Opening statement: "OK, good to see you guys. I appreciate everyone being here with us. I'm not sure exactly how many are here. I see a certain number, but it's awesome to have you here. I appreciate you guys all year. You've been fabulous, putting up with the inconveniences that we've all had to deal with. Certainly, in the media world, they've been legit. You've just been great, and we appreciate it.
"So, as far as the season so far, just a quick opening statement: You look back on it, and I'd have to say as a head coach and speaking on behalf of the rest of our coaches, [I'm] very, very proud and appreciative of the job that our players did this year. I thought our players were tough and resilient and played a lot of good football. We had, in a lot of ways, a young team, especially in certain areas, and a lot of young players really stepped up and played exceptionally well. And they did it without the benefit of a preseason or an offseason. As the season went on, they got better and better; that includes our young quarterback, our rookie players and our young offensive line, the guys that ended up playing for us there, and the same thing with our defensive guys, our linebackers, et cetera. So, I'm proud of those guys. I'm proud of the effort. I really thought the coaches did an excellent job across the board. Beyond that, the leadership in the organization was really just outstanding, and it starts with [Ravens owner] Steve and Renee Bisciotti. They set an atmosphere and they provide resources second to none in our league. Also, [they provide] emotional support, ideas and all the things that I think you could ever ask for from ownership. [Ravens president] Dick Cass, [executive vice president] Ozzie Newsome, and [executive vice president and general manager] Eric DeCosta have been outstanding in every single way. Throughout the organization, [there are] too many names to mention. People you don't know like [senior vice president of operations] Bob Eller, [director of football information] Megan McLaughlin, [director of football administration] Nick Matteo and others that step up and have helped us through COVID-19 and other things. So, it's just been great. I thought our fans were incredible. Our fans got excited, and I just wish they could've been in the stadium more than just the one game. When we went to Buffalo, they had their fans in there. I'm not exactly sure how they had [6,700] in the lower bowl, but they were loud. It was just good to see fans and to enjoy it. Our fans were just awesome. I know they live with us … I've talked to them. I have a lot of friends who are fans, and they just live and die with us, and they're with us 100%. I just love our fans. So, thanks to our fans. We're excited going forward. We're fired up to continue to build on what we've done. We know we're not where we want to be. Obviously, you're not where you want to be unless you win the Super Bowl. I've been in the Super Bowl where we didn't win as a coach, and I know that that is probably the worst feeling. It's even worse than losing a Championship game, which I've won and lost as an assistant with our teams, [or] a Divisional game like we just lost. We've done that here in Baltimore before – we've won and lost those. Anytime you lose, even if it's not making the playoffs, it's kind of devastating, because you put so much into it. And yet, I'm really optimistic and enthusiastic about where we're going, because I'm excited about our young team. I'm excited about the pieces we can fill in, and the schemes we can adjust going forward to make ourselves better, and we have a very good handle on what those things are. So, some of those things I'm sure I'll share with you, and some of those things maybe not, going forward – a little bit like Eric and Ozzie do at the draft, maybe. But any questions that you have, I'm happy to try to answer them as best I can. This begins our journey into the 2021 season. OK, so who's first?"
Moving forward, I know there are several things … In fact, you always like to work on everything, but if there was one specific area you could target to get better on your football team, what would that be? (David Ginsburg) "I'm going to answer that, but it's not really what you want to answer, because it's just not the way the sport works. Because the minute you get … You're not working on one specific thing; you're working on every specific thing all the time. While it's a fair question and I will answer it, I think that across the board, we have to get better everywhere, because if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. As soon as you start thinking you've arrived … We can talk about our scoring defense or our point differential. We're No. 1 in the league by a lot in point differential and all of the things that lead to that, but as soon as you start taking it for granted, then all of a sudden, you're not outscoring anybody. And that goes for run defense, or pass protection, or whatever it might be. I think generally speaking, we owe it to our offensive side of the ball to continue to build what we're doing on that side of the ball, in terms of our offensive line, in terms of our playmakers, in terms of the improvement of the players that we have – running back, quarterback, tight end, the receivers, the young receivers – all those things that continue to improve our scheme and to continue to balance ourselves out. We've built one of the best … You could argue the best run offense in the history of football in the last two years – you could make that case. So, let's continue to grow that and build that, and then let's build up our efficiency, whether it's play-action passes, or drop back passes, or screen game, and all the different things that we can add to our repertoire there. So, we'll be working on that very diligently."
I know a lot of people are wondering how QB Lamar Jackson is feeling a few days removed from the concussion. Also, the passing attack – WR Marquise Brown said he wants it to be more balanced in that way. As far as the passing offense, what do you think would be your priority to improve in that area? (Jamison Hensley) "As far as Lamar [Jackson], he's doing well. I talked to him yesterday. He has a concussion, so he's working through that. He said he feels a lot better … Definitely, we want to be a winning offense. We want to build an offense that wins and scores points. In a lot of ways, we've done that. I think we're a dominant running football team, and we're a middle of the pack pass efficiency team. We're a lot better than probably what people think we are, and the numbers will vouch for that. I'm not going to go through a bunch of different stats, but I have them here in front of me. DVOA and things like that, I think we're pretty good, but we need to be more efficient. We need to be better. So, we need to protect better. We need to throw better. We need to catch better. We need to get open better. We need to do everything more efficiently. We need to improve what we're doing, and the better you do that, then the more success you'll have doing it. So, I agree with Marquise [Brown] in that sense; balance in the sense of our success with it and just keep building on it. So, that's what we'll be looking to do. I mean, we might have … I think yardage-wise overall per game, we were 32nd. We were also, by far, the team that threw the ball the least in the league, by almost 200 passes over the course of the season [under] the average. So, that's something that we'll be working on. That's something that's important for us."
There's been a lot of talk about teams coming for your coaches and different assistants interviewing elsewhere. First of all, do you expect both of your coordinators to be back? And then do you have an update about some of your assistants that are said to be interviewing elsewhere? (Jeff Zrebiec) "As it stands, we do, unless those guys get a late call as a head coaching opportunity. They didn't this year; I was disappointed for them in that. But you know, one thing that we talked about just amongst all of us as coaches and those guys in particular, is that things happen when they're supposed to happen, and I would say in God's time. When the opportunity comes, it'll be the right opportunity at the right time for those two guys. They're more than qualified right now to be head coaches in this league. When the fit is there and it makes the most sense, their opportunities are definitely going to come, and it's going to come out of the blue like a lightning bolt – that's how it works. So, those guys are in a good place. They're excited. They know they have great jobs with great players and a great organization. Then the other guys, there's nothing I can really comment on specifically, because I really don't know anything right now. We'll see where those things go. Those opportunities for coaches come up, I'm happy for them. I want them to advance career-wise if it's something they want to do. And we'll have those conversations in the next couple of days. Guys are interviewing today for different jobs that are promotions to coordinator roles. So, we'll see how it goes."
Following up on the question about the passing offense, one of the specific criticisms you've heard from some analysts like NFL Network's Kurt Warner and Steve Smith Sr. is this idea that your route tree is somehow simplistic – I guess that's the term that's been thrown around. Do you see any validity in that? And also, do you expect to do any sort of ground up overhaul of the passing offense like we've seen you do with other aspects of the team in recent offseasons? (Childs Walker) "No, I disagree with Kurt [Warner] and Steve [Smith Sr.] on that. I love Steve, and I don't really know Kurt that well, but the passing tree – we run all the routes on the passing tree if they want to talk simplistically – the 'quote unquote' passing tree. We have every route in football, and we have every route concept in football. We throw it less than most teams do because we run it so well. I know that Kurt would probably love to see us be a drop back passing team that gets the ball out on time in a West Coast-type style, or a 'Greatest Show on Turf'-type style, but that's not the offense that we run. We're not going to change an offense because it doesn't fit his eye. But we have all the concepts; there's nobody that has more effective movement passes and more effective play-action passes off of a run game than we do, because we had the most complete run game and we have all the play-action and movement passes off of that. All of our drop back passes are … We're not going to be as complex as a Pittsburgh [Steelers team], or a team that throws the ball 40 to 50 times a game, because we don't throw the ball as much as they do. I think that just stands to reason. So, we'll build a passing game around our players and our talent, and around our quarterback, and around our running backs and our offensive line to suit our players and to play winning football and score points. I think we were the seventh or eighth highest scoring offense in the league last year, so we can talk about the other 24 or 23 of those teams and talk about what they're not doing to fit somebody's eye. The reason I'm strong on this is because it goes back to the same criticisms that we've heard for the last three years about not being the type of an offense, or the type of a quarterback, that some people want to see. They're just going to have to live with it, because Lamar Jackson has won a lot of football games here. Our offense has won us a lot of football games here, and we're not apologizing for that for one second. We are going to improve it, no question about it. We're going to go to work to be more precise, more efficient [and] better at what we do. That's what we have to do – be better at it. We'll leave the criticism to the critics, and when they're ready to coordinate their offense and put their product on the field, I'll be looking forward to competing against it."
This is certainly a question we'll bring up with executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta, but you mentioned QB Lamar Jackson. This is the first year he's able to negotiate a contract extension. Do you feel like it would be beneficial to get that done quickly? How are you kind of approaching that possibility as you move into the offseason? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I'm not approaching it in the sense of the details of it, because that's not my job. I'm not the [general manager]. [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti], [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and [executive vice president and general manger] Eric [DeCosta], of course, because Eric is the point on that, they'll look at that, but they talk to me about it. Eric and I have talked about that and other contracts. So, I'm very confident that Eric and those guys will do a great job of looking at that. Of course, absolutely, we want Lamar [Jackson] to sign a long-term deal and be with us. I'm totally certain that that's going to happen. When it happens, that's the details, and that's what we have to figure out. I was interested that that report came out the day of the Divisional game for Lamar. Aren't there like four other quarterbacks that were in that class that are in the same circumstance as Lamar as far as signing extensions? All the guys that were drafted in the first round, there's five of them; at least four of them have been successful, right? That article could be written about any one of those quarterbacks. As far as the reporter who put it out, he had absolutely no information other than just sources. Well, all those quarterbacks are going to be in line for contract extensions either this year or next year, so kind of a non-news factor. But the timing by [NFL Insider Ian] Rapoport was pretty interesting; I'd like to know his motivation on that. But that will happen either this year or next year, I'm sure. We do have a tough salary cap situation this year across the league, as you guys know, because of the pandemic. The salary cap is unpredictable and it's probably going to drop right now. So, I think the guys that negotiate those, for all these contracts for all these players across the league, that's going to be a real question mark – how that's going to play out. So, it's not my area. I don't focus on that as much as Eric does. Certainly, Eric will be all over that, but it will be interesting for all of us to see how contracts play out for players around the league with the salary cap drop this year."
I'm curious when it comes to evaluation of the players, particularly the young ones … In some ways, you might want to, I would think, maybe give a pass, because they didn't have the offseason, didn't have the preseason and maybe not judge too harshly? Or do you look at it more like you judge because they fought through, or because of what they went through, you learned more about them then maybe you could've? How do you look at evaluating guys in such a bizarre year? (Pete Gilbert) "That's a great question. I haven't thought about it in that sense; I'm just evaluating them based on how they played. You look at that and where they're at as far as their development and what they need to do to get better. So, I've had conversations with guys, first and second year and third year guys [saying], 'This is what you need to do from now until April to continue to improve. This is what we're going to try to build in as a football player, and how you can help us, and where we think you need to go, and what you've done.' So, I think every guy is different. But I think overall, if you're going to put a grade on those rookies, you'd have to put a good grade on those rookies in terms of just how they played this year for us. But they played like rookies, too. Mistakes were made even in the Buffalo game that were kind of rookie mistakes that you do expect rookies to make at some point in time, and that's just part of the growth process."
You've got the stats there in front of you, as you mentioned – some remarkable accomplishments over the course of a regular season. Last year, 14-2. This year, 11-5. I'm just wondering your perspective on those stats versus playoff performance? If it feels like your team responds to the bigger stage … You're on the sideline, you know how it feels. Do we put too much on those playoff outcomes versus all that you accomplished prior to it? How do you kind of discern the difference? (Mark Viviano) "Like we said … I think that's a good point. Until you win the whole thing, you're really a failure in the playoffs. That's just the way it works. It's always been that way. It's a little bit, even, societal … I don't know. Ohio State had a heck of a season, but people are saying that their season was a failure – I find that hard to believe in the big picture of things. But when you get to the playoffs, they're all winning teams. You're either going to go 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, or maybe you go 3-0, or 4-0 and win the whole thing. But everybody is going to a have a one [in the loss column] at the end of that except for the team that wins the whole thing. Half of the teams … How many teams were in the playoffs this year? 14, right? There were 12 that played [in the first round], so six of them are going to be 0-1 – are all of those teams failures? It depends how you look at it. But the point, I think, is if you take a step back and you try to take the label off of it … Just like we had when we were building up to the Super Bowl in 2012, we just have to keep building, keep improving and try to breakthrough. I know this; when you get into the playoffs and you don't play your best game, you turn the ball over, you make mistakes, you don't finish drives and convert – those kind of things – you know you're not going to win the game. And that's what we did; we didn't play our best game against Buffalo. We played hard. We fought. We competed. I thought we overcame some things, but we didn't play well. We had too many penalties. We had the big turnover, and we didn't finish drives. So, that's how you don't win a game. When you don't win a game in the playoffs, then your season is over – that's the reality of it."
As you now look to all of the preparations in the offseason – mini camps, the Draft, training camp and all of that – do you project it as in-person, virtual [or] hybrid? It's the new normal, but what does it look like from your perspective? (Gerry Sandusky) "Probably more virtual, but that's a great question for [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [director of player personnel] Joe Hortiz. I'll be asking them the same questions; 'Where do we go [and] when? What's the Zoom call-in number that I'm supposed to get for this interview?' But I think that most of the interviews are going to be virtual. I think that they're going to have Combines, I've been told, around the country where guys will go, and they'll test and do the medical [requirements] and we'll have videos of that to watch. So, yes – your answer is probably it's going to be a virtual evaluation period. Hopefully the Draft is not like it was. I'd like it to be … We have great food here at the building on Draft Day, so I'd really like to be here and get some of the good food here. (laughter) My wife, she'll order something out if we have to. So, we'll be good."
This is typically a time where you guys do the "offseason summit," where you go down to owner Steve Bisciotti's house with you and executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta and a few other folks. Is that something you plan to do this year – whether in-person or virtual? What do you see as the objectives of that meeting this year? (Garrett Downing) "Great question; I'm sure we'll do that. I think it'll probably be virtual this year, because of the travel restrictions in Maryland and stuff, but I don't know for sure. But we'll definitely do it. The goals will be what they are every year; to be on the same page with the big-picture strategy of what we're doing. And then we'll drill into specifics, in terms of the roster, depth chart. Big-picture strategy from a football standpoint – what kind of team we want to be, what type of players we have, how we can build around these players, a little bit of scheme. And then, a lot of contract talk. There's always a lot of contract talk, which I'm always very interested in hearing about, in terms of what we're capable of doing with the resources we have, and who we can bring back, and what we'll try to do with that. [Ravens owner] Steve [Bisciotti] is just a great resource in that, and he always has a great big-picture view of things, and he always has great strategic ideas. And then [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta], and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], and [president] Dick [Cass], and [senior vice president of football operations] Pat Moriarty – always just supremely prepared for that meeting. So, I'm really excited about it and looking forward to it. It's always a good launching pad for me, in terms of seeing what we're capable of doing and who we might be able to add. And there's always the free agency, we talk about free agency, and we talk about the draft. So, we'll definitely do that – probably within a couple weeks."
I know you didn't have the chance to look at the film from Saturday's game when we talked to you, but I guess what stuck out to you about QB Lamar Jackson and what about that performance said where he is going forward and what he needs to improve on? (Jonas Shaffer) "All the little things that he needs to perform on across the board we're detailing out, and we have been every single day. It's not like it's a secret in terms of the football stuff – just like every player. And Lamar [Jackson] is going to go to work on those things [and] continue to. He's a young player still and he's going to continue to grow. I think if you talk to [Tom] Brady and [Drew] Brees, they would tell you that their growth continues right up until the day they retire. I know Brady works in the offseason and Brees and those guys. Lamar, I think, is just embarking on that, he's just starting on that and kind of figuring that out for himself. Like, what's his method going to be? And how is he going to go about growing into, ultimately, the quarterback that he's going to peak at going forward? I know that's kind of just general talk, but the truth is he needs to get better – just like all the players. But as a quarterback, it's the toughest position, and he'll tell you, he needs to get better at everything, and everything that goes with playing quarterback. His skillset [and] his talent is really remarkable and unique. He's got a great arm. He's a naturally gifted thrower, in terms of he's got arm talent, you would call it. He can run, he can extend plays, he sees the field well. Some of the plays he makes are just … We all, 'Wow.' That's Lamar, how did he do that? He did that in the game against the Bills, too. I think those are the things that make him so exciting and dangerous. And then, you just build a foundation with that, in terms of the footwork on the drops, the consistency of throwing the ball and putting it in the spots you want to put it. All the depths of the field, and all spots of the field. All the timing routes. All the drop-backs – the different three-, five-, seven-step drops, the play-action drop-backs, the movement drop-backs in the pistol, under center, in the gun [shotgun formation]. All the different routes that he throws on the proverbial, 'Kurt Warner route tree' that you mentioned. (laughter) He's going to work on all of those with all the different guys in the spots, and his receivers getting together with him. That's what quarterbacks do, and Lamar is no different than anybody else. He's going to work hard at that stuff, and he's going to improve and get better, and it'll show up in how he plays next year. So, that's the most honest and direct answer I can give you on that great question."
You've expressed a lot of confidence in this passing game really fitting your players really well. With that in mind, how do you prioritize a high-end, veteran, established receiver? Just to use an example – when WR Anquan Boldin came in QB Joe Flacco's third season – how do you prioritize that and what it would mean for QB Lamar Jackson, and even what it would mean for WR Marquise Brown and TE Mark Andrews in the passing game? But, also, now being a few years into this, how challenging is it adding that player knowing that, from a business standpoint, a high-end wide receiver is not going to get the same kind of volume in this offense? (Luke Jones) "You just answered the question. The answer is in there. And you said that's all the things that you have to consider with that, and how does that value compare with other spots on the offense and other spots on the team. So, it kind of comes down to who you can get, and what they're going to cost in the end, and who wants to be here. If we could bring a, 'quote unquote,' Anquan Boldin in here, let's do it. Let's do it. Now, can we afford it, and what are the resources from other things that we need? That's the details that we have to figure out. But I think a big, physical receiver would be awesome for us, and a big target for Lamar [Jackson]. It could be another tight end, too, or a speed guy that can open things up and open the coverage up would be valuable, too. We can use anybody who's talented and good. But the definition of the guy you talked about [Anquan Boldin] I think is definitely something that we would love to add if we could."
You've talked about revolutionizing the run game, there's no disputing that. You recited some numbers earlier. I'm not going to mention where you guys are in passing, you know where that is – and it was alluded to [in the previous question]. How do you convince a young wide receiver, via free agency, to join this team, knowing that their agent is probably telling them, "You're not going to get the number of catches, and yards, and touchdowns in that offense as you would somewhere else?" How do you convince that person to come work inside the frame of your offense? (Jerry Coleman) "Well, you know the answer to that. I'm not going to even worry about convincing anybody to do something. I'm not going to beg anybody to be here. I'm not a college coach and I don't have to recruit anybody. 'You want to win? You want to win? You want to be a part of a great organization, and you want to be a part of a team, and you want to love coming to work every single day, and you're a football player and you love football? You want to play in the AFC North – come here. If you don't … If you're all about stats, and numbers, and your stat line, and how many balls you catch, necessarily, and that's all you care for – then there's a lot of other teams you can go play for, and we'll be looking forward to lining up against you.'"
I know the big-picture, reflection-picture questions aren't your favorite, but I think this is a good time for it. Just overall, going through this season, this pandemic, I think it's surprising for a lot of people that the NFL was able to get it done and an entire season is still going – and that's remarkable. What is your biggest takeaway, or how has this changed you as a person and a coach, what you went through? (Morgan Adsit) "Wow, that is a great question, and it's also fair to say that now is the time I'd be forced to answer it, as opposed to when we have a game coming up. So, I do appreciate that. I probably won't be able to say it as articulately off the top of my head, as maybe if I thought about it and wrote something down. But I would just say it's been life changing. It's been priority changing. I say that [and] maybe it's something that everybody can kind of relate to in their own life. It changes a lot of things, in terms of how we do our business. I don't think I'm going to be as adamant about guys not working from home. Just to say simply, a lot of coaches are working from home today, and I'm kind of cool with that. It probably would've been weird two years ago or a year ago to think that was OK. By the same token, I realized how much I like coming to work. I like being around other people and the social aspect of it, and really miss doing that. I miss the team meetings with the players where we would laugh, and just be close to one another. Even the team breaks [breakdowns] when we were together – with our hands in the middle, we were all together. We were all separate when we had a team break [this year].
"I think if I can say this – and maybe I'll get in trouble for saying it, I don't know … But the thing that I really … And I've always believed this … But what really struck home for me is, can we just respect one another and the fact that people try to do their best? People view things a little differently than other people, and they have different ways of looking at things, or they express themselves differently [or] they play the quarterback position differently. Everybody has talents and gifts, and nobody is perfect. We just can't wait to point the finger and blame somebody for where they screwed up. How many times did they put on some website that somebody, some player or coach, had their mask down? What an evil person they must be. I mean, wow. I don't know where we're going with this, but I hope that through all of this, we can be tolerant, and inclusive, and just say, 'Hey, you know what, we all have something to offer, and we all do our best.' People do great and amazing things, and they make mistakes, too. Let's try to be a society that closes ranks around and with one another. It's what we try to do as a team. I thought the takeaway, probably, to your question is that the NFL found a way to do that, in a lot of ways. And we'll still get criticized for it, because whatever you do, it's not good enough. But we got all the games in and did a pretty reasonable job of staying safe from a health standpoint. I'm pretty proud of that, to be a part of that. That's really, maybe, a small takeaway in a big picture. But that's kind of my little bit on it right now."
Can you comment on the brief but impactful career of RB Mark Ingram II? He seemed like the consummate professional from Day One and a leader, through and through. And it's hard to believe he's gone after two quick years, but he'll be a Raven for life with fans and a lot of his teammates. Your thoughts? (Kirk McEwen) "Yes, I agree with that, totally. I really enjoyed Mark [Ingram II]. [Executive vice president and general manger] Eric [DeCosta] had a good statement; I agree with everything he said. But Mark has been a big part of us. He's a very good player, a very physical 'back. I remember when we played him, the last time we played the Saints, and you see a guy on tape, and then he ran up our sideline and hit a couple guys on the sideline and popped up. And I looked at him; I was like, 'This guy is physical, man. This guy is a tank.' And he also had great feet. I was really impressed with him. Then, we got him here, and I got to see it close up. But then, the other stuff that you're talking about; the enthusiasm, the energy, the camaraderie, the locker room stuff. All that stuff is just so much fun, and he just brought so much life every single day. So, the fans are right to feel that way about him, and we feel the same way about him. He'll still play – I guarantee you. Mark and I had this conversation; he has plenty of football left. He's going to contribute next year and beyond, in the National Football League."
My question was regarding head strength & conditioning coach Steve Saunders and his future. Do you expect him back next season, in the same role? And what was the relationship between he and the team and you guys, after he returned from suspension? (Shawn Stepner) "Yes, the relationship was good. It was normal. I thought Steve [Saunders] … Steve, I guess, it appears that he's the guy who everybody thinks about, but we all had issues – players and coaches and staff – with the protocols, at times. Everybody in the league did, when masks were down, or guys were too close to one another. And every player, and every coach, and every scout, and every administrator would be, 'quote unquote,' guilty of that, which goes to my point that I just made a minute ago. So, that's the main takeaway there that I really believe, having gone through this. So, Steve, he came back, and he was great. He went to everybody, apologized to numerous players, apologized to coaches. He felt really bad about it. And he felt like he just really needed to make sure everybody knew that he just wanted to do better, and he didn't want to put anybody in that position and learned a lot from it – and all those different things – and I really appreciated him for doing that. He went right back to work, and the guys went right back to work with him. They know he's great at what he does. We've been a team, in the last four years, that has had … We haven't had a lot of injures, and there's a reason for that, and our strength and conditioning program is a big part of that. So, he hit the ground running when he got back, for the last couple weeks of the season. And going forward, I don't plan on any staff changes, unless guys decide that they have a better opportunity elsewhere. I am looking forward to that, and then adding some different guys and different coaches, and I'm looking forward to seeing what those opportunities are, too."
What are the benefits of the young, second-year players like ILB Patrick Queen, WR Devin Duvernay and RB J.K. Dobbins having those OTAs [organized team activities] and minicamps in June? Or are you OK if it has to go virtual, again? (Todd Karpovich) "It would be tremendously beneficial. If it has to go virtual, it has to go virtual.
"Yes, it's funny, I'm just speaking freely here, because I really don't care, after 13 years, I guess; I think it's really easy for offensive linemen who have been in the league for 10 years or 12 years to say we don't need OTAs [organized team activities], because they don't do anything anyway, really. (laughter) Those guys don't. They don't need it. But the young guys, the young linemen, they need it. And the passing game, it needs it a lot. You need your quarterback and your wide receivers and your tight ends running routes – all the things that we talked about. It's fine to go get together at some high school field somewhere, and they'll do that, but to come in here, and to get the timing and to work on the … We're talking about the highest level of a sport. In every other sport, they get together for like nine months, 10 months, because those guys, you have to. And if we want to have a high level of play, then we need our guys … And they want to do it. Guys want to throw, and catch, and run the routes and everything. So, my answer to that is a resounding, yes. We definitely need the offseason program."
You guys, obviously, made a lot of noise when you brought in DE Yannick Ngakoue, but he only played 20 snaps in the playoff game at Buffalo. Could you just talk about your expectations for him, and how much you value him, with what he gave you guys for that second half of the season? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, I love the guy, and he wants to contribute. We had a unique situation here with all the outside 'backers we had. So, going forward, if he [Yannick Ngakoue] chooses, and we work it out and he's here, it'll be a little different, because he'll be here from the beginning, and he'll be starting, and he'll get a lot more snaps than he got this year. This year was kind of more of a role, probably, at the end of the year. It was only the second half of the season, so I don't think you can really judge it based on what you saw, in terms of that. It was a little more of passing downs, really. So, he's a great guy, he's a very talented guy, he plays hard as heck. He bought in 100% to what we're doing, as far as the different techniques we use, like setting the edge and things like that, and I love him. He's a great pass rusher, too, and [a] high-motor guy. So, I have nothing but love and respect for 'Yan' and the type of player and person that he is."
What was your best memory, experience and favorite game this season? My favorite game was against the Cleveland Browns. (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "That was right up there. That was right up there, no doubt. That Cleveland Browns game; that was a great one. That will go down in history as one of the most exciting, fun games, ever, in the NFL; I'm quite sure of that. My favorite moment of that game, probably, was when Willie Snead IV said, 'This is my time to shine,' as he was taking snaps to go out there [at quarterback] on that fourth-down play. (laughter) What a moment.
"[My] favorite one, probably, was the Tennessee win. I felt like that was a great win for us, and quite a good statement for our guys, because that's such a good team and tough team, and I was very happy with the guys on that one. There were a lot of great moments, so it's hard to pick one. There are so many days that you don't even know about; just days in practice and meetings, and guys will do funny things, or you have some emotional times that you cherish forever."
The guys who had serious injuries – TE Nick Boyle, T Ronnie Stanley, CB Tavon Young – is there anybody that you know of in that group who will not be ready for the start of next year? And can you give us a sense of that, with some of the primary guys? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Right. I did not get with [head certified athletic trainer] Ron [Medlin] or [head team physician] Dr. [Andrew] Tucker about timelines, exactly. My understanding is all those guys will be back for the start of the year; I think training camp – but I'm going to say that loosely – at the latest. I'm sure, some guys will be back in the OTAs [organized team activities], too, before that. But my understanding is those guys should be in good shape, across the board. Ronnie [Stanley] and Nick [Boyle] had pretty serious knee injuries, so those are the ones that take the most time. Tavon [Young], I see him, and he's moving around pretty good right now, so he probably should be back for OTAs, I would think."
You had OLB Matthew Judon under the franchise tag this year, and he'll be an unrestricted free agent. How do you think he fared this year? And I know you probably would like everybody back, but how much would you like to have Judon back, as well? (Jamison Hensley) "I would like to have everybody back. I know this question gets asked, and it's like, 'I want everybody back,' but you can't get everybody back. But I want Matt Judon back, yes. Whether that will be possible … Again, it's such an unpredictable year with the salary cap. What is anybody going to get paid? And who has cap money? Three teams have, really, any significant amount of cap money. So, we'll have to see about that. But Matt had a great year. [He's an] all-around player, plays super hard, very good leader, awesome competitor. He does everything well. He rushes, he plays the run, he drops, he plays special teams. He's an all-around, excellent, excellent football player. So, nothing but applause for Matt Judon and what he's done.
"I saw him play for Grand Valley [State University] against Ashland [University]; it was the first tape I saw. And I'm like, 'Woah, who is this guy?' Then, I looked him up, and I saw he's 275 pounds, and I'm like, 'What?' Then, I found out he had a bad knee for his senior season. He's done nothing but … We were right; the league was wrong, on that one. (laughter) So, there you go. That's one of our successes. We didn't miss on him, and he's done nothing but have spectacular success since he's been here."
The offensive line was sort of a work in progress by necessity, for a lot of this year. As you look at what you have going into the offseason, do you feel like you have the guys you want and need, in the building, or do you think that's going to be, sort of, a puzzle that you guys have to keep working on over the next few months? (Childs Walker) "The honest answer is, yes and yes. Yes, we have the guys we need. We have really good players, and you saw them play well, and they're going to get better. So, if we went into next year with the guys we had … We built a really effective offensive line; I'm quite sure of that. But yes, we want other guys, too. We want to build the best players that we can in there, so we're going to be looking to do that. I do believe that the offensive line is very important to us. It's very important to any offense. If you don't have a good offensive line, I don't think you're winning any games in this league, and your quarterback better be getting the ball out super-fast – and there are some teams that do that. But it's very limiting to your offense to be forced to throw the ball in a three-, in a quick five-step rhythm, all the time, and not be able to run the ball. So, our offensive line is, to me, a primary piece to what we try to do, and we need to build the very best offensive line that we can. To me, it's a major priority. It's a major emphasis, [and] it will be a major focal point, always, in how we coach, teach, and how we build the personnel. [It's] priority one, for sure."
The Kansas City Chiefs are in the AFC Championship game for a third-straight year. You've played them each year, and you're going to play them again next year. If you bother to watch the AFC Championship game, do you do so with a perspective that to get to where you want to go, the Chiefs are a team that you eventually have to overcome? (Mark Viviano) "Oh, absolutely. We haven't beaten them. They've beaten us the last three times we played them. You kind of look at it like … I think they're a little ahead of us in the timeline. I don't know. I don't want to make this comparison, but [if you're] a basketball fan, you look at the way it kind of went with … You had the [Boston] Celtics and the [Detroit] Pistons. Then, you had the Pistons and the [Chicago] Bulls. Then, you had everybody and the Bulls. They were kind of taking over; they did it twice. Some of the older guys, we know that. That's a team … We've got to beat them, and we've got to find a way to beat them. I've been talking to 'Wink' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale], and we've be talking all year about it, because we made a lot of changes to our defense after that game. I thought they did a great job attacking our scheme, that game, and had a lot of well-executed, really creative plays that they worked [on] all through training camp and just sprung on us in that third game, that they executed great, and it was stuff that was specific to our defense. That was a good learning experience for us, as coaches, and throughout the course of the season, we expanded and added some things that took those plays away, because other teams were copying them, because they had success with them. In the offseason, we're going to look at those. We've already had the conversation, 'Wink' and I, about … We already know what we need to add and how we're going to build it into our defense to just be as diverse as we can to answer. When you're a good defense, you get attacked other ways. People aren't going to just … If you're stuffing the run, they aren't going to just keep running the ball; you saw the Bills on that. So, they're going to try the next thing, the next thing, and you've got to have the next answer and the next answer, schematically and personnel-wise. So, yes, I'm going to have to put the Bills in that category, too, aren't we? And then, there are plenty of other teams in this league; I mean, how about the Steelers and the Browns, in our division? [They] are [going] to be challenges. And the Bengals have their quarterback. So, you always look at your division, too. So, yes, that's a great point, and I agree with you on that."