Head Coach MARVIN LEWIS
Initial comments:** ML: "First, to sum up the last couple picks. Reid Fragel, the tackle from Ohio State is really a big, athletic player who made the transition from a couple positions offensively. He just kept growing and really was impressive strength-wise what he did at the combine. He's got great hips, can roll his hips — just an impressive, young prospect who's still on the come, and we really feel like he's a great addition to the football team up front. The last two guys that we took help us really create some depth up front and develop guys as we move forward with guys that don't have to roll out there the first day as starting players, but hopefully, whether it be sometime this football season and they have to come in and fill in, or whatever, they have that kind of potential in them.
"T.J. Johnson, the center from South Carolina, it's the same thing with him. He played a lot of football down there. He ran the show and did a great job in their offense, which is a lot of shotgun, not in the huddle with a lot of changing at the line of scrimmage. He's a really smart guy, able to handle all those things that they do offensively, and he's played against some of the best players and top prospects down there in the SEC week in and week out. Two really great guys at the end to feel good about.
"I didn't come down for Rex Burkhead or Cobi Hamilton, either (the sixth-round picks). Rex is such a productive player. He overcame a little bit of an injury in his last year, so he missed a little bit of time, was a little gimpy at times but really came on and played well. He's a great receiver of the football, has the ability to make people miss in line and down the field. The thing that he probably has and will continue to get back is his long speed. But really, he's a complement to our football team. He may be lined up at fullback there, which will be a great opportunity to compete and play for special teams time. He's a great one-cut runner, receiver and makes people miss in the second level, so I'm really excited we were able to draft him.
"Cobi Hamilton was behind a couple players who were drafted a year ago (from Arkansas), so he split time, and then this year he was able to be the guy solely by himself and he caught 90 passes. He was very productive, so it's really a good group of guys we feel really good about. It's been a productive three days.
"When we set out this offseason, we had a number of unsigned free agents of our own and we knew that was going to be an issue: Trying to get our guys signed, and we went and really kind of targeted some guys to fill in some spots where we might make some change from some of the players that we had. We've been successful in that, adding other people's guys or guys who were on other clubs. We've added a couple guys we feel will really help us that way in competition with our guys, in backup roles or however it plays out. They get to decide that on the field, which is the great thing for them. Being able to retain our own players, obviously we had the targeted group of players and had to go in and get those guys re-signed. As I said yesterday, it was just a great effort from our management group of getting those done. Those signings are so key to get those done and get the guys back here.
"There were some guys that moved on to other teams and our football team, we know that's part of the process. You have to welcome that because we need to keep the cycle moving. We were able to retain the ones we wanted to retain; we got that done. And then to be able to supplement that and fill that in with the draft, I feel it was a really successful three days for us. We had an opportunity to pick guys around the time we felt that we wanted to pick them at the positions that we felt we needed to fill in and add some depth. Getting (tight end) Tyler (Eifert) at the top of the draft kind of kicked things off for us in the right way and made it a very successful weekend, even all the way to the end with T.J. Johnson.
"We really feel good about things. You had an opportunity to see the first four guys and have them here the last two days and it's been good for them to get here and see the whole group in person and for us to lay eyes on them again. Any questions?"
It seems like with this class the theme you've been repeating is they have room to grow. Is that something you've been particularly happy with, not just with this draft class, but the last few?
ML: "I think we've been very happy with that. That's provided guys an opportunity to grow. They're kids that have good intellect to them, so they're smart players. They come in here better decision makers and I think that's helpful as you move forward. As you keep building the football team — because we didn't go into the draft saying 'Boy, we've got to get that guy, we've got to get this position' and so forth — we feel good about things where we are. But we know we've got to get better. We're looking at how do we get better and we were able to enhance some of our areas on the football team with this draft."
It seems like you guys have had a lot of picks the last couple of years, and this class:
ML: "We'll get some good compensatory picks next year, too."
But some of these guys in this class might not make it, and it doesn't seem like that's ever been the case before:
ML: "These guys we drafted are going to have an opportunity to breathe on the necks of some guys that might have been on the roster last year. That's what professional sports and the National Football League should be about — competition. Just because you were on the football team a year ago does not preserve the right, the seat, the chair to be here again this year. Now, injuries happen, things happen, but we have opportunity for these guys to come in and compete. If they displace a guy, that's part of the process, so be it. It should make us better in the process."
A few drafts ago, in 2009 and '10, the draftees were needed and expected to come in and contribute right away. It doesn't seem like that's the case anymore. Outside of one position, it doesn't seem like there is that pressure anymore:
ML: "I don't know that they're in that position in any of the positions, quite frankly. That's good. But yet, I think we can utilize them all. And I think we will try to utilize them all. Every single one of these guys that we picked, I can envision them being on our 46-man roster at some point, if not early in the season. I think they have that kind of ability in them. Now, that's up to them to prove me right."
So you think any one of these players could be a game-day active this season?
ML: "It's a possibility. I don't see why we would say why any of them can't be. Now, I've got a little bit of an advantage, because with these players, I've literally spent a lot of time looking at them. Sometimes there might be a guy or two that I haven't had much exposure to, but I can say wholeheartedly this time that I've had exposure to every one of these guys. So I feel really good about them. I've seen multiple tapes on every one of these players."
How satisfying is it that you've now re-signed five players from the 2009 draft class, and now they can be the leaders on this team?
ML: "We experienced it a little bit with the guys that we had to get re-done for last season out of the classes prior to that. The same thing with this group — they carry themselves with a different air right now. They've got their feet on solid ground, and that's a good thing. We experienced that with Reggie Nelson last year. It's a great theme for the football team — just keep playing your tail off, and if opportunity is better somewhere else, that's great. If you do things the right way, we'll work hard to get you re-signed here. If you feel this is the best spot for you, then we want you back here. We've done that. So that's great. Like I said, great work getting that done. As you said, they continue to grow and be part of the leadership group, along with some of the guys that came in here in 2004, '05 and '06 that are still here."
This might be the first year (in Lewis era) that you haven't had a rookie in the opening day starting lineup:
ML: "Yeah. It could be that way, or it could be different based on injury. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't feel like we'd be a step back that way. I think all of these guys have the potential to be one or the other, and that's a good thing."
You said at the beginning of free agency that you weren't surprised about the Ravens losing the big-name players, because Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome is always a few years ahead in developing talent. Are you guys in that mode now too, where you have a little wiggle room?
ML: "Well, we're trying to get there. The only way you convince anyone you're there is you've got to be successful on the field. We've had a degree of success on the field, but not to the degree that we want to be. I think the only way to do that is to keep sustaining it and get further. We've got to move through the playoffs and beyond. That's important. Then, all the parentheses will be taken off (laughs). We can reduce all the parentheses and all the comparisons. We've got to earn it though."
You'd like to re-sign Michael Johnson and Jermaine Gresham:
ML: "We've got a while. Some guys have got longer time than you know, so don't start playing cap-ologist. There's a process and, again, we'll try to stay on the cycle. You've got to stay ahead of the game in the National Football League; you just can't plan it for one season. You've got to plan it for at least a three-year plan on those things. Like Joe (Reedy) alluded to, yeah, the Ravens had a plan. They knew there were certain things that they were going to need to get done this offseason. They drafted accordingly the year prior and when you get to the end, you know there are certain guys on your team that are going to be of focus. There are other guys that, frankly, you're not going to be able to fit in. Every football team in the NFL can't pay each guy top level at their position; it just can't happen. It doesn't happen. So we have to be strong with the draft. We have to develop our young players. That's an important thing to do. And if we have to go out and supplement it a little bit with a current NFL free agent, we have to be prepared to do that. But as you know from me, it's going to be a guy that fits our work ethic and fits into what we do and how we do it, because at that point, it's too hard to change their habits and what they're used to doing."
You talked about an offseason check list yesterday. It seems like you've accomplished everything on that list right down to getting a veteran SAM linebacker and drafting a running back:
ML: "We got two running backs. We got Bernard (Scott) signed and gave him an opportunity to come back on this football team and prove that he's the guy we drafted in '09 with the rest of this group. You feel good about it. We've still got some time. This is the next step and there'll be some movement and shuffling as we go through May and June, prior to training camp and maybe right before training camp. We're in a good place as a football team right now where we can continue to look to try to get better personnel-wise. I think we've learned that standing pat is not the best thing, but you've got to keep working hard to get better. And if we've got to change some guys out, we'll keep working at looking to changing guys out."
Did you draft 6-foot-8 offensive lineman Reid Fragel to watch him practice against 6-8 defensive lineman Margus Hunt every day?
ML: "We kind of did this (makes up-and-down gesture) with Tyler (Eifert), and then we go to Margus (Hunt). You know what I mean? So we go up and down and up and down a little bit, kind of like the stock market I guess with the heights of these guys. But yeah, we've got some big good-looking kids and that's a good thing. You've got to have big physical people up front, and we got that. We got guys with great looking legs and things like that; good developmental guys, as far as they can develop physically. That's important for us to keep on those guys because this is a game for big, strong, tough guys. You've got to have that and we got some more of those."
It was basically a fat-guy draft for you, except for the running backs:
ML: "Well I wouldn't call any of those guys fat. They are some big guys, big guys and that's good. We need big guys. We signed a big guy yesterday. We've got to keep our big guys going. The big guys have been the spirit of this football team and they've made a huge difference. We've got to keep replenishing that. These guys get to come in here, these young linemen, with a great group of mentors, both the offensive line group and the defensive line group. There's great mentorship in that. That's outstanding."
That seemed to be the theme of the whole draft:
ML: "I think everyone said that going in. Prior to me getting immersed the whole process, that was what the scuttlebutt was. Everyone was saying it was such a deep draft for offensive lineman and defensive lineman and that's how it played out."
There's also the philosophy that you have to protect the quarterback:
ML: "I think people are going to pick the best players. If there were good looking quarterbacks, running backs and wideouts, they would have gone at the top of the draft because people like to score points. They like balls going up and down the field. I think that still would've been the focus and the lineman would have been secondary to that."
Is it possible that you may pick up an undrafted quarterback?
ML: "We'll see. We're kind of quarterback heavy right now. We'll see what happens."
Would you say that the upcoming roster decisions could be some of the toughest since you've been here?
ML: "I'd say it will be good. We have an opportunity to start slow and work into the OTAs later on. We'll have a productive end of May and first part of June. A lot of us getting better is us as coaches getting better. Through our teaching methods we can give our guys the opportunities to be better players. At the end of the day, it's my responsibility to make sure we win the football game."
You had a lot of guys who were hurt last year:
ML: "Some of the guys last year didn't get much of an opportunity. We've got some guys who sat last year who will have a chance to see the field this year. I think that's what makes the NFL fun. I'll have the chance to roll these guys out in the preseason and watch them go to work. I think that'll be a great opportunity for our guys."
You're an offseason pick to win a playoff game:
ML: "The only way to win the playoff game is to win the playoff game."
How do you coach this team to not look at outside expectations, being that you're considered division favorites?
ML: "We have a better leadership group than what we've had. Those are my lieutenants. They know where the focus is. No one will get in their ear and push them away from what's important. They know we earn things on the field. Just like last year when we had a rough start — we didn't go in the tank, we kept working and knowing that if we did things the right way, we'd come out on top. We kept fighting and didn't look back. We kept nosing forward one game at a time. That's part of the phase we're in now with how we've been working the last couple of weeks. It's fun to watch and see them around each other again. It's a great camaraderie. We play a great schedule this year. We play a Super Bowl participant from at least one of the last 10 Super Bowls — and seven of the last 10 winners. It's a good schedule."