are certainly parameters. We talk about when the play breaks down, ball security, and then making good decisions running the ball to avoid some collisions and those kinds of things. But most of my time with him is from snap to throw, so I tell him to go through our progression. We work on our mechanics, our decision-making, accuracy, timing. And then when the play breaks down, your great natural ability takes over. That's sort of how we've approached it. And we always want to run the play. We want to try to run the play and find completions, and he's been diligent with that and worked hard at it. But when something happens or he has to create, go create and do it the way you've always done it."
You mentioned mechanics. How consistent has QB Lamar Jackson been in that area after so much attention was being made of kind of building them up and getting them correct? (Jeff Zrebiec) "We work at it daily. I know you guys see us. We work at it daily. It's one of those things that, I tell him, 'Professional golfers go to the range every day for a reason. Professional baseball players go to the batting cage every day for a reason. So, we're going to work on mechanics every day for a reason.' He's been good. There's always room for improvement. There's always room for consistency, and that's where we're striving. He may be in 15 years, and we'll still be striving for consistency and perfection. But he's working diligently at it." (Reporter: "Is it a case of muscle memory? And bullets go live, and he gets in a situation, and you have to kind of always be on him and make sure he doesn't revert back to what he's done a lot in the past?") "It is muscle memory, and that's what you're working on so that when you can drop back and throw when the pocket is clean, and when you see his pass skelly [pass skeleton] in practice, then we have to be able to groove and throw it on time and in rhythm and accurately. When the play breaks down, and there's the occasion when he throws a little sidearm or his feet aren't quite right, don't take that away from him. I don't want to coach him out of the ability to make those gut plays that he makes, like on the checkdown to Nick Boyle the other day, where he had to get it out and went for 20 yards. I certainly don't want to see him worry about his technique and mechanics at that point. But we're always striving to be able to hit the fastball when the fastball is thrown to us. That means throw it on time and in rhythm with great mechanics so we can be accurate when the pocket is clean and the route is on time."
QB Lamar Jackson has been able to avoid any big hits. Are you pleased with the way that he's protected himself in all situations? (Garrett Downing) "I'm pleased that he's been able to avoid the big hits, of course. Listen, he has a unique ability. Within that, we talk about getting all you can get, and then get down or get out. And you see him routinely trying to get outside, and we're trying to do those sorts of things to avoid some of those hits. But for the most part, I would say that it's him sticking to our gameplan and how we talk about things."
How challenging is it, the number of different looks QB Lamar Jackson is getting? Everyone is now trying to figure out the way to go about it. There was talk that the Chargers had the gameplan last year in the playoffs. You seem to be seeing something different every week. How much do you think that has challenged him and helped him grow?_ (Jeff Zrebiec)_ "The defensive coaches in this league amaze me. This league, it's real, man, so we're seeing real looks. And that's not going to change. It wouldn't change if you had a more traditional quarterback. It's always new. When you're a second-year quarterback in your first year of full-time starting, you're going to see new looks. You're going to see different coverages, different disguises, different blitzes. So, we just prepare as best we can. And then in the game, [we have] lots of discussion on the sideline of what we're seeing relative to what we anticipate and what they're doing, and then try to live in this mantra of, 'OK, we know our plays and we know what the progression is in plays. They can only have 11 guys over there. How are they using their 11 guys?' And [we] try to keep it in simple. It's football."
Not to embarrass you, but after the big win over Miami, the team put out a video of QB Lamar Jackson getting the game ball. In the background, you can kind of see you getting maybe a little bit emotional. Was that a particularly rewarding day for you? (Jonas Shaffer) "It was. And not for me, for him [Lamar Jackson]. That was a neat moment. He could play another 20 years and never be at home, relatively speaking, South Florida, and have a day like that in front of friends and family, perfect quarterback rating and all of those things. It was very cool for him, and I was very proud of him and happy for him. And in that moment, I was a little reflective, yes."
A little bit of a specific question, but it seems like you guys are going empty backfield a lot of times on third down. Is there something about QB Lamar Jackson that makes that especially dangerous?_ (Aaron Kasinitz)_ "No, I don't think … I would imagine that we're probably doing it just about as much as everybody else in this league. That's a common theme. There's no one particular reason."
We all see the plays that QB Lamar Jackson makes, obviously, but can you talk a little bit about the guy he is behind the scenes, in the classroom, at practice, and what you see from him in that regard? (Ryan Mink) "I think what you see is what you get with Lamar [Jackson]. When you guys see him interacting with the players, when you see him with the microphones in his face, he's a real guy. That's why there's this great appeal towards him and this attraction to him. People are drawn to him because he is who he is, and he doesn't make many qualms about it. [He is] a very real person. He's intense. He's competitive. I know you guys have heard all the anecdotes. He knows just about everybody in this building [by] name and calls them by their name, and their kids' names. He's impressive that way."
Not to change the subject, but we don't get a chance to see him much in practice. How is QB Trace McSorley progressing, and what have you kind of seen from him lately since the end of the preseason? (Jeff Zrebiec)"Trace [McSorley] is doing great. He's working hard. You guys know how I do it. We stay after on Wednesday and Thursday and get on the [throwing target] net, and he's really working hard. We get him some of the scout team reps with Robert [Griffin III]. So, [we] get Robert the majority of them, but Trace gets reps in there as well. I'm really pleased with his grasp on the offense. He's a diligent notetaker. He's involved. He's engaged. And all along, he's doing all of the special teams stuff, as well. So, I couldn't be happier with how Trace is progressing right now."