Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement: "OK, good to see everybody. I appreciate everybody being here. We're working on the New York Giants right now. [I'm] pleased with the victory yesterday. We know we have a big challenge in front of us, as far as what we need to accomplish. We have a chance to pursue our goals, and that's what we're focused on right now. What questions do you have?"
For you guys to get into the playoffs, you're going to need some help elsewhere. One scenario that can help you guys is if you win out and the Pittsburgh Steelers win one of their last two games, you guys are in. I think some people are wondering, would you be Steelers fans for the next couple of weeks? (Jamison Hensley) "Of course, we want to get into the playoffs. So, we know that we need some help, but the focus, really, for us, is going to be on taking care of our business. It doesn't matter what anybody else does if we don't take care of our job, and our job is to win. So, we've got to find a way to win this week – that's 100% exactly what we'll be locked in on and focused on. Everything else is not something that we can control, but we can control how we play. We need to play our best football next week to win that game."
I have a two-part question for you: One, after a few weeks now, I'd like to know your assessment of G/C Patrick Mekari at center? Also, in a bigger picture, we don't really get a chance to talk to offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris. This year, he had to deal with T Ronnie Stanley going out, moving T Orlando Brown Jr., changing at center and bringing G Ben Powers along. How would you assess the job 'Joe D.' has done with getting that unit to where they are? (Bo Smolka) "Yes, he's done a great job. [Offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris] 'Joe D.' is a tremendous coach. He's also had some personal things he's had to deal with, which he's done a great job with. The players love him. He's a hard worker, obviously. [He's a] very experienced coach. I think he understands just the idea of focusing on what's important and not spending time on things that are more peripheral. He focuses on the things that make a difference, and I know the guys appreciate that. Those guys have done a good job, as well. But we can get 'Joe D.' to you. That's something that we can do, for sure, if you guys would like to talk to him. I'm sure he'd be excited about that. He's pretty much a big media guy, so he'd probably be thrilled to spend time talking to the media. (laughter) No, he does a good job, though." (Reporter: "What about G/C Patrick Mekari, so far, at center?") "I think Patrick [Mekari] has done really well. He's done really well. I'm sure there are plays here and there that he'd like to have back, but he's graded out really highly. He's very steady. He's made a lot of good blocks. We're very happy with Patrick."
I know you've talked about how proud you are of ILB Chris Board. Where do you think he's improved the most, to sort of demand to be on the field as much as he's been as a linebacker? (Childs Walker) "Well, he just plays the position better. He's learned it. He wasn't really an inside 'backer in college; he was more of kind of a strong safety, slot-type of a player. That's what we saw him do, but we projected him as an inside 'backer. So, there's been some training that's been done. I think [linebackers coach] Mike Macdonald has done a great job with him. Of course, on special teams, he's got a chance to get into the Pro Bowl. So, he's done a great job across the board. I think he's a guy that just likes to play and works really hard. He's gotten better across the board as a linebacker."
CB Anthony Averett played every snap on defense yesterday. It was pretty impressive for a guy coming off of IR. How key was it to get him back? What kind of role can he have down the stretch? (Todd Karpovich) "[It was] very key. I consider him a starter-quality corner, for sure. He gets better all the time. I think it's really important to him to prove himself this year. He wants to make a name for himself and prove that he's one of those kinds of guys. [He's] had the setbacks, obviously, with the injury situation, but for him to come back out there and to play the way he did was a big boost for us. We needed it. We were thin back there, and I thought he played very well. That's great that you pointed that out."
We asked you last week about RB Mark Ingram II only getting one carry. Yesterday, he was not active. How difficult was that? What does Mark's response to you say about kind of where he's at right now? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Like I said before, Mark [Ingram II] is a consummate professional. Like anybody else, he wants to play. He wants to be out there. He's worked really hard to get his ankle right and to come back from the COVID-19 deal. He looks strong in practice. He's done well with that, and he's continued to improve with that. He's healthy enough to play, there's no doubt about it. I'd say it's just the series of circumstances that have kind of led us to this place, where the guys who are running the ball are really having a lot of success. We've had some roster requirements that we've had to try to get some other positions active; we've needed to do that. So, that's kind of the way it fell. In a lot of ways, it's a … For the team, it's a good situation, because we have a chance to keep getting Mark healthier and stronger all the time. We have a lot of good 'backs. We have a lot of top-notch 'backs in our running offense that can contribute. So, his time is coming – there's no doubt about that. That's just the way it works in the National Football League, and that's what he understands. We've talked about that. I just know it's going to work out. It's actually a very positive … It's a good problem to have for us, as a team, but again, I know Mark wants to be out there and he wants to be carrying the rock. But he's been great about it."
Can you just talk about the contributions that you've gotten from your rookie class and how impressive that is? Particularly, in a year where they were challenged with no preseason and coming in the way they did and how well they've played. (Cliff Brown) "Right, a lot of those guys who've played … We felt like it was going to be a good class coming in. We really didn't know, to your point, what the impact would be on their development with the new situation. But they've done great. They've been all-in. They're just a bunch of guys who love football and want to contribute. They've forced their way in there, and we've needed them to do that. So, it's very impressive. They've made their share of rookie mistakes, and we get on them about it, but they're going strong. They're going strong as ever right now, and I'm really proud of those guys."
We had kind of talked about WR Marquise Brown and his struggles a little bit earlier in the season, but he had the big play in Cleveland, and then played the way he did yesterday. For a young player, how important is it to be able to stack a couple good performances like that when you're coming off a period of time when you're not playing the way you want to? (Luke Jones) "No question; there is an element of that where you start to build on it. That's where that true confidence just kind of grows inside, where you just do it, and you've been there and done it, and know you can do it again. Marquise [Brown] certainly doesn't lack for confidence; he's got it, and he anticipates making those kinds of plays. I just think the story there, really, is more … When you keep working hard, you keep showing up and doing your best and maintain your high level of confidence, eventually, because he's a talented person, or anybody, you're going to break through and have success. That's exactly what he's done, and he'll build on that, for sure. So, I think he's gotten through the adversity. He knows that nothing is promised tomorrow, or the next game, or whenever, so he has to bring his best every single week. He's done a good job of that."
These rules this year are confusing, to me, at least. I don't want to speak for everyone else. But with WR Chris Moore, does there have to be a decision made on him this week? How difficult is that going to be with just the roster flexibility and dealing with some injuries? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That will be a roster situation. Chris [Moore] has probably been healthy for about a week or two, maybe, enough. I think he's getting to be 100% now. You've seen him in practice; he's really starting to pop a little bit. So, I do believe we're at that point. I'm hopeful that we can get him up. I really want to get him up and get him out there on the field. That's a good question. We'll see what happens in the next couple days on that. I've got my fingers crossed."
There was a play yesterday where ILB L.J. Fort had what looked to be an interception returned for a touchdown, but there was a roughing the passer call on OLB Jaylon Ferguson. I saw Ferguson come off the field, and you had a long chat with him. I don't know if you want to share what you said to him, specifically, but do you enjoy that part of coaching? What's the back and forth that goes on in that situation between you and that player? (Bo Smolka) "That's a good question. It's just teaching. I enjoy teaching, yes. Thanks for asking that. And there's no better teacher than experience. Jaylon [Ferguson] is a great guy. He wants to do the right thing all the time, he's very conscientious. I don't think he realized just what that play looked like, and it was definitely a penalty. It was definitely roughing the passer. He just felt like he was getting a block, just playing the game, and it's just a classic, youthful mistake, but very costly in the sense that it cost us a touchdown. Poor L.J. Fort; he's had three interceptions. One of them I should have challenged. I'd like to do that one again if we would've gotten a look at it up top – we didn't. I should've just thrown the flag on that one – just taken the chance a couple weeks ago, and one other one there. So, I just feel bad for L.J. But in a close game, that's a game-changer, right there. So, yes, we just talked about that, and I think he felt like he was legal on it, then I just explained to him why it wasn't. And he'll go back and look at that, and he'll learn from it. That's a good conversation. Really, that's what coaching is all about. Thanks for bringing that up."
Speaking of coaching, Giants head coach Joe Judge, your counterpart this week, is one of the few other coaches who has gone from special teams coordinator to head coach. Do you notice any traits about the Giants because of that dynamic? And more specifically, did Joe Judge reach out to you, or do you have any relationship with him because of that? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I really don't know Coach Judge that well. We've met along the way here and there. But I have a lot of respect for him, and obviously, what he's done in New England, and then what he's doing now. I don't know if it's really a special teams thing so much as a coaching thing. I think there are a lot of really good coaches coaching special teams. He also had experience with the wide receivers, I had experience with the defensive backs, and we both had our college experiences. There are a lot of really good coaches coaching special teams. Usually, a good coach and a good leader, someone who kind of gets the whole team dynamic over the years, volunteers to coach the punt team and the kickoff team, and all those kinds of things, because maybe other guys don't want to do it – I don't know. But I respect the guys who do that, and maybe that's because that's the path I took, and obviously, Coach Judge took that path, too. So, those guys turn out to be pretty good head coaches, it looks like. So, I just wish more guys would get a shot. That's the article you can write. You can write that article – that more of these guys deserve a look. That'd be great, because I really do believe that they do.
"But their team is physical, they're tough. You can see the personality they're trying to define themselves as. It's very impressive watching them on tape."
You guys have drawn a defensive pass interference penalty in three-straight games. I think in the first 12 weeks you were the only team that had not. Is there an element of instructing your players to get in a position where they can still get that contact even if they're not making the catch? Or does it just depend on the officiating crew as to whether you're going to get that call or not? (Jamison Hensley) "Well, it definitely depends on the officiating crew and how they see it. That's certainly a given. But what we teach our guys to do is try to make a play on the ball, and that's really on both sides; we teach our defensive players the same thing. You want to put a foot in the ground, and you want to go up, and you want to make a play on the ball. That's what the rules [allow] you to do, and really, that's what we want our guys to do. We're not trying to act. I know there are teams that teach that; they teach body language, they teach acting, flopping – whatever you want to call it. We don't teach that. We just teach playing football. If the officials see it, they're looking for something, or they're looking for an acting job, then we're not going to get those calls. But that's not how we do it. We just try to play the game, and let the officials do the officiating."
TE Eric Tomlinson has gotten elevated from the practice squad a few times in recent weeks. I think yesterday was his second practice squad elevation. What have you seen from him? With this being his second call-up, do you expect him to earn a spot on the 53-man roster? (Daniel Oyefusi) "Yes, [that's'] definitely a possibility, there. He's done a really good job. He's come in and learned the offense. [He's a] very smart guy, very determined, really good blocker, so he fits what we're trying to do. He can kind of fill the void there a little bit that Nick [Boyle] left. I think he's done a really good job. Patrick [Ricard] has also filled part of that void. He's done more on the line, in-line, tight end-type blocking roles, too. So, both of those guys have done well. I think it showed up in the results in the run game, and we're really pleased with him. He's a guy that has helped us tremendously, and [he's] a great guy, and we're glad to have him."
You had previously mentioned during an interview that you talked with some communications professionals on how to coach during a period like this when you might not be seeing the guys as often, and you're speaking through a mask. What has this season been like for you, just finding ways to be a better coach and communicate better in light of having to change so much of what your normal day-to-day experience is like? (Jonas Shaffer) "The biggest thing … We talk about talking through the mask, and when this first happened, we made the determination … Even when the rules didn't require it, we said that we were going to keep our masks on all the time. Now, I'll admit, we haven't been 100% with that; we've had our lapses here and there, but I think that's to be expected from a human perspective. We've done our best with that, and we've coached through the mask even on the field. You guys have seen us do that – you've been to practice. And in meetings, we coach with the mask on, which wasn't required early on – is now. So, the one thing I talk to the guys about was just the idea of projecting and annunciating. And I think it's been kind of good for us – coaches and players – to force us to project and annunciate to make ourselves clear when we speak. So, it goes for the quarterbacks or the defensive play-callers and communication. It's kind of been good. Then, the other thing is the value of the technology, and stuff like we're doing now. There really is some value to the Zoom or the virtual-type meetings, because sometimes in a group, when you have a group in there, it's more of an audience. Here, you can kind of have a little more … A little bit of a connection can happen. So, yes, we just try to take advantage of that as best we can. But we just kind of learn by experience more than anything. Everybody's got to deal with it, so we figure we're not at a disadvantage, so we try to do the best we can with it. Thanks for asking that."
What are you doing for Christmas? Are you having a Christmas dinner? (Donna Jean Rumbley) "Christmas dinner. Yes, right. We have set our schedule for Christmas. We're not allowed to have the players in Monday or Tuesday, which I might've done and tried to give them Christmas off. But since we can't do that, we're going to have to work on Christmas. So, we'll be working in the afternoon. We'll give everybody Christmas morning to be with their family, then we'll have, kind of, a shorter afternoon. We'll get in there from about noon until about … Well, we won't be in here at noon, because we'll have virtual meetings. So, we'll get in here from about 2:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m., and we'll practice until about 5:30 p.m., then we'll get them out. The coaches might be in here a little longer than the players, but we'll get them home for a later Christmas dinner, or … People probably don't have Christmas dinner in the morning. They'll get Christmas breakfast and a later Christmas dinner, and everybody will be happy. So, that's what we're planning on. Thank you. I appreciate that." (Reporter: "Merry Christmas.") "Merry Christmas to everybody else, too. I'm sure we'll get a chance to say that, too."