COURTESY OF BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
What's it been like for you? Normally, you'd have a minicamp and everything. You're just meeting your teammates now. Has it been weird? Or has it been an easy transition for you to step right into being a Baltimore Raven? (David Ginsburg) "It's been a pretty easy transition, for the most part. Obviously, it's unique circumstances, and you've got to just make the best of what it is. I think the team has done a really good job of giving us opportunities to get to know each other. The coaching staff has put us in position to really communicate and get that brotherhood established. So, I feel good. It's only been a couple of … I guess it's almost two weeks now, but it's definitely been a lot of fun in the locker room. Guys have been practicing safe and wearing our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) equipment, but still communicating and having a good time."
Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, Bart Starr Award – everybody knows you're great on the field. I want to know if people know how great you are off the field and in the community? You've only missed five games in your career, and then you do all this stuff off the field. Why? Where does that come from? Why do you do all of the other things? (Kirk McEwen) "I feel like it's our duty to help people in need, and I've been very fortunate. God has blessed me with a great opportunity, great resources, a great platform. Honestly, it's just in my nature. I grew up … My parents really were strong on just being active in the community. I try to make my presence felt in whatever community that I'm in, and I'm excited for Baltimore. I've already done some things here and there, and I have some plans to do a lot more, and hopefully, utilize the team, the 'CR' – the community relations team. Just trying to get to know the city. It's a brand-new place. I haven't really spent much time here, but I know there are a lot of people who could use some help that I'm trying to give. Take it one day at a time and try to help the people the best way that I can."
You've been, certainly, on teams before that have big expectations, and there are big expectations around this team coming in from the outside, and I'm sure internally. How do you, as a veteran player, handle that and keep it from adjusting how you guys approach things, or might get too caught up in the hype and all of that? (Garrett Downing) "I think the biggest thing is staying in the moment. You can't win the Super Bowl today. I don't care how good you are in August; you've got to go through the process. You can't even win the first game today. The first game is still a good month away. Right now, it's just trying to make sure that we take advantage of what's in front of us, and try to get better each and every day, and staying in the moment. A part of that is just setting small goals, daily goals, and just trying to embrace the process."
You've changed teams before with great success. When you do enter a new situation, how do you go about it, in terms of balancing learning your teammates, but also asserting yourself? (Childs Walker) "It really is a balance. The first thing you do when you come to a new team is you want to just establish … You want to show people your work ethic and just how hard you're willing to grind, try to earn their respect. That's been the last couple of weeks, and really even the offseason program that we had virtually. Just trying to earn my teammates' respect. And I do know that I have a history that gives me a little bit of an opportunity. I think I came in with a lot of respect from the guys, which was nice. But to me, history doesn't really matter. It's what have you done for me lately, and what can you do for me today? Just try to make sure that the guys understand I'm a hard worker, I put my head down and grind, I'm going to work as hard as I can to give advice where I see it – when I see guys that can use it, in a sense. Trying to just establish myself as a guy who's here to put my head in the pile and just try to win some ball games. Hopefully, win enough to be where we want to be at the end of the year."
QB Lamar Jackson had said he sees an upside to no preseason games, because it's less chance for injuries. But for someone that's coming into a new system, is that difficult for you? Or do you, sort of, kind of agree with him that there is an upside to not playing any preseason games? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, I think there's definitely an upside to it. Obviously, each team is different in how they approach preseason games, and everything is circumstantial. I feel like the teams that are most prepared, the teams that are going to be able to practice smart, have good practice habits, are going to have an advantage with no preseason games. I think who really gets hurt with no preseason games are the young guys; it's really the undrafted free agents. There's probably, usually, a couple of diamonds in the rough that are going to be a little harder to be spotted, found, given the circumstance. But then you raise the practice squad a substantial number, so those guys will be able to hang around a lot longer and be able to show what they can do as time goes on. But for me, personally, I don't need any preseason games. I'll be ready to go Week One – no doubts in my mind. This is football. It's the same game I've been playing since I was six years old. It's a new playbook, a new terminology, but there's only so much you can do. I pretty much have the playbook down. I think a couple more days and I'll feel real, real good about it. It's just trying to really get a feel for my teammates and how I can add value in different places."
You talk about the playbook and you talk about playing football for so long. When you look at [defensive coordinator] Don 'Wink' Martindale's defense, what is different about it than any other defense? What's the biggest challenge for you, for DE Derek Wolfe, for young guys, for the young inside linebackers? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "Coach [Don] Martindale is a defensive genius. He's really created a system that's … It's been around for a while, but he made it real … He simplified it where you can do a lot. There's not a whole lot that you can do, but the way you do it, everything can change based off of terminology on the call. But it really is only so much that we're doing. I think it's a very – I guess I'll say intelligent way of designing it, so that we can simplify it, so that all of the players can really pick it up faster. I'm sure, down the road, a lot of people will be doing it the way he does it. He's put together a blueprint of how to simplify a system for the defense. I think that's going to be huge, too, because we have young players who have to step up. So, it gives them an opportunity to be able to be aggressive and understand what's going on, just by communication. It allows everybody on the field … Even if you don't get the call, with the way our communication is, you can know what to do just by hearing everybody else and the way they communicate – which I think that makes it so much easier when we're out on the football field. Because a lot of times, when things are flying, we practice situations in hurry-up and try to get a call. And being new, I have to … It's like a new language, because the terminology is different. So, I have to process it a little bit. But then, sometimes, when I hear other people talk through with them, or communicate to whoever I'm supposed to, I remember what I have just based off of when [Matthew] Judon says something. I think that's, probably, the coolest thing."
But the way that [defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale] blitzes, is he more aggressive than, perhaps, anybody else you've worked with? (Aditi Kinkhabwala)"Oh, yes. Yes. His biggest thing is taking advantage of matchups – not just matchups – but take advantage of the overall overloading sides, putting pressure on people by sending more than they can block. He does a really good job of the simulated blitzes, which I think are pretty cool, because you're still only rushing with four, but it can be any four. Of the 11 guys on the field, pretty much eight of them can go at any time, and you might still be only rushing four. He's definitely creative, but to do that is very complicated. To have all of these different blitzes in are very, very complicated – where he made it very simple, which I think definitely shows his genius."
With the NFL opt-out deadline passing yesterday, I'm sure you noticed there were a lot of linemen who opted-out. What do you make of that disproportionate number? For you, how important was it to educate yourself on the risks that, as a bigger guy, you might be encountering in this season? (Jonas Shaffer) "I was part of the executive committee that was setting up all the … Trying to get everything together in that process. I definitely considered it – you have to. You can't play football with this [pandemic] going on, and not think about the risk you're going to put on yourself and your family. So, going through that process, I realized talking to the doctors and just setting up the protocols and everything we have to do to keep each other safe, I feel like the risks were mitigated as much as we can. You can't get rid of the risks all the way, but we definitely lowered the percentage of catching it based off of the protocols we put in place. For me, I feel like that was enough. Obviously, being a bigger guy, it puts you at a higher risk, if you do catch it, to have more severe symptoms, which is kind of scary. A lot of guys still have underlying issues, which is also scary. My family and I have some underlying issues. But at the same time, I feel like given the circumstance … I've never really gotten sick much. I don't get the flu much. I've been very healthy throughout my life. With the protocols in place, I feel like you have to make mistakes for you to really catch it with the way the system is set up for it. I'm confident that I can go through the season, play at a high level and stay safe."
What is your secret to staying within the Top 100 players of the NFL? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) (laughing) "My secret … I think that it's cool when you get to know a lot of the guys; when you all get to watch each other's tape when we play against each other. You study tape so much that you see all the other guys around the league. I think there's a lot of mutual respect that goes on with a lot of the top guys. I feel like my secret to staying at a high level really isn't a secret at all – it's just hard work. The formula has always been the same. It's just continuously putting the work in. I know when you get to the wrong side of 30, everybody is looking for you to deteriorate and fall off. I feel like there were a lot of guys that played great football over the age of 30. Some guys played into their late 30s at a high level. So, to me, I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can and put myself in position to be successful. As long as, God willing, my body continues to hold up, then I'm going to go out there and try to be the best that I can be. I feel like the formula is simple – I put the work in, train and continue to stay in good shape. But also put the work in, take care of my body and making sure I'm doing all the stuff necessary to stay healthy out there, and then prayers that it's God's will that I can still play at a high level."
You mentioned you hit that age of 30. The Ravens have several other veteran defensive linemen, DT Brandon Williams [and] DE Derek Wolfe. What do you make of those guys? I know you haven't played with them before, but how do you think you three might mesh together? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Oh, we're going to be great together. Just these first couple of weeks, getting out there with the guys and just seeing the level of understanding of the game is pretty great. To have that kind of veteran talent in one place, and guys who are physically strong and just have imposed their will time and time again – but also have the knowledge of how people try to attack us and where we have to be strong, and just that whole process of disguising and all the different things that goes through playing football. Just that chess match while we're out there, when we can be on the same page, and communicate and be able to use our minds to our advantage – it's going to be huge. I love playing with guys who are old and wise, like myself. That wisdom definitely plays a big role."
Have you tried the protective face shields, and have you decided whether you'll be wearing one this year? (Jamison Hensley) "I haven't tried it yet. I'm going to be trying it here pretty soon. The answer is I don't know; it depends. I want to try to be as safe as possible, but I do want to be able to play the game at a high level. We're getting in the trenches, and we definitely get a little close for comfort, so I want to give myself as much protection as possible. I'm going to try it out to see how it works and see if it works for me, but if it doesn't, I think I'll be OK still – it's football. Hopefully, it's going to be a little bit of an honor system, but if other teams have the same protocols that we do and they abide by them, it's not really a bubble, but guys can stay pretty safe. And then, when guys do get exposed to it, I feel like if we act fast and we have a good system in place where there shouldn't be a big outbreak. So, I think on Sundays, statistically, I should be OK to go out there and just play football the regular way."
Calais, if we could go back to the opting-out … You do have a brand-new baby at home, and you do have a pre-existing condition. How much did you and your wife actually consider your opting-out? Was that ever really a conversation? And when you talk about the honor system and what you're expecting from every NFL player, do you agree with this idea that it's conduct detrimental if you're behaving in an irresponsible way? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "That was actually one of the few conversations, where usually when you're going back and forth on the negotiations with the ownership – it's a lot of back and forth – but that was one of the things where all the players wanted people to be held accountable to a degree. Obviously, the NFLPA's responsibility is to protect the players at all costs. Even when they're wrong, you have to try to help them through that process. All the players were pretty much unanimous in making sure there was some kind of consequence, holding guys accountable for when they purposely made mistakes. Obviously, you want to live your life and do as much as you can to keep your routine the same, but you can't just go and put everybody at risk by doing something dumb. So, that was important to us.
"As far as my conversation with my wife, she's kind of … We had a conversation. I put a lot of thought into it on my own, too, just because of my own underlying issues. I definitely put a lot of thought into it, but I'm pretty confident in my ability to follow the rules. When we're in meetings and stuff, the mask is on. When we go to walk-throughs and stuff, that's really the only time it can slip through. But when you go through it with the doctors, it really comes down to the false negatives. You can't really get into the building being positive; the tests come back pretty quickly, and by the time you've built up enough virus to become contagious, it should be caught, and you shouldn't be in the building. It really comes [down] to the false negatives, and that's like five percent or lower. Then just guys following the rules, and when we're in the building, I use the protective equipment and stuff. So, I feel like the chances are a lot lower – they're still there – but it's a lot lower, and I feel like as long as I'm washing my hands regularly, not touching my face and wearing my mask, I should be OK."
As you have gotten to meet your teammates, who do you feel like you've gotten to know best so far? Who have you found most interesting to talk to? (Childs Walker)"I've had some relationships with some of the guys before, but I do think this has been … This locker room is great. A lot of guys, you talk across the ball. I like to listen to the conversations that Lamar [Jackson] and 'Hollywood' [Marquise Brown] have. [Mark] Ingram, they're always in there talking and having good conversations that I like to eavesdrop on. The guys I've really talked to … I try to work with the rookies a little bit and try to get a good relationship going with [Justin] Madubuike and [Broderick] Washington and try to help those guys develop. We're going to have to depend on them and I want to make sure they're ready. Patrick Queen as well, try to get in his head a little bit and talk to him and make sure to see his development. I think I've got a good relationship with most of the guys. I've known Jimmy Smith for a while. Marcus Peters is a guy I've had a couple conversations with. I like him and he's a very smart guy. You don't realize how smart he is until you start talking to him. I've known Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Stanley from the NFLPA meetings, and we have some mutual friends and stuff, too. So, I know a bunch of the guys already, but in the D-line room is where most of the relationships are happening. That's where we spend the most time, and that's every team anyway. You're going to spend more time with the D-line, or your position group, so you're going to know those guys the best. So, really, just Derek Wolfe and 'Big Baby' [Brandon Williams], having those conversations. We've definitely strengthened our bond. We compete when we're training. We're doing strength and conditioning right now, and those guys, they work hard. They compete, and we're out there trying to be the best we can, and I love to see that competition amongst us, because it goes to show you our competitive nature and how good we want to be. Brandon Williams takes pride in being the best run-stopping D-line in the league, so that's his mentality. I told him, 'Hey, I pride myself on being the best run-stopper in the game, too. So, let's go out there and dominate.'"
What are your thoughts on playing with this secondary behind you? CB Marcus Peters, CB Marlon Humphrey, S Earl Thomas … I know you've played with good secondaries before, but this group seems like it could be pretty special. (Garrett Downing) "Yes. When you have a secondary like we have, you see a lot more stats; you get a lot more stats. To me, I've always appreciated just playing the game the right way. I never really cared about the stats. If they come, they come; if they don't, they don't. You beat your guy in front of you over and over again. But when you have a secondary like this, the stats usually come with it. I'm excited to see what happens this year, but they're incredible. Watching the tape, when you start studying last year, and then even just seeing the way they prepare in practice, it's like, 'OK. Let me make sure my game is on point, because you get an extra split second to rush the passer.' If we shut down the run on first down, sometimes, especially with the offense putting up points, you might get third down twice. Or second and long is like a third down. It just gives you a chance to pad the stats a little bit. But, to me, one game at a time. I don't care if I get zero sacks; I just want to affect the game any way I can. Obviously, I feel like I'm going to make some plays, and the coaches told me they want me to have the best year of my career. So, I guess I've got to strive for at least 15 [sacks]. We're taking it one day at a time, but right now my mindset is earning the right to rush the passer. You don't get to just rush the passer because you have a good secondary and a good offense. You've got to shut down the run and make teams one-dimensional. Then you get to rush the passer. Until we're the Number One rush defense … Then we'll go to the sacks."
You talked about a pre-existing condition. What was that, specifically? (Jamison Hensley) "I have asthma. I don't know how bad that's going to affect me. I think it's more moderate than it is severe. I've been able to play football at a high level and I haven't really had any real issues or anything. So, to me, I feel like I should be fine."