Head Coach Joe Judge, Cornerback Corey Ballentine, and Running Back Dion Lewis spoke to reporters Tuesday on a video chat press conference. Here is what each one had to say.
Head Coach Joe Judge
Q: In a season like this where you don't have any preseason feedback, how much do you have to trust on everything you've learned?
A: In terms of what, the players? Myself? The coaches? What are you looking at?
Q: Everything. In terms of coaching, your players, things like that.
A: I think you always have to rely on your base and your philosophy. Really our practice tape is what we have to go on, based on how we compete on a daily basis and the progress we see. The biggest thing we do is monitor our own players' improvement. We know what the standard is. We explain it to our players every day. They know if they've met it or not. We're very honest with the progress they're making. It's not about pointing out that they did something wrong. It's helping them understand how to correct it and do it right, and that's our goal on a daily basis.
Q: How do you feel about your cornerback position as a whole? What do you like about Brandon Williams, a guy you guys are expected to sign? What do you hope to see in KeiVarae Russell, a guy it sounds like you guys are going to work out?
A: I'm going to leave anybody who's not on our roster yet until something is finalized, then I'll speak on it freely. In terms of our cornerback position, they're young and they're improving. We've seen daily improvement. It travels over from the individual drills to the competitive releases to the one on one drills to the group pass and seven on seven, and then on to the team full 11 on 11 drills. You see it on a daily basis that they're improving. Listen, they're young. They're learning the speed of the game, they're learning how to handle multiples. There are going to be things every day that are new to them. It's not that they make mistakes, it's that they can't repeat mistakes. That's our goal as coaches, to get them out there, make sure they learn from their own experiences and from the other experiences from their teammates so they don't have to have a mistake as well. But I like the way they're working. They're definitely competing. Jerome (Henderson), (Anthony Blevins) Blev and Mike Treier do a phenomenal job with that group as a whole and development. We have a lot of leadership within that group, coming from certain guys who have been here, been in the league for a few years and are definitely doing what they can to help the young guys.
Q: When you're in these ultracompetitive situations like the scrimmage on Friday, it sounds like today's practice got pretty spirited towards the end, what can you learn about a young quarterback in these situations that might even be more valuable and better than learning about them from preseason games?
A: Whether it's a preseason game or practice, it's competitive situations that you really find out about your team. These are professional athletes. Everybody looks good running around in their underwear, but it's when the pads go on, they get popping, when it gets heated out there, when situations get tight, that's where you really find out about guys. You find out more so when something goes wrong, how they respond. Putting them in heated competition, mistakes are going to get made. You want to see how they respond to that mistake. It's not just the coaches that want to see it. All the players want to see it as well because they're looking at that guy in the huddle on every play.
Q: I know he's wearing the red jersey, but for a kid like Daniel where this is your first time working with him, when you have the "live bullets" flying with the pass rush and in pads, defensive backs playing press coverage and all that, what have you seen in those settings where it is live and you have a lot of physical play on the outside at wide receiver? What have you learned about Daniel in those settings that maybe you didn't see early on in camp?
A: I think you knew the guy had a lot of toughness just from watching the tape last year. This guy took some shots and he got up. He made mistakes, you saw him improve. He comes to work every day, you know he's committed to the team. What you see from him in heated situations like that, to me, when I stand behind the huddle, is I like to see his poise. I like to see how they handle it when those bodies are collapsing at times in the pocket. I like to see how he reacts to when maybe a receiver doesn't get open right away or someone slips and falls, how he handles moving on to the next part of the progression. To me, it's a lot about hearing them in the huddle and how they communicate with their teammates. When things get going faster, are they panicking, or does their voice have a calmness to it that settles the other 10 guys who are around him?
Q: Just curious how much moving inside impacted practice? What did you think about the way the guys came out there the last couple of periods?
A: Look, it's sudden change. We had lightning. That's the only thing that's ever going to put us inside is lightning. We had to move in. We go right to it, the guys understand if there's ever a weather situation that we have to go inside, we just continue with practice and we move along. Sometimes it alters a little bit. We have to go from two spot drills to one spot drills, and we try to find a way to maybe lengthen the periods slightly, pick up the tempo so we can get everybody their reps. That's really the biggest hindrance right there. But the second it cleared out, we got outside as fast as we could.
Q: This is sort of a random question, but I feel like I've noticed some of the defensive backs, do they have tennis balls or something taped to their hands? I assume that would be to not grab, but I don't want to assume. What's the reason behind that?
A: Yeah, to be honest with you, we're teaching them not to hold. We're not going to accept penalties, so we'll find any little trick we can to go ahead and teach them.
Q: Just wanted to ask you about, obviously, things got a little heated there with Lorenzo (Carter) and Evan (Engram). Maybe not so much how you wanted to see how they reacted, but how everyone else, how the entire team reacted? That's really the first time that we've seen a situation like that in camp so far. How did you see things play out? I don't know if pleased is the right word, but the fact that no one else really got involved, it seemed to calm down pretty quickly.
A: I think our players understand the emphasis and the importance of how we have to practice and how it carries over into games. We've talked at length in team meetings about why we're not fighting on the field. There are a number of reasons. But probably the most obvious and important is it's a penalty in a game. You throw a punch in the game, you're thrown out of the game. It's going to be a fine, it's going to be a penalty for the team and you don't get to play anymore. Those guys got into a little bit of a heated, grabbing scuffle today. The teammates got over there to break it up. Obviously, they're frustrated within competition. But you know what, they handled it the right way. They were hugging and kissing after practice. They put it behind them. Like brothers, they'll move on and tomorrow they'll be smiling and laughing with each other.
Q: I'm curious what have you seen from Nick Gates? Obviously, you guys have the center competition. You've talked about this before. Now Spencer Pulley got banged up yesterday, now he's sitting on the side. What have you seen from Nick so far?
A: Again, with a lot of our guys, it's level improvement. Nick's a guy that when we got here, we knew he had a lot of flexibility position wise. He had to learn the center position. I think he's definitely a guy who's just locked in to doing anything he could to give himself a chance. He's improved in the short amount of time we've been able to be together. He shows a good command out there in terms of understanding the offense, communicating the calls. He has a toughness about him that you like inside. Spencer brings the same qualities. Spencer's a tough dude, he's a smart guy, he can run the show out there, he understands what we're trying to do, he understands what the defense is trying to do, he's a great communicator on the line of scrimmage and in the huddle. Both those guys have done a tremendous job competing.
Q: Where would you say that competition is right now?
A: Scratch even.
Q: I know some quarterbacks like to get that first hit out of the way in a preseason game. Is there any thought at all to taking the red jersey off of Daniel at some point before September 14th?
A: You know, we've talked about it. With quarterbacks, you want to go ahead and be calculated with how you start banging them around. I don't think we're going to throw him into any Royal Rumbles or anything like that. But at some point, we'll pop his pads a little bit in a controlled environment. Maybe that's with a young guy who understands kind of hitting him a little bit. But I'm not in a hurry to go ahead and just beat the hell out of him. But at some point, we'll prepare his body for what he may take in the first game.
Q: The other question was it looked like (Jabrill) Peppers had to leave again today. It seemed like the same issue, cramping. Is there something that could be done there?
A: I know we were rotating a lot of guys. He was playing throughout practice. I have to check. He's a guy that sweats a good bit. We obviously put a lot on our guys today. I'll check and see where he was on the back end. He was in good spirits after practice. We were talking. I'll check on it when I get back to the locker room. I don't have an answer for you right there.
Cornerback Corey Ballentine
Q: You are sort of in a weird position as a second-year player who is one of the more experienced cornerbacks out there fighting for that spot. What can you tell us about the way all of the young guys are working through this training camp?
A: Obviously, with all the COVID stuff going on, training camp has been really different compared to last year. Everyone is handling it well. The young guys came in and they are just trying to learn as much as they can, soak it all up. We're learning as well too, the second year, third-year players. Coming in with a new coaching staff, everything is kind of different. We're all just soaking in information and trying to improve, trying to compete. Compete against the offense and just grow as a team.
Q: How surprising was it to come into training camp in the position you have seemed to come into. After Sam Beal obviously opted out and DeAndre Baker had his issues.
A: I wouldn't say I was necessarily surprised or any other emotion. I'm just kind of going with it, I'm happy to play wherever they want me to play, wherever I'm needed. That's really all it is. I'm still trying to grow as a player myself and be the best I can be. I'm not super worried about the depth chart or anything else.
Q: How much more comfortable do you feel working more on the outside?
A: I don't mind playing inside either. As long as I'm on the field, I don't think it really matters. I'm glad to have the opportunity to be out there. I do like playing outside. I feel like I can be a little more aggressive, being outside. I can play inside as well, it's not really a big deal. I feel like I can do both things, which is a good thing on my end.
Q: How scary was that incident in that second practice during that drill? Especially considering your concussion history last year.
A: I wouldn't use the word scary. I know the trainers had me in their hands and I trust them fully. I ended up finishing the practice. Everything must've cleared out for them to let me back in to practice. I'm still practicing, I haven't missed a practice. I'm not super worried about what went on. I'm going to the training room and I'm practicing. I'm getting right so I should be fine.
Q: Can you put into words how much more ready you are to be an NFL player now going into your second year as opposed to last year with everything you went through before your training camp. Just mentally, physically how much more prepared you are in year two.
A: I like where I'm at mentally, l like where I'm at physically. I knew kind of what I was getting into this year because I went through last year so I knew what to expect going into training camp. I prepared myself in the offseason for that. I'm really just prepared to take whatever is thrown at me. I know we have a whole new coaching staff so there's challenges there. Getting to know them, getting to know their play styles and their call styles and how they want us to operate as a team and as players and our technique and things like that. I'm just learning and going with the flow and really trying to do the best I can. I'm comfortable, I feel like I am thinking a little bit less. I'm just going out there and playing which is good for me. I'm enjoying myself.
Q: After your situation last year and what happened to DeAndre this offseason. Did that strike any sort of chord with you in terms of the armed robbery charges and the using of the gun. Did that bother you at all when you heard those stories about DeAndre Baker? In a way that it might not have affected other people.
A: I didn't worry about too much. That's my friend and I wish him the best. I don't know what he had going on in his life and I'm not going to speak on it too much. I definitely wish him the best. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. You never know what people are going through. Like I said, I'm not going to speak on it too much. I hope he gets through whatever he is going through. I'm just going to focus on what we have going on here and trying to grow as a player.
Q: How is the communication coming on the back end of the defense. You have a lot of new faces. You have guys coming in and out of the lineup, you are working with different guys. How is that communication process gelling?
A: I think it's going well. We text each other in the group chat whenever we have questions. It's really just taking it day by day and learning and growing. Everyone has those bumps and bruises when you are introduced to something new. We're just taking it day by day, going with the flow and trying to correct mistakes when the happen. Really just trying to get ready for Pittsburgh so we can go out there and be clean, be crisp and everyone be where they are supposed to be. Just play and not think to much. Go out there and have fun with each other. I feel like we have a good group. We're getting close, we are getting to know each other. We're trying to build that bond so we can go out there and play free. I think it's going well. Training camp is training camp, it's where you are supposed to make mistakes and correct them. That's what we're trying to do now.
Q: How important is that non-verbal communication in the back part of the defense? Especially in this particular scheme?
A: I think it's important in any scheme. Knowing who is next to you and knowing they have your back. Knowing who they are, and you can trust them to their job and they can trust me to do my job. I don't have to overcompensate to do things for them, I know they are going to handle it on their own so I can just focus on doing my own job. I think it's very important and we're trying to build that here.
Q: Let's talk about Patrick Graham's defense. How do you like it? How do you feel it fits in you skill set and what you bring to the table?
A: I think it fits well. I'm up to the challenge of anything they put in front of me. I think it fits well. I think he's an aggressive coordinator and he likes to be aggressive at times. I like to be aggressive at times so I think it fits well. I have full faith in him that he is going to make the right call, he's a smart guy. I really try not to over think it. He lets me go out there and play and really just react to whatever is going on so I can use my athletic ability and not overthink too many thing. I'm definitely enjoying myself this year.
Running Back Dion Lewis
Q: You guys worked on a little bit of close to full speed kickoff returns today it looked like. How hard is it to go into season without having any preseason games, because that's probably something that really can be worked on in that area and not so much in practice?
A: I think we just need to keep working hard. Make the most of every day. We don't have preseason games so every practice counts. Every day, we need to come out here with energy and try to get better every day. That's the most important thing right now.
Q: Can you sort of take us through your return there? It looked like things opened up pretty well for you.
A: Guys did a great job blocking their man. As a returner, my job is to just hit it and make them right. Whenever I get a crease like that, I have to make the most of the opportunity. They did a great job blocking.
Q: You running backs in this league, you get close to the age of 30 and everyone expects you to lose a step and kind of get passed on by. Do you come to this training camp with a little chip on your shoulder to show you still have that burst, that you still can play in this league at a high level?
A: I always have a chip on my shoulder. Being a smaller guy, I always kind of motivate myself and have a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong. I just come out every day, work, try to earn my teammates and my coaches' respect every day by the way I work. I just come out, work hard every day and just try to get better every day and compete. Hopefully, everything works out.
Q: Has there ever been a moment the last couple years where you thought you lost a step, or have you always had that gear that you can go to?
A: I work hard, so I don't look at myself as losing a step. I work really hard in the offseason and try to keep up with the young guys. I feel pretty good out there, but I have to keep coming to work every day and proving myself like everybody else.
Q: I was just wondering, without any preseason games and without minicamps and all the offseason training, do you have a feel for this team yet?
A: Right now, we're a work in progress. Right now, every day we're coming out, we're working hard. The team is working extremely hard right now and buying into what Coach Judge is saying. I like the mentality of this team, I like the way everyone is working. We just need to keep stacking days like we have been and try to get better so when that Monday night game comes around, we're ready.
Q: Is it almost like flying blind though without any feedback from preseason games?
A: I don't think so. I think every practice counts. We're taking the approach of every practice counts. We're just trying to prove what we can do, try to learn from mistakes and keep stacking days, try not to make the same mistake you made the day before. Just trying to get better overall.
Q: Obviously when you came here you must've had some feel of what Saquon Barkley was as a player and as a person. Coming to a team as a running back with a guy like Saquon, I imagine has some unique things in it. Are some of those things unique when you have a guy who was the second pick in the draft. They obviously want you to carry the ball, catch the ball, protect the quarterback and also be good sounding board for Saquon. How is that whole thing going?
A: It's going great. He's a great player and he's a great person. We clicked right off the bat. I like the way he works, he works really hard, he's competitive and he's a humble person. He wants to get better every day. I like the way he works, and we work really well together. We just have to keep pushing each other, keep learning from each other and try to do whatever we can to help this team win.
Q: What can a guy like you, who has been in the league so much longer than him, how can you help him? How can your eyes and your mind help him?
A: He's such a great player so I kind of help him whenever he has questions. At the same time, I'm not a real 'rah-rah' guy. I'm more of a guy who just comes to work every day and works hard. He works really hard as well, so we mesh really well from that point. When he asks questions, he asks me and when I have questions, I ask him. We try to stay in each other's ear. Try to use that to become better player's ourselves.
Q: Does he have questions? Can you tell that he wants to hear what you have to say?
A: I think he definitely respects the fact that I'm a veteran and I have been around a long time. He's asking questions on what he thinks he can do better and kind of staying in my ear and seeing how I stayed around long. He is trying to pick up some of the habits I have, the way I work and the way I just keep my head down and keep working every day.
Q: What can you learn from Saquon? I'm sure there's stuff that you learn from all your teammates. In particular, Saquon, what can he teach you?
A: He can teach me a lot. There is nothing he really can't do. The way he moves, he's powerful, he's explosive, he's quick. Picking his brain and how he sees certain run reads and just trying to incorporate that into my game. Obviously, I'm not the player he is but picking his brain and seeing what he sees on certain plays and he does the same with me. Just staying in each other's ear, pushing each other, competing. It's been great.
Q: You have been in several running back rooms in your career. How would you characterize the personality of this particular group?
A: We have a great group. Everybody is friendly, everybody is hungry, everybody is competing. At the same time, we all understand we're teammates. We're trying to make each other better, at the same time, competing. Building that camaraderie in the group. We know it's going to take all of us to help the team win during the season. Definitely like what we have.
Q: You have been praised throughout your career for your work in pass protection. When in your career did it first become a priority? Is there an art form to being good in pass protection? Why do you excel in that?
A: I just try to be a complete player. Obviously, I'm limited in some things I can do. I just try to work hard at everything and try to do what I can do best. Pass protection is something that took me a while to learn. The longer you do it, the more reps you get at it, the better you become. I think I am extremely confident in that. Just try to use my technique and use my leverage and things like that to overcome some of the other obstacles I have. I just look at it as a two and half to three second fight. Try not to get beat inside, that's the way I look at it and that's my mentality.
Q: How do you practice something like that? Is it just reps in games or can you do something off the field on the practice field that helps with that?
A: Just working my hands, drills you do in individual. Over the years, I have done a lot of different pass protection drills. I just incorporate everything that I've learned from all the coaches I've had and just try to put them all together and bring that dog out. It's me versus him and I don't want to get embarrassed.