LB PATRICK QUEEN
I'm sure you know, a lot of rookies, they get the spring workouts, they get the entire preseason. How much of a challenge do you think it is for you to get into that starting lineup when you don't have the spring workouts and an entire preseason? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a great question. Just coming in [on] short notice, trying to get ready for the season. The vets already are ahead of everything, and you are playing catch-up. It's tough, but at the same time you have to come in to work. Being at LSU, we were prepared for that – battled-tested and just ready to get acclimated with whatever situation occurs. So, that's what my main focus is right now; just to get acclimated with everything. Try to get to know my teammates. Try to become that person that everybody wants me to be."
I'm looking around and they are calling you a Rookie of the Year candidate already; who will have the better year, you or LB Malik Harrison? I mean, it's not a matter of 'if,' you are going to be starting. How much pressure is that for you, a young man who hasn't been on the field at all yet, knowing that you are going to be on the field September 13 versus Cleveland? (Kirk McEwen) "It's not challenging; it's exciting. It's a great feeling to just be able to embrace what you have been working for your whole life. You can only imagine and dream of being in this position. And Just being in this position, I want to take full advantage of it. I want to be the best player that I could actually become. So, every day I come in, I come in to work. I talk to 'Harbs' [head coach John Harbaugh] a lot. I talk to strength coaches. I talk to my position coach, nutritionist. I talk to [everybody], so I can just be the best player that I can be. All those little things, I'm taking key-to-key, piece-to-piece, and I'm just trying to elevate my game."
I know you are pretty close with Buccaneers ILB Devin White. He had a really good rookie year. Have you spoken to him about what to expect, and have you guys had conversations about first year in the NFL? (Todd Karpovich) "I have. I actually [was on] FaceTime with him yesterday. [It was] a three-way call with [Browns LB] Jacob Phillips, and we all sat there and talked about what we expect. We leaned on Devin, and he told us what he did his first year in the league. Even though he got hurt, he had pretty amazing stats going into the end of the year. So, I try to take up everything I can from him. Like every day, I'm texting him [and] asking him stuff. Just to see what he did going into his first year, that made me very proud as a little brother to him. I'm just excited to be able to compete against him in this league."
It's your rookie season. It's your first time in an NFL training camp. What are your goals for training camp, and then, what are your goals for this season as a whole? (Matthew Stevens) "My goals are sky-high. I'm trying to be the best person, in-shape. I'm trying to be one of the most vocal people on the team. I'm trying to be one of the best guys that I can be all-around. There are just so many goals; it's hard to describe. Just know, I'm trying to be that great all-time player that everybody is expecting me to be."
I know you have gotten a chance to learn a little bit of the playbook and talk with coaches and stuff. What are the big differences of an NFL scheme and this scheme as compared to what you had to learn and what was on your plate as a college player at LSU? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Being in [former LSU defensive coordinator's Dave] Aranda's system … His system is very hard. It takes some time to learn it. My freshman year, going in there, it was hard for me to learn, and that's why I had to go to Devin [White], and sit down with him and try to learn the plays; sit down with Aranda and learn the plays. Eventually, it just got better and better, and by Year Two, I had a grasp of it. So, coming here, I've been prepared for our defense – to learn a very complicated defense. It's been going very smoothly. Being with some of the older guys and some of the new guys, we are all just communicating very, very well, and that's the biggest part that is helping me. The more you talk on the field, the better that you are. Just getting comfortable with everybody that is on the field right now; that's probably the best step for me right now."
What's it like for you when you are in a locker room with QB Lamar Jackson; the reigning MVP and No. 1-rated player on the NFL Top 100 list? I know all the vets aren't here, but what's the reaction from you and the rest of the rookie class when you step into the locker room, Lamar is sitting in there, and you realize that you guys are at the same level? (Garrett Downing) "It's crazy. It's crazy, because I went into college the year after LSU played [Louisville], and he was a great player. He got the Heisman [Trophy] there in college, and then came to the NFL and eventually got the MVP. Just to be in the locker room with him – a great player, a great person, a very energetic person all the time – it's unreal. Like I said, you can call it a dream, being in this position and being around guys like that. I'm just looking forward to the season that we are about to have."
So far, what has been something where you have been like, 'Oh, OK, this isn't a big jump from college. I'm on this. I got this part of being in the NFL?' And then, what is something that maybe you say, 'Oh, this is very different. I need a lot of work at this before I feel that I'm ready to play in a game?' (Ryan Mink) "Scheme-wise, it's just like college. You have to put yourself in that position to be able to fully understand what's going on, and to be able to give calls and communicate with others. It takes work. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of communication. It takes a lot of studying. That's one thing that I'm bringing from college. I had to study; I had to work for my position, and everything that I got over there. And then, going into the league, things I need to get better at, it's just technique-wise. Everything that they are trying to teach me right now, just trying to take that on the run, because we only have so much time to learn everything. I'm trying to grab that as quickly as I can and be able to move on and process the next thing."
I'm curious if you think that playing in the SEC has kind of given you a leg up over some other rookies who are coming into a situation where they haven't played as high of competition so far in their careers? (Andrew Gillis) "It's a battle every week. No matter what team you play in the SEC, it's a battle every week. Waking up that Monday morning it's like, 'Got another SEC game.' So, you go and hit the training room, go and get ready, go and get right for the week coming up. My biggest thing is just the level of competition is always greater in the NFL than it is in college. Just being able to play in the SEC and playing hard-nosed football every week, I feel like that prepared me for the NFL, especially with having Tommy Moffitt as my strength coach, 'Coach O' [Ed Orgeron] as my head coach, Dave Aranda as my assistant [coach] and many other guys who just prepared me for this level. Like I said, I'm excited to get started."
Were you disappointed or, you know, bummed about the cancellation of the preseason? (Ryan Mink) "I am, because that's the time for you to be able to process everything and learn everything. They take their preseason games here very seriously. That's a learning process for us. For me, not to be able to get that is unfortunate, but at the same time, you've got to adapt. When the time comes for game one, let's rock and roll."
Last year, S Chuck Clark did a lot of the calling with the headset helmet. I'm curious if [defensive coordinator Don] 'Wink' Martindale has talked to you about how soon you might be taking command, if that headset helmet is yours? Or what are the challenges that go into that? (Bo Smolka) "We've been practicing with the headset with a little earpiece. I'm trying to get used to that. I'm pretty sure that Chuck has the right to keep being the play caller right now. I'm just going to go under his wing, learn how he does things, how he carries himself and eventually fill into that role that he has."
Obviously, you knew plenty about the Ravens before you were drafted. But being a part of the organization, have you gotten a sense of how important the middle linebacker position is and how much it means to the organization to play that position? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, I got it pretty quick. All eyes are on you, so everything you've got to do, you've got to do it to the best of your ability. You've got to be that leader. You've got to carry yourself well. You've got to be that vocal guy in and out. Every day I come in trying to be the best that I can be, like I said, trying to be the best teammate I can be, the best player and just the best person in general. Every day I'm coming into meetings and giving 110 percent in meetings, 110 percent in walk-throughs. Each day I'm just trying to elevate my game and trying to be, like I said, the guy that everybody expects me to be."
How are you guys learning about the protocols relating to coronavirus this season? Is it a kind of daily process where they tell you what you can and can't do? Is there anything that stuck out to you about the limitations of your kind of outside the football facility life? (Jonas Shaffer) "We keep it pretty simple around here. We just try to focus on one day at a time. We just follow the rules that they have set in place for us; wash your hands, Germ-X, six feet apart, mask always up and try to have that mental discipline like [defensive coordinator] Coach 'Wink' [Don Martindale] always says. It's a time [where] you're either going to be great, or you're just going to slack off and you're not going to be the team that you want to be. So, every day we come in, we just are being mentally disciplined."
Which player in the locker room has helped you get up to speed? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "DeShon Elliott. I remember he was going through calls with me and was just like, 'Be vocal. Be proud in what you say.' A lot of stuff is riding on the communication, as far as my part, so that really helped me calm down and relaxed me. Just hearing his take on that, that was big. As far as my part, just settling in, being able to communicate with everybody and being on the same page."
I just wanted to ask, you're hearing from a lot of teams about how they're really trying to make an impression on rookies about not going out, not putting yourself in danger where you could bring something back in. Have you guys stressed that a lot? Obviously, the veterans have kind of been through, you know, been in the building before and done this. Have you talked to a lot of people? Or have a lot of coaches and other players talked to you guys about, 'Hey, you guys have to be smart?' (Jeff Zrebiec) "Our point is, 'Go out for what?' (laughter) It's football season. This team is mentally strong, and everybody understands the task at hand that we have. Like I said, every day we come in we've got the simple task of six feet apart, wash your hands, keep your mask up and just do what the people tell us to do. If we do that, we'll be fine, and the season will be perfect for us."
I know you're in touch with a lot of the guys from LSU who were drafted this past year. Something the Ravens did that not every NFL team did is have that virtual strength training element to their offseason. Do you think that's going to make a difference at all? Did it strike you as weird that other teams didn't have that incorporated as part of their offseason? (Jonas Shaffer) "It's shocking, but at the same time, it's grown adults. You know if you're in shape or not. You know that if you slack off, you're probably not going to be in the shape you need to be in when it comes season time. At the end of the day, it's up to you if you want to be in shape or not. You can't have people watching over you 24/7 telling you, 'You need to do this. You need to do that.' It has to be in your mindset already. If you're in shape, good. If you're not, that's on you. You've got to step up your stuff."
RB J.K. DOBBINS
How has being at the facility and all the new protocols, being a rookie and trying to learn everything new as it is, how much different is it? Also, trying to learn all the new rules and regulations that come with the COVID-19 protocols? (Jamison Hensley) "It's definitely something different, I feel – way different than the past years for rookies. I think it's something that we're handling super, super good. The facility is set up super nice, and I feel like it's very easy though, very easy."
It looks like you've added some muscle this offseason. What was your biggest focus trying to transition from college to pro there? What did you focus on? (Todd Karpovich) "I just focused on, really, everything. I just focused on getting faster, bigger, stronger, because I know the NFL is going to be a different challenge for me. And I feel like I just want to help my team get to a Super Bowl. The way to do that is just to get this work in, look good and look the part."
The Ravens had you graded higher than you were picked [in the draft]. Does that fuel you, being around at number 55? Do you even need any fuel? (Kirk McEwen) "I don't need any fuel, but it is added fuel. I definitely thought I played last year – in college football – at a high rate, very productive. It was definitely kind of shocking, but I fell to the right team. I'm so grateful to be on this team. It's such a great program. Everything is going to go correctly, but I do have that added chip on my shoulder. I'm working hard to prove that I should've been [drafted] earlier."
In college, you're the guy. You know you're going to be the workhorse. You know you're going to get the carries. You come to the Ravens as a rookie, you're in a backfield and you're one-of-four guys. How difficult of a transition is that for you? What do you have to do to become the guy in this backfield? (Gerry Sandusky) "When you go to a new program … Just like in college when I went into Ohio State, there's always the older guys and guys that are there that are talented. I'm just working; I'm going to learn from the older guys. Mark Ingram II – he won a Heisman trophy and has been in the league for 10 years. My main objective is to come in and learn, compete, and however the chips fall, that's how they fall. That's the coaches' decision on who plays what and how much playing time someone gets. My job is to just come in and do anything I can to help this team win a Super Bowl."
What have you been able to accomplish thus far on a limited basis? Are you able to get on the field just yet and do anything? (Jerry Coleman) "I feel like, with everything going on, we've accomplished a lot. I feel like I know the playbook pretty good. I have a good chemistry with my teammates – the rookies that came in with me. I feel like everything is really going very smooth. I'm just anxious to keep going, keep getting the chemistry with my teammates, and I think it'll all work out."
What do you tell your friends, your past teammates, about the opportunity to play with QB Lamar Jackson? (Bo Smolka) "Some of my old teammates asked me about it. It's definitely a blessing to play with Lamar [Jackson], because he's such a great player – voted Number One [NFL's Top 100 list] by his peers. My job is to come in and help him, that's all I say. I feel like we have a good relationship. He's a pretty funny dude, he's cool. I'm glad I get to play with him."
You mentioned the other running backs in Mark Ingram II. How much interaction have you had with guys like Mark [Ingram II] and RB Gus Edwards and RB Justice Hill? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I've had a lot of interaction with them. Those are my guys, already. Mark [Ingram II] is my guy, as well. We talk quite a bit. I talk quite a bit to all of them. We have a good relationship. I'm honestly glad that I have four other running backs with me to help me as a rookie. But I have a good relationship with all of them."
As you go through what you went through at Ohio State and the quality of the offense in total, and in particular, the run game – compared to what you've seen thus far just playbook wise – talk about maybe some of the differences and just the complexity of the Ravens' run game that was the best ever a year ago? (Pete Gilbert) "Definitely, it's complex – that's what makes it so good. Ohio State's [run game] was pretty complex, too. It's a smooth transition for me, but I've just got to keep learning it, keep learning it inside-and-out, so I can be successful as well. It's very complex. Like you said, it was Number One in the league last year. I'm just trying to help, trying to make it stay at Number One."
We saw you working out with [Vikings] RB Dalvin Cook this offseason. What was that experience like? How did you guys link up? What did the experience kind of teach you about what it takes to be a Pro Bowl-level running back in this league? (Jonas Shaffer) "Training with Dalvin [Cook] was valuable to me, it was so good. The way we linked is we have the same agent, so we're like a family. It was very, very valuable to me. He taught me a lot of things in just a short period of time. He works hard. It was just great to be around him. He gave me some outlook. I want to be like this guy; I want to be a Pro Bowl running back. It was definitely extra motivation, as well, to work out with him."
You kind of talked about how you fit into this stable of running backs. What are your expectations for your rookie season, and what your role will be? (Ryan Mink) "My expectations – I don't really have any. My role is predicated off of how I practice and how I play. I'm just going to come in, work hard, and try to be the best I can. The chips will fall in where they fall in. I'm just happy to be with this group of guys."
Do you feel like because of the lost time that you had over the course of the offseason, do you feel like time is particularly of the essence as you get started here in [training] camp? (Garrett Downing) "Yes, definitely different, but I think it'll all work itself out. Definitely losing some time is tough on all the rookies, but if you just come in and work hard, and try to do what you're told to do, I feel like everything will fall into place. I just feel like I've got to work hard."
How do you feel, finally, meeting your teammates in person, and what comes to your mind? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I feel great. The vets haven't come in yet – not all of the vets; a few of them are in. It's definitely great to be around them. I've been getting back in here, moving around with them, working out with them. It's definitely something that was needed. It's so great to be back with them, and I'm happy to be back with them."
You mentioned about RB Mark Ingram II and how you've had some interaction with him. With him specifically, because he is an older guy, and when a new guy comes in, certain veterans will react to that a different way. Do you feel that he has really embraced you and tried to help you come along in this short time? (Ryan Mink) "Definitely, definitely – Mark [Ingram II] is going to be like an older brother to me. He's definitely helped me; it's been all good. He's helping me with anything I ask. Anytime I text him, he texts back. It's been great. It's great to have someone like that in my room, because, like you said, he's a vet. He could tell me, 'Get up out of my way, you're a rookie,' but he doesn't do that. I'm so grateful to have him."
I'm curious from the perspective of a rookie during the coronavirus. You're about to accomplish a dream and play in your first NFL season, but there's so much else going on. Your first NFL game, for instance, might be without fans. How do you, kind of, reconcile that in your mind that, and on a personal level, where you're accomplishing your dream during such a weird time? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think it makes it that much better. It's something that has never happened. If I can contribute to helping my team win a Super Bowl during times like these, where you really have to hone-in on what you do and perfect your craft, I feel like it's going to be even more special. Being without fans will definitely be different, if that happens. But I feel like we've got to bring our own juice anyways if you want to win a game on Sunday, or Thursday or Monday. So, I think it'll be special."
I wanted to ask you about one aspect of running backs, rookie running backs – the blocking, picking up blitzes and stuff like that. Sometimes, coaches worry about rookies being ready to handle that. And obviously, on this team, you've got to protect QB Lamar Jackson. How much are you focusing on showing that, if you're in the game, you can pick up blitzes, you can block and do other things other than run the football, which they already know you can do? (Cliff Brown) "At 'O-State' [Ohio State], that's all we talked about was pass protection – that came first. That really came before running the ball – other than protecting the ball and not fumbling. But pass protection, that was Number One. I think I'll be good at that. I got a lot of experience with that in college. I pass protected for a lot of guys. We were taught to learn how to read what's happening in the back end – read the safeties, read things like that before the snap is even happening, because they'll tell you where to go. I never played in the NFL, but I know they disguise things very well here, but I feel like I'll be straight. I feel like I'll be good at it."
You were down in Florida, right? With QB Lamar Jackson and some of the guys for some of the offseason workouts? (Garrett Downing) "Yes sir. Yes sir, I was."
What did you get out of those? And was that a good chance to just, kind of, build friendships and camaraderie with your teammates? (Garrett Downing) "Yes, so that was needed as well. Being drafted, you never see the guys. Usually, from what I know, is whenever you get drafted, you come right into the building maybe the next day. So, everyone coming down to Florida and working with Lamar [Jackson], working with Trace [McSorley], we all created a chemistry. It was good to see them before even coming to the facility, because we already have a relationship. We already know each other, a little bit."
Everywhere you've been, you've played right away, and you've played a lot. Do you know just how patient you can be if the opportunities aren't coming as often as they used to? (Jonas Shaffer) "I don't know how patient I can be. My thing is, I'm just going to try to work hard. I'm going to try to play. I'm going to try to get on the field someway, somehow. My goal is not to be patient. I was not taught that in college. Don't be patient; take advantage of your opportunities. [I'm] not saying that I'm going to start or anything, but I feel like if I just work hard enough and show the coaches that I can play at this level, then I'll be on the field. My goal is to help the team win the Super Bowl, not sitting on the bench."