TUESDAY MEDIA AVAILABILITY: BYE WEEK
Special Teams Coordinator/Associate Head Coach Jerry Rosburg
Jerry, CB Anthony Levine has been a core special teams player for a couple years now. When a guy like him gets an opportunity at his position, whether its offense or defense, do you take a little pride in that knowing the hard work he's put in as a special teams player over the years? (Luke Jones) "Yes, I do. That's a very good observation. We've had a number of guys like that over the years. I think back upon our arrival with Jameel McClain becoming a starter and becoming a great player for us. Dannell Ellerbe is another, and there's Corey Graham. I mean, I could go on – 'B.A.' [Brendon Ayanbadejo] played a lot of sub-defense for us. This is something we actually preach, and we hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well. It's my belief – perhaps it's a slanted belief – but it's my belief that if you can be a good special teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. And you'll find guys that – much like Anthony Levine – that will develop his skills on offense and defense while he's playing special teams. He's done a great job of practicing playing corner in these last months that he's moved to that position. It's not a surprise to me that he's developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary."
Jerry, [head coach] John [Harbaugh] talked yesterday about using the bye week for self-evaluation and watching tape and all that stuff. I know you're always tinkering in the people you have on your coverage teams or changing week by week, but where do you see areas where you really would like to see improvement along with your group? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It's something that we're always chasing. If you look at our numbers – which everybody can see those – you look at our numbers, an area where we need to improve is our kickoff return average allowed is higher than we'd like it to be. One of the reasons for that is when teams are bringing the ball out from 6, 7 yards deep in the end zone, they're going to get some yards even if they only get to the 20-yard line. That's an area where we have to continue to strive for better production. Our punt team has, as you also know from the start of the year to the current point, has improved week by week. We're able to limit yards on punt returns, but our numbers are still not where we want them to be. And in the return game, it's something that even though our kickoff return numbers are very high, we see areas where we can get more. I told the players the other day, 'I think you all see this. There's still meat on the bone here. We need to get more from what we see.' So, we're going to keep chasing that. We're going to practice next week and try to perfect some things and, as you mentioned, personnel is a part of that. Our punt return game still isn't where we want it to be. We had a big one the other day that we got called back, and real honestly, that one should've been in the end zone – if we had done it right, it would've been. It's a constant chase. We're always trying to get better, and the way we look at it, if the fundamentals are really good, then typically the play is really good. The other area that we always address this time of year is we study penalties – ours and the opponents' – and we've had a tendency these last two weeks to get fouls, and we have to knock it off, real honestly. Unnecessary fouls really hurt our team. We had a 52-yard penalty on that punt return. That's something we have to eliminate."
It seems like P Sam Koch is having a strong season. Where have you seen him improve his game from last year to this year? (Ryan Mink) "In my opinion, Sam has been a top punter in this league for a long time. He's a guy that every year he looks at his game – as I mentioned to all of you so many times in this circle – every year he looks at his game and sees where he can improve. I think what's happened is Sam has made a couple of really big plays in recent games – the 69-yard punt is an example; the punt down to the 1-yard line that Kamar [Aiken] did a great job of catching. And some of it is just opportunity, and he's had some opportunities and he's delivered. He's a clutch player. He's a fine punter. He has skills that belie his numbers sometimes, and we recognize that in our building. We love him. He's our guy."
How many different punts does he have in his bag? Because I've just seen a number of different ones. (Ryan Mink) "I haven't counted them, actually. (laughter) That's a good question. Well, he has a lot of different skills. I'll just say that."
Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak
Gary, you weren't here last year, but the play of the offensive line was sort of a hot-button issue with [Ravens offensive line coach] Juan [Castillo] and the previous coach, Andy Moeller, too. How has it been like working with [Ravens quarterbacks coach] Rick Dennison and Juan and the system of the offensive line? How has it all matched with what you've done previously and what Juan was teaching here? (Jeff Zrebiec) "First of all, I think the relationship has been very good. One of the things about Juan's background [is that he was] with Andy [Reid] all those years, so we speak the same language from the standpoint of protections and those types of things. That was an easy transition. And then obviously, having Rick [Dennison], I'm with Rick every day because Rick is with Joe [Flacco], but Rick's background as an offensive line coach is a big plus to what we're doing. We had two big areas that I know when I came here talking to John [Harbaugh] that needed to be addressed and improved – protecting the quarterback and running the football – and I think we've made some improvements in those areas, done some good things. Obviously, there are other areas that we have to improve upon to move forward, but I think our work has been good. We've been banged up up front some, and we played through some of that. We're getting healthy again from that standpoint. I think that's a big plus. I think it's been positive. We can always get better, but I think it's been very positive."
Gary, from your standpoint, what are teams doing to WR Steve Smith Sr. to try to limit his production? (Aaron Wilson) "I don't know that they've been doing anything. We've got some pressure here lately, having to do some things from that standpoint. I think Steve was still targeted last week seven or eight times, but we've had some other guys making some plays, too. Marlon [Brown] has really played pretty well; he's made some plays the last few weeks. Kamar's [Aiken] play continues to pick up. So, the ball is getting spread around. 'Juice' [Kyle Juszczyk] had what, three catches last week, so it's getting spread around a little bit, but I think that's the nature of the game. I think Torrey [Smith] is playing as well as he's played all year the last few weeks. I think that's just the nature of the game, but we just keep plugging. Steve [Smith Sr.] is working hard; he's doing a great job. I have to always find ways to get guys the ball. I wish I could get them all the perfect amount every week, but those things usually don't work that way. You have to get all of your playmakers the ball. Steve is doing a good job, and hopefully we get him back on the track that he was on earlier in the year. But he's playing hard, working hard."
And how do you feel being a year removed from having some health issues? (Adam Vorce) "I think I'm all right. Do I look all right? (laughter) This league will give you some health issues. (laughter) No, I feel fine. I'm fine. It's Week 10 in the NFL. I think everybody is a little tired right now. We have the bye week this week, so I know I'm looking forward to it just like everybody else, getting a little rest and getting fresh for these last six weeks. But I've really enjoyed myself. I've been very challenged trying to put in a new offense and do it really quickly. I told the players yesterday, I know I'm asking a lot of them and a lot of the coaches for the first time around, but I'm in a hurry to get there, and I know they are, too. But I've enjoyed myself. I'm really looking forward to this run we have coming. [We have] some big games to play in and we need to play well."
It looks like the past three games, if you're looking at especially the numbers with QB Joe Flacco, [he's] maybe not playing as well as he did earlier in the season. Are you seeing that, and is there maybe a reason why he hasn't played as well lately? (Jamison Hensley) "That's kind of what I'm looking at right now. They came and knocked on my door and told me you were ready for me, but that's what I'm studying right now. You go through phases throughout the course of a season. Joe went through a really hot stage [for] about three or four weeks, [and] then we went through a stage here where we turned the ball over. We calmed that down last weekend, which is a big reason why we were able to be successful. But I'm trying to go back and really look at the things that he's very comfortable with and doing very well, and maybe some of the things I've asked him to do here over the course of a few weeks that maybe got him out of that comfort zone. I'm trying to find that as a coach as we get into these last six weeks [and] get him as comfortable as I can. But Joe is working really hard. We have to clean up some of our decision-making, and I think I can help him with that by how I call plays, too. So, that's what I'm kind of trying to really check myself probably first before I go to Joe and say, 'OK, this is what we're going to do.' That's kind of what I'm trying to do right now."
Gary, what have you seen from FB Kyle Juszczyk? This is his first year as a lead blocker. (Aaron Wilson) "Through our evaluations, which we're about halfway through right now, I think Kyle has played well as a first-time starter. I think he's been very square in the run game giving our running backs a chance. He's made some plays in the pass game. I'd like to see him make some more, because the times he does catch the ball, it's very productive. I'm looking for ways to get more productive, get more involved with him. I know he's played well for [Ravens special teams coordinator/associate head coach] Jerry [Rosburg], and I can't speak for special teams, but I know for this football team, he's doing a lot. He's our only fullback – he's our guy – so we ask a lot of him. But I think for us to be successful, I think we continue to get 'Juice' involved with what we're doing. I'm very pleased with how he's played."
As you self-scout this week, what are some areas or what are the key areas that you say, "We want to improve in these?" (Ryan Mink) "The past three or four weeks, the two places that we've failed [are] third downs, which we had been a very good third-down team through the first six, seven weeks; we've tailed off the last few weeks. We struggled, so we're trying to … We have to get that back on course, because that's what keeps you on the field. And then protecting the ball has been a big issue, but we did bounce back last week. We can get that handled. So, those are a couple things we're addressing right now, but really, I think the most important thing you do right now is you look and say, 'OK, this is what we do well, and we're fixing to go on a big six-week run here. So, let's make sure we stay true to what we're doing well.' And that's what John [Harbaugh] wants us to do, so that's kind of what I'm really trying to figure out and isolate down. When the players come back Monday, [I want to] make sure I have them very comfortable as we move forward, because we have some tough places to play and some tough people to play."
Gary, I know coaches are never satisfied – there's always something you can do better – but are you pleased with this offense and the direction it's heading? Or are you concerned as you head into the bye week? (Jeff Zrebiec) "You're always concerned about things that you're not doing well. I told the guys yesterday [that] I think when you look back on 10 weeks, we've had some really good days. We've had some big, big days offensively. We've had some struggles here over the course of the last four or five weeks. But the thing I do like is we've been very consistent from the standpoint of … I'm saying our mentality, when it's been good, we keep working and we don't get too ahead of ourselves. And when we've had some rough days, we go back to work and try to fix it. So, I like the mentality from that standpoint. I think it's very important right now that we settle down and say, 'This is what we are.' Sometimes as a coach, when you're up there looking at film all night, sometimes you get a little ahead of yourself and ahead of your players, and I'm trying to make sure I don't do that right now. But I don't think we're even close to what we can get done this year, if that's what you're asking me. I know there's a lot of improvement for us and ways that we can help our team win, so that's what we're trying to stay focused on."
This was RB Bernard Pierce's biggest week in a number of weeks. What goes into deciding between him and RB Lorenzo Taliaferro? (Jon Meoli) "That's a good question. We know who our 'one' is. Our 'one' is playing really well.* *No. 29 [Justin Forsett] has played extremely well. We've been bouncing back and forth between Lorenzo and Bernard. Sometimes it has something to do with special teams, sometimes it has something to do with just feel – like what type of game we're going to play, who we're going to play. We're continuing to look at that. I'm trying to see what Bernard does best [and] what Lorenzo does best. Lorenzo has had flashes as a young player. Bernard has had some flashes, too, [but] missed some time with health. We're going to need them all, and I just want to make sure when they do step on the field after Justin, whoever that person is, I'm doing what they do best. I think they will all be involved. Who will be the two each week? It's probably going to continue to change."
Gary, I know you said back in August you guys want to be physical running the football. When it comes to running in short-yardage situations, do you feel like you guys [need to improve]? (Clifton Brown) "That's been a disappointment for us. We've really struggled in some short-yardage situations. Last week was a big improvement for us – we made some plays in short yardage. But for us up front with some of the guys we have a chance to run behind, we should be better in that phase. If we were much better in the short-yardage phase, we'd be a much better third-down team, too. You're right. You're dead-on right there. That's something that we're very focused on right now. In this league, if it's third-and-1, you have to be able to say, 'We're coming right here and we're going to get a yard.' We haven't been able to do that right now, so we're trying to get that corrected and make sure we're doing the right things."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees
Your thoughts on how CB Anthony Levine and some of the new guys played in their first game for you? (Aaron Wilson) "I thought very well. [I am] very pleased with really the whole group back there –Anthony [Levine], certainly [is] one of them going from safety to corner. That's not an easy transition, but he did a great job, I thought. Danny Gorrer coming in [and] only being with us for about four days of practice, I thought did a really good job. Really, I thought the whole crew back there … For the big part, they didn't give up any big plays. They gave up one 20-yard pass there towards the end. And [a] big play for us is a 20-yarder or more, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and going 21 [yards]."
**I know CB Anthony Levine was a guy who started practicing at corner even during training camp at a couple points with some injuries, but how did you see him improve over the last couple months for him to finally get the kind of opportunity that he did Sunday? *(Luke Jones) *"Really, what we saw on him was actually down on the card team going against the offense. What happens there is you get an opportunity … When Asa [Jackson] got hurt, and 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] was banged up, you have a chance to move guys around without really using our reps. You can put them down there and put them in a position to play corner against Gary [Kubiak's] offense and kind of evaluate them that way. There are a lot of times I'd be upstairs when they guys [were] having a 4:30 afternoon meeting, and I'd go upstairs and look at the offensive practice tape to evaluate our guys playing different positions to see if maybe this is going to be a fit, or [if] there's no chance of this. We just thought watching him every day compete against the offense kind of in that situation that, 'Hey, this guy could possibly help us at corner.' And then when Jimmy [Smith] went down, there was no doubt we needed somebody, and so we put him over there and really felt like he competed as well as anybody and deserved to start."
Dean, this organization has drafted really well mostly over the years, and they've had a good track record of undrafted guys, getting those diamonds in the rough. Now guys in the middle of that category – guys like CB Anthony Levine or S Will Hill, the young journeymen – how tough is it to get a guy like that in his mid-20s, he has bounced around the waiver wire a bit, to then come in and contribute? (Joe Platania) "I don't think it's as hard as you think. I think they won an opportunity. I remember when we got Corey Graham a couple years ago. I don't think anybody really thought he was going to play DB. He was a special teams guy, and all of a sudden he ends up being a starting corner and ends up being starting nickel for us. I think those guys won an opportunity. I think sometimes what happens is you get pigeonholed into being a special teams player, being this, being that and being a corner, being a safety, whatever it might be. How many times have you seen outside 'backers who are defensive linemen in college? It seems like all the guys I ever had in New England were all defensive ends in college that played outside backer. If we kept them … I remember Mike Vrabel couldn't play at Pittsburgh because he wasn't big enough to be a D-end. He was good enough to be an outside linebacker for a pretty good team. I think sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that. Give them an opportunity, [and] then it's up to them to run with it. I just think that's a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it."
Dean, how pleased were you with the contributions that you're getting from your overall rookie class? (Garrett Downing) "I think it's very, very good. I think the scouts, everybody did a heck of a job in the draft. I know everybody is kind of looking at C.J. [Mosley] as the prime candidate for that, but really Zach Orr … There are a bunch of guys that are really doing a great job. Terrence Brooks is starting to come along. And the other thing is some of the trades and the other things that we've done, like Will Hill and some of the other guys we've brought in, [like] Lawrence Guy … Here's a guy that not too many people knew much about. He has been contributing for us for four or five weeks going in there and being able to play five-technique when [Chris] Canty was out, and then also this week as a backup and gets that big fumble down there on the goal line. It's not only the draft class. I think our scouting department, Ozzie [Newsome] and that whole group, has just done a good job of getting guys that we need. You can't foresee any injuries. You can't help it when you're short at a position, [and] all of a sudden you lose three five-techniques in training camp and you lose a couple corners. You can't foresee that, but that being out of it, I would say that they've done a great job of that."
S Matt Elam only played 15 snaps last week. What do you kind of see as his role on the team right now? (Jamison Hensley) "To me, the situation with Matt [Elam] is I think everybody is reading a little more into it than we certainly are. He's a starting safety for us; they all are. What we've tried to do – I kind of mentioned this a week or two ago – is we need to find guys and what they do best and then put them into that role, and every week that role could change. He could play 40 snaps one week, and he can play 15 the next. A lot of it is based on what the game plan is going in against a certain team on offense, a certain quarterback, how much we're going to play different packages. We had nine different packages for that game on Sunday. I think we probably played six or seven of them. And then there are some guys like Jeromy Miles who goes in and just plays a couple [of snaps], but he's in a certain package. He's actually in a couple of them. So, it really just depends on the packages that we're using more than it is whether a guy is a starter or not a starter. As far as we're concerned, they're all starters. It's like Elvis [Dumervil], 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs], Pernell [McPhee] and all those four and Courtney [Upshaw] out there: [You ask] 'OK, who's the starting outside 'backer?' All of them. They all have their role, and they all play that role. It's kind of the same way with the safeties. I think we're blessed to have the safeties we have. I told you once before: I think that nobody is that much standing out from the other guys, so we're trying to find a place to play everybody and try to put them in their best position. So, I wouldn't read too much into the number of plays that Matt got."
Dean, overall up to this point, how pleased have you been with your guys tackling after catches, and is that something you feel like with this week now maybe it'll be what you want it to be going down the stretch? (Clifton Brown) "I think it was really good except for one play in the Pittsburgh game we weren't really happy about that went the distance. But the guys are making a conscientious effort of doing it, and we've had fewer missed tackles this year than we did a year ago by a large margin, but we still have too many. If we have any, we have too many. This last game, though, I think sometimes when we don't really emphasize it during the week, sometimes we back off a little bit. And some of it's a credit to the teams that we're playing, too. No. 84 [Antonio Brown] for Pittsburgh isn't too bad. But overall, I'd say I'm pleased with the way that we're tackling. One of the things about tackling though is if you're an aggressive defense, I've always been of the mindset that if you miss a tackle, being aggressive and being in the right way and leverage it right, sometimes to me that's not a missed tackle. I'd rather that than see a guy go up there and stop and [say], 'I have to try to make this tackle,' and then the guy runs by him or gains 10 more yards. I'd rather see … If we're playing well as a unit of 11 guys, If I miss the tackle, but I turn it back in and I'm aggressive, the next guy ought to be there help me. Sometimes out there when you're on the corner as a defensive back, it's one-on-one and there is nobody else around, you just have to get him down any way possible. But I'm really pleased with the way the guys are doing."
**As you look to self-scout this week, what are some areas you think that you say, "These are the areas we need to improve on?" *(Ryan Mink) *"Big plays. We have to continue [the performance from] this last game. I can't remember what game it was – Pittsburgh, second game, right? No big plays. How'd it end up? How'd this game end up? No big plays. It's not magic. There's no secret. If you don't give up big plays generally in a game … You watch that Monday night game last night, [and] what was it? Big plays after big plays. People are putting up big numbers, because they're putting up big plays. Make a team drive the distance on you, and maybe they'll make a mistake. Even if sometimes what happens is you get a penalty, and all of a sudden now it's second-and-15. Well, that's a whole different game. Let them make the mistakes. Make them drive the field on you. They're going to complete some out routes. I wasn't upset with any of those comebacks that the new quarterback from the Titans threw. [Zach Mettenberger] threw a couple good balls right on the sideline, guy catches it, [and I said], 'Hey, play the next play.' Those are not the plays that are going to kill you. The ones over the top do. If I had one thing that I'd say about self-scout, that's it. I'm upstairs right now, Patrick [Gleason, assistant director of PR] had to come up and get me, because I was deep into it, big plays and why they happed. And that's what we really have to emphasize here in the off week."
CB Danny Gorrer got an interception this past week. It's still only the second interception – just looking at the whole season – it's only the second interception by a defensive back this year. Is that something that you think about? (Jamison Hensley) "Absolutely, we do. Sometimes it's a little bit of … When you're playing a lot of man coverage, you're not going to get a lot of interceptions. You're going to get more interceptions when you play zone. We were in zone on that one. But to say that's not an effort that coach [Steve] Spagnuolo and coach [Chris] Hewitt and all those guys are always emphasizing would be wrong. We do. We want to have more interceptions than we've had. I will take a little bit of the side that part of that, too, is a secondary working together all the time helps a whole lot, too, and communication [is key]. And when you have different moving parts – which we have kind of had in this first 10 weeks, a lot of different ways – sometimes that's not great, but that's not an excuse. We need to get more interceptions, and I know that the coaches are emphasizing that."
You've had a lot of moving parts on the defensive line, too, but they've been one of the best units in the league stopping the run. What's you arrestment of DT Haloti Ngata and those guys so far? (Jon Meoli) "Haloti [Ngata] is having a really standout year. I don't know tackles for loss and all that kind of stuff … I know sacks pretty much is usually kind of the outside guys a little more than the inside guys. But, part of the sack thing is because he gets a great push in the pocket. And [the Titans] were in a running game except for the first drive, which we got out-positioned on a couple plays – it wasn't necessarily Haloti. But other than that – [after] those two drives – the three quarters was unbelievable football that he played up there. He's a great leader. I think Brandon Williams is playing very, very good as a young nose guard. I really like the play that we're getting out of [Chris] Canty, Lawrence Guy, DeAngelo [Tyson]. [Timmy] Jernigan is in there, too. He is really an active player. So, I think we have a little bit of depth there. The other thing that goes along with that there is a little bit of competition, too. You better not back off too far, or somebody is catching you. Competition is always good for everybody."
With DT Haloti Ngata, is it kind of the fact that he's healthy this year? I know in the past he has been banged up at times. Are we seeing him at full strength right not? (Garrett Downing) "I think that's probably part of it. But the other part of it is that in past years, we've also had to play [Haloti Ngata] at nose, play him at three-technique and play him at five-technique, and we really haven't moved him this year. [It] makes a whole lot of difference up front there. Believe it or not, things go on really fast in that little guard-to-guard area and a little slower the farther out that you go, and there's a lot of difference in that. When you take a guy, move him out to five [technique] one week and then move him back in there inside the next week, it's hard. It's hard to do that. So, I really think part of [Ngata's success] is because we've had the ability to leave guys in the same position and not move them all over."
Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo
How pleased are you with the way things have gone in general for your unit this year compared to 12 months ago? (Joe Platania) "I'm not talking about 12 months ago. I'm talking about Rick Wagner doing a great job at right tackle; I'm talking about Marshal Yanda having a Pro Bowl year; the great addition of Jeremy Zuttah – he has really done a great job for us; the way 'K.O' [Kelechi Osemele] finishes every play is incredible. I don't know that there's anybody in the NFL that finishes better than he does. And Eugene [Monroe], how he's learning to, 'play like a Raven.' And really, the great job that the scouting department did bringing in James Hurst, who played the left tackle position for I think four games, and we were 3-1. Then they drafted John Urschel out from Penn State, he came in, and he has done a good job. I like to talk about that."
What improvement have you seen from G/T Rick Wagner to be a starter this year as opposed to last year when he was more of a blocking tight end? (Luke Jones) "I think what happens is as you mature … I think Rick [Wagner] had such a good foundation coming from the University of Wisconsin. He's athletic. I think a lot people [knew] – our scouting department knew this – that he was a basketball player. Rick can dunk. Rick was a pretty good athlete coming out. [He] really works hard. Nobody works harder than Rick. He does a good job studying the game. So really, with those things, you knew he was going to be a good player."
You coached some good lines in all those years with the Eagles. What is it that stands out about this year's group? (Garrett Downing) "The work ethic. Everybody says, 'Everybody works hard.' You know what? Sometimes people work hard when you make them work hard. Coach [John] Harbaugh allows us to start 30 minutes before practice when the special teams start, and coach [Gary] Kubiak has all of us working during that time. So, it makes it a little easier, because everybody is working. We end up doing 30 minutes of fundamentals before anybody else even starts. For an offensive lineman, the most important part of practice is the fundamentals, because the offensive line position is a muscle memory thing. You do something, you do it over and over and over, and then what happens is it becomes natural. But if you don't get all those reps, it doesn't become natural, and that's what we talk about – consistency. So, the work ethic … Coach Harbaugh came from Philadelphia, too, so that work ethic that he has developed here, I think this group does a great job working and working together."
How fun has it been for you to have all these young offensive linemen, to be able to mold them? That's what everybody talks about with you in Philadelphia; it's working with those young linemen. (Ryan Mink) "As a coach and as a teacher, I think the best thing that a coach can do is develop his players. When you get them young from college – especially when they're not first-rounders; they're college free agents or fifth-rounders – and you get them to play and get them to play at a high level, it's a good feeling. It makes you feel good that they're able to take what you teach them, and then put it out on tape. Tape doesn't lie. It has really been a great feeling to see those guys. They work hard. They all love the game, and to see them perform … Especially what was awesome was seeing James Hurst – he's an undrafted kid come in and doing a good job – and John [Urschel] especially [in] the Tampa game when they both played together. It was awesome. We would meet on Friday mornings; we'd meet at 7 o'clock, 7:30 in the morning and go over some things. Friday I'd meet with John, and Saturday mornings I'd meet with James. But just the excitement … I was pretty pumped up just to see how they were going to do. It's exciting."
**Juan, as you review and spend this week looking at tape and kind of self-studying and evaluation, what are some of the areas where you see … Every one of the offensive linemen pretty much said, "We feel good about some stuff, but we feel like there are a lot of areas we can get better." *(Jeff Zrebiec) *"The key for offensive linemen is consistency – consistency in everything that we do in the run game, in our footwork, in our hand placement, in the pass protection, the way we set, the way we use our hands. Really, the thing that we did before we left on … Yesterday we met, and what I did is … I've been in the NFL now 20 years, and what I've learned is that as a coach you learn a lot from watching your players. You learn from some of the good things they do, and then they learn from some of the bad things, and what you do is you end up putting those things into drills. So, what I wanted to know from them is we went through everybody and everybody talked about [how to improve]. Marshal [Yanda] was actually first. I said, 'Marshal, just tell me what you think you need to improve on going forth as we get into this crunch time, really a critical part of the season.' And we went right down the line, and really, for me it was, 'OK, I listened to what I thought they needed, and I know what I think they need.' And [I] just [have] to make sure that when they come back, I have those drills ready and make sure that 30 minutes are being used wisely on the things that they need to do to improve and really create consistency. That's the key."
You don't want to talk about last year, but has this year been particularly gratifying with the improvement the group has shown? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Anytime you win, you're going to have fun. We're having fun. The guys are working. When I grew up, my mom always taught me that when you work hard, good things happen. The other thing is, everybody says that, but when you actually do it … When practice starts, I start my clock. And then after 30 minutes – after we finish doing our 30 minutes of individual – I look at my clock and it's 30, 31, 32, and I stop and I say, 'We're ready.' I know how important that is, and it's really a good feeling. The guys are working hard. You can go and do drill work and you can go halfway about it … You know how you have a job? You know when you really like your job? You know how you really go at it? And I really enjoy it. The guys are working really hard at the drills. So, you know as a coach – after 20 years – you know when a guy does a drill and they work hard at them, you know they're going to get better, and you know things are going to be good."
**Juan, you talked about 30 minutes before [practice], but you're typically also a little bit after as well. How much is the time after practice? *(Jamison Hensley) *"I think the important thing that happens is that I get the older guys before [practice]. They do the 30 minutes, so the younger kids – what I do is – I get them 15 minutes after practice, so they get their share, too, because it's hard. You don't have a lot of time, so a lot of times the young guys end up holding the shields for the older guys during those [first] 30 minutes. So, those starters actually work 30 minutes. The young kids don't get as much work in those 30 minutes, so what we do is we stay afterwards for 15 minutes. And then what we end up doing sometimes is – in between when the defense is working – we usually have an extra guy. That extra guy ends up doing … James or John end up doing extra drill work or Jah [Reid]. So, we're getting extra drill work when the defense is working."
**For young guys like T James Hurst and G/C John Urschel, sometimes it takes a long time for them to even get their chance. What does it do for them knowing that they have that experience? *(Jon Meoli) *"I think it's unbelievable – not just for them, but I think for the team, for the group, because injuries are going to happen. Coach Harbaugh talks about that. Injuries are part of the NFL. Those are just things that happen, and I think now everybody has confidence that John [Urschel] and James [Hurst] are going to do a good job. Heaven forbid if something happens to one of our guys, but if it does I think the whole offense knows – and Joe [Flacco] knows – that we'll be all right with James and John."
Secondary/Assistant Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo
[Ravens defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] was talking about some of the qualities you guys saw in CB Anthony Levine that made you make that shift to corner. What was it that you saw in him? (Aaron Wilson) "It's been great to see him develop. He was here, obviously, back in OTAs [organized team activities] and training camp as a safety. From a corner standpoint, if you can be playing corner after having learned a lot in the safety position about how it all pieces together, I think that's really helpful. But Anthony, I think we made this switch toward the end of training camp and certainly at the beginning of the season, and he just has run with it. He's a confident guy that competes, loves to practice, and he's passionate about the game. There's not a guy out there that he doesn't think he can cover. That's a good quality for a corner, and I thought he played a solid game on Sunday."
When you did actually feel, like throughout the year when you were watching him, [or] say, "This guy could possibly start for us?" (Jamison Hensley) "I didn't know that it would leap and jump quite as quickly as it did, but fortunately for us, he was ready to do that. Going back three, four weeks ago when he would do things in one-on-ones or certainly against our offense, as he was on the so-called 'look' team, you could see that he was gradually getting better and better. There were times when we said, 'Well, maybe we ought to slip him in there into games and get him ready,' but [as] the game gets going, you rely on the guys that you have. But we've had that in the back of our minds probably in the last two weeks where we've said, 'It could be time for Anthony.' And then of course we had the situation as such that it came a little bit quicker than we thought, and I don't think that anybody felt that when Anthony got his opportunity, it was going to be a start right away. But good for him – good for him."
Steve, what have you seen from S Will Hill? He was an established guy with the Giants, [came off] suspension, and now he's taking on a starting role. (Aaron Wilson) "That's not easy to do. He goes through training camp after he gets used to new teammates, because he wasn't here in the OTAs [organized team activities], and I thought he handled that really, really well. If for six weeks of sitting in a meeting room and all you do is look at tape and you listen to coaches talk, that gets frustrating. And I know it was long and frustrating for him, but he came out of the blocks really well. It took a little while for him to get the communication down, get the rust off and play some good football, but we think right now what we have is a guy that is experienced – obviously, like you said, he played in New York – and he's a big-bodied guy that can run real well. I thought the play he made on Sunday in the man-to-man coverage where he knocked the ball down was really, really key. It was a third-down play, and we need a lot of that. We need to be making plays back there, and he has done that."
How do you see these guys kind of continuing this good pace with CB Anthony Levine and with CB Danny Gorrer coming in? A week ago, Baltimore fans were really concerned, but now they are happy with them. But how do you … (Ryan Mink) "They weren't the only ones that were concerned. (laughter) This guy right here was really concerned, too. *(laughter) *Well, we go forward. I'll tell you what – I just got done talking to [Ravens offensive line coach] Juan [Castillo] – to me, the two positions, the two units that have to have the best chemistry – cohesiveness – are really the offensive line and the secondary. It's kind of taken us a while to do that, not by anybody's fault. There have been injuries and certainly the suspension with Will [Hill]. So, we've kind of mixed and matched it together. We'll see where it goes from here. We have a lot of good football players in that room, and if somebody is either struggling or somebody else has a package that they go in with, these guys have been able to step up and make plays. We certainly, overall, would like it to have been better. We were talking this morning about games that we haven't won or haven't played well on defense. It's really come back to one thing – it's been big plays over the top. We pride ourselves a lot in our room on not allowing that to happen. We've played against some pretty good football players and some pretty good quarterbacks, so it happens, but if we can eliminate those like we did on Sunday … We had one pass completion of 20 yards. That was the only one, and I'm a firm believer – I always have been – if you don't allow completions over 20 [yards and] you keep the yards after catch under 4, you have a pretty good chance of playing good defense, especially with our front."
Where do you think S Matt Elam … With the addition of S Will Hill, some of his playing time is going down. Where do you think his role is? (Jamison Hensley) "I think [Ravens defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] said this, and I would echo the same comment, that we have a bunch of starting safeties, and now we're getting to the point where we have a bunch of starting corners in that room. There is not one above the other. Matt is in that same situation. We've tried to get Matt in positions where he excels. For him, it's really down toward close to the line of scrimmage, so he plays a little bit more nickel. He's a better cover guy in that spot than I thought. There was one game – I think it was Carolina – Cam [Newton] made two perfect throws, Matt is in great shape, and so it happens, but that could've happened to anybody. But his speed gives us some things there at nickel, and certainly being a physical guy. In this league now, there are a lot of three wide receivers on first and second down – it's not just third down now. And they're not always going to throw the ball – they're going to run it as well. So, having Matt down there closer to the action helps us."
Steve, you have that familiarity with Saints TE Jimmy Graham and the challenges he presents. You have a little extra time to [prepare]. (Aaron Wilson) "We do. That's a good thing. I'm laughing, because we had a golf outing down there in New Orleans, and Jimmy and I were partnered up. He's not a great golfer, but he's a great football player. So, I was hoping maybe he was playing a little more football like he had golfed, but that isn't the case. He's a challenge, first of all, because of the size. He has a great, wide catch radius. Drew [Brees] knows how to get it to him. What I see on tape and what we've watched so far is exactly what I expected and what I had seen when I was a part of that organization. That's a good football team with a lot of weapons and a guy that makes the whole thing go that knows exactly what he's doing."
I know you've coached secondary in the past, but how challenging has this year been when you lose your two most experienced guys [in CBs Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith] – Webb for all of camp and the start of the year and Jimmy [now]? (Luke Jones) "And don't forget about Asa Jackson. Asa was playing as good as any of them, and we miss him a little bit. Hopefully, we get him back. We're going to miss those guys, and we missed 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] when he wasn't there, but guys have stepped up. We've tried to structure some things to help guys as they're getting their feet underneath them. The closest thing I can remember – I was talking about this the other day – in 2011, when we were in St. Louis, we had eight corners on Injured Reserve. You can't afford to lose anybody, and when you start losing them at one position, that's tough. When you lose them like that, that's really tough. We have the luxury of having guys … Kudos to [Ravens general manager and executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and [Ravens assistant general manager] Eric [DeCosta] in getting Danny [Gorrer]. And then Anthony [Levine] developing like he has, I think it's been great. We get Asa back. We get some other guys in and out there. 'Webby' will continue to play well. I think we'll be OK."
What have you seen [from] CB/RS Lardarius Webb, as far as him coming back? I know last week I asked him, and he said he thought he was OK with his play, but he still feels like he's working his way back to how he was maybe a year or two ago. (Luke Jones) "It's funny, I texted him after the game … I forget what it was as I was going home, you know, 'Great job, good win,' and he immediately texts back, 'Happy for the win, but I have to play better, coach.' And 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] is the kind of guy that … It's kind of like a golfer – you go out and you're a 5 handicap, and [when] you shoot 72, you think you could've shot 71. There's always a putt in there that you should've made, right? And 'Webby,' if he's playing really well, he's still going to think he can play better. I think he has a lot of pride in the fact that he's on the outside now – the remaining vet – with Jimmy [Smith] being gone and Asa [Jackson] being out. He takes a lot of pride in trying to be the top corner for us, and I think he'll be that. He might be fighting a little bit still with the injury, but he fights through it and he continues to play, so I look for him to get better and better."
In the preseason, [Ravens defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] said that CB Tramain Jacobs was, out of all the young guys, the one who both had the physical tools and could probably end up putting it together. Where is he on that? (Jon Meoli) "Listening to the coaches this morning in our staff meeting, [special teams coordinator/associate head coach] Jerry [Rosburg] said he did really well on special teams. For a lot of these guys, that's where it begins. He may find his way in and out of certain packages. We're trying to keep that away from him right now – he's a young guy [who] hadn't played in a regular season game yet. But we've had a lot of confidence in Tramain. That's why we kept him around. We saw him as a developmental guy. One thing that happens when you get injuries, the developmental guys that you think are a year away all of the sudden have to step up. Whether that happens or not with Tramain, we'll see, but certainly we have a lot of confidence in him."
I asked [defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] about this as well: CB Danny Gorrer got the interception. That's now two interceptions for the defensive backs. (Jamison Hensley) "Not enough, right? Not enough."
He talked about the chemistry, also, being … When you don't have that cohesion back there. Is there anything else that you see that [you are] hoping to improve upon going forward? (Jamison Hensley) "We are a man team. We play a lot of man, and when you play man, your back is to the ball a little bit. Some of the things that happen when you play man that go unnoticed are what I call 'hidden production.' Take a guy like Jimmy Smith, for example. If these so-called football analytics … They come out with a lot of stats. Jimmy is out of the charts on not allowing completions over on his side. He takes a guy out of the game. That's happened a lot with our secondary that goes unnoticed. It might result in a sack for the guys up front, and they certainly appreciate that. When you play little bit more zone, your eyes are certainly on the ball a little bit more. I firmly believe these things come in bunches. I'm hoping that the bunches come this year, and that they're coming forward after the bye week here. But hey, we fight through. We wish we had a lot more. I'm going back in my memory as I'm talking … I can think of three, four or five missed opportunities. And we talked about this earlier in the year: You only get so many as a group [and] as an individual, and you have to make them when they're there. When they throw them to you, you have to make sure you catch them."
Steve, random football question: Sometimes – obviously we're not X's and O's experts like you – but sometimes it'll look like the cornerback is playing 12 yards off or something like that and there will be an easy 7-yard completion. What happens on that? Are you expecting a different route? (Ryan Mink) "That's a great question. I will say this: Let's go back to Anthony Levine for a second – first game ever playing at corner in the NFL. Anthony and I had talked and I said, 'Look, let's take a couple extra steps back to start this thing off.' So, you would've seen him deeper than normal. We did the same thing a little bit with 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] in some of the techniques we were using. Again, I go back to what I said before: A lot of those outs that were completed for 12, 15 yards, maybe it was a first down, but if you're not giving up things over the top and you're tackling those completions – and a number of those were a foot from being out of bounds … I think we're going to be OK. We're certainly going to find ways to change coverage and take those away, which we did. Then they don't end up running that route, they convert them. But sometimes that happens. Hopefully the next time it happens we rip the ball out and it's a fumble and we go forward and make a big play."