“I think it was a good move to move back a few spots and to put two picks together by moving up. Our first pick, Jessie Bates, gives us a safety we feel great about, regarding his range and size. His size translates well when you watch his tape from Wake Forest with what we will ask him to do within the boundaries of the NFL. This will also fit well with what we ask our safeties to do in our defense. I’m excited about that, and obviously the two picks back-to-back (were good to have).
“Sam Hubbard gives us the opportunity to put more people up front on the defensive line, and to continue with that rotation. Sam helps us fill a spot with a young guy with athleticism who plays extremely hard all the time. He gives us the opportunity to move forward.
“Malik Jefferson is a fine in-line linebacker who has great athleticism and is quick off the mark. That’s the thing you like about him. He possesses the tools to be a fine linebacker as he continues to grow and develop as a man. The one thing we can’t coach is running speed, and he has that. He really does a great job and he is smart, so he will need to transfer that, continue to learn and make productive plays in the NFL.”
Coming into today, did your draft board fit better to move down and move back up?
“There was comfort Duke Tobin had in that, for sure. We talked about it on Wednesday and again on Thursday. Obviously there were certain players who were more appealing to us than others. Depending on how the round goes, if those guys who don’t quite fit us go off the board and more guys get pushed back to us, then we are more apt to make that move. Maybe one or two guys will get knocked off from our grouping while the other three or four are still available.”
With the year the offense had last season, are you a little surprised you opened up with three defensive players?
“No, that was our focus. We did a lot in the early part of the offseason with the offense with the trade for (offensive tackle) Cordy Glenn, re-signing (tight end) Tyler Eifert, and acquiring (quarterback) Matt Barkley. Obviously we spent picks last year on offense in the receiver and running back area. We wanted to address the defense today. That was our plan going in, and we were able to stick to it.”
You talked about play-making in the secondary. Could you speak a little bit about that element of Jessie Bates’ game?
“Being a player that understands the defense and gets in position to make plays, as opposed to fighting to be in the right position all the time. The anticipation and understanding to get in the right spots where you can anticipate and go make plays.”
Could you describe any interaction you’ve had with Sam Hubbard in this process?
“It’s been great. He came and visited us a week or so ago. I’ve talked to him about the pressures of playing at home. They were so excited on the phone tonight, which was great to hear. I literally was visiting Urban Meyer up there four years ago before he enrolled. He happened to call Urban Meyer on the phone while I was on the field with him. Urban Meyer said, ‘Guess who I’m standing here talking to. You’re going to come play for the Buckeyes, then you’re going to have a chance to play for your hometown Bengals.’ Urban Meyer reminded us of that conversation this year when I was up there. I reminded Sam about it on the phone. Talk about going full circle.”
Is the thing about Sam Hubbard his motor? He plays hard …
“They’ve had a great rotation of guys at Ohio State. He’s been able to play hard and leave everything out there on the field. If you talk to Greg Schiano and the other coaches up there, they talk about a guy who helped quarterback that group. All of that is appealing, just like it was with (Bengals center) Billy Price. When I talked to their coaches, I asked them what makes these guys tick. I think you noticed that today with Billy Price. That’s important to us.”
Is there a good relationship right now with the Ohio State football program that has created extra comfort, or is it just a case of them having good players?
“They have great players. They recruit well, coach them up and play hard, so they fit well. The players are smart guys. I texted Urban Meyer last night and told him, ‘We finally have a Buckeye.’ We’ve been close before, but it didn’t work out. Yesterday and today, things worked out with those two picks.”
In college, Ohio State kept Sam Hubbard inside with a freed technique. Do you expect him to do the same thing here?
“We will see. I don’t know what is going to happen right now.”
How do you think you’ve helped the defense over the past few hours?
“We got productive football players who play hard. They will come in and uplift the room in the building. That’s really important.”
It seems like you plugged in all of your needs in consecutive picks …
“We feel good about things. We’ve got seven picks tomorrow, so we will be busy. That’s great though, because we have a chance to add depth and provide competition as we finish out the day tomorrow.”
How did the trade tonight help?
“It was good among everyone here because they get to go home a little early. We had a chance to move up and pick in the middle of the round. That was appealing to us.”
Did you think there was a bit more in the third round compared to the second round?
“No, we felt moving back eight spots or so would allow us to likely still pick from the same group of players.”
Where does Malik Jefferson fit in?
“He can play all three linebacker spots. I went to the University of Texas this year and talked with the coaches. I also went and spoke at their clinics. He was one of the first guys that I was asked to take a look at by (Bengals defensive quality control/linebackers coach) Marcus Lewis when he and (Bengals linebackers coach) Jim Haslett started looking at linebackers. I had seen him prior to us going to Indianapolis (for the combine), which normally I don’t see a whole lot of players prior to that. Malik Jefferson is one of the guys I saw, and I feel good about him. I could see his progression from when they opened the season vs. Southern California to how he played against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State later in the season. They saw him grow as a player and he started to get it. Now we have to get him to really get it, because he has all of the athleticism we can’t coach him to do.”
Malik Jefferson came to the University of Texas out of high school with a lot of hype. Do you think it was a scheme-thing that helped him find that success?
“I can’t tell you that, because I don’t critique what they do. They felt he bought into what they were doing. Coach Tom Herman spoke very highly of him and his prospects for the future.”
When you’re evaluating a guy who has multiple coordinators with different philosophies and still performs through that, is that a factor?
“It’s key to evaluate the player with his skills and abilities, then decide how that’s going to translate and transition to what we do. Particularly at linebacker, there are so many different things in college football with what they are taught. Athleticism is something that will stand out on an NFL field, because of the different offenses and passing games. He’s been exposed to all of that.”
He can do it all. He can blitz, drop back in coverage and play the run …
You talked to Sam Hubbard about the pressures of playing at home. Is that something you worry about when considering drafting a player from this area?
“No, I think it’s a plus, as long as they are in the position to handle it. I remember when (Panthers linebacker) Luke Kuechly was coming out and he talked about that. Just like Luke Kuechly, Sam Hubbard was excited about it, which is great.”
How do you see Jessie Bates fitting into the defense? Does that open up more three safety looks?
“Three safeties, depending on the positioning, is not anything you need in the NFL. We’ve played a safety at dime linebacker. I did the same in Baltimore in the late 1990s/early 2000s. That’s nothing unique; it just depends on how you want to use personnel. That’s not really three safeties, it’s just the position, (whether) you are playing a defensive back as a linebacker.”
*Do you like what Jessie Bates can do in the slot? *
“He’s had exposure to that, but your safeties have to be able to match over the top if not anything else.”
What about Jessie Bates’ size?
“He’s the size of a lot of the fine safeties who are playing in the NFL.”
Defensive line coach
What have you felt like you’ve gained in this draft?
Austin: “We’ve gained three young, good football players. They all have a nice football IQ, good abilities and they play hard. We feel like they bring something to the team, and that’s the big step. They will help us add depth, and hopefully at some time they will become starters.”
They seem like they can do multiple things and add versatility. Does that appeal to you as a coordinator?
Austin: “Absolutely. One of the things I think you should be able to do is not have guys pigeon-holed. You want to have guys who can move around. Sam (Hubbard) plays outside and can rush inside. (Jessie) Bates makes the plays and is strong. There’s a lot of different things here that can go on with (Malik) Jefferson. He can run, he can play middle or outside. Those are things we are looking for in guys — versatility — so we’re not pigeon-holed into what we can and can’t do.”
How do you see Jessie Bates fitting into the defense?
Austin: “I’ve seen him as a free safety candidate for us. He’s got good ball skills and a good football IQ. He brings a little different skill set in the back end for us, so that’s good. He has the ability to move down slots, and he plays three-wide and can do a lot of other different things. He can play base defense. We’ve got us a guy who can stay in base defense and cover down on slots.”
Malik Jefferson was very highly recruited coming out of high school, and then went through a couple defensive coordinators in college. Has doing all of that helped with his versatility?
Haslett: “Yes. I thought it was a plus when we worked him out. We knew a little bit about him. He’s a five-star athlete coming out. He’s a big kid, at 6-2, 243 pounds. It adds to what we’ve done the last couple of years with Nick Vigil, a linebacker who can run, and Jordan Evans. This was another guy who ran a 4.5. He’s got great speed. He’s got great size and good position. He’s a three-year starter at Texas. He was a captain as a junior, and then came out early. He’s got a lot of upside to him. I went down and worked him out, and he had an outstanding workout. He’s a guy who I honestly thought he wouldn’t be there at this pick. It’s a good pick up for this team. He should be able to help us on special teams, which we need.”
I take it speed was a priority when you were making selections?
Haslett: “Yes. As a linebacker, we think that can obviously help. The whole league now has gone different routes with all these faster guys. This guy has size and speed. He’s very intelligent. He’s played a lot of football for a young kid. Being a three-year starter at Texas is pretty good.”
Do you like that Sam Hubbard played as a rotational player on the defensive line in college?
Burney: “Yeah, because we rotate here. We don’t just put guys out there. So that mentality, he has a lot of that going. Like (we saw) with Sam, it takes passion from that player, because everyone is big, strong , and fast in the NFL. There’s got to be some elements that makes you a little different. That’s one that has nothing to do with his ability, it just has to do with the passion from the player’s heart. He jumps out with his passion and how hard he plays every play from start to finish, and that makes a difference. It makes a difference for me, it makes a difference for him. The first thing he said to me on the phone was, ‘Hey coach, I’m going to give you all I’ve got.’ That’s all he knows. I appreciate the fact that we can rotate him, but not as much as for his passion of the game.”
With all these guys on the defensive line, does that give you more flexibility and versatility?
Burney: “Absolutely. That matters in the sense that they are going to be aggressive against guards. Guards aren’t used to protecting against all those guys from those standpoints, and all of a sudden it’s a different element that you may have. With the different things we do with our defense, our defensive end can do a little bit of better tackling on the sides. So it does give you something when you can move some guys around. Offensive lines are always studying defensive lines, so guys won’t play just one position for the whole time. But moving guys around in different positions, I think that gives you a bit of an edge.”
Jessie Bates didn’t have eye-popping interception numbers last year, but you obviously saw something you liked with his ball skills. What did you see?
Livingston: “He only played in seven and a half games (in 2017). Production was down this year, but he was asked to go a different thing. There was a different coordinator, and a little bit of a different system. He does have range, he does have versatility. With limited opportunity this year, you have to take that into account. He was playing more man-to-man on the slot receiver, and the ball probably wasn’t going to his guy quite as much.“
He also seems like a good special teams guy ...
Livingston: “Yeah he does. He was a punt returner — probably more of a safe punt guy — and he was somewhat dynamic with the ball in his hand. His pure athleticism shows when he has it, and he knows what to do. He can trap the ball well. I’m excited for it.”
Being able to play center field when playing baseball, does that give him a better idea of how to track the ball?
Livingston: “I’m sure kids that play baseball have a phenomenal feel for looking over shoulders and tracking balls. Either way, he can do that.”
Was there anything that stuck out when you worked him out?
Livingston: “I think his versatility. He was in a system that puts some pressure on safeties when they were covering slots, when it was man-to-man and covering ‘two-way goes,’ and he was holding up. If you watch the Louisville game, if you watch the Florida State game, those were the ones that really stuck out for me. He plays Louisville, they’re playing soft quarters, and he’s tackling Lamar Jackson. He’s playing Florida State, and he’s probably the fastest guy on defense and showed up. At a school like that, when they play their big games and he shows up, that sticks out to you. Your biggest game of the year, when your best player is playing well, it’s what you want to see.”
Coach Austin, what do you like about Hubbard?
Austin: “I think Jacob Burney mentioned it. What jumps off the screen is how hard that guy plays. I know when he came down here and I talked to him, I went back and said that I had the opportunity to work with Grant (Wistrom) in Seattle. Grant was the same way — a hard-charging and gives you everything on every play. He was a really, really good football player for us out in Seattle, and I said ‘You really remind me of him.’ He was like ‘Well, who’s that (laughs)?’ But the bottom line is that he’s got a great motor, is a really good technician as a football player, and has passion for the game. I don’t think you will find a guy who plays harder than him.”
It’s rare to get three consecutive guys on one side of the ball to plug your needs in the draft, isn’t it?
Austin: “I don’t know if it’s rare. I’m glad that we were able to get that help. The biggest thing is we just want to make sure we do what’s best for the team, helps us get a few more wins and gets us a little further than we were last year.”
When you draft these guys this high, you hope they land roles on defense, right?
Austin: “We don’t know what their roles are going to be. They are going to have to earn their role when they get in here. But we do think based on where we drafted them, we wanted them to be able to earn something and continue to improve as a football player once they get here. It’s our jobs as coaches to get them in the right spots and get them the right teachings, so that they do progress and accelerate as fast possible.”
What do you think is the one common thread you’ve added to the defense with these three guys?
Austin: “I don’t know if it’s just one thing. Each of the guys is different, but I do think they each have the technique. We talked about the motor in Sam, and in terms of the other guys and how fast and athletic they are. I think we added speed and athleticism, toughness, grit and great motors. All these guys play hard.”
It seems like you guys picked up some guys who have high character as well ...
Austin: “Absolutely. When you have guys that have really good character, you can count on those guys in crunch time. They are not going to hack off the defense somewhere or blow the assignment or do whatever. They are pretty consistent in what they do. It’s one thing we were looking for. We felt confident in their character, and their abilities as well.”
Considering all the trades and movement, along with the type of players you’re getting, does this draft remind you of the 2012 draft?
Livingston: “As cliché as it is, you don’t know about a draft until a couple years later. I know that we are happy. Where we were sitting in the second round, and then to be sitting where are now with these guys is the best case scenario. As an organization, we are pretty thrilled. But with the pieces that we have, the competition has gone up on the team. You want to push everyone around to be better.”
How hard is it to get all of those trades made?
Austin: “That’s a little above our pay grade. We’re up there to evaluate the players. All trades and all that stuff, that’s on Marvin (Lewis) and the people above us to make those decisions. Our job is just to evaluate football players and let them know who we think is best for our team, and then go from there.”
Haslett: “They do a great job of moving around and getting in the right spot to get these guys.”
So everyone is on the same page?
Austin: “Absolutely. At the point where they made the trade, that was the discussion — getting a really good shot of getting the guys that we wanted. And that’s why they made the trade.”
Safety, Wake Forest
When did you know that the Bengals might be interested in you?
“I had a formal with them visit when I was at the combine. That’s the first time I talked to the Bengals. I remember that meeting like it was right now, honestly. I remember they started off with the psychological testing and stuff like that, then (Bengals secondary/safeties) coach (Robert) Livingston came down for Pro Day and met with me. I had a good feel for coach Livingston, I like him a lot. I’m happy to be a Cincinnati Bengal.”
You’ve played different types of coverages. Are you pretty versatile that way?
“I feel like I can do everything. I can step out of the box. I feel like I can step out in the slot. I can play man-to-man. I think people know that I can play in the middle of the field. I look forward to showing all those and making an impact wherever coach wants me to.”
How has baseball helped your football career?
“For baseball, it’s the same thing, like tracking the ball off the bat. It’s the same thing as reading the quarterback, reading his eyes. I think baseball has helped that. It was just in anticipation in being able to read things and just feeling how other players are thinking. “
How much is game prep and film study a part of how you play?
“I take a lot of pride in being a film junkie. My IQ is another part. That’s my best attribute as a football player. I just love the game. I don’t care that it’s me, I just like watching film of myself or watching one of the best cornerbacks or safeties in the league. That’s a big part of it.”
Do you feel good about your ball skills?
“I feel very confident. I can’t really show you guys any stats right now, but I am definitely going to do my best to turn the ball over and get it back to Andy Dalton.”
At the combine, do you remember any specific questions the Bengals asked you?
“I remember them asking me some math questions. They gave me the number 44, then they gave me divide by 11, multiply it by three and they gave me four words before that, so I had to repeat that after. I thought that was pretty funny. I’m not sure what their philosophy was behind that, but I think I killed it (laughs). I don’t know if it was quick thinking or what, but I feel like I definitely killed it.”
You said you had to go into a quiet room before you could talk to us tonight. How big is your draft party right now?
“It’s about 150 people, so it’s pretty big.”
Is this about where you expected to go in the draft?
“Yeah. I thought it would be somewhere around there — in the middle of the second round. Obviously, I got a little nervous after it got past the 50th pick. I got really nervous. I don’t know why, but I just started questioning some things. I feel very confident now.”
What was the highest level of baseball you played?
“I played travel baseball growing up throughout all of my (youth). I played throughout high school, and I became a starter my senior year. I hit a couple home runs, so I wasn’t just a centerfielder.”
What position(s) did you play in basketball?
“(When) I played basketball, I played point guard and shooting guard in high school. I had a couple of really good (teammates) on my team who went on to play Division I basketball. I was more of a facilitator. I feel I could score the ball and things like that, but my skill was playing defense.”
You’re from Indiana, right? You won’t be playing that far from home.
“Yes, sir. (Asks someone in the background how far Cincinnati is from his home.) Three hours, that’s not that far from home. That’s perfect. I’m probably going to have to keep my mom away from me — she’s going to want to come down every weekend, but we’ll keep that under control (laughs).”
What was the phone call from the Bengals like?
“I knew (where I got drafted) was my hot spot, so I kept my phone unlocked and just kept looking at it and looking at it. I had my mom shaking next to me, so I was expecting it at some point. But with the phone call, I just looked at my mom like ‘Mom, mom, mom! Look, look, look! I don’t know who this is, but look, look!’ I answered it and they said (they were from the) Cincinnati Bengals. I thought it was the (Tampa Bay) Buccaneers at first, and then I said ‘Oh yeah, that’s perfect. Perfect.”
How much do you know about the situation you’re coming into with the Bengals and the team in general?
“I don’t know too much, honestly. But I will definitely get on that tonight with my research before I get down there tomorrow.”
Were there any other teams that you thought might have an interest in you?
“I thought Dallas was very interested in me. Green Bay. I thought the Panthers, the Steelers. Those are teams I thought had a good chance to draft me.”
You said you had to go into a quiet room. How big is that draft party right now?
“It’s about 150 people, so it’s pretty big.”
Is this about where you were expecting to go in the draft?
“I thought it would be somewhere around here, in the middle of the second round. I got a little nervous when it got past the 50th pick. I’m not sure why; I may have started to question things. I feel great now though.”
What was the highest level of baseball you played?
“I played travel baseball growing up, then I played in high school. I became a starter my senior year and hit a couple home runs. I was a centerfielder before being moved.”
What position did you play in basketball?
“I played point guard and shooting guard in high school.”
You are from Indiana, right?
You’re not that far from home. You’re not going to be playing too far from home ...
“Exactly. Cincinnati is about three hours away, so I’ll have to keep my mom away from me, otherwise she will come down every weekend. We will try to keep that under control.”
What was the phone call like?
“I knew that ring was my hot spot, so I kept looking at it. My mom was next to me shaking. When I got the call, I looked at my mom and said, ‘Look, look, I don’t know who it is, but ...’ I answered it and it turned out to be the Cincinnati Bengals. I thought it was the Buccaneers at first, but when I realized that it was the Bengals, I thought it was perfect.”
How much do you know about the situation you are coming into with the Bengals? How much do you know about the team and their recent history?
“I don’t know too much honestly, but I will definitely get on that tonight. I’ll start doing research (for when I come in) tomorrow. I’ll probably start watching film.”
Any other teams you thought might have interest besides the Bengals?
“I thought Dallas was very interested in me, along with Green Bay. I thought I’d have a chance also to get drafted by the Panthers or the Steelers.”
Defensive end, Ohio State
You’ve talked about having a chance to stay home in Ohio and land with the Bengals — how excited are you right now?
“It’s incredible, you know? I didn’t really see this coming, and it worked out where I get to stay at home. It’s something I never even dreamed of. Representing the city of Cincinnati like I’ve tried to do my whole life, it’s just a huge opportunity and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Were you nervous at all with the way things were going in the third round about where you might be drafted and when?
“Yeah, I was nervous a little bit. We weren’t expecting that — we saw some defensive ends go before me — but I believe the Bengals saw something in me, and I’m going to earn everything I’ve got and prove them right and prove everybody else wrong.”
Marvin Lewis told us that when you originally committed to Ohio State, he was on the field with OSU head coach Urban Meyer and told you that you will be a Buckeye and a Bengal one day. Do you remember that?
“Yeah. That was a great recruiting tool. He’s a smart man, he’s got connections. He put Marvin Lewis on the phone, and he’s coached Cincinnati pretty much my whole life. That’s something that Coach Lewis told me on the phone, and when they called to draft me, it came full circle. It’s really special. You know, it’s hard to believe things work out like that sometimes.”
Had you not committed to OSU at that point?
“Yeah, it was during one of my visits, I believe. It was five years ago, but I believe so.”
A lot of people, especially Moeller alums, are going to want you to help them with tickets ...
“My uncle went down and got season tickets right after he found out I’m going (to Cincinnati). I can’t believe I’m staying home. I’m just so excited and so thankful.”
Who did you like growing up as a Bengals fan?
“I’ve been watching Carlos Dunlap for years. He’s an Urban Meyer guy. (I like) the way he plays the game. I love watching their defensive line. Geno Atkins. I just love watching the Bengals. I went to Paul Brown Stadium at least once a year. Even when Ohio State was playing their spring game at Paul Brown Stadium. It’s just crazy that I’m going to be playing in that one day.”
You had a lacrosse scholarship to Notre Dame, but taking the football scholarship to OSU worked out, didn’t it?
“Yeah. It’s a good decision I made, I believe. I’m happy that it worked out this way, and I’m so excited.’
What do you think the Bengals liked so much about your game, and why did they want to bring you here?
“I think they saw a really good base (defensive) end that can do a lot of really good things. I’m a guy that can step in on rush situations and get inside or outside in their four-man front and do a lot of different things, and also get in the rotation this year. Just to help the guys and compete for playing time. The defense that they run in Cincinnati is very similar, if not the same as the one we run at Ohio State. I learned that on my visit to Cincinnati, so I feel like I’m already a step ahead and I’m already in the playbook. Now it’s time to get to work and show them what I can do.”
You’ve won championships both in high school and in college and you’ve talked about wanting to play for a champion NFL team. What can you bring to make the Bengals that team, and how much would it mean to get this team to that championship level?
“I’ve got a (high school) state championship here in Ohio, and I’ve got a national championship (in college). The last thing I need is a Super Bowl, and I’m committed to doing everything I can to make sure that happens here in Cincinnati.”
Does any one game you saw the Bengals play here at Paul Brown Stadium stand out to you?
“I’ve been to a bunch out there. I was there when Carson Palmer blew out his knee against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. That’s something that happened when I was really young, but I’ll never forget it. I watched every game the Bengals played. When they were blacked out on Sundays, I was really upset. I’ve just always been a big fan.”
The Bengals talked about your motor as being very appealing. Do you see that as your biggest strength?
“Yeah it is, but I wouldn’t say my motor as much as I’d say it’s the way I play the game. My style of play, it’s angry, it’s 100 miles per hour every snap. Even during this offseason, I’ve been making sure my conditioning is the same if not getting better. Every time I step on the field, I’m going 100 miles per hour until I can’t anymore.”
In late May, you’ll be on the field with the likes of Atkins, Dunlap and Michael Johnson. What will be going through your mind?
“It’s just going to be incredible. They’re Pro Bowl players, and they’ve been in the league a long time. What I’m going to do is, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and go hard and work my (rear) off to show I’m here to play, and I’m here to contribute. Whatever they have to say, I’m going to listen and try to do whatever I can to help the team and contribute to that defensive line room.”
Last year, the Bengals got Jordan Willis in the third round and Carl Lawson in the fourth round and both played well as rookies. You could be part of the young, upcoming defensive line group of this team. Does that excite you?
“Yeah, that excites me. I saw Carl Lawson play. They both played really well, and I want to come in and do the same thing. I want to learn from the older guys and be part of that young, new group to take the franchise to the next level. I’m excited to play with some great players.”
What did you suspect was the interest level the Bengals and LBs coach Jim Haslett had in you prior to tonight?
“I’m excited to be a part of the city. I didn’t know (how interested the Bengals were in me), but we had a great talk and they saw me at the Combine. We did a phone interview. Coach saw me at Pro Day and worked me out, of course, and we kept the relationship going from there. I wasn’t too shocked, but I am very, very grateful.”
Your game is pretty complete. What do you think the strength of your game is?
“Using my speed and power. I hope Cincy can develop me as a great backer, and become a great defense, and I’ll be a part of something great. I can contribute on special teams and everything just to be a team player, and use my best skills to prove to everyone I’m one of the best out there.”
What do you know about the Bengals in general?
“What do I know about the Bengals? I actually have a couple of guys (I’m friendly with) out there — Kent Perkins, Joe Mixon and a couple more guys — on a personal level. But that’s all I really know. I know they’re a great football team and Coach (Marvin) Lewis is a great football coach. I’m starting to get to know more things about them.”
Do you think your exposure to different defensive coordinators and styles of play helped you get ready to play in the NFL?
“Yes sir. I’m ready to go. That exposure to different coordinators helped learn faster and get me more knowledgeable about the game of football.”
Have you played much on special teams given your range on the field?
“I did special teams this year. I did punt (coverage). I didn’t do much the first two years, but I can play special teams.”
Coming out of high school, you were one of the top recruits in the country. How did that and going to Texas help you for what a career in the NFL could be like?
“It’s very tough. You know that Texas puts that pressure on you, because there’s no NFL teams out there for that city. So they put a lot of pressure on you, but they have the right guys there with you. The university will take care of itself, and the guys there will have to step up in the future because of what we were establishing as a foundation there as players for those guys to (follow). The University of Texas did me a great favor for me by preparing me for this day.”
The Bengals like players that played on a big stage in college, and the University of Texas fits that bill. Did that also help you prepare for the NFL?
“Yes sir. It was definitely an advantage playing on big stages, and I’m just excited to be back on them again.”
What linebacker position are you most comfortable playing?
“Inside-outside. I’m a natural outside (player), but I’m still learning inside. I’m naturally gifted outside on the edge, but I 100 percent think I’m getting this inside position down. I take a lot of pride in what I do, so naturally, being one of the greatest is something I’m going to be focused on.”
Is there anyone in the NFL that you emulate?
“I used to watch Ray Lewis and those guys. Dave Johnson. Jordan Hicks. Those of some of the guys I watch. Of course a guy like Luke Kuechly should be in there too. They’re all special players, and I love watching them.”
Did you see that you get free pizza for a year from Pizza Hut since you were the 14th pick in the third round — or, the “pi” pick (3.14)?
“Yes, I saw that! How did that happen?! I’m actually gluten-free, but I like sausage (laughs).”