The transcript of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis pre-draft news conference on Tuesday.
“We began work on April 21st, so we’re into the third week of the offseason program. It is the first week of the phase two part of the program, a chance for the coaches to spend time on the field with the players, so that’s been great. As we go into the draft, it’s kind of the culmination of all of the work that the personnel staff has put in, from the time they left us in training camp last year, and then as they go to make their school calls, and school visits, and evaluations all the way through to the fall.
“Then they come in here and have meetings during the end of the football season after they’re done with the collegiate season, on into January and bowl games, and into the cross-checking of the junior players that entered the draft this year, which we know was a record number, once the combine was through. So, it really is an end from that point on with the involvement of the coaches from the combine on, and having the chance to get them out to four or five places to see players, and all of the tape evaluation that they can at their position, and then going through the meetings that we’ve been through over the last three-and-a-half weeks. Thursday is kind of the kickoff to that, and it’s an exciting time to get it going and get us closer to doing real football here pretty quick.”
How has the date change of the draft affected preparation?
“I’d prefer to have the draft done where it was, in April, because now it’s a little bit in the way of football. This is time where we would be spending more time with the players, and now we are going back and forth between both because of that. You want to be finishing up the draft preparation prior to the draft, you don’t want to have it finished up two weeks earlier because of guys who have been injured are still doing workouts, evaluations and us bringing guys in.
“I think the calendar, as it is this year, presents problems for the football side of things. This is the time we should be spending with the players. Secondly, it takes away an opportunity for the rookies. As far as teaching goes, it’s a great progression to have an opportunity for them to come and spend time at a rookie camp, have an opportunity to go home for a bit and absorb what they got exposed to, and then come back with the other players and to have the second time around. To me, that’s a much better teaching progression, so then they get it again a third time when we go to training camp so they can get things locked down. We are kind of skipping a step of that now (the rookie camp) because there is no reason to bring those guys in next week, and then overwork them the next weekend because they are going to be the first guys that have all the soft tissue injuries. So we are going to skip that step in the process here.”
In an ideal world, how much time do you need before the draft?
“There is going to be some time that needs to be spent. These guys are in school hopefully. We want them to still be in school. You want them to have an opportunity to have the campus workouts. That’s going to have be around the school’s spring ball schedule. So they are kind of a little bit at the mercy of their institutions. We prefer these guys stay on their campus. On these guys, we are spending all this money to go to all these other facilities to work out, and the strength coach they have had there for three or four years, for example, now they are leaving that guy to go somewhere else. I think for some guys there is a little benefit, but for the most part it is wasted dollars.”
What can you do with rookies to deal with that missed first step?
“We are going to spend a little time with them after the fact. Either before or after next week we are going to begin to spend some time. We are going to carve out some extra time with them and their position coaches.”
Every draft, it seems like there’s going to be a million people that are going to trade...
“It gives people something to talk about.”
Do you think there will be more trades this year with the depth of the draft?
“If certain players and positions stay on the board a little longer then people anticipated, and you have a craving for that position and want to move back to get it, yes. Or people will move back out of it for someone to come up to get a particular player. You have to see how it unfolds to begin with. I think once you get into the first five, six picks everyone will have an idea, just like a year ago when the offensive linemen began to go off the board. Offensive/defensive linemen went off the draft board the way they did, and then it kind of set the table for the rest of it.”
What has the process been like for you? It is more stressful or are you excited to get it over with?
“It’s not really stressful, because it’s like watching paint dry. You have far too much time. You are going to do the evaluation, and you want the evaluation to always work through the same profile of our criteria, which basically is personality, ability, future and how he fits. As long as we stay to that, you are pretty good with it. We do have to wait our turn and then pick the next player. In that process it gets a little long, drawn out. The NFL is what it is because of television. Certainly, this is a made-for-TV event.”
Fair to say you would not be in favor of it expanding by a day?
“Really doesn’t matter what I think. Because obviously, it didn’t need to be three days.”
What is the ‘Bengals profile’?
“We want a guy that, number one, we can count on. That’s the hardest part of the evaluation, having a guy we can count on. That means having the ability to stay here, to be proficient here and having the personality to be able to do it. That is where you’ve got to spend the time, whether it is personality, past, future, and then ability.”
What is your feeling about this draft overall?
“I don’t know that it’s proper to say what really anything is, in regard to the whole pool. This is what the pool of players is this year, for us and the other 31 clubs. That’s all that really matters. We are going to draft from the pool of players and we’ll feel really good about it. We are going to add some good, young quality players. They are going to come in here and make this football team better, and make it better through the competitiveness they add, and for their athleticism and playmaking ability that they bring to the table.
“As they mature and go, we will feel good about it. Knock on wood, hopefully as we have in the past, these guys don’t necessarily have to step in and be a day one starter for us. That is another good thing. These guys are likely to push somebody out of the door that had a job last year. So that is what they have to do. They have to come in here and compete and make us better. By doing that they are going to unseat somebody who was probably here last year on the football team. Now we have improved our football squad. That is what we aim to do with these guys. Add the competitiveness, add the depth and then through youth.
“This is still a young man’s game. Even though the better players in the league seem to play a little longer now, we’ve got to keep having the evolution, and so these young guys evolve and develop into players and continue that cycle all the time.”
You talk about competition, but is it different with quarterbacks, where you want one guy to be the leader?
“I really think it's different with the quarterback, because we don't have enough reps (for multiple QBs competing). You can't give that guy enough opportunities to do what he needs to do to make a fair comparison. We're not going to take reps away from
“And it's only fair to the rest of the football team that if I'm going to put you in place as the quarterback or competing quarterback, that I give you enough reps to be good enough for the football team to win with you, and I think that's important. And I've believed that. It's worked pretty well for us, that I haven't had that kind of confusion. This football team has known who their quarterback is going to be and the leader of it, and it's made us better for that because they can get behind and rally behind him and they can rally him.”
Is that an advantage to having a guy like
“That's one of the attractions to Jason, with Jason and Josh (Johnson). They've been in that situation, and they understand what the meaning of that situation is and why. But yet they've got to have the maturity that if they have to go in and play, they're ready to go. So they've got to approach their preparation each and every week as though they are the guy, yet whoever ends up being in the second chair, they understand the responsibility of that chair as well.”
Mock drafts are everywhere. How many mock drafts do you do as an organization?
“My boss, Mike Brown, he has a mock draft about every hour (laughs). He plays the devil's advocate constantly. And I think it's a good thing. ‘If this guy is not available, if these players are all gone and we're looking at this pool of players, which player do you prefer and why?’ That's the scenario you've got to go through. It's important for Mike and I to be always on the same page that way, and I feel like we are. He knows how I feel. We've discussed it, we'll discuss it again later today and tomorrow, and we'll discuss it again in the room (during the draft). So we've got a few more times to discuss it. But he knows how I feel, and whatever pick we turn in, we'll make him the best player he can be.”
There’s obviously a million scenarios, so you can’t do enough mock drafts to cover everything, can you?
“No, but you rate the guys. That’s all we’re going to do. We rate the guys, and we’re going to number them, and put them in an order that’s best for us and make sure we stick to that. That’s the key thing. We want to make sure that throughout the three days, we get the best player that we have done the work on, as far as evaluation, and that he’s healthy and can play for a while. That’s the thing that sometimes the outliers don’t understand. They don’t know the physical grades. They don’t know the mental aptitude that the player has that we’ve spent time on, whether it be the personnel staff, or the guy visiting here or one of our coaches visiting with the player on his campus. That’s important to me as well.”
You have first-round draft choices that are your top four corners right now. What is it about cornerbacks that leads you to like first-round guys so much?
“Quarterback and cornerback are the toughest positions to play in the league, and if you’re not good enough there, everyone else suffers. And there’s no way to mask it. It takes certain rare ability to play those two spots. To play cornerback on defense, to run with a guy that can be bigger than you, can be faster than you, knows where he’s going, and you’ve got to run with him, and you’ve got to defend him and you can’t touch him. Other than that, it’s an easy job (laughs). When everybody sees that guy catch a ball on you, everyone looks at you even though somebody else probably didn’t do their job as well as they needed to. But everybody looks at you. That’s a tough position. I’ve been fortunate in the league to be around a bunch of good corners, and most of them came in the first round. I feel pretty good about that.”
Is safety becoming that now because of the way the league is changing?
“I’ve been that way philosophically for a while. It’s to my upbringing in the NFL, where we’ve had safeties that could do that. We’ve been that way since I’ve been here, and the trend will continue that way because the trend in college football is that way. These guys are becoming more of big corners with the style of coverage, the style of offense and the things that people are playing. The game is evolving that way a little bit more.”
What has been the key to success of getting quality football players as free agents, after the seven rounds of the draft?
“You key on what stands out about this player, and is he going to have an opportunity here. We don’t want to chase our tail if a guy isn’t going to get a true opportunity. That’s going to alienate the agent, and it’s going to make it harder in the future. But like you say, we have given guys the opportunity. These guys have not only made the football team, but they’ve been productive members of the team not only here, but elsewhere.
“When we try to recruit a college free agent after the draft, he knows he’s going to get an opportunity to play. They know they’re going to get a chance to play in preseason games and showcase their talent. Like I’ve said, once they walk in this auditorium here, it doesn’t matter how they got here. It’s what they do once they’re here and continue to do to keep earning their opportunity to stay here. They’re going to get a chance. Maybe the numbers don’t work for them here, but if they’ve had an opportunity to go out there and put themselves on tape, they get a chance somewhere else across the league.”
When you woo those college free agents, is most of that done in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds?
“We can’t do that. That’s against the rules. Media guys don’t follow the rules (laughs).”
How did you get a guy like
“How did we get Vontaze? Well, it’s been written many times that his agent asked if we were going to draft him and we said ‘No, we’re not going to draft him.’ He said, ‘Well, if he’s not drafted, would you be interested after the draft?’ I said, ‘Likely.’ I told (assistant coach) Paul Guenther, ‘Paul, I got you a free one. If he’s not drafted, I’ve got one for free for you.’”
So what happened after the draft?
“After the draft I called the agent on the phone, or he called me and said ‘Do you still want Vontaze?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ Then I squeezed $1,000 out of Katie (Blackburn) so he could have some spending money for the summer (laughs).”
What is your strategy to get the guys you want during the rush to get free agents right after the draft?
“Well, the position coach is keeping track. He’s got to have a feel, and the area scouts, they have a feel for whether this is a good fit for us. This is what we’re looking for. We spent some time on it this morning. These are likely guys that if they don’t get drafted, this is where we’d like to go. But the physical part of it has to be important, too. You want guys who are healthy. Then after the last compensatory pick is made, we turn our focus onto those guys and try to give them an opportunity.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to how much you pay the guy, whether you give the guy a $10,000 signing bonus, zero signing bonus or $1,000 signing bonus. We do studies every year. For the 500 players who go that way, it doesn’t really matter. But the thing is opportunity. Hopefully we’ve shown guys over time, and the agents understand, that the kids are going to get an opportunity here. I’m committing myself to giving them an opportunity. A lot of times I’ve seen the guy on tape, so when the coach has the player on the line, and the agent, I can comment that, ‘I’ve seen you, they wouldn’t have me talk to you if you didn’t have a good opportunity here to either make it on our roster or our practice squad.’ ”
Your relationships with agents are important...
“Yeah, I think it’s very important. I think that’s a big part of it because you have guys calling you. Now they’re looking to see how many guys you’ve got and so forth. If you picked a guy at that position, I think that’s something that’s always important for them, too.”
Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have had success as quarterbacks despite not being first-rounders. Will that affect how teams draft QBs?
“No, I think that teams are still going to draft the player based on what they thought is the overall value of things. I think what has been demonstrated by Russell Wilson and Colin and Andy is their maturity as people and players and how they’ve handled the situation. They were expecting to go in that first round and they didn’t, but they got an opportunity and they made good on the opportunity. I think, to that, all three guys carry themselves that way, and that’s a good thing. With Russell Wilson, his track record speaks for itself from transferring from North Carolina State up to Wisconsin to what he did, and how he’s carried himself throughout the whole thing. He’s been outstanding.”