Head Coach Robert Saleh, 12.27

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Opening Statement:

Real quick with injuries: (Connor) McGovern, obviously, he had the knee, he’s going to be out. He avoided the ACL but his MCL was not as fortunate. We’re still getting some more detail on the extent of it, but he will be out. (Trevon) Wesco, he’s dealing with a knee, he’ll also be out. We’re looking to get Elijah Riley from concussion protocol, he looks good. As far as Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder, they’re going to be day-to-day this week to see how they respond to their treatment to get back this week. COVID, we’re getting some guys back. So, Tanzel Smart, Foley (Folorunso Fatukasi), Lamar Jackson, JFM (John Franklin-Myers), (Noah) Dawkins, Hamsah (Nasirildeen) and (Kenny) Yeboah. It’s looking good for them to get back this week and then (Sharrod) Neasman, Michael Carter II and Ashtyn Davis, hopefully will be a little later this week.

 

Dennis Waszak, Associated Press: Robert, how about you? How are you feeling and what’s the latest for you?

I appreciate you asking, I feel great. My numbers have been trending up for a couple days, so hopefully I can get back here in the next day or two.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, when you talk about Elijah Moore, how much of it is COVID right now, how much of it is the quad with his availability for Sunday?

A little bit of both. He hasn’t been able to do anything because of COVID, but at the same time it’s just trying to get into the field to work and there’s a lot of things he has to clear from protocol standpoint to make sure that leg is where it needs to be.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: Going back to McGovern with the MCL, obviously you said he’s out, he’s out for the last two weeks I’m assuming, right?

Yes.

 

(follow up) So, is that a surgical situation on that or is it just more of a heal and rest situation?

I believe there’s other opinions that they’re going to get on it and all that stuff, so I don’t have that answer for you right now, Rich.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, could you describe what yesterday was like for you watching the game I assume from your hotel room?

Yeah, right from my little cubby over here. It was frustrating, just obviously not being there, seemed like an awesome game. The guys played their absolutely butts off, but at the same time it was awesome to see the ending. It was a weird experience but at the end of the day, it was a cool experience because we won.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Any noise complaints filed by some of the other people in the hotel?

No. Surprising, but no.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: So, you’ve literally been in that room for five days? Obviously, you went through Christmas, Christmas Eve, did you even get a chance to get out and see your family or how does that work under the protocols?

So, I go to the facility to test. Maybe grab a to-go meal. My chief of staff would bring it out, Steve Scarnecchia, just bring a little plate for me and that’s it, right back to my hotel room. Missed Christmas with the kiddos, but they’re happy and that’s what’s most important.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: What did you think of how Ron (Middleton) performed yesterday, Robert, in the big chair?

I thought he did a great job. I heard he did a wonderful job at half-time, thought he did a great job upholding the game plan with being aggressive and wanting to take our shots, take our opportunities, loved the fake field goal, loved all of it. Obviously, a couple of them didn’t work and like I told him after the game, I said, ‘Hey, if it works, you’re good. If it doesn’t work, I’m going to question you.’ (joking) I thought he did a great job.

 

Al Iannazzone, Newsday: What do you think your team showed yesterday amid everything that happened this week?

I think as a group, with all the adversity and just the amount of starters, the amount of movement, the continuity or the lack there of, just the amount of changing faces, the faces that change and for them, it’s exactly what I think of professional players.  They had a professional week of practice, they went about their business the way they needed to and then to jump on the field and play together and to play with the effort and the violence, especially our offensive line. It was a really cool thing to see and it’s a testament to this group and it’s a testament to Joe Douglas and the men that he’s brought into this locker room. It’s a youthful group and it’s an exciting group. It’s definitely something to build off of.

 

Dennis Waszak, Associated Press: Robert, with you guys going for it I think the five times on fourth down, was that something you and Ron talked about in those situations that you would do that? Because I think it’s the most the team has done that in over 20 years, or something like that, in one game.

The thought process was just continue to be aggressive, especially in those fringe areas with regards to field goal range. We loved the fake field goal, we went in on Tuesday, before I even had COVID, we were running that fake. The opportunity was set up nicely, didn’t work out, but we knew we were going to run that fake on Tuesday. There’s the dicey one at the end of the half, that’s typical if it works, you’re a genius, if it doesn’t,  everyone’s going to question it. I thought he did a really good job. Thought he did a great job keeping energy on the sideline, keeping everybody engaged and just when you get the W, you’re the man. So, it was awesome.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, the weekly Mekhi (Becton) question, and now we’re down to two weeks. What’s the latest on Mekhi?

Barring a miracle, but right now he’s probably not going to be here this week. Barring anything changing, we’re not ruling him out, but something’s going to have to change.

 

(follow up) Robert, what happened? Because this is, I think we’re 14 weeks out of his surgery. He had surgery after the second game and you guys seemed optimistic he’d be back at some point. Just kind of what happened there?

Like I said, he is a very big man. Everyone heals a little bit differently. I know he had a little bit of a cleanup in there and it didn’t go the way everyone was expecting, but it didn’t mean that there were setbacks or anything. He’s still working, he’s still putting in the effort. We’ll get him back for, if something doesn’t change, obviously where we’re able to get him back for next week, if we work off the assumption where he won’t be back, I know he’ll be back for 2022. He’ll be ready to roll. It’s not that there was a setback, it’s not that anyone has been lazy, it’s none of that, it’s just a matter of everyone’s body heals differently.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Robert, how does that chance the outlook of that offensive tackle position, because Mekhi dealt with injuries and missed a lot of snaps his first year. Obviously, only played about half of a game here in year two, if that, and now you guys are obviously going into year three with him. So, is this something where it might change your overall outlook on the left tackle position where you’re going to have to have contingency plans in place for him?

Not yet, obviously you always want to have good backups anyway, it doesn’t matter. So, we’ll always be cognizant of that. You’re always having contingency plans regardless of the position, because you just want to make sure that the backup can step in and play at a high-level just like George Fant and Morgan Moses have done this year. But I’m not going to label him injury prone, I’m not going to do any of that stuff. We had Jimmy Ward in San Francisco who was labeled injury prone, and he couldn’t stay healthy, but he’s had a string now of a couple of years where he’s been healthy and he’s an All-Pro player. So, I never look at a player from an injury standpoint like, sometimes it’s a string of bad luck. For Mekhi, this is going to be a big offseason for him in terms of getting his body right, getting his mind right, getting himself ready to play as quickly as possible so he can have a full set of OTAs, which he’s never had, a full training camp, which he really has never had, and get himself into the season so he can dominate the way we all know he can.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: Robert, I just want to clarify something you said just so we don’t misinterpret it and that sometimes creates problems, but you said the surgery didn’t go as expected, so are you talking about, what exactly are you talking about?

No, no. I’m sorry, I’m just saying you have a surgery, you’re expecting the timeframe, he’s going through the healing process, there’s no setbacks, it just, he’s a very, very big man and it just heals differently. So, there’s no bad surgery, there was no bad rehab process, there’s no ill intent on his part, it’s not healing the way or the speed at which we were anticipating isn’t exactly happening, so it wasn’t anything malicious from anyone’s side, it’s just unfortunate. But confident we’ll get him back and ready to roll hopefully next week, but worst case scenario 2022.

 

DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: Robert, obviously with the emergence of George Fant and how well he’s played at left tackle, could you foresee any situation where you possibly move Mekhi to right tackle or whenever Mekhi is ready, whether it’s the next two games or next year, just move Fant back to right tackle?

I’m not going to deal with that one right now, DJ. Let’s see where Mekhi’s mind is at, let’s see him get back and healthy. That’s the most important thing, then we’ll go from there.

 

Rich Cimini, ESPN: Regarding Zach’s performance, I just wanted to ask you a two-pronged question, one, just the way he was able to pull the ball down and run, and secondly, it’s the third game in a row with no interceptions for him, so maybe you could speak to his decision making and how that’s evolved over the last couple of games?

Come on Rich, knock on wood over there. I see all that wood over there, knock on wood. I thought he was good. He made some remarkable throws yesterday. I know we’re not going to flash out the gaudy passing numbers, but that third down throw that he had to (Braxton) Berrios, I’ll argue with (Mike) LaFleur that was probably the best throw he’s made all season in terms of tempo, had a six-man pressure in this face, ripped the ball knowing that he was going to get hit, put it exactly where Berrios needed to catch it to protect him from the safety. I mean it was awesome, it was a clutch throw, clutch catch, and a critical down to keep the chains moving. Zach’s decision making has been fantastic. His off-schedule stuff, he’s starting to look natural. I mean shoot, he finally pumped fake a defender and ran around him for a big chunk of yards to just show the natural play making ability where he finally looked a little bit loose yesterday in terms of running with a purpose, not running just to run. He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there. Like I said, he’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.

 

Brian Costello, New York Post: With all that being said about Zach, just how critical is this offseason for you guys to keep adding on? You got Elijah (Moore), you got (Michael) Carter, you got Corey Davis this offseason, but just to keep adding the pieces around him to give him just kind of that support to keep developing?

I think it’s important at all positions. I think it’s important for us to get guys healthy on defense to really hone in and try to improve and make sure that we’re a defense that can get him the ball, we’re not having to play catchup because we gave up a couple of quick scores. I think adding pieces to make sure our run game operates the way it did yesterday, which was unbelievable, to take pressure off him. So, it’s a global thing, it’s not necessarily receivers, tight ends, it’s not just one group, it’s a whole team standpoint in terms of getting guys back healthy, continue to develop these young guys. And then obviously you get the draft and whatever, but to continue to add and build and solidify the pieces around and see if we can get guys making plays. But its more holistic in terms of defense, run game, play makers, it’s everyone and we do have a lot of those, they’re just not playing for us right now.

 

Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Robert, one of the players that we’ve talked to you a lot about this year has been Denzel Mims. Earlier in the season it was kind of about he’s not getting opportunities, not on the field. Well now that he’s been on the field the last couple of weeks due to injuries and COVID and things of that nature, it hasn’t been necessarily great all that often. Obviously, he’s not making too much of an impact, ran out of bound on that fourth-down play which made him ineligible. Why do you think that things just have not worked for him this yeaR? Why hasn’t he made really any impact kind of on that field?

That’s a good question. I can give you a long dissertation on this one. I’m going to try to group this, try to make this a simple deal. Denzel’s not the first second-year player to struggle in the history of football, and he won’t be the last second-year player to struggle in the NFL. If you guys go back and watch Zach’s press conference from last week, he talked about how he feels like his college season still hasn’t ended. He went right form college into working out, combine, all that stuff. And then he’s in the NFL season, so it’s like this one big, long season. And so these rookies, they get to this offseason and they kind of decompress and they have all this time, and they forget what created all that promise in the first place, and that was the amount of work they put in in the offseason and the continuity they were able to build. And obviously taking advantage of the opportunity when they got it. So, a lot of these second year players get lost in the offseason, and that’s kind of how they lose their second year. Not saying that happened to Denzel, but Denzel’s going to have an opportunity, no one’s quitting on him. And we’re going to continue to grind and try to put him in the best positions possible to help this team. He’s a big man, he’s got tremendous length, he’s got speed, he’s got power, it’s just a matter of piecing it all together for him, and him having, again, he still has two weeks to finish strong. So, he’s not done yet. but at the same time, his story hasn’t been close to being written yet and with two week and 2022, he still has plenty of opportunities left.

 

Dennis Waszak, Associated Press: Robert, I know Connor (Hughes) asked you about the noise complaints, but when (Connor) McDermott makes that catch in the end zone, did you go a little bit crazy in there?

I’ll give you a funny little story. I was facetiming with Matt LaFleur, and we were watching the game at the same time, but he was like five seconds ahead of me. And I’m yelling at him to stop telling me what’s happening. And I could tell something happened, because he was like, “Oh.” So, when it caught it, I was just laughing and like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe that happened.’ But it was a really cool moment.

 

DJ Bien Aime, New York Daily News: Robert, what did you think about the offensive line and the run game yesterday?

It was awesome. I think one of y’all posted it that we had the most rushing yards by any team in the NFL this (season), 273 yards, which I think was awesome. I love the way Mike LaFleur called the game, if we need Ron Middleton in Mike’s ear to yell at him to run the ball more, shoot, I’ll be more than happy to give him the headset when the offense is up. But he was awesome. We were turning out yards, Michael Carter, I mean he’s such a special talent. The first tackler never brings him down. If the o-line blocks it for five, he’s finding a way to get eight, nine, and 10, he’s pretty cool. Tevin Coleman was running his butt off, o-line was blocking, scheme was awesome, and it felt like, just watching it, there was a lot of space for the guys to run through. So, credit to the o-line. When they cut to the sideline from the TV, you could see GVR (Greg Van Roten) having a good time, the o-line was having a blast on the sideline when the defense, I mean they were all engaged, the o-line looked like they were into it. Which they should, it was pretty cool to watch from the TV copy, the amount of aggression, the way the new line of scrimmage was being created, just all of it was pretty damn impressive.

 

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