E*_xecutive Vice President/General Manager Eric DeCosta, Head Coach John Harbaugh & Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz_*
Eric DeCosta opening statement:"It was a good three days. I think we got a lot accomplished. Thanks to the coaches and scouts, and to all the other people in the organization that helped us over the course of this weekend, and there are a lot of different people. We're very fortunate to be in this position, to have this to focus on, when so many people out there are suffering, and obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with all those people in the country right now that need our support. We're excited. We think we got better as a football team, and I'll take questions."
Eric, you addressed it earlier, but it seems like you pretty much filled every hole you were looking for with the possible exception of an edge rusher. When you look back, do you think you got pretty much everything you were looking for out of this draft? (Dave Ginsburg)
DeCosta:"Well, we did the best we could. We tried to draft the best players that checked off the most boxes that could help us right away and also long-term. You're never really going to … I mean, I suppose you could, but in most cases you're always going to have a hole that kind of stays open. But, we'll continue to try and fill those holes. And that's the thing about this that I've learned: I think Coach [John Harbaugh] and [director of player personnel] Joe [Hortiz] would feel the same way – things always pop up, so you're always going to have needs. They change daily in this business, and you just have to try and adjust on the fly, and we will do that to the best of our abilities."
Eric, you talked about how you guys really looked at adding guys from big, accomplished programs. Does that have anything to do with the fact of the climate currently and the fact that the offseason workout program, and the rookies, might not get as much exposure to your program until training camp? (Jeff Zrebiec)
DeCosta:"No, I don't think so. I think we just want winners. We want guys that are mature, that are fully developed, in terms of preparation, work ethic, approach and discipline. [With] some of the big schools, you get guys that … They come in and their process is close to being the same, and the adjustment is not quite as severe as it could be. Playing in big games – whatever level of football it really is – playing in big games matters. I think that preparation and all that goes into it … We like guys that could play in successful programs, and good competition is always something that we are going to look for, and that's really it."
Eric, you said before the draft you wanted to make this offense as close to undefendable as possible. How close do you feel you have done that after looking at the picks you made? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta:"I think we have a lot of work to do, obviously. Here we are in April, and everything is so different. We've started the offseason program, but we have a lot of work to do, and we all have to get better – all of us in the organization, what we do coaching and scouting, everybody. We're going to just keep adding players and tweaking things and try to scout better and coach better. Our players have to develop quickly and get stronger and bigger. All that stuff just factors in, and I hope that [when] we start playing games in September, I know that Coach [John Harbaugh] will have the best team on the field."
John, you guys obviously picked a lot of really accomplished slot receivers today. I know you mentioned that WR Devin Duvernay has some experience and potential out wide. But, with what WR Marquise Brown showed you guys in the slot last year, with how well you used TE Mark Andrews there in the slot, how do you see that shaking up, having maybe some flexibility with guys moving in and out of those roles? (Jonas Shaffer)
John Harbaugh:"As you know, when watching us – and I think your question is kind of alluding to it – it's not really defined in traditional ways. We don't just have an X and a Z and an S and a Y, a U and an H. We play all the guys in different spots, the same as we do on defense. Offensively, we have the same philosophy. We are really tied together that way. It's thought through. We have a plan for that, and [offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman], and [assistant head coach/pass coordinator/wide receivers] David Culley, and [quarterbacks coach] James [Urban] and all the guys on offense do a great job of teaching the guys all the different spots [and] all the different routes. And, we like to move guys around. So really, I don't think we really have a 'slot' player or an 'outside' player. You'll see those guys play in all the different spots in different times. And then, we try to put them in position to do the things that they do well. The things you see Willie Snead doing are the things we think he does best, and he's a very versatile player, for instance. We'll try to do that with all the guys we have. So, when Devin [Duvernay] can go outside – and then James Proche has been outside, too – outside, inside, in motion, runs, twitch routes, out of the backfield … These are all things that we plan on doing with all of our guys and we do want for personnel players like Eric [DeCosta] talked about. We did a great job of getting guys like that today."
Can you talk about just what went into the trade? Obviously, you go up and get WR James Proche, but what made you want to go and do that? (Garrett Downing)
DeCosta:"There are a lot of things about James [Proche] that we like. I saw him at the Senior Bowl, and he's a crafty guy. He's good inside. He has excellent hands. I think he's competitive with the football. I liked the way the he practiced. I watched him catch punts that weekend in Mobile, and I was really impressed by how he judged the ball and secured the catch. He's a guy that gets upfield quickly with the football in his hands as a punt returner, and that's an important position. It's hard to find those kinds of guys that have that special skillset. He has a good mentality. He's been highly productive at the college level, and I think he fits our team very well."
Eric, the front seven, considering the rush yards allowed a year ago – how big of a priority was that going in [to the draft]? And did the board fall the way you wanted to address that? Or did you really kind of go out of your way to make sure that you addressed that? (Pete Gilbert)
DeCosta: "We lost some guys in the front seven this offseason, and we always want to continue to be as strong up front as we can. And that's something that since Coach [John] Harbaugh's been the head coach, [since] 2008, he has stressed that we are as strong as we can be on the offensive and defensive lines. So, we try to get guys every single year in the draft on both sides of the ball. I know sometimes our fans don't think that's maybe sexy, but we do. We want to be as strong up front as we can, so you're going to see us do that every single draft. It's important to us to control the line of scrimmage and be a physical football team."
Can you share the general scouting report that you got from your brother [Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh] on G Ben Bredeson? (Ryan Mink)
Harbaugh: "Yes, I can read the text message my dad gave me, too. I remember it started out with, 'You're going to love this guy.' Jim [Harbaugh] said the same thing, 'Leader by example and vocal, no nonsense, all football all the time, really motivated, very competitive guy.' I just saw a story about his mom doing the dog shows. That was a new one. Our scouts probably knew it, but I didn't know it. He has a photographic memory, too. Did you know that? So, [he's] a really smart guy. They said he's everything you want in a football player and a person, so that went a long way. And those are the kind of guys that Eric DeCosta likes to draft – smart, tough guys that are going to come to the building and be all-in all the time, and Ben [Bredeson] is that kind of guy."
With S Geno Stone, a lot of the scouting reports said he was really smart, really savvy. How do you go about scouting guys like that and scouting the idea that a guy is good at reading quarterbacks' eyes? (Aaron Kasinitz)
Joe Hortiz: "I think it's just when you watch the film, you watch him back there, and they use him as like the field safety. So, he's rolled down in underneath coverage, and they also played him on the hash. And you just watch how he processes things. He's really quick to pick up routes coming across. [He] drives up quick, takes things away, shows a feel for the quarterback. He can identify run action quickly. So, what you do is you watch the guy process what he's seeing as the play is going on. When you watch Geno [Stone], you see a guy that really does have a good feel for what's happening in front of him and is able to pick up keys and react quickly to take things away. So, it's really, for scouts, years of experience and watching it over and over. You see enough guys, you see a guy that sees it quick, and he's one of them."
With the amount of young talent that you guys have added on the offensive and defensive line, do you think that's going to be good for these young guys to have all the competition that they will have to push each other on both sides of the ball as they try and get better? (Cliff Brown)
Harbaugh: "Absolutely, competition makes us better. It breeds excellence. Iron sharpens iron. That's something that we've believed here for many years. It's true, and then [there is] the leadership those guys are going to get. We have some great leaders on defense in that room and on offense, as well. Those guys are going to come into great rooms. They have two great coaches [defensive line coach Joe Cullen and offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris]. They do a great job of coaching those guys up front. They're going to be coached by the best, so we expect them to get up to speed really quickly. I really expect those guys ... Even with our present situation, we're going to go to work next week with some individual meetings, some of those virtual meetings we're going to have. [We'll] start teaching the playbook right away, and we will be expecting those guys to contribute for us right out of the gate."
Understanding how hectic the rookie free agent signing period can be right after the draft, with this current environment, how hectic is it? And how much have you had to prepare from a logistical standpoint compared to the normal post-draft activity? (Luke Jones)
Hortiz: "In terms of post-draft free agency, it's all about communication, and I think [player personnel coordinator] Mark Azevedo has worked great with all of us. He's gotten everyone involved – coaches, [director of football administration] Nick Matteo, [senior vice president of football operations] Pat Moriarty, [director of player personnel] George [Kokinis]. It's been constant dialogue in the buildup for what's about to happen. We're organized. We're ready to go, and the main thing in free agency is everything is done via communication – phone calls to the agent, phone calls to the players. And our guys have been doing that throughout the process leading up to this, and once this draft ends, we're going to get rolling on it and knock it out, hopefully quick. The technology we have with Zoom and Webex, we're able to communicate to each other through that, so I expect it to go off without much of a hitch."
This is going to be the most watched draft in NFL history, as far as television ratings with fans. It's a nice diversion for people to get back to some normalcy. Did you feel that way also? To get back to business, was it a nice diversion? And did the draft serve as a sense of getting back to business and kind of a nice distraction from what's going on with this pandemic? (Todd Karpovich)
DeCosta: "Yes, I can say we haven't taken a break, really, so it's been a great distraction in a lot of different ways. It's been nice to have something to focus on. On the other hand, I think it's been amazing to be able to spend this time with my family, as well. To have moments during the day when I could go out and see my boys and my daughter and just spend time with my wife going for a walk or something and also to be able to do this job, has been something pretty special and unique, and I've enjoyed it in a lot of different ways."
I'm curious with WRs James Proche's and Devin Duvernay's evaluations – how much did their ability as returners kind of factor into where you guys picked them, and how interested you were in them? (Andrew Gillis)
Hortiz:"I think with James [Proche], he certainly has more [of a] return history, in terms of punt return. That definitely factored in. When you look at him, he's very, very good at getting back there, judging it, catching it. And then Devin [Duvernay] offers a little kick return value. But I think, really, when you watch them as players, that's kind of the big, total package. When you watch the players, you've got to evaluate everything. And as receivers, first and foremost, the one thing they both do is catch the ball, and I mean catch it. Between the two of them, there are very few drops in the state of Texas, between the two of those [players]. That's what's most impressive about them. Obviously, they bring a different skillset, each of them. But together, I think they can really help this offense and certainly help our team."
As far as looking at the way things went now that it's over virtually, how would you say, technically, things went? I know there was a reported power outage. Besides that, how would you think things went from your end and conducting things from your house? (Jerry Coleman)
Harbaugh:"I thought it went great. I give our IT guys all the credit in the world. Our guys were great – [vice president of networking and hardware] Nick Fusee and that whole crew. They just got everything set up so well, and [director of research and development] David McDonald, and all the different guys in different departments – just amazing, first-class. It went smooth; it was easy. Even guys like me and Ozzie [Newsome] that act like we don't know what we're doing, which we don't. (laughter) They made it great for us. I'm just very grateful. It was perfect."
With the pandemic going on and everything kind of went virtual – we talked a little bit about that – but what things do you maybe want to carry from this into future years to potentially help you guys out and maybe be a little bit easier to communicate in person in future years? (Matthew Stevens)
Harbaugh:"I really haven't even thought about it. I guess I don't have a good answer for that. Maybe Joe [Hortiz] or Eric [DeCosta] would have a better answer than I would for that."
DeCosta:"One thing about this draft is I think we were forced to watch a lot of tape, and not necessarily get as much information – like workouts, pro days, things like that. Interviews were limited this year; face-to-face time was limited this year. I've said it a couple of times: It's like an old school throwback draft when we used to just watch hours' worth of tape and get guys lined up and draft players and just look for the special qualities about them as players. I think sometimes you can get so much information that maybe you overanalyze a little bit. And so, from that standpoint, it was really easy to get competitive for this draft, because we just sat in front of our machines and just watched as much tape as we could. There's kind of beauty to that whole process, I think."
What led to the trade today? (Ximena Lugo Latorre)
DeCosta:"You know, I wanted some more picks. I wanted another pick. We felt like we were dealing from a position of strength next year because of the trade we made earlier this offseason, and we anticipate a couple comp picks. And looking at it, I wasn't sure that WR James Proche was going to be there for us in the seventh round. I really didn't want to wait anymore. There were a couple of different players that we liked that we thought would be good picks. I really wanted two picks, not one pick. It made sense for us to jump back into the sixth round and get James."
It's kind of piggy-backing, I think, off what Luke [Jones] said. Normally, you would have rookie minicamp next week, you'd have rookie tryout guys come in, you'd have all this stuff in the building, and now none of that happens. I'm curious, what do you most hope to accomplish with these rookies over the next two, three, four weeks that you won't be able to do now that you're with them? (Bo Smolka)
Harbaugh:"It's different, but we're approaching it like it's the same, in the sense we're going to try to do as much as we can. We're allowed to have one-on-one tutorial sessions with the rookies and work on their training also. Our goal is that they get in the best possible shape they can. I really believe that we drafted guys that are already doing that and are in great shape. When they do come in, we don't want them coming in and pulling muscles – and all that kind of stuff. We think that's an advantage if our guys can stay healthy when we do come back. And then, the other advantage is them knowing the playbook inside and out, not just starting when they come back. We're teachers, we want to coach, our coaches want to coach. We've been developing all these applications remotely, teaching tools and interactive-type teaching tools and games and things like that. We're going to get those guys plugged into that stuff right away, just like we are with the veterans. We're going to be starting the program on Monday, and we're going to do as much as we can just to prepare them to be ready. Because what you want, is you want them ready to compete. We're not drafting them to redshirt them. We're drafting them to play them as freshmen. You want them to play, and we're going to do everything we can to get them ready and get them on the field – even though we won't be hand-in-hand, so to speak, we'll be socially distanced – but we can still teach our offense, our defense and our special teams this way."
Eric, you spoke about the "Red Star" meeting the other day on social media. I was curious whether the team ended up picking a player that was the one, sole player that your scouts were all in on? If that's not too much information, of course. (Kyle Barber)
DeCosta: "That's probably too much information. But, yes, we got a couple of our guys. So, that's awesome. I think we got two or three guys – at least two, I think. I'm not going to give the names; I don't want to offend anybody else. But we did get a few guys, and we think that's great."
Coach Harbaugh, from Year One to Year Two, your offense made a significant jump with QB Lamar Jackson. If these two receivers [Devin Duvernay and James Proche] can do what they're supposed to do, what will they add to your offense that was missing a year ago? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)
Harbaugh: "These two guys are talented players we didn't have a year ago. We try to use all of our guys as best we can. They both can make plays on the ball, and I think that's the main thing. We're pretty diverse on our offense, as you know, and we have different kinds of option plays and RPO plays and dropback passes and deep passes, play-action passes, and we have one guy that can really run like crazy and make all kinds of catches. We have another guy who can really run routes and has a feel for getting open and catch the ball like crazy. So, Lamar is going to love both those guys. And also, we're developing the guys we have; Miles Boykin and Jaleel Scott are working extremely hard to get better. Those are two big receivers, 'outside receivers,' who can go up and get the ball. Willie Snead is going to be Willie Snead. I'm just excited about our weapons on offense. We have speed, tough guys, very determined guys, and we're trying to build something as explosive as we possibly can."
Is the whole versatility aspect of G Ben Bredeson, is it possible he can play center, too? Is that something that went into your discussions? And do you think ultimately that could be part of his skillset? (Jeff Zrebiec)
Hortiz: "Yes, I think that was discussed, the potential for him to also play center. When we talk about offensive linemen, we try to evaluate them on versatility – all offensive linemen. There are a lot of tackles that went in this draft that we discussed playing guard. Obviously, last year, if you look at Patrick Mekari when we signed him after the draft, one of the discussions was him moving all the way down into center. So, we certainly look for that in all the offensive linemen we pick, guys that are versatile or have the potential to be a two-position, flexibility-type of guy. I think that certainly adds value to those types of guys."
Eric, you have a great, young foundation, on offense especially. It looked like in free agency you really more addressed defense. Has the strategy been trying to really build this offense through the draft and get guys who can develop with QB Lamar Jackson through the years? (Jamison Hensley)
DeCosta: "That's a good question. I don't think it's necessarily intentional. We just try to eliminate as many holes as we can. We're younger on offense, so it lets guys whose contracts have expired or reached the end of their contracts ... It just seems like the last couple of years we've had a bunch of defensive contracts all kind of hit at the same time. We've had to get creative from that standpoint. We are young on offense. It's exciting. We've wanted to be an exciting team. Speed is a part of that, as I said yesterday. The younger you are, probably the faster you are. So, we're trying to stay young. We want to be a young team, but we also want to be an experienced team. We're at the point now on offense, which I like, where we are a young team, but we are an experienced team. We have a lot of guys who have played in big games, and that's what you want to see. We like the chemistry of the team. It changes every single year. The draft is one mean that we have to improve the chemistry, along with free agency and different things. It's an ongoing process that never ends, and that's one of the things about this job that I think we all find so awesome."
I think DT Broderick Washington played a lot of his snaps last year over a tackle. Is that just a function of Texas Tech's system? Do you guys see him more lining up inside and playing some nose tackle? (Jonas Shaffer)
Hortiz: "No, I would say he's more of like your three-[technique], five-[technique], reps at one, which is nose. They played him a lot at six-technique, five-technique in their scheme, but he is versatile. Just like offensive linemen, we look for versatility amongst our D-line, and he's one of those guys who fits that mold. He lined up anywhere – when you watch him on film – from right over the center, in a three-technique, as a five- and six-technique rusher coming from the end spot. So, I think we love his versatility and his ability to align in multiple spots. I would say he's going to come in as a defensive tackle, though."