Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "OK, great to see everybody. I appreciate you guys being here. We're just in our week of practice. It's been a very good week. It's always focused. There's always a lot of hard work, and this is no different. We're looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity on Sunday. OK, what questions do you have?"
There's a report that linebackers coach Mike Macdonald is planning to accept the defensive coordinator position at the University of Michigan. I think you know the Michigan coach pretty well. Is there any truth to this report? (Jamison Hensley) "I'll tell you what; as much as I love Michigan, and love my brother even way more than Michigan … Well, I like Michigan; I love my brother – we'll put it that way. I just don't want to comment on any of that right now. Our focus is on Sunday, and we're going to keep locked in. All of our coaches are locked in on that, and that's what we're looking at."
I think we've talked about this before, about how the toughest teams to play in January are the healthiest – the teams that have been able to come into the playoffs full strength. Overall, how do you feel about your health coming into the playoffs this season? I know you guys had some players banged up last year going in. (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, I feel good about our health at this time. We're probably the healthiest we've been in a long time this season. So, I feel great about it. [The] guys are in a good place. Now, we just need to go play."
Pretty much every game, I guess you could say, that the red zone offense and defense is the key to the game, obviously with scoring. Their red zone offense has been pretty prolific. With all their weapons they have and obviously RB Derrick Henry and QB Ryan Tannehill's legs, how difficult is that challenge specifically to stop them down there? (Jeff Zrebiec) "[It's] very difficult. They're one of the top teams for a reason. I think we've talked about this in the past; if you can run the ball in the red zone, that sets you up. It's really important to be able to run the ball in the red zone, and then the ability to extend plays is really critical, which, of course, Ryan [Tannehill] can do very well and their weapons. They do a good job of moving around and getting open on the extended play and scramble. Of course, Ryan keeps the ball a lot of times down inside the 10-yard line. So, all of those things are why they're so good. It's going to be up to us to try to get them stopped."
When you lose two premier blockers in T Ronnie Stanley and TE Nick Boyle, if the running game took a step back, I think everybody would understand why. After losing two of those pivotal blockers, how has this running game been able to sustain itself throughout the season? (Jamison Hensley) "Probably the idea of just getting better every day [and] of that steady progress across the board – that's kind of the basis of it. The fact that … If those two guys were in there, I think it would be even better, because that progress would have still been made. But you have to give credit to the coaches and to those players who are in there to overcome the two losses, which were significant, and yet, to continue to improve [and] just really put the nose to the grindstone every single day and try to get a little bit better. It's paid off in games. They've practiced that way, and that's the way it has turned out in games. But this is the biggest challenge yet – this last part of the season. So, we have our hands full with this defense."
It's been a couple weeks for CB Jimmy Smith to be able to practice on a limited basis. I know he's been dealing with that shoulder for quite some time. How is he progressing? How are you feeling about his availability for Sunday? (Luke Jones) "Right, we'll see. We'll just have to see. He practiced, which is a big plus. Like any injury, it kind of depends on how it feels and what his ability to play at the highest level is."
A couple years ago, when you guys got back to the playoffs, you had a lot of players who had never played in the playoffs before. Now, most everybody on your team has a few playoff games under their belt. Do you notice that playoff experience makes any type of difference? Do you find that? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think so. I think it does. How to measure it? I'm not sure, but I definitely think it's a plus to have been there before and to have been in that circumstance. Hopefully, it'll help us."
As far as you can tell, is everything still on schedule with P Sam Koch to be back for you guys on Sunday? (Jonas Shaffer) "Right, as far as I can tell. [There have been] no setbacks on that, and that will be the plan unless something crops up."
There is a certain history, if not mythology, of the locker room speech. [Former Ravens head] Coach [Brian] Billick had a famous one when they went to Tennessee in the playoffs. I'm wondering from you, what is the purpose, or I should say the value, of that? Do you put much on that in terms of what you say to a team verbally? (Mark Viviano) "Most of my talks are during the week, and then also the night before the game is when we do the big one in our night meeting. But there are times as a head coach where you speak. There are times where the players speak. There are times where other coaches say something, [and] there are times when nothing gets said. It kind of depends on the game. I think if you had one of the classic, [former Ravens head] Coach [Brian] Billick … What did he say? Storm the door and what? What was it? Help me out." (Reporter: "He said, 'Go in there, shake the spear and say, 'Where is the S.O.B.?'") "OK, yes. (laughter) I haven't used that one, but I'll tell you what; that was a great one – one of the all-time greats. But if you tried to do that every game, obviously, I think it would lose its impact. So, that's one of the ones, like you said, legendary-type pregame speech. I don't anticipate that being the case Sunday. I think we're going to go in there and just try to play our best football game."
Last night, I was at the Ravens Drive-Thru Rally where fans came in to get their cars stenciled and went through a whole fun sequence to kind of get pumped up for [the playoffs]. Obviously, it's not the kind of rallies that you've been able to have in the past. What does it mean to you to see that every pass is taken, there's not a spot available to do this and fans are lining up, even just to stay in their cars, to have some contact with the team right now? (Pete Gilbert) "That's so good to hear. It makes me really, really happy. It's something that, to me, is kind of what it's all about. It's really kind of why you do this as a coach and as a player. And I would say as a sportswriter and as a media personality, right? The ability to connect with people, the fans, that it would matter to them, that they would care, that they want to be a part of it [and] they feel like … They're excited and into it. For us to be together with them on that, to me, that just makes it all worthwhile; all the work that you put in, all the challenges and sometimes, the disappointments you have. To know that the fans … What goes with that is the fact that sometimes, you don't win and you're disappointed, and they're disappointed right with you. So, you kind of live and die together with that. So, yes – that makes me really happy.
"It's interesting you note that, because I was texting with one of my friends up in Philadelphia. He's a guy … His name is Denny. He and his son are big fans. When I first got to Philly, and all the time I was there, he worked the morning shift kind of as a doorman into 'The Vet' [Veterans Stadium]. He'd let me in there in the morning and escort me through the bowels of 'The Vet,' past the … I saw the cats, [but] never saw the rats. He always told me that was because of the cats, so I should always be grateful for the cats … When that hit me, I was kind of disgusted, but that's another story. (laughter) But he called and said he was coming down for the Fan Fest. He had a ticket and was coming down from Philly, and he couldn't wait to be there. He couldn't wait to see me and the guys. I couldn't break it to him that we had practice and we weren't going to be able to be there, but he was excited about it. (laughter) So, that's a really cool event. I love what our marketing [department] does with that. It really makes me happy to hear you say that."
LS Morgan Cox becomes the first long snapper to be named to AP's first-team All-Pro. It's the first time a long snapper has been recognized on the All-Pro team. First, what are your thoughts on LS Morgan Cox getting that? You obviously know about long snappers. What do you think it means for long snappers actually getting recognized? (Jamison Hensley) "Gosh, they should be recognized. They've been an integral part of it for a long time. Back in the 70's, maybe even the 80's … Into the 90's is when it started changing, but the long snapper would be the center or be another player – the tight end, or something. Now, it's just become so precise. That's when guys were making 50% and 60% [of] field goals. Now, they're making high-80s and 90%. If you're not [making] high-80s, you're not in the league, pretty much, very long, and that goes to the whole operation. To me, it should be that way. It's the same thing with the punt snaps; they're involved in the protection. But it's a position that plays and really matters. Morgan [Cox] has been great at it for a long time. It's nice to see it recognized out there, I'm very happy for him. Congratulations to him and of course, his family. He's well-deserving of it, and he makes us all very proud of that."
T Orlando Brown Jr.
The last time you played the Titans, obviously, it was a tough loss. And then, you had the situation where you had the outbreak, as well. It's one thing to have the tough loss, but then you had to go through this whole COVID-19 outbreak. What was it like at that point? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, it was different – unlike anything I've ever dealt with before – getting a game postponed due to a virus. But, personally, I just did my best to make sure I was in game shape by taking sets outside and doing all those things, running in my neighborhood and all of that. But I think we're a different team now than we were then. We're a lot more resilient, we've got a lot of guys back healthy, and our mindset is a lot different."
Having been a guy who played a lot his rookie year, what have been your thoughts on the progression of G/T Tyre Phillips? He's played in different spots, he's had some injuries, but especially with G/T D.J. Fluker being banged up, he did play a lot in Cincinnati, and you guys might need him on Sunday, of course. (Luke Jones) "Yes, no doubt. I think something that a lot of people take for granted is how hard it is to play in this league as a rookie. It's not easy at all, and that's a reason why a lot of guys come in this league, and they aren't successful until Year Two or Year Three; it's because it's so hard to come out of college and be consistent and develop into the player you were at that time. But what Tyre [Phillips] has been able to do, I'm not going to say I'm impressed, because I expected that from him, but he's been very consistent in who he is, and that's in the run game and the pass game. He's consistently learning, he's soaking in everything like a sponge. I'm just very proud of who he is as an individual, let alone a football player, and how much he's bought into the organization and the plan that they have for him, his role in the room and offensively."
If we go back a year, can you describe how you felt in the moments right after that playoff loss? And is that something that you've held on to at least a little bit in your mind for the year since then? (Childs Walker) "Yes, I've always held on to it. Dating back to my rookie year; giving up that sack at the end of the game. Last year; not playing well enough to win. And obviously, this year, having an opportunity again for the third time in a row, I understand that the speed of the game, what it takes, what it's going to take to win this game is going to be a lot, and I think as a team, we're all bought in. But I do think about those previous years and the upset feeling that it was walking off those fields, knowing that we could've done something different."
Sticking with that theme in the playoffs; every player gets praise and criticism and all that, but quarterbacks are always at the center of it. What goes through your mind when you hear people, maybe, criticize QB Lamar Jackson, specifically, for not having won a playoff game and that sort of thing? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Yes, it is what it is. It's just part of it. It's part of – like you said – what comes with being a quarterback. I don't look too much, too deep into it. I know that there are a lot of other parts that go into winning a game besides successful quarterback play."
Moving to left tackle from right, you often talk about doing things right-handed, then switching to left-handed. That's what the change is like, because your footwork is mirrored, and it's the reverse of it. Yet, in doing so, not only have we not seen a slip in play, but you guys are playing better now than you were before. That's not a knock on T Ronnie Stanley, but it's just utterly remarkable to be able to make that change for you and for the whole offensive line. Can you speak to how in the world it is that it seems better now than it was before? (Pete Gilbert) "I just think that as a group, the chemistry has been there, which is what happens throughout a year on every team. You look at all the teams across the league; the [Washington Football Team], the Cleveland Browns, us, even Houston [Texans] – what they're able to do for Deshaun Watson in the pass game up front. It's just a testament to having the time to truly get the chemistry together, be able to develop better as a group, be able to understand the calls, know where things are heading and all those different things. I wouldn't just say it's me moving to left tackle. I would say it's more so a collective group effort, and with 'Joe D.' [offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris] and everybody else stepping up to the table."
You just mentioned his name [offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris]. You guys have developed a lot of really good, young offensive linemen over the last couple years. 'Joe D.' is a guy that nobody ever talks about; he's kind of an unsung guy. What has he meant to you, personally, and how instrumental do you think he's been in the team's offensive success the last couple years? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, a lot. I think that's one of the reasons he's been able to stay around here for so long. Coach 'D' [offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris] is an incredible man, incredible individual, a man who's very strong, who loves his offensive line players that he has in the room and will go to battle them. Our success up front, a lot of it has to do with him, and how he's been able to make us play together as one and play for each other and play for him. And as far as me, personally, Coach 'D' has been there, literally, from the start, and he's been there with me from rookie minicamp on through and helped me grow into the player that I am today."
We see 'Joe D.' [offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris] from the sideline, and it looks like – for being a 66-year-old guy – he's still in great shape. How would you describe him to someone who maybe doesn't know what football is? (Jonas Shaffer) "Coach 'D' [offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris] … It's funny, because I think he's got two hip replacements, so he's got two titanium [hips], but he's still very well put together. (laughter) But Coach 'D,' like I said, he's a great man, great individual, he's a family man. He's Italian, so he's got a little bit of, I guess you could say, 'red blood' in him, and he does – when he gets angry, he gets angry. But for the most part, he's still in good shape."