COURTESY OF BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
Opening statement: "Before we start, I just want to say how proud I am of our team, organization and all the staff members for their commitment to the fight against systemic racism. And to [owner] Steve Bisciotti, for creating our committee of players, really listening to us and the foundations that we think will really make a difference and really create long-term change. I think we're committed to making this change in our world and specifically this country."
Going next week for training camp, it sounds like you'll have the traditional training camp practices starting next Monday. How's your anticipation towards that? In such a crazy offseason, do you think that will start making things feel a little bit more normal? (Jamison Hensley) "Yes, I think once we get back into getting a little more physical, things will start to set in a little bit more. The body has to get acclimated to that physicality. [I'm] just looking forward to getting back into things like that."
I'm just wondering, how were you able to transform yourself from a really good college tackle to one of the three or four best in the NFL? (Kirk McEwen) "For me, I think it's just being consistent with my technique. Playing on this level, you're playing against elite talent week-in and week-out. To stay consistent, it takes a lot of mental focus, a lot of physical ability and just repetition after repetition every day, working on the little things and the details. [I'm] not trying to bite off more than I can chew every day. [I'm] just keeping that laser focus, not listen to the outside noise and just have faith – things work out."
With G Marshal Yanda's retirement this past season, are you going to take on a bigger leadership role with the other offensive lineman – sort of like you're the veteran there now? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes, for sure. I think with Marshal [Yanda] being gone, that leadership role has to be filled. I'm all for helping my teammates and being there for them. I want to be that person that they can rely on, play-in and play-out, that they know what they're going to get from me. I think that's a role of a true leader – is that you have to be consistent and people have to know what they're getting from you."
How difficult is it for a rookie to come in without the minicamps, without preseason games and start and be effective? How difficult would it have been for you to be put in that situation? (Mike Preston) "I think that it's definitely really difficult. Personally, coming from the offensive line in the trenches and that physical atmosphere, you really need to get used to it, because it's a big step from college to the NFL. It's just the size of the guys you're playing consistently. It's just something you can't really have a substitute for. That's what we're going to try to get these guys ready [for]. I think we have a good plan and we're just going to stick to it."
Can you talk about the blocking scheme? [How it's] different from what you used in college to what the Ravens have, and the impact of your offensive line coach and his style? (Mike Preston) "For me, I try to stick to the techniques that got me here and what I was coached from [former Notre Dame offensive line coach] Harry Hiestand. I always try to revert back to that. I think those things, they always translate – the technique doesn't change on whatever level you're at. Good technique is good technique."
Can you talk a little bit more about the process of the social justice donations and what that was like for you guys deciding on which organizations were going to get this money? (Ryan Mink) "Yes, so [owner] Mr. [Steve] Bisciotti really came to us and offered us to go out and pick the organizations that we thought would be the most impactful, the most sustainable and had the most long-term effects. Us and the committee that we had – there was about six of us – we really looked out there for different projects, specifically in the DMV area, that we really thought had real impact and created long-term change, generational change. We picked about 28 different organizations. We're helping out in multiple areas that really need help. Whether it is education, health care … Just helping people that are dealing with different stresses or trauma. It's very impactful."
You've talked before about how your desire, your goal, is to be one of the best, if not the best, left tackle in the game. You're getting recognized as one of the Top Two or Three, one of the best left tackles in football. What does that mean to you at this stage of your career? (Garrett Downing) "I think for me, it just shows me that what I'm doing is working. That just means the technique and taking care of my body, the things I'm focusing on and not focusing on as well are just important. Just having my energy in the right places and continuously growing in that aspect, never feeling like I made it to a certain point. I'm always just trying to get incrementally better. Like I said, I'm not trying to bite off more than I can chew and just get a little bit better every day."
So, when you've reached the level that you have, how do you accomplish that? What are you looking for? What's the next step for you at this point? (Garrett Downing) "For me, it's just getting better. I think I always just try to strive for perfection, so whether that be never getting beat one time or never letting my guy make the play. I think I'm never really satisfied until I get to that point, even though it's kind of unrealistic, but those are kind of my goals and what I focus on. That's just what I expect out of myself. When I play like that and when I have that mindset, I feel like I can be a little critical of myself, but at the same time, I also know that I have the ability to do that."
With the season QB Lamar Jackson had – unanimous MVP – a lot of people are wondering how he follows that up? From someone who plays alongside him, what do you think is the progression for him this season? (Jamison Hensley) "Just the same thing I feel like I am going through – just not try to make these tremendous leaps. Everyone kind of tries to put that pressure on you. Just go in every day just trying to get a little bit better. Just keep that focus that, 'I'm going to get better at this today.' And just focus on that; not thinking every day that you have to be the perfect person or perfect player, because I feel like guys can get too ahead of themselves. And just keep focusing on making incremental steps forward."
When we talked to you over the summer, we talked a lot about the possibility of a contract extension. Has anything changed on that front, from your standpoint, and is that on your mind at all as you start to get into the season? (Childs Walker) "It's not really at the forefront of my mind. We're still in talks, and hopefully, we are trying to get something done soon. But I think my main focus right now is just … For me, it's always been be the best player I can be [and] help my team win. The money usually takes care of itself after that."
Building off the social justice initiatives, I think the last time we talked to you was very shortly after George Floyd was killed. In the months since, what do you make of the way other sports have demonstrated and spoken out about racism? And do you have any plans to do any sort of demonstrations or anything like that this season?(Aaron Kasinitz) "Yes, I've been very glad and happy to see other leagues taking stances against racism, and really realizing that a fight against racism isn't a political thing. This is something that needs to be said for everyone, and it should be intolerable for any type of workplace, [and] really, in society. I'm very happy to see these types of stances made by other leagues."
I know you are focused on training camp, but a lot of stuff is happening in college football with the possibility of there being no season and players pushing for a player's association. Coming from a program like Notre Dame, what do you make of everything that's going on in that college football universe? (Jonas Shaffer) "I think they are in a rough position, because these guys, they're really not getting compensated for the risk that they are taking. Especially this year, going into it, I'm sure every school doesn't have the resources that the NFL has. Football is a unique sport because there are so many people involved – so many players – and it's [a] really physical sport. You can't really avoid contact, [and] you can't really avoid [not] social distancing. To take all these things and have precautions for everything, you are going to need the resources, and in college, that's just not the case for every college. I'm very happy to see the players standing up for their health and their long-term health. They are standing together with that, and I am happy for them."
I know everybody had a decision to make to even report and whether they wanted to opt-out and all that. Is that something you even considered to do, or were you completely confident that you being at the facility and taking part in the season was absolutely the right thing? (Jeff Zrebiec) "It definitely crossed my mind, but I'm definitely a person that … I want to play. I want to be around my teammates. I'm just a competitive person, [and] it would take a really high risk to really keep me out of the building. At the same time, I think the Ravens are really doing a great job at limiting the chances of contracting the virus."
I'm wondering what your thoughts are on some of the new pieces – G Ben Bredeson, G Tyre Phillips and even G D.J. Fluker? I know it has been Zoom meetings and a small sample-size on the field. What are your thoughts on those guys? (Kirk McEwen) "These guys are doing great. They are all coachable. Like I said, with the limited experience and time that they are having, they are really making the most out of it. They are very smart guys; they are not really making the same mistakes twice. We have a complex offense, and they are really catching on quick, so [I'm] very happy so far."
In that same vein, I know DE Calais Campbell is a guy I know you practiced against and gone against. What is your scouting report on him from the other side of the ball? (Aaron Kasinitz) "Calais is a great addition. I'm super happy to have him on my side. I think playing against him in practice is only going to make me better [and] only going to make him better. He's a force out there, and he's going to really set the tone for our defense."