Initial comments ...
“We really feel good about the effort today, with trading up and getting Russell (Bodine) at the beginning of the (fourth) round to kick things off for us. He’s a productive player and really has an opportunity to come in here and compete to start. We just felt that was so worthwhile to do. A.J. McCarron gives us another quarterback, a young guy with great skills, ability and leadership. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was so outstanding at Alabama. Obviously his success on the field goes without saying. We’re really excited about the opportunity for him to come in here and compete and work as a backup, get better, really learn the game in the NFL and continue to mature as a player.
“Marquis Flowers, the linebacker from Arizona (sixth-round choice), has great athleticism, ability, speed and length. He’s the kind of guy we want to continue to develop and grow physically. We’re excited about him and what he can do. We had him in here earlier this spring to visit with us. Watching the tape, he played against people in the Pac-12 out there, and I thought he did a great job as a line-of-scrimmage linebacker. He has great speed to run and cover, and he should really help us make a huge contribution and make us better on special teams as well.
“The receiver, James Wright (seventh round), was a guy at LSU that was a consistent player. He never quite cracked the starting lineup at LSU on offense, but he contributed a lot and really was a core and great special teams player. He has great speed, big size, and he’s a guy that really stands out. He needs to continue to get an opportunity to grow and play. We really feel good about him and where we picked him. Lastly, Lavelle Westbrooks, cornerback at Georgia Southern (seventh round). He has great ability around the receiver. He’s been very, very instinctive. He has a chance to come in here and compete for one of our cornerback spots and continue to give us some youth and depth there.
“There was a question yesterday about Will Clarke, and doggone it, if I could have put him in a different number (jersey No. 93), I would have (laughs). I was thinking about that this morning. Michael Johnson (formerly No. 93) had an incredible career here. We’re not cloning anybody; we’re trying to make sure this is the first Will Clarke. What Michael did goes without saying. Will has big shoes to fill, if he could ever fill those shoes left by M.J., just because of the person, the player, and the man that Michael was and continues to be. But he’s got some great role models in that defensive line room and a great opportunity to come in here and learn how to be an NFL defensive lineman from some very, very good people and uplift us right away.
“So it was a great weekend, a great three days. All the effort that goes into this from the scouts going on the road for over two years and tracking these guys. All the hotels, flights and trips they have to take to do this. All of the work, all of the inputting of the information. And then all of the involvement by the coaches once the football season is over and we get into February. All the work that goes in with the meeting and the time spent. So it was a very productive three days for us, three days that helped this football team get better. If you look across our division, I think everybody got better. So we’ve got our work cut out for us when we get on the field, as we keep evolving and progressing through the offseason.”
It seemed like you really hit all the spots that you guys had targeted, maybe more so than an average draft ...
“You feel good about it at the end. We did have some things break our way in order to fill both with good players and the needs part. The thing you don’t ever want to do is take a lesser player or continue to stockpile too many players at one spot and leave you short in another spot. I think we were able to even that out pretty well and feel good about it with the way it broke for us.”
You really had to have high regard for
“We’ve had a lot of picks over the last three years, we’ve had a hard time with how to digest all these players into the roster. That’s difficult. Over the last two years with 10 and 11 picks, whatever we had the last two seasons prior to this draft. That’s a lot of players. Next year we should come away with ours plus a couple of extras that are a little higher than the ones we had this year. We were careful to go through that process in free agency, so we’ve got to reap the benefit of it. We did, we wanted the player (Bodine). We felt like he was a guy that we evaluated that had starting qualities for us and would make us better as a football team for a long time.”
He’s seen as a leader type of guy with a great personality ...
“Great leader, yes. I had that 15-minute exposure that I get for the guys in Indy, and when I write down in my notes that I want this guy on the football team, that says a lot. He’s one of the guys I wrote that down for.”
How many would you say you do that for on an average combine?
“Out of 60, probably three or four. We’ve got a bunch of them on this football team that we’ve had over the years. I think that’s a good thing. That’s an impressive thing. Sometimes they tend to play the same positions (Laughs). They’re stable guys and guys that you want to build from.”
You were talking about a deep roster and having a lot of picks and next year even more picks. Does that come into play when you were thinking about moving, whether it was today, or talking about it in earlier rounds, because at some point, what are you going to do with all these guys, and maybe it’s best to move up and get the guys you want?
“That’s things that are discussed between Mike and myself and Duke prior to the draft. They want to know what I envision and how I envision how these guys will work into our roster, and work into our lineup, who suits up on Sunday. That’s doing it off paper, and you know I don’t like football on paper. We’re trying to judge that and look at that not for one year, but at least two to three seasons and see how that works for us because that’s important. It’s got to be a two or three-year plan.”
You got ripped in some circles for not doing enough in the offseason to upgrade. Do you think this draft takes you into the realm of upgrading?
“Well I think we did quite a bit of upgrading last year. We signed over 20 guys back to our football team. I think we have those guys here, we had a great draft of good, young players a year ago, and that’s the same thing. I think if you continue to draft young players, you don’t have to go out there and get into changing somebody else’s habits. Because when we bring somebody new in here, a veteran player from somewhere else, many of those guys come and they plug in and play where they go. They have a difficult transition; it’s a four, five, six-week transition. It’s better to grow them from the ground up, and letting them mature and do their thing into your role.
“Everybody in the NFL knows how the salary cap works. We have some young guys that are going to take huge chunks of our salary cap coming here very quickly. So that’s the other part of it. We’ve taken care of ours. We’ll continue to take care of ours. That’s the way I want us to truly continue to build our football team. We’ll pluck off a guy here and there that makes us better all the time. We haven’t been afraid to do that, and we’ve done it where we’ve needed it. We’ve gotten some good, young players. We got a good, young player in (Marshall) Newhouse already in here this year for offensive line and we’ve got to feel really good about him. We took care of some of the other needs by drafting guys a year ago.”
You conceivably drafted three potential starters for this year ...
“Well, at some point. The good thing is they don’t have to be starters this year, and we won’t feel bad about it. They could be. I hope they merge to be quickly. That means they’re beating somebody out, and that’s what this is about. This team has got to get better than we did a year ago; that’s what we’ve got to be all about all the time. We don’t have to sit and rest on anything; we’ve just got to keep getting better. When we have guys who didn’t even get an opportunity to suit up and play, we’ve got to let them have that opportunity to mature and play.”
Were you surprised the third tier of quarterbacks took so long to get selected this year?
“You can’t envision it that way. You’ve got to sit in 32 different rooms to envision it that way, and how they value quarterbacks. How they’ve rated them. This isn’t a guy watching television watching a game. This is people’s livelihoods on the line and that’s what counts. That’s why they have to do it their way all the time.”
The fact you waited until the fifth round to take a quarterback suggests McCarron is a developmental guy ...
“He’s a great prospect. He happened to be there. We had some other needs we found important to continue to move for. We’re excited about A.J. We had a grade that we were comfortable taking A.J. earlier in the draft; we just chose to move a different direction. It’s going to be hard to have A.J. 1 and A.J. 2 though (laughs).”
What was it about McCarron that made you decide to draft him?
“I think his track record and his resume speaks for itself. The time spent with him at Alabama, not only viewing him all the time, but the time going back there and the coaches having a personal workout with him. They came back and really felt great about him.”