I wanted to ask you what's your sense of optimism about how this training camp is going to go within a month given the COVID-19? Are you still very confident that we're going to have a season that starts on time? (David Ginsburg) "Nobody can predict the future. That's in God's hands. It's all to be determined. I'm confident that it'll happen. I know I'm very hopeful. I'm praying for it. I want it to happen, and I think it will happen; I believe it will happen. I think we will have protocols in place, and the testing is the main thing – that seems to be the biggest piece and the most important piece right now to making sure that we don't have a spread in the building, those kinds of things. But we'll trust the higher powers on that one."
How much do you think you'll have to alter, I guess, training camp without having OTAs and practices during the offseason, as far as avoiding injuries and kind of easing the guys back in – getting them into football shape? (Todd Karpovich) "That'll be a part of it. I think the league will, probably, put in some protocols and put a schedule in place that everybody will have to follow to ramp up towards the contact part of it. Exactly what those will be, we're waiting to see, and we'll just see what the deal is. But we just have to be smart about it. As coaches, we take it very seriously to prepare our team as best we can, with at the same time, staying as healthy as we can, because both of those aspects are very important."
How do you describe this offseason compared to the other seasons as a coach? (Ximena Lugo Latorre) "It's completely different than other seasons. We haven't … It's all been virtual. None of it has been with the players in the building for the offseason program. So again, it's like none other that we've had since I've been the National Football League. So, very different, yes."
As you see some of the other teams – you see the Cowboys had some players test positive, Tampa Bay Buccaneers test positive. Are you seeing that happening? It's one thing to talk about theoretically, but then to actually see that taking place, has that made you reassess, reevaluate, change anything you weren't doing going forward with the team? (Pete Gilbert) "No, it hasn't. It hasn't affected our thinking at all. It's a part of it right now. It's not a surprise."
Have you had a chance to review every … I know what you said about the social distancing and all of that, how it may be difficult, but do you feel like you're kind of fortunate in the fact that you're in one of the top facilities in the NFL? You guys just got renovated just before [COVID-19] hit, too. (Jerry Coleman) "Definitely, no doubt. What I was saying wasn't controversial. It's an obvious, clear thing. People are going to interact with one another. It's the nature of sports, it's the nature of life. People are still interacting with one another in the world, as well. I'm not one, personally, to run scared from a virus, or anything else. I'm just not going to do it, personally, in my own life. Although, I'll be smart, and I'll do what you'll ask and respect the protocols. We'll do everything we can to respect the protocols – and more. Like you said, we have a great building. We have, probably, the best building in the league. There's no building … Maybe, it's the Cowboys … Ours is the same size. We have plenty of space. We have broadened meeting room space, we have a huge locker room, a huge weight room, and we have lots of rooms to spread out into. We're going to be in better shape, really, than any other team in the league – as good as any other team – I'll say that at least, as good as any other team in the league with what we do. So, I'm not worried about it. Beyond that, it ends up being out of your control. Put it in the hands of God, and that's where we stand it with it."
I was wondering if you saw QB Lamar Jackson's sentiment expressed last week that the Ravens may have taken the Titans lightly? Your thoughts on that? (Kirk McEwen) "Lamar [Jackson] said it. So, I respect his opinion on it, and if he views it that way, that's how he views it. I don't think it's really … That doesn't bother me." (Reporter: "Does any of that fall to you, do you think?") "No, I don't think so. I don't think we took them lightly, personally. I think we just didn't play well. You want to go back and look at all that stuff. I don't know, rehash if we can. But we're going to try to be a better team in that circumstance at the end of the season, just like we try to become a better team throughout the season, and we were very successful with that. So, I'm not getting into all of that."
You talk so much about the challenges of the offseason program being so different. What did you like about it? Was there anything that surprised you that you might even take going forward with how you prepare your team and your coaches? (Luke Jones) "The virtual stuff has been an interesting challenge and kind of a blessing in the sense that you have to really look at how you teach, how you put the system together, how we're going to organize practices in a shorter timeframe. [We] try to be more efficient than ever; we've always tried to do that. The communication over the virtual setup – just like us, it demands some real efficiency in the way you say things, the way you put together your presentations, the video that you watch, the drawings, those kinds of things. That's probably helped us just become better at what we do."
As far as the conditioning test, how has that been going handling that virtually? I don't think we've ever asked you that specific system of the conditioning test, where did you get that from? Or is that something that you just talked to somebody and came up [with] just on your own? (Jamison Hensley) "That was a test that was around back when I was hired here. Some different teams – I don't know exactly who had it or where it came from – but we looked at all different kinds of tests and different versions of tests to try to find, basically, a recovery test that we could apply as much as we could to football. You can't relate it exactly to football, because football is 60-minute gameplay over three-and-a-half hours, a lot of stop, start, change of direction, recovery. There's a baseline element to it of conditioning, a strength element to it. There's also a coverage during a series when you have to go six or seven seconds hard. You get a little time off, and you're right back at it going hard again in a 100-percent, explosive kind of a way. But what we try to do is mimic the idea that lactic acid builds up when you train, and the ability to move that lactic acid through your body and get it out of there, out of your muscles so you can, basically, recover and go again – that's what this test is all about. So, it's a very genuine test. That's what the guys were referring to. You really have to be in that kind of shape to pass it, and our guys have done a great job. The test is, really, workouts – the way we run it during the offseason. A part of the workouts are the tests. We kind of build up to the final times and all of that. That was part of the workouts last week. They ran the times of the test and everything, and the team all did really well – the guys that did it. Not everybody did it, but it was most of the team who did it."
When you sign a guy like DE Calais Campbell – a veteran, a very obvious leader – are his leadership skills a part of what makes him attractive? When you haven't actually had him in the building, do you miss out on that piece with him? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "Yes, to a degree. Everybody is facing that. It's kind of hard to lead from afar. That's why we tried to bring the guys as close together as we can with the virtual meetings and things like that. So, there's a connection that does go with that, a little bit. But it's just part of it. Every team is facing that, so you can't overthink it too much."
I heard you talk on the fan call, the thing you did with the season ticket holders a couple weeks ago, about how you felt the downfield passing game might be the next step for QB Lamar Jackson and this offense. What does that look like to you if that's working really well? (Bo Smolka) "Like anything else, I was misinterpreted by the headline writers. It'll be good if you guys got better control of the headline writers sometimes, because I ask you about it, and you say, 'Well, I don't write the headlines.' It wasn't just deep balls. We're talking about pushing the ball to spots where the defense is not. Our offense – like any offense – the idea is to force people to defend certain things. Hopefully, they can't do it in a balanced way, and you have to overcommit resources to certain aspects of the game – that's the chess game. And a lot of times, the way our offense sets up sometimes, those throws will be outside, intermediate or downfield – downfield down the middle or down the sidelines. It can be on the sidelines with outs, comebacks, deep curls, deep stop routes. It can be deep stop routes over the middle. These are all types of routes that we have time to throw, a lot of times. If we can, really, [we want to] more and more hurt people. And we hurt them a lot of times last year. Lamar [Jackson] has good numbers throwing the ball like this, but that's an area that we want to really see if we can make people defend those parts of the field, even more than they have in the past, and just try to create more problems and put them in more conflicts, even than we did last year."
I don't think we've talked to you since the team released the video about racism and protests a couple weeks back. Was there anything, particularly, that resonated to you with your talks with players, and has your stance on demonstrations, or anything like that, evolved over the past couple weeks, with everything going on? (Aaron Kasinitz) "We've had these conversations in football locker rooms and meeting rooms for years and years. Ever since I've been in the league, these conversations [have taken] place, because we have a very diverse environment. We say it often: Everybody comes [from] every kind of different place, different race, different space, different part of the country, different religion, different political view, different history, different experiences. That's the beauty of football, and I think it's always been one of the great things about our game – to be around different kinds of guys. Maybe you're a little older like me, [and] you get to be around young people so much. It really does help keep you on point [and] keep you thinking a lot. So, that's been a great part of it. Many things came out of it. A lot of those things were expressed in the videos and the comments and quotes that you've already read. So, I think it's a real positive, and I'm an optimist. I believe in America. I believe a lot of things about America in its founding and its purpose, and I'm very optimistic about where we are going. I look at things that way, and I think this can be – if taken in the right context, and I think it is by most people – a great thing for all of us. I hope most people look at it that way."
Did you hear Dr. Fauci's words last week? He expressed some concern about how the NFL could pull it off in a contact sport. [What is] your reaction to that? And in general, your level of trust in … It's out of your hands. These guys have to tell you what they know. (Mark Viviano) "Yes, exactly. I don't think Dr. Fauci is the NFL doctor. Dr. Sills and the doctors put our previous protocols together. We had a conference call last week with those guys, so that was a great conversation, back-and-forth. I'm very confident that they understand the details of all that. So, I didn't really read what Dr. Fauci said, other than the headlines. So, [I'm] trying not to put too much trust in [headlines]. I think that everybody is going to do their best. It's a new world. And, you can look at it any way you want to look at it, but I'm not going to run for cover, and I don't think the NFL is either. But they are going to try to be safe and secure. Safety is going to come first, and the health of all of us involved in the game, and the fans, are going to be a major priority, and we'll go from there. So, if things start to move one way or the other … Nobody knows what's going to happen in the next six months. No human being knows that. We'll just have to be very adaptable and flexible and smart about what we do. That's what we are going to try to do. That's my view on it."
How is your team's health situation? I'm not talking about the pandemic. I know C/G Matt Skura has been rehabbing an injury and S DeShon Elliott. If training camp starts on time, do you expect to be pretty much at full-strength? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, we're healthy. Matt Skura was the biggest injury we had last year, and he looks to me like he's ahead of schedule. [I'm] really impressed with how hard he's worked at it, and he really looks good out there. I think it was reported that the workout we did [with] the timing and the conditioning test, he just blew the thing away, so that's remarkable. Yes, we go in healthy, and we'll roll from there."
When you talk about the protocols that the NFL could lay out, how do you police that from team to team? Do you just have to have trust that everybody is following all the same rules? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "Yes, you do. That's not really going to be our job, to police anybody else. And really, from a quote unquote 'policing standpoint,' I'll be shocked if everybody's not self-policing. The biggest thing is to try to convince all of us – and it's not just players – players, coaches, trainers, managers, grounds crew people, all the people that are involved, people in the building, to even when they leave here, to do a great job of taking care of themselves and not tracking anything back into the building where it can put anybody at risk, just like you do with your home. So, that's going to be important. I'd be really surprised if everybody didn't do the best that they could with that and not keep all their people healthy."
Have you talked to S Earl Thomas III about his offseason, and is there anything that will happen out of that off-the-field encounter with his wife? (David Ginsburg) "That's between Earl and his family, so I have not talked to him about that."
Did you get a chance to speak with QB Lamar Jackson about the video that he posted with the beach football and the jet ski? Now, he did show some burst on the sand, but did you get a chance to speak with him about it? (Jerry Coleman) "That's between me and him, so it's not something that I need to comment on publicly."
Typically, the football season starts, the league sets the parameters, those are the rules, and everybody goes with it. How important is it for you this year to have an ongoing dialogue with the league, as things are going to be changing, maybe, day-to-day? (Gerry Sandusky) "You mean as far as the protocols?" (Reporter: "Correct, on the protocols.") "Yes, it'll be important, but it really won't be me, per se. We'll have liaisons with that, who'll be talking to the league, I'm sure, about whatever is changing [and] whatever is happening. They are not going to be calling the coaches directly. We'll be involved in just focusing on our team and our meetings and trying to do things the right way while we're here in the building. If something changes, they will let us know. For instance, if all of a sudden, they come up with a better test and they are going to implement that, they'll let us know. We will do what we're asked to do. We will try to be good followers. Along those lines, [we will] also be leaders in the sense of trying to do things the right way. But mainly, our focus is going to have to be on getting ready to play the season, practice and meetings, and becoming the best football team that we can become. That's what we will be focusing on."
I'm just curious how you feel like the preparation of the team is and has gone this offseason? Obviously, it's more difficult for every team in the league, given the circumstances. But, do you feel like you've still been able to prepare the team well, so that when training camp and the season start, "Hey, we can get to the level that we normally get to before the season starts?" Or do you feel like, "Hey, we are so far behind; we have a lot of ground to make up because of all this."? (Ryan Mink) "That's kind of an interesting question and something to think about, but it really doesn't matter. Everybody is at the same rules; everybody is in the same boat. So, we try to just do the best we can with it, and I think we have done very well. I do think we will put a really good team together, and I expect us to go out there and play at the highest level. Let the chips fall, and we'll see where it takes us in the end. So, that's what we'll do. As far as comparing it to other seasons, obviously, we're behind where would have been, because we would have been practicing, we would have seen the rookies, [and] we would have a lot of tape to evaluate. We don't have that right now, so we are not walking the same way as we would in other seasons. But it's kind of a moot point, or as Joey said on Friends, 'A moo point.' You guys remember that?" (laughter) (Reporter: "I do.") Gerry [Sandusky], you remember that?" (Reporter: "Absolutely.")_ "Good, I don't have to explain it then. [That's] one of my favorite lines from TV history."
We talked a lot about the competition on the interior offensive line and [having] so many young guys. I wanted to get your thoughts on adding G D.J. Fluker, a veteran who started quite a few games in the league? (Luke Jones) "Yes, I was happy that we added him. I talked to him very briefly, but he's been in the meetings. He has been working hard to learn the offense and to stay with the workout program. It looks like he's done a really good job with that. I'm very anxious to see him play when he comes in and see how he fits into what we're doing offensively. He'll be competing in there with the other guys. It'll be interesting to see how he does. I expect him to do well."
You mentioned that you didn't get to see the rookies on the field. I'm curious, how do you and your staff gauge the rookies' progress, in terms of learning the playbook and that sort of thing when they aren't actually on the field? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Well, you just do it by the meetings. We do a lot of testing. [We do] a lot of competitions, game-type things that are fun. The quality of the questions they ask, the information as they can give it back to you [is telling]. That's what we're doing. It's not like seeing them on the field [to see] if they can process what they've learned and take it to the field. That's the one thing we haven't seen, but the verbal communication, the written communication, the speed at which they think about those things, we have seen that. So, we have a pretty good idea of it at that part at least." (Reporter: "When you say games, do you mean like pop quizzes, Jeopardy type of deal?") "Yes, exactly. Jeopardy and those kinds of things. We have some good ones."
Because you did not get your minicamps, your offseason work, your walk-throughs and all of that, you don't know how well these guys can take it to the field. Have you and your coaches had to rethink the way you will do your training camp, in terms of the amount of material and the order of the material you'll put out in front of them every day? (Gerry Sandusky) "We have been thinking about that quite a bit. That's really one of the primary things we're putting together now. It's like, 'What can we work on [and] make sure that we're good at?' [We] try to make as few mistakes as we can, in terms of wasting time, because it's going to be a pretty short ramp up to the season. There's going to be some acclimation for the players. We've already missed out on 13 practices. How much will we have to do to build them up to a full-speed practice when we get back to camp? We'll have to see. So, we've put a lot of thought into that. Yes, that's been a big part of our planning – scripts, installs and things like that. I expect it maybe to be fluid once we get into it and see where we're at."
I know OLB Matthew Judon just got franchised. You have T Ronnie Stanley, who doesn't seem pressed to get a deal done right now. CB Marlon Humphrey is coming up. QB Lamar Jackson is around the corner. It doesn't seem like you'll be able to keep everybody. It's more of an [Executive Vice President and General Manager Eric DeCosta] question and the capologist, but [what are] your thoughts on how much talent you have, and how do you keep it all? (Kirk McEwen) "Yes, to me that's like golf. You play the shots as they're presented. The more shots you hit in the middle of the fairway, the cleaner the shots are going forward. That would be drafting good players, and we've done that. We've drafted a lot of good players. We've developed them very well; the guys have fit in. I'm pretty sure that last year and the year before, everybody wasn't talking about how talented we were or what a great roster we had. I think the guys have just done better than they were expected to do. That's a plus for us and a good problem to have. We'll keep as many guys as we can. I am very optimistic about the fact that we have a good cap situation going forward. We have not been in good cap shape for the last six, seven years. Every year we've been behind the eight-ball with the cap, and that's just the way it was. This year was a little better. Next year will be a lot better. With that, we'll have to sign guys, but we'll have money, too. I'm very optimistic that Eric [DeCosta] and his crew will just do an amazing job of figuring out the numbers. Hopefully the agents will work with us, so we'll put it in perspective. We'll keep the guys we can and the guys that we can't, we'll replace. We'll keep building what we're doing here. I'm really confident, though, that a lot of these players want to be back. I know we want them back. So, I think that we'll get a high number of these guys back."
One of the things you discussed about some of the restrictions … Is it possible that you could have fewer than 90 players just to make it easier to kind of abide by some of the restrictions? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's one of the proposals, but that stuff is all just kind of rumor right now. The NFL, the different committees and the union people are working on that right now. Whatever they come up with, that's what we'll do."
You guys have a great history when it comes to undrafted free agents. Every single year, you guys seem to keep at least one. How will the pandemic and not having things like in-person minicamps impact that process for you guys and maybe for those players? (Matthew Stevens) "That's a great question. I don't think we're going to know until we get back. We've already missed out on the tryout part of it. We used to bring in over 20 guys for tryouts, and usually three [or] four of those guys would end up on our training camp roster. We've had [undrafted] guys make the team – Zach Orr comes to mind. That's one part the whole league has already missed out [on]. The guys that you feel bad for are those guys. There are so many players that don't get drafted and then don't sign right away who end up being really good players. They are good players, and they deserve a shot and a chance. That part probably won't happen this year, so maybe those guys will get a chance next year. As far as who will make it [or] who won't make it and how this affects [everything], that remains to be seen."
Who has impressed you with their offseason workouts so far? For me, WR Marquise Brown has had an amazing physical change. (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Yes, you have a good eye. I've seen the same videos that you've seen. It looks like he's doing well. I've heard so many good reports from our strength and conditioning coaches about how the guys have done on the Zoom workouts. They've worked really hard. I feel like our team is in excellent shape. But without putting an eye on them, it's kind of hard to actually determine who the main guy would be. I don't want to say one name, but a lot of the guys have done really well. I just can't wait to get them back. You get to the point now where we're really looking forward to practicing, getting on the grass and being together. I know the players feel the same way. They just want to get back to football, back to doing what they do and what they love to do. Once they get back, I'll probably have a better answer for that question. But generally speaking, I'm really pleased and happy with the whole team. The team as a whole has done a great job, and the next step will be training camp."