End-of-season Harbaugh presser

Read what John Harbaugh had to say at his end-of-season press conference in its entirety.

Opening statement: "I'd like to welcome everybody – thanks for coming. I apologize for the fact that we're even having this press conference, for the fact that we have to sit here and talk about the fact that we're wrapping up the season and the playoffs haven't even started yet. That's not territory we're very comfortable with or very familiar with or that we're very happy about around here. We understand that we didn't get the job done and that we need to go to work to improve in every single way we possibly can. We'll approach it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. We will work like crazy to improve and become better. But, this is going to be sticking in our craw for quite a long time – I can tell you that.

"I want to thank you guys, the reporters and the media who cover us. You guys – ladies and gentlemen – do a tremendous job. I feel like we've got a very tough media, but we've got a very fair media. You do a great job of getting information to our fans, analyzing us, taking a look at us and communicating with the fans back and forth – really allowing the fans to be a part of what we're doing and connecting us to the fans and the fans with us. Whether it be radio or print or TV, we just appreciate you tremendously. I hope you understand that, and I know you do, because I can tell by the way you treat me. The fact is that I really try to give as much information as I possibly can that'll help the fans, and not give information that is going to help our opponents. I sense that you understand that, and that is greatly appreciated, and I thank you for that.

"A couple other things, going forward: I think we made progress in a number of areas this season, as the season went along. But as you look at it, some things are clear – and you can ask questions about these things, too – but we're going to need to run the ball better, we're going to need to protect Joe [Flacco] better. Offensively, those things will make us better offensively. We've got to make more big plays – big plays down the field. We've got to be better defensively in some ways, too. We improved tremendously, defensively, this year, but we'll look at the areas we need to get better at. We need to be better in the fourth quarter, and we need to be better at protecting leads at the end of the game. Those are things that would have made a difference in games that probably would have gotten us in the playoffs. Coaches are working on this.

"There is a lot happening in the NFL right now, as far as coaches, as you guys know. A lot of things happened yesterday. There may or may not be some more things happening as the week goes on, and I'm sure some of our coaches could be a part of that, as far as opportunities go to move up and move on and to pursue career opportunities. So, we're proud of that. I think we've had a lot of success here. The fact that we're not pushing deep into the playoffs will probably give some of our coaches some opportunities to do that. Right now, all of our coaches are here, they're all working, they're all doing everything they can to wrap the season up and to push forward into building our schemes for next year and push forward into the draft and evaluation on that. We're all working right now, so I don't have anything to announce as far as coaches moving on or anything like that. In the next few days or next week, there may be some things where guys have opportunities to move on – possibly some other jobs – that we'll just have to see how that goes.

"We're working on a thorough self-examination. Ozzie [Newsome] and his staff are doing the same thing. We'll meet together for a few days early next week to tie ourselves together personnel-wise, and then we'll have a meeting with Steve [Bisciotti], with Dick [Cass] and with Ozzie and with Eric [DeCosta] down in Florida – with Pat [Moriarty] as well – to take a look at our cap situation, our personnel situation and to make big-picture plans going forward. I don't have a lot of answers going forward as far as the big picture – cap-wise and personnel-wise – but that'll be in about a week, about two weeks to a week-and-a-half that we'll do that."

You said that this sticks in your craw and this is a feeling you're not used to. When you do the exit interviews with your players and you look into their eyes, what do you see?

"That's a great question. I see the same thing. I see guys that are a cross between a little – I don't know if ‘stunned' is the right word – but this is not something they're used to, and they're a little bit ticked off. Every single guy that I've talked to has taken responsibility first. You can listen to somebody when someone says, ‘This is what I think the problem is,' but when they start with themselves and with ‘what I could have done better and should have done better to improve us,' then you know you're more apt to listen to what the rest of the things that they have to say are. To a man, every one of our guys has done that – coaches and players. That's the way they have been all year, and that's what I appreciate about our guys."

With the running game, what are some of the things that jumped out this season and made it difficult for you to really run the ball, except for a few cases?

"That's probably our biggest disappointment, because really, we're built – and we philosophically believe – in being a rough, tough, physical offense that can run the football. That's the way we started, and that hasn't changed. No matter where you go with the passing game, that has got to be a staple of what we're going to do. And, it wasn't this year. It's a lot of things. Some of the things that stick out is the fact that it all goes together. There are complements to the running game. You've got to be able to throw the ball well enough to protect your running game and back people off. OK, that's one thing. We didn't always do that. You've got to be able to block people, move people and knock people around well enough to run the ball. You've got to be able to create some angles and some situations where there are mismatches. And, you've got to be able to make some plays out there when plays aren't there to create some yards. Across the board, coaches and players, those are all things we just weren't able to put together. We tried like crazy, but we didn't put it together this year."

I know Dennis [Pitta] came back later in the year, but how much did that injury throw off what you guys were planning on doing?

"I don't know if I could rate exactly how much, but Dennis [Pitta] is a really good player. Anytime you lose a really good player that's a key, integral part of what you're doing … You better understand that injuries are going to happen, but I don't know that we necessarily had a go-to guy in the slot that was really a good answer to replace Dennis when he got hurt. That's why we went out and we got Dallas [Clark] and we got Brandon Stokley right away. We knew we had to do that. Those guys really worked hard and did a heck of a job. Brandon just couldn't get healthy, and I thought Dallas, as the year went on, made some big plays for us. Replacing Dennis Pitta was tough for us, and it probably threw us off a little bit."

You said you were disappointed with the run game this season. You brought in Juan castillo as the run game coordinator. How responsible is he for the lack of production in the run game?

"Like I just said, it's a lot of things, and that's part of it. I guarantee you one thing if you talk to any of our coaches … And Juan Castillo is a very accountable guy. Juan Castillo will be the first guy to say put it all on his shoulders. There are probably a lot of people out there willing to do that. I say put it all on my shoulders. People are more than happy to say, ‘Fine, you've got it. It's all your fault.' And that's where we should all start. That's where it should all start for all of us. I know better. Being in those meetings every single day and being a part of that thing every single day, I know better, and every one of our players knows better, and every one of our coaches knows that there are a lot of things that go into that. I've got complete confidence and belief in all of our coaches. I believe in our coaches. That goes for Juan Castillo; it goes for all of our guys. I think he's a great coach, but I think all of our guys are great coaches. But, we've got to coach better. We've got to find a way to use our personnel better. We've got to get better. All those things have to happen."

The new CBA permits only 30 padded-practice days during the regular season. Does that limit you or hamper you in any way in developing the team, especially with the younger players?

"Yes, yes, and that's a challenge that we are all facing around the league. So, you can't sit there and use that as an excuse, because everybody has the same number of days. They have the same calendar, and your challenge is to use that calendar in a way that gives you an advantage over the people you are competing against. And that's what we have to go to work on. I talked to the team about that yesterday. We will – like we have in the past, especially two years ago when we had almost a full offseason – we are going to look at everything we do. Every practice schedule, every drill, every opportunity we have to develop our players – we're going to look at it and do everything we can to maximize that time to be as good as we can be.

"And some of that may be, ‘Hey, veteran players don't need as much work as young guys.' And that's what your point is – how do you develop the young guys? Well, the young guys better be doing a lot on their own in the offseason. It used to be that you could work with your young guys in the offseason. Now, you're not allowed to work with your young guys. You're not allowed to develop your young players in the offseason. It's un-American, OK? (laughter) Somebody explain to me why that is right and fair and good. When I get that explanation, I'll understand it.

"I'm talking to the player's union on that, OK? That doesn't make any sense. Those young guys are in the union, OK? Where's their voice? That's something I think Bill Belichick has talked about, and I think when they wise up, that will get corrected someday. But, in the meantime, it's our job to figure out how to develop those young players somehow, someway, to give them a chance to have a career in the National Football League, to give them an opportunity to compete. And we've got to find a way to do that."

How do you go about improving the offensive line? Does that mean you might need to make some personnel changes?

"Absolutely. Everything is going to be on the table that way. Every one of our guys, all of us understand in this league that it is a production business – coaches and players. We all have to be accountable for producing and winning. That's why there are six, seven, eight, nine changes every single year. And the same thing goes for players. Players are getting changed out every single week in the National Football League, let alone every single year.

"So, what we will do is we will find a way to be the best possible offense, offensive line, defense, defensive line, special teams that we can possibly be. And personnel is a big part of that. The best guys deserve to play, and the guys who are the best guys are the guys who play the best. And we've got to find those guys, and they know that. That's what players appreciate, because that's the opportunity that they're looking for."

You've talked about the possibility that your coaches may have opportunities to move elsewhere, but when you do your review, is it possible you could guys could decide to go in a different direction?

"I don't want to get into all that right now, because I just don't think that would be fair. I don't want to sit here and say I'm never going to do anything or that we're always going to do something. I don't plan on doing anything right now. And you guys are going to say, ‘Ooh, there's an opening, maybe he's going to do something.' When I open up my Bible, what it says, it says something along the lines of – I wish I'd memorized some of this stuff better – but it says, ‘Make no oath.' I don't want to make an oath that I don't really know the answer to in the future. Like I said, I think we have … Every one of our coaches is a great coach. You don't coach at this level and succeed at this level and stick around at this level if you are not a great coach – a great coach. And every one of those guys is. What turns out to be the best fit for guys going forward, opportunities that guys have or whatever, we'll see how that shakes out over the course of the next two, three weeks. But, I'm happy with all of our guys and I think all of our guys are good, loyal people and hardworking people."

Would you anticipate a competitive situation at the center position with Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley, Ryan Jensen or possibly a player from outside the team?

"I think there will be a competitive situation pretty much at every spot on the offensive line except right guard. So, the answer is ‘yes' to that. We will be looking forward to getting ‘K.O.' [Kelechi Osemele] back. Whether he plays left guard or right tackle, we will have to make a determination on that. He can play either one of those spots. I would assume that he will be in that lineup somewhere, because he's that kind of a player, but he's got to come back and do it. Of course, he knows that. After that, help me out … Michael's [Oher] contract is up, Eugene's [Monroe] contract is up, and we'll just have to see how some of that offseason stuff works out."

What are your expectations for Ray Rice going forward?

"My expectations for Ray Rice are to be one of the very best running backs in the National Football League. That's the standard for Ray. And the great thing about Ray is – and I just had this conversation with him this morning – that's his standard for himself. The thing I love about it, talking to him, is that he has a plan to make sure as his career extends here that he is that guy for a long period of time. Nobody works harder than Ray. The numbers weren't there this year. Like we talked about, there are different reasons for that. Ray Rice fought through some things.

"There were probably some issues he had with his legs that other players wouldn't have even played with [and] just would have said, ‘I'm out.' That's not who Ray is. Ray fought through that early on. Right away, he wanted to come back the first week after the Cleveland game, and we had to hold him back. I think he fought through it and did the best he could with where he was at. And I'm very confident that when he says he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and be better than ever, I'm confident that he's going to do exactly that."

What is the dynamic now when you have so many ideas for the team and the players, but you are separated from them for the offseason? How do you deal with that these next few weeks?

"We always stay in touch with the players. It's a lot of guys, but all of our position coaches do a great job. They have great relationships with the guys. They talk to the guys all the time. For me, it's a bigger number of guys – you're talking, it will end up being about 90 guys that I'm going to be trying to communicate with – but I work hard at communicating with those guys. So, I'll talk to those guys periodically, pretty regularly and the veteran guys even more often. So, that's part of it.

"But, the other part of it really is the excitement that you have for the next phase. In all honesty, I cannot wait – and I know our coaches feel the same way – to dig in to building our systems going forward. What do we anticipate our personnel being, and what's the best way to put together a defense, offense and special teams that's going to give the guys that we know are going to be back the best chance to be really good? Let's do a great job of that.

"Let's make it a heck of a lot better than it was last year. Where do we have to look? What do we have to look at? What decisions do we have to make as far as philosophical decisions about how we want to attack people? And I can't wait to get started on that – that's No. 1. Then No. 2 is the draft, free agency – the personnel part of it. Working with Ozzie [Newsome] and his group, as coaches we work with those guys to put the best group of players together that we possibly can. This is when you build your team. This is when you build the foundation of your team. The better job we do right now scheme-wise and personnel-wise, the better we will be next year. So, it's a like a sense of urgency right now to go to work."

Can you evaluate how the rookie class performed this year? With the turnover from last season, a lot of the younger players got opportunities this year. Do you see a young nucleus that developed?

"Yes. Obviously, the young guys are going to play, and they've got to play well. If you look at our young guys, our young guys played pretty well this year. Maybe you can help me out off the top of your head and go through the draft order with me, and we could talk about each guy. I thought Matt Elam – obviously, he was our first pick – played well. I talked to Matt Elam yesterday, and Matt Elam was disappointed in how he played. He feels like he should be making a lot more plays. OK, I'm on board with that, Matt. But, when you're a safety, the thing I pointed out to him is when you're a safety, you better be solid first. And he was solid first as a safety. He was in the right spot most of the time doing the right thing. [He was] not 100 percent; it showed up in the Cincinnati game. But for the most part, he was solid back there. He can build on that, and he will."

Do you feel it was an issue at all not to have the leadership of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis this season?

"I missed them, personally, and I think our guys missed them. I saw Chykie [Brown] last week had a Ray Lewis speech on his iPhone and was listening to it through his headphones. He says, ‘Yeah, I'm just trying to get fired up, coach.' So, Ray Lewis lives. You're always going to miss guys. I think those guys are doing their thing now and doing real well at it, and they're always a part of us going forward. They're good friends; we miss them."

How would you evaluate the job that you did? You hear the criticisms about time management and decision-making and stuff like that. How would you look at the way you did?

"I really don't, because I don't listen to too much of that. I don't listen to your show, so I don't hear too much of it at all, that's for sure. (laughter) If I wanted to hear something smart, I certainly don't listen to your show. (laughter) I'm just kidding, I'm just kidding; I've seen your ratings though, too. (laughter) Hey, you can always do things better – 100 percent. It goes from team-building … In the end, that's the bottom line. If you don't look at yourself first – and it's just what I talked about before – then you're wrong, and I look at myself first. Any specific issue you want to talk about, bring it on."

Time management?

"I thought it was pretty good this year. Pretty darn good, absolutely."

Going for it on fourth down?

"Good, all except for one time. I told you that one. We go for it a lot on fourth down now. You would rather we don't?" (Reporter: "No, I was just getting your thoughts.") "OK, good." (laughter)

Joe Flacco, he's never had a season like this before – no quarterback in Ravens history ever had this many interceptions. What did you see with Joe in terms of the fundamentals, mechanics or sometimes maybe just pressing to make a play when it's not there?

"Those are all things that you look at. And like the running game, it probably all goes hand-in-hand. We were not as good in the passing game as we need to be. We were not ‘on.' I think Joe uses the word, ‘We're off.' We're just a little off, too often. And that probably is a good way to describe it without getting into every single detail of every single route. That has all got to go together, whether it's the way a route is run, whether it's accuracy, whether it's the way a play is read out, the way it's organized, when it's called, the protection, the ‘hots' – all the things that go into those different things, we never got that together the way we need to.

"And if we're going to be what we need to be going forward, we have to go to work on getting that done. And it's not going to start in the OTAs – it's got to start well before that. It's got to start with the way we build the system, what we give to our guys, and what they work on in the offseason together. We've got to build in chemistry, precision, those kinds of things that you're talking about. We've got to build those things in right out of the gates if we're going to be a good passing team. And a good passing team doesn't turn the ball over that many times. So, not just getting back to not turning the ball over, but even move forward and be more effective in what we're doing."

With all that being said about the passing game, I know you have Torrey Smith, you have Marlon Brown – who came on – some other young guys like Deonte Thompson. Do you feel like adding a receiver could be a priority?

"I think it could be. Those are things that we'll talk about over the next couple of weeks. I'm not opposed to adding any good player. As a coach, you want as many good players as you can possibly add to your football team. And I want as much competition as we can add, because it's not just adding a piece here or there – and a piece here or there is really important. A piece here or there makes everybody different, everybody better, because it pushes everybody into the role that they're best at. When you don't have a piece, it pushes them out of the role that they're best at and into asking them to do things that they're not as good at, and it shows up on the field. So, that's really important. But it's also important to get competition to push guys, so that they understand, ‘Hey, you know what? If I'm going to get on the field, I'm going to have to play really, really well in practice and in games, or this other guy over here is going to take my reps.' And to me, that's the other part of it."

I'm sure you guys brought in Eugene Monroe with the hopes that maybe he could be the long-term answer at left tackle. How did he play this year, and do you feel based on how he played that he could be that long-term answer?

"I don't think there's any question that people feel like Eugene Monroe is a long-term answer at left tackle. Everybody around the league feels that way, and he's here, he likes it here. He did a heck of a job. Juan [Castillo] did a heck of a job with him, for a guy coming in when he came in, and to pick up the offense and perform the way he did, it says a lot. So, whether we're able to do that or not, that will be addressed over the next couple of weeks. Like I said, I want every good player here, and he's a good player. So, I want him here."

John, for the first five years here, at least 24 teams had a jump on you getting ready for the next season. This year, the fact that you now have a jump on 12 other teams, what specifically are some of the things you look forward to getting done that you couldn't do in the past?

"I don't know if it's things we couldn't do in the past. We certainly probably couldn't do them as well, because we didn't have as much time. I'm not real happy about having the time [now], but we're going to make the most of it. And it goes to the draft, it goes to free agency, and it goes to building our system, scheme-wise. Those are all the things that we'll go to work on right away."

John, two areas that you did really well in for most of the year were red zone defense and the pass rush. But down the stretch, they were areas where you struggled. Can you talk about why those areas weren't strengths down the stretch?

"In the red zone, you take a look at each play … I don't think there's a big, systemic answer to that. We just made a couple of mistakes down there that we shouldn't have made in coverage. And a couple times, a couple guys made some pretty awesome plays. If you look at the Cincinnati game, that seam pass that was caught – the one-handed grab going to the ground that was caught – that was pretty well defensed. We had pass interference down there this last game that hurt us. It's just a great throw on the back end line, and Jimmy [Smith] is doing all he can, but he made contact just a little bit early.

"So, if he gets his eyes back, that probably doesn't turn out to be a touchdown in the red zone. So, those are situations you look at; they add up on you a little bit, and they did add up on us the last three games, and we'll look at that. But I think we have a good red zone package, and we may have to tweak it a little bit going forward, but that was more about play-making and not making plays down the stretch. The pass rush part of it, probably two-fold: Elvis' [Dumervil] injury didn't help us too much.

"That was something that he fought through, but that was a little bit tough for him. People did get the ball out pretty quick on us, and we probably got away from our pressure package just a little bit, because we played a little more coverage. And in the Cincinnati game, we played more coverage – which Dean [Pees] knows I'm not a big fan of; I like blitzing. To me, we're a blitzing team, we're a pressure team. Yet, we get four interceptions, because he's getting the ball out fast, and our guys are playing coverage, and we're doubling certain guys, and we're changing up our coverage patterns back there, and I thought our guys did a good job with that.

"But in the end, to your point, to start off with all those sacks, then to slow down at the end of the season, was something that was disappointing for us. And we've got to make sure we can do that throughout the course of the season and keep hitting quarterbacks, because if you do that, you're going to be successful."

John, you've always relied on your coordinators throughout your career, and it's worked for you. This year, you come short of the playoffs. Regardless of who the offensive and defensive coordinators may be going down the road, do you see any situation where you would take over a bigger portion of the play-calling? Or, are you going to continue to leave that kind of system as it is?

"For me, I'm involved in every part of our football [team]. So, if I stand up here and say it's my fault, then you can know that I'm involved in it. It's not just lip service. So, it's not that there's not a direction or something that I'm not involved in. Now, there's some things that I don't like any more than anybody else likes, or our coaches or players don't like, but we've got to go back and say, ‘Hey, how did we get to this point?' And we just try to fix it.

"But, I don't think my style is ever going to be to take one side of the ball, or one particular phase, and take it over, and then ignore the other two phases. There are coaches that makes sense for, guys that were offensive coordinators their whole career and that's what they know, or they were quarterback coaches their whole career, and they're going to take the quarterback. It makes sense for those guys, and that's what they're going to do, and that's how they're going to do it. But that's just not my background. My background has been that I've coached in all three phases, for over 30 years of coaching, mostly in the NFL on special teams, or a little bit on defense, and even on offense in college. So, I feel like that was the path that God gave me, and that's the one I'm going to use."

You talked a little bit about Matt Elam earlier. Are you happy with him at free safety, or do you think going down the road that it might be better off to move him to strong safety?

"Matt [Elam] is probably ‘quote un-quote' – as you would say – more of a strong safety in your vision of what those guys are. Safeties are more interchangeable these days. You can't just say, ‘One guy is down, and one guy is back the whole time,' because you're going to get predictable with your pressure package. They can't always know which guy is going to be the guy coming and which guy is going to be the guy high, because they would know where the pressure would be coming from.

"They've both got to be showing coverage on both sides and showing pressure on both sides. But also there can be an emphasis … One guy can be in the box a little more often and the other guy could be back a little more often. We were that way with Ed [Reed] a little bit more when Ed was here – it just depends on who the safeties are. I will say this, to your point: Matt is pretty darn good when he is running to the ball and making tackles. I think that's definitely a strength for him, and he showed that toward the end of the year."

John, you're always involved with the fans and the fans followed us over the last few years, plus you getting to the Super Bowl. Any thoughts going forward about the fan base or comments for the 12th man out there?

"Thanks for bringing that up. We have great fans. You go in other stadiums, the game starts, and the stadium might be two-thirds full. In our stadium, the game starts and every seat is taken. When introductions come out, it's not just a polite applause. Our fans are going crazy for our guys and come up with nicknames for them, and all that. Our fans want to win. They don't just want to win, [but] they want to see good football. They want to see people block.

"They want to see people stopped on third down. They want to see turnovers. Our fans know football. As a football coach, you couldn't dream of being in a better situation or a better place to coach than in Baltimore. You're working for fans that understand the game and they know what they're looking at. As Jerry [Coleman] says, you get the criticism, but hey, it's OK. Most of it is very well thought out and very fair. As long as it doesn't get personal … Sometimes it gets personal and it does sting a little bit. That sometimes that can be the tough thing, but that goes with the business, that goes with the territory. You just live with it. If it's football-related … It might be about time management, it might be about deciding to go for it on fourth down, or are we really running the offense or defense that we really need to run, or did we pressure enough in this game to get the pressure [we aim for].

"To me, those are the kinds of conversations that you want to have as a football coach with your fans. That's why I say I think you guys do a great job of connecting us to the fans and making that possible in Baltimore. Maybe we're a small enough city where we can pull it off and we can have a more intimate relationship that way with our fans – it's just a great thing. It is great place to coach for that reason."

John, I know that there is no point where Joe [Flacco] would ever want to come out of the game, but he took a lot of shots throughout and you could see he was in pain. Now that the season is over with, was there any time during the season where you thought, to protect him, you might have to take him out?

"I'll give the same answer; I think the answer when I was asked the last time was just, ‘No,' and I can give you the same honest answer – ‘No.' It's not that you don't consider it. It's not that I'm not watching it and considering where Joe [Flacco] is at. Every time I asked Joe how he is doing, he said, ‘Fine. I'm good.' I know Joe well enough to understand what that means. He's basically saying, ‘I don't want to hear it. I'm going to play.

"You're not taking me out of the game.' If he was seriously hurt, he would let me know that, too. If he couldn't go, if he couldn't perform … If I see that – if he says he's fine and I don't think he's performing; if it's really hindering him that much – as a coach, it's your responsibility to pull them out. I didn't see that. I feel like he was our best chance, especially in the Cincinnati game. It looked like he was moving around pretty well. The answer is, no, not at any time did we consider that seriously."

John, Corey Graham was talking yesterday about the fact that he wants me to come back. But, he said that even if he is not back, that you guys have a really strong group at corner now with how Jimmy [Smith] came on this year and Lardarius [Webb] how came on from the knee injury and how he came along during the course of the year. How much of a strength do you think that group of corners is, just with those two things?

"The cornerback position is a big strength for us. That's something that we really like to hold together. If we could keep Corey [Graham] in the fold – and Ozzie [Newsome] feels the same way – we're going to do everything we can to do it. If we can't, we can't, because he's played so well that maybe it will be one of these deals where … We wanted to keep Paul [Kruger] here, we wanted to keep [Dannell] Ellerbe here.

"We've had a lot of guys over the years we've wanted to keep here that we haven't been able to do it. Corey – if we could hold on to Corey – we really don't have to do anything else at cornerback. We can go with the guys we've got, because the rest of the guys are back. A young guy like Asa [Jackson] would be our fifth corner. We'd be in good shape there. If we lose Corey, then we're going to have to do something where we're going to have to add a corner to the mix for next year."

Organizationally, how big of a priority is it to keep Dennis Pitta because of all the things he does for you? I think he showed some of that in the last game with the difference in him being back.

"It's harder for me to speak organizationally, because I think we'll do that next week when you hear from Steve [Bisciotti] and Ozzie [Newsome]. They could probably answer that big-picture question a little better. Football-wise, Dennis [Pitta] is a really good player. Like I said before, we're not really interested in losing really good players. As a coach, yes, it's important."

John, when you hired Steve Spagnuolo back in the spring, you said his position would evolve as far as what he brought. Now that you've gone through the season, what did he bring to the defense that maybe you didn't have before?

"Steve [Spagnuolo] – first of all – is a heck of coach. He contributed in a lot of ways that are going to be unseen ways. If you ask Dean [Pees], I think Dean would tell you something along the lines that he was a big help to Dean as far as – not so much building the package – but studying the opponents and creating a few ideas and some insights that were a little bit different than what we've had here in the past and contributed in that way. I think Dean really came to appreciate Steve's role in the defensive room there a little bit.

"The thing about Steve is he's never really threatening to anybody. He respects all the other coaches. He just tried to help out where he could. I thought he got with some players here and there and did a really good job building relationships with those guys, giving those guys some insight as we went. I think the third part of it was what he did for me as a head coach. Here's a former head coach that is – on a day-to-day [basis] – watching the operation and saying, ‘Hey, think about this. Did you look at that? Hey, you might want to talk to this guy.' During the game, I went to him quite a bit in terms of [asking], ‘Hey, what do you think? What would you do here?'

"It's just one more voice that has been down that road. We've had some guys … Jim Caldwell has been in that room. Of course, you go to Dean. We have a pretty open dialogue with our coaches, but it's a pretty strong voice who has been in those shoes before, and it helps."

John, Joe [Flacco] said he just needs rest, nothing [else], on his knee. I know every guy after 16 games is dealing with some stuff, but did you get out of the season pretty healthy? Were there some guys that might have to get some significant procedures done?

"I probably should have mentioned that in the opening. We got out of the season really healthy. I thought [head certified athletic trainer] Mark Smith … Hey, sometimes injuries are fluke things. I thought Mark did a really good job of managing our guys and not bringing anybody back too early or getting them back as soon as they could, but not too early. We didn't have too many re-injuries, and that's huge.

"We have a couple of things. Lardarius [Webb] is going to do something with a sports hernia that he's been fighting. He did a nice job with that late in the season. The thing about sports hernia – if you know anything about it – is it's painful. Jimmy [Smith] had that last year and had the procedure during the season, and Webb is going to have it done after the season. Gino [Gradkowski] is going to have a knee issue that he is going to get cleaned up a little bit and get some cartilage cleaned out a little bit.

"Those are the only two things that I'm aware of right now, unless Kevin [Byrne, senior vice president of public and community relations] has something that I missed that he can think of. Those are the two things."

In terms of Gino Gradkowski, how much progress did you see from him over the course of the season? He said he grew a lot more comfortable making calls, reading defenses and things like that. What did you see?

"[I saw] major progress in Gino [Gradkowski] as far as the communication part of it. Early in the season, Gino would probably be the first to tell you that we had a lot of problems. You go from Matt Birk that does everything, that makes every call, and in some ways tells every lineman what to do in the heat of battle because he is so good – because you've got an offensive line coach basically in there playing center for you – to a guy that is doing it for the first time.

"That was part of the reason that we didn't have a hat on a hat a lot of times early on, and that was a tough transition for us. And yet, Gino fights through it, and by the end of the year, he is making all those calls and doing a good job with that. [He is] a really smart guy, huge student of the game. Juan [Castillo] gets him up in front of the room, Jim Caldwell gets him up in front of the room and has the centers do a lot of [analysis]. So, from a communication standpoint – talking to the guys in meetings and making sure we're on the same page with the calls before we get out there on the field – I've watched a number of those meetings, and he just does a great job with it. So, he's grown a lot, and [it's] something he should be able to build on."

As you talk to all your players for the final time … For example, Vonta Leach said yesterday that he was unhappy with his limited role this year. You probably get that from 53 different guys, how they want their role changed going forward. How do you weigh all that into your decision process along with Ozzie [Newsome] and Steve [Bisciotti] – who stays and who goes and things of that nature? Is it something where you say, well, we're not going to change our offense because one guy wants a bigger role?

"That is probably right. I'm trying to think of the best way to answer it. There is no way we would say, ‘OK, because a guy wants a role, we're going to do something we don't think is in our best interest to do.'

"But, would you ever want a player who didn't want more of a role? That is kind of to your point. That's something you balance every day with players. Vonta's [Leach] role changed when we moved the offense away from a two-back foundation early on, and the reason we got away from that was because it wasn't working. We started off with a two-back foundation, and we couldn't run the ball well enough to base the offense on the run game.

"And I think we came to that realization, and we had to move away from it, which took Vonta off the field more. But, he still played a critical role in terms of short yardage and the different things he was out there [for], and he did a good job. But, Vonta's biggest role this year probably was [from a] leadership standpoint. He was a leader, and I would have loved to have him on the field more, but it didn't play out that way. We planned on him being out there more, but it didn't play out that way."

You mentioned pass rush and the red zone, but were there any points either during the season or in games that you thought the defense wore down some, or would you not agree with that?

"I don't know that I saw signs of our defense wearing down. I'd have to probably look at that. I haven't looked at it from that perspective. I didn't think of it in those terms. I thought our defense was pretty stout right to the end. The one drive [at Cincinnati] was disappointing, but it wasn't really so much wearing down as it was they hit some plays on us and made some key third-down conversions. I was disappointed in the fact that we didn't have the quarterback defended on the back side of that belly play.

"I was disappointed that they hit a little stop hitch out there for a conversion. Those are the things that showed up to me from more of an execution standpoint. If we'd have got off the field on that drive, I believe we'd have won the game. Now, is that true or not – who knows? But, it sure didn't help. I'm looking at it more from that standpoint probably. You look at statistically, you look at the numbers – that's what you do at the end of the year. You've got to say we were a good defense.

"We were a really good defense. But, our defensive coaches and our defensive players are going to tell you that that's not good enough. They want to be a top defense – one, maybe two, maybe three when it's all said and done. That is the standard for the Ravens' defense, and that's what we're going to chase."

I know you will probably roll your eyes at this question, but majority of the guys you lost were replaced. You lost Paul [Kruger], you bring in Elvis [Dumervil]. Dannell [Ellerbe] you lose, you bring in Daryl Smith. Anquan [Boldin] was really the one that sticks out that you guys weren't able to replace, and I guess just in retrospect now, did that hurt at all throughout the course of the year, especially being without Dennis [Pitta] for as long as you were?

"Well, if we had been able to replace Anquan [Boldin], then … Defensively, we were able to replace those guys, and it showed up in the way we performed on defense. We probably weren't able to do that quite the same way with Anquan, unfortunately. So, I don't know how to answer that question. It is what it is; it's a fact. You've got a guy who was a big part of what we were doing, but he wasn't the only guy we lost. There were a lot of guys we lost last year that were a big part of what we were doing, and that is probably going to be the case every single year.

"As a coach, you just can't get caught up in that. You can't look back. I'm talking to the fans here. I'm watching guys that left here and watching them make plays for other teams. Of course, I'm thinking the same thing you're thinking: ‘Man, it'd be great if he was making that play for our team.' It's human nature [that] you feel that way about it. And yet, there were other guys that we added. With the cap restrictions, you take the money, they go from one person to another person that we added, and those guys were making plays for us. You mentioned those guys – Elvis Dumervil being a great example, Chris Canty being another example.

"We spent to the cap. It's not like we didn't spend the money. You've just got to do the best you can in this salary cap era of being the strongest team you can for the money that you're allotted, and hopefully, it works out. That's really the reality of it."

Can you explain the decision to keep Ray Rice on the sidelines early in the game the other day, and where do things stand with him going into next year?

"I really can't explain that adequately right now, in all honesty. That was something that happened during the game that, when I looked over and saw it, I put him back in the game. So, I don't have an answer for you right now. He should have been out there."

In terms of the red zone offense, it's supposed to be easy to be able score and push people around in there. Is there anything you would think about in the future, maybe even bigger backs or personnel to try to push the ball in there? And when I say big, I mean like 240 [pounds], like a LeGarrette Blount-type of guy.

"Yes, I think we need to diversify as much as we can what guys can do. I've had a lot of conversations with Ozzie [Newsome] and with Eric [DeCosta] and our different scouts about that, and our coaches, too. Yes, we want to have as many weapons as we can at our disposal. Big backs, fast backs, quick backs, route-running backs that you see around the league – we want to chase all those guys. You can't always get everything you want, but those are things that we could use."

Can we assume you are a 49ers fan now?

"You should. You should. I'm a 49ers fan." (laughter)

Ravens Insider Top Stories