THURSDAY AVAILABILITY: PLAYOFF BYE WEEK
Assistant Head Coach/Pass Coordinator/Wide Receivers David Culley
What progress have you seen from WR Marquise Brown, and where has he made his biggest strides? (Ryan Mink)"The biggest thing, in our run game, sometimes we use him on the back side, when a lot of times [previously] we'd use runs. But lately, we've been putting him on the front side, because he understands what we need to get done on that side. And from a standpoint of scouting, normally, if we're running the ball sometimes, you think he's always to the back side. But he has gotten to the point now where he understands what needs to happen to the play side, and we've gotten him a bunch to the play side doing runs. But he has improved tremendously. You look at his size and you say he's a little guy, a small guy. [But] he's probably one of the toughest guys we have on this football team."
John Harbaugh talked earlier this year about how for WR Marquise Brown, each week was going to have to be management of snaps in practice and snaps in-game coming off the injury from last offseason. How beneficial could this week off be, and then not having to be as used as he was in that Week 17 game, as well? (Jonas Shaffer) "The injury is still there, from the standpoint of with the foot. It's not completely healed, yet. But with Sam [Rosengarten, coaching analyst – performance], our guy that handles our GPS, he watches him every day. Usually at the end of practice, he'll come up to me and say, 'Look, how many reps do you have for Marquise [Brown]?' And I'll say, 'We have five.' He says, 'Well, we can only go three.' So, it's been monitored all year long with him. And at this point, we've kind of had a situation where he's never getting too many in practice now. Although, there are a lot of things we do in the pass game where we want him in in practice that sometimes we don't use him, but come game time when he's in those plays, but he doesn't get them in practice sometimes, simply because of the rep count that we're having for him. But it's been managed very, very well for him. The rest? Tremendous for him right now, tremendous for him."
How impressed are you, or have you been, with the unselfishness of this receiver group? When you're winning, not a lot of people complain, but we haven't heard a peep in the media all year of a guy not getting the ball, not getting catches. You don't see displays of frustration on the field. I'm sure they all want it, but they've handled it pretty well. How impressed are you with that? (Jeff Zrebiec)"That starts with Coach [John] Harbaugh, the culture that we have here. It's a situation where … You all have all walked through that dressing room there and seen that 'Team. Team. Team' [sign]. We live by that mantra here. And as a wide receiver, you only get so many touches or so many chances during the course of a ball game. But, you get a bunch of chances during the game to make an impact, whether it's blocking for somebody, or whether it's running a fake on a reverse – those kinds of things. The most important thing that that room has that I've seen that I really love … And it starts with Willie Snead, because Willie is probably one of the most unselfish receivers I've ever been around – also one of the toughest – and it trickles down from him. Basically, we have another little motto that we always tell those guys when you play receiver: 'You're a football player first when you walk in that room, not a wide receiver.' A football player blocks, he runs, he tackles, he does all the things. So, we've kind of kept that all year long, and they've kind of taken that and ran with it. Basically, the bottom line is, winning is the most important thing and [asking], 'What do I have to do to win?' Sometimes that's not catching the ball."
Has WR Miles Boykin been an example of that, too? It seems like he's blocked really well on some weeks where he really didn't see the ball much. (Childs Walker)"He's a perfect example of that. You look at Miles [Boykin] and you look at how big and strong and fast he is, and you say, OK, he's a perfect guy that … Sometimes, if you look at him, you think he could be a tight end. Not with the tight ends that we have, but he could be a tight end. But he is so unselfish. He was that way when he was at Notre Dame coming out. He had that kind of mindset, and he's just kind of kept that. As a rookie, not one time has he ever said anything to us about not getting [the ball]. He's gone through some games where he didn't get a ball thrown to him, and he was perfectly fine with that, because during those particular ball games, that guy did a bunch of things in the run game that ended up helping us. Obviously, [we] set that rushing record."
Assistant Special Teams Coach Randy Brown
How are you preparing the players mentally and physically for the playoffs? (Dawn White) "So, the group that I coach in the specialists, we are always so dialed in, and with Morgan [Cox] and Sam [Koch] and Justin [Tucker], the work that they put in in the offseason mentally and physically gets us to where we are today. Now, we change up the routine just a little bit, as far as days off, because I want their legs fresh, which they have been. So, this week is no different. [We] kicked again today, kicked well today. I've been with Sam for 12 years, Morgan for 10 and Justin for eight, so we've got it dialed in pretty good of where we're going to go."
We all saw K Justin Tucker kind of slip as he made that kick on Sunday. When you deal with the weather conditions and don't know exactly how it's going to be week to week, what precautions do you take during the week? (Aaron Kasinitz)"No, we planned on that. I said, 'Hey, Justin [Tucker], go ahead and slide tackle that one in. We've made kicks other ways, so let's just slide-tackle it in.' (laughter) There are some things you can plan for, and there are some things you can't. And when you kick at our stadium, which is the hardest stadium in the National Football League to kick in, by far, now … It really is, and that was a newly sodded field, too. But there was just so much rain that you could tell the footing was a little tough. You can't practice that. We don't go out and practice in mud, but what we practice is our routine. And we practice the way that we kick a football and the way that he kicks a football, which is: same plant each time, same swing each time, same ball contact. So that when you're in that position, you don't try to start adjusting where your plant is and where your swing is. You now do what you normally do, and that is you kick a straight ball and you kick it in the middle of the uprights or wherever our targets are that we practice. So, that's why you've seen – whether it's windy, rainy, snowy – Justin just kicks straight balls. Of course, the operation and the way Morgan [Cox] snaps and Sam [Koch] holds it makes it even easier for him to do."
You said that the stadium [M&T Bank Stadium] is the toughest [to kick in]. Is part of that the wind with the renovations? Why? (Aaron Kasinitz) "So, when they put the big scoreboards up, it kind of changed the wind directions a little bit, and going to natural grass … Because, remember when we first got here 12 years ago, we had a turf field and those four big – we'll call them holes or openings back then. So, when they've reconfigured it a little bit, it's made it harder. But Justin [Tucker] has kicked very well there. It's hard for opponents. Opponent kickers come in, and their heads are spinning in pregame, so it's good for us. You don't see many 50-yarders. Remember, we used to beat Pittsburgh … For all those years, nobody tried 50-yarders [at Heinz Field]. How about opponents trying 50-yarders in our place? They don't do it much anymore."
Being what you said with the weather, you've had three games in monsoon-type conditions, another game with Buffalo that was probably one of the windiest games you've played all year. How gratifying is it for K Justin Tucker to have the season that he had and how few kicks he missed given all those circumstances? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I like when I hear other kickers throughout the league say, 'Yes, I had a good year, but Justin Tucker is still the best.' I'm going to go back to ... Shout out to my son [special teams analyst Tyler Brown] at Michigan yesterday, because his kicker [Quinn Nordin] hit a 57-yarder. But to me, when you watch that kick, the snap and the hold were great. There were no laces spinning or anything like that. So, I think it's gratifying to Justin, just because all the work we put in. But when you look at the ball that Justin kicks all the time, those laces are going straight down the field. Sam [Koch] has a perfect lean on it, whether it's rainy, windy, whatever the footing is. So, to me, what's gratifying is all the work that we put in builds up for days like that. And whatever the situation, whether it's a 49-yarder to win or whether it's an extra point to put us up 7-0, the gratification comes from the reward of how we practice, and it goes all the way back to the days when John Harbaugh and David Akers and Koy Detmer and Mike Bartrum and I were all together in Philadelphia. That's how we practiced then, and that's how we practice now."
Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen
Opening statement: "First off, happy New Year to everybody, and just to kind of echo what Marlon [Humphrey] said, [defensive backs coach] Chris [Hewitt] is sitting right there … He does a great job with our secondary. There are a couple of the questions out there when you asked about Marlon. There are three things as a defensive line coach or a defensive coach that you look for in a nickel corner: 1) Can they cover a slot [receiver] that's really quick and really fast? Usually people put that guy in there. He's phenomenal. He can do that. Can they blitz? He's exceptionally quick, and he's physical. He's like a linebacker tackling. He has all three ingredients, and he's a great corner out there. So, I just wanted to echo that, and Chris does a great job with those guys.
"First thing I'd like to hit on is basically kind of reviewing Sunday. When you listen to the culture and you talk about what you guys asked Marlon about with our team culture, you think about the game against the Steelers. We're sitting at 13-2, don't have to really win to be where we are today, and the thing that stood out to me was the physicality on both sides of the line of scrimmage, in terms of my guys and our offensive line. But really, all 11 on both sides and special teams – it looked like ... Someone made a comment after the game that the way we were playing at the end of the game when we had Pittsburgh backed up was like we had to win to get in [the playoffs], and really it starts with Coach 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh]. You talk about our team culture – he's phenomenal. And I've been around some different head coaches, but in terms of every day believing in the plays ... When you talk about trust, first of all, you have to have faith in the guys, and you have to believe in them. And there's no better head coach I've been around to inspire that in the players and coaches. And then it starts with Coach [Don] Martindale, our defensive coordinator. We were sitting at 2-2, and I think, Jeff [Zrebiec of The Athletic] – the last time I spoke to the media – maybe you asked the question, but we're 2-2, and I got in the car and was like, 'Are we going to win another game?' Well, 'Wink' [Don Martindale] came in [and] told the defensive staff, 'We're going to be great at tackling. We're going to be great at defeating blocks up front, and we're going to play harder than anybody.' And I think we've done that, and we've got to where we are today because of that culture.
"The front, I can just say this that [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and our scouting staff brought in some guys that helped us at that point. Jihad Ward, No. 53, running around, flying around has been a great asset to us. [Domata] Peko, you guys all know who he was coming from Cincinnati. [He] really came back. He's given us some great play, obviously, in the Steelers game, but [also] all the last half of the season. Justin Ellis has done a great job for me, in terms of my group right there, and then you look at how Matt [Judon] and how Tyus [Bowser] and how Jaylon [Ferguson] have all really gotten better as each game has progressed throughout the season on the edge. And then the inspiring play from 'Big Baby' [Brandon Williams] and Michael Pierce inside. And Chris Wormley – that's a guy that's really improved. And the way they played against the Steelers, it's only going to carry us into the playoffs. And, I will say this, we had a couple great days of practice, and we're ready for the Divisional game. We'll find out who it is, obviously, at about 11 o'clock on Saturday night."
Is this a challenging period, in terms of trying to balance three different teams? Obviously, I know you've played two of them already, but still, is it tough kind of juggling a lot of balls not knowing who you're going to play? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I think this week we've really hit on just us getting better in these three days of practice. Two of the teams we've played in the last month, and we know them pretty well. And then last year, we did play Tennessee. I know they have different coordinators, but we'll find out. And then really, at the end of the day, it's about what we do and how well we prepare and how well we play."
You mentioned DE Jihad Ward when you were talking about some of the additions. It seems like he's played three or four different spots. What has that kind of versatility meant to you as the defensive line coach? (Aaron Kasinitz)"We were very familiar with him coming out at Illinois. We worked him out. We spent a lot of time with him. And when he came into the league, they used him as an inside tackle, a three-technique, five-technique. And then his last stop in Indy, they had him as a nose tackle. So, we saw him at the workout, and he was athletic just like we thought. And we needed some help on the edge, so we've kept him on the edge in run situations. And then we moved him inside in passing situations, and he's done a great job."
It's been interesting I think the past couple weeks to see a number of teams' opposing offenses put in six offensive linemen. It's a pretty clear tell that they want to run the ball. What do you make of just teams kind of going jumbo with those formations? And how well do you think you've done against them? (Jonas Shaffer) "You look at … OK, they want to get the bigger. Not many people have tight ends like we do that can actually do both, so they bring an extra lineman in to try to get a mismatch on some of our defensive ends. But, I think we've really done well in those situations. If you look at No. 93 the other day, Chris Wormley, they had that 350-pound X, and he did a great job, in terms of what Pittsburgh tried to do, knocking us around. And I think we've done really well with matching up to those big guys that come in with who we have. That just puts Brandon [Williams] on the field, Mike [Pierce] on the field, Wormley on the field in our packages more."
Do you have to kind of coach the guys differently or teach them differently when it comes to pass rushing with a team that brings so much extra pressure? When there's extra bodies in there, do you guys have to kind of think different about what their roles are? (Robert Mays) "I think what Marlon [Humphrey] said: We're going to pressure people, in terms of bringing five, bringing six, and that's just who we are as the Baltimore Ravens. And 'Wink' [Don Martindale] does a great job scheming all that to what we all want, and at the end of the day, it's about – when you bring extra pressure – it's about getting one-on-one blocks. So now, you have to win your one-on-ones, and the guys we have coming off the edge, in terms of the secondary, they've done a great job. The guys we have moving around, coming inside, have done a great job in the same thing. We may not always get the sack, but the ball is getting out quick. And it's a quick decision, and it helps the backend guys out, too. And it also helps the rush when we have guys like that that are covering for a long period of time."
Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt
Opening statement:"Another tough act to follow, but [defensive line coach] Joe Cullen does a great job with the defensive line. Just talking about a guy who coaches with passion, you need a guy that's going to be able to coach with passion and win on the defensive line. He gets the most out of all of his players. So, Joe Cullen, like he just talked about, phenomenal job getting his guys going and being able to get to the quarterback, which helps inside on the secondary, which you already talked about."
CB Marlon Humphrey talked about it, but how gratifying has it been for you to see the repeated major investments they've made in the secondary here?_ (Childs Walker)_"I am extremely blessed, extremely blessed at every position. I have great players from the corners to the safeties. They've invested a lot of money in the secondary, and that just goes to show you what we are as an organization. When we have great players, they get rewarded for their work. So, yes, I'm blessed."
How have you seen CB Marcus Peters bring kind of an attitude to the defense? He's a guy who's not afraid to chirp at the other team and brings a lot of passion, it seems like. What have you seen from that in him? (Ryan Mink) "The narrative out there is that Marcus [Peters] is a hothead and he's … Whatever, whatever that narrative is out there, a lot of it has been negative. And he's been nothing but positive since he's been here. He's a guy that has high IQ, extremely smart, and it was really easy for me to get him ready, when we got him [before the] Seattle game, to get him prepared to go out and go play. But talking about the passion, I think that's what fuels him to be the player that he is, because he's extremely competitive and he doesn't like to lose. That passion that he has, that energy that he brings, it resonates throughout the entire secondary, and everybody else feeds off of him. So yes, having Marcus is a great addition, and I'm glad he's going to be here for the next couple years."
CB Marlon Humphrey was talking about the process of him figuring out who was going to play slot. What was that decision-making process like from your side, and how did you go about doing that? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Originally, it started when we were playing against Cleveland. We wanted to be able to disguise where we were going to put Marlon [Humphrey] so that he could chase Odell Beckham around, so he had to learn some slot and some of the calls. Brandon [Carr] was also playing in the slot. So, we did that as a way to disguise what we were doing, as far as coverage-wise, the blitzes and the pressures that we were doing. He did so well that I was just like, 'Hell, let's just keep him there.' And it worked out. He did a great job just preparing, asking a lot of questions, and going through our practice and getting himself prepared. So, he's done an extremely good job doing that."
I asked CB Marlon Humphrey about CB Jimmy Smith. He had that injury. How have you seen him kind of rebound from that and fit in at a great time in the secondary? _(Jeff Zrebiec) _"Jimmy [Smith] has always been a great corner since he's been here. He's had some significant injuries. What did he have, a Lisfranc and a torn Achilles? And every time, he's attacked those injuries in getting himself to rehab, just the way that he attacks getting himself prepared to go play on Sundays. That's what's helped him become great, going again, was his dedication to his rehab and the passion to want to get back on the field and be great. Like I alluded to before, the passion and the competitiveness that these guys have, it makes it easy for me for him to go out there and go play. But that's just Jimmy's makeup. That's his mental makeup to want to go out there and go play great."
Talking about CB Marlon Humphrey again, how unusual is it to have a guy who can do both inside and outside at that level? I assume that every great outside corner you couldn't necessarily put in the slot and it would work well. (Childs Walker) "At some point, if you have a really great corner and he has the ability to go play inside, there are a lot of teams who do that, who have guys in their base defense play corner, and then when they go to sub-defense, play inside. So, that's not unusual for a guy to go back inside and go play nickel. It's just unusual for a guy like Marlon [Humphrey], who we drafted as an outside corner, for him to learn to go play inside. But that's not unusual for a guy to go play inside and outside."
John Harbaugh said Monday that you guys work really hard on developing the pass rush technique of guys in the secondary. Has that been more of an emphasis this year with how often you guys have blitzed? Can you share just, is it just basic rudimentary stuff that you teach these guys about trying to get around a tackle?_ (Jonas Shaffer)_"That's a philosophical thing that we have on defense that we want to try to attack the offense. And whether we have a great secondary or not a great secondary, we're going to bring pressure. We're a pressure team. We have been for as long as I've been here, since 2012. We're going to try to get after the quarterback. But having the depth that we have in the secondary just makes it that much better. But as Joe [Cullen, defensive line coach] alluded to before, that's just philosophy. You can't win with four? You bring five. Can't win in five? Bring six. Hey, they hold all five in? We're going to bring seven. So, if you can't get there with four, you have to bring more. So, you have to try to affect the quarterback, especially in this league, because the quarterback is so good, and the wide receiver is so good. You have to be able to affect the quarterback."
You guys take it to an extreme, obviously, but a lot of the really good defenses in the league now bring pressure and play man behind it. Do you think that structure is uniquely set up to slow down what modern offenses have become? (Robert Mays) "I think that, like I said before, you have to be able to affect the quarterback. And the wide receivers that you're facing every day in this league, it's really tough to try to win one-on-one matchups against wide receivers, especially the guys that we play against, week-in, week-out, down to down, and win those one-on-one matchups. So, if you can't win those one-on-one matchups, you have to be able to get to the quarterback. Again, that's just philosophical on defense. You want to try to be able to get to the quarterback before that wide receiver can get open. And the way that we play is, we want to try to get in that guy's face, try to disrupt the timing and give the rush a chance to try to get to the quarterback."
It seems like, I think conventional thinking would say, if you're bringing extra bodies, you're putting more stress on the back end. But in your mind, you actually think you're giving your guys a better chance by really trying to force the issue? (Robert Mays)"Absolutely, because if you ever just sat there and watched seven-on-seven, if you watch seven-on-seven where there's no pressure on the quarterback, he doesn't have to worry about getting hit, the quarterback will probably complete 70 percent of his passes. When you do one-on-ones where there's no pressure on the quarterback, the quarterback is probably going to complete 70 percent of his passes. So, when there's pressure on the quarterback, now their percentages go way down, because now he's worried about getting hit. So again, having great corners, you have to be able to win those one-on-ones, just be close enough that you can … The ball goes just a little bit to the left, little bit inside, little bit outside, and now we have a chance."
Defensive coordinator Don Martindale is getting some head coaching buzz. I know you know him really well. How does he sort of set the tone for the defensive staff, just with his swagger and how he demands accountability and all that? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That relationship goes all the way back to 1996, University of Cincinnati, when he was our linebacker coach. So, I've known 'Wink' [Don Martindale] a long time. He's not only a friend, but he's a mentor of mine. What he's done, just watching his career over the years and what he's done, his attitude hasn't changed from the time that he was a linebacker coach to even becoming the defensive coordinator. It's all about trying to include everybody – the players, the defensive staff. I think that bodes well just for everybody. When you have somebody who respects what you do, you work that much harder for him. So, that's kudos to him. Whatever opportunity that he gets or what happens, anybody would be lucky to have a guy like 'Wink' Martindale, because he's a great leader and a great coach. So, I hope that he doesn't leave, but again, he deserves it. He deserves the opportunity, and I think that he would be a great head coach."
With S Earl Thomas III, especially in the spring when he was first getting started, he talked about, it was a change of position for him in this defense. Where have you seen him kind of ease into it and get more comfortable throughout the season? (Jamison Hensley) "You just go through the whole process, going through OTAs, training camp. Now you're playing football games. And you keep on hearing the same terms, over and over and over again: 'We started back in OTAs, remember this? OK, now we did this in training camp, remember this? OK, now we're in the game, we're doing this.' So, it's really just the whole process of hearing it a bunch of times. He's heard it a bunch of times. Now he knows exactly what he's supposed to be doing, and he's gotten a whole lot more comfortable in what we're trying to do and letting the defense work for him. And when he first got here, we talked about sending him on pressures. He was like, 'Coach, I've never blitzed in my life.' He said, 'I've never had a sack.' And he has two this year. So, kudos to him."
Quarterbacks Coach James Urban
Can you talk a little bit about QB Lamar Jackson's field vision and how that has improved from Year One to Year Two? (Ryan Mink)"I thought he had great vision from the first time I ever saw him. From the college film, I thought he had great vision. His spatial awareness is unique. He sees how bodies are moving and the space that there is to throw. He knows the type of throws to make. He's probably become more familiar with the concepts, the pass concepts. So, you couple familiarity and experience with great awareness, and I think that's one of his great strengths."
That familiarity and reading a defense is … I assume, obviously, you worked a lot on that this summer. (Ryan Mink)"Yes." (Reporter: "How did he improve in that way?") "Well, when you can combine your gut instinct of the angle a guy is taking with familiarity with that person … I'll use Mark Andrews as an example. The more reps you get with him, the more you have an idea of how he runs that particular route. And then, along with the reads … [If] there's an over-and-under on the weakside hook-curl player, [you know] exactly how that play feels to him. That's what I mean. That's where the experience comes in."
QB Lamar Jackson has had a lot to deal with this year – the attention, his first year as a starter. How consistent has he been, in terms of his preparation, his attitude, what kind of teammate he's been since the guy that you saw on the first day of camp? (Jeff Zrebiec) "He's the same guy every day. He's consistent as the day is long. He comes to work. He comes to work with a great attitude and wants to be here and brings energy and has fun doing it. He's like a little kid out there playing, and that's how he goes about every day. He wants to win very badly. So, when you have a great attitude and you come to work and you're really talented and you work hard at it, you're seeing the results."
When John [Harbaugh] told us that QB Lamar Jackson wouldn't play in Week 17, he said practice would be very important to avoid any rust or anything like that. How did he practice today? Because I know he missed Tuesday. And are you guys taking any steps to maybe ramp up the intensity a little bit? (Aaron Kasinitz) "You know what? You guys know how I do it. I don't know any other way. We go out early, and we get on the net. If we need throws after practice, we will. Certainly, we have a plan, between today up to next Tuesday will be our normal Wednesday practice to get going. We have a big day of practice tomorrow, and we get a lot of the individual work like we do every single day. I don't see any reason to change at this point. We're certainly aware that he hasn't taken a snap in however long it's been in a real game. I don't have any concerns there. Just the dropping back and throwing, we're getting good work with that today and tomorrow."
Everything QB Lamar Jackson has done now … Well, there were questions about whether he could do some of the things he's doing now. Why were you – even going back to the draft – why were you so confident that he was going to be able to do so many things that some people maybe didn't believe and that's why he dropped so far? (Jamison Hensley) "I would say it this way: I certainly wasn't the only one in this building. It goes all the way up. The way I view it is this: The man has had great success everywhere he's been playing quarterback. As a little guy in South Florida where it's super competitive, he lit the world on fire. And then he gets into high school, and they said, 'Well, we're going to have to move you to another position.' [He responds:] 'I'm playing quarterback.' He plays quarterback, and he lights the world on fire. Then he's looking at colleges and everybody is talking about playing another position, and he lights the world on fire at Louisville. If you look at the trends, you have to believe that his chance of success is pretty good. And there were certainly many things that he needed to work on, and we continue to work on, in terms of mechanics and just everything. It's a big jump. He's made that jump, and mostly because he works hard at it. But the talent and ability, I never question."
Are you at all surprised that QB Lamar Jackson has been able to do it so fast – in Year Two, to make that jump like you're talking about and now being the likely MVP? (Ryan Mink)"The only thing that surprises me with Lamar [Jackson] is almost every day, almost every game, he drops my jaw. And I don't want to ever lose that. You don't want to ever lose that fact that … I always say to him, the two worst kinds of players to coach are the player that does nothing that I coach, and the player that does only what I coach. At some point, you let your great natural ability go and you make one of those runs that gets replayed over and over and goes viral, right? That's the only time I'm surprised by him. I'm not surprised by his work ethic. I'm not surprised by his leadership. I'm not surprised that he can throw the ball. I'm not surprised that he's leading the team to wins. I'm not surprised by any of that – just those few plays."
Those plays, just kind of watching his skillset over time, has it recalibrated your understanding of what's possible from a quarterback in this league? (Robert Mays) "I've had the great fortune of being around some really good players in this league. Every one of those great players that I've ever been around makes one of those plays every day. A player of his caliber, every day we're on the practice field, everybody has to walk off the field and know that you practiced. You have to do something or make a throw, or just be so good. Maybe it's not one of those wild plays, but you were so good today that everybody is saying, 'You practiced.' And he certainly is capable of that. That's the standard we talk about a lot."
I think it was before the Patriots game, QB Lamar Jackson did a sitdown interview with Mike Tirico where they got to the topic of his grip and the unusual intricacies of it. Is that something that you, as a coach, have had to adjust to, just the nuances, the mechanics? Or is it just something where if he's comfortable throwing it, it's repeatable, you're fine? (Jonas Shaffer) _"I researched it quite a good little bit, talked to peers, looked at a lot of film of a lot of great quarterbacks, and became more and more comfortable with it, realized that it wasn't maybe what you initially think it is. And then exactly what you talked about, developing the consistency and the repeatability with how he does it. And that's not just in how he grips a football. I tell him all the time, 'We're going to be you. Be the best version of you.' There's no book I know of anywhere sitting on a self that says, 'This is the way you play NFL football.' We're just playing football, and we're doing it his way."(Reporter: "Was that with Kurt Warner, with other guys, too?")_ "Yes. Terry Bradshaw, a bunch of guys. And he's not on the point [of the football]. There are guys who have been on the point."
There have been questions before, you mentioned at almost every level, there are people who thought QB Lamar Jackson should change positions. I know your job doesn't look at the big picture, but when you think about his success, do you think that that will affect future generations of scouts and high school coaches as they monitor quarterbacks? (Aaron Kasinitz) "That's hard for me to say. I would hope so. I hope he's transcending some thought. I don't know what people … If you live in a box, then you only look for a traditional – whatever that means – NFL quarterback, or a traditional NFL wide receiver, or a traditional 'this is what they have to have,' measure-wise or ability-wise or skillset-wise. And he's unique. He's unique with some of the things he can do. I would note that his uniqueness, talent-wise, is not why we're having great success and he's having great success. It's because he works hard, and he's competitive, and it's extremely important to him. That's why we're having success. The talent helps along the way. It's a big part of it. But that's not why he's having success."
What is QB Lamar Jackson like in a classroom, and how do you see him learn best? (Ryan Mink) "Diligent, he's thorough. Like most guys I've been around, he's visual. He wants to see it, likes to see the film. The pictures and the drawings are one thing, but if I can show him a visual representation of what it is, that helps. And then the walk-throughs, Coach [John Harbaugh] does a great job of getting us out there to walk-through plays. I think most guys are that way. Once they feel their body do it and see the actual space of how things work, that's usually when it's best."
How do you keep the momentum and success of QB Lamar Jackson continuing in the postseason? (Dawn White) "The best way to do it is do what we're doing this week. You just go work. I really don't know any other way. There's no special formula. The way we got on the roll is just coming to work every day and trying to get better today. And then we'll come in tomorrow, and we'll try to get better tomorrow. There's no magic formula, all of a sudden, [where] we're in the playoffs and you're going to flip a switch and do something you haven't done all year long. Every game is important in this league. They just have a different level of importance now."
CB Marlon Humphrey
On how happy he was to see CB Marcus Peters' contract extension: "Really excited. I told him I was really happy that he signed it, just because, like I said earlier, when he signed here, the first thing I noticed was how many interceptions he had. I was like, 'I wonder how he does that?' And just from the knowledge he's given me and the talking he does on the field, I'm happy to be with him for however many, three, four more years, however many more years, just to learn from him and play alongside another great corner."
On if it has been exciting to see all of the contract extensions the Ravens have signed this year and the way the organization has set up the defense beyond this year:"Yes, it's been really good. The cost has been signing guys away, and all the guys we've signed are great players. So, it's been good to know we have some … Unlike last year, it was a lot of, 'Who are we going to sign?' and this and that. It's good to know we have a lot of guys already signed. I remember when 'Dub' [Eric Weddle] got released last year, I was at a track meet, and I was like, ['Woah.']. So, hopefully we won't have too many of those this year."
On the process of figuring out how to work with players who join in the middle of the season: "I can't really remember exactly for all the guys, but with Marcus [Peters], when he came in, he more helped us restructure, especially in the secondary, the way he was talking and communicating. Chuck [Clark] was a big voice and getting us lined up with things, and when Marcus came, he was another big, huge voice that was able to really help us. It wasn't like he came in and we had to figure out how he worked. He kind of came in and told us, 'Let's do it like this and this and that.' So, for him, it's just been a great addition."
On how he and his teammates are preparing mentally and physically for the playoffs, and the excitement in the locker room: "[We're] preparing this week, mainly just going against each other, trying to get better with ourselves, not so much focusing on our opponent. And then the excitement in the locker room, it's great. We had a very vocal practice today, a little chirping back and forth today. So, it was really fun. It was really fun. I can't go into too many details, but it was a good practice today. It was really fun."
On if he welcomes being on the team that everybody is shooting for and if that is a good place to be in:"Yes, I guess it's great. We played some good ball in the regular season. Going into this new season, there's really not a favorite. Everybody has a fair shot to win it all. So, we just have to take it week by week. You don't really get another win, so you have to win out if you want to get there."
On how different today's practice felt compared to a usual practice, and if practice is doing its job keeping the team sharp and locked in:"Today's practice was just different, because you know you don't really have an opponent, yet. A lot of people, bye week, might take the whole week off or whatever. But [John Harbaugh] came and told us, 'It's not really time to rest.' [Matthew] Judon echoed that, too, 'It's not really time to rest. It's time to get a little bit better.' And we all went out there with a great attitude, thinking, 'Let's just try to get better today, tomorrow, and then get two days off and then come back and get ready to do it.' So, sometimes to get yourself going, you just have to talk a little trash to the offense. And then they score, and they celebrate, so we just had a lot of fun today."
On if he was talking trash at practice today: "I was. Lamar [Jackson] has been kind of sick lately. He threw a little incompletion. I was like, 'Where's the Pepto-Bismol?' (laughter) So, it was a lot of chirping like that. It was fun."
On the process of moving to the slot position and if it is something that cornerbacks can get better at with practice: "Definitely. I remember when, I guess, I first kind of got in the slot, Coach was like, 'Hey, we want you to kind of look at some nickel stuff.' And I was like, 'Uh, I'll try it.' And it's definitely been different. Just the different breaks and angles to the football, and everything's been really different. I remember when Jimmy [Smith] was hurt for a while, and it was me and Marcus [Peters] at corner. And then he [Smith] came back, and my dad called me and was like, 'Who do you think is going to play nickel when Jimmy comes back?' And I'm like, I was talking for like five minutes like, 'We'll move this guy, blah blah blah.' And then at the end, I was like, 'I think I'm going to be playing nickel.' (laughter) For me, it was a big adjustment, just because I never really thought I could get in there and move too well. I had to learn a little bit more of the playbook. But it's really made me see the game a lot better, because I already know what the corner is doing, and then on the nickel, I know how the corner is going to play it. I try to play it to where when I was at corner, you have to think, how do you want your nickel to play? And I kind of try to get on the same page as the corner. It's been a new twist for me, but I've been doing alright with it for now. But I'm definitely happy [for] when Tavon [Young] comes back and he gets back in that spot and I'm back outside."
On if the nickel blitzes trigger a different part of his football brain that he didn't expect to have as active as it has been this season:"Yes, I feel like a little linebacker a little bit, coming off the edge. But it's not too fun when those linemen see you and then you have to … Those guys are big. Those guys are strong. I mess with Orlando [Brown Jr.] and Ronnie [Stanley] all the time, like, 'You guys couldn't block me.' But those guys block me all the time in the game. (laughter)So, maybe I'm not as strong as I think I am. The blitzing has definitely been different, but with 'Wink' [Don Martindale], the way we call our plays, it's a lot of it. So, the better you can get at it, it can only help the team."
On why CB Jimmy Smith is so important to the secondary and how much Smith has meant to him personally as a veteran: "For me, Jimmy [Smith], he's a big, long corner. He's had his fair share of injuries here and there at not the best moments, but when you have a guy that's that big and can run, it's kind of … The way our defense is set up, you want a guy that can be able to cover and cover one-on-one, and Jimmy has always been able to do that. He really wins at the line, so it gives a lot of time for the rush to get to the quarterback. Since I've been … I remember the first time I saw him, I thought he was like a linebacker or something. What he does at the line is just really good, and that's been one of the things I've been trying to focus on. You have the speed, I have the speed, to just run with guys, but you don't want to put all that stress on just running. You want to win at the line, give the rush – [Matthew] Judon and all those guys – some time to go get the quarterback. Usually, when you just jam the guy, it can throw off the timing of the throw."
On how much pride is taken in knowing that the blitz leaves the secondary on an island and the defense can be that aggressive:"It's tough. The best thing is, it's just not really a secret. You know 'Wink' [Don Martindale] is going to dial it up, call some blitzes here and there. You know you're really not going to have any help. Even if you are a middle-field safety there, he's only going to do so much. So, it puts a lot of stress, but I think 'Wink' said it before, 'Harbs' [John Harbaugh] has said it before: For our defense to be able to be successful, you have to have guys that can cover really well. I think, looking at Marcus' [Peters] contract, if you can do that in this defense, it'll pay off in the long run."
On how much he credits John Harbaugh for the great locker room this season: "Echoing off what [assistant head coach/pass coordinator/wide receivers David] Culley said, it really does trickle down from Coach [John] Harbaugh. I was in here [when Culley was] talking about the wide receivers not complaining about not getting the ball, that's extremely rare. You see, we run the ball, get the rushing record, and nobody is really complaining about not catching the ball. Harbaugh comes in here, he makes most of the meetings fun, and we have a lot of fun. But the biggest thing that I think Harbaugh does, when it's time to work, we work. When it's time to have a good time, we can have a good time in a meeting here and there. And even things like when we win, we have little 'Food Truck Tuesdays' or whatever. [It's] just a token, reward, and you can bring your family; they can come and eat a meal. It's very family-cultured around here, and that just helps everything mesh well. When you put family in the locker room, put it on the walls, 'team' and all those things, then it's a coach that really echoes it and really wants it like that. I think everyone just kind of jumps on the train."
On how different RB Mark Ingram II is on the field compared to what he had seen before:"I actually didn't know he was so animated. I guess I saw a little bit with him at the Saints, but he's brought some great chemistry to this offense of just having a good time. But like I said, when it's time to work, you work. There are a lot of different characters on the team, and Mark [Ingram] is probably the biggest of them all. 'Tuck' [Justin Tucker], you just go down the line. I think the biggest thing is everybody is themselves. However way you act, you can come in here and act how you want to act, and nobody will really say anything to you. That's really good when you can just live free around [your] team and coaches and everybody just accepts you for who you are. Mark has come in, and we've embraced him, and it's been really great."
On if it helps that the Ravens have recently played the Texans and the Bills: "Yes, it definitely helps. Playing against an opponent one time, you get a feel for their guys individually, and you get a feel for their guys as a whole. It definitely helps. But at this point, we're going to line them up. Whoever we get, we will get after them and execute."
On if he won't think about retirement at all until the season's over: "Yes, it's never been about me. Like I said, I've always been ... I feel fortunate to be a part of this organization, to be drafted here, and the type of success we've had in all the games that I've been able to be a part of. I'm just taking it one day at a time. The most important thing is our next opponent. The retirement stuff – we'll wait until we're done playing, assess that stuff when that comes. But right now, it's about playing football at a high level and getting after it."
On how much it pushes the team to improve with a superstar like QB Lamar Jackson being on the roster: "It definitely does. It's a trickle-down effect. When you have guys like that making plays, that's contagious. They talk about contagious players. He definitely is [one]. If you have guys playing at that level, you get other guys that want to try to get on that level as much as they can. So, you get that extra two, three percent, even if it's one percent out of each guy, and then [when] you compound that with 53 guys, it does make a difference, for sure. And I believe our entire team has done that. Everybody wants to play. There's something extra to play for. That extra shove or that extra two-yards-down-the-field block is going to spring somebody for 60 yards instead of 20. That compound interest is huge."
On how impressed he is with how much QB Lamar Jackson has improved from last year: "I felt like this year we were going to have some growing pains with a young quarterback in his second year, and that's just part of the game, just because it's hard to win every single Sunday. And he has not had that. Like I said, he has been on the ascent, and there has been no lag. And he has gotten it done many different ways, and like I said, it's been impressive to watch and be a part of it. Credit to him and him staying humble and staying hardworking, and that's the type of guy he is. He's not taking his foot off the gas. He's not worried about next week. You put him on the field, he's going to go do his thing, and we're behind him."
On QB Lamar Jackson's presence in the locker room: "He's calm and collected. He's confident in what he does. He's not putting himself out there, talking too much. His play speaks for itself. That's what he does, and that's the way I love [for] a young player. We have too many young guys in the NFL that haven't done enough and think they're going to showboat and do this and that. No, put your play on the field. Let that speak for itself. You will gain respect that way, and he has done that every single week. His play is what he does every single Sunday."
On T Orlando Brown Jr.'s progression: "He's a hardworking kid. He's a great kid. He loves football. He loves being a part of it, loves the camaraderie of the guys. I'm happy to play next to him. He's really improved in his second year and just taken that next step for sure. You have a lot of room to improve in your second year. You're a young, raw player, and I feel like he's taken those steps. He's coming into his own. He played a really good game versus the Steelers. [He] got after those guys. I'm happy for the kid. He's playing really well."