Opening statement: "Shoot, man. I just wanted to say I'm happy to be back. Huge thanks to my agent Jeff Nalley for working out a deal for me and to [executive vice president and general manager] Eric DeCosta for just believing in me and just working to try to get me back. You know, I'm happy to be back in the purple and black again. [I'm happy] being back in Baltimore with my guys, with the defense [and] really, just the entire team, man. I'm just looking forward to these next couple of years, and I'm just looking forward to what we can do."
Obviously, you've been here for a while. How badly did you want to come back to Baltimore? I know guys want to test free agency and everything, but how badly did you want to come back and how important is it for you to continue your career here in Baltimore? (Cliff Brown) "Yes, I thought it was important for me to come back this year. Of course, with free agency, you just never know what happens – what direction they want to go [or] what guys they want to bring in. It was kind of just in the air, but my agent, Jeff Nalley, did a great job with contacting them and staying in connection with them, working out a deal. I told them that I definitely wanted to be back. With the defense that we had [and] the scheme, I fit in so well with that defense. Just the culture, the guys there [and] the family atmosphere with the organization, I definitely wanted to stay and be with [that]. Fortunately, we were able to work it out. We were able to work out a deal. It's nice to be back for another four years. I'm happy."
Last year, defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale talked so much about the way you improved. Other than just playing more the last couple of years and just gaining experience, where do you think you improved the most that really made the difference for you to step up in Year Three, but especially last year? (Luke Jones) "I just felt more comfortable out there and just confident. I feel like that was the biggest thing for me; just being able to be out on the field. Being limited to a few reps the past couple of years that I was on the team, and then just finally getting an opportunity my third and fourth year to actually be on the field more and just being able to experience being out on the field [at] game-speed, being able to communicate with the guys seeing what I can see on the field and just learning. That's the main thing about being a football player, is being on the field and being able to get those reps in and really get a feel for the game. So, I feel like that was really just the biggest thing – confidence and just getting a feel for the game, so I could go out there and play my best."
You guys lost some talent at outside linebacker this offseason. Do you see your role expanding next year? Do you sort of want to take on maybe a bigger leadership role since you'll be one of the veterans at that position? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, I feel like that would be a big step for me coming into this year, being a fifth-year guy [and] a fifth-year vet with a young team. Especially in my group, being really the only guy besides 'Phee' [Pernell McPhee] who just signed back, which is great … To be able to lead that group, lead this defense and also lead this team to where we want to be, and that's to win a Super Bowl. So, I feel like I'll definitely be moving to a bigger role, which I feel like I'm ready for just learning from [Matthew] Judon, learning from 'Sizz' [Terrell Suggs] and 'Phee.' All of these guys that have been here before, just learning from them and piggybacking off of what they've been doing these past couple of years. I feel like [after] learning from them, I feel like I'm ready to move into that role."
When you reach a milestone like this, signing your second contract in the NFL, do you sort of naturally think back to that time a couple years ago when you weren't playing as much and sort of take pride in the growth of the last few years? Is it a time to sort of appreciate it a little bit? (Childs Walker) "Yes, absolutely. I posted something on my Instagram not too long ago, just talking about the way it wasn't any type of punishment, but it was just preparation for that time, whenever it comes, to go out there and make a name for myself, to put myself in that position to be a leader, to be a big-time player on this team [and] a reliable player. I felt like that was pretty much what it was, just learning from the guys and learning how to play the game right, on the field and off the field, also. Just learning from [Matthew] Judon and learning from all the guys that I looked up to and using that preparation to put myself in a situation now to be able to, hopefully, be better than them, just based off of learning off of them. So, I felt like it was more of a preparation the past couple of years [of] just getting myself right, learning about myself [and] about my game to put me in this position to be that guy."
You've mentioned a bunch of the veterans that you've played alongside, and obviously OLB Pernell McPhee will be back, but otherwise, it could be a pretty young group next year. What about a leadership role? You've worn a lot of hats for this team – special teams, defense. With a contract like this, is that something you willingly embrace? (Jeff Zrebiec) "Yes, absolutely. I work my tail off each and every day to work to be in this position, and that's to be a leader on this field, leader to the guys in the locker room and just trying to be a good influence, overall. Not only for the organization, but just for my family, for other people, for the city of Baltimore, for the city of Tyler [Texas], just trying to be a leader, trying to be an influence to the younger generation in any type of way. [I'm] just trying to be that guy. Like I said, learning from Eric Weddle – plenty of guys. I can't even name them all, but I've been able to pick up little things, little details that they do, that they say, how they communicate with people, how they engage with people on the field and people outside of the game. I definitely take that into consideration of how I want to go about myself and these next couple years. So, I'm looking forward to that challenge, and like I said, I worked hard for it, so I'm looking forward to it."
I've got to ask you about the Houston Cougars in March Madness. And with that, having played Division I basketball yourself, how much did those basketball skills get you to where you are as an NFL football player? And do you encourage young players to play multiple sports? (Mark Viviano) "Yes, first of all, shoutout to my Cougars. They had my heart racing a little bit towards the end, but we were able to pull it out, and that's one big thing that Coach [Kelvin] Sampson always talked about – is the toughest team wins – and that's what they did. They're in the Sweet 16 now, going against Syracuse, and I'll definitely be in tune for it. So, big shoutout to them. I've been playing basketball all my life. That was actually the first sport I actually started playing. And just using the moves, the different types of movements that I do on the court, that definitely helps me as far as rushing, as far as dropping, being able to move my feet in different directions, being able to change different directions. It definitely helped me out. That's a huge and big reason why I'm able to do what I'm doing now. And to answer your other question; I definitely encourage other people to play multiple sports, because you just never know. You never know if football is your sport, basketball, baseball. I did it all. I started with basketball and baseball. My dad got me into football because I was a pitcher [in baseball], and I played quarterback, and then they put me on defense as a defensive end, and from there, it just took off, and you just never know. So, I feel like being able to play multiple sports, you learn so much out of it, and that can definitely help you as far as where you find your game at, and you can just use different tools from there to help you propel. So, I definitely encourage people to play multiple sports."
We spoke to you after that second Browns game, and you said, "Don't just look at me as a coverage guy. [*I can actually get to the quarterback. Overall, I'm just a football player.]" What do you think you have to do to prove to people that you are more than that – you're a more well-rounded player than just a coverage guy? _(Jonas Shaffer)_* "Simple – it's just getting to the quarterback. I don't know what else to say more than that. I showed that I can drop in coverage, catch the ball, and I was able to get two sacks at the beginning of the year, but after that, I was kind of dry. I was able to get to the quarterback – pressures, things like that – but what actually goes in the stat book is getting that quarterback on the ground while he has the ball. So, I feel like it's just as simple as that – get to the quarterback and sack him."
I'm wondering how much this shows what you're capable of long-term? You're still a young player, still growing. What are your long-term goals as a player? (Ryan Mink) "My main goal when I first got into the league was definitely to be a Hall of Famer, be an impact guy for my community, kind of like how LeBron [James] is. [He's] one of my role models; just what he's able to do, not only for the game, but just for people in general [and] what he's able to do for people outside of the game. That's what I want to do – just being able to impact people, impact players to be like me or better than me on the field, but also be in tune and engaged with the community and just help out others. God blessed me to be at this point and to be able to be in this position to influence little kids, like I do now. But I want to make it more of a bigger impact, bigger platform – using my platform for bigger reasons. So, I feel like those would be my main things."
Who would be your toughest basketball competition on the roster, and please don't say senior vice president of communications Chad Steele? (laughter) (Mark Viviano) "Gosh, man. I'm trying to see who are actually hoopers on the team. I know I was talking with 'L.J.' [Lamar Jackson] at one point about trying to get some one-on-one on. I heard about James Proche II. I heard he was a pretty good player. 'Double-A' [Aaron Adeoye] played – Aaron Adeoye. He played college basketball, so I've got to test him out and see what he can do. But really, I don't really see anybody else that can just handle me in one-on-one, so that's definitely a question that we'll have to answer pretty soon." [Reporter: "You have no fear. That's OK."] "No, I don't think I do." (laughter)