COURTESY OF BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
How excited are you for next week to actually put on the pads and take that next step as you're getting closer to the regular season? (Jamison Hensley) "I'm feeling good for next week. I'll actually be able to see what these young guys got. You hear a lot of talk, you see a lot of good footwork on the field with the pads off, but when you finally get the pads on, you actually get to see what they have full-go. [I'm] definitely excited to see what these young guys got. We've got a lot of good talent out here, so definitely [will] be able to see what they've got."
From your pictures in the uniform, Brandon, you look to be in the best shape of your life. You're in your eighth year. You're going back to your more natural-fitted nose tackle. You've got DE Calais Campbell and DE Derek Wolfe. You must be salivating to get after it. Talk about your conditioning? You look great. (Kirk McEwen) "I appreciate it. Definitely, I've got to eat the greens, eat the vegetables, the broccoli and whatnot. But, then just working on my body composition, just working on being more – not lighter – but more toned so I can play that nose and keep running the way I do. Those two additions, [Derek] Wolfe and Calais [Campbell], I've got the twin towers right next to me – those two giants. I don't see how offenses can come at us, man. Those two dudes are good, and I like what I've got. I like my team. I like the way they look, and the new guys are coming up great. We've got a lot of things going for us on the D-line and I'm excited to see it."
On that note, we had DE Calais Campbell on the other day, and he was talking about some of the conversations you two have had so far. You both pride yourself on run-stuffing. What have those conversations been like? I imagine his transition has been seamless, right? (Bobby Trosset) "Oh, definitely. I've been helping him with the playbook. We've been having conversations about, pretty much, like, what he brings to the table, what I've seen on his film that he's had, what he's seen from me and how we can pretty much just gel together and play off of each other – just different little things like that. He gets up field. He definitely is a commanding guy; he commands two or more people on him. I'm the same way, and so is [Derek] Wolfe, so offenses … It's going to be crazy this year. We've got a lot of stuff going on for us. He's a good addition to have for sure. (Impersonating Calais Campbell) My big boy, he talks like this … I keep messing around with him, but he's going to be alright. He's going to be alright." (laughter)
What do you think of the two young guys they brought in, DT Justin Madubuike and DT Broderick Washington? What kind of advice are you giving those guys? I know they're in a tough situation with no preseason games. (Todd Karpovich) "With no preseason games, it's definitely tough for everybody – every rookie, every vet who was a rookie last year, just kind of on that bubble. What we're doing now, I feel like the Ravens did a good job of making practice a lot more game situations and a lot more game time, so we could still see what they have in those types of situations. [Justin] Madubuike, he's coming along great. Like you said, he's still a rookie, so he's got a lot of things to learn. But he's getting it, his footwork and hands are coming along great. Broderick [Washington], he's got a lot of talent, a lot of raw talent. He's definitely coming into his own and getting the playbook down. I told him first, 'Once you get the playbook down, free your mind, free your feet. You can play a lot faster when you know everything you're supposed to do.' They're coming along very well. I can't wait to see them when they've got the pads on."
Does moving to nose tackle full-time … I know you've played nose in the past, it's not like a huge transition. How do you feel like that's going to impact you and your season? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I feel like me going back to nose, I'm pretty much back home; playing what I know, playing what I'm naturally used to doing all the time. So, if I have to play 3 [-technique] for my team, then I have to do it, because that's what they need from me and that's what I'm here for. I'm back in my natural habitat. I'm ready to take on double-teams, go against centers again and just wreak havoc in the middle. That's my job, I'm ready to do it."
The Ravens, historically, take so much pride in their run defense. What do you think is going to be the key? I know last year, there were a few games you guys wish you could've had back. What do you think the focus is for the run defense? What do you think you guys need to do to handle that area this year? (Jamison Hensley) "The biggest thing is execution, fundamentals, getting back to hands and feet. When you get to those games that are run-grinders, you're only as good as your foundation will allow you to be. That's getting back to the hands, feet, moving of the feet, making sure you know your technique and how to execute it to the best of your ability. It's getting back to the home basics of things. Instead of trying to do too much in the situation, it's just do what you're supposed to do in the right way. Getting the guys coming up … The younger guys, they're coming from college, which is pretty much up the field, up the field, up the field. Here, we play blocks, we get after it, and we command attention on the defensive line from the offensive linemen. We've got to play blocks, we've got to control those blocks and that's what we've got to get back to letting them know, making sure they know what to do and making sure they get back to the basics of their craft."
DE Calais [Campbell] said he thought about opting out because of underlying conditions. Your former linemate, DT Michael Pierce, opted-out. You're a big guy, risks are higher for a big guy, you've got a young family. Was there ever any thought for you to opt-out this season? (Kirk McEwen) "Obviously, with the media getting crazy, you think about it. But at the same time, it's one of those things that's [like], 'What can I do to keep my family safe?' To bring it upon myself, instead of trying to worry about other people wearing masks and stuff like, 'What can I do, so I don't have to bring it back to my family?' Just wearing a mask always, washing hands, [using] sanitizer; when I come into the house, go straight to the shower and then I play with the kids and all the stuff like that – just taking every precaution I have to take. Plus, the NFLPA and the Ravens are doing a wonderful job keeping everybody in their own bubble and making sure everybody is doing the right things, wearing masks around meeting times and all that stuff like that. We're getting it from all ends, from at work and at home, just making sure we're doing the right thing. Even if we have family coming into town … Having questions about that like, 'Should your family come into town for games or do whatever?' Probably not. I don't want their COVID-19 to come over here, or if they've had COVID-19, or underlying issues and come over here and have problems with that. We have to make sure that we all do our part to keep the team safe."
How was your experience taking the COVID-19 test at training camp? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "It's different – definitely different. When you get here, it's like hitting the ground running because you are trying to get offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp all into a confined, special week, and then do training camp on top of that with no games. So, it's a lot going on, but at the same time, you're back with the guys, you're back hanging out, you're back doing what you love. When you're back with your family, it feels like the same thing. It's just a little bit more condensed and a little bit more – I guess – time-sensitive, just because we have so many days before the first game – 29 days, I think – and then we have Cleveland. So, we have to make sure that everyone knows what they are going to do, and on top of that, make cuts as well. Everybody has to be on top of their 'P's' and 'Q's,' from the top to the bottom; from the scouts looking at who they have to drop, from old guys learning the playbook and making sure we know what we need to do to knock the rust off. It's been a crazy, fun time, but it's been good."
There have been a lot of suggestions that you guys flew under the radar, somewhat, early last year. That won't happen when you go 14-2. Does the vibe in the locker room feel different as a 14-2 team, and does it feel any different knowing that you are going to get the best shot from everybody, every week? (Bo Smolka) "First of all, we don't fly under-the-radar; people just start watching when they start seeing us role. We definitely know we were 14-2. We definitely know we were a team to beat. We definitely know, coming into this season, we have targets on our backs. So, we're accepting of that, we're ready for that, and we're ready to capitalize on every opportunity we get, moving forward. But it starts with training camp, now, making sure we capitalize on these last few days [and] these last few weeks we have before the first game starts – making sure everybody knows what they are supposed to do."
I know Monday is your guys' first full-team practice. Is that going to be a padded practice? Is there a ramp-up period before you guys actually put pads on? (Jonas Shaffer) "Well, right now we are in the ramp-up phase – we just put the shells on. But yes, Monday is our first full-padded practice. I'm kind of looking forward to it, because we have a lot of these young guys talking and chirping and saying what they can do and can't do instead of what they will do. So, I'm definitely going to silence the talk on Monday and see what they got, because as Ravens, we practice hard anyway. So, they better be ready."
You talked about the arrival of DE Calais Campbell and DE Derek Wolfe. How do you think their arrival will make you better, and kind of push you back a little bit more into your natural position and helping you out? (Ryan Mink) "Like I said, I have two twin-towers – two dogs – on the side of me. At any point in time, any one of us can get off. If you double me, you have Calais [Campbell] one-on-one with somebody. If you double me and Calais, you have [Derek] Wolfe by himself. It's a bunch of different mixtures that we can all play off of each other, and when we get that one-on-one, we have to capitalize on those opportunities every single time. At the same time, of being a pro, you have Calais, who has been in the league longer than me. You have Wolfe, who has been to the pinnacle – to the Super Bowl. So, they all know how to get it done, and they know how to be the best pro. On top of that, I'm taking as much [from them] as they are from me, because I'm still learning how to be a pro. I'm still learning as we go on, from everybody, because that's how you become a family; you have to gel the unit in order to keep going forward together."
You mentioned the run defense. I'm curious, the way last season ended against the Titans, does that fuel you a little bit more, and is there anything specific you learned, run defense-wise, from that game? (Aaron Kasinitz) "I feel like games like that, you always learn something from it. You are never down about it, but you are always excited that you can play another season and get that taste out of your mouth, for sure. You definitely learn from those situations. Run defense-wise, we learned [that] we have to execute more. We have to be stout at more positions. We have to be more in it to win it up front. With a guy like that, like Derrick Henry, [and the] runner he is, you have to make sure you pack your lunch with him. This year, like we said, we have to get back to the fundamentals; get back to making sure we know how to set edges, make sure we know how to play double-team blocks, making sure we know how to do everything we have to do in order to stop the run game like we know how we can."
Were you even just a little ticked-off about not making the Pro Bowl last season, after making it in 2018? (Cliff Brown) "You know what? If I'm there, I'm there; if I make it, I make it. I mean, obviously, you want to be there consistently all the time, but if it's not, then so be it. It's their loss."
You talked about your physique and getting leaner. What motivated you to do that this offseason? (Cliff Brown) "I feel like, every year, I've kind of gotten down a little bit more [and] a little bit more. That just comes with age, and at the same time, it comes with just being leaner [and] being more of a pro – cutting off some of the fat and building up some more of the muscle, so you're still, maybe, the same weight or same size, but it looks better. I'm trying to get my beach body going on. I'm trying to get my slim-sexy going on – you know what I'm saying? (laughter) That's all it is. You know, the older you get, the harder it is to get that weight off you, the harder it is to move. You have to think about the joints and all the double-teams you're taking up and all that stuff. So, when you come in a little bit lighter, it just relieves all that pain [and] a lot of that – I guess – nagging stuff you have to worry about early on. Instead of having to come in and get the weight off and get in better shape, you are already coming in with the low weight, and then you can build up to where you need to be."