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Transcripts: Monday Press Conference (1/1)


Opening statement:"Good to see everybody. [I] appreciate you coming out for the press conference. [I'm] very pleased with the victory [and] very pleased with our positioning at the end of the regular season, which has one more game left and then moving into the playoffs. We have a two-fold thought process right now. We have our priority, which is the [Pittsburgh] Steelers game and putting our best foot forward and playing our best game against our biggest rival who is playing great football. We expect it to be a very hard-fought game, so we have to get our minds right for that as we will, and then [we are] just planning for the next step in the playoffs. Those are the two things we're looking at today, and after today we'll be focused on the Steelers completely from my perspective. The coaches are focused on the Steelers right now. What questions do you have?"

Have you made a decision on QB Lamar Jackson playing against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the division and No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs clinched?*_(Jamison Hensley) _*"I have not made a decision on any personnel yet. We have to work through the injury part of it first. That'll take us probably 24-48 hours to get a real handle on that, and then we'll make those decisions on that. We're not going to keep it a secret. We'll let you know what we're going to do once we start practicing."

What is the key to the depth of this team and having the backups in the secondary ready to play despite injuries to starters S Kyle Hamilton and CB Brandon Stephens?*_(Todd Karpovich)_* "I think that's one of the best points about the game, really – the fact that those guys stepped up. We had some things come up that we didn't anticipate. We had some game-time decisions, and we had some things happen during the game that knocked guys out. I thought the corners [and] the safeties just played tremendously well. Daryl Worley comes in and plays great ball, and all three of the corners [did]. Arthur [Maulet] played great. Rock [Ya-Sin] played great. Ronald [Darby] played great. Those guys played against a high, high-powered [Miami Dolphins] offense. I thought they played good, sound football. They covered [in] man [coverage]. They handled the motions. They handled all the different combination coverages we were in against that offense. I thought they did just a great job."

Are any of the players that were out for the Miami Dolphins game or got hurt during the game in jeopardy to not be available for the first playoff game?*_(Childs Walker)_* "It's way too early to say that. I would say not at this point, but that's a ways away."

Was CB Marlon Humphrey campaigning to try and go back into the Dolphins game with his calf injury after visibly pacing on the sideline and riding the stationary bike?*_(Luke Jones)_* "[Marlon Humphrey] wanted to, but it wasn't meant to be."

What did you think of G Ben Cleveland's performance after making the most of his opportunity to start?*_(Kyle Phoenix)_* "[Ben Cleveland's] another one of the great stories of the game. He played very well. You've seen it in practice with Ben, probably all season. He's had the chance to ... One of the things he didn't have a chance to do sometimes earlier in his career was stack practices, because he had little knicks and bruises and things like that that just kept him out of practice. He stacked a whole season's worth of practices, and to me, it showed up in the game. He played really well [in] run blocking [and] pass blocking – really all of it. I thought he had an excellent game."

Has RB Justice Hill found a niche for himself by being more involved in the passing game especially?*_(Noah Trister)_* "Yes. We've seen it in practice a lot. Justice [Hill] has really good hands. He's an excellent route runner. He's also excellent in pass protection, too. Lamar [Jackson] saw the [pass] coverage, diagnosed it a couple of times and got us into certain routes that freed Justice up on some of those rail routes. That was pretty impressive to see those two guys working together at the line of scrimmage like that."

Is one of the defining characteristics of this team to this point has been the ability for players to come in when you have had injuries and not have a drop off?*_(Jeff Zrebiec)_* "Yes. Absolutely. It has to be that way in the National Football League, for sure. You just have to have that quality to sustain and have stamina through the whole season as a team. Team stamina requires guys to step in and play at the same high-starter level. In our minds, everybody's a starter. You have to be, because you're one click away from being out there [with] everything riding on your shoulders. You have to prepare that way. I think our guys have always done a good job of that. If you go back in many past years, you'll see the same thing [and] the same trait with this team. [I] just appreciate about that type of players that we have, and they've done that this year."

As we talked to the players after the game yesterday, the guys that were here in 2019, it seems like all of them said that experience does stick with them, and it will with how they kind of prepare for this opportunity. For you, what do you figure are the best lessons you took from that experience and how that played out?*_(Childs Walker) _*"That was a disappointment. It was just a disappointment. We did our best. [It was] a certain kind of a season. It's different from this season; it's a different team; [it's] different circumstances; [it's a] different, everything except the record is about the same and [earning] the [first-round] bye. I remember the experience and the choices we made, but the decisions we made, we made for certain reasons, and we thought they were the right decision. What impacted what [and] how in terms of us not playing our best football that day, it's really hard to say what the cause and effect was. We just didn't. We didn't go out there, and we didn't do it. That's the thing I kind of take from it the most. Of course, you want to be better. We have to play way better than that next game if we want to win, and we do want to win. But you have to look at everything from the framework or through the lens of today – this team and the challenges that we're facing – and that's what we'll try to do."

Along those lines, what is your philosophy when you're weighing ... Obviously injuries play a part, but weighing the decision on the guys to play and how much they'll play and so forth versus not playing them?*_ (Brian Wacker)_* "It's a really good question. It's a little bit overstated just because you just ... it's not like the preseason where you have a bunch of guys. You have six [gameday roster] spots to work with, and there's going to be probably somewhere in that range with different guys who have injuries. Some are three, four, five, six guys every week, that's how it is every week. So, it's not going to be different this week especially on another short week, so that pretty much dictates for you what you're going to do. So, I don't really have a philosophy. And the good thing is that I feel like the depth we have, like we're doing at offensive tackle, we can share time with guys, and that's a very valuable thing. So, that comes into play as well. And we just look at all that, but the team we put out there – which is going to be the team we have, it's our team – is going to out there and do everything they can to win the game [and] play our best football game of the season and win the game against a real tough opponent." 

Winning a Super Bowl and making it to February have been mottos for this team this season. How much has QB Lamar Jackson and some of the others asked you about what it felt like and what it takes to win a Super Bowl because you have done so.*_(Kyle Phoenix)_* "That hasn't been a part of our conversation. Our conversation has been on the week at hand framed up by the idea of our goal is to go 1-0, and that's really all we focus on."

From the perspective of the coaching staff and communication with players, what have these past four weeks been like for you guys in terms of getting ready to face these very unique, very challenging offenses and what it maybe shows to you guys how you can prepare on how beneficial it could be for the playoffs?*_(Jonas Shaffer)_* "I don't take any great takeaway from it other than the fact it's what you do, it's a process. We have a defensive system that we continue to evolve and an offensive system that is new to us, but has evolved throughout the course of the season [and the] same thing as special teams. Then you just try to apply your system [and] your players to the opponent you're facing, and you just try to do the best you can to take away what they do well or to attack what they don't do well. You put your guys in position to give them an advantage. We always seek advantages. We always try to give our guys some of the advantage in the play if we can to at least be equal. There's always going to be sometimes guys are at disadvantages because of the way it's structured. You might put the coverage over here, and over here we're a little light, and man, you have the ankle weights on. You have to come through for us and overcome the disadvantage, but we weigh all that out with every call or every scheme that we do [in] all three phases. Our coaches do a phenomenal job with that. Everybody has their area, and they just go through the process. And I will say, to your point, that our coaches have done a great job of that. Everybody in their area, whether it's the backed-up coach or the red zone coach or the low red zone coach, whoever it might be, those guys have all done a great job."

After the game, we saw some of the post-game celebrations in the locker room. How would you evaluate some of the dancing that occurred?*_(Jamison Hensley) _*"Well, I can say this; probably, as I look at this crowd out here, you all can probably relate to this ..."(laughter) "While I was dancing, OK, I thought it was pretty darn good. I mean, I thought it was impressive. I mean, I thought I was smooth, rolling. Then, my daughter showed me later on tape, and it looked a lot like what happens at home when she video tapes me; it wasn't much different. I was a little bit disappointed in the ... You know, the tape doesn't lie. I was a little bit disappointed with my performance, but you ... I got low. Did you notice? I was able to bend. There's a lot to be said for that, but my advice to any young people who are working their way into dances at Prom and things like that ... Here's my advice; don't be shy. Don't be afraid. Bring the energy, man. Get off the wall. Get out there and dance. Bring the energy. It doesn't matter what you look like – it matters how much fun you have. No wallflowers."

WR Odell Beckham Jr. obviously had a huge catch yesterday. He's had some games down the stretch here where he's played really well. Aside from what you see on the field, what's his impact been particularly as we get to this part of a season for a guy who's been there and done that?*_(Brian Wacker)_* "That part, the leadership part, is really good. Odell [Beckham Jr.]'s leadership has been outstanding. He's a real relational-type leader. To [your] point, he's been there; he's done that. He's been in these big games. He's had great success. He knows what it takes, so I do think he's with the guys, and he encourages guys really well. He's [a] really encoruaging kind of leader. The other part of it, though, is his ability to make plays. To me, he's a major factor out there. People, they're giving him attention. They're making sure they cover him, and he's coming up with the ball. He's a guy that can break out and have 10 catches at any time in a game, or he has the one [catch] that makes a huge difference in the game that's really kind of one of those great Odell Beckham type of catches. I mean, wow. He's a factor, a big factor."

In the post-game locker room video, WR Rashod Bateman kind of looked emotional when he was talking about how much the team means to him. Can you just talk about the strides that he's made? Not everything has gone his way this year, but he seems to have a good attitude and all that.*_(Jeff Zrebiec)_* "[Rashod Bateman]'s been through so much adversity, personally, with basically the injuries. [He was] a high pick [with] high expectations, and then [he was] fighting through injuries [and] fighting through injuries. Then, this year, that settled out kind of early [in the] season. Then, [he was] grinding every single day, going to work [and] stacking practices, knowing at some point in time ... And yes. [It's] disappointing sometimes after games, you know? Maybe he didn't get as many balls as he wanted, or maybe he didn't make a catch he wanted to make, yet [he was] not letting that get him down and knowing a big day was coming. I don't know if he wants me to tell you this, but I told him. He came to me – I saw him Friday – [and] I said, 'Big game 'Bate.' It's going to be a big game for 'Bate,'' and he came up with some massive catches for us. He kept some drives going. That's just a prelude to what's coming."

Is OLB Tyus Bowser out of time at this point, just because I imagine he'd need a long ramp up, and you just don't have much time left?*_(Jeff Zrebiec)_* "Honesty, it's hard for me to say. It's not something I'm directly involved with every single day. Medically, [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] is involved with that, [along] with the team doctors and stuff. So, I don't know if I can really add anything to it that would be helpful."

In recent weeks we've seen big plays on special teams – WR Tylan Wallace's game-winning punt return, a long punt return late in the San Francisco game, then yesterday. What do you think has really kind of come together for the special teams unit, where they're making those splash plays now?*_(Ryan Mink)_* "Yes, it's like the old thing; 'Preparation meets opportunity,' and those guys have been out there at practice. You see them every day; they practice early, and they work hard. That return – that particular return [from yesterday] – we've been working on for about six weeks, and it's a little cut-back return that we had, and it was executed beautifully."

How important is it throughout the season to have those moments of fun and celebration, and do you feel like there is something different about the culture of the locker room this year?*_(Giana Han)_* "It's a good question. I think this is a really special, mature team – a team that really is connected [and] is really emotionally … There are a lot of bonds there. I think they love each other – I really do. I think there's a strong brotherhood – family – it's a family type of a team, and they're genuinely happy for one another when they do well. And so, when they do well [with an opportunity] they're able to celebrate it, because they're really happy for each other, and that was what you saw, especially in a moment like that – a defining moment – when you win a division title. I mean, it's a big deal in the National Football League to win a division championship. It's really hard to do. Everybody is really good – our division, especially. So, our guys … It was great to see."

Is it getting to a point with TE Isaiah Likely where you've come to expect him to make big plays and produce no matter the situation?*_(Jamison Hensley)_* "Do I expect it? Oh, of course, yes. It's funny, the guys that see [Isaiah Likely] in practice every day are kind of like, 'Hey, what you have you been waiting for?' He's been that way since he got here – making those kinds of plays. But yes, just the experience – the gameplaying experience – I think has really kind of gotten to the point where he's been able to take it [and] get the confidence out there and say, 'Hey, I can really do this in big games.' He's been great. It's been fun to watch."

Were you surprised to see offensive coordinator Todd Monken on the sideline yesterday?*_(Jeff Zrebiec) _*"I was. I turned around and was like, 'Oh!' [Offensive coordinator Todd Monken] had that smile – that Grinch smile that he's got there – and he was all happy. Yes, it was great. It was great. It was fun. It was fun. That and [offensive quality control] Travis Switzer [and] all those guys – [senior football analyst/game planning] Craig Ver Steeg [and] all those guys – were down there, so it was cool."

OLB Kyle Van Noy has a career high in sacks this season, while DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney is closing in on his career high. What about this team and this unit allows them to foster that kind of success?*_(Kyle Barber)_* "I don't know. That's a good question for those guys. But I do think our system is built in such a way where we are equal-opportunity scheme builders, I guess you could say. It's set up for everybody, [and] everybody can do something [and] do [their] job really great. But it's also ... And you try to put guys … Those guys are in position, and they do their job really [well], and they play super hard. I mean, it's really them. They're the ones making the plays, so I think they deserve the credit. I hope they get their records, man. I mean, let's go. Let's smash those records. That's the goal."

Does clinching the AFC's No. 1 seed make it easier for you to watch Michigan in a couple hours?*_(Jonas Shaffer)_* "That's a good question."(laughter) "Man, I don't know. Sometimes you've got to be able to do two things at once, but I will have an eye on that game – and probably two eyes on that game for that period of time." (laughter) "I have to admit that, yes. It's going to be … Go Blue, man. Go Blue!"

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