October 21, Press Conference Tua, Fitzpatrick, Baker, and Flores

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 

LB Jerome Baker 

(I saw you did a radio appearance yesterday, and you said you found out on social media about the quarterback change. Surely since then, you’ve had a chance to hear from the head coach. I’m curious A, what was his message; and B, what was the team’s reaction to the quarterback change?) – “His message was just letting us know. I think just the one thing, we were just off, and that’s when we all heard it. We were just off. One thing about ‘Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) is he always makes sure we know news first. I think the team is excited. We’re all excited; we are ready to go. We believe in Tua (Tagavailoa). He definitely can get the job done. We’re all excited about what he can do, so I guess we’ll see when the time comes.” 

(We just got a chance to talk to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and he was pretty emotional, feeling like he lost his job. How is that in the locker room for you guys? Obviously you want to support QB Tua Tagovailoa, who is a young player; but you’ve got a guy like ‘Fitz’ that you all love, and put a lot into it for you all?) – “It’s a part of the job. At the end of the day, you just want the team to do well. We all believe in our coaching staff, and that’s who they went with. We’re all excited and expect Tua to do great things. It’s unfortunate; but it’s also a part of the job. At the end of the day, we’ve just got to get the job done.” 

(Forty-eight hours ago, we were talking about how this team won three out of four in a blowout fashion, and looking like a real playoff contender. Are all those things still in front of you in 2020 with a rookie quarterback?) – “Yeah. Our season – there are a lot more games left to play. We have a lot of areas we need to improve on. These past few wins, we’re not just excited about what we’ve done, but what we can do. The one thing that got us to this point is we truly show up every day and we put the work in. These past few games are just a small glimpse of that.” 

(A little bit more on the locker room news and your reaction to when you guys heard the news. I know that Head Coach Brian Flores likes to inform you guys first, but that wasn’t the case in this situation. How did you guys kind of deal with everything kind of collectively, before finding out from ‘Flo,’ and now after hearing from him?) – “I think the one thing – we are all excited. I think that’s the one thing we all can agree on is that we’re excited. We’ve all seen it as far as his talent, he can do it. I think now we’re just excited to show he can do it and show the world what he can do. Yeah. We are definitely all excited.” 

(I wanted to talk to you about the defense for a second. You guys really shut down the last two offenses you’ve seen, and really heated the quarterback up in both of those games. A lot of new names on the defense this year. How much of that production is growing more comfortable with the defense and guys really jelling and coming together?) – “It’s a lot. It’s definitely a lot. I think as a defense, we are definitely learning what different guys are comfortable doing. We’re trusting each other more. At the same time, we have so many things we can improve on. I think as a defense, that’s what we are so excited about. We are making plays now, but we left a lot of plays (on the field) we definitely could’ve took advantage of. I think as a defense, we’re definitely excited and hungry; but we’ve got a lot more to prove.” 

(Us as media, we haven’t been able to see all of practice since camp, so I wanted to kind of get a gauge of maybe what it’s been like facing QB Tua Tagavailoa. We haven’t seen him. What have you seen from him, and has it been different from what you saw in camp?) – “He’s a smart, collective young man. He’s very smart. He’s very calm. He’s definitely going to be a future great player in this league. I think we are all excited; we all know what he can do. I think the one thing that surprises me or surprised me – I always tell this story – is when he first came in, we went through a few practices, and we threw so many different looks at him. Instead of getting down on himself or saying it’s too hard or whatever, getting emotional, after practice, it was me and Bobby (McCain), he came by and just asked us questions. He asked for advice on what can he work on, what can he see, whatever it is that he can get better. I think that was the one thing that really stuck to me. He just truly wants to get better, he just truly wants to help us win. I’m definitely happy that he gets his shot.” 

(I’m sure you heard it and you felt it on Sunday when QB Tua Tagovailoa went into the game. Obviously the fan base is excited of his kind of superstar power as their quarterback. Do you guys feel that from social media, or just amongst that locker room, the national hype around Tua?) – “I think in the locker room, he’s still our rookie. (laughter) He can get all the hype he wants, but he still has to do his rookie duties. He still has to – honestly he still has to prove that he’s ready. We understand that the media is going to give you all of the credit and all of that; but at the end of the day, you still have to strap on those pads and gain our trust and gain the trust of everybody that you can do it. The one thing we all can agree on is that we’re behind him 100 percent, and we definitely believe in him.” 

(Did you all as a team get the question addressed in terms of why QB Tua Tagovailoa, why now?) – “No, we didn’t get that question. I think the one thing with that is we just put all of our trust in ‘Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) and our coaching staff. If he says Tua is the man to lead us, we’re going to go with it. We’re going support him. The defense is going to support our offense just as our offense will pick us up. We’re going to do the same thing. We’ll come together as a team, back him up, and do what we have to do to win games.”    

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 

(Obviously the news of the QB change – what was your first reaction when you heard and what do you think that means for you going forward?) – “I was shocked by it. It definitely caught me off guard and it was a hard thing for me to hear yesterday. Just kind of digesting the news, my heart just hurt all day. It was heartbreaking for me. ‘Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) kind of said what he said and said what he said to you guys as well, and that’s the decision and the direction that the organization is going in, and obviously we’ve talked in the past – me and you guys – about how I’m the placeholder and this eventually was going to happen no matter – it was just a matter of kind of when, not if. It still just broke my heart yesterday and it’s a tough thing for me to hear and to now have to deal with, but I’m going to do my best with it.” 

(I have a two-part question and I appreciate your candor. One, did you find out from the team or did you find out from news reports and two, do you feel like you did enough to keep the job?) – “I found out – ‘Flo’ called me to his office and we talked. He’s – with everything last year and this year – everything, he’s real up front and honest and likes to have those face-to-face conversations, so I definitely appreciate that. I think that the second question is irrelevant – not that it’s a bad question to ask; but that’s the decision that was made, so there’s not a whole lot I could do about it other than just move forward and kind of accept my new role and try to embrace that, and do the best I can to help the team win in that role.” 

(I think the timing definitely shocked us as well, with you guys being second place in the AFC East and 3-3 kind of looking towards the playoffs. I guess how do you kind of move forward knowing that maybe you were pulled a little bit too early or maybe pulled when you weren’t expected?) – “There’s a lot of stuff going through my mind yesterday, just from a personal standpoint, not necessarily with the team; but is this it? Was that my last game as an NFL player in terms of being the starter and going out there and playing? And you just kind of go through all those different scenarios. I’ve been a starter. I’ve been benched all kinds of different ways, but this one – this one just really more so than any of them – I think this organization and what we’ve been through the last year and a half, this was kind of the first place, other than Buffalo, where I just felt fully committed and invested and felt like it was my team. And so to have that, I think that’s a lot of the reason why my heart was so heavy yesterday. That’s a direction that the organization is going and I’ve just got to accept it.” 

(This is kind of a hard question, but out of my respect for you and the way you have addressed QB Tua Tagovailoa, I would ask you if you have had a chance to talk to Tua and how that may have gone so far?) – “Yeah, we’ve talked. This profession is interesting in that I basically got fired yesterday and then my day of work today consisted of me in Zoom meetings listening to the guy that fired me, and then locked in a spaced out room with my replacement for four hours today. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs that are like that, but I know how difficult it is to play the quarterback position and I know that that room is so important to the guy that’s playing in terms of everybody having your back and pulling in the same direction. So today is a day to digest a little bit and we’ll get away for the bye a little bit; but once this thing starts up again, I’ve got to do my best for Tua to help him out, because there’s two separate situations here. One is with Tua, and I want him to do well and I think he’s a great kid, and I think he has a really bright future. The other one is my feelings and just kind of what I’m going through, and that has to be separate from when I walk into this building and help him out. I’ve got to separate those feelings from trying to be a professional and help him out as best I can.” 

(I appreciate you just kind of sharing this emotion. I know it’s probably not easy to kind of talk through this. You mentioned just the thought of “was this my last game?” I just kind of wanted to get the gauge of how that conversation has been like with you and your family about just obviously you put so much emotion and energy into this. Have you guys started to have that conversation and think about what that all means?) – “No. I mean those are just things running through my head, but you just never know in this league. To me, those conversations at this point aren’t really worth having. There will be a time and a place for that; but they’ve always been obviously very supportive of me and they are in this journey together with me, so it’s nice to have that kind of support. It’s hard this day and age. My two boys in middle school – they don’t get to find out from Dad. They get to find out through a friend that got a text message. So that part of it is just the world we live in now. They probably dropped me from their fantasy teams. (laughter) But other than that they still love me.” 

(A, did the idea of asking for a trade go through your mind and B, could the idea of being a long-term backup to QB Tua Tagovailoa including next year, even though you don’t have a contract for next year, could that idea grow on you and ultimately be appealing?) – “I have no idea. No, I don’t go in there and demand or ask for anything. And in terms of the other stuff, the long-term future, I have no idea. I know that I just love playing this game. I love being out there and the camaraderie that that brings and dealing with the adversity with your teammates; those are the kind of things that I truly love about this game, so I definitely like playing more than I like sitting and watching.” 

(Obviously you’re still going to get ready to play. There’s always the chance that you could have to go in – injury, any reason. How was it explained to you relative to the permanence of this decision?) – “We didn’t really get into that, but last year when Josh (Rosen) went in, I feel like that was a different situation. He was either going to sink or swim, and I ended up back in the lineup and this is a different situation. If you draft a guy fifth overall and put him in, this isn’t a temporary – this is a forever decision. This is a long-term decision. I think those two situations are very different. I’m always ready to go and I could probably come out of the stands and play in five years if I needed to without picking up a football; but that’s just again, accepting the role that I’ve now been given and trying to do the best I can in that role.” 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 

QB Tua Tagovailoa 

(Congratulations on being named the starter. Why have you won this job? Why do you think you deserve this job? And how did you hear about it?) – “I first heard about it from Coach (Flores). Coach called me and told me the news. I think that question is more so for the coaches. As a player in the NFL, you’re just trying to do your best to prepare every day you can, and when your opportunity is given, it’s given. You’ve just got to be ready. I think that’s a question for you guys to ask the coaches because really, it’s out of my control with the decision-making.” 

(I know when you first make your start on, I guess, November 1st, it will be 351 days since that hip injury you suffered. Have you thought about just the full circle of everything leading into your first start?) – “Well, it’s definitely been a journey. I definitely think of that injury, when I got hurt, and then the process leading up to being able to walk, being able to do football drills and just do things in general. I definitely do reflect on that process that I went through. I’m definitely blessed to be able to still be here and play the game that I grew up dreaming to play.” 

(Good to see you and congratulations. The team is 3-3, so it’s pretty well positioned. You’re not stepping into a bad situation. Can you talk about what your goals are for this season?) – “Well, my goals are to do whatever I can do to help this team become successful, especially our offense. Everyone knows ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) has done a tremendous job. I don’t know. I just feel like I’m definitely lucky. I’m blessed to be in the situation that I’m in, where I can continue to learn from a guy like ‘Fitz,’ then also having the mind of (Offensive Coordinator) Chan (Gailey), him helping kind of put me and the offense, I guess, in a good situation. I think that’s what’s going to be important the next couple of weeks and the entire season.” 

(What was it like after Head Coach Brian Flores told you and you had some alone downtime? What were your emotions like once you absorbed what he had told you about making this change and making you the starter?) – “I was very excited. That’s news that I think anyone would love to hear, being named the starter at any position. But at the same time, I also felt for ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) as well. Me and ‘Fitz’ had a conversation about all of this. Like I’ve continued to say, although it kind of hurts me in a way to see ‘Fitz’ hurt, I’m just very, very lucky to have someone like ‘Fitz’ in my corner, regardless of the situation we’re in right now. He’s just – I hate to say it like this but it is like this, it’s like a father and son. (laughter)” 

(Were you caught off guard by the announcement or could you sense that this day might be coming?) – “You never know when your opportunity is given. When ‘Coach Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) called me, I thought it was like any other call. We usually watch film on Tuesdays, so I thought he was calling because he wanted me to come up and watch some film. I usually get with him to watch film; but it was different. I just think that you need to be ready every time. Opportunities come and when they come, you’ve got to take them and run with them.” 

(You’ve been so open with us about how much your family has influenced your journey. I’m curious if you are comfortable sharing anything about your conversation with your parents yesterday when you heard the news.) – “Yeah. I told my parents that I got a call from ‘Coach Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) and the GM (Chris Grier) was in that same room. They told me that I was going to be the starter. I told them that and they were excited. They didn’t believe me for a little bit. I think my dad kind of joked about it. He was like, ‘after two plays? After two throws they want to put you in now?’ (laughter) So it was exciting but my parents were – yeah, they were very excited, especially my mom. For mothers, it’s just different when you see your son get hurt and then given the opportunity now. It was cool.” 

(I wanted to ask, you probably didn’t know beforehand that you were going to go into the Jets game. The pass to RB Patrick Laird, did you throw that so he could get out of bounds to maybe give yourself some more time to be in the game? And also, I wanted to ask what was your reaction to Rick Ross shouting you out on Instagram?) – “I only saw Pat (Laird). Pat was the only guy that was open, so I threw it to Pat. I know the situation and I told the guys while we were running the ball – the running backs and then the receivers as well in the huddle – that it’s under two minutes, let’s stay in bounds and let’s try to kill the clock, and then there I go. (laughter) So Pat caught the ball and Pat tried to stay in bounds but Brian Poole hit him out. But yeah, that’s just how that went. And then with Rick Ross, I mean that’s pretty cool. That’s really cool to see someone of his profile in the rap world, or whatever you want to call it, be of support. That was cool to see.” 

(You got a chance to game plan and prepare for six opponents and then go out and watch a master of his craft in QB Ryan Fitzpatrick do it for those six games on game days. How did that accelerate your growth and help prepare you for your first start now 11 days away in the NFL?) – “That’s a great question. I think with having someone like ‘Fitz (Ryan Fitzpatrick), you just don’t think within what you know. You start thinking of what other people are doing, the defense, how they align to stack formations, how fronts can dictate coverages. Just things that I didn’t really need to worry about in college, that I think of now. It really is about the little things. It’s just – like I said, it’s really a big blessing that I have someone like him. It’s not like it stops here. It’s a continuous competition with ‘Fitz.’ What’s so cool about it is that I can continue to grow and continue to learn from him through this process.” 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 

Head Coach Brian Flores 

(We, along with most everybody else in the Western civilization, have reported you guys have made a quarterback change, that QB Tua Tagovailoa will start Week 8. Is that accurate and if so, why are you making the move now?) – “Yes, that’s accurate. We feel like that’s the best thing for the team.” 

(How did you reach this decision?) – “Practice. We talked about it as a staff, with (General Manager) Chris (Grier), the personnel department. We just felt like it was the best move for the team right now. That’s how we’re going to move forward.” 

(Two weeks ago, you talked about the concern about QB Tua Tagovailoa’s injury history and also you mentioned that he wasn’t ready to start for the team. What changed between then and now?) – “It’s like any other situation. Sometimes a guy is a week out, two weeks out, three weeks out, four weeks out. I think we talk about kind of situations like this on a weekly basis. He’s day-to-day, he’s going to back in a couple weeks; and this is no different than that. We feel like through practice and meetings and walkthroughs, that he’s ready. And that’s how we’re going to go moving forward.” 

(We know that you initially had a Week 11 bye that was kind of moved up to Week 7 because of the schedule. Did that have any impact on this decision – the fact that it is your bye and maybe it was moved around a little bit?) – “I don’t think it hurts, but we just feel like this was the best move for our team right now. Look, ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) has done a great job. He’s been productive. His leadership has been great. It’s not an easy decision for me or for us as an organization, but we felt like for the team now and moving forward, this is the move we needed to make.” 

(When it comes to the decision – I know that you feel that – I think three of your questions to begin this morning, and I know it was only it was only five snaps, but did seeing QB Tua Tagovailoa out there this past Sunday and that roll out, did that play a factor in seeing how comfortable he was up there in the decision?) – “That’s just part of the evaluation. This has been ongoing since we got here in training camp and it’s no different than any other player. Every meeting, walkthrough, lifting session – it’s all part of the evaluation. Again, we just feel like this is the best move for us going forward.” 

(How different will the offense be with QB Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback?) – “That’s hard to say. I think every week is a little bit different based on the opponent – what they do well, where their weaknesses are, where their strengths are – so I think the offense is different every week. The defense is different every week, so it’s kind of hard to say. But ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) did a lot for us offensively as far as communication, getting guys lined up. Tua’s going to have to do a good job of that as well and we going to need everyone to step up.” 

(I suppose it’s going to be high, but I just want to hear it. What’s your confidence level that QB Tua Tagovailoa is going to be successful, that he’s going to play well and why?) – “I’m confident in all our players, to include Tua. I think he’s practiced well. He works hard in meetings and walkthroughs and he’s got a good rapport with his teammates. Every week we go out to win, so yeah, I’m confident that if we prepare the right way, if he prepares the way he’s been preparing, I’m confident we’ll go out there and have good results. But it’s not a one-man game. I think that’s the one thing that – it’s football, so you need 11 guys on each play to go out there and play together and play as a team. I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that – go out and play as a team and play with great energy and hopefully good execution. One thing on this situation that’s unfortunate is that I didn’t get a chance to address the team before this was out. The media – it’s not the way I or we want to do business. Unfortunately that’s kind of the way of the world right now. That’s unfortunate. I’m not happy about that at all. I’ll address that to the team and really apologize to them that they had to find out through social media. I don’t think that’s fair to them.” 

(With this decision looming and you had two blowout wins, was there a consideration of playing QB Tua Tagavailoa more, or do you wish you played him more? Or is that irrelevant in the past two games?) – “We played him against the Jets, so he got in there; but no, I think with what we’ve seen in practice, and what we’ve seen in meetings and walkthrough, the situation is where it is. He’s only had the few snaps in the Jet game. We’re going to move forward with that in mind. We can’t go back and put him back in. We’re just going to move forward and practice and prepare with him as the starter, and hopefully get good execution not only from him, but from the entire team offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game. Again, it’s a team game. This isn’t just a one man show. We’re going to need everybody – players, coaches, trainers, everybody to have success on the field.” 

(I’ll ask the one non QB Tua Tagavailoa question on this entire call. There was a report on the NFL website that you guys tried to sign DT Damon Harrison. Is that true? Do you feel like you need veteran defensive tackle help with DT Davon Godchaux out, or do you feel like it’s enough with DT Zach Sieler, DT Raekwon Davis, DT Christian Wilkins obviously and end and tackle. I also want to make sure Raekwon’s shoulder will not keep him out long-term.) – “Honestly, that’s more of a question for Chris (Grier). Again, he handles all of the phone calls and things of that nature. I’ve worked in personnel. There are calls every day about different players and potential this, potential this and potential that. I would say maybe one percent of that actually happens based on the volume of calls versus the actual transactions, or trade, or signing that happens – maybe two percent. A lot of that goes on, but really it’s more of a question for Chris. As far as our d-tackle depth, I think between Raekwon, Sieler, Christian, we had Benito (Jones up) last week. As far as Raekwon, he’s rehabbing his injury and I know he’s working to get back as soon as he can. They’re playing ok. There is always room for improvement; but yeah, I’m happy with those guys.” 

(I know you’ve talked about this a ton but what role has QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played in just getting QB Tua Tagovailoa ready for this decision, and how important will his guidance and leadership continue to be as Tua develops and learns?) – “Look, ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) has been great. He’s been great really for the last two years, or year and a half. I don’t know if there’s anybody who has been more instrumental in trying to instill a culture and embody a lot of the things we’re looking for from a toughness, competitiveness, team first (standpoint). He’s made an impact on Tua, but also a lot of players on this team, so I have a great respect for him. That made this decision very tough. But at the end of the day, as a team, we felt like the best thing to do for our team, now and moving forward, was to go with Tua. But I think ‘Fitz’ and the way he handles himself and his impact on the team, I think it will still be there. He’s been a tremendous asset and leader on this team.” 

(We’re not able to watch practice once the season starts. Can you fill us in, in terms of what you’ve seen, in the areas of accuracy, consistency and decision making? And how much improvement there has been for QB Tua Tagavailoa from the first week to now?) – “I think we’ve seen a lot of improvement form Tua and really from all of our rookies, I would say, and a lot of our non-rookies, second-year players, third-year players, etc. I think Tua specifically, I think he’s gotten more comfortable. But yes, accuracy, decision making, all of those things have been good in practice; but again, practice is very different than games. We’re going to do everything we can from a meeting, a walkthrough, a practice standpoint to get him ready to play in a game. Obviously we’re comfortable and confident that he’ll be able to be competitive in those games when the time comes. There is a lot that leads up to that. And also, I should say again, it’s not just one person. We’re going to need contributions from really everyone – o-line, running backs, tight ends, receivers, defense, special teams. It’s a team game. It’s never on one person. We’ve got to coach it well. I think if we do that, we’ll at least put ourselves in the best position to try to have some success.”