Ravens rookie minicamp, in their own words

OWINGS MILLS -- Questions and answers at the Baltimore Ravens' rookie minicamp.

Head Coach John Harbaugh

On the benefit of having the rookies together after working with the veterans in the offseason camps: "It's a great point you make. We just talked about that on the field. It's kind of neat to have the rookie camp now at the end after these guys have had the mini-camp plus all the OTAs. They're so much further along than if we'd had this camp at the beginning before they had been through the offense twice. For a lot of these guys, it's their third time through the offense, and it showed up today in their ability to operate the offense and run the routes."

On whether he feels there is less teaching at this point because of the rookies' camp experience: "There's more teaching going on because you dig deeper. We're taking it deeper than we would have had the rookie camp been earlier."

On why rookie T Oniel Cousins missed practice today: "He had migraines, again. We've got migraines going around, I guess, on the offensive line. So, he had to come out because of a migraine. [Offensive line] coach [John] Matsko's pushing them to migraines."

On how TE Xavier Lee is making the switch to TE from QB: "Actually, I don't know if it's that he's surprising us, because we were hopeful that he'd be able to do some things at tight end, but he is starting to look a little bit like a tight end. He's running routes somewhat like what a tight end looks like. He's blocking in some fashion, not unlike a quarterback. He's got a long way to go, but he's getting better."

On how he adjusts his approach for the smaller, rookie camp without the rest of the team: "The thing you have to do is slow everything down between the reps. What you're trying to do is make sure the rep itself is you practice the rep, is just as fast as when the whole team is here, and therefore, we're playing like the Ravens. But, in between the reps, you've got to slow it down."

On whether he finds that QB Joe Flacco is making more or less mistakes now that he is taking the majority of snaps: "Is he making more mistakes or less mistakes? Well, he's not making the same mistakes. There are thousands of mistakes that are out there to be made from a quarterback, and that's why it's such a hard position to play. I don't know if there's anything in sports that is more difficult to do than be a really good quarterback in the NFL. There are a lot of layers to it, but he's pushing through those layers right now pretty well."

On what he has seen from rookie S Tom Zbikowski so far in camp: "It's tough on the safeties. You talk about ‘Ruki' [Haruki Nakamura], and you talk about ‘Zibby' [Tom Zbikowski] – our two safeties, our two martial artists – and they've got a lot of responsibility because Rex [Ryan]'s defense, like Cam [Cameron]'s offense, is really complicated, and those guys have to make the checks. But, they've done a good job of it. That's the biggest thing, it's them being able to put the check aside and play fast and we'll learn the check as we go. Because like any conscientious guy, they want to have it all right now, and they don't have it all in their hands just yet."

On what he's seen from RB Ray Rice so far: "Ray's done a great job. Ray works really hard, and he gets better every day. I'm looking forward to seeing Ray in pads. I think that's where Ray's going to be able to shine."

On his impression of WR Marcus Smith: "We think he has great hands, and we hope he's going to be a big-play guy. But our reputation for him was a tough, competitive guy who would block people and play great special teams – a real physical hardnosed player who had those other skills. And those are, again, things we're going to see in training camp. Becoming a wide receiver is a real nuance. He was a running back coming out of high school, so he's still learning the nuances of playing wide receiver."

On the importance that the rookies saw the veterans' work ethic in previous camps: "Big point. They've already seen how the veterans practice, and to some extent, what it means to be a pro, at least in the offseason. They can duplicate that through the rookie camp now because they've seen it already."

On whether he feels Zbikowski and Nakamura will be special teams players exclusively: "We're not going to have the luxury for those guys just to have to play on special teams. One of those guys is going to be our No. 3 safety and the other's going to be No. 4 or No. 5. I'd put Jimmy Leonhard in that mix, too, with those three guys are in the same mix. If one of our safeties goes down, or we get in certain personnel packages, they have to play defense, too. There's no one-dimensional player in the NFL."

On TE Xavier Lee: "He's learning how to play tight end. That's a challenge for him, and he's got a ways to go, but he's making good strides."

On his philosophy of bringing along the rookies: "They have a lot to learn, that's right. But, we want them to learn it fast because you don't have the luxury in today's salary cap era of those guys sitting around and developing for three years. We drafted them to play, and we need them to be ready – whoever makes the team – in September. And we're pushing to try to do that."

On special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg making a statement about the rookies fighting for a job in this rookie camp: "I don't know if they're fighting for [their job] at this mini-camp. It's a big-picture kind of a statement that Jerry is making. In the long run in the NFL, there are only so many jobs to go around, and you have to compete for those jobs. By the same token, we're a team, and we want to take care of each other and help each other out, but it's a competitive world."

On his assessment of WR Justin Harper's development and whether he might become the Ravens' red zone target: "We're hopeful that Justin can become a red zone target and a target all over the field. I'd say he's been better than expected. He's had a good stretch here."

On his overall goal for this week's mini-camp: "Just bring the rookies along further, as far as we can. We're going to push them as hard as we can and get them as far as we can. The goal, essentially, is to get them as close as we can to being able to compete for a job in training camp."

On whether he will schedule the rookie camp later in the offseason in years to come: "That's something we just talked about. We'll have to figure that out as times goes on, but that's a possibility."

S Haruki Nakamura

On how quickly he is learning the plays: "In the very beginning, when I first got here, it was a big rush. We were all trying to catch up with some of the guys that have already been here since the beginning of the offseason. As rookies, they say it's tough, and that's what it has been since the beginning. Everything now is starting to slow down. Some of the vets tried to help us throughout the OTAs and a couple of the mini-camps we were in. They did a lot of things to help us out, and now it's paying off in rookie camp."

On what his toughest adjustment has been so far: "The biggest thing about the NFL is knowledge of the game. It's about knowing situations, knowing coverages, and knowing your playbook. You have to continue to build what you know about the game and take it from there."

On whether the NFL is faster than college: "Absolutely. The game speed is tremendous. It's the same thing when you go from high school to college. You've got the best of the best from high school. And same thing when you go from college to the NFL, you've got the best of the best from college. Everything is an upgraded level, and you have to be able to go with it."

On if playing defense in college is similar to playing it in the NFL: "There are some similar things. Defense is defense, but [defensive coordinator] Rex [Ryan] is so creative. He does some things that are a lot different than any other scheme, which is unique, but very likeable to learn."

On whether he has settled in after being in awe of veteran players: "Yeah, you see a couple of the vets and some Pro Bowlers walk in during the first mini-camp, and it's kind of special. It's special to get to compliment these defensive players on a team like this. This is one of the best defenses in the NFL. It's a special thing, but once you get past that, it's just football."

On how proud he feels to be one of the few Japanese players in the NFL: "I'm very fortunate. A lot of people in my situation don't get this chance, and I just have to take it in stride. I'm very thankful that I'm here."

On what his personal goals are: "I just want to make this team and be able to make an impact. That's the way I have always been – a goal-driven person who is ready to just go out there and play."

WR Marcus Smith

On the toughest transition has been from college to the NFL: "You have to prepare a lot more. Before, I used to have a couple of plays to remember, and now, it's a whole sheet. You have to prepare everywhere. There's protection, shifts and actual plays. You definitely have to do the bookwork. It's a big difference from college to the NFL."

On whether he spends his free time preparing rather than socializing: "Definitely. My No. 1 priority is to make this team. It's not about socializing. I know my spot is not guaranteed, and that's how I look at it. I have to come out every day to compete. I have to make fewer mistakes than I did the day before. I have to go home and find the things that I messed up on today. It's all about preparation for the next day. You always have to be moving forward and learning the plays, because how are you going to move forward if you don't know what you did wrong today?"

On whether he thinks he is getting better every day: "Definitely. I'm trying to move forward in every category and not just one thing. You have to do the little things. You have to be the hardest person on yourself because no one else is going to push you but you."

On whether he is looking forward to full-padded practices: "Definitely. That's part of the game that's going to separate the guys who are going to be around for a long time. If you can't take the contact, then you can't play. You're going to get hit, you're going to get wrapped up, and you're going to play hurt. I know that if I'm hurting, the other guy is probably hurting just as much, and I'm trying to make it be like that. That's just the mentality that I have. I know that I am going to be sore. I know that it might be a big hit, and it's going to hurt me, but as long as we are both feeling the same thing and we are able to walk away, than he respects me. I respect him, and that's all you can do."

On whether he puts most of the pressure on himself: "Nobody can push me harder than I can push myself. When I'm at home, my coach isn't there. So, if I don't want to read the book and get better, I can sit there and do nothing. So, I definitely feel like I have to be the hardest person on myself."

On whether he has settled in after initially being in awe of veteran players: "It's awesome just being around the locker room and guys like this. Meeting Ray [Lewis], and Derrick Mason is amazing. Those are the guys you hear about and read about and look up to. So, standing in their shadows and being around them and tagging along on their coattails and being able to watch some of the things they do definitely takes you back. You sit hear and listen to the guys having conversations. It's like, ‘Wow, that's Ray over there talking.' Now, it's just rookies. It's a little more familiarity. We can become better friends and better teammates, and you start to look at them a little differently. But, I'm still at awe with these guys and some of the plays they are making out on the field."

On whether he has been taunted or hazed yet as a rookie: "Not yet. I know it's coming though, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean everyone is a rookie, but you're only a rookie once."

RB Ray Rice

On whether things have settled down a since the start of OTAs: "Things are slowing down for me since mini-camp. We kind of got thrown in the fire when we first got here, but coach [Harbaugh] has done a great job putting everything together for us. Things should slow down in this camp. That should be good for us before getting back in to training camp. This is the first time we have all been together as rookies, and we are just trying to pick it up well and learn. This is the first time that we get to learn by ourselves and get a lot of reps out there. This should catch us up to speed."

On whether he feels like a rookie: "Not right now just because all that we have been through. We have to accept it for what it is and just try and be the best that we can be every day. That's one thing that [Harbaugh] emphasizes. Even if you make a mistake right now, just keep going, and try and do your best, and you will be fine."

On whether there is less pressure with the veterans gone: "Yeah, there's less pressure now. It's more fun right now without having the pressure on you. You just get to go out there and play. If you make a mistake, they will coach you. Right now, you will probably get more attention from a coach individually and as a rookie, than any time during the season, and we have to take advantage of that."

On whether he feels that this is the time to step up his game: "Yeah, you definitely have to show your game. At the same time, if you are going to make a mistake, then make it now and get it corrected so that you can come back into training camp ready to go."

On what he is learning about Cam's Cameron playbook: "It's very demanding, but Cam slows it down for you. You really just have to take it day by day and write notes, because your notes are going to be your key. You are going to have to go back to your playbook all the time and just keep learning. It's important to take notes and know it as best as you can heading in to camp."

On whether he feels like he is getting better every day: "I feel like I am. I'm getting used to the speed of the game. I'm definitely getting used to being out there and being in the backfield. Just being out there catching, learning, blocking, and running routes and even doing some special teams."

On whether he looks forward to his second year when he is past being a rookie: "You've got to do your time as a rookie. Whatever it takes, I'm going to be out there and doing it."

QB Joe Flacco

On continuing to learn the offense: "I just need to go out there and do a good job of it. It's really good to go out there and get a lot of reps. You really learn it out on the field; it feels good."

On if he feels more prepared in rookie camp after already being through OTAs: "You get to feel comfortable, at least a little bit more than I would four weeks ago. It's definitely been good to get the OTAs and get all that out of the way so I can come out here and feel comfortable with these guys."

On being the guy everyone's looking to: "We're all out there trying to learn together. We've all been at the OTAs, so we've all been introduced to the offense on some level. Now we've got to show them what we can do. There are a lot of guys who are really good football players, so they're out there, willing to do stuff and they're willing to take everything that the coaches have to say, and we're going to get better in these next couple of weeks."

On his progression through the mini-camps: "I think it's been pretty good so far. Camp will come and it will be a whole new storm. I'll have to calm myself down and take it day by day and do the best I can. But I'm looking forward to going out to camp and getting everything started."

On if he's having fun: "Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Especially with all these guys."

LB Tavares Gooden

On improving throughout the rookie camp: "I really believe this rookie camp is going to help us out, getting some one-on-one time with the linebackers coach and D-coordinator. We're really just running the defense and learning the [coverage] drops."

On learning to read the offense: "I think now that I know the defense and know where to go, me and my coach talked about getting that pre-snap read, trying to fine tune that so you can read the run and pass a little faster."

On playing against different looks from an offense: "I think my speed helps me out a lot if they go to different personnel. If they go to three wide receivers, I can actually cover down. I know how to play man-to-man. Playing at Miami helped me out as far as that. The biggest thing is playing zone because Miami played a lot of man-to-man."

On whether he was in awe when he first arrived to OTAs: "A little bit. We have a bunch of guys from Miami here, so it's just fun to go out there and see those guys fly around."

On transitioning from Miami to the pros: "It's a little difficult, but I talk with Ray [Lewis] a lot. I'm doing a lot of things with him and learning how to be a pro, and that's the main thing. That's the real [No.] 52 teaching me how to be a pro."

On whether the NFL has been what he expected so far: "I think it's pretty much how I envisioned it. You look at Miami, where there were a lot of [talented] guys. Playing against [Devin] Hester, Sinorice Moss, Frank Gore and Kellen Winslow, you've got those types of guys out there. I think that school really prepared me for the next level. Now, it's more me getting those pre-snap reads and me with my coaches, and that's what I've been doing out there every practice and getting better each day."


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