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Transcripts: NFL Scouting Combine (2/27)

Eric DeCosta

Opening statement:"Hello everyone. First, I just want to congratulate [NBC Sports'] Peter King for his retirement. Peter's a guy that [with] me growing up in Boston, I read his column, [and] I learned a lot of football. Over the years, we've become good friends. [I have] tremendous respect for his passion for covering the game and for everything he's done for the sport of football. He will be sorely missed by me. Questions?"

On the WR Zay Flowers domestic violence reports:"I think we've made a statement on that. We're aware of the situation. Obviously, domestic violence is something that we're deeply concerned about, and we will continue to assess the situation as it unfolds."

On why head coaching continuity is so important for the Ravens given that the Ravens and the Steelers have the two longest-tenured head coaches in the NFL now: "We've actually looked at franchises like the [Pittsburgh] Steelers over the years. [We've] always had an admiration for the way that they've conducted business. Obviously, [we're] bitter rivals, but we believe that continuity is critical to success in many different ways. I think just from a coaching staff, the system's in place – the offense, the defense, having the same schemes. Players having the same coaches [from] year to year is critical. Then from a scouting perspective – building our processes, having a way that you scout players, having the same scouts scouting players every single year, the process of the draft and how that unfolds, we believe is critically important to our success. It's great for me to look over and see guys next to me. We haven't lost a lot of people over the years in scouting. [We lost former Ravens director of player personnel] Joe Hortiz this year. [He's] a great friend of mine. [He] just went to become the GM of the [Los Angeles] Chargers. For 25 years, Joe has sat to my right [in the draft room], so I'm going to miss him this year. There'll be a void, but having that continuity, I think, is essential."

On former Ravens OLB Jeremiah Moon: "Jeremiah [Moon's] a very hard charging guy. [He's] good on special teams. I think he's a developmental outside backer. [He's] strong and physical. [He has a] great attitude. I think he's going to have a great career, definitely."

On how the NFL's new salary cap impacts the Ravens' free agent decisions this offseason:"It was nice to see that number. It doesn't mean that we're going to just open up the books and go shopping [for free agents]. That's not really the Ravens' Way, but to have that buffer, so to speak, and to give us a little bit more flexibility along the way ... It helps us this year, but it also helps us in the coming years as we project what we think that salary cap is going to be moving out in years '25 and '26, as well. It does give you a bigger picture of the landscape of football and what that means salary cap-wise from a roster-building standpoint. I think we're excited about the potential that we have to be a good team this year, and we think that we'll have some flexibility to remain good in the coming years."

On how good it feels to have the assistant coaching hires complete:"[Ravens head coach] John [Harbaugh] did the majority of that. I would help him and give him advice. Last year, I was probably more involved in the interview process with the [offensive] coordinator search than I was this year. I think John does an amazing job building out a staff. I think last year's staff was really an incredible job of building out and helping our team. We feel really good about the guys that we brought in this year. A lot of work was done by the assistant coaches, by the coordinators and by John to get that done. We're excited about the skills that they bring to the table."

On the re-signing of WR Nelson Agholor: "'Nelly' [Nelson Agholor] was a guy that we brought in last year. We had studied him for years. I had studied him coming out of USC. I always liked his game. [I] felt he was a valued guy for us. We knew a lot about his personality. He brought a lot to the table this year as a player, but also as a leader. He was great for that receiver room – the way that he conducted his business every day [and] the way that he practiced every day. The guys that saw him out there every single day know that he had tremendous intangibles and brought a lot to the table. For us to talk to him and get that [deal] done ... I think he's been a lot of different places. [He's] understood what it felt like to be a Baltimore Raven, and he wanted to come back. We knew that, and we are excited to have him back."

On his philosophy with trying to re-sign DT Justin Madubuike:"We're trying to get a deal done. We've had discussions with Justin [Madubuike]. He's a guy that obviously has put himself in a fortuitous position this year by the way that he played. [He] had a great season for us. He's a valued player on the team, and we're hopeful that we can get a long-term deal done."

On how former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will do as the new head coach of the Seattle Seahawks: "[Mike Macdonald] will do great. Mike's a guy that ... People may not know this, but back in the day we interviewed Mike in scouting as a player personnel assistant. He didn't get the job, but [he's] very thoughtful [and] a very smart guy. We brought him back on the coaching staff. [He's] very innovative [and] organized. He's a motivator. He's a great person [and] respectful. The players love him, [and] coaches love him. He's a home run hire by the Seahawks."

On the type of player that OLB Odafe Oweh has developed into:"We were really happy with [Odafe Oweh's] game this year. I think sometimes people get really caught up in the number of sacks that people get. We prefer to look at pressures and disruptions and their ability to affect the game. Odafe's probably one of the hardest-working players we have on our defense. He has a great motor. [He] plays with a passion. He's an exciting young prospect. He has battled back from some injuries, and we think that this is going to be a great season for him. We're very, very excited about what he brings to the table this year as one of our primary edge rush guys."

On how he will address the running back position this offseason: "We need more than two running backs, so certainly I think you'll see us make a couple acquisitions along the way. We think Keaton Mitchell's going to come back from his knee injury. Justice [Hill] is a player last year [that was] probably one of the unsung heroes of our whole team, I would say. We're still talking to Gus [Edwards]. We'll talk to J.K. [Dobbins] – a couple of free agents that we had. [We're] hopeful that we can get something done with those guys. We've looked at the draft class. [It's] probably not as deep as some other positions that we'll see in this year's draft class. There are some UFAs [unrestricted free agents] this year in free agency. [There's] some talented [free agent] players that we will look at as well, but I think it's probably safe to say that we'll have more than two running backs on our roster at some point. We will definitely have a plan for that position."

On what he remembers about former Ravens director of coaching analytics Eugene Shen, who is now the senior vice president of football strategy with the Washington Commanders: "[Washington Commanders SVP of Football Strategy] Eugene [Shen] was a guy that ... [I] have a lot of respect for Eugene. We interviewed Eugene probably back in 2011 to run the player personnel analytics department. We offered Eugene the job, but he couldn't take the job for some different reasons. He was up in Connecticut, and he was working on Wall Street. He couldn't take the position. Then, a few years later, we were trying to hire somebody in coaching, and Eugene's situation had changed. He was more flexible and was willing to take the position in coaching. [He's] a very, very smart guy. [He's] innovative. [He's] very good with modeling and just building out [and] using data to analyze. I think the [Washington] Commanders got themselves a good hire, and he'll do a great job over there."

On if there are specific books that most impact his philosophies:"Yes, that's a good question. I read a lot of history – a lot of military history, a lot of value investing stuff [by] Ben Graham, Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger [and] things like that. I'm really interested in that idea as it pertains to players. I do read a lot. I think sometimes the scouts would get sick of me talking about things they have no interest in. I've gotten into some podcasts and stuff, too. But I do feel that in this business, it's easy to do the same things the same way every single year. And I think, for me at least, being creative, kind of looking and being exposed to different things is very helpful, whether that's a podcast, a TV show, a movie, books – whatever that might be. Sometimes my best ideas kind of germinate from some of those different types of things."

On the importance of assessing wide receivers every year:"I think, always. That's a critical position; the data supports that. And that's a position, too, where some of these guys are like race cars; they break down at times. And so, having depth at that position is critical, [and] we saw that this year. We think we built the room out pretty well this year and were able to sustain some injuries along the way. So, we will look at that. I think it's a very, very deep year in the draft. This draft class is pretty impressive from a receiver standpoint. We'll assess that talent and see what kind of falls our way and then look at the free agency crop, as well."

On Dolphins defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver:"Well, [Dolphins defensive coordinator] Anthony [Weaver] is a guy that ... When we drafted Anthony back in 2002 – second-round pick [out of] Notre Dame – I was the Midwest scout back then, so I knew a lot about Anthony back then. I always have had ... Back then, he was 'Tony.' But [I] had a tremendous respect for him as a player. We drafted Ed Reed with our first pick, and then Anthony Weaver was our second [pick]. He was our second-round pick. Mike Nolan was our defensive coordinator, and our defense was pretty darn good that year – surprisingly pretty good. I knew he would be a great coach, because of the way he carries himself, his ability as a leader, his mentality – his grinder mentality – the way that he carries himself every day, his work ethic and the way that he would relate to the players. And so, we brought him back [to coach with us in 2021]. It was great to have him the last couple of years as our D-line coach and assistant head coach. I feel that he's going to be a head coach someday. I mean, it's right there for him. He's going to do a remarkable job, I think, down in Miami. The players are going to love him, [and] the community is going to love him. That defense is going to be fast and furious, and I think he'll be a head coach before you know it."

On his communication with WR Odell Beckham Jr.:"We've just texted. [Odell Beckham Jr. is] a great, great guy. I love Odell. He's become a great friend of mine and a friend to the Ravens, and I think we'll just kind of assess and see what happens over the next couple of weeks."

On what he attributes S Geno Stone's success to:"Well, Geno [Stone] ... I'm very proud of Geno. He was a seventh-round pick and probably – if [ESPN reporter] Jamison [Hensley] was here, he'd probably chime in, because he's a historian, or he fancies himself a historian ... Geno might be the best seventh-round pick that we've ever had – playmaker, attitude, special teams. [He had] just an excellent season [in 2023]. He has been cut, been brought back. Just, I love his cerebral nature, [and] I love his attitude on the field. He fancies himself an overachiever; I love that about him. He's put himself in an awesome position. We're fortunate that we have some good safety depth, and I'm not really sure exactly what that means for Geno and the Ravens, but regardless, I know he's going to be a great pro. If he doesn't come back and play with us, he's going to be a great player for somebody else, and I would expect him to have a great career."

On how the team will bounce back after a difficult ending to the season:"Well, I think we've got a great locker room [and] a great coaching staff. We've built the team the right way. [I have] tremendous, tremendous pride for this team and just ... As hard as it is, when I really step back and look at [the 2023] season, I would say it was a resounding success in many, many different ways. The locker room was crazy good [with] the personalities, the love that I think was felt every single day, the attitude that these guys brought. So, that gives me great hope that our future is very bright. And we try to build this thing out so that we don't have windows opening and closing, and that's kind of been the Ravens' mindset – that we want to be a competitive, good team every single year. That's what we aspire to, and I think we have a lot of the types of people in that locker room still, and we'll remain to have those types of guys to put us in a position to win every single year."

On the offseason priority at offensive line:"It's always going to be a priority; that's Coach [John] Harbaugh from 2008 on. We have to have a big, strong, imposing offensive line. So, we'll continue to build that out. Obviously, this year, we're going to have, probably, some change on the offensive line in different ways. It remains to be seen exactly what that looks like, [but] we will have a plan. Fortunately, this is a deep draft class, as well, so we'll have a lot of different options in different rounds [and] players that we like at the offensive line position – at tackle and also guard. [It's] probably unlikely that we're going to draft a center very high. But I think there is a lot of depth along the way, specifically at the tackle position and the guard position, so that's exciting. It really helps me as we look at what that offensive line is going to look like."

On the ways in which he'll address the offensive line this offseason:"Yes, we'll always have a plan. We're going to always have a plan. We're aware of the injuries and the salary cap, and we're aware of the talent that we have and the talent that's available, and we'll build the best offensive line that we can with the best players that we can. And there is always going to be ... The roster is always going to morph and change year to year. You've got to stay young, but you've also got to have [a] great veteran presence, as well, [on] your offensive line and every other position. So, it's really a balance. You want to be as young as you can, but you also want to have a lot of veteran experience, and I think everybody feels that. So, it's really a delicate mix, because with a salary cap – with a salary cap league – it makes it hard to keep every single player that you want to keep. We're not like the old ... I grew up a Cowboys fan, and we're not like the Dallas Cowboys of 1991, 1992-93. The salary cap changes things, and that makes it a lot more challenging."

On what he's going to miss the most about Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz:"Oh, man. Well, [Joe Hortiz] is just one of my best friends. When we started ... I think Joe started in 1998, and I was an office guy and a young scout and took Joe under my wing, and we did a lot of stuff together. Our kids went to school together; he was my pickleball partner; [he] sat next to me during the draft; [he] helped me, over the years, run the meetings and assess talent. Joe has got a great eye for talent. He'll do an amazing job as an evaluator for the Chargers. He's got good opinions, [and] he's a consensus builder. The scouts are going to love him. The coaches are going to love working with him, and he's going to do a fantastic job."

On what he values in a prospect:"I think integrity is important to me. Passion for the game is important to me. Work ethic, dependability, growth mindset, grit – all those things – factor in. It's something that we really kind of focus on. I mean, anyone can watch tape and assess how good a player can catch a football or bend his knees or make a tackle in space or block somebody. But to me, the secret sauce is really knowing the person behind the tape, the personality of the player, [and] how he carries himself day to day. What's he going to do every day in the offseason? How is he going to carry himself on the field, in the community? All those kinds of things are critically important. And really, I think, those are probably as important – those factors – as how a guy plays the game."

On if he will place the franchise tag on DT Justin Madubuike if they can't come to terms on a long-term deal:"I probably will, yes."

John Harbaugh

Opening Statement:"It's good to see everybody. Tough act to be next to over there." (laughter) "I appreciate you all being here. What questions do you have?"

On what he's said to Jim Harbaugh since becoming the Chargers head coach: "'Buckle up.' [Jim Harbaugh]'s going to do great. Actually, we've been together for the last couple of days, and he's fired up and enthusiastic and talking to players. [He] knows a lot of these guys, I guess. So, it's been fun. He's wired [and] ready to go."

On if he can assess how Jim Harbaugh feels: "I think [Jim Harbaugh]'s excited about this. I think he's really excited about the Chargers. I think he's excited about the [Spanos] family. He goes way back, [and] he has great relationships there [with] everybody in the building, really, I think he's starting to build with. The guys he's brought over, he knows. He has a comfort with that. He loves the quarterback, so all those things."

On the narrative that Jim Harbaugh can rub some people the wrong way: "I guess it depends on the person. I think most people ... I kind of would dispute that, I guess, but I've known him my whole life. So, there are a lot of narratives out there about a lot of people and they just kind of pick up steam, and everybody kind of says, 'Well, that's just how somebody is.' And then, you'll meet a person, and you'll be like, 'It's completely different from that.' I don't know where some of that stuff comes from, and nobody really cares. I know [Jim Harbaugh] doesn't care. I think as you get to know him, you'll like him a lot." 

On his recent assistant coaching staff hires:"I'm really excited about the coaches that we hired. We had a lot of staff turnover. We had Mike [Macdonald] go to be a head coach. We had Anthony [Weaver] and Dennard [Wilson] go on to be coordinators. We had a lot of inquiries about other coaches [to be] head coaches and otherwise, coordinators. So, we had a lot of positions to fill, and we filled them with guys that are going to be great fits for us that are going to make us even better. That's what you try to do. You try to acquire the best players you can [and] hire the best coaches you can [and] just build the best team that you can. Then if it goes well, guys get an opportunity to go somewhere else and kind of chase their career and advance. Players move on and sign for bigger contracts, or they get a new contract with you – that's all good stuff. It's not stuff that you sit back, and you lament and say, 'How are we going to replace this guy or that guy?' For 16 years, we've had that same refrain after every single season, and to me, it's a positive thing. So, the guys coming in are going to be amazing. [Defensive line coach] Dennis Johnson with the D-line from Baylor [University] – you're going to see his energy and his fire. He's an attention to detail guy. [Defensive backs coach] Doug Mallory, he's one of the greatest secondary coaches in the world right now. He fits us because he's been in a similar system for the last number of years. So, he understands the way our system operates. That's going to be a huge plus for us. [Inside linebackers coach] Mark DeLeone is a coach's kid, but when you start listening to him talk ball, he just blew me away with his knowledge and his relationships with players and his relationship with Roquan [Smith]. [And] those [are just the] three guys on defense. On offense, we've done a little bit there with assistant offensive line with Travelle Wharton coming in. [He's] a former player. I just loved the interview with him and the relationship with players and his background with [our former offensive line coaches] John Matsko and Juan Castillo makes him uniquely qualified to be with us. So, [they are] just a lot of great coaches."

On the challenges of losing defensive coaches to other opportunities:"I'm just really excited about the guys we have. Every season is a new season, and that's just the way it works. The guys that we have are guys that are going to fit in well, and we're not going to change our defensive structure. We've elevated [defensive coordinator] Zach [Orr], so that's continuity there with what we're doing on defense, and we've had continuity with our defensive coordinator hire since 2008. That's been a trend, and I think we've given up the least points in the league since 2008 by far. So, we have a little tradition going there. We have a pretty good feel for what we want to do on defense. We just want to keep building on that, evolving it, getting better with it. Zach is the next guy in in to lead that, and those other guys are going to do a great job. How about hiring [pass rush coordinator] Chuck Smith last year? How good was that for us? So, all those kinds of things are kind of a big plus, and I think it's just part of the way it goes."

On if there is a challenge to find coaches that fit your particular defensive scheme when you lose a guy like Mike Macdonald who had been so successful for you: "Right. Dennard [Wilson] in Tennessee to add that, and Anthony [Weaver] in Miami. I don't know. That's a great question. I think it's something that kind of happens in football, especially in the National Football League. It's definitely not something to be sad about. It's definitely a good problem to have, but like anything ... One of our beliefs is you have to keep things moving all the time. You're always moving; you're always changing; you're always evolving; you're always growing; you're always expanding what you do because the people that you're going against – these guys down this [NFL Combine Media] row right here – are doing the same thing. It's a high-level, intellectual pursuit to be honest with you. So, that's what we're going to try to do this year and do the best we can with it."

On how former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald will do as a head coach: "I think Mike [Macdonald] will do great. Mike's great. A couple of years ago, everybody was like, 'Why Mike Macdonald?' So, now I can go, 'Well, that's why.' You saw it. He's a great guy, [and] he's a great coach. He's very diligent. Yes, he's smart, he's thoughtful, but he's fundamentally grounded, and he's very diligent. Every single day, all he thinks about is ways to help the guys be as good as they can be or attack the offense that he's going against. I do think he'll expand that into the role of being a head coach. I think he'll take those qualities and apply them to being a head coach, and he'll do a great job."

On former Ravens defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans:"[Former Ravens defensive backs coach] Dennard [Wilson] was really with us the one year. [He] came in and fit right into the system and learned it and added to it – those two things that you always want when you bring coaches in. He's a great communicator. [He's a] great teacher. [He's a] very demanding coach in a really good way in a way that I think guys respect. I'm sure he'll do a great job in Tennessee."

On former Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line Anthony Weaver, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins:"Anthony [Weaver's] just an absolute star. You see him, [and] he lights up a room. He fills up a room, too. [He] fills up a room and lights up a room the way he treats people, the way he responds to problems and problem-solving type of things, the way he coaches the guys, the way he presents, his understanding of defense, generally, but also, he's really good – high, high level – but also his leadership ability. The way he manages players and coaches and works with other people. I just think he's a great leader, and I think he'll do a great job [in] whatever he does. I said it before him, all these guys were talking about our potential head coaches."

On the challenge of casting a wide net when searching for assistant coaches:"[It's a] big challenge. You have to be very conscientious about that. You have to understand ... It's a small world [in] football, but it's a very sought after world. There's a lot of people trying to get in. There's a lot of talented people out there that could really make a difference, and you just have to figure out who they are. I had a great conversation – I hope doesn't Coach [Nick] Saban doesn't get mad at me for sharing this, but [I] happened to talk to him about two weeks ago. He was talking about all different things. One of the things he talked about was all the coaching changes he had over the last 10 years [at Alabama] because of their success. Coaches would come and be there for a year or two, then they'd go get a head coaching job. Look at [Texas head coach] 'Sark' [Steve Sarkisian] and others. [Saban] just felt like the challenge of finding new coaches [and] hiring new coaches, especially as you get a little bit older. When you're young, and you're 35, you know who all the 35-year-old coaches are. Now, you get to be in your 60s, or 70s in Coach [Saban]'s case, you probably know who the 60- and 70-year-old coaches are, but you don't know the 35-year-old coaches as much. Then, he had to train those guys every single year. I think that does become a big challenge of success. Nobody had it at a higher level than him, so that's a huge part of it."

On how he has changed how he has evaluated quarterbacks from when he entered the NFL until now:"That's such a great question. To me, it's just the way the game's gone. We've expanded our view of what a quarterback is. It's most obvious with Lamar [Jackson]. Obviously, would anybody said we made a bad decision when we drafted him back in 2018? But at the time, there were a lot of people saying that. I think the view has changed a lot in terms of how we view athletes or people in terms of their roles. The game has changed because of that. In the last six years, the way quarterbacks play ... I think if you go back and look at football in 2015-17 or before that, there's pretty much a model for that position. That model has definitely expanded tremendously. I would like to say we were a little ahead of the curve on that, but even we're learning as we go when you watch guys play. You watch all these guys play. The way [Miami Dolphins QB] Tua [Tagovailoa] gets the ball out so fast – I mean, how can we incorporate some of that stuff into our offense? That's just one example."

On how impressive it is that executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta is an avid reader and shares things with the team: "[Executive vice president and general manger] Eric [DeCosta] is an avid reader, and he shares those messages with the team? Yes. He must do it one on one, because I'm not getting the message. I want some messages from [him]. I see the books, but I need to get some book recommendations from Eric. Eric is a super smart, thoughtful, deep-thinking kind of a person, and I think he's wide-read on a lot of topics when he has time. He probably [reads] a little more after the Draft then before the Draft, I would say, because I don't see him do too much reading now, not in his office. I see him on that tape a lot. He's just been unbelievable. Eric is a great general manager. [He's] well-rounded [in] every aspect of it. He is involved with the players. He does a great job. He's involved with our discipline program [and] all those different kinds of things. He's just really special in a lot of ways."

On how the Ravens are approaching the running back position this offseason: "It's up in the air. We don't have a lot of guys under contract right now. We have Justice Hill. I love the way Justice played [in 2023]. He was incredible all year [and] took another step. He's a great player, then, after that, we just have to see. We would love to get Gus [Edwards] back. J.K. [Dobbins] is floating around out there. Those guys have been with us. We'll just have to see how it goes."

On how important it is to have a degree of conflict within personnel decision making:"If everybody agrees, then you're probably wrong, right? That's for sure. We have a lot of that, but it's respectful. Our Draft room is, 'Say what you think, or forever hold your peace,' and everybody says what they think. Nobody is ever holding their peace, so it's not peaceful. It's not, but the conflict is good. We try to confront everything, every aspect of our football [team], our evaluations [and] our scheme. Everything we do football-wise, we try to confront it together to make it better. We're not confronting one another, ever. We're confronting the issues."

On his evaluation of the 2023 NFL Draft class and especially the Top 2 picks: "I don't know. I really wouldn't [have a say] to be honest with you, because it's nothing that we really ... As the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, I'm not really doing that. I'm not really evaluating the class, per se. I know C.J. Stroud was really tough to play against. We didn't get a chance to play against Carolina [and Bryce Young], so it's harder for me to say. But, C.J. Stroud – I said it after the first game when we played [Houston] in the [regular season] opener – this team is going to win a lot of games, and I'd like to remind everybody of that right now, because they won a lot of games. They have a very talented team. Their general manager [Nick Caserio] is outstanding. Their head coach [DeMeco Ryans] is outstanding. They have a great staff, and they've built a heck of a football team, but the quarterback is really important, and C.J. Stroud is a star."

On if it's too early to say that the Carolina Panthers missed on the No. 1 Draft pick last season: "I don't have any idea about that. I really don't even try to evaluate that."

On sharing information with his family and particularly his brother, Chargers' head coach Jim Harbaugh: "I think it's great. Jim [Harbaugh] and I share a lot of conversations about a lot of things. Most of it is not football-related, obviously, just like [it is] with your family, but a lot of it has been football-related, because he has been at Michigan. That's definitely going to be different like it was when he was with San Francisco. There are things we'll talk about, and we are definitely going to continue to be brothers. We're just going to be brothers – you have to look at it that way – but we are going to be competitors, too, so it will probably change a little bit."

On how QB Lamar Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken's new scheme progressed throughout the year:"I think it progressed naturally. We're just beginning. We're just starting. We're one year into this thing. There are so many things that I feel like, looking back on it now, they actually were baby steps. They were hard steps for us to take, because it was a seat change in terms of offensive philosophy, but they were baby steps looking back on them. We have so, so far to go. Lamar [Jackson] is excited; [offensive coordinator] Todd [Monken] is excited; All the coaches [are excited]. We have a plan. We came out the very first day after the AFC Championship game talking about where we were going to go offensively. We had a staff meeting about it. I met with Todd. I met with all the coaches individually. I met with Lamar a couple of days after that. I met with different players, and we have a direction right now on where we want to go. We want to be tight. We want to be locked in. We want to understand how this offense applies to Lamar and our players, and we want to do right by our players, and we want to do right by Lamar and build the best operation that we can for him so his talents can really shine. I think we're just starting with that."

On the importance of young players like WR Zay Flowers and RB Keaton Mitchell and who he expects to take big steps next year:"I think Rashod Bateman is going to take a big step, just off the top of my head. Rashod is going to get opportunities this year. He ran routes really well. He worked super hard. He was healthy for the first time – even as the year went on, he got healthier, and you could see it in his play. The ball got to him, [and] when it did, he made some great plays. The ball is going to get to him a lot more next year. He's going to be ready to go. We got Nelson [Agholor] back. Nelson was a big signing [that we got] back. He played a big role last year. Of course, Zay [Flowers], he speaks for himself. We got 'Ty' [Tylan Wallace] in there; Tylan did a good job, and then, you never know with a guy like Odell [Beckham Jr.]. I know that's probably a question that people are asking. I've got my fingers crossed. We'll see. That's kind of out there. Those are those things that kind of answer themselves in time. I love our tight ends, as receivers, so all of that is really part of it."

On how much a priority the offensive line will be in the Draft: "The Draft can help a lot, certainly with the offensive line. I just started watching [the tape, and] so far so good. Eric tells me it's a good O-line draft. That's one thing, but the offensive line is where it starts. We talked about that in 2008. It's been true forever. You win in the trenches first, so we think that we're offensive line-centric in our philosophy, and we've got some question marks on our offensive line. There is going to be some rebuilding that is going to have to be done in there, and we're getting to it already. It's going to be probably the most important thing we do on offense."

On the impact ILB Roquan Smith had on the defense in 2023:"Roquan Smith has made a seat change on our defense. Roquan kind of just tied it all together. He made it all kind of fit and make sense. We were doing the same things on defense that we were doing [before] Roquan got here, and we were doing them pretty well. We were getting better as the [2022] season went along, but everybody saw it. When he got here, it changed. He made everybody better around him, and it's only gotten better since. So yes, Roquan, [I] love him. I love him. [He's] one of the best."

On if he ever believed that Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin would not be back in Pittsburgh and if he could imagine him not being on the other sideline:"No and no. [It's] pretty clear cut. [I have] much respect [and] much love for Coach [Mike] Tomlin, for the Steelers organization [and] for the players. Cam Heyward ... I was [at the University of] Pittsburgh as a young coach – a graduate assistant coach – when his dad was the running back there. [Craig] 'Ironhead' Heyward, I saw him – first guy ever [to be] 300-plus pounds – leap a BYU defensive back down the sideline and run another 40 yards for a touchdown. I think [Cam] kind of epitomizes [the Steelers] now, as well, [and] their tradition. So, yes, exactly. No and no to both of those questions."

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