ML: Obviously it wasn't as important with the way free agency was set up this year. The way the college workouts were in the works, we did a good job of covering it whether it was myself or (Mike Zimmer) or Jay (Gruden) or the position coach in the building. We had to adjust a little bit. But we were kind of going at it fast. We wanted to do our evaluation of the draft as well as be there to meet with free-agent prospects.
No. 1 is the physical. Second is our ability to meet with the player and where we feel he is mentally. Is this a guy we feel would work well for us? And the third part is signability. It was a little different this year, no doubt. But I think it worked out great. I talked to them all (or on the phone.) Other than
For the most part I had good conversations with
Q: Your meeting is a small part of it:
ML: Some of the guys I'm already familiar with. Some of these guys we did a lot of work on (in the draft), the relationship is there. Or the relationship I have with their agents. When they choose to come visit us, that appeal is already there. I think they're always pretty aware of me. It's just maybe, 'Who is going to be my postion coach?' and the meeting with Mike and Jay. In some cases I was there when Zim was on the road. It worked out.
Q: Don't you think that's one of your strength is your recruiting?
ML: They say recruiting. I don’t know how much recruiting we're really doing. I think the opportunity and the compensation have to match.
Q: Do you think you have been known as a place to rehab first-rounders?
ML: They are guys that have superior athletic talent, we feel like. Mike coached Jamaal Anderson in Atlanta. So he's familiar with Jamaal. You go back. Like with Reggie (Nelson). We felt very highly about Reggie. We felt when Reggie came out he could do so many things. We've been able to put Reggie into what we do and allow him to do the things we felt we were comfortable with when we evaluated him throughout the draft process.
Same with Allen and Ross. Like
Q: Can you talk about the future of the division?
ML: It's very competitive, very physical. Obviously Pittsburgh has dominated. Baltimore is right there next to the top level. As you go forward, Pittsburgh is going through kind of a transition with the wave of new players, younger players. Some of their guys are retiring. Cleveland did a great job last year changing the chemistry of their team, the atmosphere. Guys playing hard. Play great defensively. Disciplined group. Young on offense with the quarterback. Then going into Baltimore they just seem to keep moving on.
Q: Were you surprised with
ML: We weren't surprised at all. We felt like he was the best fit for us. We knew we were getting a player with maturity that could come in and play and had the ability conceptually to get a handle on the things he was going to be asked to do. We really felt comfortable with that. The thing he did a very good job of was taking what the (defense) gave him.
Q: Do you approach the division knowing you're going to play teams with stout defenses?
ML: I've been in this division 20 years so there's nothing that surprises me and I know in order to win in our division you've got to be able to take care of the football. If you give the ball up you're going to lose the game and that's how it plays out. Look at year after year at the games in our division and the team that wins the takeaway ratio wins the game.
Q: What kind of a player do the Browns have in Frostee Rucker?
ML: Frostee is probably one of the guys that has transformed himself physically and mentally. Since he came out of USC he really has done an outstanding job and a guy that is huge in the community, doing a great job as a football player and became a leader on the team.
Q: He was part of a rotation. They anticipate him getting much more playing time. Is he ready for that role?
ML: He's excited about the role. That's why he took the opportunity to go.
Q: What about Kevin Coyle?
ML: Kevin is going to do a fine job here. He's a very, very experienced coach. He's a tireless worker.
Q: You must be excited about this year:
ML: We’re excited about our team and the year. Obviously Andy Dalton did a fine job last year and he did it without the ability to have a real offseason. He was our offense. We worked everything off him. So now the ability for us to spend a little more time offensively, particularly with players around Andy, it's a good opportunity of us to get better.
Q: It's been a hectic offseason after the lockout:
ML: We're going to continue to build this team through he draft. Some of our guys who were great role players for us moved on to other clubs. We're going to replace them with younger guys, so we're excited about that. To get opened up for the offseason program. Good to have our guys back working. Really looking to our goals.
Q: In the draft a lot of depth O-line, D-line. Where is your guys' attention?
ML: When we go to pick we'll be able to pick a fine player to help us whether it be offense, defense.
Q: You've had a chance to see these running backs in the draft up close. What is your view of them?
ML: I think it's a good group. I think it's got some guys that have the ability to be big contributors their first three, four years of their careers. I think they have opportunity to come in—they don't necessarily have to be the first-day starters—but I think as time goes on they'll develop into being great players.
Q: Would you guys still look at a back in this year's draft?
ML: In signing the guys we've signed, we've made a commitment, but not overcommit. And to really keep all of our options open when it came to the draft. And to have an opportunity where we draft to continually build the team through the young talent. We didn't want to overcommit in any area that would take us out of that.
Q: Mike (Brown) said yesterday he feels better about this team than he did before free agency:
ML: I think there's always the anticipation, particularly for Mike, of knowing what's going to occur. I think he gets anxious about the whole process. When Jon and Frostee signed on with other clubs, I think in his mind he viewed that, 'OK we lost some depth.' Then we were able to go do what we thought we were going to do. And that was go find younger guys. Guys that have the ability to exceed where we were and I think that's the good thing. If their opportunities weren’t where they were, we would have loved to have had those guys back because of what they meant to the other guys. But yet it's part of the process. That's why the free-agent process in the NFL is so good. Guys have opportunity to go to another club and earn more opportunity. That's how you do it. You do it by playing on the field. Not by willing it. You have a chance to go out and do it and earn it.
Q: What is it going to take for the Lions to take the next step?
ML: Don't think about what they did last year. Last year's over. They made that kind of transition in Pittsburgh. Guys fool themselves. They think they were a bigger part of their success than they really were and I think it's the teams that are able to put their heads down and go to work are the teams that are able to move to that next hump.
Q: What about their momentum?
ML: It depends on the character of the guys. The momentum is carried by the character of the players.
Q: What kid of player is Jonathan Fanene?
ML: Jon is a very hard-working guy. Prior to his time at Utah he hadn't played a lot of football. So it was all new to him. So going to a new team, it's going to be interesting. He's very hard on himself. He wants to do everything right. He's very conscientious.
Q: Being from Samoa and the Bengals his only pro team, is it a tough adjustment for him? He's small-town:
ML: Very small-town. I don't represent him. Sometimes those guys should think about that.
Q: How did you guys use him?
ML: Jon in our minds was one of our 14 starters on defense. Last year because of the lockout he was an unsigned player, he didn't hit camp quite ready to go. We had to get Jon in shape and get him going and he did that. He had a baby in late July. So he had a lot of things going on in his life last year and once we got him signed, it took him a little bit of time.
Q: Talking to scouts, while he's giving you pass rush, it sounds like he might be better against the run:
ML: Jon's been a good inside rusher because of his effort and energy. He's strong. He'll do well in the New England scheme of playing two-gap. He's not done a lot of that. That will be a little different for him. I don't know what they're going to ask him to do, but he'll have to learn to do that a little bit. But he'll have the strength and ability to do it, yes.
Q: What are your initial impressions of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and what do you see from him?
ML: He hits us in a good spot because he brings coming from a program that's very successful to an opportunity where he sees himself where he can grow a little bit. I sense that he wanted the ability to grow and be a team leader and do some of that. He has that ability. He seems to be a very knowledgeable guy about football, about offense, about playing running back. He's been trained the right way. We're talking to him about running, catching and opportunities and (he says) 'blocking, too, Coach.' As everyone who has been around him in the New England/Boston area has told me 'tremendous, tremendous kid.' Mr. Kraft, Jonathan Kraft both went out of their way to say what a great young man he is. So we're excited about him. He's chomping at the bit to get going. We're excited to have him.
Q: I took it from your comments last year about Chad Ochocinco that maybe you weren't surprised by his struggles that he endured this year in New England:
ML: I don't know what comments those were.
Q: You said something to the effect, "Belichick is smarter than that (about trading for Chad)." If I told you that players said he continued to have a problem grasping where to run on pass patterns even as the season went along, would that surprise you?
ML: It would. Because I think Chad has the ability to do and learn whatever Chad wants to do and learn. He has the ability to learn things and grasp things, but I really can't speak to (that). He's not my player, so I don't need to be responding to any questions about Chad. He doesn't play for me, he plays for the Patriots.
Q: From what I heard with him and Carson, it was a situation where Carson didn't know exactly where Chad was going on each play, but he knew he was good enough to get open.
ML: That wouldn't be fair. That's not necessarily fair.
Q: Do you think Chad would have better (season) with a whole offseason?
ML: Yeah, having an offseason, having an opportunity to learn things I think is going to make a big difference. Chad's a very prideful guy. He wants to do things right and be successful.
Q: Out of all the guys you drafted, safe to say Fanene is the one that made the most progress or made the biggest leap over the years? Or growth?
ML: I thought Frostee made a lot of growth and maturity. How he carried himself. He kind of had that dark cloud hanging over him at USC and he worked through that stuff. He was able to put all that behind him. Who was ever right, who was wrong. Jon did a lot. I think they're very similar. Both guys had two contracts with us. I think the program works. They're good hard-working guys. They were kind of the nuts and bolts of the team, now they have an opportunity to go elsewhere and play those roles. Expand their roles possibly.
Q: Who are the nuts and bolts now?
ML: You get the nuts and bolts going through the rigors of camp. That's where the grind is. One of the nuts and bolts now is Geno (Atkins). The difference is we're allowing the young guys to emerge and play. A guy we're excited about is Carlos (Dunlap). He's the guy that probably left last season the most disappointed guy on our team other than losing the playoff game. But disappointed about how his second season was. He has done nothing this offseason but communicate with me and (defensive line coach Jay Hayes) about everything he is doing to prepare for his third season. That's the guy you look forward to for his emergence and what he can bring back to the football team that we were missing a little bit last year due to his injuries in training camp (knee) and during the season (hamstring) that kept him off the field.
Q: What about Jay Gruden?
ML: Jay's done an outstanding job. His ability to work with our young players and use our young players in the offense was awesome. He sees offense through the eyes of a quarterback and that's what I was looking for. Having been a former quarterback, right? But to me, that makes the most sense. The offense ought to unfold through the eyes of the quarterback. That's how Jay sees it. And then we were able to team that up with a very young kid in Andy who can't get enough. And so Jay and
Q: I know you don’t want to lose him, but Jay has a bright future:
ML: I know he has a bright future. Yet Jay is a guy, as people saw this year, who has his head down focused on what he's doing. He's not worried about what comes down the line. I think that's one of his strengths. Jay had a few opportunities at these major universities as well this year.
Q: It's a sign of respect for the organization that he enjoys that working relationship:
ML: It is. Cincinnati as we know is a great place to live, great place to raise a family. You don't get treated by anybody better than the way Mike Brown treats the coaches. He made a big statement.
Q: There’s a sense around the league that teams have found a way to defend the Wildcat. Does Tim Tebow bring a dimension that maybe will bring it back?
ML: The Wildcat has a lot of dimensions. The ability to run the ball, an effective runner. When the running back is running the ball he’s a more effective runner than a quarterback running the ball but he’s not as effective a passer as Tim will be passing the ball. It will be interesting to see how it will play out.
Q: Do you see this as a positive for the Jets?
ML: I do. I said when Tim was drafted that he would be the ideal quarterback to have on your team to do great things with. Now that we have changed the 45-man (game) roster to 46 to me it’s a great fit. I know they missed that when Brad Smith left and went to Buffalo. I know Rex is excited about Tony putting a package in.
Q: Rex in Baltimore shut down the Wildcat. He’s shown it can be stopped:
ML: Wildcat is a single-wing offense. It goes back to the mid-'60s.
Q: How much face time have you had with Roger Goodell over the years?
ML: Probably quite a bit. From the time I was hired in Cincinnati and Roger was in a different role. When I was a coordinator I had a couple times to meet him then. Being on the competition committee, Roger attends our meetings.
Q: How do you compare the public image to what you see personally?
ML: I think publicly he is the face of the NFL. He represents ownership. During the negotiations people saw a very determined man that had an agenda and plan. Personally what people would like to know is he’s a regular guy like everyone else. A great part of him is his personality.
Q: What do you mean regular guy?
ML: He’s not an aloof person. He’s a very approachable person. Very personable.
Q: He’s not feared for some of the rulings he has made?
ML: There’s no reason to be feared, just do things the right way. He has set a course and he has backed it up. He has a difficult job because he is managing over 1,500 people. Guys who have a lot of opportunity and make a lot of money.
Q: How do you think the message across the league has been received?
ML: Everybody got the message.”
Q: Have you been around a bounty or seen it used?
Q: Think it exists more than New Orleans?
ML: In my 21 years, no.
Q: Do you address it?
ML: I never felt like I had to because I think our coaches already understood. That’s one of the things in our fine system.
Q: It seems contrary to what you want out of athletes:
ML: What’s done is done and I’m not going to help it by pontificating anymore.
Q: Know much about (Bucs coach) Greg Schiano?
ML: I know of him quite a bit. He’s a diligent, detailed coach. His success at Rutgers did not surprise me. He’s been around fine coaches who have been successful.
Q: Bucs have a young team. When you have to implement new systems what are the challenges?
ML: Don’t let the system get in the way of what the goals are. Don’t complicate things too much. It’s a step by step process.
Q: Is there a chance
Q: We all know what the passing numbers are like. What has that done to the value of defensive backs?
ML: Corners have always been a premium position. You look at the stature of the wideouts and the way they come into the league. In college the offenses are more spread-type. The fact that wide receivers are a premium. If you look at what people are having to do defensively, that’s been a total change. Back in ’97 and ’98 and those corners, the coverages they were playing then to now it has been a complete evolution to an NFL style. These guys coming in we have a chance to evaluate are doing things closer to what we want and do.
Q: Players are having to adapt too:
ML: In some ways. The thing is basically at the end of the day how many times are we seeing I formations? Three years ago the Baylor offensive tackle was being downgraded because he never went downhill and blocked a guy. Yet we looked at Andre (Smith) and there’s our prototypical guy. What you’re saying about the passing game and receivers, look at these guys. If a guy can shoot, he’s playing basketball. If he can’t shoot, he’s playing receiver and if he can’t catch he’s playing defensive back. The last position he is playing is running back. If he can’t run like these other guys, he’s playing tight end.
Q: Ten seasons with one team. How have you been able to do it? Does a playoff win drive you?
ML: It drives a lot. Our goal is to be world champions and so I haven’t accomplished anything until we get there. That’s what we all want and that’s what keeps driving you forward. To that point you are fortunate to be there that long but until you do that, that’s what makes it worthwhile.
Q: Not many guys here from your first AFC breakfast:
ML: Bill (Belichick) and John (Fox) is with a different team. Gunther Cunningham told me 'You know when to win at the right time.' We’ve won the division a couple times, our team went back to the playoffs last season, a couple times we were a missed field goal away from getting into the playoffs. We’ve had moderate success but not the success I would have like to have.
We’ve gone through another transformation of the team. It’s probably the third one we’ve gone through. We had the startup in 2003 with Jon (Kitna) as our quarterback and trying to level the playing field and get the team back to their head above water. We had the transformation with Carson and him becoming the starter to then just guys thinking they did more than they did and us not doing a good enough job of moving some guys along. We took a little bit of a dip and got it back in 2009. The injuries to (David) Pollack and (Kenny) Irons hurt us in that ’05, ’06 run. Then there were Odell (Thurman)'s problems and Chris (Henry)'s problems. Those guys who we picked very high in the draft it hurt our progress. When you spend a high pick on guys and they’re not playing you take a dip in ability.”
Q: How is this team different than the one in ’06?
ML: This team is much better because your leadership are stronger character guys. They are humble players and you are being led by the linemen.
Q: That ’06 team was trying to repeat to playoffs:
ML: We had guys beating their chest that they had arrived and then the Pro Bowl was the most important thing, not the Super Bowl. This group understands the most important thing is the Super Bowl.
Q: More talent on this team?
ML: It’s hard to determine. I think we’re better in the secondary and up front. We’re a lot better defensively and we have a chance with (Terrelle) Wharton to be a lot better on the offensive line. Whatever development we have at receiver will be there. (
Q: And the QB is pretty good:
ML: The quarterback is exceptional playing quarterback.
Q: He doesn’t have the physical presence of a Palmer, but:
ML: He doesn’t look like Carson. He’s not 6-foot-5. He’s going to do nothing but get better because he is going to be bigger and stronger this year.
Q: This passing trend has been going on a while, will there be a defensive counter to it?
ML: I think the defensive counters find more ways to put pressure on the quarterback. Coaches have been struggling with that for a while. If you look at where the defensive positions are as they come out they come out as corners and pass rushers.
Q: At some point a defensive coordinator is going to come up with some new scheme:
ML: The offensive schemes haven’t changed that much. It’s always a circle of things.
Q: Do you watch the Pro Bowl?
ML: A little bit to watch our guys. The Pro Bowl is in a difficult situation. I think after this meeting there will be some direction on that. There have been some discussions, I don’t know what the answer is. By the time the meeting adjourns there will be a little more direction on that.
Q: Who are some players on other teams ready to take that next step?
ML: I thought last year the receiver from Baltimore, Torrey Smith had a great year. So did Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh. I thought Joe Haden had an excellent second season. Connor Barwin outstanding in Houston and a great job by Wade Phillips putting him in position to be the player he could be. We felt good about him when he came out in the draft.
Q: Any rule change that could impact the game?
ML: We talk about player safety and that is the biggest focus. As the NFL evolves over the next 4-5 years, maybe that is where the biggest change will come to help prevent these concussions. Football as we know it right now we’re not sure.
Q: What kind of player is Dallas getting in Nate Livings?
ML: Nate is a guy who really earned his opportunity. He came in as an undrafted free agent and is a hard-working physical guy who did it the right way.
Q: Seems like you didn’t make much of a chance to keep him?
ML: We had a lot of irons in the fire and I think it just didn’t work out.
ML: Run blocking but he became a good pass protector as well. He’s one of the guys who has been a great leader for us.
Q: Status on possibly signing Terence Newman?
ML: We would still love to add Terence to our team. He said the best years of his career are with Mike Zimmer and hopefully we can get something done very soon. We would love to have him on our team.
Q: Your sense talking to your guys of last season:
ML: Unaccomplishment. Unfinished business. The fact that the four guys went to the Pro Bowl tells me where we are. They are young. You could put them in those four chairs and they’re not going to say a word. That’s just the way they are.
Q: Do you think Andy is going to be a different leader or more assertive because he's not a rookie?
ML: He doesn’t need to be more. He already was. It’s not necessarily for you to see.
Q: Did you think he was relieved though when the season ended?
ML: For everyone because they keep getting asked if they hit the wall. It wasn’t that way because they didn’t have the offseason.
Q: His play seemed to dip a little bit at the end:
ML: I don’t think it dipped at all.
Q: He didn’t make a lot of major mistakes:
ML: He might have thrown two balls all year you wish he didn’t throw.
Q: Where are you at in finding someone to pair with A.J.?
ML: We feel better about it in-house than people know. We have the draft. There’s still some other ways we are looking at. Still a lot of things in play. We feel a little bit better about it in-house than what people know.
Q: Possibility that you guys can bring Jerome (Simpson) back?
ML: I wouldn’t rule it out because he is still available.
Q: Minimum four-games out though for the drug charge:
ML: It’s hard to speculate on that. He’s got a lot of hurdles to go through. I think you have to evaluate from our standpoint is that the best thing for Jerome and us. We know the challenges he has ahead of himself. We know the challenges on and off on the field so what is best for the Bengals.
Q: Your contract update?
ML: We haven’t discussed it. I haven’t taken the opportunity to sit down (and talk). The ball is in my court. It hasn’t been my focus.
Q: With a later start to the offseason program especially with a young QB, how much does that hurt you guys?
ML: It’s not a big change for us really because generally when we start it would only be a week later start (actually two or three). Our players found out through all the revisions in the CBA they find out we really didn’t have to revise too much. The one thing we will do differently is we didn’t spend time in the classroom. Now we will spend it at least two days out of the week. To me it hurts a young player who made it as an undrafted free agent who is trying to make the team this year. He can’t come in and get ahead and learn what he needs to do to get better because of the new rules. That hurts his development.
Q: Rookie minicamp you held that weekend after the draft but it is two weeks later now (May 11-13)?
ML: We can keep the guys there (starting May 15). It works out two days, personally my daughter is getting married the first weekend and now we can keep the guys right there.