Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
I know you guys have your bag of tricks as far as trick plays with P Sam Koch and fake punts. I know that one was kind of a standard one that you have done in the past, but when you lead up to games, how often do you practice a play like that? Because Sam always kind of looks very comfortable when he's executing that. (Jamison Hensley) "It's just one of those things from week-to-week. We kind of decide what we like versus what team. If there's something there, we go out and we want to … If there's an opportunity to get it run, then we want to run it. It goes a long way when you have a punter who can throw the football, because you can do a lot more things with him. So, it just goes as a testament to not only is he punting the ball well, but he's also … When you need him to throw the ball for you in that situation, you know it's going to be on target."
The Bengals return game, specifically the kick return, has been very good. I know it's one of those games last year that you pointed to where you didn't think you guys were up to par. What kind of challenge will they give you guys this week given how good and successful you've been on special teams, so far? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think going into this game, it's really just about knowing the opponent that we're going to be playing against. [Special teams coordinator/assistant head coach] Darrin [Simmons] does a great job with his units; that goes to all six phases. So, we're going to go in there [and] we're going to not be so concerned with what they do, but we're going to do what we do. We recognize that they are a good return team. They have been in the past; it's what they do well. So, we're going to go out, we're going to play our game and our guys are going to be ready to go. We understand the challenges that lie before us, and I think we've got the men in the room to get the job done to make sure we go out and have the kind of performance that we want to have."
Bengals S Brandon Wilson got a touchdown last time against the Ravens. Your kickoff coverage team must know about that? And you guys going against WR Devin Duvernay in practice, that has to help you going against the Bengals even though they do have a great kickoff team? (Kirk McEwen) "That's correct. It just comes down to us making sure we've got 11 guys on the field doing their jobs. We had an opportunity to watch that play. But, like I told you guys before, every time we watch it, we get a feeling in our stomach that's uneasy – and it should be. We gave up a 92-yard touchdown, and we're better than that. We recognize the fact that we are a better team and we're covering kicks the way we want to cover kicks; we talked about that last year. So, again, we're going to have 11 guys just making sure they're doing their jobs out on the field."
Some of the stats and metrics, Football Outsiders and stuff, rank you guys as the best special teams unit in the NFL. Last year, you were a little closer to the middle of the pack. What you see, does that reflect that? Do you see a much better group this year, so far, through four games? (Aaron Kasinitz) "For us, we talk about it; it's a week-to-week gameplan. We understand that if we go out and we play our style of football that week, then you know what? We will be at the top. So, for our guys, it's not about rankings and things like that right now, because it's just the beginning. We have a lot more football ahead of us, but I'll tell you what; I do love the way our leaders are leading, and I do love the way our young guys are playing. So, we have a good group. [We have] a mix of players with young guys and veteran guys who are leading these guys and taking them out to the field and getting these guys ready to play. Week-to-week, like I said, we're encouraged. I'm encouraged by what we're seeing our players do. So, we just have to keep that up and we take them one week at a time. We don't look back. We don't look ahead. We look at what's in front of us, and right now, that's the Cincinnati Bengals."
Is one of the things that you've been most encourage by early this season kind of the play of the young guys at the gunner spot? It seems like whether it's WR Devin Duvernay, or CB Anthony Averett, or RB Justice Hill … You know WR Chris Moore can do it. It seems like you've developed some options in a critical spot there on special teams. (Jeff Zrebiec) "Like everything else, you love to have options. When you have options, it makes you a lot better. The fact that we can put Devin [Duvernay] out there, we can put Justice [Hill] out there, we know what Chris Moore can do, we've seen [Khalil] Dorsey go out there; we've got some guys who can run. When you've got some guys who can run and get down the field with an outstanding punt … By having a good punt and some guys covering down the field, options are good. That's a good thing. So, the more guys we can continue to roll in there … Even with Miles [Boykin], we'll throw Miles out there early in the year if we need to. Just let those guys go play and go make plays for us. When you have good gunners, what that does for the box, for the interior, now they have to go double a guy. OK, well which guy are you going to double? When both guys are playing well, it's hard."
If you could, talk me through the chess match of when you run the play that you did on the fake punt. It's now out there. It's on tape. Teams are aware of it. How do you handle if and when you can do it again? (Mark Viviano) "That's a great question. I think when you look at that play, it's not a play that I just pulled out this week; it's a play that's been run across the league for a while. It's been run here, and it's been a successful play for us. We look at it as, is there an opportunity? Is there an opportunity this week for it? If there is, then it could be up. It's not an, 'if and when,' it's what does the opponent look like? What are they giving us in certain situations? It comes down to, really, just having an accurate throw and a good route. If those two things are in place, then you're probably going to have a successful play, like it's been in the past."
I'm curious about your thoughts on the new – I know it's not brand new this year – onside kicks. They've taken a twist now; they're much more interesting. What are your thoughts on the new rules around onside kicks? (Ryan Mink) "You're seeing a lot of different things, kickers trying a lot of new techniques. Some guys come out, there's no tee and the ball is on the ground. So, I think when those things come up, we end up just kind of figuring out, 'OK. What are teams doing across the league?' There's a certain way, no matter what happens, that we need to block this play. I think if we do that, we'll have a play like we did on Sunday where we recovered that football. And at the end of the down, that's the only thing – to make sure that, when we've got our hands team out there, let's make sure that we recover the football. Kickers are getting creative with the things that they're doing. So, we kind of study them and we see what they're doing and kind of work them in practice."
Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
ILB Patrick Queen bounced back pretty strongly against Washington. What do you think that says about him as a young player, when he didn't play his best in one game and has a good game in the next one? (Jamison Hensley) "What you have to keep in mind with all the younger players is, really, what he played against Washington, in most years is the fourth preseason game. I think we have to keep that in mind. But every rep is valuable to him. You see more and more production – when you look at the stats sheet – out of him. All our fans should be really excited about Patrick Queen, because he's going to be a really good linebacker, and he's already doing some nice things for us now."
You're the master of quarterback descriptions. What has jumped out to you looking at the first four weeks of QB Joe Burrow? (Childs Walker) "He's the first pick of the draft, and he's playing that way. He's making all the right reads. You can tell he's coached well, and he's doing some things that, normally, guys don't do – [like] we were just [saying] about Patrick Queen. He's doing a nice job of running that offense, and he's got a lot of talent to work with [in] that offense – from the running back position, to all the wide receivers – and he's using it well."
RB Joe Mixon is a guy you've seen plenty of in the least couple seasons. He had a breakout game last week. What do you see from him this season? (Todd Karpovich) "I think we're in a division [with], arguably, the two best running backs in the National Football League. He's a big, strong, fast, powerful runner who we have to try to stop before he gets going, because he's playing really well. I don't know what they paid him, but he's well worth it."
There was a lot of talk about S DeShon Elliott heading into this season given it's his first year as a starter. Can you evaluate how he's looked to you, and what has impressed you most since he became the starter? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Everybody can see, when he has somebody lined up, he'll hit him, and he did that again last Sunday in Washington. And with him not having that much actual game experience, every game you're going to see him grow, as well, and the game will continue to slow down for him. The communication on the back end has been excellent between he and Chuck [Clark]. We're really focused on the precision of the coverage part of it this week – things that we have to clean up. But I've been really proud of DeShon [Elliott] and the work that he's put in, and the work that he continues to put in is going to pay off for him."
Cincinnati's offensive line gave up 14 sacks in their first three games, but only gave up one to Jacksonville in their win last week. Have you had a chance to size up their line? Could they have figured it out that quickly in one game? (Kirk McEwen) "They're doing a nice job at getting rid of the ball quicker. And what they did was, they came with a more balanced attack of running the football and throwing the football, because the game stayed close throughout the game. So, there are a series of events of each game, and that was just that series of events combined there – accumulated – with that game between Jacksonville and Cincinnati. So, yes, I think that you can say that within one game, they've gotten better, because they were able to run the football."
You guys didn't face WR A.J. Green last year; he's been banged-up in recent years. What do you see from him now that he's back on the field this season? And they have a lot of good, talented wide receivers. What do you see when you're sizing them up? (Ryan Mink) "How long have you been here, Ryan?" (Reporter: "Ten years now. I know what A.J. Green is about.") "We know A.J. Green. He's A.J. Green, OK? He's going to come running out of that tunnel, and we have to be ready to play, because he's A.J. Green, and he's a force to be reckoned with. We all know that."
It seems like teams have been screening you guys a lot the last couple of weeks. What do you think the key is to being a little more consistent in containing those? (Luke Jones) "When you shut down a run game, like we did in Washington … When you shut down a run game, the screen game becomes the run game. We talked about that, and we're working on that this week, as far as getting off blocks and taking angles to the ball. Because we pressure people, we're going to get a lot of screens. We've known that for the last two years, and it's going to be the same thing this year – that you're going to face more screens – and you have to get off blocks, you have to force it right, you have to two-gap it right, and you have to be inside-out to the ball. One thing to point out with that is, we were without Derek Wolfe last week, who played screens really well the prior times that he was in there. But we just have to get everybody going to the football, and we know we're all in charge of the screens."
I'm just curious what you saw from CB Anthony Averett? He played his career high in snaps – had a lot of snaps last week. What did you see from him against Washington? (Ryan Mink) "I thought Anthony [Averett] played really well. I think that Stevie Wonder can see that [when] you have Marlon [Humphrey] out there doing what he does and you have Marcus Peters doing what he does, you know who they're going to go after; and he knows that. I thought that he played really well. I thought he had his best practice of the year yesterday, and I'm really excited for him, because we've all seen the growth – his teammates, all the coaches, and everybody has seen the growth in him. He's bigger, stronger, faster this year, and I'm excited for him."
There was a time in the league when quarterbacks were drafted, and they would sit for a number of years before they were ready. And now you're seeing guys – even your own guy QB Lamar Jackson – who are going right in and they're productive. As a defensive coordinator, what are you seeing from these college quarterbacks who are ready to play right away? (Mark Viviano) "Lamar [Jackson] sat for a little bit before he was into the starting role, but he did have a lot of success, obviously. [From] a defensive coordinator point of view, there's more college plays being run by offensive coordinators. And if you watch the college game and you're a fan of the college game, you'll see similar-type things with the RPOs [run-pass options], with the four-by-ones and all those different things. It's been quarterback friendly to those younger quarterbacks. It's very similar, with all the young quarterbacks coming out, that [those are] the kind of things that they're going to do."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Opening statement: "How are we doing today, everybody? We're getting ready for a Bengals team. Looking at their defense, specifically from our perspective on offense, they have D.J. Reader who is a really good run stopper. He was with Houston prior. I think they have a really good run stopper there. They've kind of revamped their linebacking corps, and they're playing really well, statistically, against the pass right now. The back end is playing well. I think they're pretty efficient in the red zone on defense, too, so we have to plan accordingly for that. But everybody is working hard, we're excited about the challenge this Sunday, and [we're] looking to have a great Thursday. Any questions?"
Do you foresee at any point this season one of the backs emerging as a clear lead back? Or do you think it's kind of going to be what you're doing right now – the continual rotation? (Jamison Hensley) "I think it will be different every week. There definitely could be a different focus as the season progresses [based on] how guys are dealing week-to-week, how their bodies are doing, [and] how everybody matches up with the other team. So, we have some flexibility there, and we're prepared to use it."
QB Lamar Jackson is averaging 7.8 yards per pass. Do you have number in mind of where you'd like that to be? (Todd Karpovich) "Not specifically. But where you're going with that is, we have to start hitting on some of our downfield throws. So, that's a big part of … When you run the ball a lot, you definitely need to be able to attack the intermediate and downfield parts of the field. And that's something that – really, [like] everything we're doing right now – is a work in progress. So, guys are working hard. We've hit all those passes before, and we'll hit them again. We just have to get into a rhythm. Depending on how teams are playing you, I don't jump into that statistic. If teams are playing 'bend but don't break,' like the [Washington Football Team] did for a while during parts of the game last week, you kind of pick them apart underneath, so you're probably not going to have quite the yards per attempt or completion. But if teams are challenging you and taking the free safety out of the middle and whatnot, man, what a great opportunity to hit big plays."
A - how challenging is it to prepare for a game when your starting quarterback isn't on the practice field? And B – do you think QB Lamar Jackson will be out there later today? (Jeff Zrebiec) "A – it kind of falls in the 'it is what it is' category. It's part of life with what we do. Players who don't practice, they're in meetings, they're engaged, they're certainly watching what everybody else at their position is doing – just like a backup would. So, that's just how it goes, and you make the best of it. As far as if he's going to be out there [at practice today], I think [head] coach [John Harbaugh] will talk about the injury situations regarding the team later. We certainly want everybody out there, but you have to figure some things out sometimes."
WR Devin Duvernay had 16 snaps last week, which are the most he's had so far this season. Is there any thought of giving him more this week and more as you continue on? And do you see using him and WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown like the Chiefs do with WR Tyreek Hill and WR Mecole Hardman? (Kirk McEwen) "Yes, as he continues to grow, his reps will definitely grow, as well. All the rookies – just [with] the nature of this season – they're a little bit behind where they normally would be, but I really feel like these guys are right where they need to be – Devin [Duvernay] and a few other guys. And that's something that will continue to grow and evolve throughout the season, as we continue to grow and evolve. It's early in the season, and I really think these guys are getting enough reps right now to really build on. So, we're all excited about that, too. And every week is going to be a little bit different, but we really want that to grow as the season goes."
It seems like G/C Bradley Bozeman has taken another step forward this season. What's been your assessment of his play? (Childs Walker) "Yes, 'Boze' [Bradley Bozeman] is working hard. He's doing well. The more experience he gets … He's a smart guy, and he's really starting to figure out how to play. 'Know thy self' is very important at any position, especially offensive line. So, him playing it within the framework of his game – that realization on his part on how to approach certain blocks, how to play certain guys that he's going against – it just adds coats of paint to an offensive lineman's profile. So, he's on that journey, and he's doing well. He's rough, tough and physical, and that's how we like them. And we just expect improvement all the time. When we work on something, we always want to get better at it, and that's what he's doing. So, I'm really pleased [with] where he's at and looking forward to [what] he grows in to."
Obviously, a lot of teams spent a lot of time this offseason looking at your offense and trying to figure out how they were going to slow it down. Through four games, have you seen your opponent's doing a lot of different things that they maybe didn't do last year? Or has it really been not that much different as far as how they're trying to stop you guys? (Cliff Brown) "Yes, interesting question, because we didn't really know what to expect. We kind of get into a game and see how teams are playing us. We're generally ready for different stuff than we see on tape. But we're seeing a little bit more of 'this,' a little bit more of 'that,' a little bit less of 'this,' but there's not a whole lot different we're seeing. We're seeing a little bit on how they play certain things, and then we have to be able to make adjustments to account for that as well. There's been some plays I've called, that looking back on, I'm going to tweak moving forward if we see certain things – try to make them a little bit better for the adjustment they're making. So, that's definitely part of the process this season; we know it would be, quite frankly. And that's a week-to-week thing. But [it's been] pretty similar, but there's definitely some things that people are doing slightly different that we have to adjust to as coaches."
Along those same lines, do you feel like you've had to make more in-game adjustments this year than in prior years – than last year? (Ryan Mink) "Maybe a little bit, yes. I'd say, yes, probably a little bit. But there were some games last year where there was definitely a lot of adjustments going on. But yes, I'd say, probably a little bit more."
OLB Pernell McPhee
Last week against the Washington Football Team, ILB Patrick Queen jumps in and he stops that goal line stand with one arm. Was that you yelling, "Good hit, good hit!"? And your thoughts on the rookie at the quarter-pole. (Kirk McEwen) "I think he's the future of the defense. And that was me [yelling]. I get very excited every time I get the chance to not only watch him in person but go back and watch him on film to see how good [of] instincts he has and how physical he is from the point of attack. I just think he's a very good talent. I think [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] made a great decision when they drafted him. I know he's the future, and when you watch the film, you can see he's the future."
You've seen a lot of rookie quarterbacks come and go in your time. When you look at [Bengals] QB Joe Burrow on film from his four weeks, what has jumped out to you? (Childs Walker) "He's a big quarterback. He's a quarterback who likes to stay on rhythm. He's been playing great ball. I think he's on the record to … The track he's on, in terms of passing yards, is to break the rookie passing record. He's a very patient quarterback. He's got great receivers around him, and I think their coaches are doing a great job of drawing up game plans to get the ball out of his hands quick, and just help him run the game."
I asked 'Wink' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] – it seems like teams really have been screening you the last couple of weeks. What do you think the key is to being a little more consistent in containing those as a defense? (Luke Jones) "That's a great question. Everybody just keep pressing, because I know teams are going to look to slow us down because of how we play as a defense. But we're a fast, physical defense. We keep reminding each other that we can't let screens slow us down. So, no matter what, if you've got a running back, stay on the running back. Whenever they do a screen to a receiver or running back, just everybody rally to the ball and try to tackle the ball carrier."
There's so much attention on the pass rush. Where is it in your mind? How pleased are you with the progress through four weeks? (Jeff Zrebiec) "As being football players and looking at the statistics and the stats and looking at who have sacks on the team and who doesn't, [we're] kind of pissed off. But that's how guys are supposed to be when you're very competitive and you're around future Hall of Famers like Calais [Campbell], and [Derek] Wolfe – a guy who just came from Denver. I think it's Week Four. We just passed Week Four going into Week Five. It's still early. Normally, we'd be coming out of the preseason. It's just Week Four going into Week Five. I think we've just got to keep pushing it, keep trusting the schemes, the system, and win our one-on-ones when we get the opportunity to get one. The last couple games, we've been in some dog fights. Y'all probably wouldn't say it, but teams haven't really just been dropping back and throwing it like that. And if they have, and we're not getting sacks, we're at least hitting the quarterback. And hopefully, I think, more than anybody, that affects the quarterback more than just sacks. As long as you keep hitting quarterbacks, they can feel those hits as the game goes on."
On that note, how good was it to see OLB Jaylon Ferguson get his first sack of the year? What are your thoughts on how he's progressed in his second season? (Ryan Mink) "It was great. Everybody has got to have patience. I'm glad he got that sack. It was great. I hope he has many more to come. Credit to our DBs [defensive backs] as the year goes on; as long as they keep staying healthy and keep covering the way they're covering, Jaylon [Ferguson] is going to have a big season, and a lot more young guys are going to have a big season."
I don't think we really talked to you much since the offseason or anything. When you reflect back on you having the injury last year, and then you were a free agent for a brief period. What stuck out to you about that? Did you think you would be back here in Baltimore for this season? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I kind of thought I was going to be back. 'Wink' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] and [outside linebackers coach] Coach Drew [Wilkins] gave me a call and asked me how I was feeling, how I was doing. I told them I had a great rehab session – as far as getting my triceps back right. They asked me if I still wanted to come out and play, and I was like, 'Why not?' We started something last year that I didn't finish. Just give me this shot this year and, hopefully, we can get to the Super Bowl and I can finish what I started last year by just helping the team, lead the team to a Super Bowl."
Along those lines, you were part of that 2011-12 Ravens team where you guys got to the AFC Championship and came up a little bit short. And then you came back the next year. Do you see any similarities with this year? I know you guys didn't get to the championship game last year, but you had the best record in the NFL. But coming back and making amends – so to speak – this year? (Luke Jones) "I do, because all of us on the defensive side, especially older guys, have one thing in common – and that's preaching championship football. And no matter what the situation is throughout the games, just keep pressing and make sure we handle the situations that we can handle. I think a lot of us guys are up for the challenge. During the first week, we had to make up these goals, and we had pretty high-standard goals. And a lot of them was to start 4-0, which we didn't do, and a lot of us were upset at that. To be this great defense, which we're still trying to be … Like I said, it's Week Five. I think we set goals to get us to the Super Bowl. We've just got to really accomplish those goals."
We've noticed that you've kind of been the guy in the middle of the huddles saying the pregame speech a lot. What's that process like for you? Is that a cool thing for you to see your career come to the point where you're that guy? (Aaron Kasinitz) "That's a great question. (laughter) 'MP' [Marcus Peters] has been calling me out the last three games. So, that's the reason why I've been down … Marcus Peters. It's kind of fun – a little bit. But then sometimes, you've got to really think about trying to get a speech together. I just pray to God to give me the wisdom and the words to say. When the game comes – right before the game – I just have some words to say, and a lot of guys say it helps them a lot when I speak. It's really weird, but I've been kind of doing it my whole life; my whole career throughout high school, college, junior college. I'm just thankful for when I get the opportunity to stand in the middle of the huddle this year. I think that's a big, big accomplishment anytime you get to stand in the huddle of 53 soldiers ready to go to war and you're the one who's trying to get them that speech to get ready for whatever we've got to get ready for, to go into battle. And I've got to say one thing – make sure y'all stay corona-free. God Bless."