Can you tell me what the challenges are in trying to get a team ready to play an NFL season, and you've got this environment that you've got to be, obviously, concerned with safety first? (David Ginsburg) "I don't think it's any big challenge in a sense that it's different than what anybody else has to deal with. If you look at things that are going on in our world right now, in our country, in terms of the new normal, in terms of the way we live and deal with this stuff – whether it's grocery shopping, or how we get gas and all of that, you have to figure it out and find a way to do things a little bit differently. It's been challenging, but it's been kind of fun, in a lot of ways. All the rules came out in the last … Well, they're still coming out. So, we're still getting the memos and the emails about the way practice needs to be organized and structured, and the timing of when guys report and when they're eligible to practice. Or strength and condition, or walk-through, or how many minutes each group can do that. It's really every single day is a standalone day, in terms of what every different player is permitted to do, kind of. We've been really working hard at that. I've got [director of football information] Megan McLaughlin here, she's one of our assistants. She does a great job, and she's helping me organize all of that. We're just working through all of it right now. Just trying to put the best training camp together that we possibly can to be the best team that we can be when the season starts in September."
As you go along, is it going to be tougher to bring in free agents, because of the guidelines and protocols, that they'll miss some time off the bat and trying to learn the playbook? Is that going to be a challenge for you? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, definitely, that's one of the bigger challenges. Even throughout the course of this process, we haven't been able to bring guys in for interviews – just, let alone, interviews. You have to talk to them … Not even recruiting – but just getting to know a guy a little better. Not even being able to do physicals has been one of the biggest things. So, it's been hampered, the free agent opportunities and the chances to bring guys in. And that's, I'm sure, going to continue to be the case, because there's going to be limitations on that."
QB Lamar Jackson has had quite an offseason – Madden cover, MVP, now he's named the Number One player on the [NFL's] Top-100 [list]. Sometimes, I know a lot of people say that could change a person. How has been, kind of, your dealings with Lamar [Jackson] after what has kind of been a crazy offseason for him? (Jamison Hensley) "I think you guys had him yesterday for a press conference, right? Did you see any difference? You probably didn't. He's very motivated, he's very determined, he's worked very hard. He's really a realist. He really understands what's required and what he needs to do to take his game to the level that brings our team to a championship. That's what he wants to do. That's his whole focus and goal, and that's what I always admire about him, and that's why I always respect him so much."
I know things were different back in 2011 when you had the lockout, and you didn't see your players over the summer. Are there any lessons you took from that experience that you think would apply this summer, even from a football standpoint? (Luke Jones) "I don't know – maybe the biggest lesson is that it can be done. You can build a football team, as long as everybody is on the same playing field, no matter, really, what the organization is. The main thing is being able to keep the players safe enough and healthy to prepare them enough where they can protect themselves on the field, where they can execute the techniques and the game in a way to protect themselves. You have to get your offensive line on the same page with your quarterback, receivers, to protect your quarterback, to give yourself a chance. And that's one of the tougher things, just from strictly a being able to play defense standpoint – you have to get your secondary on the same page. You have to get your gap-fits right. But the secondary, in terms of being able to make all communication and adjustments back there so you don't give anybody any free plays. Special teams – protecting the punter, covering kicks – those kinds of things are going to be really critical early in the year. From a football standpoint, those are the things that we think about. Comparisons to , only that it can be done. I have to go back to my brother [Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh]; it was said it couldn't be done. It was said that it would be impossible, and the Niners [49ers], with Jim [Harbaugh] as their coach, went to the championship game that year, and they were a new staff. So, it certainly has been proven that it can be done."
After 14-2 last season, you're not going to sneak up on anybody. RB Mark Ingram II is predicting more than 14 victories. How do you balance that confidence of a team this talented? You look around that locker room, they're going to be very talented. How do you balance that with knowing starting September 13 with Cleveland, everybody is going to be gunning for you? (Kirk McEwen) "Well, first of all, from a talent standpoint, we're talented. We were talented last year, and everybody said we weren't talented. So, all of that stuff, all of that talk, it's just noise, it's meaningless. It's just nothing to us. That's where it starts. And even Mark [Ingram II], I love his enthusiasm. We do – we plan to win every game, that's the goal. Every game we go into, we plan to win them all. If we win them all, we'll be 16-0, so we start there. That's the idea, but you also understand that you have zero wins on the ledger when you start, too. So, you better get the first one. We have to earn every single one of those. That's our guys' understanding. Mark Ingram II, gosh, he understands that better than anybody. He's been in the league and he's a fierce competitor. It's not a hard thing to balance at all."
Just to go back to the first question, what other particular challenges of preparing as a coach when we're in this opt-out phase? You've had some players opt-out, sort of the uncertainty of, maybe, what your roster composition is going to be? (Judy Battista) "That's a good point. It's probably something that you just can't really spend too much time thinking about. We've had a couple of guys opt-out. They were surprises, but in a sense that I wasn't thinking that they would opt-out. But then again, when you look at the individual situation, you can go, 'Oh, ok. I understand.' Especially when you talk to the guys and they explain to you their thinking – that, more than anything, is where you get a good sense of where they're at. I think it's just one of those things you deal with. It'd be no different than an injury. Really, that's the thing I think you compare it to, is just an injury. You can't expect that stuff. You don't really plan on it, but when it happens, you've got to respond to it."
Regarding the opt-outs, I was wondering, do you have any players that are still on the fence? Or trying to decide if they will play or opt-out? (Shawn Stepner) "I don't know – that's not something I've talked to any of the guys about. Nobody has mentioned that to me. I think that's a very personal type of a choice. If a guy wants to talk to me about it, I'm happy to talk to him, but I do think it's such a personal choice. I don't really know how much you can add from the outside to that decision."
Are your expectations for this season any bigger after seeing the NFL Network ranking many Ravens in their Top-100 [list]? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "No, I didn't even look at that. I don't know how many guys we have on any kinds of those lists, or rankings. It's really irrelevant, in all honesty. It's not something that I give any thought to."
When you look at various position battles, specifically the interior line, there's some positions up for grabs, and you won't have padded practices for a couple weeks. Are you looking for anything in particular, maybe at walk-throughs, like making sure that guys have the mental side of that down? What are looking for before the pads come on? (Daniel Oyefusi) "Yes, that's exactly right. I think you're spot-on with that. You look at that part of it, the mental part – especially with the young guys, and the new guys. Even a guy like D.J. [Fluker], as experienced as he is coming in, it's a new offense for him. He's been with [offensive line coach] coach [Joe] D'Alessandris before, so he should have an idea of the techniques, which is a plus. But, it's definitely … We look for everything that you can find, and I think the mental aspect of it is very important. But, really, the decisions will be made once we put the pads on and we start competing along those lines, and you can see how well it transfers to just execution and play-by-play situations. Not having the [preseason] games is definitely … Having the games would be a plus. It would help us make that evaluation, but we can make the evaluation based on what we have, and that's just what we'll have to do. I'm looking forward to seeing those guys in action."
We saw CB Brandon Carr kind of make the transition from cornerback to safety. CB Jimmy Smith has discussed or has been talked about doing that as well. How do you see him fitting into this defense this year, and to what extent will you look at him at safety? (Bo Smolka) "I think it just kind of goes as we go. Jimmy [Smith] is a corner. He can play outside. He's learning to play inside at the nickel. [It's] not something he's done a lot in his career, but it becomes more of a situational matchup. I think it kind of blends into what we do defensively. We probably have … I don't know if any team has more defensive packages then we do, and it's really not complicated for us to do it, the way our defense is organized. So, Jimmy, if he lines up at safety, it will be for a reason to do a certain specific task or number of tasks. And then, any kind of a big-picture transition saying Jimmy Smith is a safety, that's not really where we are going this year. He's a corner, and he'll play corner, but he could be out there as a first corner, second corner, the third corner on the field, the fourth corner on the field. We'll put different groups out there. We'll play three safeties – quote-unquote – at times. It just depends on the job we're asking him to do within the call and the situation."
I have two questions regarding QB Lamar Jackson and some comments that he made yesterday. One, he talked about being the "boy in the bubble." Are you going out of your way to extra protect him more so than others? And then, he endorsed WR Antonio Brown, so I don't know what you think about his comments regarding that? (Jerry Coleman) "It's pretty funny. I happened to watch the Seinfeld episode just in the last couple weeks – the 'Bubble Boy' episode, right? Awesome episode. Kramer burns down the cabin; Jerry following George up the highway. (laughter) I think he was just being humorous about that and having fun with it, but I think what he is trying to probably say [is] – and all of our guys, I really hope they feel this way – [it's] a big responsibility for all of us to take care of ourselves and to protect ourselves and one another and our families. Just like everybody is trying to do in the country, I hope. And that's what we are responsible to do. We want to win. We want to play these games, and that's a big part of how we go ahead and do it, so heck yeah, applause to Lamar for making that point in his way. The other part of it, I respect him for feeling that way; I respect his opinion on it and definitely appreciate hearing how that workout went whenever it was – I mean, it was a long time ago, now – but we'll look at any and every player at all times. Antonio Brown is no exception. Decisions will be made based on whatever they are made on. I don't think he's really available to even sign right now, so it's not really a conversation that you have until he's available to sign. Maybe I'm wrong about that. That's something that I'll have to ask [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] about – where that stands with the league and the player, but that's where we stand on it, at least from my perspective."
With limited practices already, with the protocols you're dealing with, obviously you are a successful and hard-driven coach. Do you anticipate that you are going to have to adjust your level of patience for what is ahead? (Mark Viviano) "Probably, Mark. I've been trying to adjust that level for really my whole life, just like you have too, I know. (laughing) We all do, right? Especially you; your life has changed, Mark. You have those kids, the stroller and all that. (laughing) That will change our level of patience in life, right? So, definitely. Absolutely, and I just think we take it as it comes."
QB Lamar Jackson brought up the lack of preseason games, and how that might actually be beneficial to the team maybe not getting as dinged-up, but he also mentioned the flip side of that, which is no hitting. How do you prepare for that in an offseason where you are already not getting as much time with your guys as you might have wanted? (Matthew Stevens) "Lamar is exactly right. He has a great handle on that. Those are two obvious – probably the biggest factors right there. So, as a coach, we are going to try to find a way … We'll always try to find a way to keep our players as healthy and safe as we can. That's the right thing to do, 'A,' and 'B,' it's beneficial to the team. We have a common interest there. Secondly, we have to be ready to play. You can't put a team out there unprepared. Football is a tackling and a blocking sport, so we are going to have to find a way to get that tackling and blocking done in practice against one another to the level that we need to, to be ready to play the game against the Browns and all the other teams we are playing in September."
OLB Jaylon Ferguson – how excited are you to see the leap he may be able to make from being a rookie to his second year? And is that often a position where you really don't know what a guy is going to get to until Year Three or Year Four? I guess we saw OLB Tyus Bowser last year take that jump, and also OLB Za'Darius Smith before that. How much are you looking forward to seeing if Jaylon can do the same thing? (Cliff Brown) "I do. Every player is different; every position even is a little different. For those guys on the edge, there are some mental responsibilities in terms of gap control, contain, even rush lanes, things like that [and] drops – in our defense – that they have to think about. And that's a position where it's a quick, explosive, reaction type [of] thing. It's so technique-driven in terms of beating a tackle on pass rush, for instance. Once they start to understand how to line up, they are not thinking as much coming out of the huddle and they can think more about attacking the opponent – the tackle – especially on a pass rush. I feel like they can really take a jump. So, hopefully Jaylon and guys who are in their second year can do that. I really expect them to do it, and I'm very confident that he's going to do that, and we'll see what happens."
I know you have only had a limited time to look at LB Patrick Queen, your first-round pick, but are there any initial impressions? You finally got to set eyes on the guy. (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, great looking guy, and [he was] really great to talk to. I've enjoyed the conversations. My point is, we haven't really done any football. We are just walking through a little bit, but he's a hard worker, very conscientious, smart [and] picks it up quick. [LB] Malik Harrison, our other linebacker, I'd put in the same category. [LB] Kristian Welch, our free agent linebacker, [I'd put in the] same category. These guys … It's a credit to our scouts and coaches. Those guys are what you look for as far as the type of guys you want to bring in."
How do you look at the right guard competition as you enter camp? It seems like you guys are going to have a lot of players there to really sharpen each other. (Ryan Mink) "Right, I think we have to really do a good job of sorting that out. We are going to play those guys all around. We have to move them around. [Offensive line coach] Joe D'Alessandris and [assistant offensive line coach] Richard Angulo have to do a great job of … We are going to give reps to different spots, so even our guards are going to be playing tackle some. You'll see Tyre Phillips playing some tackle even though he's still competing for the starting right guard and the backup left guard spots. That's just going to be how it's going to go this training camp, and we are going to have to really be flexible. To be good, we are going to have to do a great job of how we organize our practices with those guys to see how it shakes out and make sure we are fair by everybody."
Yesterday, when QB Lamar Jackson was on, he actually shared his thoughts on the passing of Mo Gaba. I know that you had a special relationship with him as well. Can you share your thoughts on his passing? (Kevin Richardson) "Thanks for bringing that up. This kid, this wonderful little boy, who was becoming a young man, he was 14. I didn't know him that well. I knew him because he was brought to our attention by [vice president of community relations and executive director of the Ravens Foundation] Heather Darney and by the radio station. They're just amazing. I just feel like what they did for him in terms of bringing him on the show, building a relationship with him and just recognizing kind of his talent, his spirit and his joy for life, his energy … I mean, that voice, that giggle, that zest for just a moment. Being able to enjoy a moment, to make the most of it, it made you feel great to be in that moment with him [and] to share that moment with him when you were around him. I was around him a few times, and on the phone with him a few other times. Man, I was on cloud nine just soaring in a conversation with this 14-year-old, young guy. To recognize what he dealt with every day, with the challenges that he had with his health, and to see that his spirt soared while his health failed him – that was a lesson for me. To me, it was a gift. I would say it was a gift from God, and I said this in the statement yesterday. I really think a person like that, Mo Gaba in particular and his mom, just epitomize what it is to glorify God in a way to make the most of your life and the time that you're given – no matter what the circumstances are. I feel sorry for myself when we lose a game, and here this kid is making everybody around him feel great while he's battling for his life. That, to me, is remarkable. Thanks for asking that."
I had a quick question about whether the practice squad rules being able to [have] four players and keep them from getting poached from other teams. Does that affect ultimate roster decisions on your 53-man where you could keep fewer guys at a certain position because you think you'd be able to preserve them on the practice squad? Or is that not really going into account? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I would say no. They're not really protected. They could be grabbed on Monday or Tuesday. They can be picked up if you waive them, so they can be grabbed also. … (inaudible) … I've seen more guys protected. It would've kept for fewer guys to be moving around and being grabbed, getting on planes and going into buildings, coming out of buildings and plucking other guys off the street, working out a tryout and then going to another team. I think the less movement this year, the better. That's a step, it helps, and that's as far as they felt they could go. If it had been me, I would've gone farther."
Do you believe early on you'll need to more heavily rely upon veterans and incumbent starters with the lack of offseason workouts and activities that have been available to the younger players? (Kyle Barber) "I think that's a fair assumption. That's something that you're probably going to keep in mind as the cuts come, but when you look at our team, I don't think we're going to have too many of those kinds of tough choices. We'll have tough choices, but I do feel like our rookies are going to be able to contribute. I'm very confident that the roles we're going to ask these guys to contribute to, [they will] be able to. Now if they can't, if they're not ready, we'll have to adjust, but we have the guys in place to do it with. So, I like the way our roster is organized, and I do believe we're in good shape to handle this situation."
Obviously, no preseason games this year. We've had four for however long. In your mind, going forward as a coach, what would you be comfortable with for the number of preseason games? (Jamison Hensley) "You've asked me this before, [I'd say] anywhere between four and none. How's that for a definite answer? It really doesn't matter to me too much. I think whatever the players association and whatever the league decides is in the best interest of the players. I know that as coaches we can adapt and adjust, and scouts too. With the scouts, we all want to evaluate guys when the games don't count. That's a great thing to be able to do, but times change. Priorities are different now than they were five, 10, 20, 25, 35 years ago. So, whatever they decide, I'm on board with."
You guys, as far as I could tell, didn't have any plays last year with two running backs at the same time in the backfield. With you guys adding RB J.K. Dobbins in the offseason, do you expect that philosophy to change at all? (Jonas Shaffer) "We'll see, it just depends what guys can do and what our offensive coaches come up with in their bag of tricks. I think it's possible. I don't think it'll be a statement, foundational-type of a personnel grouping for us, but I think it's something that could help us try to create some plays, sure."
I know city and state regulations are still very fluid. What goes through your mind when you think about the possibility of playing a game in an empty stadium? (Bo Smolka) "I don't think about it too much. I really don't notice the fans. I notice them when they come in because I want to see how full the stadium is [to] get an idea of how loud it's going to be, and then right before kickoff you feel them. But after that I kind of forget about them, in all honesty, until the key moments. If you're trying to communicate, or when third down comes up and you hear our fans go crazy, you can sense it. We're just going to have to experience it for the first time and see what it's like. That's the only way to really know."
I don't know if you've gotten a good look at the injured players, but C/G Matt Skura – is he a guy who might be able to return in training camp? And some of the other guys who ended last season on IR: LB Pernell McPhee and CB Tavon Young, are they good to go to start? (Aaron Kasinitz) "You can help me with the guys: Tavon looks great. He's doing the walk-throughs, he's been conditioning 100 percent. Tavon is really excited to be back on the field, he told me that yesterday. Matt Skura, we'll see when he comes back. He hasn't reported yet. He reports – well he's reported, he's taken the tests, but he's not in the building until Monday. The veterans, as you know, reported Tuesday. They have testing again on Friday. They have physicals on Saturday and Sunday. They're in the building for physicals and equipment, but they're not in any football related activities until Monday. So, we'll see Matt on Monday. I'm hearing great things. I'm optimistic about Matt, I really am. That's a big plus for us if he can do it, but we'll be careful. We'll see how he looks and how he feels. A lot of it will be up to Matt too, but he knows himself really well and I know he's worked really hard to be ready. Who else? (Reporter: Pernell McPhee was the one guy I had.) Pernell looks great. He's here, he looks super good. He looks fantastic, so Pernell looks great. You know with Matt Skura – now that I think about it – he had a personal situation. He's having a baby. That's why he couldn't come with the injured vets, but his wife is having a baby this week, so that's why I haven't seen him yet. A lot of guys, but that's where Matt's at. Was there one more? (Reporter: DeShon Elliott?) Yes, DeShon is here. He's working hard and looks 100 percent. He's doing a great job."