Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
What has excited you about RB Justice Hill's development as a special teams player, in particular? He's been pretty noticeable since he started getting a ton of snaps on special teams. (Jeff Zrebiec) "The one thing you love about Justice [Hill] is just the way he goes out and he competes. I think when we look back to last year, we didn't really know what he was going to be, or what type of special teams player he was going to be – he had never played. But the one thing he did have, he had a lot of heart and he had a lot of speed – and he was willing to go out and compete. And I think those two things – those two makeups – really allow you to be a good special teams player. He's done a phenomenal job for us from the time we put him in last year, up until now. We're very pleased with what he's doing, and we're just trying to continue to help him grow as a special teams player."
We don't normally see K Justin Tucker miss too many [field goals] from inside 40 [yards]. Did he say exactly what went off a little bit? I know it was pretty close, but from some perspective, could you see it as maybe being a little bit good as well? (Jamison Hensley) "I didn't see it. All I saw was the miss. I think when you ask Justin [Tucker] what kind of led to that, and the reason why he's been so consistent, is really because of … He goes out and he is consistent in his technique. And I think that was the one thing he'd tell you – he just pulled it a little bit left, and that resulted in the miss. It's just one of those things we talk about all the time. You've got to be consistent every time, because every play matters. And I think, really, that was just the biggest issue. He kind of pulled it to the left, and he'll be ready to go this weekend. I know that for sure."
On the play before that, was G/C Bradley Bozeman right or wrong on that alleged offsides? Do you empower players to make that call for themselves if that five-yard penalty is going to be enough for a first down? (Jonas Shaffer) "In that situation, you kind of allow your player … If he feels like the defender jumped in the neutral zone, then he jumps, and he points. And if we don't get the call, we don't think it'll affect us that much if we go all out and we make the kick. I don't think that would be of any concern, whether he was right or wrong in that situation, had we made the kick. So, I just think it's a game-plan thing. It's kind of how we feel. If he thinks the guy is in the neutral zone, then we kind of give them that leeway to go ahead and do that."
After the game, John Harbaugh said on that long kickoff return that [Dallas] had, they blocked it really well, but you guys also didn't cover it exactly the way that you wanted to. Can you give us a little insight into what happened on that play? (Childs Walker) "Of course – they came out all week and it wasn't something that we hadn't seen. I think they ran the same return the whole game, so it was something that we'd seen throughout the game. But, again, it goes back to how do you defend those plays? You have to be sound every time. We had two players run around blocks, and in that case, on that scheme, you can't do that. We need to be in front of the ball, and things like that. Our guys are working hard [and] our guys have covered kicks well all year, and we covered kicks well in that game. We give up that one play. So, we're going to go back to work and we're going to make sure that those things don't happen to us."
Back to RB Justice Hill for a second – how hard is it to identify a guy that comes from the offensive side of the ball, but is really adept at tackling, like Justice? You don't see that often from an offensive guy, and you have to figure it out as a special teams coach. (Kirk McEwen) "It just comes back to a willingness and a want-to. If you're willing to go out there and put your face on the ball carrier, then we can teach you how to tackle. That's our jobs as coaches. It doesn't matter if you're an offensive guy or not. Again, he's willing to do everything. He's physical, he runs well, he wants to be good – all those things. Then, it's our jobs as coaches to help you get better. He's never tackled. He never tackled in college. Those are things that we work on week-in and week-out, and in the offseason, to make sure that when he gets an opportunity, he's not afraid to go down there and tackle the ball carrier – and he's shown that he isn't."
ILB Chris Board – what is he doing really well? Obviously, leading in Pro Bowl voting. What have you seen from him and how has he grown? (Ryan Mink) "Just the growth of Chris over the past few years has been outstanding, and I think people are just noticing him. He's playing well for us. He's not only playing well for us – he's taken a leadership role like an Anthony Levine [Sr.], and really leading younger guys. And those things really make you a good player. He's got instincts. He's a ball guy. He can beat blocks, he's good with his hands. So, I think what you're seeing from him now is just … Really, what he's done early on in his career, and why we felt like he would be a good player for us, he's just growing. He's going to continue to grow, and he's gotten better every year. He's just going to continue to get better and he's going to be what he is now – one of the top special teams players in this league. I think he's going to continue to grow in that role."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
I know you're getting some guys back with OLB Matthew Judon and things like that. As far as the pass rush, what did you see out of it? From my perspective, it didn't seem like you blitzed as much as you typically did. Can you just go into the Cowboys game and that strategy? (Jamison Hensley) "With that strategy, it was similar to what we did with Pittsburgh. Here in the last three games, the quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball so fast that you just have to call your defenses accordingly. With the Dallas game, due to the score, we were going to make them go the long, hard way. I know everybody loves to see the pressures, and I love calling pressures, but we're just making the calls that's going to help us win the game. I thought that's what we did, and they did a nice job of it."
DE Jihad Ward is a guy who has been kind of caught up in the numbers game the last several weeks, but he got a chance and had the sack and four quarterback hits. How pleased were you to get that production from him? Is that kind of a good problem now moving forward, wanting to keep him in the mix as well? (Luke Jones) "Yes, it is a good problem. I'm very pleased with Jihad's [Ward] effort in that game, and how he played, and how he's executing the defense. He was a nose when we got him from the Colts, and he's played all over up front. But now he's an outside 'backer. I think [outside linebackers coach] Drew [Wilkins] has done a heck of a job with him. It's one of those things that he's growing every day with it, with the position itself, and we're moving him around and matching him up [in] different places. He's executed the defense really well."
There are a lot of people talking about DE Yannick Ngakoue and what he's brought. Obviously, the sacks haven't necessarily come, but what have you seen from his efforts over the last couple of weeks that gives you hope that some of these near misses are going to turn into sacks? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think the best is yet to come from Yannick [Ngakoue]. Right along with what I answered before, the quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball, and I think he's part of the reason why they're getting rid of the ball. Whether we rush four, or sometimes, three, they're looking out that way off the edge that he's usually burning. I think the best is yet to come with him."
I noticed on that Hail Mary pass, you only rushed one, being DE Derek Wolfe. Is that standard? Or does that change? (Kirk McEwen) "Well, it was a situation where we thought they were going to go for a boundary play to get a little bit closer than what they did. So, we ran our boundary play. We still have three deep, and everybody man-trailing, and boxing out at the end, so it's a safe play either way. I don't know about how you all feel on those Hail Mary's …. You hold your breath, because I know 7% of the time, they get caught down there off of a ricochet or whatever. But I think the guys did a nice job breaking the pass up. So, like I said, it was a game situation play that we talk about all the time. We thought they were going to go for the boundary play first to set up the Hail Mary on the next one, but they didn't."
Obviously, the Browns have two of the best running backs in football right there. Outside of just being talented and having talented guys up front as well, what do you think makes them so effective in running the ball? (Jamison Hensley) "I think it's a couple of different reasons; it's because of the 'backs, like you said, and [head coach] Kevin Stefanski's offense is just built for them and Baker Mayfield. It's been a nice marriage, and you've seen it evolve throughout the season. I think [offensive line coach] Bill Callahan is one of the best offensive line coaches there is in the league, and their offensive line has done a nice job of understanding the schemes. They have every run there is in the NFL, and they execute it really well, especially with those 'backs."
Along those lines, when we talked to DT Brandon Williams yesterday, he said that when he watches QB Baker Mayfield on tape from recent games, he sees a guy who has come into his own. How about you? When you watch him, especially recently, what are you seeing? (Childs Walker) "I see that he's another one who's starting to get the ball out quicker, and he's had success doing it. Now, he'll still create plays like he always has, but I just think this offense … They've done a nice job of marrying [head coach] Kevin Stefanski's offense with Baker Mayfield and his strengths. That's what you're seeing jump off the tape. He's taking care of the ball better. He's not trying to force things. He's done a nice job of running this offense."
ILB Chris Board has seemed like he's gotten a little bit more playing time on defense. What has he done to kind of make sure that he stays in that inside linebacker rotation? (Aaron Kasinitz) "He's playing really well. It goes back to what type of game it was. You're talking about the Dallas game, specifically … What type of game it was that we had some different defenses in, we're matching up to their offense dictating it. His package just got called more than Malik's [Harrison], if you will. He has really executed well. He's done great on special teams, and you just keep seeing him grow as a player. He's done a nice job."
I wanted to ask about CB Anthony Averett, because he did play a lot after coming off the shoulder injury. Were you pretty pleased when you reviewed his tape? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Yes. I think it's hard for a guy to take that much time off, especially out there on the corner, to just come back and be as good as he was, quite honestly, before he left. I think he did some things he wishes he had back, but he made a great play down there in the red zone. He's just going to get better and better. He'll keep practicing and get better and better as we go to get back to [his] top game form. But I really love that guy. I think he's a heck of a corner."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
A lot of the guys talked about how they could just see the excitement from QB Lamar Jackson coming back after being away from the team. Have you sensed a more excited and rejuvenated Lamar? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, I definitely think that bout with COVID-19 was really eye-opening for him, and a lot of guys, really. And just the appreciation for the opportunity to be around the teammates and play this great game, was magnified, really, by that whole experience. So, I definitely noticed a little pep in his step. We were very interested to see how he looked when he got back. We had no idea. He got hit pretty hard, so we weren't sure how he was going to look. But first practice back, it was very encouraging; he bounced back quick. I know a couple days before that he really wasn't doing great, so we really weren't that sure. I thought he went out and really played a really good, solid, winning performance, [and] really brought some life and some juice to us."
Did the addition of WR Dez Bryant send a message – subliminally or less subtle – to WR Miles Boykin that there's another big-bodied receiver here, and it might be time to step it up a little bit? (Kirk McEwen) "That's interesting. Whether subtle or overt, any time there's competition, it really kind of heightens awareness – for sure. I've kind of noticed Miles [Boykin] really starting to come on here in the past couple weeks, and whatever you attribute it to, I don't know, but we need to see more of that out of him. It was great to see him finish in the end zone on that one."
What have you seen from G Ben Powers and his development? We talk so much about the offensive line, and he's started the last three games. How do you think he's done in handling that right guard spot? (Luke Jones) "Yes, we're really pleased with Ben [Powers]. Ben has always been a really hard worker. He really cares a lot about how he performs and wants to do his job. And I think he's worked very diligently. He got an opportunity, and he's taken advantage of that. He's a young player who's developing – as they say – and that's really where he's at. He's' being productive for us, and we've just got to continue – with experience – allowing him to grow as a player, which he's showing he will. There are definitely things we can clean up from the past couple games, but a lot more good. So, we're really excited about Ben continuing that trajectory."
How unique is it to prepare for a guy like DE Myles Garrett? I know you face top edge rushers all the time, but what about him makes it a unique week in terms of preparation? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I'd say, this year more than any other, it's definitely a guy who you have to be aware of. He's made some strides in how he plays the game, and he's done some very impressive things as you watch the film. So, we've got to be very cognizant of him, and what he's able to do. You can't commit two people to one the whole game – the math doesn't work out. So, when guys are in one-on-one situations, they've got to swell up and get it done. Other than that, there's a lot of different ways to try to regulate a player like that with different things you can do. So, you have to be ready to do all those things. That guy is playing really well, and I really think he's come on this past season."
QB Lamar Jackson has yet to miss a game because of an injury. Why do you think Lamar has been able to be more durable than, a lot of people from the outside looking in, even expected? (Jamison Hensley) "He's a tough guy, and he works hard. And the whole key to that is making good decisions in real time and not taking unnecessary hits. He's taken a few of them, but few and far between even more recently. I've got a little bit of experience with this type of thing over the course of time, and what I've found is if a guy is making good decisions, when he's in space, he's actually in control, as opposed to standing in the pocket with your eyes glued downfield. That's generally when bad things happen – you're exposed. There are a lot of rules in place that help protect the quarterbacks in that scenario, but the good decision-making … When he gets out in space, he's got some good instincts there, and that really affords him the ability to make decisions and be in control of what actually happens. So, he's done a good with that. We've just got to keep going with it."
When you played the Browns in Week One, it was the passing game that flourished, and it was QB Lamar Jackson's best statistical outing this season. When you look back at that, what clues do you see about maybe why that worked and how you can get back to that sort of success? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Looking back at that game, I thought Lamar [Jackson] played really well, but guys made plays, too – it was hand-in-hand. That game, we didn't run the ball really dramatically, but it was effective in areas we needed it be effective in – in the red zone and different situations, making first downs, that kind of thing. Definitely, the passing game was the way to go that game for definite reasons, and it kind of moved in that direction as the game wore on – just things we were seeing and that kind of thing. I'd say that wraps that up pretty good."
Maybe it's the fantasy football influence, but there's so much scrutiny now on who gets the carries and the touches for running backs. You've said many times that it can change week-to-week. RB Gus Edwards and RB J.K. Dobbins have clearly been the most productive backs. Why has it been important for you to keep RB Mark Ingram II involved, and what do you think he's brought in recent weeks since he's been back healthy? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Mark [Ingram II] is a really good player. All those 'backs are doing a good job. Mark might be getting certain kinds of runs or carries that aren't as … maybe call them a little bit more 'dirty work.' He's getting a little bit more of the 'dirty work' at times, and that's just how it plays out. As far as scrutiny and fantasy football, that's a totally different world than the one I exist in. I like fantasy football. I'm aware of it. My kids are big into it, and if I wasn't doing what I'm doing, I'd probably be into it pretty big, too. So, I get it. Fantasy football is great, but reality football is kind of where we live, and we're going to do what's best for the team."
You had 294 rushing yards last week – a pretty darn good day on the ground. Obviously, the Cowboys have had trouble stopping the run for much of the season, but what was it that you guys did that makes you feel like you guys are getting this run game cranked up? (Ryan Mink) "All the credit to that goes to the guys on the field getting it done, and it was a combination of a lot of things. It really started with our offensive line and tight ends, but the 'backs factored in huge in that game, as well. I thought they made some really good run decisions – yards after contact, broke some tackles, used some stiff arms. Again, [they] got yards on their own, even on plays that were blocked well. I just think some momentum really got going there, and as the game wore on, it was just pretty obvious that that's what we were going to hang our hat on. So, it's a credit to, really, everybody involved. And let me just say, our wide receivers are blocking as good as I've seen. All of them, really, are doing a heck of a job. That never goes noticed. (laughter) I don't know if they have 'points' for that, but they count – they add up to points on the scoreboard. So, we're excited about that, and we need to see that continue."
G/C Bradley Bozeman
We got to see the video of head coach John Harbaugh announcing you as the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee for the Ravens. It looked like you might have gotten a little choked up. How emotional was getting that and hearing that from Coach Harbaugh in front of your teammates? (Jamison Hensley) "It was great. I wasn't expecting it at all. I was kind of surprised, to be honest. But, yes – I did get a little bit emotional. My teammates mean everything to me. They've showed up to every one of my events. They've posted videos. They've made videos. They've done anything and everything when I've asked. Or, even if I don't ask, they just do it out of the kindness of their heart. I just have such amazing teammates and coaches. This organization has gotten behind me, my wife [Nikki] and our foundation. It's amazing, and I'm just so blessed."
You mentioned your wife, Nikki, right off the bat. When we talked last year, you and former state senator Bobby Zirkin came to the station. We talked about your Halloween party, and she was right there. How much did she share in you taking this award? (Kirk McEwen) "Everything; maybe more than myself, honestly. Nikki [Bozeman] is the one who makes it all happen. Me and her make up ideas and come up with new schemes and different things to reach out and get into the community. She's the one who actually makes them happen. A lot of times, especially during the season, I kind of show up, smile and wave, and do whatever she needs me to do. (laughter) Nikki is the whole driving force behind this. She is so amazing. I think we're a great team, and I'm just so happy and proud at the lengths that she's gone to make this successful and make this non-profit such a big deal. So, just hats off to my wife, Nikki. She is amazing."
I know a big part of what you guys have done is kind of the personal connection that you all feel when you go to the schools and meet kids. How much harder has that been during the pandemic? (Childs Walker) "It's tough. We got shut down on our cross-country tour in Colorado. We came back, and from there, schools were shut down. [There were] really no big assemblies, nothing like that. So, we decided to kind of switch course. We still do a few virtual meetings as far as with different aspects, different kids and different age groups, but we really switched our vision to food insecurity. Food insecurity has been huge in the last four months, for us. We've done almost 1.3 million meals in the last four months. So, that's just a credit to my wife, to our agents, to everyone at Nourish Now, Safeway – everyone that has helped out and made all of that possible. So, we've just been very blessed, and very blessed to be able to help the community and everyone in these trying times."
Did you anticipate kind of going down this road of being so active in the community when you first entered the NFL? How did this kind of start for you guys? (Ryan Mink) "For Nikki and I, we were both bullied as kids. So, when I was about to get drafted, or in the draft process, someone reached out to us about a kid that was getting bullied. It started off as, 'Hey, we'll do a video for her and talk to her, or call, whatever we need to do.' And then Nikki and I were like, 'Well, we'll just go down there and talk to her.' We get there, and the principal was like, 'Well, why don't you just talk to the entire school?' I'm like, 'Um…' If you all had known me at the time, [I was] not a public speaker at all. (laughter) I'd get all sweaty and just the whole works. But we got up there and started talking, words started flowing [and] emotions started rolling. From there, in the month of April, we did … I believe it was 26 schools in the month of April before the draft. But we just knew. We knew that was our cause. We knew that was our calling. We knew we wanted to be involved in any and every way that we can in these kids' lives, and it's just grown from there. Like I said, Nikki has done an amazing job continuing to grow it every single day."
You guys are coming off a near 300-yard rushing performance. You're the only one who's at the same spot on the offensive line since the first time you met Cleveland, but how close do you feel as an offensive line that you guys are getting to a place where you want to be? I know it's always ongoing, and you're always trying to get better, but how close are you to feeling like it's really starting to gel, and you guys can do what you want to do offensively? (Luke Jones) "We've, unfortunately, had a lot of injures and a lot of different scenarios come up. But our whole O-line room – even the guys who aren't staring right now – has done an amazing job just sticking with it and just continuing to grow every single day and prepare like they're about to play. And in a lot of those cases, that's really paid off. So, I like where we're at right now. Like I said, there's a lot of room for growth, and we're just going to try to continue to stack on top of that last game and just continue to build from there."
QB Lamar Jackson has talked about how even though he was gone for 10 days, it felt like a whole year, and how excited he was to get back with you guys. Could you sense that excitement from him, as well? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, you could, you could. Lamar [Jackson] was ready to get back – you could tell – and get back on the field. We were ready for him to get back on the field. He did a great job coming back – staying prepared, staying ready – while he was doing everything via Zoom and then came back ready to practice last week. He's busting his butt harder than ever now. We're just trying to continue to grow, and we're just trying to get better every week."
For you personally, where do you think you've made your biggest strides as a player? (Ryan Mink) "Against the Steelers, I struggled a little bit; I didn't have my best game. I've kind of been – here and there – [making] different mistakes, and I have to continue to perfect my craft. Last week, I think I had a solid performance, and we just have to go from there. There's no room for mistakes, there's no room for mess ups. So, I've just got to continue to grow and continue to be a leader on this team."
How impressed have you been with G/C Patrick Mekari? I know you played alongside him last year, and he's played all different roles along the line. What stands out to you about him? What's it like playing alongside him? (Andrew Gillis) "Pat [Patrick Mekari] is … First off, he's an amazing human being. He's just a great guy, and he's so freaking versatile. I think he's played every position on the O-line, tight end, fullback. You name it, he's done it so far for us. So, just hats off for him always being prepared, him just diving into his playbook and knowing the scheme inside and out. He's an amazing football player. He gets the job done at center. He does what he needs to do, had a very good game last week, and I think he's just going to continue to grow into a better and better player every single week and every single year."
Could you feel the Cowboys wearing down? You guys just dominated them. Could you feel that? (Kirk McEwen) "We were definitely starting to wear them down, I believe. We were starting to really hit our stride. And it's really good when you can get the run game going like that, but it all starts with us up front. We have to start it off that way and give confidence to 'G-Ro' [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] whether to pass it, run it – whatever we need to do [and] whatever is working for us. So, that's on us to make sure that we get the run game established whenever we have the opportunities."
Is easy "Easy Money" going to turn into the new catchphrase like "Big Truss" was last year? (Ryan Mink) "I don't know for sure. I guess we'll have to wait and see on that one."