“Prior to that, we felt we were very successful in adding some veteran players to our team. It’s been a good process thus far. It’ll be a continual process, too. But I feel very good where things are. The things that we discussed at the end of the season to meet our certain needs and be able to address certain needs and add competition, and add ability and talent and depth, I think we’ve been able to do that, to go along with the players that are still currently under contract. So we’re excited about that, and we’re excited about the kickoff of the program last week and the attentiveness of our guys and the way they’ve gone back in and done the work in the weight room and on the football field and running thus far.
“So now we shift focus, for you, to the draft. Obviously we’re really excited where we are position-wise. It affords us the opportunity to take players whose future abilities to play will match where they’re selected. It keeps a lot of options open for us. It’s been a great process this year.
“I need to again commend the scouting staff for the work that they diligently do throughout the fall, and then to come back in-house here and bring it together and provide some information for our coaches to get immersed into it. The coaches have an opportunity to go out and see and visit prospects in certain areas, and then write the reports. It becomes one big mushroom cloud of information, and then we try to get the board (draft board) aligned, which we’ve spent the last over two weeks doing. We feel good where that process is, and we continue to have discussion literally every day on it, regarding scenarios that could play out. It’s a good group of prospects that will afford us a good chance to have guys come in and contribute early to the football team, much like our guys have been able to do in the past.”
You have some additional eyes to help out in this process this year – two additional scouts, as well as Jim McNally, who is a consultant. So presumably there is much more input this year, right?
ML: “Jim is not involved in the draft. Jim is basically working for me and doing some things that we would like – from the standpoint of myself and the offensive coaches. He’s been fun to be around when he’s been here in Cincinnati. I didn’t know Coach McNally that way. I knew great things of him, and a lot of people that have worked with him. But I can see why he was such a great coach: He’s got great energy. He’s taken this consultant role, and he takes it and runs with it. I’ve been very pleased with what he’s done and how hard he’s worked at it, and the information that he’s provided. He’s another sounding board, and he’s done things in the past a little differently than some of the things we do. But he is a good resource to have around. He enjoys it. He’s got a great personality and, again, a lot of energy. So it’s been good when he’s here in Cincinnati and in the building.”
“With the two young scouts that we hired (Robert Livingston and Stephen Radicevic), they’ve done a nice job of really assuming a certain role in this upcoming draft. Robert came to us in December, and he had a great feel for where he was coming from (previously coached in the Southeastern Conference, at Vanderbilt). He had the background on some of the players that he had competed against. Steve was working out on the West Coast (at UCLA, as Director of Football Operations). They bring a different perspective as they get up to speed and are around our coaches more.
“I think the key thing, and it’s a balancing act with scouting, is that you have to a little bit scout your own team as well, and what your style of offense and defense are and what that plays to. We obviously play in a very physical division, so it’s important to us that we add players that have those traits and characteristics, and that we feel like have an opportunity to succeed in our division. And then they have to fit your offense and defense, and they have to accent what we have here. Robert and Steve obviously don’t currently have the best feel for that, but I think as the process goes on they’ll do great things. I’ve been very impressed with both of them and how they’ve worked and the reports that they’ve written thus far for this draft.”
Now that this is the second draft for this offensive system, does the description change for the type of player that you want for the offense?
ML: “There’s a little bit of different qualities that Jay (offensive coordinator Jay Gruden) would envision us getting. One of the projects I give the offensive coaches is to rank the top 50 offensive prospects from our standpoint. That will be a little different than the way basically the board is structured. How do guys fit us, and if you had your druthers, which guy would you prefer, and why he fits us. We do that on offense and defense both. That’s good, because now they’re taking a look, and they’re actually sitting there looking at the tape together and are able to lead the way. The coordinators are always challenged with watching all the guys on defense and offense respectively, but that brings another perspective when you put everybody in the room and start talking about, ‘Here are the players and their abilities,’ down the line on offense and defense.”
What is the environment in those meetings? Is there a lot of emotion? Are there guys standing on tables?
ML: “No. It’s not an emotional thing. We’re all in this together. We’ve all got to win together, or somebody else sits here. It’s not an emotional thing; that’s not a factor. When I came into the NFL, the older coaches I was with didn’t want the first-round draft picks because they knew the pressure was on them to get them to play well (laughs). But I think it’s a good process, with the input from the coaches to me. I haven’t seen the one through seventh-round guys, but I’ve seen a lot of the guys. I have some recall when we’re talking about a particular player that I can see what traits and what fit I think he has, and how he has an opportunity to make us better.”
It seems like everybody and their uncle wants to trade down, but nobody wants to trade up:
ML: “That just gives people something to write about.”
But they always say that it takes two, and someone needs to want to trade up. How many people actually want to trade up?
ML: “Occasionally. If you go in and you feel like you really have a need to fill a certain spot, and you feel like there’s a run on those guys. Or if you feel like there’s a guy that fits a need for you that, for whatever reason gets passed over, and you feel that particular team that’s sitting there on the clock doesn’t have a need for that particular position, then it’s probably worth the call. As we know, people call within the draft, and people kind of feel you out before the draft and see. But no one makes any draft-day trades right now because you want to wait and see if your particular position player that you would like to have might be there. You can’t tell that right now, unless you’re picking first – or I guess now if you’re picking second, if it (the No. 1 selection) already has been made.”
With these two first-round picks, are your options so open that you can almost pick anything but quarterback?
ML: “Well, if you narrow it down, you’re going to get your feelings hurt, because I’m going to pick all you ugly guys over there, and leave all these pretty guys over here (laughs). So you get your feelings hurt that way. You can’t narrow it down. You have to keep options open and understand. But to answer your question, yes, we feel like the options are very open.”
Are you a fan of this three-day draft format?
ML: “(Laughs) I think this question was asked to me last year. What I think about it doesn’t really matter. No one asked me. If it’s great for the NFL, then it’s a great thing.”
How do you manage when a guy may fall to you unexpectedly, but you have had your eye on someone else? What, in your mind, is the line of demarcation in drafting based on need vs. other criteria?
ML: “There’s certain areas that (Bengals president Mike Brown) and I feel we need to address. And if there are two players we feel are pretty close in ability and we can fill that need – a need beyond this season, going into the next two or three years – then yeah, we’re going to fill that need. No question about that.”
Do you feel that this drafted is tilted offensively or defensively, especially in the high rounds?
ML: “I don’t know. Maybe we have more needs defensively, so I will say defense. We took some guys up high offensively the past two years. I think other than Carlos (Dunlap), we have neglected the defense. There are going to be good players on both sides of the ball, as there are every year. If you’re sitting there looking for certain players offensively, you would feel like it is strong there. We like where we are. As Mike Brown said to me today, our last three fifth-round picks are currently on the roster, and two of them were late in the fifth. That’s important. You’re talking about
Is the flip side dangerous, considering that the last three years, two of your (five) third-round picks have struggled getting on the field, and (third-rounder)
How much of a balancing act is it in the draft with your needs now, compared to maybe a year or two down the road?
ML: “You have to look a year or two down the road. I think that’s important. What we want to do is fill some immediate opportunity with the veteran guys we brought in, which still kept the future open. I think that’s good.”
In general, with the way the league is trending, do you now need more corners than maybe you did five or six years ago?
ML: “I’ve always been of the opinion that corner’s a very important position. When you look at the percentage of offense you face these days that’s at least three wide receivers, it’s probably upward of 60, almost 70 percent. Some teams, it’s 80 percent. So you’re going to find that. You’ve got to win on third down. You’ve got to win at the end of the game when you’re ahead. When you’re behind, you’ve got to get them stopped on third down. So yeah, having the corners that can play is a very important part of your football team. A couple of years ago, we felt like we had enough that we could trade one away (CB David Jones, traded to Jacksonville before the start of the 2010 season), and we ended up signing two during the week (later in the season) and starting one in the game on Thursday night. So that tells you how quickly that your perceived depth can change. That’s how important they are.”
After the schedule was released, the ticket office said there was a definite spike in calls about season tickets, relative to the home schedule. That part is very attractive, but by the same token it’s a very challenging schedule:
ML: “We knew who we were playing at home, we just didn’t know when. With the Reds schedule, we open up on the road, but we come home with a chance to play a division game at home, and that’s great. It will be an exciting day here, our home opener against the Browns. I don’t think we’ve played them here in Cincinnati early but maybe once in my 10 years now. It seems like we’ve always traveled up the road early in the season and played them. I think we played them fourth a few years ago, but this is the earliest we’ve played them, so that’s great. It’s a division game. They’re a football team that was much better than their record a year ago. We’re going to have to be really ready to play obviously, opening up on Monday night in Baltimore and coming home to play the Browns. Finishing with five of our last nine at home is a great thing. And we finish at home again with a division game. We’ve got this Baltimore-Cincinnati thing, I guess, at the end of the year now, three years running. So there must be something to that. Hopefully it comes down to be just as important as it was last year for us.”
Where does special teams and putting your roster together on a weekly basis factor in to the draft on a pick-by-pick basis?
ML: “(Special teams coach Darrin Simmons), and in this case this year Hue Jackson, they do a lot of work. They evaluate all of the returners, and Darrin goes in and looks at the linebackers and safeties, running backs, tight ends, to see if they ever did any work on special teams. That’s important, and we talk about that. I always make sure Darrin speaks up as we start talking about guys in the grouping. I want to know if a guy has really done a nice job. Some guys have a real knack for playing on special teams. Any time we can add depth at returners, any time we can add depth outside as gunners and cover people on kickoff and punt, those are helpful to us. Special teams guys, for that way, really have a value. We know more come from the linebacker and DB areas, but a running back can bring value that way, a wide receiver can bring value that way. There’s a lot of guys who do that, and certainly, obviously, tight ends.”
You had it last year in training camp, but what is your reaction to the preseason rosters being expanded again to 90 people?
ML: “When we left the owners meetings in March, we were feeling like it was probably going to be 85. So it was a little bit of a boost we got late yesterday, and we’ll adjust accordingly. In the past, if we had 80, and in this case we have nine picks, we would probably go in two weeks from now and probably have 85, 88 guys on the roster. And because we would sign above that, we’d then have to release a young guy or another player and say, ‘Sorry,’ once we started signing the draft picks. In this case, we don’t have to go through that exercise if we don’t feel the need.
“The fact was, a guy could come in here and bust his tail for me for six weeks, then we get to the first or second day of training camp, and he doesn’t get that opportunity to go out there and show the other 31 teams what he can do. That’s OK that he’s not going to make our club, but if I can have a chance to show, maybe for somebody else, that’s important.
“It makes it a hard 90 with the draft picks included. It gives guys an opportunity, if they belong, to go show it. They’re going to get an opportunity to play in those preseason games. They’re going to have a chance to go out and compete and show that they have a chance, an opportunity to belong.
“One guy who sticks in my mind right now is