Running back, Louisiana State
Defensive end, West Virginia
Initial comments ...
Lewis: “We’re excited to have these two guys here joining us. With the way the draft is scheduled this year, we’re going to have an opportunity to keep these guys in Cincinnati for a while. We had a couple guys that have graduation coming up and things like that. I know that Darqueze (first-round pick
“These guys are going to have the opportunity to do some things this afternoon which is very cool. It was great for them to be able to travel in here today and have an opportunity to meet the rest of the coaching staff and the personnel people upstairs and then spend some time with you guys and get themselves ready to start their NFL careers. They are two impressive guys, and we’re glad to have them as part of our football team. They’re two guys that make us better and give us an opportunity to win this division again and go forward and become world champions. As I spoke to both guys, I think they know that’s the task at hand. There’s nothing short of that. They’re now in the NFL and now they can go to work at doing the best job they can and being the best players they can be.”
Jeremy, when you go through recruiting, you ultimately get to choose where you go, whereas in the NFL Draft, someone is picking you. How different is that and how does it feel?
Hill: “It’s very suspenseful, I’ll just say; it’s kind of like watching a movie unfold right in front of you, because you have no idea what’s going to happen next. You get to see everyone else getting picked and kind of how the draft is going. And having Cincinnati pick me, I had no idea ... It was just so surprising for me. I got the call, saw the Cincinnati city area code and said ‘OK, this might be it.” I was just so blessed and so surprised that I have the opportunity. I’m definitely excited for it. It’s very different from recruiting because you know from the beginning where you want to go, but here you have no idea, so I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Will, your head coach comes from where you grew up and Jonathan Hayes, your position coach played professionally. Is there a comfort level in that?
Clarke: “I would definitely say ‘yes.’ It’s always good to have comfort, especially when you’re in a new home. For me personally, having that comfort and knowing a few mutual people that Coach Hayes knows from the same area, that always gives you that kind of camaraderie.”
Jeremy, the running back position has changed in recent years in the NFL ... As a guy coming out, what do you make of the position? Is it changing or did you think about playing any other positions?
Hill: "It was always running back since the third grade. It’s the position I’ve played my entire life. Even my coaches, they said ‘Look man, we don’t even want to put you on defense; just play offense,’ so it’s pretty much the only thing I know. I think it’s helped me develop my skill set to be a more complete back rather than one of those guys who plays multiple positions. One of my coaches told me a long time ago, ‘It’s better to be great at one thing than good at everything,’ so that’s just the mentality I have with the whole running back thing.
“I think as far as the NFL goes, there’s always production (at running back) ... If you look at the top guys that produce every year, the LeSean McCoys, the Adrian Petersons, guys that are putting up big numbers, I don’t think the position is devalued. There’s just general managers out there that know what they’re doing as far as drafting at the position, and if you can get great value lower in the draft, obviously they’re going to do that. I just think that’s the way it’s going nowadays: If you can get a very good runner and a great running back later on and not have to pay first-round money for it, why not do it?”
Will, they wasted no time in giving you former Bengals DE Michael Johnson’s jersey number. What do you know about Michael, the defensive line and what Jay Hayes has done here?
Clarke: “As far as Michael Johnson goes, I’ve been hearing about comparisons to him previously to this season in terms of the way he plays, the improvements he’s made and just our body size and type. When I came to visit here, Coach Hayes and I were watching tape, and he was just showing me the versatility of the whole defensive line. Everyone is playing to get to the ball — tough, hard-nosed defensive line football.”
Do you embrace that idea of being a third-round draft pick and following in Michael Johnson’s footsteps, or would you rather make your own name for yourself?
Clarke: “Of course, the type of player that Michael Johnson is, it’s not a bad thing to be compared and have the same jersey number. But of course, coming into the NFL, I would like to make my own name and have my own resume. Like I said, it’s not a bad thing.”
How big of a factor in your transition to the NFL is having Cam Cameron as your offensive coordinator last year at LSU?
Hill: “I think it was a huge benefit for me. Coach Cameron has a lot of ties to the NFL, knows a lot of people who he can call and talk to still to this day. The offense that he put in at LSU is very similar to what we’re doing here in Cincinnati. I think you know just having those ties is very good for me. I’m able to relate and just transfer things right over; same plays just a different terminology or a different call. So I think from that standpoint, just having Coach Cameron bring in those type of protections and things of that nature onto the forefront at LSU made things a lot easier for us in our transition to the NFL.”
Will, you won the Iron Mountaineer Award three years in a row. How much bigger and stronger have you gotten over the years?
Clarke: “When I first came into college I was about 235 (pounds) and now I’m around 275, so a nice 40 pounds.”
Because of that extra strength, you can play inside and outside?
Clarke: “Yes, I can.”
They say you can weigh 290 pounds in a month ...
Clarke: “I think it’s possible, good weight though.”
That Iron Mountain Award is given every year. Did you spend extra time in the weight room? What did you do to earn that award?
Clarke: “It starts as soon as the regular season’s over, then we come back in January when everyone reports. It starts from then until the spring game. So you’re being evaluated. Everyone on the team is being evaluated. We have a grading sheet for our workouts every day. So everyone’s being evaluated on the whole team. Once we go through spring ball, of course you’re still being evaluated, but it’s more of a weight room thing, not so much on the field. What happens is, the strength coaches, they get together and get about six names of everyone on the team who they feel deserves an award. And then they leave it up to my teammates. Then they will vote for a skill player, a combination player, and a line player — offensive lineman or defensive lineman.”
Does it make it more meaningful since it’s voted by your teammates?
Clarke: “Yes. They make it that way, so it won’t seem as though the coaches are the ones giving it to a person, or the coaches are favoring someone. It’s about how your teammates feel about you.”
There are some big running backs in the AFC North. What weight do the coaches think you should play at?
Hill: “I think anytime I’m under 235 that’s an elite weight for me. I feel like I can still run with power, but at the same time I can still run with speed, agility and quickness with an ability to be agile. So I think anything under that range from 230-235. I haven’t gotten a solid number yet, but we will soon and we’ll just go from there.”
Did Coach Cameron ask you to pick up the blitz?
Hill: “Yeah, a lot. That’s something big, especially playing in the SEC week in and week out. You’re going against a lot of guys that got drafted today, yesterday and the day before. So it’s nothing new to me. My entire career going against guys in practice, the Kevin Minters of the world, Tyrann Mathieus of the world, guys who are fierce competitors. It’s nothing new to me and I’m excited to bring that competitive nature here in Cincinnati.”
What was a bigger adrenaline rush for you — walking into the stadium at Baton Rouge vs. Alabama or taking the phone call knowing you’re about to get drafted?
Hill: “I think it’s two different feelings. I think definitely walking on the field at Baton Rouge, it’s just so different. I think you really can’t explain that feeling and it’s something I wish I could do just one more time, but I’m moving onto the next level. That call, it’s two completely different emotions set. It’s more rejoice and elation, so many emotions going through my mind when you get that call. But just coming out of that tunnel, it’s something different, man.”
I know you played high school basketball; did you ever have Bob Huggins try to get you to play for West Virginia?
Clarke: “We only joked about it. I would see him on campus and stuff like that, always it was just joking. The football coaches, they wouldn’t let me get away (laughs).”
Have any of your new teammates reached out to you?
Hill: “I got a text from Andy,
Clarke: “I have not been able to check my phone (laughs). I don’t even know yet.”
Jeremy, it probably wasn’t a surprise that Whitworth reached out to you ...
Hill: “Not at all, he’s a huge (LSU) supporter. If you can to anyone in this building, they can vouch for that. He’s going to have my back and be someone I can lean to, get advice from as far as the city, as far as the team, just the daily workings of this building. I’m definitely going to lean on him for certain things and certain advice, so it’s great to have another Tiger here with me.”
What was the impetus behind the letter you wrote about yourself to all 32 teams?
Hill: “I think it was just the kind of concerns that people were having, especially I think the media. I didn’t want it to get out of hand with talk about character issues, and that kind of just kept popping up and popping up. I didn’t want that to be the thing that kind of deterred teams away from me. If anything, I wanted my play to speak for itself. I think for me it was just getting ahead of it and making sure that wasn’t an issue. Just let the teams get to know my character and who am I am as a person. The biggest thing about the whole letter deal was just getting ahead of it.”