RB MARK INGRAM II
What are your thoughts about being tested every day for COVID-19? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I think it's necessary. We're trying to have the safest environment that we can. So, just to ensure that everybody is healthy and doing what they're supposed to do, I think it's necessary. They're some good protocols to have in order to have a safe facility."
Are you pretty happy with the guidelines the NFL implemented for you guys as a team? I know there were some concerns ahead of training camp. Are you pretty confident about what's in place right now? (Todd Karpovich) "I think that they've done a good job, so far. We came in last week; the first three of the four days were testing. Now, we go on 14 straight days of testing. Then after that, I think it's three or four times a week of testing. So, we're just trying to make sure that everybody is healthy, everybody is safe and making sure everybody is doing the right thing when they leave the facility. Hopefully, we can be safe and healthy and have a great year."
We were talking with RB J.K. Dobbins the other day, and he was talking about how you were really doing a lot to take him under your wing. Can you talk about your role as a mentor and how you see that shaping up with him? (Pete Gilbert) "He's a great, young 'back. He had a great career at Ohio State. That's what this league is all about – especially running backs - is being able to pay the game forward. I have guys who paid the game forward to me. So, just to be able to pass the game down, pass knowledge down – anything that he wants to know – I'm there to help him and there to support him. That's that; you're only as strong as your weakest link. So, you try to bring everybody on. You try to bring everybody to playing at a high level [and] everybody competing at a high level. He's a good, young dude. He reached out to me when he got drafted. He didn't have to do that. We've been talking over the offseason and we're finally in the building together, so that chemistry will keep getting stronger and I'll keep helping him."
It sounds like with that answer, you've embraced the situation. Were you surprised, at all, that the Ravens went in that direction in the second round after having the best rushing attack in the history of the game? (Jerry Coleman) "Listen, I've been in the league for 10 years. This is my tenth season and I've never seen a team that didn't either bring in a running back or draft a running back. That's the norm. So, it didn't surprise me. I think that it was the high value pick right there, where we were at. I don't think many people thought he would be there. I'm not necessarily surprised. We run the ball a lot, we put emphasis on running the ball. So, being able to have our backfield – me, Gus [Edwards], Justice [Hill] – add J.K. [Dobbins] to the mix, I think it's an elite backfield [with] guys who I think can start anywhere in this league and play anywhere in this league. We'll be competing. We'll be working and we'll be working together to have the best rushing attack again."
I mentioned to head coach John Harbaugh last week that you saw 14 victories – maybe you could go north of that – and he kind of smiled and said, 'You've got to get that first one.' What gives you that kind of confidence that you can best last year's record? (Kirk McEwen) "We added a lot of key pieces this offseason with free agency and the draft. We're bringing back our ballers and playmakers. We added more ballers and playmakers. We've got our coaching staff back. So, we just have confidence in each other. That's the goal – to have a better season than we did last year. We didn't finish how we wanted. We wanted to be champions. That's the standard here, nothing less – it's championship mentality. So, you have to work one day at a time. We're back in the facility working together, strength and conditioning today [and] meetings. You win those 15, 16 games [and] you go north of that record by winning each day. We're focusing on today. We'll ramp up this week, ramp up the next week. Each phase, we'll continue to ramp up. That's how you keep stacking. That's how you keep stacking, that's how you keep building and that's how you have a better season."
I'm just wondering, seeing some of the difficulties that baseball has had restarting its season – has that added at all to any of the anxieties or uncertainties that you might feel as you guys ramp up? (Childs Walker) "Yes, you're seeing this stuff … There are cases, but you just try to stay positive. We try to stay with the protocols that our team has set for us in the facility. When you leave the facility, just try to be as safe as possible. Stay at home and taking on the necessary precautions to make sure that you're not exposing yourself unnecessarily to anything. You just try to have a positive mindset. Obviously, we're aware of it and we're cautious of it. We're trying to do the best we can with the circumstances. We're trying to stay positive and stay hopeful."
Can you talk a little bit about the offseason strength and conditioning program that the team put together? I know it's early, and you guys haven't had any real practices, but do you feel like the program that was put in place for everybody will give you guys an advantage once the season does roll around? (Ryan Mink) "We have a great organization here. [Head strength and conditioning coach] Steve [Saunders] does a great job doing the necessary exercises, necessary conditioning, necessary movements that we need to be successful – that we need to improve [and] that we need to get better. I just believe in our organization. I believe in our coaching staff, and I think that we're in a good position to start the season off strong. But, like I said, it's just one day at a time. We're back in the facility, finally together, have strength and conditioning meetings [and] walk-throughs, so we just need to win each day. I just feel like our strength and conditioning coaches do a great job of preparing us and getting us ready, so I have the utmost trust in them and how they've been preparing our team."
We've talked about the addition of RB J.K. Dobbins, but when a team takes a running back in the second round, do you think it will have any impact or affect your role as far as on-the-field at all this year? (Jamison Hensley) "That's really not up to me. How we practice [and] how we play … We rotated 'backs last year, so the coaches will decide how to rotate us and how to play us all. We all have special talents [and] special abilities, and all I do is work my butt off. I compete my butt off no matter where I'm at, no matter who is in my running back room, and that's just the bottom line. So, I try to be the best player that I can be and bring my best foot to the table every time I step on the field."
You mentioned the team brought back their coaching staff and playmakers from last season. How significant is it to have the same offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, and the continuity of so many familiar teammates? (Kyle Barber) "It's huge. You have a team last year where we were comfortable operating together in an offense. So, just to be able to grow another year in that offense with our playmakers that we had last year and then add-in more playmakers, I think that's nothing but an advantage for us. We're familiar with the offense. We can just continue to get better in the offense, continue to get better [at] communicating within the offense and add more nuances to the offense. To have our 'OC' [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] back [and] great 'DC' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] back, that's nothing but an advantage for us. I'm thankful they are back, because I love both those coaches."
You are a veteran guy. I'm curious, just on a general level, with this offseason and not being able to practice until mid-August, what factors do you think are going to separate the teams that handle this well, versus the teams that may struggle to get on the same page or struggle to put together the type of team they want? (Aaron Kasinitz) "The camaraderie that you have within your team, the ability to be able to communicate within your team, the ability to be able to improve every-single day – those are all key factors in having a great team. And obviously, you want your teams to stay healthy this year, so I think all those things factor into having a great team that is going to start the season fast and have a successful year this year. So, we have to win the day. Each meeting, you have to be able to translate what we are learning in the meeting onto the field and make the necessary [and proper] adjustments to be successful. We have a great coaching staff. We have great players with the right mindset. We have a great organization with the right mindset. … (Inaudible) … I have the utmost confidence that we'll be able to accomplish those things as long as we stay on course."
Who were some of the mentors you had when you showed up as a rookie or second-year guy, and what did you learn from them that now is the same kind of message that you want to pass along ? (Pete Gilbert) "I had a lot of older guys when I got to New Orleans. I was there with Darren Sproles, Will Smith – rest in peace, Marques Colston, just a number of guys that were helpful [and] gave a helping-hand to me. I knew they were successful. They had 10-plus-year careers. Sproles is a legend. [I was on the roster with] Pierre Thomas. Those guys, they weren't selfish. They were welcoming with open-arms to me – the entire locker room was – and I think that's where my mindset comes [from] with helping the younger guys, because as a veteran, you have to be able to help your younger guys. You are only as strong as your weakest link. You have to bring everybody up to the standard. You have to bring everyone up to [an] elite level. Competition breeds excellence, and when you have everybody competing at a high level, every-single person gets better. When you have players that are competing at a high level and playing at a high level, that's how you win games; that's how you win championships. The more players you have that are playing at a high level, the more ballers you have that are unselfish, I think that is a sign of a great team."
How did your calf injury last season shape how you wanted to rehab and get back to strength? This offseason, we saw the work that you were doing with Dr. Reef down in Miami. It looked really interesting. What did you want to do with your body at this point in your career? (Jonas Shaffer) "I just want to stay sharpening my tools. [I want] to continue to improve [and] continue to get better. Obviously, any deficiencies that you had, you want to make those strengths. Rehabbing my calf; obviously, in the beginning of the year, that was my first goal – making sure I got that back to full strength [and] got that back to full health. Make sure I was able to be explosive. Make sure I was able to be functional. Make sure I was able to be stable. Make sure that I was able to do everything that I need to do to be elite and play at a high level. From training with my guy Tony Villani down there, and obviously, doing my rehab and my prehab stuff with Dr. Reef, I just try to do everything necessary to make sure I'm bringing my complete package to the table and have my best season in my tenth season. That's what I worked on, and I'm thankful to everybody who helped me."
With no offseason workouts – this would kind of be in the ramp-up period – what are you focusing on to try to get these guys prepared for when the traditional training camp practices begin? (Jamison Hensley) "Besides it being virtual, I feel like we had a spring and early summer much like we usually had. So, I feel pretty good about where guys are physically. I think for us, this is just, really, an opportunity that's unexpected that we have to just pick up where we left off, and then keep on going, and really get the guys ramped up for the season. We're really excited about it. I feel like we're in a great place and we can just build on it and go from here."
How do you see the body condition of the players coming from the offseason? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I think everybody showed up here in good shape, from what I've seen so far. Today is the first day that we had the vets. I've only had the offensive group so far. I just got done [training] the linemen the last two hours, and they did great. We're pretty excited. Again, I feel like the guys are in shape, they're focused, they're ready to go. We're just going to pick up the tempo and go from here."
The transformation of WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown has been incredible. It's been great to watch this offseason as he's been putting up all of these videos. Did you have anything to do with that? Or was that all him and his private coach down in Florida? And your thoughts on when you saw him in person? (Kirk McEwen) "'Hollywood' [Marquise Brown] was in and out early on, but it's really … He took it upon himself to … It must've just clicked for him this offseason, really, to get healthy, to start eating right, to start training harder. And last year, he dealt with some things and it was his rookie year. He got through it, but I give him so much credit for, really, using this time – as well as all the other guys. It would've been really easy to sit in the sofa the past four months and do nothing, and I think we can all ask ourselves that, 'Have we really utilized the past four months of this pandemic time?' I think to 'Hollywood's' credit, he got after it; he got after it a couple hours a day. I saw him in the hall and I'm excited to take where he's at now and keep building on that, just like the other guys, and keep going."
How creative did you need to be during this pandemic with the players? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "We need to be very creative, but I knew early on that we were going to be creative, and as soon as everything started going crazy, I said to [John Harbaugh] 'Harbs,' 'Look, no matter what happens, I want to train the guys. We'll do it virtually; we'll do whatever we need to do.' And we were on the same page very early. We were prepared and we had a fantastic spring and summer. As I said before, I think we didn't miss a beat. The virtual workouts – it was very different, but guys who work hard work hard virtually, as well. And it was great to see them, put eyes on them, coach them, do them how we do it, and I really couldn't have asked anything more from our players this spring and summer. They were all Ravens; they were fantastic."
Is it challenging working around the social distancing guidelines right now, as far as working with the players? Or are you guys pretty comfortable with what's in place? (Todd Karpovich) "We do all of our training in small groups, anyway. So, we never have an open weight room with everybody working out at the same times. We followed the guidelines and it was breaking up into separate gyms. It was doing some things with cleaning. Quite frankly, for us, we like coaching the players when we have them in small groups to begin with. It really isn't that much different than, I would say, if anything there's just more of a cleaning component to it and wearing the masks for myself and my staff. But other than that, we're training how we've trained. It's pretty much the same."
Could you talk a little bit about the differences with the virtual online training and kind of how you guys wanted to still make it a program that would be the best in the NFL? (Ryan Mink) "Again, I visualize the virtual training no different than how we normally train – let's break them into small groups, let's get them with a coach, let's get the equipment in their hands that we need, and that's exactly what we did. We had time slots all day long where they could lift and run. We sent them what they would need. And then guys who had access to additional equipment, we would put them in a different group. We had west coast times; we had east coast times. Quite frankly, my staff and I probably never worked harder, because it was all day long for those 8-9 weeks – whatever it was – being with the guys and trying keep them in those small groups and work with them. It was exhausting. Quite honestly, I'm happy to be back in here, but it really made it … We tried to make it as good as we could for the team. That was the bottom line."
Is there anything previously in your career that you could really compare this last few months to? Was there any past experience that you kind of draw indirectly to, sort of, to figure this out? (Childs Walker) "No, I've never done the virtual workouts before, but to me, as long as I can lay eyes on them, we could coach them, cue them, count for them like we normally do. I think the most challenging thing about the Zoom workouts was that you have to create more energy. When we're in the facility and we're in our small groups, it's easier to engage with the players, it's easier to get them going, to get two guys going with each other and motivate them a little bit. Just as I'm talking to all of you now, there's this awkward silence on Zoom when just the speaker is talking or coaching. So, you have to provide more energy for the guys and really work harder on engaging them. I think that was, certainly, the toughest thing about it. But as far as the equipment, the workouts, everything else that we did, it really was close to what we do already."
Kind of a two-part question: One, how much pride do you and your staff take in how well the team has done from a health standpoint over the past couple of years? And two, given the nature of this offseason and kind of how it's been abbreviated, are there certain things that you have to avoid early in these practices to try to stay as healthy as possible? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think for the second part of your question, it all depends what kind of shape your guys come in at. I feel like by being with the whole team virtually every day, like we were, I feel like we have our thumb on where they're at – whereas I feel like if you had players that weren't working out or that you didn't know what they were doing, it's going to require more ramp-up, because you're going to have guys that are probably very out of shape, to an OK shape, and you're going to have to be more careful with what you're doing. For me and the staff, we take such pride … I think the thing we take the most pride in is the buy-in from the players and the rest of the coaching staff. They've done the workouts; they showed up here ready to work. There's no ramp-up period for us. We're going now as hard as they would getting ready for the season. We're ready to go. Now, we've got 40 days until the Cleveland Browns, and our guys are going to be spitting fire – we're ready."
Can you talk a little bit about how the conditioning test went with all the guys coming back? (Ryan Mink) "Well, the conditioning exercise went great. So, let's say, virtually, our 150-test, it's got legs of its own at this point and the legend grows and grows. But, it's a very challenging test. We went so far, virtually, for the workouts – just because I wanted them to be quality – that we sent all the guys tripods so they could put their iPhones, their iPads at a place where we could see them. We used those – we used those for the running every day, we used those for the lifting every day. It was mandatory that the guys had to have them. We used those for the 150s [virtual conditioning test]. You'd have more fun asking the players what they thought about them than me, but I love it. It's one of my favorite days of the year."
I know you weren't with the team in 2011, but league-wide after the lockout, there was a rise in soft tissue injuries. I'm wondering just how much of a focus is that? I know, obviously, you feel confident about where this team is. But with gyms being closed down this summer in some areas, is that any more of a concern for you and your staff? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, soft tissue injuries are always a concern. But again, I think during that time [in 2011], even with gyms, there was a longer time where guys didn't run, they didn't lift, they didn't have somebody with them to prepare – and I think that the soft tissue injuries come from your body not being ready for those activities. Knock on the desk here, knock on wood – you never know what can happen. Certainly, I think we're positioned well to try and avoid those things, but we still have a long road until the first game. The fact is the schedule has changed. Typically, in a summer camp with preseason games, we're off the day before a game, we're off the day of the game from doing things – the day after, where now, we have different things in there. It's going to be a positive effect, but there's additional time that's not usually counted for in summer camp that we'll have this year, and we'll have to see how all of this plays out. But I feel confident that we're in a great place."
As far as RB Mark Ingram II coming back from his calf injury – and he says he's feeling good and got everything right – what have you seen so far from him? Does he look like the guy we saw last year prior to that injury? (Pete Gilbert) "I didn't have Mark [Ingram II] today. I heard he had a great workout and run. Mark is a pro; Mark knows how to get himself ready. Mark has … I wish I had half the energy that Mark has, and Mark gets it. Mark knows how to prepare. He knows what he needs to do for rehab, for running, for strength work. So, I'm not worried about Mark at all. The only thing I was worried about Mark was I had to go on [Zoom interview] after Mark, and Mark is a borderline Rockstar in media interviews. So, I felt like I got the short end of the straw today following Mark Ingram. But, that's my only concern with Mark, is following him in an interview, not getting ready for the season."
I know you're not necessarily an infectious disease expert, but if a player does contract COVID-19 and then comes back, are there any guidelines or anything in particular you need to do to ease them back into action beyond just the guidelines for them to get back into the facility? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I defer to our medical staff on all of that. We've got the best athletic training staff around. We've got the best PTs [physical therapists], soft tissue guys. So, when [head certified athletic trainer] Ron Medlin gives me the green light and says, 'This is what you can do.' I'll go from there. But I defer to him on that and he'll let me know when a guy is ready to go, should that problem arise."
Can you talk about the plan for G D.J. Fluker? It looks like he's lost a lot of weight. What did you want him to get at, and how pleased are you with the progress that he made this offseason? (Ryan Mink) "We had D.J. [Fluker] on Zoom and D.J. is a big guy – holy smokes. When I met him the other day, it was like an eclipse on top of me. I just had D.J. and he's just a monster of a man. [I'm] really impressed with him; how he dove in today, how he worked today, just his mentality, just with him getting to know us virtually over the spring and summer, and really understanding what it means to be a Raven, and how to work like a Raven and what we do. D.J., to me, is all in, but I feel like he's going to be a huge asset, wherever he ends up on our offensive line."
You talked about how WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown came in in amazing shape. Were there any other players that you saw that when they returned from last season, they bought in and got it as you mentioned with 'Hollywood'? (Kyle Barber) "Yes, again, I got to see virtually all of our team this whole offseason. So, I think they all got it on some level. There's really nobody else that I can think of offhand. It's the standard for here, it's the norm. I think with 'Hollywood' [Marquise Brown], it was that rehab component and really getting his diet together and taking that next step. but I feel that way of all of our guys. I think when you guys finally get to see our guys in person, you're going to be like, 'Wow, these guys are ready to make a run at it.'"
With social distancing guidelines in effect, are there certain things that you guys can't do in the weight room? Can you not have someone spot someone else just because of the proximity that's involved in that? (Jonas Shaffer) "We try to be careful with all of that. So, it is one of those things you have to be more careful with, with how you spot. We try to get each guy their own station that they're at. We're cleaning in between sets way more frequently. Guys have their own water bottle. They're in their small groups. It definitely has an effect, but probably for us – more than any other team, because of how we do our small groups anyways – we probably feel the effect less of it than most organizations."
With no preseason games and no scrimmages against other teams, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, what impact do you anticipate that to have when they really hit for the first time, real, 40 days from now? (Mark Viviano) "It's a great question. I think there could be … There's going to be some positives for some guys, and there's going to be some negatives for some guys. There are guys who get paid a lot more money than me to decide whether preseason games are worthwhile and how it affects guys physically. But for me, I think that the training effect is that guys who would have gotten banged-up, jacked-up a little bit from preseason games, are not. And I would expect guys to go into the first game in better shape – stronger, faster, better conditioned. Now, after the first game, might they be a little more sore? Absolutely, it's to be expected. We're going to have plenty of contact; we're Ravens. But after that first game, might they be a little more sore than a regular Week One? Yes, potentially, but I think in the long run, we are going to be ramped-up and ready for the season. I think it'll be a positive for us."