SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
Opening statement:"Good morning; good to see everyone. What an exciting time it is for us right now to just be out here, get out of the meeting rooms, come outside, move around a little bit with our guys and just really build that foundation – that groundwork – before we get into the OTAs. I know the guys who are out here working, they're excited to be out here. We're just trying to get better. We're doing football movements; our guys are working the things that they're going to need to translate as we continue to progress to the season. We're fired up for each and every guy. What questions do you have?"
How important is it to have this kind of foundation? Are you going over more small details and things like that? (Jamison Hensley)"Of course. Anytime you get to come out and work football, it's important, because that's our job. That's what we do; we're football coaches and we're football players, the players who are out there. So, anytime you get to come out here and just work football in a controlled setting, it's great. It's great for all the guys to just learn that footwork, to slow it down, really hone-in the things that we really focus on, that we believe is the foundation to our punt team. [We are] working our footwork and making sure that's right before we put bodies out in front of them."
When ILB Trenton Simpson got drafted, head coach John Harbaugh said that you would love this guy. Why would you love this guy? (Bo Smolka)"It was pretty easy to love this guy. You turn on the tape, and you watch him fly around, you watch him get to the football, you watch him make plays. When I had the privilege to evaluate that guy as a special teamer, it was a no-brainer for me; I want that kind of player. That guy has the traits – those Raven traits – that we look for; he was tough, he was fast, he was physical. He loved playing football, and his energy was just off the chart. That's the kind of players we've had in this building, so I truly believe that guy's going to do some good things for us this year."
Did ILB Trenton Simpson do much on special teams at Clemson? (Jonas Shaffer) "He [Trenton Simpson] did. Early in his career, he played some teams. So, I kind of go back, and I just want to watch him. I want to see what he did when he wasn't the starter, because that tells me a lot about players. What's his one-play mindset? When you're not the starter right now, how are you playing on teams in college. [When] you're flying around, that stuff translates to our game."
You guys re-signed LB Kristian Welch, LB Del'Shawn Phillips, RB Justice Hill, CB Daryl Worley and a bunch of guys that played roles on special teams. I know there's still 53 men to get to, and you have a ways to go, but how much does that continuity factor in – when you bring in guys that know the importance of special teams and you make sure to keep them? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It's a great building block for us – to have those guys around – because they understand the culture, they understand what we're looking for. And then when we bring those young guys in and incorporate them into that group, it just carries onto what we're trying to get done. Having all those guys back … They all play well for us. That's our group. And all those guy … We look forward to just having those guys around and getting them out there and letting them continue to work."
Head coach John Harbaugh mentioned WR Zay Flowers potentially being in the mix as a returner. When you watch him, obviously you see the athleticism, but what stands out that could make him an exciting factor in that regard? (Luke Jones) "He [Zay Flowers] is dynamic with the ball in his hands. I think a lot of the same things that you saw from him on offense – catching the football, with the ball in his hands, the after-the-catch running – all those abilities translate over to the punt return game. But more importantly, you guys hear me say it every year: It's about catching the ball first. And so, he did have some returns in college; it was good to see those on tape. And we're just going to hone-in on our fundamentals and make sure that when we do put him out there, that – you know what – secure the football first, and let's work. But he did a great job in the rookie minicamp with that. It was easy for him."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD MONKEN
From a football school perspective, what are you trying to get across to the guys? _(Jamison Hensley) _"Just put in our system, really. That's really it. It's always fun to get back out with the players. That's what you do. As much as you enjoy meeting and putting the plan together, and your playbook and what you want to do moving forward, there's nothing like having the players around."
How do you feel like it's going so far? _(Ryan Mink) _"It's great. It's great. We're excited about the guys who are here and the installation, and we're working through it. What I've done in the past, what our coaches have done in the past, and building it the best way we know how."
Is this kind of a ground-up construction of the offense for you? I imagine it's similar for you whether you're returning to your former team or not. Is it that same kind of evaluating who you have and figuring out what could work on paper? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"For sure. I think it's always a little more challenging [at somewhere new]. It was when I left the NFL and went to Georgia, and you're trying to assess the difference in levels – difference in terms of the players that you have. So, it's the same coming back: the field spacing, the players that you have, the issues you may have more at this level that you don't at that level. Then, the types of players that you have. So, I think that's a great way of putting it – from the ground up. You're trying to assess what you've done in the past, what you've done in the past in the NFL, the players that you have, but making it simple so that you can execute and play fast."
At your introductory press conference, you talked a lot about space players and how the game's changed in that regard. How good is it to get WR Zay Flowers, a guy who is explosive and can fit that? _(Garrett Downing) _"For sure. I think whenever you acquire talent, I think that's what you're always trying to do. Then, you assess, 'OK, where can you put those players in the best position to showcase that talent?' If you have a bigger receiver, then you can do different things with them. You have a space player like Zay [Flowers], you have to be creative in ways to get him the ball and showcase that."
You mentioned the players that are here. Have you gotten an impression of when QB Lamar Jackson may be here for the program in the spring? And how long will it take to get your starting quarterback up to speed in your system? _(Bo Smolka) _"Well, first off, we're excited about the guys who are here. I know Lamar [Jackson] is working hard. I know the guys that aren't here are working hard; they're pros. When they're here, they're here. We look forward to getting them here and getting up to speed to what we're doing offensively. I think that's probably the biggest challenge, but it's football. When they get here, they get here, and we'll get them up to speed."
You have talked about having more of an up-tempo offense. How is that going, and what have you seen so far with how that's going? _(Brian Wacker) _"It's early, because we've only really been on the field now [for] a week and a half, so we're just in the infant stages of doing some of that. In terms of the installs, game dictates tempo, players dictate tempo. So, as we move forward, we'll have a better idea in terms of where that presents itself for us."
When you have a QB with the speed of QB Lamar Jackson, do you have a general philosophical preference on whether you surround him with guys who are fast so you can have more spacing on the field, or guys who are bigger so you can have slower defensive matchups? (Jonas Shaffer) _"I'm not laughing at the question; please don't take it that way. You're always looking for big, fast, physical, smart at every position. Unfortunately, here, you draft players, and so you're just trying to surround your quarterback with talent and trying to surround him with players with unique skillsets that you can try to take advantage of. You don't always have those choices. At Georgia, we had probably a lot bigger advantages in terms of choices, in terms of who you had and the matchups that you had, where here you don't. So, you just try to surround them with the most talent you can, starting up front – because it always does start up front with the guys you have up front – and then surrounding your quarterback with weapons that allow him to showcase his ability, which is what every quarterback wants. _(Reporter: "I just ask because James Jones said on his NFL show the other day that you told him that you want to play more spread offense around Lamar Jackson.")Well, I think that what dictates spread … You'd like to, right? You'd like to be able to spread the field, use every blade of grass. What dictates that? Your ability to function doing that, having enough players that a defense would have to respect using all that, which is true. You'd love to be able to have weapons where they have to defend every skill player that you have. So, that's exactly right, but then what takes you out of that? Injuries, the players that you have, are we up to speed in terms of … I don't want to say in terms of what the defense presents itself to you, because the more spread out you get, the more you have to put on your quarterback in terms of issues in the run game or RPOs. So, the more condensed you are, sometimes you can protect gaps and protect the quarterback a little bit more. So, some of that is reliant on the players that you have and the abilities that they have."
More broadly speaking, what do you see as the possibilities now with all these wide receiver additions that you guys have had? _(Ryan Mink) _"Again, we're excited about – one – getting [Rashod] Bateman back healthy. The other guys that have been here – that the organization drafted – it's our job, our duty – we're in the development business – to develop them and to maximize their measurable skillset. That's what we're paid to do. And, the additions of Nelson [Agholor], and Odell [Beckham Jr.] and Zay [Flowers] to add to the room. So, I'm excited when they all get here to see that and see the competition. And, our tight ends as well: Mark [Andrews] and 'Saiah' [Isaiah Likely], our running back room. I'm excited to get started, but there is only one ball."
No quarterback has run more in his first five seasons than QB Lamar Jackson. In your kind of offense and philosophy, do you envision Lamar running less in your offense? (Jamison Hensley)"Again, I think it goes back to the players that you have. I think the more talented you are around your quarterback, the less he has to burden – take on that burden – shoulder the load, because you're excited about getting others the football where they can utilize their skill set. So, I think that kind of answers itself. As you get further into your career, as Lamar [Jackson] gets older – as everybody does – you want to take some of that off of the player as best you can. But he has a unique trait, a unique skillset. You can't take that completely out of his toolbox because that's a huge weapon for him and for us, is using his feet."
From when you were hired to now, a lot of offensive skill position players have been added. We talked about QB Lamar Jackson, WR Odell Beckham Jr. and WR Zay Flowers. From your perspective, watching the talent come in on that side of the ball, what's that been like since you were hired to now, watching the collective talent? (Shawn Stepner) _"It's a lot more fun that way. _(laughter) You're paid to move the football and score, and that's a lot easier with talented players. As I always say, 'Cookies taste better with sugar than they do with vinegar.' So, you surround yourself with sugar."
Going back to QB Lamar Jackson, have you gotten any indication of when he might be here? Same thing for WR Odell Beckham Jr.? (Brian Wacker)"We're in constant communication with those guys. We're getting him opportunities to talk football and try and catch him up to speed. We're excited about the guys who are here, and I know they're working hard. We get updates from those guys in terms of working. So, again, when that – it is voluntary – but we're excited about the guys who are here. I do think that we'll be able to get those guys here hopefully in a short amount of time, but until that happens, we'll get up to speed with the guys we have."
I know that you've been with working with the idea that QB Lamar Jackson would be the quarterback for a while, but when he signs that extension, when everything is set in stone, does that change anything for your sense of imagination, inspiration, sort of feeling that some of these concepts that I've been drawing up or thinking of they're actually going to be executed with the guy that I thought? _(Kyle Goon) _"I was imagining that, planning on him being here, because if he wouldn't have been, that imagination kind of – or that dream turns into a nightmare. You're already imagining those things. You're already – when I took the job, it was because the organization, the structure, the head coach [John Harbaugh], the players that were here, the players that were under contract, hoping that Lamar [Jackson] would be here. The excitement that I had in terms of what I thought we could do or expand upon, and that's not taking anything away from what they did, because they did an unbelievable job with him [Lamar Jackson] – [former offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] did. Like I said, if you look back at '19 , it's not that long ago with the talent that was around him and what they did offensively, and injuries can hurt that. So, I'm excited that he signed the contract and he'll be with us, as I'm sure a lot of people are."
You signed undrafted rookie QB Nolan Henderson. What are your initial impressions of him? (Jamison Hensley) "He did a great job. It's never easy for those guys to come in on a weekend and you jam installs down their throat. That's what we have to do. They're in control. They're the epicenter of your communication, but I thought he did a great job handling that. He showed tremendous poise. [I] loved his confidence, and that's not easy, especially if you go from a no-huddle system to a little bit of a … Some of the things you're doing communication-wise. I thought he did a great job. I was very impressed."
WR DEVIN DUVERNAY
How are you feeling? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I'm feeling good; feeling good."
How long did it take you to get back, and where are you at in that process? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It took a couple months. But as far as where I'm at right now in this process, I'm doing good. I'm running; I'm doing things. [I've] still got a little bit to go, but I'm feeling good, though. [I'm] feeling good [and] making progress."
Was it a completely harmless play that you hurt yourself on? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, I was just running. Yes."
How difficult was the timing of your injury, with you playing so much, the team making a playoff push, and you not being able to finish? (Luke Jones) "Yes, for sure. It was unfortunate. It was very frustrating, but it's part of the game. You learn to … You get over it, but yes, it definitely was frustrating at first – making a playoff push, trying to impact the games – but it is what it is."
So much has changed in the wide receivers room. How do you feel about your place in that room and what you'll be able to contribute? (Pete Gilbert) "I feel good. I feel good. New year, new opportunity. All I can do is take care of myself, work on myself and let the rest play out."
We just had the chance to talk with offensive coordinator Todd Monken. What are your impressions of what you've seen early with him here, this offense and what that will look like? (Garrett Downing) "Yes, it's been great. It's been great. Learning from him [offensive coordinator Todd Monken], hearing him talk, [him] leading us, it's been great. I think this year will be big for a lot of us, and yes, we're all excited about the offense."
Do you remember the moment when you found out that QB Lamar Jackson's contract was basically done? And what was that like? (Noah Trister) "Yes, it was exciting. I was actually … I had just landed from a flight, but [when] I found out, I was super excited. I knew it was coming; it was just a matter of when. But yes, [I'm] super excited for him [Lamar Jackson] and his family and for this team."
You've played with some veteran wide receivers, but now you throw WR Odell Beckham Jr. into the mix. Have you had a chance to talk to him? And what are you really hoping to learn from him? (Luke Jones) "Yes, I've talked to him a little bit. I think when he [Odell Beckham Jr.] was big, I was like in high school, so it'll definitely be kind of different – just getting to learn from a guy like him and someone you've been watching for forever still doing it at a high level. So, I'm excited about that."
During QB Lamar Jackson's press conference, he mentioned that he'd like to throw for 6,000 yards. As a receiver, I've got to imagine that's music to your ears. (Garrett Downing) (laughter) "Yes, yes. [I'm] definitely looking forward to that."
The schedule gets released Thursday, but it was announced this morning that you'll play a game in London. How do you feel about that? (Alex Glaze) "Yes, it's pretty cool. I've never been to London. [I'm] excited about it and looking forward to it. Yes, I think it'll be fun."
Aside from the game, is there anything specific you're looking forward to about London? (Alex Glaze) "I guess, just being in Europe – experiencing it – probably. That's really the biggest thing."
What do you think this team and this offense can be with all the speed? What kind of stress can that put on the defense, especially with QB Lamar Jackson at quarterback? (Jonas Shaffer) "Definitely a ton of different ways to stretch the field and do things. [We've] got a ton of different guys that can do a multitude of things. And [offensive coordinator] Todd Monken, I think he's the guy for the job, and we'll have a lot of fun."
Did you watch much of offensive coordinator Todd Monken's Georgia offense over the last few years? (Jonas Shaffer) "No, I didn't. I don't watch too much college football. But [no], I didn't get to see it. I heard about it, though."
Does offensive coordinator Todd Monken's offense feel like a pretty big departure from previous offenses? Does it seem like a new language? How big of a change is it? (Ryan Mink) "It's not crazy. The verbiage is kind of different, but I feel like, at this level, football is football. Everybody kind of runs kind of the same things; it's just kind of how you utilize them, and you utilize different personnel."
Before you got injured, you had a big role as a wide receiver last year. How much do you think that will help you this year, and where are you hoping to take your game? (Cliff Brown) "Each year, just making improvements. Taking steps each year is my goal. And I gain more knowledge each and every year – shoot, really, each and every game – and all I can do is continue to learn and continue to better myself."