Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
Can you tell us a little bit about what's going on with your punter situation? Obviously, we know the team announced P Sam Koch went on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. What do you know about his potential availability for Sunday? Is there time to get another punter in here if he's not? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's a really good question. I think it's one of the questions that a lot of guys were probably thinking, but the other thing is that we're still assessing the situation. We're going to find out – as we move forward – we're just going to continue to prepare for the Bengals like we normally will. We understand that we're about to face a team that's really good on special teams. We're going to assess the situation. It's a 'next man up' mentality if, for whatever reason, we don't have him. But we don't know yet. It's just still one of those things that are still out there."
If you were to have to go without P Sam Koch, would K Justin Tucker be the next guy up? I mean, obviously, he has experience from [the University of] Texas. How much has he gotten to work on punting? (Childs Walker) "It's just like you said, it's 'next man up.' We don't really know those details yet. So, like I said, we're going to continue to prepare for the Bengals. It's a tough team for us on special teams, and we understand how hard they prepare, and [Bengals special teams coordinator/assistant head coach] Darrin [Simmons] is going to have those guys ready to play. I'll let the powers that be take care of that, and those guys allow me to go out there and coach football and have these men ready to play."
WR James Proche II was an inactive the previous game. Was that just a numbers crunch for him? Was he disappointed that he wasn't able to play? (Todd Karpovich) "He's a competitor. The one thing about James [Proche II] is he's a true competitor. The guy loves to compete. I think one of the things is, I'm pretty honest with those guys early on. I kind of let them know early on kind of the process of what's happening, and we've just got to deal with it. We're always going to do what we feel like is best for the team. I think, in that case, we had an opportunity to get Chris [Moore] up this week, and it really worked out for us. I've said all along, we've got guys that can do a lot, that can handle a lot of different roles, and you guys saw that on Sunday. But he was probably a little bit upset – I mean, who wouldn't be? But he's a true competitor, he's a great team-player, and he'll find his way back out there."
I know you don't want to say who the punter will be, exactly. But does K Justin Tucker ever kind of practice or even fool around punting just to kind of keep that skill somewhat sharp since college, just in case something were to happen to P Sam Koch? (Ryan Mink) "It's Justin Tucker; Justin does a lot of things. He's a man of many different talents. So, he's out there every day, fooling around, giving Sam [Koch] a hard time – [seeing] who's got the best ball. And we do practice him out there. We do have a little fun with him. So, it's always good. Again, like I said, it'll be a situation that we'll assess over the next couple days. I can guarantee you this – we'll be prepared for whatever situation arises."
Similar vein – obviously, P Sam Koch also holds for you. I know we saw TE Mark Andrews do it a little bit back in training camp, or some other times. But how much do other players even practice that over the course of a season? (Bo Smolka) "All the time. It's something we do in practice all the time. We don't just allow Sam [Koch] to hold, because we never know – you never know given the circumstances of 2020 [and] everything that's going on. You just never know. You kind of practice guys all over the place. It's no different than how many other guys are taking reps as a punt returner. We've got to get as many guys ready for any given situation. So, we have some other guys that can go out there and get it done. Are they Sam Koch? Heck no. Nobody in this league is Sam Koch. Sam is one of a kind. He's the best at what he does."
To follow up on that, I think you've said before that P Sam Koch is the best holder in the NFL. For maybe people who aren't aware of the intricacies, why is holding something that's so difficult and something that really is a skill? (Aaron Kasinitz) "It really just starts with … We always say it starts with the snap, and that starts with Morgan [Cox] making sure that it's right over the spot, the laces, and then it goes to Sam [Koch]. Just really having great hands, being able to catch the ball, put the ball down right on the spot. And then there's no movement. Understanding where Justin [Tucker] likes to have the football in those situations. And that's really it. Not a lot of guys have great hands like Sam has."
Can you talk a little bit more about WR Devin Duvernay? He seemed to play pretty well. Is he somebody that you were excited to take a look at, in terms of returning punts? (Aaron Kasinitz) "It just happened. There was an opportunity for us to get Chris [Moore] up, and we knew going into it we had other guys on this team who could return punts. You watch him in practice, there's no difference. Obviously, you've got to get him out in a game to really see what he can do. But he went out there, and he caught the ball great, and he had a good day. He can burst, he's strong, he has good vision, so he's all those things. Again, there's nothing that James [Proche II] did wrong. I think James is outstanding. And I've talked about this before; we've got some guys that we can throw back there that can catch a punt for us. So, it's always good to have many guys of the same talents."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "I hope everybody had Happy Holidays – Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah. I got some new socks. Let's see, what else did I get? That's about it, but it was much needed, though. (laughter) Hope everybody is doing well. [We're] getting ready to play a really good Cincinnati defense. They've been really, [at] all three levels, playing well. We played them earlier in the year, [so] I had a chance to go back and look at that quite extensively, and kind of look at how their defense has evolved over the course of the season. So, our guys are working really hard and [are] really focused in on our process and what we do, our improvement, so we can go out and play our best football on Sunday. Any questions?"
There was a point in time earlier in the season when QB Lamar Jackson would talk about the way defenses were playing you guys, and he said the looks that defenses gave you weren't really something you expected off of the film. Looking back, is that something that you are kind of grateful for – just the way you've been able to progress the offense and the way you've been playing in recent weeks? (Daniel Oyefusi) "Yes, with our offense, we've probably seen more looks that we haven't seen on film before than any other time in my career. And that goes back to last year, to a certain extent, but definitely this year. It's been great for everybody – great experience having to adapt on the fly. But that's a really good question. It's insightful, because for a young quarterback, that's also something that he's got to adjust to, as well. So, a lot of adjustments have been made. It's kind of been a year of adjustments, really, in a lot of ways, and it's something that we fully anticipate and are expecting. But it's definitely different than the norm."
Why do you think that is that you're getting these looks you've never seen before more than any other time in your career? (Garrett Downing) "Without going into a lot of the details of it, I think teams definitely like to say, 'Hey, we've got to try to do something different to try to get these guys off track, so they can't take a lead on us. Try to get them out of rhythm, take away their angles, etcetera.' It's a tactical thing at a lot of levels, really. It's risk-reward, though. Some teams that have tried that have found themselves in a 17-0 hole really quick in the game, because they're doing things that they're not used to doing. That's ultimately what we're after, and that kind of changes the rest of the game, as well, when that happens – how we approach it, at least. But yes, it's definitely a tactical-type of decision."
QB Lamar Jackson is 92 rushing yards away from 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Obviously, you're not calling a game to try to get personal stats, but when you go into a game, is that something at all that you're aware of, over the course of a game? And if he were to get that, would that be anything of significance to you? (Garrett Downing) "I think if he got close, it would be, but that is the furthest thing from our minds going into the game. I definitely think every decision is based on for the good of the team, and that's how it goes. If it ends up where we have the luxury of considering that, then we could definitely push those buttons."
Was the Bengals' defensive gameplan when you first saw them particularly unique – something you hadn't seen, really, any other teams do, in terms of trying to defend QB Lamar Jackson and the rest of the run game? (Jeff Zrebiec) "No, it's something we had seen before, and fortunately, we were able to jump out to an early lead, and – not 'call the dogs off' – but just kind of play a certain style of game. But I thought they [Cincinnati] did a nice job. They really did a nice job defensively and put stress on our execution. It's not something we hadn't seen before or [won't] see again, but it was fairly unique."
I noticed in the game on Sunday that you used an extra offensive lineman on the field more than you have at other points this year. Why is that something that's effective, and are you using it more this year since TE Nick Boyle went down, than you have in past years? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Yes, I think you hit it on the head. When you've got Nick Boyle in there, you pretty much have pretty close to an extra offensive lineman in the game. He's certainly not limited in that regard; he's an all-around tight end. When you lose a guy like Nick, and you're able to put an offensive lineman in there, I think that's really the answer in a nutshell. Once he went down, we had to try to find different ways to try to fortify our edges. So, I think these young linemen who are doing it – [Matt] Skura has done it some – they're doing a good job, and we look forward to continuing to develop that."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
Opening statement: "Happy New Year. I hope everybody had a good Christmas. Obviously, we're all looking forward to 2021 after 2020, and it starts this weekend with our second playoff game, as we look at it. It's our second playoff game. So, we're looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be a big-time challenge for us defensively. You have an offense, the last two weeks, that's been playing really well. I think they've run for over 321 yards in the last two games alone, and the quarterback [Brandon Allen] is playing at a high level. So, we have a great challenge coming this weekend. With that, I'll open it up to questions."
I don't want to put you on the spot here, but you're all we've got. Do you know anything about a new deal for CB Jimmy Smith? How big would that be in your mind? How much would you like to continue to work with him? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think it would be great for both parties. I haven't heard anything about it. I just came from a walk-through, and I haven't heard anything about it. That's not something that a player is going to come up and tell you, or anything else. So, that's going to be with [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [head coach John Harbaugh] 'Harbs.'"
OLB Matthew Judon eluded to this a little bit last week, about how sacks come in bunches for you guys this season. You've had 11 in the past two weeks. What's been the key to that? Are there any major adjustments you guys are doing? Or is that just you guys playing with a lead? (Todd Karpovich) "I think it's a little bit of everything. Like we talked about a couple weeks ago when I was asked that question, you look at the quarterbacks you're playing. Like the guy this week we're getting ready to play [Brandon Allen], he gets rid of the ball quick. I know they're not going to let us do the same thing we did last time, so we're expecting more max protection and things like that of that nature. But then you get into the other things, like you said, the series of events that's going on. And like you said, playing with the lead, that also opens some things up as well. [There are] just a lot of different series of events that happen in a game that help you. But those guys, once they smell blood, you can see that they're getting after the quarterback – that's awesome for them."
When you think back to those days after the second Pittsburgh game, kind of looking ahead to the finishing stretch, what was kind of your sense of the mood of your guys? Were they angry? Were they determined? How would you sort of characterize where they were at that point? (Childs Walker) "It's hard for me to gauge that now. It seems like it was a year ago. It seems like the Bengals game was 10 years ago, but I know it was just  weeks ago, right? It was Week 5. Every day … And I know, like I said, compared to real life, this is nothing. With what's going on in 2020, with the pandemic and everything else, every day is just a different challenge. It's just you handle it and you keep moving. I think that's what the guys have done. So, it's hard for me to gauge their mood though. You know what I mean? I just don't feel like I could give you a good answer with that, except that these guys are tough-minded guys. They've been through a lot of things, and they're still keeping their eyes looking forward to this next challenge coming up on Sunday."
Just back to CB Jimmy Smith for a minute, can you just … I know he's been banged up in recent weeks, but he was playing at a pretty high level before that. Can you just talk about what you've seen from Jimmy this year, and what makes him such a big part of your defense? (Shawn Stepner) "First of all, Jimmy is a pro's pro. He's going to do whatever he can do to get on the field, first of all. If he's not on the field, that means that he's hurt. That's the Number One thing. But for a guy of his size to be able to do the things he does – to play out there on the corner, on the island outside – it's amazing. There's no challenge he doesn't like. We speak the same language. It's like we're family now, because I've been here 10 years with him. I'm just really glad, like I said, for both parties that we were able to extend him."
They usually say with head coaches that once they get past [Week] 9 or [Week] 10, sometimes their messages get tuned out by players. Why is it that head coach John Harbaugh is able to still kind of hit that pulse of the team, especially when it's probably needed the most? (Jamison Hensley) "I think that what [head coach] John [Harbaugh] does, he has a unique trait that a lot of coaches … He always makes it about them, not about him. Speaking from the defensive side of the ball, with the rollover we've had in the last three years, there's no way his message could be stale, because it's different guys sitting in those chairs. So, I think that once you make it about them and not about – speaking for John – not about himself, or me making it about myself, and we're all in it together, nothing gets stale. Because if a player knows that you're giving the best advice to him to help him, like we've talked about before like in, 'Keep it real' meetings and things like that, they're open to hear it, and they want to fix it. They not only want to fix it for themselves, they want to fix it for their teammates. So, I think that that's just the culture here, if you will. We keep it real, we say what we need to do and how we need to do it."
I know you kind of light up in the past when you've talked about ILB Chris Board. How big has his emergence been for your defense this year? What has made him kind of take the next step from a guy who's now playing a lot of defensive snaps? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think that it's a credit to our personnel, first of all, because we like big, tough, smart [and] fast football players here, and he hits every one of them. He checks every one of those boxes. Like last week, he played defensive tackle for us on third down, when we talk about our positionalist football. This week, he might be in the middle of the field playing safety. You just don't know. That's a credit to him that he's able to do all of those different things. And it's not just him; there are others at well. Once again, it gets back to the selfless part of our defense. Overall, they really don't care who has the sack, or the pick, or whatever; they're truly happy for each other when there is a play made. So, I think that Chris [Board] has just done a phenomenal job. The more productive he is, the more you've seen him in there. And a lot of it is dictated, too, by the offense – what kind of offense it is, what kind of personnel they're using and things like that."
I'm sorry to hit you with another roster-type question, but we saw on the transaction sheet that S Jayron Kearse was in for a visit. Assuming you don't want to say whether or not the team is signing him, can you just give us a sense on your approach if you were to try to work a new player in at this point in the season? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think it's just like any other … It's just like 'T.W.' when we got him – Tramon [Williams], you know what I mean? It's the same thing that it's a plug-and-play defense; it's not hard to teach, and it's not hard to learn. So, I just don't know that … I don't know if that's happened or not yet, either. [I'm] sorry, guys. I'd love to tell you [and] give you the inside scoop, but I don't know. I haven't met him, which with [working] virtually, you don't meet anybody face-to-face. So, [at] practice, if he's out there, you guys can see it, too."
OLB Pernell McPhee
It seems like this team is getting hot at the right time. Do you have any kind of flashbacks to the 2012 team? Because it seems like there could be some similarities between the two? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, just a little bit – just as far as fighting adversity. It's not as bad as 2012 was. But I just think that 2020, with COVID-19 and everything going on, and not being able to … Having our families sacrificing a lot of things, I just think it's going to be a great testament at the end of the year, if we … When we get to the dance and win it all. I think it will be a great testament. As far as in 2012, we were without one of our great leaders and [Terrell] Suggs missed half of the season. I think it'll be a great story at the end of the year, especially if we get to Tampa and win it."
What do you think has kind of lit the pass rush in recent games? (Ryan Mink) "Just us continuing to trust each other, us talking to each other as a front seven, us buying into the gameplan that coach [Don Martindale] is putting together and getting big leads. Our offense has been getting big leads the last couple of games, and we've been able to pin back our ears. We've been stopping the run the last couple of games. We've been able to just pin back our ears and just go get the quarterback. That's been a fun process the past two weeks."
There's a report that the team has extended CB Jimmy Smith on a one-year extension. You've known Jimmy probably as long as anybody on this team. Can you just talk about what he means and has meant to this team and this organization? (Garrett Downing) "Congrats to my boy, Jimmy [Smith]. That's a blessing for him. I think he didn't want to, probably, end this year missing as many games as he did. I think he's going to come back with a revenge [mindset], even this year and next year. He just means a lot. He's a Raven. He's been a Raven his whole career. He's still a Raven. You can tell how much [executive vice president and general manager] Eric DeCosta believes in him. He still can play; I know that, and everybody else knows that – just cut on the film. It's just a blessing for my boy, man. Like I said, congrats to him. I hope he plays more years until he's ready to be done."
Will you be scoreboard watching on Sunday? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "No, not really. The only thing I'm worried about is the Ravens playing like the Ravens, us executing on all phases – offense, defense [and] special teams – and getting ready for us to play some winning football in January, because we control our own destiny right now – not any other team does. It doesn't matter who we play in the first round; just as long as we just take care of our business and just get ready for the first round."
How are you looking at this upcoming postseason? Granted, once you win this last game … How are you approaching that? I know you came back this year with really the only intention of winning a Super Bowl, and obviously, you're kind of near the end of your career. How are you approaching this? (Ryan Mink) "[I'm] just focused with a focused mindset and leading. Last year, I feel like I wasn't there to help lead on the field. So, I thank God for giving me the second opportunity to come back and make the playoffs and get the chance to go out and lead. So, just going out there to lead, and make plays, and studying my opponent, and take advantage of every opportunity, because we're going to need all 11 guys on defense to play as one. Just keep preaching to them and letting them know [that] December isn't … They say the winners are in December, but I truly believe when January comes, that's when the true football players show up and show out. I haven't played in a January game since 2014, so I'm really excited to play in a January game. Hopefully, I can show off my talent [and] that I still have something left in the tank."
When you think back to when you guys were 6-5 and you didn't control your own destiny, what was kind of your message to the guys around you, just as one of the more experienced voices in the room? (Childs Walker) "Just keep believing in each other and know what we're here for, and just not let the losses [and] the record define who we are, because we are all Ravens. We know how to play. We know that we're better than what the record says, and just keep chipping away and take it one game at a time. I think we did a great job of taking it one game at a time, focusing on us [and] focusing on the things [that are] our weaknesses and our strengths. We just came back the last couple games on fire [and] just ready to play."
DE Derek Wolfe
What is your best football memory from 2020, and what is on your mind going into 2021? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "The best memory this year, I feel like we haven't made that memory yet. Do you know what I mean? I'm still waiting for that to happen. Any time you get a win in this league, it's precious. It's hard to win in this league. It doesn't matter who you're playing, what they're going through, what you're going through, it's hard to get a win at any level of this league. Every win is a great memory, but I'm thinking about this week against the Bengals, and that's what I'm focused on right now."
I know right now might not be the perfect time to reflect, because you have a game Sunday, but everyone in the league this year has made a lot of sacrifices, and there have been difficulties for everyone involved. Can you speak to that? And two, in 10 or 20 years, what do you think you'll remember most about this year and just what it took to get through it? (Adam Kilgore) "It's been tough, because the sacrifices that we have to make when it's a normal year … As football players, as professional athletes, you have to sacrifice, really, any kind of normal life. Not just the work that you have to put in, but you kind of live in a fishbowl; everybody is watching you, and everybody is keeping their eye on you, so you can't really live a normal life. So, for me, I'll always remember the time I had to spend away from my family and those moments in my daughter's life that I'll never get back, that I'll never get to see. I find comfort, because I think about these veterans; they had to go overseas and spend years away from their kids. And to me, I'm blessed, because I don't have to go do that; I get to play football instead of going over there and fighting for our country. So, to me, I feel like I'm blessed to be in this position that I'm in, but it also sucks not being able to see your kids and being a four-hour flight away from your … The easiest way for me get there [to my family] would be a four-hour flight. If there was an emergency, I wouldn't be able to get there very quick. So, that's probably the one thing I'll remember, and hopefully, we can make some better memories coming up here, soon."
In all your years of life, where does 2020 rank? How do you sum up 2020? (Ryan Mink) "It's trash. It's terrible. It's a horrible year. You've got people who don't have jobs, businesses are failing, and it's really terrible for most people. Obviously, I get paid handsomely to play football, so I don't have a lot to complain about. But I feel for these people who are losing their jobs, and there are people who haven't seen their families the whole year, since February last year. It's a [crappy] year. Sorry, excuse my language, but it is; it's a [crap] year. It's an election year, it's all this other stuff, the country is divided. At what point is this going to be over with, and we're going to be able to just go back to normal? Not having fans out there during the games; that took a lot to get used to, and now we're used to it, so now whenever we do have fans again, it's going to be like a shock. It's going to be like, 'Oh, I'm used to being able to communicate with my teammates.' Yes, that's going to be another shock, that's going to be another adjustment that we're going to have to make. It is what it is. But if I were to sum up this year, I would just say [crappy]."
Are you optimistic for 2021? (Ryan Mink) "Well, hopefully. I hear there is a vaccine coming out. There is supposedly a vaccine that is supposed to fix it all, but it was supposed to be two weeks to stop the spread, and that was months and months ago. So, who knows, man? I feel like they're using it to just kind of control us and control what we do, but we won't get into that."
This is obviously your first year with QB Lamar Jackson as a teammate. I know you probably don't see as much of him as you normally would, with social-distancing and working from home and stuff, but what has impressed you the most about his consistency, his temperament and his attitude from what you see either in meetings or on the practice field? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, just what you said; he's a consistent guy. He shows up every day, works hard, and he wants to be great. He leaves his ego at the door, and to him, the ultimate goal is to win. That's all he cares about – is winning – and you can't ask for more from a quarterback than just to want to win. And his will to win; he'll sacrifice his body and take-off running and put himself in situations that a lot of quarterbacks wouldn't put themselves in. So, I appreciate it, I know the rest of the team appreciates it, and we're behind him, no matter what."
In your first season as a Raven, what have been your impressions of head coach John Harbaugh, especially during some of the difficult times this year? How has his message resonated with you and the team, as well? (Jamison Hensley) "I love Coach [John] Harbaugh. He is the ultimate player's coach. He preaches to us all the time that it's about the players, and this league is nothing without the players. He treats us like men; he doesn't treat us like children. Because I've had coaches who try to control every little thing that you do, and they try to treat you like a child, like a bad kid that has to be told what to do every second of the day. And that's not fun; it's not fun to live that way, especially when you're grown, you've got a wife and kids and stuff. Some of these young players, they need it. But as long as the older guys are doing the right things – and that's what he does a good job of; of keeping guys around who do things the right way, because that creates legacy, and it creates a program that you want to have around. And I'd just say that he's been so consistent through this of preaching the same thing, [and] that whatever happens, we just worry about us, and it'll all work out. And I think that's shown true, today."
You haven't been to the playoffs since 2015. How exciting is it to control your own destiny and get ready for some postseason football? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, I've been just dying to get back to the playoffs, because every year, that's the goal. After you win a Super Bowl, if you don't go back, then it doesn't matter; everything that you did was just a waste. It's just like, what are we doing here? I've had seasons in Denver … After winning a Super Bowl, we went 9-7 the season after that [and] didn't make the playoffs, and then, three years of just garbage. It's a blessing to be back here, and it really is. I'm really grateful for this opportunity, and I'm going to do what I can to make the most of it."
When you came into this season, you talked about wanting to prove yourself and get an extension after signing a one-year deal here. What do you feel like you have shown about yourself, and is that something that you still look at and say, "Hey, I want to finish this strong and remain in Baltimore for a longer term?" (Ryan Mink) "Yes, obviously, I would love to stay here in Baltimore. I feel like I have proven myself. When things got tough and we lost some guys, I was playing 60 snaps a game and playing at a high level, I thought. I know the sack numbers aren't there, but that's not what this defense requires me to do – is to get sacks. This defense requires me to stop the run and create opportunities for other people to get sacks. So, I feel like I've done that, and it's in their hands. I would love for my agent to handle that. I'm just worried about winning this next game against the Bengals."