Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt (1.4.24)

Well, now that Joe (Flacco) is done for the regular season, can you just kind of encapsulate just what he’s accomplished and meant to the team so far in this home stretch? 

“Sure. I mean, it’s been impressive to be a part of and to see. Really great job by Joe just coming in and picking up the system and not just picking it and be able to execute at a high level. Again, very happy that we had a chance to pick Joe up and he’s proved that it was a great decision. He’s played great and he’s put us in a position where we are now and we’ll get him some rest this week and go from there but couldn’t be more pleased.”


What excites you about being able to see Jeff (Driskel) in a game and see what he can add to this team? 

“Yeah, Jeff’s a guy that has a lot of athleticism. He’s a bigger guy. He’s got a strong arm. And I’m very familiar with Jeff from our time together in Cincinnati, and I think with Dorian (Thompson-Robinson) being moved IR it gives us a chance to bring another athletic body in that could fill some of the role that Dorian played. So, it’ll be good to get him in. He has familiarity with the system, obviously, coming from Arizona and the familiarity from the Cinci days. Some of that stuff is carried here. So, I think he feels comfortable with where we are and we’re excited to see what he can do.”


Alex, what do you think you talk about Joe (Flacco). You know, the ride seems so crazy. What do you think to you is the most surprising part that he’s been able to come in and have the success he’s had? 

“I’d say probably the biggest thing for me is just the immediate connection with the receivers. I mean, there’s some routes down the field that are like handoffs, and that’s just a guy that’s like I said before, he’s accurate at all three levels of the field, but that to me, has been the most impressive. To come in and just be on the same page right away with the guys, it just shows what a vet is.”


Alex, quarterback poise, is something lot of people talk about. With Joe, is that something almost innate with him? I mean, you played the position, is that something that it’s you either have it or you don’t. It’s not something you kind of develop. 

“He’s always had it. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s played a ton of football, so he knows how to move in the pocket. He knows when he’s hot, when he’s warm, when he has to get rid of the ball. All those things are just that veteran experience and it’s paid off. He’s made plays versus cover zero where they had one more than we could block and he bought time. He just knows how to operate in just about all circumstances because he’s seen them all.”


Is it baffling to you that a guy with that skill set with that much left in the tank could be sitting home on a couch for the first eleven weeks of the season? 

“It’s surprising really to see the way he’s played. It is surprising but fortunate for us.”


That was probably one of Jerome Ford’s best games on Thursday night. Just what did you see from him on those? Especially the first touchdown and then the big pass play? 

“Yeah, he’s a tough tackle in the open field. His feet are so quick, you know his contact balance is outstanding – broke tackles to score late, made some big runs, broke tackles. I mean, it’s all the things we’ve always seen from Jerome. His pass protection was excellent. He was one of the best teammates on the field. He was picking guys up. I agree. I thought it was one of Jerome’s best games to date, so look forward to buildng on that in the future. But he’s playing at a high level.”


How has he (Jerome Ford) kind of grown into that job over this year? 

“I mean, he got thrust into it early and has kind of just warmed up to it and has taken on that role. We said it would take a lot of feet to fill Nick’s (Chubb) shoes and he stepped up to the challenge, really proud of him. All three backs really had a solid day last week out.”


Speaking of that Kareem Hunt with another rushing touchdown out. That’s a career high for him this season. Another guy who was sitting waiting for an opportunity. Obviously, there’s different familiarity here in recent years, but was it a pleasant surprise the way he’s been able to come in and do everything he’s been able to do given that he was waiting?

“Yeah, it is. He’s added so much productivity to their offense down in tight, especially. His ability to run hard between the tackles is something that stands out, especially when he gets around the goal line. It’s hard to deny him the goal line. He’ll run guys over if he needs to, but he smells the end zone he gets in. That’s just part of what he’s done for us this season. He’s made huge runs on third down for us and he’s had great protection. So, the value that he’s brought us this season has been huge and really proud of him. Not a great circumstance. Didn’t want to not be on a team, I’m sure. But once we got him here, man, he’s been all on board and he’s been a great teammate as well.”


How about Dave (David Njoku) making his first Pro Bowl? 

“Yeah, I mean, you know how I feel about Dave. I could not be happier because there’s a guy that just done nothing but keep his head down and work has gotten better every year we’ve been together and just so happy and proud of him. And I’m glad that he got the accomplishments because he deserves them. He’s really playing at that level and again, just really happy for Dave because there’s a guy that does it the right way and it’s paid off for him.”


When did you know that you had something special in him (David Njoku)? 

“You could see it early on. It was probably just us finding the best way to utilize his skill sets, I think. And we grew with him as we saw what he could really do. Again, we try to get him the ball in all situations, not only down the field, but short and let him run. So, it’s probably a little bit of us growing into him as much as him growing into himself.”


Jeff (Driskel) will be your fifth starting quarterback this year. You guys were the first team in NFL history to have four different starting quarterbacks and to make the playoffs. Can you put in perspective, like, how unique of an experience this year has been given those circumstances? And what has it been like for you to be able to work with all those guys? 

“It’s been a great experience. It’s one I’ll always cherish and remember. It’s been a unique year, challenging. Has been a lot of adversity, but the room has always been solid. We always feel like we’re going to try to get whoever’s playing in the best position to win for the team. And I think Kevin (Stefanski) has really done a great job of catering how he calls the game to each player again. He’s always thinking about their strengths and then trying to protect them from their weaknesses. And I think a lot of it comes down to how Kevin calls those games. A lot of it comes down to how confident those guys are going into those games. And the quarterback room is always a tight room and we’ve had multiple people in and multiple people have stepped up. And again, so proud of Dorian (Thompson-Robinson) and PJ (Walker) and Joe (Flacco) and Deshaun (Watson). I mean, he played through some stuff that was incredible. So, to get to where we are now has been rewarding. It’s been challenging, but it’s definitely a year that I’ll not forget.”


Jeff (Driskel) is six-four, big quarterback, got a big time arm. Did that go into the decision-making kind of formulated kind of towards Joe (Flacco) bringing him back up in like Jeff? 

“Yeah, I think that they’re similar but different. I think Jeff’s obviously more athletic than Joe. I don’t want to tell Joe that, but I think Joe would admit to that. Yeah, but I’m sure that did have something to do with the familiarity with the system. All the things about Jeff that we knew about him, giving him an opportunity to come in and see if he can help us.”


Obviously, Jerome (Ford) was a big part of the run game on Thursday night, but what else do you think was working after the previous couple of weeks hadn’t been as successful? 

“One, that’s tough. That’s a good defense. We faced a bunch of good defenses prior to that. I think we were on that night, I think the scheme that we ran that night was suited for that defense. Not getting into detail, but yeah, really proud of those guys. Challenged them earlier that we needed to run the ball against the Jets and I thought we could and we did and was proud of those guys.”


Some of your young guys have to grow up in a hurry for these playoffs. What do you need to see from (Cedric) Tillman? He got thrown into the fire last week. 

“He just needs to be himself, you know, dive into the plan each week, to have a full understanding of what we’re asking him to do – alignments, assignments, technique, everything. As a rookie, I told those guys this morning, this is not the time to let up, it’s the time to double down. These opportunities are special, and you don’t know when you get your next one. But at the same time, I’ve been around a lot of teams that get to these games, the playoff games, and they get super tight and you make a ton of mistakes. So, it’s finding that happy medium and let’s do our job. Let’s just do our job. Execute one play at a time. But that’s Ced’s job, he needs to just do his job each week and if he just does that, we’ll be just fine.”


Pierre’s (Strong) been number three, kind of the third guy most of the season, but like Thursday when he got in there, he kind of flashed. Are you kind of excited to see him on Sunday? Probably get a much larger role in what he can do with that? 

“Absolutely. I mean, he’s different. When he touches it, you could see the speed. He gets through the hole differently, gets to the second level quickly and has the speed to take it the distance. So, I’m excited to see him get a bulk of play.”


I think David’s (Njoku) at 81 catches. You talked about that growth with the staff. Did you and Kevin (Stefanski)come into the season thinking we just got to find a way to get this guy the ball more? 

“Yeah, that was really it. Really. You think about it. You always think about your players. Who are the players and who do we need to highlight within the system and his number is always at the top.”


Does it help that to hear Amari (Cooper) talk about the kind of ball that Joe (Flacco) throws and just how easy it is to catch that ball? Did it help David (Njoku) a lot in the final home stretch and everyone to have that kind of a quarterback throwing that kind of a ball? 

“Yeah, I think that always helps you get a guy with a lot of experience, a Super Bowl MVP and he’s now on your team throwing you the ball. I think it definitely helps those guys. But again, great job by Joe. Again, I’m really proud of Amari too, getting to the Pro Bowl. I thought, well deserved. Guy has always played for us when he can. Played through a terrible injury last year. Got all the way through and really happy for him because he’s very deserving.”


Alex, obviously we talk about the quarterbacks all the time. How many you guys have used offensive tackles up there too? What are you getting out of those two guys right now and what has kind of impressed you most about the way they’ve been able to? 

“Yeah, I mean, they’re playing their butts off on the edge. They really are. I’m really proud of both those guys, Hud’s been here the longest and I’ve seen him develop from the day he got here as the only rookie lineman that was in that class. The three-one work he got with Coach (Bill) Callahan and Coach (Scott) Peters and Coach (Jonathan) Decoster. So I watched that growth and I’m proud of him as well. I mean, he’s a guy that just has gone out and blocked whoever they put in front of him and then to draw on to come in halfway through and to be able to do what he did. I think we had one sack last week and that was on a fall down naked. Really, really proud of those guys up front and their protection really the last three weeks. Alright, thanks, guys.”

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