Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale
A lot of new additions to your team, to your defense, and you haven't gotten, really, the chance to see any of them personally. How's it been working this [offseason] virtually? Are you ready to hit the ground running once training camp starts in July? (David Ginsburg) "We're definitely ready to hit the ground running. John [Harbaugh] has done a great job with the schedule and us doing everything from home, and meetings haven't changed. We were talking the other day as a defensive staff, and if you just took the transcripts from OTAs last year, and then our Zoom meetings this year, you couldn't tell the difference. Because we've made Zoom meetings an event that our guys didn't want to miss them, and they took something away from them. It just makes you appreciate the small things in life. It makes you appreciate, as a coach, the time away from the grass how much you really do miss them – being hands on, if you will. But we're right where we want to be as far as installation and all that."
Is there a way to encapsulate just what the players are missing out on by not having that grass time? (Dave Richard) "I just think it's the muscle memory and the reps. So, when we finally do get back together in training camp, I think that it just makes each rep more precious. We've had that discussion throughout the defense. We've got to be ready to go when we finally do get to hit the grass. It's the muscle memory of going over, and over things, as far as the actual reps themselves. But through Zoom, and you've got a lot of smart assistants on the defensive side of the ball, we've done some things through technology to help them do that. Obviously, you can't get the one-on-one, fast pace of the practice. But the biggest thing we focused on was the camaraderie and the culture, because that's the challenge to replicate in building this thing. But we're proud of how we've approached that part. We had a 'Chasing Greatness' series with them and did some different things like that. With our 'Chasing Greatness' series, John [Harbaugh] was awesome. He had [hall of famer] Ed Reed, and [hall of famer] Ray [Lewis] and [former Ravens WR] Steve Smith Sr., and we took the ball and ran with it there. We brought in different speakers, like: [former Ravens DT] Tony Siragusa, [former Ravens safety] Eric Weddle, [ESPN anchor] Sage Steele, [former world heavyweight champion] Larry Holmes, [World Series champion] Ryan Howard, [Super Bowl champion] DeMarcus Ware, [former Ravens associate head coach/special teams coordinator] Jerry Rosburg. We had Commander Mark McGinnis from the Navy Seals, and then [Kentucky head basketball coach] John Calipari, [NBA champion] Julius Erving. We even had [president of the Baltimore City Council] Brandon Scott come in. And we finished it off with [former Super Bowl champion assistant coaches] Rob and Rex Ryan, which was an event itself for all the players to see. That's the biggest thing – is just creating the culture and the camaraderie between the players. I think we did an excellent job with doing that."
Wanted to see your impressions of LB Patrick Queen and LB Malik Harrison, and what they might bring to the MIKE and WILL for you guys this season? (Todd Karpovich) "I think that you just go off of what they did in college, off the tape, and that's the only thing I can answer you. You have some new additions that bring a lot of speed to the defense. I'm excited just as well – I'm sure you all are excited about seeing them in action – because as far as people, they're quality people. [Executive vice president & GM] Eric [DeCosta] did a great job of that, and 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] as far as the draft choices that we have. I can't commend them enough as far as good people that they are. I think when we get to training camp, we'll find out who's All-Zoom team, and who can actually play football. And you know those speakers I was talking about, that was just in the defensive meeting room in our 'Chasing Greatness' [series]. Like I said, John had Ed [Reed], and he had Ray [Lewis] and Steve Smith Sr., and we just took the ball and ran with it from there."
Some players wrestle with being franchised [tagged]. OLB Matthew Judon seemed to really relish it, and that's a little thing that flies under the radar, but it's got to be a plus not having a disgruntled guy, and Matthew has just been so great in the locker room. Your thoughts? (Kirk McEwen) "What a great story – a Division II fifth round draft choice … And let's just call it like we see it, he's looking at generational wealth down the road here. Signing that [franchise tag] just tells you where he's at. He works hard. I'm excited to watch him this year. He's ready to take his pass rushing to the next level, and I just see nothing but great things coming from Matt [Judon]."
You play the Browns, the Texans, the Chiefs and the Redskins to start the season. In a regular offseason, I'm sure you spend a lot of time with the players on the field and off the field, studying those first four opponents. Are there any differences from that now other than not having that grass time? (Dave Richard) "The grass time I'm talking about is OTAs and the actual practice itself. But I think we've even spent more time in drilling down studying them as a staff – our first four opponents. And John [Harbaugh] had us do another exercise, that was great, on some other teams that we've had that time to sit in our studies and watch it, meet as a defense, and we went back into the office for a day with John, and did all our social distancing, and wore our masks, and actually had a meeting. But the Zoom thing – if you're not afraid of it – it's like being at the office. I think that we've gotten even more time with studying our opponents, and ourselves, because we haven't had the practice time – where we're, instead of scripting for OTAs and evaluating the practice we just had and the meetings, we've had even more time to study our opponents. So, we're looking forward to that, as well."
You've added a couple of guys up front during the offseason. Obviously, they'll help your pass rush, but schematically, what else will change? What will you do with these additions? (Mike Preston) "You know the players that we have in Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Schematically, does it change a whole lot? We'll wait and see with different personnel flexibility. They're two great players and leaders. Calais and Derek both have been just phenomenal in these Zoom meetings and getting to know their teammates as well as you can over the Internet – which those guys are used to it more than what we're used to it with all the technology. I'm saying you and I, because we're both old, Mike [Preston]. (laughter) But I think that it just makes your package more flexible. You've got Calais Campbell, who's the best five-technique in the National Football League, and you've got Derek Wolfe. You can work a combination of those guys. It all depends on how fast the younger guys come along. I just think that we're better up front. I think with 'Big Baby' [Brandon Williams] getting moved back to the 'Nose' – but he'll still play three-technique. You know how we do it; we'll move them all around. It's going to be fun to watch. I just can't wait to get together."
With CB Tavon Young coming back and CB Marcus Peters on the outside, John [Harbaugh] said that CB Jimmy Smith could move to safety. How can that further help the defense, and probably, move things around and keep offenses on their heels? (Daniel Oyefusi) "It's one of those things where it's a wait-and-see thing. In my own mind, like I said, you've got to wait until you see, until you get to practice and everything else. Jimmy [Smith] has already done what Brandon Carr did last year. We put him against good tight ends to cover in special situations – whether it's a third down, or two-minute [drill], or what have you, or different kinds of packages. But the thing that comes out about that is the best 11 in this defense could be … The best 11 will play, but it could be a different set of 11 for every package and matchup that we want to do, with whatever situation it is."
I want to go back a little to what you said. How did you come up with the idea for "Chasing Greatness" and just the effort in getting all these guys to speak to the team? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It started way back when we got word that everything was going to bump back, and we were doing everything virtual. As an old high school teacher, I taught some boring subjects. So, I think you had to be creative. My challenge, and our challenge as a defensive staff, was I wanted to make it must-see Zoom meetings. As well as you guys are with everything that you do, you do get Zoom fatigue, but I wanted to make it where they couldn't wait to come to the defensive meetings. We wanted to make it an event. We wanted to build a champion mindset and getting our culture right, because that was the most important goal that we had this offseason. I think we hit a home run with the speakers we had.
"'Goose' [Tony Siragusa], who I think is a Hall of Fame teammate – if there was such a thing – he should get a gold jacket for that, along with his other accolades. He just kept it real with the players – what it was to become a champ.
"[Eric] Weddle was great. It's a great perspective with Eric, because he talked about San Diego, then he also talked about [Los Angeles] L.A., compared to his Baltimore experience. He was awesome. The thing that stood out to me, and this is Eric Weddle, is he said, 'Hey guys, if a coach tells you, you had a good practice, that's not good enough. Don't walk in that building unless you want to be great. You want to have a great practice.' And he also talked to all the guys about ignoring the noises outside and preparation of being a pro.
"We had Sage Steele, who I think is the best host and anchor in the business at ESPN. She talked about her own path, her own challenges, the challenges that she had in coming up through the business, and all the way back to [Indiana University] IU, and I thought that was great – the perseverance that she showed. She also talked about the [Golden State] Warriors and other championship teams, what she thought that make up was, because she saw it up close.
"Larry Holmes was awesome – the champ. He talked about … The biggest thing he hit on is that … I don't know how many of you are boxing fans – he was [former world heavyweight champion] Muhammad Ali's sparring partner for five years. I tied this with the practice squad guys and the undrafted free agents, and those types of guys. He didn't care if he got paid or not, he was learning from the greatest. So, he took every day that he went to work as a lesson. You know what he did – he eventually beat [Muhammad] Ali. And he was quick to say – for all you boxing fans – that Ali was past his prime.
"Ryan Howard is a Rockstar – the MVP first baseman for the world champion [Philadelphia] Phillies. He's an underdog story – came from Missouri State. He also hit 58 home runs in a season, and he made it look like a softball league that year. But he said, 'Ignore the depth chart. Just become undeniable in what you want to do.'
"DeMarcus Ware was awesome. Reminded me of a Ray Lewis-type of leader. He led by example. He was talking about … The thing there was becoming a leader from one team to another, which was good for Calais [Campbell] and Derek [Wolfe], and his thoughts on that.
"Jerry Rosburg came back. We love Jerry. He talked about the standards of being a Raven, in his eyes.
"The Navy Seal Commander, Mark McGinnis, he got the most questions from the players. It was awesome. He was talking about [how] training is harder than any competition, and not everybody can prepare like a Seal. And he sees it the same way with the Ravens; not everybody can prepare like a Raven. We talked about teamwork. A lot of those guys were talking about being selfless.
"'Dr. J' [Julius Erving] was awesome. He was awesome, because he gave a great perspective during the Civil Rights era – when he played and how he handled it. I thought that was good for the guys at the time. And we all know 'Dr. J' was – as I introduced him to the players – he was Michael Jordan's Michael Jordan, if you will.
"John Calipari came in. He's one of the great personalities in sports. He talked about servant leadership, selflessness in pursuit of a common goal, and he challenged players. He talked about individual plays. He's a fan of ours. He watches the Ravens.
"Brandon Scott was the one who knocked our socks off. You could see the greatness in him when he was talking. He talked about the future of Baltimore and how he sees it. It's a very timely discussion of issues in our city, and [he] outlined ways that our players can help. He's an inspiration about where he came from, and how he's become [from] where he was at. That was a great thing that we had.
"And obviously, Rex's [Ryan] time with the Ravens, he spoke about that. And Rob [Ryan] – the 'Chasing Greatness' with those guys, we talked about Buddy Ryan, who I think is the defensive innovator in the NFL. I think he was one of the greatest coordinators, if not the greatest coordinator, of all time in the NFL. We really wanted champions from all walks of life. They all had a common message, and that was cool; different eras, different sports, different arenas, and I think they all knocked it out. It was great."
They always talk about rookies and the level of difficulty in making an immediate impact at certain positions. You're having a first-round pick [LB Patrick Queen] trying to become a starter at MIKE. Is the transition, to what you entail and the responsibility you put for middle linebacker, is that a little bit more difficult than, maybe just when you say, 'Go out to corner, and you're just going to defend a wide receiver?' Is it more difficult to make an immediate impact at a position like the MIKE? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a good question. I think that it's going to be a challenge for him because of the practice time that he's missed. But I know in just speaking with him and being in meetings with him, I think this kid can handle it. We're lucky that we drafted a smart, and then driven player. He's going to rise to this challenge. Will it be perfect? No, but we don't expect that coming out as a rookie. The thing of it is, you can see that he doesn't repeat errors. You can see that in games. On something that he did wrong, you can see him fix it within a game when you are studying his college tape. I can't wait to get him going. If you're going to make mistakes … It's just like I told him, 'If you are going to make a mistake, make it a 100 miles per hour mistake.' We can live with that."
I'm curious about CB Tavon Young's offseason. Does he seem healthy? What are your expectations for him, considering the injuries? (Aaron Kasinitz) "He looks healthy on the computer. (laughter) He says he's healthy. He's ready to go. Tavon is ready to go, and if he tells me he's ready to go, I believe in him 100 percent. And he'll be ready to go, so I'm excited about that."
When S Geno Stone got picked, everybody talked about his football IQ. Is there a way that you can see that over these virtual meetings? Or is that not something that you can see until you get on the field? Can you draw a comparison, maybe, between he and a guy like S Chuck Clark? Another late-round safety who, again, is praised for his football IQ and his intelligence? (Andrew Gillis) "Yes, I think that you go through the interview process, and when he was in college there at Iowa, our staff said that. We also came up with some innovative tools through Zoom that just confirms what we thought. We have quizzes. We have quiz competitions. We have fun games for them; Jeopardy and Family Feud and Kahoot!, and these different types of games where you can see he's quick, and he answers. We were also able to do a full, virtual walkthrough, which got a little noisy. You know how [senior vice president of communications] Chad [Steele] tells everybody to get on mute, because you've got more guys talking? But we got everybody communicating together, and definitely, the rookies understand the importance of that communication. So, we're right where we want to be going into this."
You talked a little bit about this with DE Calais Campbell and DE Derek Wolfe, but also DT Justin Madubuike. How do you look at this interior pass rush and the potential you guys have in that area of the game? (Ryan Mink) "I think that everybody wants to talk about pass rush. I understand when you talk about four-man pass rush, but we were able to get to the quarterback last year. You guys know how we did it; it's documented. We want football players. We're going to play people to their strengths. If you're a run player, a run-type player, we're going to get you out there when it comes to those situations. As a pass rusher, I think that we've got some flexibility. You've got Derek Wolfe [who] you can move inside. You can move Calais [Campbell] inside [or] outside. There's just different flexibility that you have with everybody. We'll see what we have with Justin [Madubuike]. I'm looking forward to it. The rookie minicamps – guys, you know it – it's like Christmas Day for coaches. You can't wait to see the new toys you have, and what they can do and how much fun it would be to put them in the package. That's just been pushed back."
You've spoken about the "Chasing Greatness" series. You've spoken about making Zoom meetings fun for the players. With all of this going on, what are some things you might want to carry into future years just to help you as a coach, [and] get these players more engaged and more prepared for a regular season? (Matthew Stevens) "I'm a people person kind of guy, but there's nothing more gratifying for me than seeing guys and talking to them – not only in meetings, but outside of meetings and things like that. Obviously, we know with what's going on, we can't do that right now. But what it did open my eyes to is, even more as a coach, the challenge you have in teaching in a different environment and how you can do it. I think that with everybody being quarantined, and being in their homes and everything else, all these people have volunteered to come in and talk to us. I think that you can set up Zoom meetings next year, if we're in OTAs, you can set up Zoom meetings and bring people in that you want to speak to the defense. I think it's really easy to – not really easy – but the people that participated in ours – that's all I can speak on right now – I think they were just as happy to do it as we were getting the knowledge from them and hearing from them. I always talk to the players [about] how knowledge is power in this league. These speakers were generous with their knowledge. It was an open format. I introduced them all and I always had a couple of questions to get it going, but then I turned it over to the players. They asked a lot of good questions. It wasn't one of those things where they felt like they had to ask questions. They asked a lot of good questions."
Your players love playing for you, from what I can tell. As far as Ravens coaches or football coaches go, you seem to really embody the spirit of your players – posing with guys in the end zone, things like that. I'm wondering, how were you doing a week or two ago knowing that so many of your players were angry, sad, tired [and] in pain from the situation going on? (Kirk McEwen) "That was tough. There's no better platform than what they have right now as a player to speak out. I think it's time for all of us to listen, because there is definitely a problem. John [Harbaugh] held a team meeting, and that was awesome. The meeting that he held, the players got to speak out, and talk about their concerns and where they stood on it. To me, it's an important moment in history. I'm proud to be part of an organization from [owner] Steve Bisciotti down that is on the right side of history and standing with Black people and their struggle against police brutality and systemic racism. It was tough to listen. It's a lot of hard conversations. At that time, the best thing that I could do was listen. I want to be part of the positive change. John was great, just like he was in 2017, about hearing out everyone's opinion and giving a platform to our players and coaches to share their experiences. We all need to do our part. We need to listen, speak out and stand together in this fight for justice and equality. But I just want to keep learning and growing. I can use my platform as well to be an advocate for our players and what they believe."
You mentioned Sage Steele and what she brings to the table, her motivation, inspiration. How would you compare and contrast that to someone, say like, I don't know, her brother, [Ravens senior vice president of communications] Chad [Steele]? (Jerry Coleman) "With Sage, you can just tell where the talent went, [where] the looks went. And I'm not talking about Chad. (laughter) I'm just kidding around with Chad. I guess I'll give Chad the hype, but everything else, Sage got. No, she was a Rockstar. It was awesome; it really was. I think it was really cool that she came to the meeting. She's a great person if you all know her, but she's a leader, too, now. She's one of those pioneers. I think it was great that our players got to see that perspective and really, it humanized the media, too."
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
I think it's an obvious question, [but] given that you haven't been able to get all the guys together on the field, has this virtual thing worked for you? And do you feel like you're a little bit behind when you hit training camp? (David Ginsburg) "Yes, it's been a unique offseason, and it's been a challenge for everybody in America, really. Under the circumstances, I think we've done the best we could possibly do. I really think the players have done a great job of embracing that. I think we've been able to, in some cases, because of the extra meeting time and whatnot, really slow things down for some of our younger players and take our time teaching certain things. So, I think, from a mental standpoint, it's been A-plus. There is no substitute for on-the-field work, so losing that time on the field is what it is. Every team has dealt with it. Now we have to move forward into training camp and really be smart with how we allocate our time and allocate our resources and the decisions we make, so that we can accelerate our performance on the field as quickly as possible. I think it'll be unique, but I think once we can get out there and get going, I think it'll work itself out."
Obviously, with QB Lamar Jackson coming off an MVP season [and] having a great year last year, what have you been trying to focus on? Is there a particular area that you've been trying to focus on with him, as far as improvement this offseason? (Jamison Hensley) "Lamar is still relatively a young player. This will be his second year as a full-time starter, and I think, really, all aspects of his game he was able to really look into, with a critical eye, and really discuss certain things. I think it's been very valuable for him. So, I don't know that it is just one thing. I think it's been, really, everything. And he's done a really good job of staying engaged and communicating really well. I think there [were] a lot of little things that he really became aware of as he was able to look at the body of work he's put out so far. So, to answer your question, I think, really, a lot of things, not one specifically."
How much have you had to overhaul the playbook this season, with trying to stay ahead of the competition? Or, has that been a challenge because of not being able to get together with the players? (Todd Karpovich) "Definitely. We kind of have our internal process every year. We get rid of this; we might add something. There are some things that we practiced last year that we didn't actually run in games, so we really wanted to evaluate all that. I think we've definitely tweaked things. We haven't had the luxury of the OTAs and whatnot, to really kind of test-run certain things, so we have to be really judicious with how we use that time in training camp to experiment. I think experimenting this year is going to be very selective. So, yes, definitely we've tweaked, we've added, updated, but how much we experiment in training camp, we're really going to have to be selective with that."
I don't know if I've ever seen a transformation from Year One to Year Two, body type, that WR Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown has gone through. I'm wondering, what have you thought about his transformation? He looks incredible to me. (Kirk McEwen) "I think last year, all of us, to a man, were saying, 'Wow, once 'Hollywood' has an offseason – a real offseason – wow, that's going to be something.' So, I think we are going to see that this year. He's been working really hard. He's not dealing with certain aspects that he had to deal with last year, and he did a great job of fighting through that and battling through it. He was frustrated at times, but he really managed those frustrations and diverted those towards being productive, so that was a really good sign of maturity. And, I really think he's had a great offseason, physically, and [I'm] very excited about what that looks like this year. [I] can't wait to get the ball rolling."
This is the first time that a lot of us have had the chance to speak with you since the Tennessee game. And I know it's five months old, but looking back on it, Coach Harbaugh has answered the questions. Did you feel like the team got away from what made you guys successful for 14-of-16 games? And what I'm referring to is the number of dropbacks for QB Lamar Jackson and the lack of handoffs to the running backs. (Jerry Coleman) "Yes, I think it's like, what came first, the chicken or the egg? I think once the score kind of got out of hand on us, that's when things really flipped from a balanced attack, to a more aggressive attack. A game like that, as a coach, you always blame yourself first; you always look inwards. You always want to push the right buttons and pull the right levers. So, certainly, I'm the first person I look at when that happens. But, it's really a function of a lot of the little things that we did during the regular season; we just didn't execute at a high-enough level. Very simple things, very correctible things, but very important things that we generally hang our hats on. [It was] a great learning experience, and it behooves us to learn from it, move on and get even better moving forward."
Traditionally, you guys haven't had four running backs available on a gameday. With the four that you have now, certainly, you'd expect all four to be there for you. Is it a good problem to have a lot of talent there? It is still challenging, right, to keep everyone happy? (Pete Gilbert) "Well, I love good problems. I think I've learned over the years, if you have good problems, bring them this way. And I say that unabashedly. Talented, hard-working players that love football – bring them on. And the fact that we have a lot of guys in our running back stable, if you will, just makes me excited to no end. I don't think you can have enough really good running backs, and we certainly have a plethora of them. I'm really excited to see J.K [Dobbins], and I love the guys we already have – Mark [Ingram II], Gus [Edwards] and Justice [Hill]. We'll find ways to make it work, for sure. To have that kind of backfield is a blessing. We definitely want to get into training camp and work through it and kind of evolve as we go. As far as how we are actually going to deploy them, who we are going to emphasis [and] how, I think that's going to happen on the fly every day in training camp, and [we'll] get a better feel for that. But I love problems like that. I mean that sincerely."
The wide receiver spot opposite 'Hollywood,' how do you look at that and the steps that you expect WR Miles Boykin to take in Year Two? And do you see WR Willie Snead IV and WR Devin Duvernay as guys who can also play outside in that number two role? (Ryan Mink) "Yes, we have two new guys in Duvernay and [James] Proche, and we're really excited about them. I know we heard really good things from the guys at the workouts down in Florida, so it'll be a lot of fun to get on the grass with them. And then Miles Boykin, you mentioned, [we are] really going to load his plate a lot more this year and really ask a lot of him this year. We really feel like he's going to take a giant step. I think Willie Snead is a Swiss Army knife in his own right. He does so many things for us at a high level. He's one of the most physical receivers in the NFL. He was a big part of our rushing attack last year, that set all those records, and really all the receivers were. Yes, we're really excited to see how that unfolds. And we are going to use multiple personnel groups, so everybody is going to have different roles on different plays, and that's one of the messages [that] we've talked about and will talk about [on] our first day back. We are going to be a very multiple offense. You might see three, four tight ends on the field. You might see five [wideouts] on the field. On the next play, you might see something completely different. Everybody is going to have an important role, and how we build the overall attack week-to-week will be different. But one thing is for sure; we're going to be multiple with how we deploy personnel – so the more the merrier – and I'm really excited to get to work with those guys."
Obviously, with the recent events, QB Colin Kaepernick has been back in the news lately. And I know you've talked about him in the past, but considering all that's gone on, what would it mean to you personally, and what do you think it might mean to the league and the country, if he were to return and be on a team this year? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I had a great experience working with Colin, and I certainly wish him the best and I'm hopeful for him, if that's what he chooses to do – to get back and play. I don't know exactly where he's at with that or where every team in the league is. But one thing is for sure; I'm always rooting for him. Colin was just a treat to coach, and I wish him the best. So, however that goes it goes, and I'm certainly in his corner rooting for him."
Given the fact that you guys set a bunch of records offensively last year, and just the thought of all these teams having all this time to study you guys now – and Coach Harbaugh has been very clear about having to keep pushing forward on the offense, so you don't let defenses catch up. Is that a fine line for you, to not make too many changes and stray away from what worked so well for you last year, while wanting to keep evolving as an offense? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's very well put. What I've learned over the years is you have to be good at something. You have to be really, really good at something. And after you get really, really good at something, you want to get really, really good at a few things, and you keep building on that. So, that's kind of what we aim to do. How our new personnel fits together, I think will naturally shift us a little bit. It won't be the same, but we're going to keep pushing the envelope. This year might be an interesting year as far as stats and records and whatnot. Maybe it's not a stats and records year around the league, just because of the nature of how things are right now. We'll see; we just don't know. The important thing is that we keep moving towards playing winning football and developing our overall attack, getting better and playing winning football. That's going to be incumbent upon every man when we get back to work and training camp. Every day is going to be incredibly important, as is their training period from now until then, to show up in the best shape of their life. But, it's an interesting question. That's something I think about every day, at least once a minute, and how we are going to kind of put things together. How it's going to look a little different. Especially in a season like this, you don't want to get too far off the rails. You have to kind of stay on the rails and be selective with what you want to do differently."
I don't think we've really talked to you much this offseason since G Marshal Yanda retired. How would you assess that entire interior of the offensive line now, and how are you getting your options to replace him? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I saw pictures of Marshal recently. Maybe he can come back and be a fullback. (jokingly) He's lost like 65 pounds. I barely recognize him. He looks great. But losing him, you can't just replace Marshal Yanda. The guys that we have, we believe in, and there's going to be a real competition there to see how that all unfolds. We have a lot of different options and everybody has the opportunity. The best five guys will play. We have some young guys that we just drafted, some free agents, and we have veterans that we believe in. So, how all that unfolds, it's going to be really interesting. But the opportunity is there, and somebody has to grab the brass ring, so to speak, and go for it. Not just one, but multiple guys, because you can never have enough, really, in that interior offensive line, where things happen so quick, and continuity does matter, because guys are working together with all that quickness down on the inside. It's going to be a competition, a process, a day-to-day process, and I like where we are at. Once we get out there, we'll kind of see where it goes."
Just going back to QB Lamar Jackson. It doesn't get better than an MVP season, but what do you see as the next step in his evolution? (Garrett Downing) "The next step for Lamar is … I've kind of said this before. At the quarterback position in the National Football League – probably the hardest position to play in all of sports, in my opinion – there are so many … Picture a graph of all these different charts, and every chart … Like a bar graph, and there are 50, 60 things, where every day you're kind of measured in each category at. And if you can get all 50 of those up two percent, three percent, now you're a much better player at the end of the day. So, just continuing to evolve his overall game. I think there's a magic to his style and how he plays – some creativity. We always want to focus that creativity and that energy into winning football, and winning football decisions on the field – accuracy, timing, vision, all those things. Just a constant, slow, steady, upward tick in all those different categories. There are certain things we want to work on and emphasize more – throwing the ball in different parts of the field, for example. But we are always going to try to be aware of and push the envelope in all those different areas to try to get those bar graphs moving up. And then when the game rolls around, we are going to do what we're good at and what we want to do. As part of his development, chase to being great and chase to improve, you're working on all these things all the time. So, I don't know that I would say it's one thing, but everything."
With TE Hayden Hurst being traded in the offseason and knowing how much you use the tight ends in the offense, I wanted to get your impressions about the younger guys – TE Jacob Breeland, TE Eli Wolf, and even TE Charles Scarff, who was on the practice squad last year? (Luke Jones) "Yes, the opportunity looms, and it's there for those guys. Eli, Breeland and Charles, they're all going to have an opportunity. It's real. They are going to have to come in … Those are guys I was referring to, as well as everybody else … Once we get out there, they have to maximize every single day, just for us to see what they can do, for them to improve and for us to see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. So, we're really excited about all three of those young guys. [The] opportunity is there for them, and we'll see where it goes. But I think they have a real, legitimate chance to make a positive impact on this team."
Day-to-day you get into the season, and it's hard to really reflect on what's going on big picture. But, when you think back to the 2019 regular season and what was accomplished and the way it was accomplished, particularly with QB Lamar Jackson leading it, what strikes you the most about that year? Is it anything you, as a coach, could have ever imagined? (Pete Gilbert) "The thing that strikes me is just the spirit, attitude [and] the competitive spirit of all these guys. The teamwork, the selflessness, just the support everybody gave one another. Going into our opener of the 2019 season, there were a lot of doubters. There were a lot of people that legitimately had a lot of question marks on what this was going to look like. Was it even going to work? Was it going to fall flat on its face? That was real. That was tangible, and it was a big question mark. I think a statement was made by these guys early on and their ability to push forward through the season. We had a couple bumps in the road, which are going to happen, and just the way they hung together and battled for one another, I think it kind of spoke for itself. So, I think that overall experience of 2019 was really, 'Hey, is this thing even going to work? What's this going to look like?' That was kind of the feel I was getting, and I think everybody kind of answered those questions very loudly and proudly. Aside from that, just the spirit of teamwork amongst these guys. So, I think we have a lot of character on this team. We have a lot of guys that really care about one another, and I think that's really going to help us moving forward into 2020."
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton
I'm curious as to how you have been working without actually seeing any players on the field? Whether it's been a difficult challenge for you or whether working virtually has been OK with you? (David Ginsburg) "That's a great question. Working virtually has really done a lot for us. Obviously, so much of what we do as a special teams unit is done through a lot of technique, the same things over and over on the field. We've actually had a lot of time to kind of really dive into the small nuances of our playbook. I thought it's been very effective, the way we've handled it. I thought the players approached it the right way. We've done a pretty good job of getting the most out of what we can, given the circumstances of it all being virtual."
How much of an advantage do you have? You have 'The Wolfpack,' the best battery in the game. Other teams may have a new long snapper [or] a new kicker. Do you study that and gain advantage from teams still trying to figure it out under abnormal circumstances? Where your special teams are some of the best in the league, others may be trying to figure things out. (Kirk McEwen) "I think it's one of those things where when you have a group of veteran guys like Justin [Tucker], Sam [Koch] and Morgan [Cox], those three guys – like you mentioned – are the best at what they do. So, when you have that group, it makes it a little bit easier, because they understand and know what they need to get done in order to continue to be great. Now, when you're dealing with a team – and some teams are doing this – where there is a bunch of new guys, then your system isn't really in place. Well, for us, we've got a system that has been in place. We tweaked it a little bit last year, but our guys are in tune to what we need to do. I think when we finally get out on the field, we should be ready to roll and feel pretty good about where we are."
Has there been any consideration, once you get going, of maybe keeping K Justin Tucker - because at the kicker position, there's not much depth there - maybe isolated away from other people throughout the week? I know that may be hard, but I was asking [head coach John Harbaugh] about that with the quarterback position and how those are two valuable positions. How do you protect those guys? (Jerry Coleman) "That's a great question. That's something we're going to be thinking about as we move forward. But I think we're going to do our best to protect all of these guys, because every position is valuable to kind of what we do and to our success. We don't want to be losing any players to COVID-19. So, our jobs as coaches is going to be kind of, 'OK, what's the best way to do that?' And making sure that our players are safe and that we are safe as coaches as well. I haven't given much thought to it, but it's something that we're going to be thinking about [and] talking to [special teams coach] Randy [Brown] as we move forward."
We've heard that WR James Proche is kind of an option as a punt returner. I'm curious, can you evaluate virtually his ability to catch the punts, and how do you expect him to figure into that competition? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think you can evaluate virtually. But the one thing that I saw from James evaluating his college tape – [which is] really where we got a lot of information from James – is that he can catch the ball. He's a good catcher. He's good underneath the ball and he can get vertical pretty quick. The other thing I found out about the guy, just from talking to him at the Combine – because he was a Combine guy – is he loves football. He has the right mindset. He has that DNA that we look for [to see] what type of player he is and what type of person he is. The kid loves football. He's competitive as can be. I'm looking forward to getting him out there when we can finally get on the field and just see what he can do. I was able to validate from the college tape what type of returner he is. So, now, when we get the chance to get out there and see him in person, I think that's going to hold true to what my eyes saw and what the rest of the scouts and coaches saw from James."
You guys have extremely high standards on special teams – I'm sure you'd have it no other way. When you reviewed the tape of last year and everything, and when you're planning for this year, what's the one area where you really think there needs to be major improvements on? Is it more of the returning aspect or on the coverage teams? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's another good question. What we'd done last year, I thought our guys showed up. We played hard every week, and I thought we had gotten better. We were sound earlier in the year. In the middle of the year, we had some hiccups. But I think if we're talking about one thing that we think we all need to improve on, as coaches, just talking about it, is in our return game. We did a lot of studying this offseason, and that's one area that we feel like we can be better in. Whether it's how we're coaching it [or] how our players are responding to that coaching. That's something we've felt like we could be much better [at]. I thought our coverage units were really sound outside of one game we had."
P Dom Maggio is a guy – kind of along the lines with WR James Proche – you're not watching him punt. He's not likely to be really contesting P Sam Koch for the job, but you want to see what he can do. Can you watch him virtually and have an idea of what his leg is? Or is it strictly just the college tape you're looking at with him as well? Not being out there for the OTAs and everything as far as his development, how hard is it for him to develop given these circumstances? (Pete Gilbert) "It's like every other position there. A lot of these young guys are missing those opportunities to kind of develop, but we talk to those guys. There are things, as pros, we can do on our own to kind of make sure we're maintaining a high level of excellence. This is professional football. I think with a guy like Dom, when [special teams coach] Randy [Brown] watched him, Randy said, 'This guy, he can hit the ball.' Randy has been doing this for a long time. He has a good understanding of what he's looking for in guys that he wants to bring in and we want to bring into our team to help us compete. I think, just talking to Dom, he's doing the right things. He's out there. He's practicing. When we're able to get hands on him, I think we are just going to make him that much better, because that's what we've done in the past to really all of our specialists that have come through here."