Head Coach MARVIN LEWIS, Defensive Coordinator MIKE ZIMMER and Defensive Line Coach JAY HAYES
Have you ever drafted an international guy like this?
ML: “(Laughs) No, there were obviously some unique stories this year with players, three of them (are) international guys — maybe even three or four — so this was one of them. His story was unique, and just trying out for the football team (at Southern Methodist University) and going from there, so this isn’t something he’s grown up with all his life, so we have some more growth to do. We’ve had a great record, Mike and Jay have done a great job of really taking some guys and really pointing them in the right direction, some of the guys we have up front on the defensive line and getting the most out of them. We hope to do the same thing with Margus.”
It’s kind of the same situation where you took a defensive tackle in the second round last year and you can bring him along and develop him, right?
ML: “Yeah, he doesn’t have to roll out there as a first-day starter. But it’d be a great experience. He goes into a great room. He’s a guy that comes in here from the college campus and he goes into camp — there can’t be a better spot to go into with veteran players and learn how to work and how to do things. This guy fits the mold of guys we’ve taken thus far as well. He’s just a tremendous hard worker and that’s important to us.”
Is he raw with his background in terms of coaching?
ML: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘raw;’ I think they’re playing a different style of defense at SMU than we’ll play here. He was playing more as a inside, two-gap, four-or-five technique player there and had a little different level of responsibilities than we’ll ask him to do. I think we’ll be able to, what’s the word, pull more of his athleticism out and let that show in his play more than sometimes he was able to do there until he got in pass situations.”
You used the expression “unbelievable measurables” — 6’8”, 275 (pounds), 4.6 speed, 38 (bench press) reps (at 225 pounds) — is this one of the most athletic guys that you’ve ever seen?
ML: “No doubt, and a very impressive person in person, too, so another quality guy when you sit there and talk with him. Obviously, this guy, he’s a little mature being 25 years old, but he’s seen a lot. He’s got some skins on the wall, so that’s good that way, so it’s important to him. That’s big as well.”
Darrin Simmons has to be happy not only with Hunt, but with Bernard and what he’s done in the return game, too …?
ML: “Right. He’s been a guy that’s been productive back there — he’s done more punt returns; he hasn’t done as many kickoff returns. But he’s a productive returner.”
You guys ever come across, in your travels, a guy with the Eastern European background and the different things that he’s done?
Marvin talked about how SMU’s defensive style is different and you guys will ask him to do different things ... Just what are the different things you’ll have him do?
MZ: “Well, he was actually playing two-gap on the offensive tackle most of the time, and he’ll be playing defensive end for us. Like Marvin said, he’s got tremendous, tremendous athletic ability. I hate to say, but he reminds me of (current Bengals defensive end)
“Jay and I were talking earlier today because we watched some more tape on him earlier and Jay said ‘When’s the last 6’8” defensive lineman you saw in the NFL and I said (Ed) “Too Tall” Jones (laughs). But the guy plays real, real hard, he can run like a deer, he’s got great strength. We’ve just got to point him in the right direction and like Marvin said earlier, those guys in that room, (Robert) Geathers and Michael Johnson and (Carlos) Dunlap and those guys, they’ll help him.”
With as tall as he is, has he shown any issues with leverage?
MZ: “Well, he’s not the only guy you have to talk to about staying down on the line. I mean, I talk to Michael Johnson about that almost every single day. I’ll say ‘Michael, what can you do better on this play?’ and he’ll say ‘(Stay) lower.’ He will have the same issues because of his height, but by the same token, his height is also an advantage when he’s rushing the passer, arms up, blocking field goals and those kind of things, too. He has as good a get off, getting off the football as anybody I’ve seen in this draft. That’s really his number one asset — he’s got great, great speed and (his ability) getting off the ball is phenomenal. Now, we’ve got to teach him some technique and we knew that. He doesn’t use his hands quite as well as he should, but that’s a lot — he hasn’t been playing football but a couple years.”
JH: “Four years.”
What was his first football?
JH: “Here at SMU. He came here — he was on the track team.”
MZ: “He was a discus thrower, right?”
MZ: “They canceled the program and he was going to have to go back to — Croatia?”
JH: “Estonia. I’m still not quite sure where it is.”
MZ: “(laughs) I’m going to get in trouble for that. But anyway, they talked him into trying out for football and the guy got better each and every year and the guy is an unbelievable athlete. He had actually joined the military.”
JH: “Right, he had to go for a couple years maybe before he came over. But talking to June Jones, their head coach (at SMU) when I went down there to work him out, they told me they had to show him how to put on equipment and all that stuff. But to the young man’s credit, he was able to go out — the first thing they did with him and the first thing they taught him was that. So you know that’s maybe why he has such a good get off. But he really worked at that. They said ‘Let’s just do this with him,’ and that first year, they just worked with him on special teams, getting his hands up, getting a push, getting his hands up and just teaching him the game. They have some experienced coaches down there at SMU that really helped him so that it wasn’t overwhelming to him. He’s gotten better as time has gone on and now he’s going to come here to a professional situation and go out and daily get better. That’s what we’ll do with him. He has great people to learn from.”
So you would probably considering a young 25, considering he doesn’t have extensive football experience:
MZ: “Football-wise, he’s about 12 (laughs). But he’s an exceptionally hard worker. You watch this guy on tape, and he’s running all over the field. I don’t want us to sound like he’s just learning the game, because he’s a good prospect. But he’s just learning more and more about it. He plays really hard. We were watching tape today, and I said to Jay, when he cleared a couple offensive linemen, his acceleration to the quarterback was as good as I’ve seen from anybody. So he has a lot of things he does really, really well.”
Is this a situation like last year at defensive tackle, where he doesn’t have to play right away, and you can develop him and bring him along slowly?
MZ: “That was part of the intrigue about him a little bit. We knew we didn’t have to push him in there right now. We have a good group of defensive linemen. He can kind of learn from there, and we can look for ways to incorporate him into the defense as we get going, whether it be pass rush or an extra down-lineman, or something in certain situations. We’re not counting on him to come in and be the starter right away, but that was why we liked him. That’s not what we were looking for; we were looking for a guy that we can hit a home run on.”
Height-wise, your defensive ends are like a basketball team:
JH: “Like a bunch of power forwards.”
MZ: “We look good getting off the bus.”
JH: “It’ll be interesting, just getting him in there. Maybe he’ll teach us a foreign language, I don’t know.”
MZ: “I remember him saying this in the interview: you know how he learned English? He talks English great. He learned it from watching movies — American movies. That’s how he learned how to speak. The guy, it’s an unbelievable story, it really is. He speaks better than me (laughs).”
JH: “He’s fluent. That’s the thing, some of these guys we’re talking about — (Ezekial) Ansah, this kid, Jesse Williams, (Bjoern) Werner — you’ve got four guys (defensive linemen) that are foreign-born players that you’re evaluating to play in the National Football League. It’s crazy. But that’s how big this game is. It’s going global. It’s a great thing. I think that’s what the Commissioner wants, right?”
MZ: “You should have heard the yelling when we got on the phone with him. It was great. His family and all the people there.”
JH: “Those were some expensive tickets to get over here.”
MZ: “Hopefully it’ll be a great success story.”
When you see his measurables and blocked-kick numbers, do you watch the tape and say to yourself, ‘Oh my God, who is this freak?’
MZ: “Especially when you watch him at the combine. The combine was unbelievable. He was right near the top of every category.”
JH: “He was the strongest bencher (tied for strongest) and the fastest D-lineman (third-fastest).”
MZ: “When you watch him on tape, it’s not all the time you see it, but there are enough flashes that you see where you go, ‘Wow, this guy can really run, he can accelerate, he’s got strength’ — all the things that you’re looking for. That’s why this is a good situation why this is a good situation for us and for him — we can teach him how we want it done, and he’s going to learn a new defense a little bit. Defensive line is defensive line, but it’s a little different techniques, and I think we can use his ability in our system a little bit better.”
When you guys were at the combine and he was doing all of this stuff, was there a buzz amongst the coaches?
MZ: “Yeah, there was. They all look at their watches and go, ‘What? What did you get?’ It’s one of those.”
JH: “I was on the field, so I didn’t really know how well he had done, I just knew he was running really fast. But he’s going to be an interesting guy, and we’re going to work his butt off. He’ll probably not understand some things that Zim says to him (laughs), but it’ll be good.”
MH: “It was awesome. They have a great defensive line coach. I met him at Pro Day and we really hit it off, and I’m proud to be a Bengal now.”
Did you ever imagine getting drafted four years ago?
MH: “Absolutely not. When I got into football, it was just a way to stay at SMU, but I wanted to put that scholarship into full use and really learn the game of football, and then it really started happening. So after my sophomore year I tried to really stay and focus on it.”
When did you realize you had a chance to make it to the NFL?
MH: “Like I said, it was after my sophomore year. That was the year I started due to our defensive line needs. They moved me up to a starting position. So I played that entire year and decided I have two more years left, that’s about 24 games at best and not that many snaps, so I might as well take full advantage of it and see where it goes.”
What’s your favorite part about football?
MH: “The physicality of the game. I’m really starting to enjoy the physicality and being able to dominate people on the line of scrimmage. It was a fun way to be out there.”
You probably have supreme confidence in dominating people with as many blocked kicks and plays made behind the line of scrimmage:
MH: “All the confidence really came from the film studying and getting to know the opponent. Then it’s just getting on the practice field working on the little things, the craft.”
Do people back home in Estonia know what you’re doing here and follow American football?
MH: “They’re really picking up on it. When I started playing, they weren’t happy that I decided to do that. They were really ticked that I stopped doing track and field and then decided to play football. But it turned out for the best and I believe now they’ve really changed their minds and realize that this is really something extraordinary and can be really beneficial to the nation.”
What familiarity with American football did you have growing up?
MH: “Nothing, really. Up until I came here, I barely knew the game at all. I knew there was a game like American football out there, but I didn’t know how exactly it worked and how big a part of this nation it is.”
How long did it take to figure out how to block kicks consistently?
MH: “There really isn’t a secret to it. You just have to have guys determined like yourself on the defensive line to be able to push the pocket. Being in a crowd situation where they push the offensive guards into the tackles as far as possible, I would be able to get to the depth of the ball and get my hands up there. We had that at SMU; there were guys out there all the time sacrificing themselves so I would get the credit, but a lot of credit goes to them as well for them allowing me to block those kicks.”
Is there a part of the game of football that you don’t like?
MH: “Nothing; I’ve really grown to love this game.”
What type of movies did you watch to help you learn English?
MH: “Any kind of movies. Any American movie or TV show. I did watch a lot of ‘Friends’ back in Estonia and just whatever American movies came out.”
What were your favorite American movies to learn English off of?
MH: “At the top of my head, I watched a lot of ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ and basically a bunch of action movies.”