Transcripts: John Harbaugh Monday Press Conference

JOHN HARBAUGH MONDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

Opening statement: “Great to see everybody. I appreciate you being here. You may notice the [shirt I am wearing]. I see smiles. It is Veterans Day. Happy Veterans Day. I was given this. I believe this is Nike. It’s for the Salute to Service game, and they wanted me to wear it during the game. I said, ‘It’s going to be way too cold. (laughter) So, we’ll wear it during the press conference! How’s that?’ And it’s a way of honoring the military and letting them know how much we appreciate them. So, the [Cincinnati] game, obviously, was a good win. We talked about it last night. The players and coaches did a great job with the prep. Players showed up and made plays and played really, really hard, and that’s why the game was won. You can talk about any individual player you want. As a team, we played really hard, and we fought and won the game in convincing fashion. Now, we’re on to the next game.”

Do you have any more information on DT Michael Pierce’s injury and whether you’ll be without him for any amount of time? (Childs Walker) “I would say he’s day-to-day right now. Nothing serious, it won’t be a long-term injury, which is good news, based on the MRI today. There is a chance he’ll play on Sunday. We’ll just have to see how he does.”

When you go back and start looking at the last bunch of games, it seems like you’ve scored on eight of nine opening drives this year. Six have been touchdowns. The way you have gotten off to these starts and setting the tone, how big has that been for this team? Sometimes in the past, you’ve settled for the field goals, but a lot of times you guys are just converting the touchdowns. (Jerry Coleman) “[It is] really important. We talk about starting sharp. We want to be on point. We want to be focused. It’s both sides of the ball. Obviously, anytime you can get the lead, that’s an advantage. We want to get the lead. We want to keep the lead and extend the lead, if we can. So, I really think our guys have done a good job of that. It kind of goes [back to] what I said before, with the guys and the preparation, being on point and coming out and being ready to play. That’s really important.”

You have a tough schedule coming up, but it doesn’t seem like the guys care who they’re playing. They prepare as if – I know it’s a one-week-at-a-time sort of thing – it doesn’t matter. They’re probably not looking ahead to the Rams and 49ers. It’s Houston. It just seems like they prepare well for each game. (Dave Ginsburg) “Right. I agree with that. They’ve taken that mindset from the first preseason game and had 100-percent focus on the task at hand – what’s important now. They’ve done that really well, and that’s what … You just appreciate that about them. They keep it simple, focused and time on task for what’s in front of them. [They’re] not looking left, not looking right. [They’re looking] straight ahead at the challenge in front of them.”

Obviously, with DT Michael Pierce being out most of yesterday’s game, it was a big workload for DT Brandon Williams. How did he handle that, and in turn, the young guys like DT Zach Sieler who had to play more than they ever have? (Luke Jones)“Brandon [Williams] was the guy. Zach [Sieler] fought in there and got better as the game went on. He played well in the second half. ‘Worm’ [Chris Wormley] fought through there and had a lot of good plays. And like anything, [there were] probably plays he’d want to have back, too, and improve upon. But Brandon was a force. Brandon kind of took it upon himself to get that run stopped, especially in the second half. He played a lot of plays, played super hard, very physical in there. We needed him to, and he did a great job with it.”

The last three games or so, has this been one of the best stretches you’ve seen from DT Brandon Williams in the entire time you’ve had him? (Childs Walker) “I don’t remember. It’s been a long time that he’s been here, so he’s had a lot of great stretches. This is just another one of them, I guess. To me, he’s a consistently really good player. He’s one of the top players. He’s one of the top defensive tackles in football. I know how important he is to our team and to our defense. He’s a really, really valuable guy, and he proved it again this game. And like you said, for this stretch of games, absolutely.”

What did you see from DT Zach Sieler? He was close to getting QB Ryan Finley twice yesterday. Maybe over-aggressiveness, or what? (Jerry Coleman) “He just has to get them. I don’t know. It’s tough. The quarterback is moving around back there. You’re a 300-pound guy. I don’t know what it’s like to be a 300-pound guy chasing a quarterback, but he’ll get them. He’ll get his share. He plays really hard. It’ll pay off for him.”

With the “Heisman Package” as a lot of people are calling it, has that been in the works for a while now? Does it allow you to have, if you do end up using it again, a lot of different other variations that can play off of that, as well? (Jamison Hensley)“There are 11 guys out there. It’s not a play that is new. It’s an option play off of a split backfield gun set, so it’s a play, and Robert [Griffin III] just played the spot there that was the pitch man. But it is something that we practiced recently. It had been talked about for a while. Guys like to have fun. And one thing we have is we have a lot of athletes. He’s an athlete who can really throw the ball. He’s a quarterback. So, why wouldn’t we have stuff like that up if we can? Sometimes you might say, ‘Why not throw the pass first?’ I did ask that question. (laughter) But they’ll be looking for that, and maybe something else will come off of it. So, we’ll see.”

Is winning a Heisman the requirement of being a part of that package? (Jerry Coleman) “For the ‘Heisman Package,’ it is, actually, yes.” (laughter)

You talked a little bit about TE Nick Boyle, not only what he’s doing on the field, but kind of starting last year, he had to be a leader in the tight end group with two young guys who are talented but are young. And he’s not an old player. It seems like he’s taken that role pretty well. (Cliff Brown) “Excellent. He has been a leader. He’s not a young guy anymore. Nick [Boyle] has been here for what, five years? And [he’s] been through a lot, a lot of experience. He’s always been an excellent player, and he only gets better. It’s good that everybody is kind of seeing it now. He’s getting, probably, more opportunities now than he has in the past, and he’s improved also. But he’s kind of the ringleader of those three guys – really, four guys, because Pat [Ricard] is in that group – in that room most of the time. Those guys just … They’re tight. They have a great relationship. A triple-braided cord is not easily broken. And that’s one of our triple-braided cords right there, those guys. So, we appreciate it.”

It seems like they’re just having a ton of fun out there. You had the sunglasses moment at the end of the game yesterday. Have you seen this to be a group that seems like they’re just – they’re obviously playing well, but also just having a lot of fun? (Garrett Downing) “Yes, they do. They’re very focused, very serious guys. They appreciate a free pair of sunglasses just like the next guy.(laughter)I don’t even know where those came from. Who had the sunglasses on the sideline? But it’s been that way for a while, not just this year. It dates back to last year. We had the same kind of feeling last year with these guys, and they just continue to get closer. No matter what good thing or triumph or disaster strikes, they treat those two imposters just the same.”

We've all seen the conversation you had with QB Lamar Jackson yesterday on the sideline near the end of the game. (Ken Weinman) “Yes, I was kind of curious about how that got out. There are microphones everywhere apparently. Who's wearing a wire? You never know. It wasn't Lamar [Jackson] or me, just for the record.” (Reporter: “Do you allow yourself – you've got a lot going on during the game – to get wowed by some of the things he does? And how impressed are you with how far he's come from last year to now?”)“He's playing really great, and not to say that he can't play better. He'll be the first one to say – between him and [quarterbacks coach] James Urban – will be the first ones to say that, ‘These are the things that we need to improve upon from week to week,’ and that's really the message. When you go to work, you build on the good things and improve on the things that need to be improved on. You're going to get better, if you work at it, [by] one percent. That's all you really have to do. It’s hard to get better at anything. Bo Schembechler used to say, ‘You're either getting better, or you're getting worse. You never stay the same.’ And he is all in for getting better, and that's all he thinks about. And it takes everything to get one percent better, so that's it, really. And then, you see him go out there, and you see it pay off as a coach. Yes, you're fired up about that. You're excited about it, and sometimes you're amazed by it with any player. So, yes, the answer is ‘yes.’ That's a long ‘yes.’” 

Specifically, what you said about kids wearing his [QB Lamar Jackson's] jersey – is it rare for you to have a thought like that during the game? You're usually so locked in on the details of what you're doing. (Childs Walker)“I have a lot of deep thoughts all the time, man. (laughter) I just always have [those] deep thoughts going.” (laughter)(Reporter: “There's always that wavelength going?”)“I don't know. I don't know what I think about sometimes.(laughter) But no, it was pretty cool. It really was a neat stadium, though. There were a lot of 8s out there in the stands. There were a lot of purple 8s, and there were a lot of red [Louisville] 8s, too, which is pretty cool. I think we had half the city of Louisville in the stadium, it seemed like, which is cool.”

Everyone is talking about that [QB Lamar Jackson rushing TD] play. You referenced it yesterday. When you watch it on film, is it still just as good as it was when you watched it in person? (Jamison Hensley)“Yes. Yes, it's pretty good. And you had guys down there blocking. That's how I look at it – the protection, the guys blocking or the way it was [blocked]. It was just a heck of a run. It's the National Football League, and he made a great play. In all honesty, it's something that will be watched for many years to come, which is neat, and you feel really privileged to be a part of something like that. But by the same token, you have to put it in perspective. It's a play in the game, and we have another game coming up against Houston. Houston is watching the play, and they're figuring out how they can stop all those kind of plays – not just Lamar [Jackson], but our whole team. So, that's all you really ... You do take a minute maybe, and you look back at the highlight. And you watch the tape, and you grade the tape. And then all eyes go to the next challenge.” 

You guys have played QB Patrick Mahomes this year. Obviously, you faced QB Russell Wilson. What sort of challenges does QB Deshaun Watson bring? And how well have you seen him play this year? (Jeff Zrebiec) “[There is] no greater challenge than Deshaun Watson. [He is] right at the top. He's throwing the ball extremely well. He has tremendous poise in the pocket. He's seeing the field, and he's really hard to get down. He's really hard to get down. I don't know. You're not allowed to land on him. You're not allowed to hit him high. You're not allowed hit him low. You have to hit him at about that much space, and then you have to get Deshaun Watson on the ground. He's strong, and he's elusive. So, it just all plays into it. We're going to have to do a great job of the way we rush the quarterback, a great job of how we cover their really good receivers. It's just a big challenge with their offense. They run the ball well. They have a heck of a back [in RB Carlos Hyde]. He's breaking tackles and running that wide-zone, stretch-zone play about as well as you can run it, so that's what we'll be facing.”

You and the Texans have kind of accommodated or overhauled your offenses to bring out the best in your quarterbacks. When you, as a staff, commit to that, are there any sacrifices that you and the coaches have to make to kind of bring the best out of a young quarterback?*_(Daniel Oyefusi)_* “Sacrifices? I never thought of it like that. I don't know. I don't think so. It's just a commitment and being willing to look at all the options. To me, it's exciting. I'm excited about it. I was excited about it from the get-go. It's an opportunity to run some stuff that you wouldn't normally have an opportunity to run, because you wouldn't have a quarterback that would fit that, those kinds of plays. It's not like ... I don't think we've ... If by ‘sacrifice’ you mean, ‘Have we had to limit other parts of other types of offense?’ I really don't think so. We run dropback passes of every type. We run play-action passes of every type. We run basic downhill runs of every type. I really don't think we've sacrificed anything to go the direction that we've gone.”

Playing off that, do you think you allow yourself to say at any point, “Hey, this isn't working. This isn't how we planned it?” And I realize [there are] games left, but at this point, it seems like it's pretty much going to plan, this offense, this multifaceted offense. (David Ginsburg)“Yes, you do. We're happy that we're having success with it. It's gotten us to this point with where we are with our record, but we also understand that it's just to this point and that there's a lot of football left to be played. And in this league, things turn quickly. So, we don't think we've been as good as we need to be, to try to answer your question. Do you look back and say, ‘It's working.’? Yes. It's done good things, but we also look and say, ‘Here's where we're missing the mark, and here's where we need to improve.’ That is, really, as a coach, kind of what you do more than the other side.”

Two questions: Your impressions of WR/RS De'Anthony Thomas as a return man [in his] first week? And also, given the depth, again, of special teams, I'm wondering about CB Iman Marshall. Is this the week he would have to come off IR? Could he contribute on special teams? (Bo Smolka) “Yes, that'd be a possibility. That's something we're discussing now. This would be the week for him to come up. We plan on bringing him up. So, whether he's active or not just kind of depends on how the roster shakes out. He has practiced well. He looks healthy, and hopefully he can contribute to us. I do agree with you. That's an area that could use some bolstering, personnel-wise, so that's one option for us.”

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