Head Coach Robert Saleh, 5.24

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Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Is anyone notable not here?

There’s a few guys, but that’s ok. Like we’ve said before, it’s voluntary. We’ve got an unbelievable turn out, a lot of great positive vibes out there and so we’re excited about that.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Who medically can’t go through OTAs?

I’m not going to get into the medical stuff right now. Obviously, there are some guys. You guys are going to be out there, you guys are going to be able to see. I don’t want to touch on the medical stuff right now.


(follow up) Can I give you a specific one? Is Corey (Davis) able to do stuff?

Yes, he’s here. He’s working.


Al Iannazzone, Newsday: Is Mekhi (Becton) here?

They just had their baby, so he’s obviously tending to that which is far more important than this.


Brian Costello, New York Post: You mentioned, I think it was maybe during the rookie camp that this would be a little bit different OTAs, the big guys wouldn’t be doing as much. What do you hope to get out of this phase three and kind of just the though process of tempering it down a little bit?

The biggest thing that you’re always trying to achieve with regards to OTAs is neck up. I’ve said it before where football is unique in the sense that you actually have to play the sport to get good at it. You can’t pick up a ball, go to the gym and shoot hoops, you can’t swing at the driving range, you have to actually play it with others to get good at it. Everything about OTAs is really about technique, fundamentals, the violence part of it is not there because you don’t have pads on, but to be able to refamiliarize yourself with the scheme and what you’re being asked to do. There’s been a lot of self-scout that’s taken place, so not reintroducing but introducing new concepts to the guys and trying to build off of what we did a year ago. There’s a lot of things you’re trying to get done, but the biggest part of it is really your technique and your fundamentals and neck up.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Last year, you guys had, and some of it had to do because of injury and contract stuff with like Jamison (Crowder), but Zach (Wilson) was taking a bunch of first-team reps as a rookie, Elijah (Moore) was taking a bunch of first-team reps as a rookie. If you have a player, like a rookie, that you envision really contributing significantly come the regular season, does it make sense to give him the reps now? There’s also the old traditional mindset of start third, go to second and then work up to first compared to just, boom, baptism by fire.

We split it up. If there’s a 10-play period, I believe the reps are five, three, two in terms of the split. But really, it’s the quarterback getting those reps from a quarterback standpoint. Then from there, you, as a position coach, give the guys the work that they need. So, you’ll see a perceived one take three out of the five and split through. When you look at reps, and I think I said it during training camp, too, you can choose to read between the lines, but there’s really nothing to read. There’s some guys getting reps, there’s some guys who might be scaling it back to take care of the legs, there might be guys that you’re scaling up to give them more reps. The beginning of your question, reps are priceless. With all these guys, you’re trying to maximize their reps and the more they show, the more you want to give them because you’re preparing them for what you think they’ll be ready to do during the season. You’re trying to give those guys as many reps as you can.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: The rookies were scaled back during rookie minicamp. Garrett (Wilson), Sauce (Gardner), are those guys going to be working?

Yeah, they’re working.


Al Iannazzone, Newsday: How about Jeremy (Ruckert) with his foot? Is he able to do stuff in OTAs?

No, he’s still working through his foot injury, but he is out there working with the strength and conditioning staff.


Al Iannazzone, Newsday: When we were there for rookie camp, we were talking about Zach and you said he was looking beefy. You see a change in him. Now that you’re doing more, do you see more? Do you see more of a change in him?

It’s only been one day. If we go through phase two, he clearly has a much better understanding. Not to say he didn’t have an understanding, it just clicks different in year two. Yesterday was a cool day, just very decisive, got the ball to where it needed to get to. You just see little things in his game. As we install more and we put more load on, not only his teammates, but himself, you’ll see the amount of growth that we’ve made.


DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: You’ve added a lot of pieces to the defense, so how vital will OTAs be towards integrating those pieces into the scheme?

I think it’s big. Obviously, I’m biased, I’m a coach. The same can be said on offense. We got two new tight ends, we’ve got another receiver to add to the fold and then on defense we’ve got all those guys in the back end. Any time you can get those guys together again, they’ve got to play football. They’ve got to play football against one another to be able to get good at it and to be able to go and communicate with one another and understand how they play certain concepts so they can learn to play off one another. There’s a lot of things that come into play once they all get together. So, yeah, I think it’s all priceless.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, we didn’t see you since the schedule came out. What was your reaction when you saw the schedule?

We got a home opener, that’s a hell of a deal.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: Tagging off of a little bit of Coz’s question and also DJ’s question, when you look at that schedule, the first games aren’t perceived to be easy and with the new CBA that’s come out and the way the game has changed over the years, the practice time that you guys have to prepare for that opener just isn’t what it used to be. So, it usually takes a little bit of time for teams to get going, especially teams that have so many new pieces like you guys do. Does that increase the importance of OTAs, minicamp and training camp? Will you have to change anything to hit the ground running because you don’t necessarily have the easiest start to the year?

Every game in the league is hard. Every week is an animal. You’re not getting your Bye Week every week, but with that said, OTAs, it doesn’t change. There’s an old cliché, you treat every moment like a championship moment so when you get to those championship moments, they are very normal. So, these OTAs are no different than what they’ve always been It’s preparing yourself every single day to get ready for Week One and then from there you take it onto Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, whenever. It doesn’t change the urgency because you’re always pedal to the metal. Baltimore does present a unique offense, so having that time to be able to study it is a plus.


Ian O’Connor, New York Post: Last year, you and Zach were obviously new to your jobs, new to the market. Just based on your own experience, maybe the way you feel going into year two as opposed to year one, do you think he probably has just a greater degree of certainty and confidence about just how to do this job at a high level?

Yeah, I think it’s all experience. Again, I do think it takes players three years to figure it out. I do think there’s an adjustment that they’re making from year one to year two, that’s every single player throughout the NFL. Year two to year three is when they really solidify exactly what they want to be. You can tell that his head is right, he’s in a great mental space, he’s speaking the right language, he’s saying the right things, he’s doing the right things off the field with regards to who he’s surrounding himself with. We’re really excited about where he’s at, now it’s just a matter of continuing to grow with regards to the football aspect of it and see how far he can take it.


DJ Bien-Aime, New York Daily News: When it comes to OTAs, how much more important is like his mental processing, mental aptitude when it comes to attacking defenses versus the physical stuff? Because, again, you’re not going to do too much 11-on-11 and, obviously, there’s no pads. So, how much is the mental processing part much more greater during OTAs?

Everything is mental, especially when you’ve seen the same defense for 10 consecutive days, and it becomes redundant and it can become boring. How can you challenge yourself mentally? How can we as coaches challenge the players mentally to continue to find ways to get better? There’s a lot of different things going on, on both sides. Again, it’s like I said earlier, OTAs is all about neck up, technique, fundamentals, neck up work. Especially for the quarterback, like you said, it can get boring. But for him to stay mentally engaged comes from us and him.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Robert, after the last game last season, one of the first things you said to us, and I think to the team is you have to close the gap in the division. I realize it’s May 24th or whatever, this is all on paper right now, but what you did in free agency and the draft, on paper, do you feel like you’ve closed that gap at all?

We’re better and I know we’re going to be better. We’re young, we’re a year older, we brought in some really cool pieces, a lot of guys who stand for the right stuff, who live and breathe football. Now it’s just a matter of continuing to gain that continuity and confidence and, again, just take it one game at a time.


Connor Orr, Sports Illustrated: Have you noticed at all the players that used to fit in your scheme in San Francisco or even Seattle and especially that offense as it becomes more popular are becoming harder to acquire with more teams sort of copying a version of that?

That’s a cool question. I think in the NFL, there’s always competition for great players. The one thing that I feel very confident on with our schemes is that we always put our players in position where they showcase it. Both offensively and defensively, it’s a very attack-style mentality. So, when a player is allowed to go attack, you unlock all their athletic gifts. The example I’d give is the d-line where we are fire off the ball, attack, where there’s other teams who read and react where they’re not necessarily getting off the ball. One shows on tape better than the other, not that one is better than the other, just one shows better than the other for a player in an individual way. You’re always competing with every single team trying to acquire as many great players as you can. When you’re chasing the same guys, maybe it does. It does seem that way. When you bring it up, we’re all kind of looking at the same guys and we’re all liking the same guys. All our draft boards are very similar, so I guess it does.


Kim Jones, WFAN: Robert, with Zach, how about the work he’s seemed to have done neck down coming into this second season? 

You guys will see him, he’s thick (laughter). He looks good, he looks confident. Shoulders are back, he’s not caved in. He looks good, he’s confident, he’s smiling, he’s vocal. I’ve said it before that you can always tell the confident level and their understanding of what they’re being asked to do by the volume of their voice, and he’s getting pretty loud. He’s in a good space, too. It’s just him, and (Mike) LaFleur and (Rob) Calabrese are him in the room with him, so there’s less noise. But at the same time, a lot of good things are happening in there.


Connor Hughes, The Athletic: We obviously have talked so much about the players that you guys have acquired, the guys that are going into year two, but how beneficial is it for you as a coaching staff to also be going into year two? It’s Mike’s second year as OC, Rob’s second year as a quarterback coach, your second year as head coach. Then, obviously, the defensive staff as well. How much of a boost does that give you guys that now you’ve also done it for a full year?

It slows down, for sure. It’s always better because you get a chance to, when it’s the same person having the ability to make adjustments off of what they put out there, players and coaches alike, it’s a lot easier to make those adjustments seamlessly and, to add onto it, to where players understand the language. Just building upon a foundation that was started and making adjustments that make sense to what you’re trying to accomplish schematically. It’s very beneficial. Obviously, things slow down, the language barrier is torn down a little bit in terms of players understanding coaches and what we’re trying to get accomplished and vice versa, coaches understanding players. So, obviously year two is always beneficial, so will year two, four, five and so on and so forth.


Brian Costello, New York Post: Linebacker was a position you guys didn’t do a ton at this offseason. You added (Marcell) Harris. Where has Hamsah (Nasirildeen) and (Jamien) Sherwood in their development in year two with learning to play that position?

Sherwood, he’s still recovering obviously from the Achilles, but he’s out there. Excited to get him back, I believe for training camp. Then Nas (Nasirildeen) is out there too, getting his work in. He looks good. Again, it’s just a matter of trigger. For them, it’s going to be when pads come on. They’re safeties converted linebacker. I know they’ve both put on weight, they’ve solidified their bodies a little bit. It’s just going to be a matter of taking these reps. For Wood (Sherwood), obviously he’s going to be a little bit behind trying to get it back for training camp. He is wired in, he’s locked in and he’s going through everything mentally. They’re good, they’re in good shape, just got to continue getting these reps and seize their opportunities.