Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt (11.16.23)

How’s the preparation for DTR (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) different this week compared to the previous time he got the start in terms of what you guys are doing with him?

“Just working a little extra. That’s the big thing. I think he understands now that he’s going to be starting Sunday as opposed to, hey, I probably didn’t think he was going to play last time. No excuses, but he’ll have the whole week to prep. That’s the biggest thing. I thought he did a great job Tuesday night into Wednesday of digesting the plan. He was great in the huddle yesterday as far as play calls and spitted it right out. Some tough calls he easily, he had already memorized. So just a week of preparation, knowing that you’re going to be the starter on Sunday is only going to help for him.”


How remarkable for Deshaun (Watson) to go out and do what he did in the second half of that Ravens game. And I guess after you found out about the shoulder, too, I mean, like that probably added to it. So that, and then finding out now that he’s out for the season?

“I mean, just what a warrior he is. I was in the training room with him at halftime and it was rough. He was hurting and he was adamant about getting back out there and he was going to be just fine. So really, hats off to him. His toughness, I mean, it’s asinine that somebody would say that he wasn’t tough enough to play through a shoulder injury. Because I’ve never seen – I’ve been around some of the toughest guys in this business, Jim Kelly, Aaron Rodgers is tough as hell and endured a lot of stuff and he’s right up there with those guys.”


Dorian was saying that just having that game under his belt is going to make a huge difference. He’s not the wide-eyed rookie that he was six weeks ago. Would you agree with that? 

“Absolutely. I mean, every time you step back out on the field, you learn from your past experiences and for him, it wasn’t his finest day. So, I’m sure there’s a lot of pride that comes with that and double down your efforts to have a strong performance the next time you get the opportunity. So, I think he’s learned from that game and it’ll only help him moving forward.”


Did you notice a big change in him since that game in terms of preparation and study and just being ready every day? 

“Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s part of growing up as a rookie. You have to know it as well as anybody, as the coaches know it. I mean, that’s how you have to dive into the plan each week. And so far this week has been excellent.”


You guys had a choice. Why not P.J. (Walker) in this game?

“Just felt like Dorian – if you take out any averages of the curve, right, you take out the best game, you take out the worst game. There’s still a lot of good football. We felt that DTR has put on tape throughout the preseason as well. Understanding the fact that getting thrown into it last time the way he did, maybe it’s a mulligan deserved, lessons learned for him and then we’ll move out. But we’re excited to have him starting this week and expect him to step in and take care of the football and do some of the things he didn’t do last time. I think he’ll learn from that.”


Did you guys feel like DTR gave you a better chance to kind of make a run at the playoffs? 

“Actually, we’ve talked more about just going 1-0 this week. So the focus is on this week right now and everything is focused towards Sunday at this point.”


Did you guys have a light switch moment with that? Just the idea of Dorian having a moment in practice where you realize like, ‘yeah, he got it’, or was it more just an aggregation of his body of work? 

“Last few weeks he’s been really good in practice, stand out, good on the scout team stuff. The stuff, the throws he was making, the anticipation he threw with his footwork has increased, gotten better over the last four or five weeks. Just felt like he was ready. He’s ready for a second opportunity.”


You guys put him in for one play in Seattle. Was that a certain wrinkle you saw or was that just a confidence builder? 

“Which one?”


When Dorian went in for one play in Seattle. 

“No, that was just part of the game plan that week.”


Could you share with him or did you share with him your experience the first time you were in the game and then…

“I don’t know. I think that burned that tape, any footage of those tapes. But yeah, it’s hard, man. It’s hard. I mean, I didn’t have to start until I was a few years into the league, so it was a little easier for me. But the good news is Dorian’s played a lot of football and that experience is through his college career is 50-plus games starting. That’ll help him. Again, having that one start under his belt is only going to help him calm the nerves on Sunday. Now, second time out and then a good full week knowing that you’re going to be the starter is going to help as well.”


To go from the Ravens then to make your second NFL start against the Pittsburgh Steelers TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cam Hayward. Can you just talk about the challenge he faces? 

“Big challenge. Whoever’s playing, it’s a challenge against this defense. They’re well-coached. The edges are tops in the league and that’s a point of emphasis for us. We can’t let those edge guys have an effect on the game, which they do so many times. So key coaching points for us throughout the week is to make sure that whatever it is we’re doing in the run game, the pass game, the quarterback’s depth in the pocket, everything needs to be within consideration of how good those edge rushers are.”


Is Dawand Jones going to play?

“I’m not sure.”


What about Dorian you’ve noticed that gives him the opportunity and the ability to bounce back from that kind of first start?

“Yeah, he’s a confident young man. There’s no question he was the day he got here, and I see that every day. He’s talented in what he does and he’s had success at the college level and we’re just waiting for that to show here. I don’t think he’s lost any confidence. If anything, he’s more confident because he’s going to be more prepared this time.”


Alex, David Njoku had a couple really strong runs at the end of that game. What did you see out of him there and how important is that to what you guys are trying to do? 

“I don’t know where he stands, at one point I think he was a lead leaguer in YAC, yards after the catch. He’s tremendous. Anyway, we can get the ball in his hands, we’ve said that now a few weeks in a row, good things are going to happen more often than not. He’s a strong runner. He has speed, and power. That’s just in the pass game, so good things happen when Dave touches the ball.”


You mentioned not sure about Dawand (Jones). James (Hudson) and Geron (Christian), just when you went back and graded them and what did you guys see of them on film? 

“I thought the O line played really well. I know we had four sacks on the day, but those were not indicative of how they blocked upfront. I was really impressed and proud. Internal three are excellent. They’ve been solid all year and the edge guys, they did their job. They really did. I was proud of James and Geron.”


Geron, his previous game before last week was also against the Steelers. How much does that help that he’s gone against Iceman before this season? 

“Yeah, no, I think that’s going to help tremendously. I mean, he’s obviously studied him before and is doing so this week. It can only help.”


What did that push play tell you about your guys? 

“Oh, man, that’s us. That’s who we are. That’s who we preach every day, the connectivity of playing for each other and being there and having each other’s back and really finishing every play. That’s everything we preach in that offensive room as a team as well. So, it was a great boost for everybody. Those guys out there, they loved it. James was fired up. Heck, Elijah (Moore) was pushing with all he had. And that’s it. That’s it. It’s all about being there for your brothers and getting each other’s back and pushing that pile and then helping each other up off the ground. It’s a big part of what we do. It’s a connectivity that allows us, why we love to play. We love to play for each other. Those guys love to play out there with each other. So, it’s awesome when we’re connected and you show it out on the field and it shows out like that and you gain whatever nine, 12 yards after first contact. It’s who we are.”


What are you seeing in terms of mindset, motivation, and just the vibe on your offense in the wake of losing Deshaun? 

“Hey, next man up attitude. We know it’s huge shoes to fill. It was huge shoes to fill when Nick (Chubb) went down. And I think we’re at the top in league rushing as well. So we have the ability here. We have guys with the ability that can step up. We feel good about our team in general, who we are. We just got to hold our end of the deal on the offensive side, which I know we will.”


Was it a weight lifted when Elijah got his first touchdown?

“No, I didn’t really pay attention to any of that, to be quite honest with you. I was happy for him. I was happy for us as a team.”


Nick Harris might not have been targeted but did a nice job blocking on Sunday. What kind of a weapon does that give you? Just like a guy, that big guy downfield. 

“He’s like a big tight end in the run game where he can get on guys. He had a good challenge last week with (Kyle) Hamilton. Size-wise, those guys matched up and he held his own. He’s going to do great things with the ball in his hands when he does get some targets. But we really like the way he’s blocking right now, the physicality that he brings and the toughness in the run game.”


What do you think of that blind touch?

“It was what we asked him to do. It was a little, probably a little more violent than we expected it to be. Just trying to pin the guy down so he can get the edge. And that’s football. It was a physical play.”


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