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Transcripts: Press Conference (1/17)


Opening statement: "Good to see everyone today. I hope you guys all are all doing well. I saw you guys out there braving that first 15 minutes of outside in that cold, so that was good to see. (laughter) For us, we're just looking forward to this opportunity. We get to go up against [and] face a good Houston [Texans] special teams unit. Those guys have been great all year. It's going to be a good challenge for us and our guys to just go out there and really just take care of our business and do what we do. Questions?"

How has WR Devin Duvernay been progressing since returning to practice from his injury?*(Kyle Phoenix)* "[Devin Duvernay] has been great since he's gotten back out there. He just fit right back into where he left off. Once he came back, he started to get those opportunities. We put him back there and let him field some of those punts [and] field some of those kickoffs. He looks good. He looks like he's ready to go."

Is the idea that if WR Devin Duvernay does play on Saturday, he would resume his returner duties?*(Cordell Woodland)* "Of course. It's [Devin Duvernay's] job before he got hurt. It's one of those things. Like I said, we have guys that we can throw back there. If the weather's bad [and] there's an opportunity, you possibly could see two guys back there. Just given those responsibilities and given those options that we do have, I think it's good for us to put our Pro Bowl player back there."

What is it that makes the Houston Texans' special teams unit so good?*(Jeff Zrebiec)* "[Texans special teams coordinator] Frank [Ross] has done a good job. He's done a good job with the guys that he's got. They've got a good core group. They've got some veteran guys [and] some guys that have really made their mark through special teams. And then they've got some young guys that have played well for them just throughout the entire year. They just do a really good job. They play fast, [and] they play physical – pretty much, I think, what you'll see from the rest of their team. [It's] just kind of what the head coach [DeMeco Ryans] has instilled in those guys, and that's what you're getting on special teams. But for us, it's just go out and just really go play our game, and let's go do what we do."

What effect does the cold weather play in the kicking game?*(Childs Walker)* "Obviously ... Ball flight ... Obviously, it affects the ball flight and things like that. But as far as anything else, those guys – those specialists – [if] they go out, they take care of the fundamentals, you should be able to get what you need out of it. For us, we practiced on Field 3, and it's windy, [and] it's cold out there all the time. So, I don't think this should affect us too much."


Opening Statement:"It's good to see everybody. Before we get going, it's just great to be able to practice outside, so shoutout to our grounds crew to clear that field out and to make it unfrozen. It was pretty impressive, [and] it was cool to hear how they did it, but that was pretty neat. But any questions? I'm all ears."

You saw QB C.J. Stroud in the first game in Week One. In watching him now, what's the biggest difference you've seen from him now?* (Jamison Hensley)* "Well, we were really impressed the first game, too. We knew going into the game that ... If you remember me talking about it back then – we didn't feel like you were going against a rookie at that point. So, you're just seeing the natural progression over the course of the season just being more comfortable in the system. You can tell the system's growing around [C.J. Stroud], and they've evolved as we have as well. I think that's what you're seeing, but [I] definitely have a lot of respect for what they're doing and how he operates. 

This is going to be your third time going against QB C.J. Stroud going back to your days at Michigan. Obviously, there's not too much similarity between what defenses run. But do you go as far back as 2021 to see how he reacts to the stuff you like to run, or do you like to focus more on this season?*(Jonas Shaffer)* "Yes, I would focus more on this season. The system that he's running is pretty drastically different than what he was doing in college. We haven't thought about that game [in 2021] at all, really."

From the Texans offense, are you seeing anything that some of the same precedent especially some of the downfield passes that maybe you did see in your time in college?*(Cordell Woodland)* "There's going to be carry over on routes, because there's only so many things you can do with 11 guys. But it really is different – the system, how they're operating and marrying the run and the pass and things like that – I'd say, and they've evolved over the course of the season. Obviously, he's comfortable with certain things that there emphasizing and like any good offenses is going to do, you're going to tailor it around the people you have, especially the quarterback."

What's really stood out to you about the way CB Ronald Darby has played this year?*(Ryan Mink)* "[Ronald Darby's] consistent. His role has kind of evolved from week to week. He started out the season playing ... He's just played great football for us, so that's probably the best compliment [about him] I can give you. But he's always ready to go even if he's not in the starting lineup, so wherever his role is, he's been right there ready to rock. But we expect that from everybody."

In FB Patrick Ricard, you have a player who can kind of blur the lines between a tight end and a fullback. The Texans kind of do stuff like that, and the 49ers and Dolphins also do stuff like that as well. What kind of challenges does that have on you when you're looking at the challenges does that put on you when you're looking at the personnel on the field and how they can line up in any formation?*(Steven Ruiz)* "All those teams do a great job of manipulating their personnel. It's just like you don't know who's going to be in the traditional spots, so to speak, but it does test your roles a little bit in some of the coverages you want to play, without kind of getting into the weeds about it ... But yes, you have to understand where they're lining up from what they do in those different spots. A lot of times, it's really just to put the guy they want to get the ball in a certain position, a certain matchup, too, so it's more like a chess piece." (Reporter: Does it put more emphasis on the players before the snaps kind of like making checks?) "If we call the call based on where they're at, then yes. But it's not different than any other offense. You can't be doing all sorts of things where you're playing matchup ball all the time, because they could end up anywhere on the field."

The Texans lost a big piece in WR Tank Dell a little over a month ago, but the offense has still been putting up points. How have they been able to withstand that loss?*(Tim Barbalace)*"It's testament to who they have and how they're operating and tailoring it to the guys that are available, and they have not been a ... They haven't had everybody available over the last 10 weeks. Every game, it seems like they're missing at least one piece that's kind of part of their system. And, to your point, they really haven't had a drop off. Just like our defense, if guys go down, there's storylines behind it and all that, but the guys in the room, it's, 'We're ready to go.' The next guy, he's preparing just like everybody else, so they're ready to step up. [It] just speaks [to] what they have going on over there." 

What is it like getting ready for your second playoff game as a coordinator where you know you're the No. 1 seed and all the expectations and all the possibilities with this group can come together? What does it feel like?*(Pete Gilbert)* "It feels like another game. You guys know how they operate here. We want to emphasize play to play, down to down, drill to drill, day to day – that's really our focus right now. Today is a football Thursday, so I'm talking to you folks [at the podium]. And now I know what I do a football Thursday when I go back up to my office, and we'll operate accordingly and kick that thing off on Saturday."

DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney reached 9.5 sacks a couple weeks ago. I'm just curious, when you look at the totality of this season, why do you think he's performed so well for you guys?*(Brian Wacker)* "Well, it would have been great to get him to 10 [sacks]. It's an interesting question because I only know 'JD' [Jadeveon Clowney] from our experience from this year. So, I can't speak to how he's operated in the past and things like that. I've talked to [assistant head coach/defensive line Anthony Weaver] and his relationship with him over the course of the year, so that's obviously a plus. But the guy that I see is a guy that loves playing football. He loves being around his teammates. He's a gregarious guy who has a lot of thoughts on a lot of things, which is cool to hear, and he plays the game the right way. So, those are the type of guys we love having here, and you find, not just at that position, but all across the team. Those guys play great football for us when we're able to find them." 

Does there ever become a point of concern where a defense becomes too reliant on takeaways to get stops? Is the mentality of your defensive group impervious to that kind of thinking?*(Jonas Shaffer)* "We're not relying on takeaways. We're trying to create takeaways at all times. But that's how you attack the football and how you play through your rules, and then plays will be made that way. We're not just chasing takeaways at the expense of giving up yards or points."

Is there an emphasis this week on louder communication given how loud it will be on Saturday?*(Ryan Mink)* "As loud as 'The Bank' [M&T Bank Stadium] we can make it, the better for us. We'd love to have our communication challenged on Saturday night for sure."

In light of the head-coaching interviews you've had recently, have you been made aware of efforts by fans on Twitter to keep you in Baltimore?*(Jonas Shaffer)* "My wife sent me a couple good ones." (laughter) "There's some good ones out there, not many, but I am aware of it."


What do you see out of QB Lamar Jackson this week ahead of the AFC Divisional matchup with the Houston Texans?*(Ryan Mink)* "[Lamar Jackson] looks good. He's locked in. It's what you spend [the] offseason and training camp ... Then, all the work you put in during the year to put yourself in this position. That's what you do. Now, it's a one-game season. Somebody said, 'It's not a three-game season. It's a one-game season.' We have to win this week."

Are there certain buttons you are more comfortable pushing now with QB Lamar Jackson in the run game than you would have been in the regular season?*(Jonas Shaffer)* "I don't know if I'd say from the regular season. Do I think we've improved over the course of the season? Yes. We've gotten more comfortable with our personnel, where we're at [and] how to utilize them. I don't know if anything from the regular season to now changes, because we are who we are."

How have you seen the Houston Texans get better throughout the season, especially in their run defense?*(Todd Karpovich)* "I just think [the Houston Texans] are getting more and more comfortable with the scheme. They're a different team now [than when we played them in Week 1], and we are just like every team in the NFL. For better or for worse, you're not going to be the same team you were Week 1. Hopefully, it's for the better. I believe we are, especially offensively, and they are defensively. [It's a] new [coaching] staff. Offensively, [it's] a new staff. Everything else was offensively new [with] no preseason, so you can just see them doing it better – just consistently doing it better. [They're] feeling more and more comfortable. That's what you see. It's a lot of the same players. It's the same coaches. [It's] the same scheme that you've seen; they seem to be doing it better, and they're aggressive. They're aggressive and very active up front. Their safeties are good players in the box [and] good tacklers, so we have our work cut out for us."

How has TE Mark Andrews looked in practice since returning from injury?*(Jamison Hensley)* "Good."

If TE Mark Andrews is able to play on Saturday, how does that factor into possibly playing alongside TE Isaiah Likely?*(Jamison Hensley)* "We'll just have to see. It's hard right now to say that. It's day to day. It's not only that – it's not only the practice. It's then how Mark [Andrews] feels afterwards – how his body feels, what it tells him, and then should he be able to go, how we can implement him into the gameplan. That's what you asked me, but I don't really have the answer right now. We're excited that he's back out there practicing. I can tell you that."

How important is mindset in a game where it is going to be cold and windy?*(Pete Gilbert)* "Sure. I think mindset's a big part of it – being mentally tough [and] anticipating what to expect. We got out there today, which was good."

In training camp, you said quarterback empowerment can elevate an offense. How would you track that progress with QB Lamar Jackson this season?*(Steven Ruiz)* "It's always a work in progress. I don't care who it is. We've come a long way – I will say that – from offseason to training camp to the start of the year to trying to eliminate a lot of the drag that we had early in the year, starting with me [and] how I did it. Then, [it's] the communication – what [Lamar Jackson] likes, who we have personnel-wise, how we build it each week, who we're playing [and] him being comfortable to be able to say what's on his mind. It's just not empowerment in terms of on the field. It's off the field. It's everything. It's leadership. It's being able to communicate his thoughts, likes, dislikes, how he sees it, what he heard of what I said. Because, it doesn't matter what I say – if he didn't understand that part of what I was trying to get across, or [what] we were – it's not me – it's our staff. That's what we're trying to get across. We just haven't been together a long, long time. The longer you're together, the more you understand each other and likes and dislikes."

Do you stress ball security more in the postseason when you are going up against a Houston Texans defense that depends heavily on their takeaways?*(Cordell Woodland)* "I wouldn't say it's stressed any more than it has been, because we know it's the No. 1 indicator of winning and losing – taking the ball away or giving the ball away. It's even more important in the NFL, just because you're going up against really good teams every week. Every possession is super important, as we know, and giving the ball away eliminates any opportunity to score [or] to get points on the board. I wouldn't say it's stressed any more, other than you understand that when you're playing against really good teams, which the teams that are left are really good, you can't waste opportunities and give them opportunities to put points on the board and take away momentum or add momentum. You saw it in some of the games this [past] weekend when you watch it – momentum is a powerful thing."

What did WR Zay Flowers' Week 1 game against the Texans show you about him? Where have you seen him make his biggest improvements over the course of his rookie season?*(Ryan Mink)*"The things that [Zay Flowers] did in the first game, you still see today – his athleticism. You saw that making people miss trying to get him in space. Where he's improved dramatically is just playing the position strong. That's too strong, it's really in terms of what we're asking him to do, conceptually [with] the routes, spacing and when we move him around, which is hard for a rookie, just being dialed in."


On if he had the mindset that it would be possible all along to come back this season after his injury: "Yes. We ended up talking with the doctors in going through the surgery – and the surgery went incredibly well, and we knew ... You just never know. It's day by day. It's week by week, and I made progress – a lot of progress. Every week, it was big, big jumps. I'm feeling good with where I'm at right now. [I'm] still day by day, like everyone is saying, but [it's] very promising where I'm at."

On if it's helped that the team has done so well in his absence and to have this chance to come back this season: "It's incredible. It's incredible. You're just watching [my teammates]... It's tough to watch them sometimes, but just the way that they're playing ... They're fighting, clicking on all cylinders and just carrying that into the playoffs. We have a lot of playmakers that are playing really good ball right now and a coaching staff that supports them. That's what it's about; it's a team game [and a] team effort, and that's what we've got: a great team."

On TE Isaiah Likely being ready to step in and how proud he's been of him: "[Isaiah Likely] sure was. He sure is. You see it game by game. [He was] getting better and better and making big-time plays. That's a credit to how hard he's worked. It's been awesome to see him do that. We're thankful to have him."

On the communication between him and TE Isaiah Likely as the season went on: "[Isaiah Likely] has a natural feel for the game by himself. Just being there, supporting him [and] being a good teammate, that's all I can do; let him shine – do his thing. It's been awesome to see. Obviously, everybody in the tight end room supports everybody. [Tight ends] coach [George] Godsey does a good job coaching them up, but he's just a ball player."

On what the rehab experience has been like and if he knew he was going to be back: "There was a clear-cut plan and process, and I'm very thankful for the people around here from Mr. [Steve] Bisciotti [for] making my life easier through the travel and everything else, [head] coach [John] Harbaugh, the training staff, [the staff] in the weight room, [strength & conditioning coordinator] Scott Elliott, [head certified athletic trainer] Adrian Dixon and the training staff [and assistant athletic trainer/physical therapist] Mike Thomas. These guys had a plan together for me, and like I said, all I had to do was come here and every day, work and get better and better. It's gotten a lot better week by week, and we've made a lot of progress."

On how he's feeling this week and right now: "It's been good. There are a lot of different things I'm doing to get better. I know [former NFL receiver] Terrell Owens, he kind of had the same injury – the hyperbaric oxygen chamber [and] all that good stuff ... I'm doing everything I can to get back [and] get ready. After I work hard on a day like this, it's [about] recovery, [getting] the swelling down and [feeling] good the next day, which I usually do."

On what will be the deciding factor for if he plays this Saturday:"It's how I feel at the end of the day. Just knowing how good this team is, how good our players are, how good our tight ends are, if I feel like I'm going to be helpful to the team, I'm going to go. If I feel like I'm close but not there, [I'll] let these guys go and hopefully get [there] next weekend."

On the most difficult thing to get back from an injury like this: "There are a lot of different factors, and I think each day, there is a new challenge to be attacked. But, I'm starting to feel really good, being able to get after it, get in and out of routes [and] feeling pretty natural with all that stuff."

On if he talked to Terrell Owens during his rehab: "No, I didn't."

On how difficult the last two months have been: "It's been a test, that's for sure. It's the first time I've ever been through anything like this. It's tough, but you get around this team and you get around the guys. Everybody in this building has been extremely supportive. I can't tell you how much that means to me, how much it matters, and it makes me want to come here, work every day, come back to this team and help this team win a Super Bowl. That's what matters."

On what it meant to hear his teammates say they would 'Do it for Mark': "Just the fact of how much they care and just being out here for practices and seeing the energy, and guys coming up to you nonstop, it's a loving group. It's a group that cares. It's a group that plays for one another, and that's what's special about this team. It's the bond, the chemistry and the type of players we have."

On if he ever talked to Bengals' LB Logan Wilson and if he has any opinion on the hip drop tackle:"I don't really have any thoughts on that. It was kind of just an unfortunate event. I'm going to let everybody else do their thing. If they want to ban the tackle, [that's] fine, but I'm going to go out there and play hard no matter what. I don't blame the guy. He's just playing ball."

On some things he did to get himself through the rehab:"The big thing is just coming in here every day and working. To be able to push yourself, but not push yourself too hard, and teetering that line of getting better but not hurting yourself is something I've done. I talked about the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. I think that's been big for me [to] help speed up that process and everything in the training room. These guys had an incredible plan in place since Day One. We followed that, and it's been really good."

On if he has the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at his house: "Yes. My girlfriend's family had it, so we [brought] it to the house and started using it."


On if he's used to the cold weather, given that he played football at Boston College:"Yes, the weather? Yes, yes, it's kind of cold outside, though. I spent six months in Florida, training, so I got kind of used back to that weather, but now I've got to get back used to the cold again."

On if there are any hurdles to overcoming the cold weather and if it's more of a mental thing:"Yes, it's more mental, but I played in it in college, so I'm going to get back used to it [and] get going. So, we should be good."

On how big it was to practice outside and get used to the cold today:"I mean, I still had on sleeves, so it was kind of cold. But [the sleeves were] not too thick to where ... I could still ... I could feel it a little bit. I just wanted to feel it, so [that] when we get to the game, I'm going to be ready."

On how he feels physically:"Oh, I feel great. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to go with the guys, get back on the field [and] try to go get a win."

On how the mix of veteran leadership and younger players is beneficial:"They really just tell me, 'Don't be uptight. Just stay who you are, go out there and play and do what you do.'"

On his emotions before playing in his first NFL playoff game:"No emotions. It's kind of the same. I feel [like] it's just playing football. I've been playing football all my life, so I'm going to just go do what I do."

On what his Week 1 performance against the Texans did for him mentally:"It just got me a little bit more comfortable. It made me a little bit more comfortable [in] knowing [that] I can go out there and play with the best of the best. So, just playing that game got me settled in for the season."

On how his chemistry with QB Lamar Jackson and this offense as a whole has evolved throughout the season:"I mean, I feel like ... Everybody [is] learning more as the season goes [on], and I just feel like we're getting better and better each week, where we're putting up more points, and everybody [is] trusting each other. So, we came a long way, learned the plays, and now we're rolling."

On how the receiving corps has grown and come together throughout the year:"I think we had a good connection from the time we got here, because everybody is just genuine with each other in the room, so it was kind of easy just getting to know each other and getting comfortable playing with each other. So, as the season went on, we just learned more [about] how we play, and we just go off that."

On how he feels like he's changed since Week 1:"I don't think I've changed at all. I think I've stayed the same. [I'm] a little bit more experienced, but I think, overall, [my] personality has stayed the same."


On how he's feeling following his knee injury:"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling good."

On how it feels to be playing in the cold weather:"Yes, I mean, you want to be playing when it's cold; that's when [the season] starts to matter a lot, like you said. But, I mean, I'm still from Georgia, so it still takes some getting used to. I never got used to it [when I played for] Notre Dame. It just ... It is what it is."

On if overcoming the cold weather is more of a mental thing than anything else:"Yes, I think it's just [a] before and after the game kind of thing. I never really think about it during the game. I've never been lined up before the ball is snapped and been like, 'Damn, it's cold.'" (laughter) "But yes, it's just something to get used to in the pregame [that you need to] get your mind right."

On what he's seen from QB C.J. Stroud:"Yes, [C.J. Stroud] has gotten a lot of accolades [and] gotten a lot of press for good reason. He's been doing a great job this year. It's his rookie year, but [he's] not playing like it. He's playing like he's one of the best quarterbacks in our league, and it's not by accident that they're in this position. They've got a good team over there – in all facets of the game – and it's going to be a challenge. We're coming in here ... We got a little break, but we've got to lock back in and get a win."

On what stands out to him about WR Nico Collins:"Yes, [Nico Collins] is a big-body receiver. He's fast, [has] good hands. He runs crisp routes, and they feature him in the offense [and] get him a lot of deep balls [to] give him a chance to go up and make plays. And like you said, he's made a lot of plays – a lot of catches – this year in big-time moments. So, it's up to us to have a gameplan to surround him and make sure [that] he doesn't get off against us. But I think we're doing a good job this week of just honing in on the gameplan [to] try to keep him in front of us."

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