SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
I saw you just picked up RB Kenjon Barner. He's probably going to have to show that he can hang on to the ball if he wants to stay a Raven, just because of the high premium that Coach Harbaugh puts on ball security. He turned the ball over four times lasts season. Can you talk about that a little bit? (Kirk McEwen) "That's a great question. Our big thing – first and foremost – is ball security. So, what we saw in Kenjon, it just gives us another opportunity to bring in another guy, a veteran guy that has some experience. That is a spot that we are lacking, so it just gives us a little bit of an insurance policy. And I think that's one thing that we are going to be working on; we are going to be working on making sure that he can catch the ball [and] he can hang onto the ball, so we can be productive [in] that phase."
How challenging is it for a rookie like WR James Proche to have that job? And with no preseason, how difficult is it going to be for him to win that job in his first year in the NFL? (Todd Karpovich) "James is a good player, and he's been working; he's been working every day. But without any preseason games, I think it is going to be my job and the job of my assistants of just making sure that we put him in those game-like situations, so when he is our guy and he wins that job, he's been put in those situations to go out there and say, 'You know what? Game One, this is our guy.' Like you said, it's not easy coming in from college [and] catching turn-over balls, but he has great ball skills, he's been working and he's getting better every day."
Do you view WR James Proche as a candidate to return kicks, too? And when you are auditioning punt and kick returners, how many would you like to have? How many is too many, when you have a bunch of guys you are trying to get reps for? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I don't think having too many … You just have to make sure that the ones that you have are the right ones. I think we'll be able to get reps to the guys that we do have in the building, so we can see, and we can evaluate those guys properly. Now, your second question about if we view James [Proche] as a kick returner? James was a guy in college that did both, so he can return kicks and he can return punts, so he is a dual guy."
Can you evaluate your coverage units from last season and some areas that you think you need to improve in? (Mike Preston) "I thought early-on in the year, our kickoff coverage did an outstanding job. We finished at the top, and due to some injuries, we ended up trailing-off a little bit. I don't see that taking a dip this year. It's all effort, getting to the football, and it's everything we preach. [It's] kind of how we want to play ball. That's the identity of our football team – our kickoff cover team. So, I thought we were pretty good there. Now, our punt units – we didn't punt the ball very much. Maybe it was one game where we didn't really cover the ball particularly well. But other than that, I thought our coverage units really played well last year. Now, do we want to get better? Yes, we always want to get better in everything we do, and that's something that we are harping on."
A lot of teams look for defensive players on special teams. Are there any offensive players that can help you, that you have seen so far, as far as coverage? (Mike Preston) "Yes, of course. We have a lot of guys on our roster. Chris Moore has been an outstanding gunner for us. He has made a lot of plays on the outside. We put Justice [Hill] out there; he has made plays for us. What I'm seeing from J.K. [Dobbins] – a guy that's running, and he loves ball. There are a lot of guys – Nick Boyle. Guys that we have had out there and that have played for us. The list goes on. It's something that we preach. If you are an offensive guy, it doesn't matter. If we put you out there, we expect you to go ahead and get the job done for us."
Can you talk a little more about the rookie contributions? What are you expecting from LB Malik Harrison and LB Patrick Queen on special teams? How are these guys going to have to pick-up special teams quickly to contribute as rookies? And then, with WR James Proche, we hear a lot about him as a punt returner because he has great hands. What have you seen from him in terms of after the ball is in his hands, and how good of a returner he is then? (Ryan Mink) "All those rookies, they should be fired-up to come in here and understand that in order to really get on the field, your role is probably going to start with special teams. You have to go through our meeting room, and you have to set your foundation in there, because the special teams part of the game, it really prepares you for your offensive and defensive skill. If you are a defensive player, then all we talk in covering kicks is shedding off blocks, getting off blocks and making plays. If you are on kick return, we talk about blocking. So, all those things go into it. What we have seen from Malik [Harrison] and [Patrick] Queen, I'm excited that those guys are here. I think those guys are going to be really good football players for us, not only on special teams, but on the defensive side of the ball. So, I'm excited. [James] Proche, after the catch, he's really quick – one step, hit it and get it, is really what I like to say. This guy can catch the ball, and he can get north and south really quick, and that's what we want to see from our punt returners. So, he's done a good job at that."
What are your thoughts about RB Kenjon Barner? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Here you have a veteran guy that's coming in. When you are looking at that position, we just want to have an opportunity to evaluate, see what he can do [and] let him go out there and compete with our young guys. I truly believe, in football, everything is earned; nothing is ever given. So, if you want those jobs, you have to go out there, and you have to earn them. I think that's what those guys are going to be doing as we work through this camp."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DON MARTINDALE
Previously to this, you talked about you guys had the All-Zoom team [and] you wanted to see how they looked on the field. I know you haven't really gotten a full glimpse, but what do you like with what you've seen so far? Have they translated the Zoom sessions into something that can be useful on the field? (David Ginsburg) "Yes, they really have. The biggest thing is when everybody came in – especially the rookies – because we hadn't had a chance to lay eyes on them; I was just glad we didn't get catfished by anybody. But they were pretty much what we expected as far as coming in and knowing where they're at. We haven't done a whole lot of full speed reps yet, 11-on-11, but we're in that ramp-up now where you're starting to see some guys that have really grabbed a hold of this package and they're doing well with it."
You talked about the rookies – what have you seen specifically from LB Patrick Queen and LB Malik Harrison? (Shawn Stepner) "I think they're exactly what we expected. They're young and they're making some mistakes, but for the most part, they're great. First of all, they're great people. I've had some good conversations with them besides just football, and we really haven't even gotten into the 11-on-11 pads where you can see their instincts. But I think from all the film that we've watched; I think they've both done a really nice job and haven't disappointed anybody."
How do you see T Ronnie Stanley leading the team? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "He's on offense and it's a little bit different with all of the different protocols that we're following. We haven't had much time to spend – any time, really – with social distancing in an overall team meeting. But Ronnie is one of the best tackles in the league. So, I think he's doing fine. But like I said, I've been with the whole defense, I haven't even paid attention to the offense yet. I'm just trying to make sure we have 11 defenders on the field."
How does CB Tavon Young look? Does he look pretty healthy and ready to play? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, it's like I said through Zoom and talking to him … He's moving well, he's shaking any rust that he had off. He's going to be back to being Tavon Young real quick, and we're excited about it."
The Cleveland Browns [are] reloading their coaches again. Their offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt comes in with head coach Kevin Stefanski. I'm wondering, do you have the upper hand because of stability? Or does Van Pelt gain some sort of edge because you don't have anything to go by on his part? (Kirk McEwen) "I think it's an even slate, I really do. I don't think anybody has an upper hand. I think that without having any preseason games, there's no tape and that works both ways. We have some new pieces, which has been noted by you all as well. We're going to do some different things that we haven't done. I'm sure they're going to do some things that they haven't done, whether you look at Minnesota tape, Cincinnati tape and all the different places that all those offensive guys have been. We know that they're going to be a formidable opponent and we're looking forward to it. All eyes are ahead. What is it, 32 days now, or 31 days before we play Cleveland? I think that can go either way."
I know it's just a ramp-up practice, it's not pads or anything like that. But when you get the vets out there today, all out there for the first time, does that kind of elevate the energy out there for you and the rest of the team? (Garrett Downing) "The energy has been great. It's been great every practice. Having five months apart, I think the energy has been great, because we're just glad that everybody can be around each other – no matter who's there and when they were there. The thing that we're excited about, having the vets out today for a ramp-up, is we're all on the same schedule now. Because with the different protocols the league has – and they've done a great job with that as well – the rookies came in, injured vets and quarterbacks then came in and then the vets. There were like three different schedules going. But I knew when 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] put this schedule together – which was a task in itself – for the team, because you've got three different sections of it … I knew August 12 was the day I had circled on my calendar, because we're all on the same schedule now. But to answer your question, the energy – you're seeing it build."
When you look at CB Marcus Peters since he entered the league, his interceptions are just clearly far away more than anybody else. From your dealings with him, why do you think he is so much better at picking off quarterbacks than everybody else so far? (Jamison Hensley) "I think there are two things; I think there's instincts and just ability itself. I've said this before; Marcus Peters is one of the smartest corners I've ever seen play the game. That's his film study, recognizing splits – not just his film study and splits and offenses and all that stuff – but individual guys as well. He's just been a tremendous asset to our defense on the back end there. The way we look at it right now is we have three starting corners; they'd be No. 1 corners any place else, any other team that they're on. It's been a great combination, and it's great getting those guys back."
Along those lines, do you expect that you guys will probably get more interceptions as a defense this year because of some of the additions you made up front, getting after the quarterbacks a little bit more with that front pressure? (Ryan Mink) "Man, I hope so. (laughter) You just don't know - it's year-to-year. But I think that takeaways are going to be a big priority for our defense, just as well as anybody else. I think that with the changes that we made up front and the additions that we made, we're big where we're supposed to be big, and we're fast where we're supposed to be fast. We're really excited to see the product in this next month getting ready for Cleveland."
What are your thoughts about DE Calais Campbell calling you a defensive genius? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "I think that that's just noise out there. We've put together two good years. I think it was nice that Calais [Campbell] said that. I think it's one of those things that belongs to everybody on the staff. And like I've told you guys; this game always has and always will be about the players. You can go one way or the other on that double-edged sword, and we don't pay attention to any of those type of things."
When we talked to head coach John Harbaugh the other day, we talked about S Earl Thomas III coming in with some very lofty goals and a lot of focus. What have been your impressions, just in talking to Earl in the early days? (Childs Walker) "I think Earl [Thomas III] is just getting ready to add another year to his Hall of Fame career. He's coming in in great shape. Last year, he was coming off of the leg injury, if you all remember, and it took him a little while to get going. Now, he's going 100 miles per hour and he looks like he's ready to go, to me."
Obviously, we asked a lot of players about whether or not they considered opting out of the season. For you, as a coach, was it a decision for whether or not to come to work? If so, what went through the decision-making process? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I think with the protocol that's been established with the league and the NFLPA, it's obviously a safe environment. It's football, and I never thought about opting-out, no, because I don't think they would've ever brought us back if they thought there was a high rate of whatever … A danger or whatever you want to call it through this pandemic. I felt safe coming back. We take all the precautions and the protocols. We wear our masks and do all the six feet apart, social distancing and things like that. The thing I told the players with all of those things is, 'We're all in this together. We're taking care of each other, and we're taking care of each other's families.' Who would I be if I couldn't wear a mask? I just say, 'Show your discipline. Show your mental toughness. When you're in meetings, everybody wears their masks.' Like I said, we have these monitors on that flash when you're within six feet of someone. It ends up being like a dog trainer collar, if you will, because I know when I'm not wearing it now and I get around people … Like if I go home, even with my wife, I'll step back from her. (laughter) You just know what six feet is now. I never thought about opting-out though."
OLB Jaylon Ferguson obviously got more playing time at the end of the year after OLB Pernell McPhee went out. Can you talk about how much you think that will help him this year and what kind of growth you're anticipating seeing from Jaylon this year? (Cliff Brown) "I think there's a couple things with that. He played the last 10 games; [Pernell] McPhee got hurt in the sixth game if I remember right. He made tremendous strides last year. The biggest part, if you remember me telling you, it was about halfway through the year when he finally got in, what he felt, was the best shape that he's been in. He's come in this year at that type of condition. His body has changed. He's a year older. All those second-year and third-year players start to get that old man dad strength – you know what I'm talking about there. They've had a year away from college football and they can really train and just focus on themselves and not the Combine; not going to this visit, that visit, this visit, that visit and just focus on themselves, and he's done that. As far as the knowledge of the package, he's right on time with everything right now. We're really looking forward to some great things from him."
At every level of your defense, you have guys who can play positions beyond what they are penciled in as, or they are cross-training at different positions. How versatile do you think this defense is, and just how much easier does that make your job? (Jonas Shaffer) "The versatility that we have with the veterans has been phenomenal. You look at different players, and you can point out different guys. A guy like Chuck Clark for example, he played five different positions last year – same thing with Anthony Levine Sr. There are other guys who can play a bunch of different spots, which helps you in different packages. I always say, we'll have the best 11 out there to play the game. The best 11 might be a different group. There might be six others coming out versus a different personnel. The NFL, just like the NBA has become, it's all matchups, and right now, with the talent that we have, it's a lot of fun."
Overall, if you look at your defensive rankings, you are among the top in almost everything. I'm guessing that run defense is something that you do want to improve upon. How do you go about that? Traditionally, you have been one of the top run defenses in the NFL. How do you want to improve upon that going into this season? (Jamison Hensley) "Like I said earlier, we have gotten bigger where we needed to get bigger at, [and] we have gotten faster where we needed to get faster at. There are a lot of things that go into that. When you start playing with a bunch of leads, like we were [doing] last year, and someone breaks a run, sometimes you are not playing the opponent at that time; you are playing the clock. But it has definitely been a focus of ours. I know the Cleveland [Browns] game stands out to me, and probably everybody else, and so does the Titans game. I think that's the reason why [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] made some of the moves that they made. Like I said, on [August] 17th, we'll be in pads, and we will keep making it a major focus. I think Calais [Campbell] said that you have to earn the right to rush the passer, and we have to knock-down that run game, because trust me, the Cleveland Browns are going to try to run the ball."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG ROMAN
You haven't had much time to see QB Lamar Jackson, but you know he worked very hard during the offseason. Is it too early to assess some of the improvements he's made? Or are you going to have to wait until he's on the field and gets a little more live action? (David Ginsburg) "Really in the case of everybody right now, there's a lot of mental, obviously, conditioning going on – physical conditioning, a lot of mental work. We're starting to be able to do some things on the field. With as much meeting time as we've had in this offseason, that's just as valuable as can be – and we're ramping up. Everybody is really focused in right now. Starting Monday, we'll be able to practice, and I really think that's when we're really going to get into a lot of the physical football-related things. But Lamar [Jackson] is looking really good, and he's working hard every day to get better. We're in a period of time right now that we're able to get a lot done mentally. Everybody is really focused in. This is a really heavy week for us mentally. We want to try to get a lot done this week, as far as our offense and how we do things, so we can kind of hit the ground running. We'll focus on the physical [part of the game] Monday."
When you look at the four running backs you have, they all have different skillsets. Is it going to be a challenge splitting up the carries to those guys? How do you balance that with that group? They're all talented guys. (Todd Karpovich) "We're fortunate to have a group like that – and the more the merrier. We'll be able to utilize all of those guys as we move forward, and you can't have enough really good running backs. Mark [Ingram II] is, obviously, in my opinion, one of the best running backs in the league over time. He still maximizes runs as good, if not better, than anybody that I see in the league. And we've got three younger guys that are really coming on. In our offense, we don't look at it as a problem at all. We look at it as a really good thing. So, I think we'll continue to develop them and develop things we do with each of them. A lot of them … Most of the guys can do, pretty much, everything that we do. They're not typecast, so to speak. We really like that group. We've got high expectations."
We had TE Mark Andrews on a couple of days ago. He says he wants to be the best tight end in football. He looks like he's well on his way. Hurdling defenders – seems like it's innate for Mark. I kind of like it, but that does have mixed results. I'm wondering – is that something that you'd like to eliminate from the game? Or is that up to him in the heat of the battle to do what he needs to do to get down the field? (Kirk McEwen) "That's an interesting question, because his instincts … When a players' instincts take over, and they're hurdling a player in the heat of battle, I have no problem with that – as long as certain principles are adhered to, such as ball security, number one. If you're going to do that … Mark [Andrews] is not the first guy on our team to do that. Nick Boyle is, kind of, famous for that. So yes, when we're playing, we're playing hard, we're going after it and we just need to execute those types of instinctive moves with great ball security. We had one incident last year that, hopefully, we learned from. But if somebody is going to just try to tear your legs out, why let them do that? Avoid that hit. It's got to be an in-real-time decision with great technique – specifically with ball security."
How do you see T Ronnie Stanley leading this team? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Ronnie Stanley – I really think he took giant leaps last year as a player, as a professional. With Marshal [Yanda] gone now, Ronnie is really stepping up into that leadership position, and he does a great job just being himself and we love him. He's really becoming one of the best offensive tackles in football. He understands it's not what you just did, it's about what you do next. So, he's working really hard. I think Ronnie is a very intelligent person. All of this experience he's gathering, he's really putting it to use. We're very fortunate to have him."
What are, kind of, your expectations for a WR Marquise Brown who, as everyone says, is now fully healthy? (Jamison Hensley) "High expectations, but the real expectation is to just come in every day – one day at a time – work hard, really focus in on what's important, be a great teammate, and he's doing all of those things. I think the score will take care of itself, so to speak. Marquise [Brown] comes in and handles his business every day as a pro – which he does. We certainly feel that having gotten through last year with his physical situation and certain things he was working through, he did so in a very professional way – which really showed a lot of maturity. He looks bigger, faster, more explosive, his movement skills are looking pretty sharp right now. We have high expectations for him, as we always had."
I know it's still early, but wanted to get your impressions on G D.J. Fluker and how you see him fitting in on the offensive line? (Luke Jones) "D.J. [Fluker] is doing a really nice job. He's working hard and he's got a great attitude. As we get moving into next week's on-field work, we're going to get a really good feel as we go. So, we're doing a lot of technique, fundamental work right now. A lot of teaching, learning and communication, and we really can't wait to see how everybody looks once we get going next week. But really happy to have him here. Everybody on the offensive line is working very hard right now, and I think we've got some really good depth there as of this date. We'll see how it shakes out."
Can you talk a little bit about your young wide receiver corps and the leap that you expect those guys to make? And I know we have talked a lot about QB Lamar Jackson and his next step in, kind of, throwing outside the numbers and some of those throws. How important is it going to be for those wide receivers to take that next step in order to allow Lamar to also take that next step? (Ryan Mink) "Everybody on the offense is really important. A lot was made, in some circles, about how we use wide receivers. I think we were seventh in the league last year in touchdown passes thrown to wide receivers. I think we had 17, off the top of my head. So, if we are not throwing to wideouts every play, we're throwing a bunch of touchdowns to them, so we want to continue that. We definitely are an offense that wants to attack the defense where they're weakest. So, when I look at the stats sheet after a game and nine people have caught passes, I'm very happy, because you become a harder offense to defend. Having said that, we're really excited about our wide receivers group. Marquise [Brown] and Miles [Boykin] were rookies last year. We've got some young guys this year coming in that are kind of learning the offense and working their way through things right now. We've got some veteran presence with Willie Snead [IV], Chris Moore. So, really, as a group, we're very excited about them. I think the guys … Today was the first day we were really able to go out and work off together [at] full speed, on air, and [I] really liked what I was seeing in terms of chemistry with Lamar [Jackson], and the quarterbacks, and the wideouts and the tight ends. So, that was really exciting this morning, to finally get to do that."
Regarding QB Lamar Jackson, a couple weeks ago, he said that his main focus was to try to get better at downfield passing, out-breaking routes. Where do you see Lamar improving this season? Where do you see his next step? (Shawn Stepner) "I don't want to, 'One giant leap for mankind,' quote, but I felt like last year he made a gigantic step in every phase of his game. And I feel like this year, there's an opportunity to make some steps – as he does, as any player does – constantly striving for improvement. I think his knowledge of the game will improve. Game management, I think he's got an instinctive feel for that. But I feel like he'll continue to improve in those areas. We're always looking to improve accuracy [and] decision-making. We feel like Lamar [Jackson] has got very good vision; I think that's pretty obvious when you watch him play. He's not robotic out there; he's pretty natural. We're always trying to improve accuracy on all different kinds of throws. Consistency, and then decision-making, which if we can get two to five percent better in those areas, it'll be pretty impressive."
You've got a couple moving pieces on the interior of the offensive line. How do you go about evaluating those positions and the offensive line as a whole in a year where you don't have preseason games, and you are on a bit of a time crunch heading into Week 1? (Garrett Downing) "Yes, that's definitely a question that you've got to put some thought into, and I really think it's going to put a premium on how these practices go, starting Monday, once we get pads on and we start practicing for real. I think every rep is going to carry an added value to it when you consider no preseason games. I definitely think that's going to really be our platform to evaluate what gives us the best chance to be the best group we can be. Everybody is going to have an opportunity, and we are always constantly trying to develop every player to their utmost. Because even if they aren't a Day One starter, we might need them pretty quick or somewhere down in the middle of the road. Pat Mekari was a great example of that last season. But practices are going to be very telling, as far as evaluation goes."
Along those lines, I imagine this is an organizational decision, but when you guys are preparing for a season where anything could happen off the field, is it a more difficult balance to strike between preparing for what you want the best version of your team to be and what it might have to be in Week 6 or Week 7, if some guy is possibly out for completely unexpected reasons? (Jonas Shaffer) "Yes, you just don't have a crystal ball. There are a lot of factors that could happen; a lot of 'what-ifs.' You've got to plan for some of those scenarios. So, you want to be as flexible and adaptable as possible – certainly from a personnel standpoint. I think there's definitely possibilities that you're going to need a lot of guys to play in the course of the year; that could happen, so we'll see. It's definitely something that we are trying to build for, to be as adaptable as possible. It just goes back to every player in that locker is important."
C/G Matt Skura, before the injury, was playing at a very high level. What impressed you the most about Matt's game last year? (Jamison Hensley) "I thought Matt [Skura] got bigger and stronger, and played bigger and stronger last year. I really think his work in the weight room with our strength and conditioning staff in the offseason leading into last year allowed him to be a little bit more of a physical presence in there. And that, coupled with the fact that he's played guard, he's played center, he understands and he's a very intelligent player. So, I really think his understanding of the game made his communication process almost utterly seamless at times. That's something he takes a lot of pride in, but a center is so important as far as getting everybody on the same page in today's NFL. Just practicing against our defense everyday kind of forces our hand. We've got to become great communicators, and it starts with the center and the quarterback. So, coupled with Matt's ability to communicate and direct traffic, that physical presence that he's really improved on really showed up last year."
I asked defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale this as well. Considering the unknowns of the pandemic, did you feel the need to research and talk with your family and make a concerted decision about whether or not you'd return to work this year? And if so, how did that decision-making process play out? (Aaron Kasinitz) "It never really entered my mind. Once I got here, without putting any thought into it and witnessed the attention to detail, the resources and the planning the Ravens organization put into the facility procedures – it's a thought that never crossed my mind. Quite frankly, just the unbelievable preparation, forethought, the resources, the space and that everybody, really, was able to come up with some great solutions – it never even entered my mind. Now if I came and saw something other than that, you never know. But it's really impressive what our organization has done to do the best job in a unique situation for all of us."