PASS GAME COORDINATOR/SECONDARY COACH CHRIS HEWITT
Rookie S Kyle Hamilton has been talked about as being a smart guy. Does that transfer to the field and make it easier for him to pick up the defense? _(Jamison Hensley) _"It doesn't always translate, but in Kyle's [Hamilton] sake it does. Notre Dame guy, [he] does have that pedigree. He was raised by a good family and all of those things, and he's done a phenomenal job. He's extremely instinctive, has 'go-go gadget' arms, he's six-foot-four, agile. He's the total package. We're very, very happy with him."
What more do you want to see from S Kyle Hamilton as he improves? _(Matt Cohen) _"He's still a rookie. He's learning a new system; he's going to make mistakes. By the time we come around … I promise you, that when the first game comes, he'll know what he's supposed to be doing and he won't be making mistakes that he made today. He's not an error repeater, he's on top of his job. [Safeties coach] D'Anton Lynn, who also coaches the safeties, is doing an awesome job with him. Also [defensive assistant] Matt Robinson who also works with us in the backend is doing a great job with that guy."
Can you talk about what you've seen from rookie CBs Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion "Pepe" Williams? _(Ryan Mink) _"First with Jalyn [Armour-Davis] … Jalyn's a great corner. He has the speed; he has everything that you want in a corner. He has the height, speed, change of direction, he has all of that great stuff. Now it's all about experience and being able to do it on a consistent level. And 'Pepe', Damarion [Williams] … He might not be the fastest and he might not be the biggest, but I guarantee you [that] the kid has got the biggest heart and he's a good football player. I always bet on good football players to go out there and do their job. That kid plays with great energy, and he's going to make us better as a team. I really love the kid and I think he's going to have a great future."
CB Marlon Humphrey, CB Damarion Williams and CB Kyle Fuller can all play all over the field. How much does that versatility help? _(Jeff Zrebiec) _"Well, it gives us the element of surprise. I've always believed in guys that are interchangeable; guys that are able to do different jobs and go out there and go play. It keeps the offense on their toes and not knowing what that particular guy is going to be doing, you can't always find out where he's going to be at. So, it's going to help us as a defense, help us with our disguises. We'll really be able to match up guys against certain players, so it's going to give us plenty of flexibility that we'll actually … We'll definitely use that to our advantage."
You have so many safeties on the field. Has it almost become position-less on the backend where everyone can go all over? _(Pete Gilbert) _"I wouldn't say position-less, but again, it's all about us trying to get to the point where when we start gameplans [we're] putting the guys in the right position. Using certain guys … We'll exploit their talents and we'll just go from there. But, definitely have a lot of people that can play a lot of different positions, and we'll see what happens whenever we line up [for the] first game."
It looks like S Tony Jefferson II has come back in great shape. Can you talk about what you've seen from him and what a guy with his experience can do with this young secondary? (Cliff Brown) _"Tony [Jefferson II] hasn't missed a step. Once he got back here and he was coming off the ACL [injury], he has no lingering effects from it. He looks like the Tony Jefferson that we signed whatever amount of years ago … What was that, 2017, or whatever it was? He's still young and spry. I don't believe – he might have just turned 30, I think. But, Tony brings a lot of energy and just like what you talk about, a lot of experience. He's a leader, and he brings all the other guys together. [He] talks to anybody on the team, including the kicker. _(laughter)So, I'm really happy with Tony being here and we'll see what happens going forward. But, I love having Tony around."
What was it about CB Kyle Fuller that you wanted to add to this defense? _(Kyle Barber) _"I just think that we needed a veteran corner. With our corner problems that we had last year, you could never have too many good corners and he was available … And I thought that he was the best available guy that was left. He's going to be a great veteran presence to help us going forward, and I think that the guy has a lot more play left in his body."
At a big picture level, how excited are you with all of the pieces that you've added through the Draft and free agency? _(Garrett Downing) _"That story's yet to be written. But, as of today, as we went out there on the field, I'm happy with where we are right now. But, we have a long way to go as a secondary and just putting all of those pieces together. We'll see where we end up first game. The one thing I can say is this; when you have good players it makes you a good coach. I don't know that there's a good coach out there that doesn't have good players, and we have a lot of them. So, I expect to be a good coach this year."
You have worked with defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald before, but not as a coordinator. Do you have to spend more time at this point teaching new concepts to the players? _(Childs Walker) _"We might have introduced one or two concepts that we brought in, but a lot hasn't changed. It's really more about the verbiage. We're still doing what we do; as far as coverage-wise, we're very multiple. We can morph into anything, really. Again, having those interchangeable parts and being able to move guys around. So, [defensive coordinator] Mike [Macdonald] does an awesome job of putting those guys in the right place. So, I don't expect any drop-off or anything like that going forward."
Have you envisioned a scenario where a rookie could actually wear the green dot [for radio communication]? (Kevin Richardson)"I don't see that this year, but I'm not saying that it couldn't happen. I don't see that happening this year; but anything could happen."
What have you learned about how S Kyle Hamilton learns and how quickly he can process new concepts and take it to the field? (Jonas Shaffer) _"You basically answered the question; the kid is really very, very instinctive. He has the ability to learn. He's not going to be a guy that's going to be an error repeater. He works at his craft, he asks lots of questions. All he does is just keep going this way. _(gestures upwards)He rarely ever makes the same mistake twice. But, when you're a great athlete and a great player, it's not really that hard to figure out what we're doing."
CB Marlon Humphrey has talked about how the secondary is emphasizing creating more turnovers. How do you teach that as a coach? _(Ryan Mink) _"It's just a mindset. You have to make sure that you practice it every day. We talk about it every day. We praise them for when we do get the turnovers – everybody wants to be praised, right? So, we make a big deal about it when a guy does make a turnover. We show it to them on film, and we praise them and just continue to emphasize all those things on the field. So, that's what we're going to do going forward."
Do you have a whiteboard to keep track of practice interceptions? (Ryan Mink) _"Maybe, maybe. _(laughter) Yes, we do. We do."
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH TEE MARTIN
How do you feel about WR/RS Devin Duvernay so far and what you've seen as he steps into a bigger role? _(Ryan Mink) _"[Devin Duvernay is] much improved from last season, and that's what you want to see in a young player. There were some things that we wanted to detail and improve on in the offseason; he saw it on film, [and] came back with a mentality to work. He's been here ever since we started. Mentally, physically, he's taken another step, and so, I'm just looking forward to that translating to the field."
What were those things you wanted WR/RS Devin Duvernay to improve? _(Shawn Stepner) _"The route running, releases – just about every facet of his game. I wanted to see improvement in every area, because I knew that going into the next year, in Year Three, that's usually, for wide receivers, the year that you're going to be counted on. And so, he took his route running to the next level; he's always had good hands; he's always been a dependable receiver, as far as catching the ball for us; he took the running after the catch to the next level. And like I said, when we come back for training camp, I want to see how he looks when we start playing games."
In a similar vein, WR Rashod Bateman kind of taking on that leadership role, how does he do that after just one season in the NFL? _(Matt Cohen) _"You do it by working and not talking, and that's what he's done. He's come in and just put his head down and went to work. I've seen him mature, in just growing up, as far as being a second-year guy in the system, understanding conversions and things of that nature, that sometimes is tough, as a rookie, to see. The NFL is so different from college, in terms of defensive disguises and things of that nature, but with a year under his belt, the language that we're speaking, things of that nature, that's where I've seen him grow up and mature going into this upcoming season."
Is leadership a challenge, though, for a group that's just so young? It's amazing – you just don't have guys that are five-, six-, seven-year veterans on the roster – at least not now? _(Pete Gilbert) _"I've never put an age on leadership. Leadership, for me, is just about guys doing the right things, regardless of your age or regardless of your experience. And you stated something that's really a fact right now – we are a relatively young room. But once the guys start playing, and once they start looking at the guys who do it the right way, those guys naturally become the leaders of the room. And we don't do a whole lot of talking; sometimes a veteran can come in and he can talk about the things he's done, but we don't have a whole lot of that going on, and so we're just leading by what's on film, right now."
There's been a lot of talk about the receiver group, as a whole, after the WR Marquise Brown trade. Do you sense these guys kind of have a chip on their shoulder and are intent on seeking opportunity and proving everybody asking these questions wrong? _(Jeff Zrebiec) _"No question. That's exactly what the mentality is right now. The guys do have a chip on their shoulder, and they want to go out and prove that they're ready for their opportunity. And when we don't draft a wide receiver, what the organization is saying to you is, 'We brought you here for a reason, and it's your time.' And so, whether it's Rashod [Bateman], whether it's Devin [Duvernay], Tylan [Wallace], James Proche, guys like that, they've been here, they know the system, they played, sparingly, in some roles, and now you're going to look out there and see them on the field more often, getting an opportunity to make more plays for us."
Along those lines, looking at some of the plays out there, you have three tight end formations lining up. Obviously, this franchise has invested heavily in that position. Is there any sense of not just competing with yourselves, but also competing with another position group to prove that you belong on the field? _(Jonas Shaffer) _"No, we're competing against the teams that we're playing. It's all about doing what we have to do to win games, regardless of the personnel that's on the field. And one thing that's great about us and what's great about [offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman's] offense is we're very multiple in personnel and the way that we can line up and cause differences for the defense. That's something we want to do; we want to be tough to defend. And for us, it's not about competing against our own teammates; it's about getting ready for the next team."
We've seen WR James Proche II play great in the summer before, and we've seen how good his hands are. In your mind, what does he need to do to stay on the field more during the season? _(Childs Walker) _"Just continue to make the plays that come to him. You look at last season; go back to the Denver game, he had some big grabs for us on third down; go back to Cincinnati, late in the season, [he had] some big grabs on third downs. And just when he's out there on the field playing, just continue to make the plays and doing the things that we're asking him to do within the offense."
What have you seen from WR Tylan Wallace? He didn't play a whole lot on offense last year and saw more time on special times, but what needs to be seen from him? _(Luke Jones) _"[Tylan Wallace has] great hands, [he's] a really good route runner and very tough and physical. I got a chance to see that on special teams. He was a guy that, coming in, I didn't know if he would play like that on special teams, and he really proved to us how tough he was on special teams. And it did – it translated to the games, where later in the season, we depended on him to do some stuff in the run game for us, as well as in some empty formations and things of that nature. He had a role to play, and he did a good job later in the season, and that role will expand as we move forward."
How much do you see the outside noise about the wide receivers group and people wondering if they're going to step up? And you, as somebody in charge of developing those guys, do you say, "Hey, you've got to trust my guys; I know how to develop wide receivers?" _(Ryan Mink) _"Well, it's added motivation to what's already a motivated room. And every day, when you wake up, as a coach or a player in the National Football League, you know you've got to bring it. And so, having been a former player in the league, and now back as a coach, it just comes with the territory. No one is going to be harder on us than us, and no one is going to expect more out of us than us. And so, yes, you hear it; it just adds fuel to the fire. But we're all a self-motivated group."
I see you have track star Mustaqeem Williams out here for a tryout. What attracted you to him, and what makes you think that he has the game for this level? _(Cordell Woodland) _"Well, just being from Tennessee and having known the Tennessee tradition, with Willie Gault, Anthony Miller and guys like that, who were track stars, who translated their game speed to receiver positions in the NFL and had success … I got some film on the internet about him [Mustaqeem Williams] running routes, and I thought it was enough to look at. So, we brought him in for a workout, and he was very surprisingly a lot better than what we thought, and so it was enough for us to keep him around and do a minicamp, and we'll see where it goes from here."
In the time you've now gotten to work with QB Lamar Jackson, what is different for a receiver to work in that offense with that quarterback? _(Mark Viviano) _"It starts with how he talks in the huddle. We have a lot of verbiage in the huddle. 'Snoop' [Tyler Huntley] talks different than Lamar [Jackson]. Lamar says it a lot quicker; he annunciates a little differently; he emphasizes certain things differently. And so, once you get used to that … And now we carry it onto execution on the field … But he [Lamar Jackson] came in ready. Oh, man, the ball shot out of his hands, and [at first, the wideouts were like,] 'It got on me fast,' so that was one of the first adjustments – was adjusting to his arm strength and his precision on his throws. And we've had two days so far, and we've been pretty much on par. It's good to have him back, and we're excited about training camp, where we can be together every day, getting better every day."
With QB Lamar Jackson's throwing and the way the receivers are catching the ball – when you say it comes out fast – is it different than last year? And if so, how? _(Shawn Stepner) _"No, Lamar [Jackson] is Lamar. When he's not here, you kind of forget what it feels likes, and then, [when] he shows up, you're like, 'Yo, that's Lamar Jackson back out here.' But no, he's very consistent with the way he throws the ball; it's very accurate. He understands our system – with his experience in the system – and that's great to have [with] a younger group of wide receivers [and] a quarterback who's a veteran, who can, now, communicate exactly what he wants, and that's what we've got. His communication yesterday at practice, it was phenomenal – just seeing them talking on the [Microsoft] Surfaces during practice and making adjustments, and him saying exactly how he wants it – and that's what you would like to see, and we expect more of that to come."
Obviously, you always want to emphasize the downfield pass and you want to get the ball further down the field. During practice, has there been any changes this year in trying to do certain things that maybe help you get the ball down the field more? _(Jamison Hensley) _"Yes, great point. [There's] just more of an emphasis of it. During the season, at times, you're trying to keep guys fresh for games, and so, you kind of focus on your intermediate stuff and then you sprinkle in your times of throwing the ball deep. And we examined it during the offseason; it was something that Coach [John] Harbaugh wanted us to improve on, and us as an offense, as players and coaches wanted to improve on, so it's been an emphasis. We've been pushing the ball down the field more in individual drills, before we even get to seven-on-seven and things of that nature, and just really seeing what we are. It's hard to correct something if you don't know what the issues are, and so, we've been making that more of an emphasis and getting more reps at that, and we've been seeing improvement."
WR DEVIN DUVERNAY
On the basketball hoop that the wide receivers have in the locker room:"Yes, just some friendly competition. In our free time, [we] get some downtime and just shoot around a little bit. Playing with the guys."
On who exactly brought the hoop:"James [Proche II] brought it."
On who the best basketball player is:"Who's the best? We have to give it a little more time. Give it a little bit more time to kick in. [We have to] get some more people to play, stuff like that, because I think it's been what, a couple of days? But no, it's been a good addition."
On if the hoop has brought out competition with WR James Proche II:"He's a big hoop fan, for real. He is, he is. But no, he said it was one of the best purchases he's had this year." (laughter)
On the difference with QB Lamar Jackson throwing the ball in minicamp:"You all know the player that he is, how he can throw it. He [has] a lot of zip on the ball, strong arm. So, just have been getting used to that. Now it's just getting back into the swing of things. You know how it was with him last year, and we're happy to see him back."
On how he views the trade of WR Marquise Brown and the opportunity ahead for himself:"[He's] a good friend of mine. Of course [I] hate to see him go, but we have an opportunity in front of us and we're all excited about it and excited for the future. [I] can't wait to see how the season goes."
On where he thinks he has improved the most heading into his third NFL season:"Just [my] overall game. Route running, catching, flying around, playing fast. I think those are the things that I've continued to try to improve on and things that I need to continue to improve on to just keep elevating my game outside of special teams and getting on a bigger receiver role and things like that."
On if he thinks that it was a show of faith that the team didn't bring in another wide receiver after trading WR Marquise Brown:"Yes, I feel like they kind of believe in the guys that they have. They drafted us for a reason, I feel like. So, I feel like they feel strongly about us. Every day on this practice field we just try to prove them right in their decisions."
On if he thinks there is a chip on the shoulder of the entire wide receiver group:"Yes, a little bit. At the end of the day, we're just trying to prove ourselves. We know what we can do. We all believe in each other. No matter what the media says, what other people say, we don't pay attention to any of that. We just go out there and play ball like we know how to."
On if there is elevated competition between himself and WR James Proche II, given they're from the same Draft class:"Yes, it's a competition between all of us. We're always trying to one-up the other. That's what drives us. Seeing them [my teammates] do well, that makes me want to go even harder, and when they see me do well, they want to go even harder. So, yes, it's a back-and-forth competition, for sure. (Reporter: "Specifically, with you and James Proche II, being from the same Draft class, is it a little elevated with you two?") "I mean, that's just the nature of the game, [and] that's what makes it fun – the competition. That's why in everything we do [there's] competition; whether it's a game in the meeting room, in the gym, we're always competing. We both hate to lose."
On how his prowess as a return specialist could help him in his role as a receiver:"I think it will just continue to allow the coaches to gain trust in me, believe in me, see what I can do in other units, as a dynamic player with the ball in my hands. And hopefully, that just leads to more and more as a receiver."
On if there have been any structural changes, passing-wise, implementing new things that offensive coordinator Greg Roman wants to do this year:"I think he [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] just wants to have an emphasis on the pass game. He wants to continue to get the ball up and down in the air and make sure our timing is right and things like that, because at the end of the day, that's pretty much what it's about, and he wants to be sharp on that. So, yes, we're just trying to tone that down right now."
On if he feels his speed and explosive ability could lead to more downfield plays this season:"Yes, of course, of course. I think I can stretch the field – me and 'Bate' [Rashod Bateman], for sure [can] stretch the field – make plays, down the field. And whenever 'G-Ro' [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] calls it, we're ready."
On if an increased role at wide receiver could impact his returning abilities, and if it might be tough to balance both:"No. In my opinion, no. I love the game. I love playing returner, I love playing receiver, [and] I love having the ball, so if anything, it's just going to drive me to continue to be better and better."
On if it's his mission to prove that he's a starting wide receiver:"Yes, kind of. I just want to keep gaining these coaches' trust, and as long as they trust me, believe in me, I feel like I'll have no problem. So, I just come out in practice and just do what I can do and have fun with it and show them that I'm a very capable wide receiver and can help this team win."
DT JUSTIN MADUBUIKE
On a specific pass rushing drill at the end of practice:"Was it the last drill with the [offensive linemen] O-linemen?" (Reporter: "You all were kind of huddled around like you were playing a dice game or something.") "Oh, yes, that was just hand quickness. Just whoever gets the hands first – best two-out-of-three. Us, and the [defensive backs] DBs, and all the linebackers – we all do that just to have a friendly competition. That's all it was."
On who won the competition in the pass rush drill:"Aaron Crawford won. Yes, 'AC' [Aaron Crawford] won – which I'm kind of surprised, because I thought I was going to win. But, he won." (laughter)
On whether he was able to work out with anyone else during the offseason:"Not yet. I worked alone at the time. I was just working out, and I was here, really. So, I was working with my teammates and just getting better here. We have a little time after tomorrow's practice to get back [home] before training camp. So, I'm definitely going to find ways to keep working and get better to get to where we've got to get to."
On his impression of rookie DT Travis Jones:"He's a dog. He's a big, strong, fast, great guy. He's going to be great for us. He's just got to keep working and keep getting better."
On if he sees his third season as a breakout year for himself:"Every year is a key year for me. Every year is just another opportunity to get better. Keep building on your career, and just keep becoming the best player that you can be on and off the field. I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited. I've been working hard. So, I'm going to keep working, and I believe all the stars will align."
On the progression of his leadership role along the defensive line:"Yes, for sure. Every year, you gain experience. Every year that your blessed to play in the National Football League is a blessing, and you definitely take that with your experiences that you've had in the past. You gain just wisdom and just knowledge of the game, and you definitely give the young guys that knowledge, too. So, I definitely feel that role. I'm just here to be the best player and best teammate that I can be."
On the details of his game he needs to refine to become a more efficient pass rusher:"In everything, really – the run game, pass game, knowing situations. Just becoming a better football player when it comes to the IQ. Just knowing down and distances, and stuff like that. Just the little details."
On the benefit of having DT Calais Campbell in the room:"He's a Year 15 guy, so he knows the ins-and-outs of the National Football League. He's a great guy, great player, Walter Payton Man of the Year. What more can you ask for, really, from a vet? The best advice he gave me – just keep working. He tells me to just keep working, don't get satisfied, stay hungry."
On how much pride the defensive unit took in finishing with the No. 1 run defense last season:"Yes, we definitely take a lot of pride in [being] No. 1 in run defense. We didn't get to where we wanted to get to, which is the Super Bowl. But, at the end of the day, every year is a new year, and you have to make sure that you're putting in the work to be the best that you can be in the next upcoming year. So, that's what we're doing."