Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
From a special teams standpoint, not having any preseason games, not having any hitting, what's your biggest concern – especially, maybe, just on coverage teams, and things like that – not really knowing how guys are going to react to hitting for such a long span? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a great question. I don't really look at them as concerns. I think these are good opportunities for our guys to go out and play and just trust their technique, trust their fundamentals and see where they are. We didn't have the opportunity to tackle – live tackle as much – in training camp. But we did have a good opportunity to work on our technique, work on our fundamentals. You're just hoping when those guys go out there, that football is football, and we'll tackle guys."
Who out of the young guys that depend on special teams a lot of times to make a flash and catch your attention – who, of the young guys, have stood out, if you can mention a couple? (Kirk McEwen) "There have been a lot of guys. I think every guy on our team did a great job this camp of coming in and working, and just trying to make themselves better, and giving themselves every opportunity to go and perform at a high level and play winning football on Sundays. Again, we're about to walk into a situation where there are some young guys out there. I love what Malik [Harrison] has been doing; I love what Patrick Queen has been doing. These guys are exciting players to watch, and I'm excited to see them go out and play."
Can you talk about the progress of WR James Proche and WR Devin Duvernay have made as returners, and whether there's, sort of, any reticence going into the season with such young guys who are about to experience their first NFL action? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Both those guys – James [Proche] and Devin [Duvernay], along with Willie [Snead IV], along with Marquise [Brown] – those guys have all done a great job this camp of catching the football. I think we've put them through the ringer, and we've tried to make it very challenging on those guys. They've responded very well, and they'll be exciting to see what those guys will do."
You look at a guy like WR/RS Chris Moore who was battling a finger injury throughout camp – how tough is it to replace a guy like that, especially with his experience and you not having the live hitting during preseason? (Todd Karpovich) "Again, I think I addressed this one last time about Chris [Moore]. Chris is a good player, and we all understand that. But we've got some young guys that have stepped up. And again, I'm just excited to see how they're going to play. I know we haven't had games, but guys have been practicing very well. Again, it's an opportunity for those guys to go out and show what they can do."
One of the questions we're getting from fans is why would you keep a backup long snapper on the practice squad and protect him when you don't have a backup kicker and punter? So, what's kind of the reasoning there? (Aaron Kasinitz) "My job is, solely, to coach football. I think there's a personnel department that makes great decisions. They've done it since I've been here. I think that's a better question for those guys than it is for me. I think what Nick [Moore] has done, Nick is a good player, and we recognize that. As far as the whole protection thing, how that thing goes on, I think it's, somewhat, new. And I think the personnel department would have a better idea of why they did what they did other than me."
Just following up on the earlier question about the returners. Are you locked into a No. 1 guy at each returner spot? Or, do you think that you will still be looking at multiple guys in each of those roles early in the season? (Childs Walker) "We've waited six weeks for an opportunity to see which guy we're going to put out there on Sunday. I think whatever guy we put out there, we expect that guy to go out there, and again, play winning football the way we want it done – protect the football, have great ball security and be efficient in whatever we ask them to do. We'll just, kind of, play it by ear and just see how it goes."
Will WR/RS Willie Snead IV return punts? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Again, all those guys have done a great job this camp catching the ball for us. Willie [Snead IV] will probably get an opportunity. Again, I think we've waited a long time. I think we can wait three more days to figure out who's going to be out there. Again, whoever we put out there is going to be the guy for the job."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
In preparing for the Cleveland Browns, obviously you know QB Baker Mayfield well. But how challenging is it to project what you know and what you've experienced into an offense that he hasn't played in and under a new coaching staff? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think that anytime you're preparing for a game, it's hard in this league. With this set of circumstances being a new coaching staff and things like that, I really think that in studying what they've done at Minnesota and different places, because there's a combo platter of all the different places every coach on that staff [has] been at. And you try to look at everything of plays that hurt you in the past and things like that. I think it's a really good marriage between head coach, player-caller and Baker Mayfield, because I think he definitely plays to Baker's strengths."
How key will DE Calais Campbell be in stopping the Cleveland Browns' rushing attack? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I think he's going to be a big factor, as all of them will. It's just one of those things that [when] we get into this game, we have to be able to tackle their skill players. Analytically speaking, they're at the best [of] their positions. The wide receiver positions and both [Nick] Chubb and [Kareem] Hunt are 'one' and 'two' in the National Football League, as far as breaking tackles and things like that. So, it's going to take every man ready to get to the football."
I know you have Cleveland in three days, but you're in a unique position – you've got your next two opponents playing tonight. I'm wondering if you'll scout the game, at all, or will you just avoid it and concentrate on Cleveland? (Kirk McEwen) "All eyes are on Cleveland. I think that I'd be lying to you if I'm not going to go home tonight and watch that game, because I'm just like you guys – we're just excited to see football. Also, I think what you have to see when you're watching that game is …. I think I heard that there are going to be people there, at Kansas City, I believe. I think I heard that. But it's just going to be a different atmosphere, and you want to see that, too. I know that my entire family is, and I'm sure you guys, as well, are just excited to see football. We can't wait to get going."
The Browns, with the new offense and a new coach, might give you multiple looks, especially with four tight ends. You look at a guy like ILB Patrick Queen, a rookie. Do you think they might go after a guy like that to kind of test him early and see what he can do? (Todd Karpovich) "I'm sure they will. They're going to give us different looks, and we're going to give them different looks. That's the chess match of the game. I'm sure they will. I think he's going to up to the challenge."
These guys have been playing football their whole lives. You guys are pros. But with no preseason and only so much tackling that you guys have done in training camp, how real is the concern regarding the first-time you guys are out there live tackling in a game? (Shawn Stepner) "It's a focal point, for us, during practice and everything else that you have to have your angles, you have to bring your feet, you have to bring your hands, your feet. And the biggest thing is that you gang tackle. So, if that first guy does miss … Watching college games, you saw some missed tackling in that Navy-BYU game, for example, that jumps out. So, I think it's going to be a big focal point for both sides."
Which game do you take more from last year, the game against Cleveland in Week 4 or Week 16? (Pete Gilbert) "That's a good question. Every year proposes new challenges and new series of events and everything else. You look back on it. 'Harbs' has said many of times, 'You win, or you learn.' So, I think that you just go back off of plays that they hit you with from years past and look at those types of things more than take something back from one game to the other. Trust me, I remember what happened in both of those games." (laughing)
Are you willing to share and have you decided who might wear the green dot? And then, just separately, how has the communication been with ILB Patrick Queen in the middle and S DeShon Elliott? (Aaron Kasinitz) "The communication has been great. That was a major focus for us on the Zoom meetings, from starting there all the way through up to now. And the communication has been great. Who is going to wear the green dot? I was telling the staff that I coached at Defiance College, and that's one of those family and friends games, so I think we can just yell out the calls. I'm sure the Browns coach wants to know who's wearing the green dot, too. That's a good, fair question, though."
You talked about ILB Patrick Queen. Can you talk about what you've seen in him over the course of training camp and in recent weeks that makes you feel like you knew that he's going to be up that challenge when or if the Browns come at him? (Ryan Mink) "I think he's a first-round draft choice type [of] linebacker. He's fast. He's smart. There are some things … Going against our offense every day is not fun. It's not easy, especially if you're a rookie. He's grown the past six weeks, and we're excited to see, just like everybody else is, the product that we put out on the field on Sunday."
I'm just curious about CB Tavon Young and his energy this week. I know he's waited a long time to get to this point, and he's been through a lot to reach this point. (Morgan Adsit) "No doubt. I'm sure there's excitement. Tavon [Young] is a quiet guy by nature, and I know you've talked to him before, but he's excited and ready to go. So, he has good energy, and it's just like we were talking about before. Aren't we all excited getting ready for this game? I mean, it's football. And thank goodness we're getting ready to play, because it's been a long, tough, trying offseason with all the things that have happened. We're just ready to play some football and looking forward to it."
Along those same lines, S DeShon Elliott is getting the shot to be a Week 1 starter. He's known as a high-energy, talkative guy. Do you plan on talking to him a little bit before the game to make sure that he's settled in? Or no, he's had quite a few weeks here with the "ones," where you don't worry about him kind of being overly emotional and too into it? (Jeff Zrebiec) "He's settled in. I'm worried about me being over-emotional, not him. Just like I said, because we're all excited about doing it. He's definitely settled in, and like I said, I've been really pleased with the communication on the back end. We've joked around with him, because you hit the nail right on the head; he is an emotional … He loves the game of football. I told [pass defense coordinator] Chris Hewitt, 'You might want to have a brown paper bag over there for him, too, because he's going to get so excited, he might be hyperventilating.' [I'm] just teasing with him, but he's going to be ready to go. I have full confidence in DeShon [Elliott]."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
What can you tell us about the offense heading into this game? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "The first game is always interesting. You just never really know quite what to expect. The team we're playing has a new coaching staff, so you have to go back and really look at the history of the coaches and where they've been and what they've done. You never get a complete picture of what you might see, but you try to piece it together. And our guys have been working really hard on a lot of different things, because you really don't know what to expect. It's really a focus on yourself and your own execution. But guys are working hard, they're very excited, and we're looking to come out and play well this Sunday, obviously – looking forward to the challenge."
When you look at your running backs room, if you are able to use four running backs, does that ideally mean matchups? Like, in this game, this guy is the best matchup? Or does that ideally mean using four guys in every single game? What does that look like to you? How is that division of labor? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "We'll definitely use three every week and sometimes four. Division of labor or how we deploy them, that will change on a week-to-week basis a little bit. Mark Ingram, he's a real leader and presence for us here. Mark is our starting running back, and Gus [Edwards] and J.K. [Dobbins] and Justice [Hill], we feel really good about that group. Every running back … Running backs and tight ends are unique in that every one of them is a little bit different, so we'll try to deploy them a little bit differently. But we definitely want to get everybody involved and everybody part of what we're trying to do."
One of the things that RB Mark Ingram II said yesterday, is that QB Lamar Jackson is a million times better right now than he was at this time last year. Do you agree with that assessment? And in what ways? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "Mathematically, I don't know about a million times [better]; I'll take it, though. But he [Lamar Jackson] is definitely growing as a quarterback. A lot of people probably don't realize his growth that's taken place the last two years. It's been tremendous. His application, really, in everything that goes into playing quarterback, which is probably one of – if not the most – toughest positions to play in sports. There's a lot to think about, a lot to learn [and] a lot to experience – recognition of coverage, front, blitzes, when I'm hot, when I'm not, trap coverages, man coverages and all the different things that go into it. It's really a never-ending journey that you just keep chasing, and he's doing that. So, I'm really happy with how he's doing. He's our leader. He definitely has the 'keys to the car,' and we like that. So, we're really excited about Lamar. It takes all 11 people on offense to have an effective offense, though. So, while he's our leader, everybody has an important role to play."
You started off by saying, "In Week 1, you never know what to expect." And along the lines of QB Lamar Jackson – as opposed to last year going in – you have a full season of Lamar running your offense under your belt; and what a year it was last year. How much more confidence in your offense and how he executes it do you have heading into Sunday and heading into this season? How much more confidence do you have this year, rather than last year? (Shawn Stepner) "Specifically, last year, I knew we were going to be really good at times; I just didn't know how good constantly we'd be. This year is a little bit different, obviously, like you said. We have a big body of work under our belt, but the challenges are new and fresh. It's a new beginning, and we have to understand that everything is earned in this league. We're just going to go out, keep preparing day-by-day and try to be as good as we possibly can be."
As far as FB/DL Patrick Ricard, I assume – with the lack of tight ends on the roster – there is a greater chance for him to do more. How much of that was his growth, to say, "You know what? He can be the H-back, he can be all over the place, and we can go ahead and just have two tight ends?" Is it just what he has done to show you that? (Pete Gilbert) "Pat's [Ricard] role will expand. Everything we throw at him, he does a really good job of preparing for. I think he will [do more]. He has practiced a lot more in the tight end role, so I think he can do more. And every year, he's been able to do more and more. So, we're really glad we have him. He's a real physical presence. [He's] always on top of what he needs to get done. So, we'll be a multi-personnel outfit, but Pat will definitely be a big part of it."
What do you feel sets apart T Ronnie Stanley among the league's left tackles? (Jamison Hensley) "It starts with his [Ronnie Stanley's] athleticism. He's very athletic. He's gotten a lot stronger, which I really think has allowed his game to take a big jump the past year, year-and-a-half. And [his] knowledge of the game; he's very intelligent. I'd say, he's definitely very smart. I was here with Jonathan Ogden, who's probably one of the smartest players I've ever been around. Ronnie's knowledge and experience are climbing, and he's very intelligent when it comes to football. The 'X-factor' – meaning experience – has really factored into a classic story of a guy with a lot of talent, who was young when he first got into the league, was able to go out and play and let experience be his guide. So, we're really happy where he's at and have really high expectations for Ronnie."
What concerns do or adjustments are in the offing when you have relative silence in a stadium? The on-field communication, though your guys will be able to here better, the other guys will be able to hear you. Are there any concerns or adjustments in the offing there? (Mark Viviano) "I don't think there will be a ton of adjustments, other than we'll probably vary how we communicate certain things week-to-week, because there will be evidence – pretty clear evidence – of communication. So, we're going to have to be really diligent, as far as changing that up. Other than that, we really feel like our communication system affords us the ability to protect certain things in the course of a game. Really, I think it becomes more of a week-to-week consideration."