Head Coach Kevin Stefanski (1.3.24)

Opening statement:

“Okay, excited for the opportunity to go on the road, play a division opponent. Pretty unique to play a team in week one and then come back and play them in the last game. Obviously, they’ve had some changes. We’ve had some changes, but excited about the opportunity. We’re going to use this opportunity to rest some guys. I feel like we’ve earned that opportunity with how we took care of business the previous week. As you guys know, with roster limitations, you cannot rest everybody. So, our full intent is to go down there, play well and get a win. That’s our motivation. That’s what we plan on doing. I think it’s a great opportunity for some guys that haven’t had a ton of playing time to get out there. You know, throughout this course of this season, we’ve had a lot of our depth play in these games, but this is another opportunity for some guys backups and some maybe younger guys to play, and it gives us an opportunity to see them, it gives us an opportunity to see them compete. So, I’m excited about that part. Jeff Driskel will start at quarterback. Jeff’s a guy with the system knowledge from Arizona is helpful to get out there. P.J. Walker will be the backup. He’s been great for us. He started in games and won for us, but just felt like this was the right thing to do for the team in this particular instance, to give Jeff an opportunity to show us what he’s capable of as well. So with that, I’ll take any questions.”


Is (Joe) Flacco the only one who will not play?

“Yeah, obviously, with the plans of resting guys, that’s the intent. I would just caution with all of these – a lot of guys have to be ready to play. You can’t rest everybody. So I’m not going to go through the roster exactly who’s in, who’s out, but just know that you’ll have your inactives and then you’ll have a bunch of guys that are dressed and ready to play if necessary.”


Did you come to the decision, and in terms of Joe, consideration as to whether or not to keep the momentum going as well as he’s playing, et cetera?

“Yeah, I think it’s important for us, again, use this as an opportunity to get guys rested and healthy wherever we can. So that’s what we’re going to do at a bunch of different positions. But you still practice, you still work really hard in this building to make sure that you maintain that sharpness.”


I know you don’t want to go down the list of guys, but can you just confirm that Myles (Garrett), Amari (Cooper), Denzel (Ward) will be among the three who do not play?

“Yeah, I mean, you can use your best guess. But I’m not going to go position by position.”


I know you don’t necessarily need him this week. It’s more important for the playoffs. But Elijah Moore wasn’t on the pre-practice injury report. Is he progressing? Will he practice today? 

“He is. He’ll practice today. He’s progressing well. He’s still in the protocol.”


When you have somebody like Myles that has an opportunity to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, do you still rest him even though he could maybe get a couple more sacks this game? 

“I mean I don’t know that Myles needs to do anything more on a football field to convince anyone how important he’s been to our football team. Said it before, I’ll say it again. I mean he’s the best player on the best defense in the National Football League. That counts for something. And I would say just talk to the coaches that he goes against, ask them what they think about him as a player, the type of impact he has on the game. So we’ll see if he plays on Sunday. But I don’t think that should be a determining factor in any way, shape or form.”


Are you starting Jeff Driskel to see what he can do? Can he be a possible backup in the playoffs or is it just because you want to rest the other guy? 

“Yeah, I’d say fluid. I’m not going to name backups for the playoffs but definitely want to know give Jeff an opportunity to get out there and see what he can do.”


Any concerns about losing momentum? 

“No. We – again, this was something that we’ve earned this opportunity. We’ve earned the ability to do this, the flexibility to do something like this. We’re going to utilize it, we’re going to take advantage of it. But the guys understand that it’s important that we handle this week, this week. We’ll worry about next week, next week.”


Kevin, as you get ready for week 18 and 19, looking all the way back to July and 2 weeks ago, do you feel good about how you’ve handled off days, rest days, all of this thing? Obviously there’s been a lot unforeseen. 

“Yeah, I think it’s a credit to the players and how they’ve handled some of the different schedule things. We had a very early bye and then a very late Thursday night game that was unique. I think it was twelve straight games maybe in there after that bye. So yeah, that’s the NFL. You have to be ready to play on a short week and then bounce back and win the following week. There’s uncertainty as to when we play our first playoff game. So those are all things that you just know we are part of the NFL.”


Is Ogbo (Okoronkwo) going to practice?



Do you know how limited he’ll be? 

“Yeah, we’ll see how he does. Obviously, he’s trending in the right direction. He’s put in a ton of work, so it’s exciting to have him back out there.”


Any update on the kicker, (Dustin) Hopkins? 

“No update. Yeah, no update.”


How is Cincinnati different with (Jake) Browning at quarterback? 

“Jake’s done a nice job. You know, I had Jake in Minnesota. He’s a person I think very highly of. He’s had a ton of success in his life. So not shocked by the success he’s having this season. Really good football player. He’s a winner. Athletic, can make all the throws. I think he’s running their offense really well. There are subtle differences to what they’re doing with Jake versus what they’re doing with (Joe) Burrow, just schematically. But he’s doing a really nice job.”


I might have missed it, but did you say Elijah was out of concussion protocol? 

“He’s in the protocol still, but progressing.”


What does adding Rodger Saffold give you? 

“Yeah. A veteran. A local kid, I found out, but a veteran that can come in here and give us good work. Excited to have him.”


We talked a lot about Joe and his impact. He kind of joked around today that if things had gone different, he could be the dad of some of these guys in the locker room. Did you notice him just being welcomed from day one? Did that surprise you at all? And is there an immediate kind of respect or reverence because the guy’s been in the league so long? 

“Yeah, I think and we kind of talked about this before, Tom (Withers). Joe’s just himself. He’s very authentic, and I think players see that and embrace that part of him. I don’t think he’s trying to be anybody different than he is. He walks in the building the same way every single day, has his coffee in hand. But I think the guys respect what he’s done in his career. And you got to remember, a lot of our players watched him play, and they’ve watched him win a Super bowl. So that matters when you talk about guys that are coming up, fans of this football game.”


Kevin, when you look at everything this O line has been through, and, I mean, I don’t know how many more good things you can say about Bill Callahan, but can you just talk about the job that he’s done this year to get guys? 

“I think, you know, I’d talk about Coach Callahan, Scott Peters, John Decoster. Those guys have worked really hard to get guys ready to go. I mean, I think back to Dawand (Jones) stepping in there in week two when we lost Jack (Conklin). So it’s been all season long and like I’ve told people, there’s no switch that you can flip. There’s no magic to this. You just have to work really hard at it with the players. So the credit goes to the players, first, and then certainly the credit goes to all of our coaches that have gotten guys ready to play. And I think the offensive line has been a great example of whatever it takes to get a guy ready, we’re going to do.”


And Bill, specifically, what has he meant to you in these like four years in this building? 

“Yeah, Bill’s been outstanding, as you guys know. He’s a huge help to me in a variety of areas, not just in football and X’s and O’s, but his office is right next door to mine. A guy I lean on, but he does a great job really in all the roles he plays for us.”

Dalvin Cook was really complimentary when you got this job, just talking about the impact that you had on him and things like that with him becoming available, do you guys maybe have room for another running back? 

“That’s more a question for Andrew (Berry).”


The NFL clarifying how to handle the reporting situation. Do you guys just do everything the way you’ve been doing it or…?

“They sent out a memo on that Mary Kay (Cabot) and watched – I say a memo. It was a streaming video, so it was both a memo and a video, but it was clarification. It was good. We’ve reported eligible a lot this season and I think our guys have done a great job. We go over it every week with them on how to do it, who to go to. It’s a big thing. Go to the white hat, don’t go to the other officials. That’s important. So it’s something that we’ve done, we’ll continue to do. And you’re always trying to make sure that you’re doing everything in your power to play within the rules.”

There was conversation that there was maybe some deception trying to be attempted there. Does that seem like a moot point though, because the official announces anyway who is reporting eligible, not only to the defense but to the stadium? 

“Yeah, I think just in general, I’m not talking about that play. Deception is part of our game. Play action is deception and bluffing a blitz is deception. So that’s part of the game. You’re always trying to do it within the rules. So there’s going to be times that come up where you’re skirting or not skirting. You’re getting close to that line. I don’t know if that was the intent. It’s unfortunate how that all happened, but it is. We have to use it as a learning experience as well.”


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