OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG ROMAN
For QB Lamar Jackson going into his third season … I know you can't control scrambling when things break down for him, but do you foresee this year the designed quarterback runs? Do you think those will decrease this season for him? (Jamison Hensley) "I think we'll all have to wait and find out. I think it's something that we can do, and obviously, [with] Lamar [Jackson's] skillset and dynamic athletic ability, that's just something that we can have available every week. [We'll] do a little bit more of it this week [and] a little less of it the next week. So, I think that's always on the table – those type of things. I think it's also an in-game feel for how the game is going – how the defense is playing [and] all those different things. But I think we're at the point now where we have a petty good menu when we go into a game, and we can kind of see how the game is going, and we understand that things are going to change in the course of the game. It's something that we can definitely hang our hat on at times, and other times we won't."
What did you like from Saturday's scrimmage, and what didn't you like? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I certainly didn't like the false-start penalties and the unforced errors that we had. [They were] great learning opportunities for us. I really think some of those things that happened are just great opportunities for us as coaches to point out how winning football takes place. I really thought though, it was a great run-through for us of how a game goes sometimes, where it doesn't start off the way you want it, and everybody just has to 'keep chopping wood' [and] stay locked in, then you start to turn the tide. We've had several of them, but I thought it was a good experience there. I thought a lot of the young guys got some great experience during the live periods – really got a sense of how those guys would be without the preseason games. So, I really think – especially for the young guys – it was a really, really good chance for them to go out, show what they can do, and a chance for us to see it as well."
If you had to characterize head coach John Harbaugh's message to both you guys and the team as you've negotiated this very unusual offseason, what would it be? (Childs Walker) "John [Harbaugh] does a great job of leading the team. He has a great vision, an endpoint in mind and communicates that very clearly every day; and he does that every day. So, I think it's just a very clear vision of what we want to become and knowing that that's an ongoing process. But I think he's got an intrinsic feel for how to communicate that really, really well. I've been around quite a while now – I know I look pretty young – but I think John does it as good, if not better, than anybody that I've seen."
How do you see that battle for the third tight end going? You have some injuries and some young guys competing. How do you see that going heading into your final roster? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, that's still to be determined. We've got guys battling it out and showing what they can do every day. Everything they're doing, we're taking a close look at. Jerell [Adams] and Eli [Wolf] are really kind of the two guys that are really, really battling for it at this point. So, we'll just see how it goes; it's part of the process. Patrick Ricard also does a lot of those things for us as well, so we've got some flexibility there."
Would you say that you're leaning veteran? Like, if G D.J. Fluker and G Tyre Phillips were running neck-and-neck – because of no preseason – might you go with a veteran in some of these spots where a rookie is battling a veteran – just because of experience? (Kirk McEwen) "It's case-by-case; it really is. The guys who are playing the best … We want to put the five best out there, and whoever's playing the best earns the job. There's really no hiding from that. When you turn on the tape, you evaluate it, and whoever's playing the best is really going to get that opportunity. We all understand the dynamic of rookie versus veteran, and the pros and cons involved. But regardless of that, how these guys prepare, how they handle their business, and how they perform is really going to decide that."
This week, with roster cuts looming – the deadline on Saturday – how big of a week is this for you guys in evaluating the final roster? And how different does it really feel with no preseason and only practices and scrimmages to go off? (Shawn Stepner) "That's an interesting question. I think [executive vice president & general manager] Eric DeCosta and his staff are always in constant communication with the coaching staff, and they're always 'gazing into their crystal ball,' trying to stay ahead of the curve with things. They do a great job of that. So, I definitely think these are things that are discussed very openly and constantly. Now, how different is it? It's very different. That scrimmage the other night almost kind of felt like the first preseason game in a little way. But everybody is under the same guidelines and rules and schedules, so it's equitable. And it's our job to make the most of everything we can. We've been kind of battling each other for weeks and weeks now – our offense and defense. We're running the same plays against the same defenses, and obviously we're mixing it up some, but I think our guys are getting pretty fired up about going against somebody else – going against an opposite color jersey. Our defense has been doing a great job of presenting a multitude of issues for us to grow from during training camp, and I really think we've done about as good as you can do in terms of the time we've had. I always say, 'We're not really preparing for the first game, so-to-speak, but we're preparing really over the course of training camp.' We're getting ready to play the entire season, where you're going to play against totally different defenses – 4-3; 3-4; this team blitzes all the time; this team plays way off and tries to bend but don't break. So, we get a chance to work on all those different things and discuss them in our meetings and really try to prepare the guys for the entire season, while we're getting focused on a particular opponent."
What has G Tyre Phillips done – if anything – to impress you guys through his first training? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Tyre [Phillips] is doing a nice job; I think all the guys are. And we have some guys that have been here for one year, two years, [or] three years, that I think we have a pretty good mix. Without naming all of them, but Tyre is in there – he's battling. Everybody's really battling, and I think we have a chance to create some really strong depth there. We'll see how it plays out though, but I'm really happy with how he's preparing every day."
How does having no fans affect you guys operationally? Does it change how you signal? Does it change how you audible at the line? The calls? Does it change where you physically huddle, because the defense might be able to hear more stuff? What's going to be different this year in that regard? (Adam Kilgore) "Yes, that's one of the first things we started talking about – how the communication is going to be a lot more evident, based on the fact that it's not going to be nearly as loud – especially on the road. But we'll definitely mix some things up as we go. We kind of monitor that during the season normally – TV copies and whatnot – and then we just change up certain things. So, if something shows up on a TV copy, we always check all those, and then we change it, hoping that they think it still means what they thought it meant, and now it means something else. So, we can go round-and-round with that – that cat and mouse game. But that's definitely a consideration. And it's different, but once that ball gets placed and the whistles blows, it's football. And we have to get ready to play some good football."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DON MARTINDALE
ILB Patrick Queen in the middle, what have you seen in him over the past few weeks for your confidence level of starting a rookie right in the middle of your defense? (Jamison Hensley) "Who's to say who's going to be playing where? But I think he's done a lot of really good things. He's learned the defense, and now, you've just got to keep sending him out there and seeing different things. Our offense gives us such … [Offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] does a nice job of giving us so many different looks that it'll be good for him when we can slow things down and start narrowing down on just the opponent tape. But he's done a nice job. He's a fast, physical linebacker, and that's what you love to have out there."
How was practice in the rain today? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "It's just like any other practice. You've got to get ready to play in games in the rain as well. So, it's good for the guys to get their feet set underneath them. It was a good practice."
You talked about ILB Patrick Queen, but similar question for ILB Malik Harrison, the other rookie linebacker. What have you thought about how he's performed over the course of camp and what's impressed you about him? (Garrett Downing) "I think [in] the scrimmage the other night, he really started coming downhill and started showing some of his physicality. That just comes from getting more and more groomed in the system and understanding his responsibilities, and then just playing football. He's going to be a force to deal with. He's got length, he's got power and he can play physical. So, he's started to show that. I thought he really flashed that on Saturday."
OLB Jaylon Ferguson – from Year One to Year Two, are you seeing any leap? Did he lose anything missing a couple of days early in camp? What do you see out of Jaylon? (Kirk McEwen) "Yes, he was a little bit banged up early, but I'll refer to Saturday night again – I saw some things that was like old Jaylon [Ferguson] playing knockback and playing physical. We just have to keep getting him more reps and getting him greased back up, but he's going to be fine."
S DeShon Elliott, he's battled some injuries over the past few years. He's poised to step into a bigger role this year. How do you see him progress this year after dealing with his injuries? What are the expectations of him in the secondary? (Todd Karpovich) "The injuries were really freak injuries that he had before in the past. We talk about injuries, that's like swinging the cat around … He was on track to have a really good year last year, before he got banged up. So, he's just taken another step forward. He's in great shape. The thing that I was just talking to him about out there today was, 'Just do your job. You don't have to do anything extra and the plays will come to you.' I thought he did a nice job. One of the things he wanted to work on was his angles to the football, and he did a really nice job with that [on] Saturday."
I asked offensive coordinator Greg Roman this as well. This week being the lead up to cutdown day on Saturday, how big is this week for you guys and your evaluation? And doing that evaluation, you've been around this game for so long. How different does it really feel this week not having to rely on these preseason games, only practices and scrimmages? (Shawn Stepner) "Obviously, it's different. There are guys who've made this team, undrafted free agents who've made this team off the fourth preseason game. Right there at the end, it was neck and neck with somebody else. So, I think that was different, but I think that's what was so good about Saturday. [Head coach] John [Harbaugh] made that as close as we could. 'Harbs' made that as close as we could to be in that fourth preseason game, and through everything we did from the Saturday morning walk-through all the way up until the last horn blew at the end of Saturday. So, that was good for the players. It was hard on the rookies, because they were doing scout team, special teams, and then special teams and then going right to defense. We really stressed their bodies, which that shows things as well. So, it was good. It's going to be difficult; the cuts always are. I think it's different this year, because you have a larger practice squad. You've really got to have guys, with this virus that's here, be ready to play, because you just don't know what's going to happen. We like where we're at. [Executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and John will take care of the cut part of it, and we'll go from there."
When you look at your secondary, obviously CB Jimmy Smith is doing a lot of things at corner and also playing some safety. CB Marlon Humphrey can play inside [or] outside. How important, as you kind of get game plans together, is the versatility of these guys and the ability to present so many different looks? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think that's a great question, first of all. That ability alone that makes us more flexible game-in and game-out is what led to our success last year, especially in the second half of the season. And it's just like we've had more guys that can do more things. They see it. They have fun with it, and the best part is they know the package. They know the coverage from different spots. You'll see little things here and there, like with Jimmy [Smith] or someone else that you move around, but they fix it and they move on. But I think that's what the players enjoy; playing the different spots. And it's not just 'DBs' [defensive backs]; we've got guys playing different spots all over the place."
You were just talking about the way that head coach John Harbaugh handled Saturday. How difficult of a job do you think it's been in general for the head coach to kind of keep the big picture operation on track through all the uncertainty of this offseason? Can you kind of speak to the job he's done with that? (Childs Walker) "The job he's done has been phenomenal, because communication goes a long way and he's kept us in the loop the entire time, and throughout whatever particular part of the offseason it was. Whether it was the Zoom meetings or whatever, we know the expectations as assistant coaches, and that's to be your best and do your best and have your players ready to go. I think that with what we did and how we've progressed at this point has just been … It's been really good, what we've done. You can feel it. You can see it. It's hard for you guys, maybe. But we're getting really close, and we're excited about it."
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
With K Justin Tucker, everybody knows how accurate he's been throughout his career. Has there been anything that he has been working on this offseason, this training camp, to even improve in certain areas? (Jamison Hensley) "I think what Justin [Tucker] has done this offseason is he's continued to be a pro. He's working as good as he can to really make sure that he stays consistent throughout the process. I can tell you one thing – just knowing those guys and how hard they work – he's doing everything he possibly can to make sure that he continues to stay the best kicker in this league."
How do you see WR James Proche handling the punt return duties? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "[James] Proche has done a great job. Every guy out there, we're giving the guys opportunities to go out there and compete. 'Proche' is doing everything we're asking him to do. He's gotten better. We're seeing improvement from day-to-day. We're just going to keep giving those guys: Willie [Snead IV], 'Hollywood' [Marquise Brown], Devin [Duvernay], all those guys – just some opportunities to get back there and catch the ball, and kind of see what works out for us in the end. But I'll tell you this, James is doing a heck of a job right now."
I'm wondering – WR Chris Moore's path back – where is he now in his rehabilitation with the finger, and his best bet to make the team is special teams? What happens when somebody jumps into his role? Where is he? (Kirk McEwen) "I won't discuss injuries, but I'll just tell you this about Chris [Moore] – I understand how valuable of a player he is to me, and really to our team and what he does on special teams. When Chris is ready to go … Obviously, he's going to have to come out there, he's going to have to work and he's got to show us that he's full [healthy] and he's ready to go. I don't have any reservations about where Chris is when the time is right and he's ready to play, because I know what type of player he is. I think this league knows what type of player Chris Moore is."
I wonder, as you think through the different conditions here on gamedays, what are the ways that teams are going to be affected the most? [Packers] K Mason Crosby in Green Bay was talking how the wind is different in the stadium without fans, potentially. Are there little things like that, that you're preparing for? Is the depth perception different for a guy catching a kick or punt? Or is that all kind of a reach? (Adam Kilgore) "I think that might be all kind of a reach. (laughter) It's a great question, but I think, to your point, obviously, there is wind in the stadium every week. I think with what [special teams coach] Randy [Brown] does for Justin [Tucker], Morgan [Cox] and those guys – when we're going into windy stadiums – I think we do a pretty good job of understanding where we're playing, what those winds have been like in the stadiums, and things like that. We do a good job of studying those things. I don't foresee those things really being a big impact and affecting what we do in the kicking game at all."
In working with your rookies on special teams and given that your coaching staff – and every team in the league – doesn't have the preseason games to get ready, how would you describe any level of trepidation or uncertainty that you carry into this opening game not having had the full speed – other than a scrimmage – to get ready? (Mark Viviano) "Going into the game, our thing is, we want to practice with a game-like mindset. And when you do that, we've still got to understand that, yes, even though we're not going live, we expect the fundamentals, and the technique and those things to be, really, game-like, and everything up until the contact standpoint. Now, from an evaluation standpoint, obviously, when the bullets are flying and it's live, things tend to happen a little bit differently. What I think is, what we had an opportunity to do on Saturday, it really gave us a good opportunity to kind of go out there and compete and really get after each other. You guys were there. I know we weren't going live tackle to the ground, but everything up until that point, it's live – all the execution, all those things, how we do certain things. Those things are live up until the contact. From here it's, 'OK, let's go tackle.' I think we will be ready for that."