MARVIN LEWIS (Head coach, ESPN interview)
Q: How excited were you to draft Michael Johnson?
ML: We’re excited to have him. Michael has some things to prove. He has unbelievable skills and ability. We need to fit him into our defense right away and let him do one of the things he did well, and that’s rush the passer. That’s why we chose to pick him here (70th overall). We will need to teach him to play the game, whether it be as a down lineman, or a linebacker in our base defense. He will get an opportunity to rush the passer on third downs.
Q: Let’s go back to your first-round pick, Andre Smith. You could make the same argument that you have some motivating to do there:
ML: I think we have a guy (Smith) who made some bad choices by listening to certain people. I think Andre has stepped up in every avenue he’s pursued since correcting those decisions. He knows he has some catching up to do on the decisions that he has made. We are excited to have him. There is a physical way in which he plays, and we are excited to have that.
Q: What kind of conversations did you have with Smith that made you have the confidence to take him with the sixth pick overall?
ML: We really spent a lot of time with him. We brought him to Cincinnati. We sent our coaches and offensive coordinator to talk to him at Alabama. We went and saw him in Atlanta this week, again. We wanted to make sure that coming to this level was as important and passionate to him as we thought it was. When we watched him play and talked to him about playing football — (when) we put him in front of the board and had him explain to us what he was doing on the film — we were excited about this young man.
Q: Marvin, I have to ask you, were you surprised that Rey Maualuga was available when you made your second-round pick?
ML: Yes. We were surprised that Rey was there for us. We really felt great about him. We had a chance to spend a week with him in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl.
Q: Looking at your first three picks, this seems like a very Marvin Lewis-influenced draft. Do you feel like you are getting the type of players you want in this draft more than at any previous time?
ML: It’s a process of us all working together. Ultimately, it’s not my final say-so. We work together. (Bengals president) Mike (Brown) and I feel like we spend a lot of time together. We are alone a lot. This is important to us to draft players that are going to help us win football games this year. We are getting our quarterback back and adding (wide receiver) Laveranues Coles after this offseason. We’re excited for the guys we have in Cincinnati.
MIKE ZIMMER (Defensive coordinator) and JAY HAYES (Defensive line coach)
MZ: We took Michael Johnson, a defensive end from Georgia Tech. I went to his pro day workout, and we actually met with him in Mobile (at the Senior Bowl). He drove over and visited with coach Lewis and myself. This kid is a tremendous, tremendous athlete. He doesn’t play hard all the time. That’s our job to make sure that he does that. But he is a tremendous athlete. He is 6-7, 267 pounds, he runs 4.5 (second 40-yard dash), has a 40-inch vertical jump and had eight sacks last year. A lot of people are looking at him as an outside linebacker. He bends his knees exceptionally well. Like I told the guys up in the draft room yesterday, when we talk about this kid and you watch him on tape, there are some plays that you say ‘Oh wow, I can’t believe he did that.’ Then some of the other plays, you say, ‘Oh heck, he didn’t do very good there.’ But he does have a little bit of a wow factor in some of his measurables and some of his plays on tape. He just doesn’t have it enough.
Q: So consistency is the biggest challenge:
MZ: Consistency is a big deal. He has strength; I think he did 25 or 27 on the bench press at the combine. He doesn’t use his strength all the time and because he is a little bit of a high-cut kid, he doesn’t use his lower body strength as much as he should. But he is a really, really good athlete.
Q: And are his arms long also?
MZ: He has unbelievably long arms. His wingspan is huge and comparable to some of the great pass rushers of all time.
Q: Where did you see him that you were impressed with him?
MZ: Georgia Tech worked him out as a defensive end and then I actually took him and worked him out as a linebacker some with another 3-4 team. The guy I was with even said, ‘Did you see that?’ He is a guy that we had our eye on and hoped that he would slip down a little bit because a lot of people had him way, way up there.
Q: What kind of role do you see him in here?
MZ: Right now, we have talked about a lot of those things. I think we can play him a lot on third down. I think he can help us in that situation. We can use him as a stand-up/drop-down guy, especially on third down. There is a possibility that we may look at him a little bit as a linebacker. If he could do that — be a linebacker and then play his hand on the ground on third down — that would really be something. I don’t know if he can do that yet, but we just might take a peek at that. We anticipate that he will help us on third down on the pass rush. And coach Hayes’ job is to make sure he plays hard the whole time.
Q: How do you combat not playing hard on every down?
JH: There are times in his film that he does exceptional things, but not every down. That’s the reason we are in the third round right now. If he had done those things every play, he would have been one of the top three or four people picked. But that’s our job to get him to play that way. The kid is a willing soul, a ‘yes sir, no sir’ type of guy. He is great in the community. He comes from a strong family. I believe his (best) football is ahead of him, and that’s all we can ask for.
MZ: He is a first-class kid — top notch, 100 percent. You will never find a nicer kid.
Q: In terms of the inconsistency, how do you hold him accountable for that?
MZ: He became perturbed (when asked), which was good. Sometimes when we are interviewing guys and trying to get to know them, we are trying to see what buttons make them go. When we said, ‘This is what they are saying about you,’ he said, ‘I am going to prove them wrong.’ Actually, when I talked to him on the phone upstairs, I told him now is the time to go prove a whole bunch of people wrong.
Q: What did Georgia Tech ask him to do scheme wise?
MZ: They had a coaching change, but he was a defensive end for the most part. Now, they stood him some and played him as an outside backer some, but it wasn’t anything really unusual.
Q: How long do you think the learning curve is for him?
MZ: Well, hopefully by the end of the rookie minicamp we’ll have that straightened out.
JH: Sunday (laughs).
Q: Can you compare him physically to anyone?
JH: Bill Tobin (Bengals scouting consultant) likened him to Ted Hendricks. He has those dimensions.
Q: Sounds like he’s athletic:
MZ: He’s athletic.
JH: He’s exceptional when it comes to that kind of stuff.
Q: Did he go to Georgia Tech as a basketball player? How much football has he played?
JH: He was a football player. In high school he played basketball, and he played football as well. He probably thought of himself as a basketball player in high school to some extent, but he went there (Georgia Tech) as a football player.
Q: What position would you put Mike Johnson at to succeed at the quickest?
MZ: He’ll start out at right defensive end, probably. He’ll be a third-down rusher, and then we’ll eventually start moving him to other third-down positions and specific assignments.
Q: Is he athletic enough to drop back into coverage?
MZ: Oh yeah. He can drop, he can rush, he can stand up — anything he wants to do, he can do. There’s nothing this kid can’t do that he wants to. And he wants to do it. We’re going to make sure that he’s doing things the way we want them done every single play. It’s like Jay said, this guy on tape has done some tremendous things. He just doesn’t do it consistently enough. That’s our job, to make sure he does it consistently. We have a raw, talented athletic, great individual, high-class kid. Now it’s our job to make him into a rear-end-to-the-wall, all-day-long-player.
Q: Is this kid the most talented player that you have ever had to mold?
MZ: I don’t know, I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head.
JH: The guy that he reminds me of, that he is taller than, that I played with at Detroit (USFL Michigan Panthers), is a guy named Mike Cofer. I don’t know if you remember him, but he’s built a lot like Cofer. He has no body fat on him. Cofer was about 6-4, and this kid is 6-7. He’s similar to him. He’s built very much like Cofer — thin-waisted, long guy. It’s the first time that I’ve had a kid that’s taller than me as a coach. We have some things in common to deal with, and it’ll be good. In a normal door, he can put one hand on the top and one hand on the bottom. He’s that long of a guy.
Q: Did he have a lot of blocked passes last year?
JH: He blocks a lot of passes.
Q: Does he play special teams?
MZ: He will block kicks, I bet you. He has a 40-inch jump and he’s 6-7.
Q: I guess this guy’s more than just a hunch:
MZ: Yes. A lot of people had this guy rated really high.
Q: Do you think he fell because of his intensity?
MZ: I do. He’s intelligent, a good kid. He’s got no issues other than he hasn’t been consistent on tape.