Read the full transcript from Head Coach Mike McDaniel's press conference on January 5, 2024.
(We haven't seen WR Jaylen Waddle or RB Raheem Mostert practice this week. Are they both out Sunday?) – "They're going to get a little work in today and then we'll make a determination that's very tricky. But I wouldn't close the door because they haven't. We'll see what today presents, but it's one of those open-ended things that you guys are used to. So are we."
(What was your reaction to finding out about the fire at WR Tyreek Hill's home and how did that all go down in real time during a practice?) – "Yeah, it was wild. You're on the field and then word traveled through, I think first through (our communications staff), then to Drew Brooks, who's our head of our security, and communicated with him. At that point, you don't know what that means. You just know that his house is in flames. So immediately, fearing the worst, he leaves practice. Then it's hard to not think about, okay, what is he going through. What I don't think people totally think through that hit me fast – in my 20s I was living in Houston and had my apartment robbed. When I went back in, there was a feeling of violation. Your home is burning and then you go back and see it and there's a loss there. Yes, thankfully there's insurance and things like that. But it's not as easy as that. It's a life adjustment immediately. That's your safe place, your home, that he is now dealing with insurance and living in a different spot for the immediate future and all of that. It's a major stressor for sure. Fortunately, 'Reek has support of his family and his teammates. It's not something that you wish upon anyone. It was definitely scary. Happy for the health but also very aware that it's a burden that I recognize that I can't empathize with it, but I can forecast how I'd feel. If I didn't have my home that I'm used to as being my home to go home tonight, it's a little disheveling. But he's a powerful human being and spirit and he'll lead his family through it. But he's something that he's definitely dealing with and we're here to support him."
(What's been the communication since? Is WR Tyreek Hill back today?) – "Yeah. Yeah, he's just had a bunch of teammates support him. I think one of the multitude of things that football does for you is it enables you to live with your responsibilities and your teammates and can kind of give you a brief, however fleeting, but a brief, I don't know, removal of everyday life and problems. So I think it's kind of therapeutic a little bit to be back here and I know he's happy to be back. But he's also very concerned about his family and their comfort level, which is why he has a team of people to assist him."
(You had a couple of linebackers show up on the injury report this week, as far as limited with LB David Long Jr. and LB Duke Riley. Do you expect to have them on Sunday?) – "I do. Yeah."
(Where is OL Robert Hunt in his comeback?) – "This has been a good, really good week. Very encouraging. Optimistic for the game barring any unforeseen setbacks today. But optimistic for it."
(What about LB Jerome Baker and the progress he's made? Is he closer? Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio said yesterday that Thursday's practice would be key.) – "It went well for him. So now we need another day of no setbacks. I'm optimistic about him. The day was very important, but today how he came in and responded from yesterday's activity and how he's able to move around today will kind of dictate Sunday. So that's still pending."
(I want to ask you about each individual Pro Bowler, which you guys had six guys named to the Pro Bowl this year. A couple of first timers as well. I just wanted to get your take on the pride you take in having six players qualify for the all-star game?) – "That's a big deal. As long as I've been in the NFL, when you start getting into a handful-plus of guys that are recognized for the all-star game, you're getting the attention of the rest of the league and the fan base. I think it was really, really awesome for everyone to see. All of the acknowledgments were important. But to have three guys have their first Pro Bowl and then two of them be in the undrafted category, that have earned everything in their career. Then to have Tua (Tagovailoa) go ahead and be acknowledged as such when a year ago, people were questioning whether or not he could even be healthy for it. All those things. And then, what Jalen Ramsey has done for this team, what Terron Armstead has done for this team and what Tyreek (Hill) has done for this team are huge. I think that's fair. I think there could have been a couple other guys for sure, but that's kind of the way it goes. Very proud to have those guys acknowledged in that way because that's the end vision. That's part of the vision that you have when you're trying to win football games and take a football team to another level. In that process, there's guys that you're hoping will be recognized as the best in class and I think really all six of them are super deserving of it and I was happy for all of them."
(We were talking to Offensive Line Coach Butch Barry yesterday and when I informed him that the team had started 11 different offensive line combinations, he was surprised. But despite that, you guys have gotten really good play. WR Tyreek Hill even said he's one of the coolest coaches on the team and sometimes will go over to watch him. What makes Butch Barry so distinct and unique as an offensive line coach and an offensive line coach for this team?) – "Well, I think his commitment to the ultimate ground zero for what a coach is. I think he is a prototype for wanting to get players better, and really caring about that and uplifting their vision for themselves, bringing absolute conviction and attention to detail every single day, and investing in those individual human beings, earning trust with the investment, and then being relentless. For guys to be that productive over that course of time with all those things, the only way that you can do that is you have to have a highly intensive, very focused individual every day, because you've got to gain reps somewhere to be good. And as a teacher, how he's able to drill things and categorize them and be clear, earn all the players trust, it comes back to the starting point of what we're supposed to be doing in our profession that I think he nails. There's not a day that he takes lightly, and as a result, there's not a day that any of his group does. They believe and trust in his feedback and he never relents with the expectation that everything he's doing, he's trying to maximize the individual players and they know that. So I think you can't say enough about the job he's done, because on top of all that, he's done it with a group and continues to do it with a group that – individuals, there's a plethora of guys that had some scars that maybe have had a lot of people tell them that they're not good enough. And maybe there's a lot of people that have been asking us to move on from them. As much as you try not to hear the noise, over time, that can kind of accumulate and I think those are of the days past now for them. The only way they've gotten to that point is because they've really – coach, player, that whole relationship, has been true, relentless and very consistent the entire season."
(I want to follow up on RB Raheem Mostert. Is his injury something that could be lingering into the playoffs? How do you as a coach balance making those decisions about injuries this week, knowing that next week, you also have a game?) – "Well it's just individual players, and it's exactly what you just hit on. You have to make an educated guess, with all the information, on whether or not – how much at risk is his play this week going to linger and be a consistent theme for the rest of the season. Everybody knows, you don't even have ask him, that Raheem is going to want to play, so you have to watch how he works, communicate with him honestly, get honest feedback and work collectively to kind of come to the best result, but it is very tricky. It's not really – you're not in the game of holding players out, you're in the game of protecting players from further residual injury. So you're trying to figure out what that is, because this is the only game that matters to this team. It's very important to each and every person in the organization to accomplish a goal that was talked about April 17, 2023, the first day of Phase 1, and that's winning the division. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to have one game that if you win, you win the division, which is the way, really, it should be. You should beat all the teams in your division if you want to win it. Raheem has been and is a reason we're in this position. He's been a huge part of everything we've done. He's going to want to play and we just need to make sure that we do right by the team and him by not making him vulnerable as best we can with educated guesses."
(Kind of feeding off of that, it's not just – players are telling us that it's just another game, but it's not just another game. Is there any way to handle that kind of pressure knowing what's on the line?) – "Yeah, it kind of speaks to what we've been doing since we got together as a group. The only way to handle that is – when they say, 'It's just another game,' it's because it is a normal football game. But if you take enough intentionality and create pressure and expectations for yourself from the beginning of training camp and approach each and every practice and each and every game with full ambition, focus and treating every game as though you treat a playoff game, then all games are the same. And you're better versed at big game experiences because you've treated so many games as big games. So I think this team, based upon what they've done, what they've experienced and how much attention they've received, it's been an attention-filled year for the entire team with the offense getting a ton of acclaim early on the season to having expectations that are brought forth when you win a game by 50, then to have heartbreaking losses throughout the season, but continually respond, I think all those things accumulated give you the best chance to put your best foot forward in Week 18. So I think it's focusing on the fact that you've built yourself up to be able to play in this game, and then once the game starts, then it's basic football playing with your teammates, adhering to fundamentals and technique and then playing inspired. That's what it takes to accomplish the goal, and that's what they've been focusing on this week. I've been reiterating it to them every time they open their eyes and look at me."
(The scenario is actually a win or tie to clinch the AFC East. So does that, I know you play to win the game, but late game scenarios, if it's close, do you change how you manage the game knowing that a tie accomplishes the same thing, getting the No. 2 seed?) – "Yeah, I mean that might come across the radar way down the line in decision making, but it's not really on my radar (right now). There's so few situations where you can even negotiate that. I think you have to play to win the game to even be in position to tie it, but I'll cross that bridge much later. Right now, we're just trying to win the game, and I think by trying to win the game, if the score is tied when it's close to zeros on the clock, we can approach it with that knowledge. Maybe we'll do something, maybe we won't. Maybe we'll just just throw a Hail Mary just because we want to. You never know."
(Two-part question totally unrelated. Has LB Bradley Chubb had surgery, and if so, how did it go? And secondly, I don't think we've touched on CB Xavien Howard. Any change in his status?) – "So Bradley (Chubb) did have surgery and it went very well. Happy that his (recovery) process has started. It's a long road, but if there's anybody built for it, it's that guy. He's been on the forefront of his teammates' minds all week and they really care for that human being. Then 'X,' (Xavien Howard) there's no change. He won't be in this game. He's just trying to get back in hopes of our next scheduled match, that he'll be able to be a part of it."