How different are you at this point of your career to indoctrinate some players into your system?
"Going into year seven now, I'm really comfortable with everything we've got going here. And so now we have some of the new guys, and guys who will be playing for us this year, so we're just making sure we are up to speed on what we're doing. Constant communication is big, making sure they're knowing exactly how we want it to be and exactly how we are asking them to do it. I'm in a good position now. We've got guys who are willing to learn. I feel like we've gotten better this offseason."
Are they like sponges, soaking up how things work here?
"For sure. That's the one thing that's been great about the guys: Everybody is wanting to learn, trying to be the best they can be. That's all you can ask from them right now. That's what this time of the year is for. We got to keep going through it and keep getting these guys to not have to think that much and play fast."
What do you think were the biggest shortcomings from last year, the biggest things that were needed to be addressed?
"The biggest jump we are going to make is that some of these younger guys who played last year just having that year of experience. If you look in the receiver position group at guys like Cody Core, Alex Erickson, and Tyler Boyd, those guys aren't thinking about what the play is. Now they know which way to run a route on different coverages and things like that. That's a big area where we have taken a jump. Just the trust with me and them, and the time we have spent out there with them in just doing it has made us better."
Is there more of a sense of continuity this year?
"Yes I think so. We've got the core of our guys back, and we've got a couple guys who can help us. So it's a new year, another year of experience for everybody. I said last year there was a lot of stuff that was new, obviously with Zamp (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) taking over at coordinator and with a couple new receivers being out there. We really don't have that this year. Guys understand what we are trying to do."
Was last year the first season where you've had a losing season in your entire athletic career, dating back to high school and college?
You said you have never lost more than two in a row in any sport, correct?
"That's about right."
What was your worst year before last year? What was that like last year to deal with your first losing season?
"If we're talking football, it was probably freshman year (in college). We were (8-5) ... We hadn't come close to either .500 or a losing season. It felt different. There's something you can take from last year, and things to go back and look at to see what you could have done different. This was what this whole offseason has been for, to see what was done well and what we didn't do good. We need to getting better at things we do well and really improve on things we didn't do well on. This offseason has been good for us."
Is being a winner what has helped you the most with this team?
"I think that's the most important stat. We need to get back to what we were doing and win when it matters."
Has this offseason felt different after having a losing season?
"Yeah. Regardless of what type of season you have, you always want to get better. It's about looking at the little details, the little things that hurt us last year, and trying to correct those things. Find different phases that we can improve upon, like how we struggled in the red zone last year. What can we do different that can increase our chances down there and make our production better? There are different things you can look at where that are areas where we struggled and say, 'OK, we really have to make a big jump here.' "
Now that other leaders are gone, is there more of a leadership load on you?
"Even with those guys leaving us, I feel I was already in that position, to be the leader of the team. It may require a little more of me, but I feel like there will be other guys who will step up to be in those positions. I felt like I was already established in that position, and I have to keep finding ways to get most out of everybody. It gives other positions for guys to step up."
Do veterans ever go to those guys and tell them that's their chance to step up?
"Yeah, guys talk about it. It kind of happens naturally too while you're out there. Once we get into training camp and get into games with the competition, you will see it more and more."
In terms of your leadership, do you ever think about under- or over- doing it?
"Everybody's personality is a little different. At the end of the day, you just want to be yourself, because people can see when you're not. But if you're going to talk about leadership, being the quarterback and in that leadership position, when you start as a rookie, you're in a leadership position but you haven't done anything yet. Once you're at the point where I am in my career, it's easier to say things, especially with the younger guys. It's easier for them to listen, because I've got the experience of doing it."
As a rookie, was it tough to be a leader?
"Yeah, it's obviously different. You get in the huddle and there are guys in there who are ten years older than you. It's just a different time. I honestly am not the same kind of leader now that I was then. But, I felt like I did alright that first year."
Knowing how much is expected of quarterbacks now and how hard that adjustment really is, do you ever look back on your early years and appreciate the success you had with that transition?
"If you look at the expectations everybody put on us that year, no one was really expecting us to win any games. To be able to go 9-7 and make it to the playoffs is obviously overachieving from a lot of stand points. But we didn't know anything different when we got here. So that's the expectation. Our goal now is to get back to playing at high level and playing into January."
You've made a big impact in the community with the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation. How rewarding is it to do the things you do off the field, in addition to what you've done on the field?
"That's one of the big things that I don't take for granted; being able to play the game of football and being in the NFL has given me an opportunity to help a lot of people. Not a lot of people can say that they're in that type of position. With our event the other night raising a quarter of a million dollars, there aren't that many people in this city who can do something like that. The game of football has given me that type of platform to help others, and we're trying to help as many people as we can. I'm not taking the position I'm in for granted."
Is your leadership also a part of the community?
"Sure. It's how you live your life, and we are on this earth to help people, to serve others. For me, and for my wife and my family, we are trying everything we can to use what we have been given to help others."
You just said you raised a quarter of a million dollars at your foundation's event. Taking a step back, does that kind of impact blow you away?
"The fact that we were able to do that in one night is pretty special. And we're trying to find ways to make it bigger because there's so much need in this community. There's need everywhere. But we feel passionate about this community. We're trying to get as much money as we can and help as many people as we can. "
What do you know now about Cincinnati that you didn't know seven years ago?
"There are a lot of people that care. I feel like if you're from Cincinnati and you grew up in Cincinnati, you stay in Cincinnati. It's a very loyal city. That's been one thing that's been cool, to see support that you not only get from a football standpoint, but off the field as well with the foundation being in the community. There are a lot of good people here."
As a rookie, what was the best advice you got?
"Things happened so fast, especially with the lockout and coming into training camp. Just to trust yourself is the big thing. If you look back on it, there's a lot that's going to be thrown at you and a lot of stuff that's going to be new. But you trust your preparation. You know what you are going to do out there, just play fast. The last thing you want to do is to be thinking too much."
You've had continuity and consistency with your coaching staffs at every level of your career. Has that been helpful?
"Yeah absolutely. Shoot, when I was in junior high, I was running the same plays as high school. I think that's just Texas high school football for you. The continuity has been huge. You see some of these guys who come in at the same point in their careers, let's say like mine at seven years, and they've had three or four different head coaches or a new offensive coordinator every single year. That could make it tough on a career for guys. I've been blessed that hasn't really happened, except that we have had some different coordinators. But that's always been a hire from within, which has kept things similar. That's a big part of what I've been able to do."
Opening comments ...
"It's been a very pleasing start (to minicamp). We've obviously covered a lot of bases between now and when we started in mid-April, as we got to Phase II (of the offseason) and the onset of Phase III with OTAs. The mandatory camp this year provides a finality to the spring football. We have meetings in the evening and things that are required. But I've been pleased. I thought it was a good day today. There was freshness — it's been since Wednesday (June 7) since we've practiced football. We came back, and I was pleased with it today. It was a hot, humid day. It was a preview for the new and young players of training camp and what July and August bring. The next three days will be very similar to what we face (in training camp) and will kind of give them an idea."
You mentioned in rookie minicamp that Joe Mixon needed to work on his conditioning a little bit and get back up to speed. He said today that he's dropped about eight or 10 pounds since that time. Do you think he's where he needs to be?
"He's worked hard. Since the initial rookie camp, from that point on, he's done a nice job. When you don't practice and play football, you've got to do that to get into that kind of conditioning and shape, particularly as a runner, when so much of what he does is reaction."
With these practices being no contact and without pads, what are you looking to see from young linemen/linebackers like Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis?
"You're looking for the burst, the ability, the flexibility, how they're using their hands and their extension against blocks. All those things. Carl has done fine — tremendous all the way through. With Jordan Willis, the light is on now, which is great. Jordan's biggest thing is that he wants to do right. Now he's got a good understanding of what to do, and you can see him applying it over the last three or four practices. He's playing with what we need him to do, as far as playing with speed and playing faster."
With a player like Carl Lawson, do you worry that playing him at linebacker might take away from his pass-rushing ability?
"No. I don't."
It seems like he's making a pretty smooth transition to linebacker. What is it about him that makes him able to make that transition to linebacker?
"He's played on his feet in the defense at Auburn. It's not anything that foreign to him that we're asking him to do. He's a smart guy, he's conscientious. He needs an every-down position. I don't think right now that he has quite the frame to be an every-down defensive end in the NFL. He's got a great opportunity to affect the game in the positions we're playing him."
Do you think he can eventually get to that frame?
"I don't think he needs to."
For a guy like Cody Core, how important was it for him to get playing time late last year in the absence of A.J. Green?
"The playing experience Cody got last year has been very beneficial to him and everyone on the football team to be able to see his abilities. It gives him the confidence to come out and work in the offseason and know that he can achieve higher goals. He's got higher level of plays out there for him. He's got the physical tools, and I'm sure in his own mind he always believes that, but until you get your opportunity on an NFL field that you can go out there and play winning football in a game, it probably stays in the back of your mind. So it was good for him. And it's good for Andy (Dalton) to get a trust level with him. Everybody benefitted from it."
Is it the same for the coaches, where you think you know what he can do, but you don't know it for sure until he gets in a game?
"Yeah, from the very onset. It's a similar situation with Josh Malone. We went into the draft and felt like this was a guy that maybe was somewhat overlooked, but had physical tools to play at a higher level. We've had good luck with a lot of guys like that, who have similar body types and come in here as young players. They've continued to carve out opportunity and gain more reps and take advantage of it."
How much smoother have these phases been coaching-wise. You're now in the second year with a lot of these coaches, after having a lot of changes with the staff last offseason. What have you seen from that perspective, and with things like installations?
"The key thing all the time is that you can't assume. We have to start from scratch all the time. I think everybody knows what's expected, and the coaches' urgency and getting the guys going and to the right spots all the time is important. They've done a good job of that. Our offseason has been very productive. I feel good where our guys are physically. They're going to have to maintain this for a period of time and come back in here ready to go when we kick it off in July."
What is your biggest concern as a coach in between now and training camp?
"You just don't want to see someone get an injury that would slow them down before the start of the season and keep them unavailable when we begin. It's something that happens — knock on wood. We have 89 guys, and we had 85 working in action today, with the other four working in their own fashion and rehabbing. They all are in good position to be ready to go when we begin training camp, so that's what we need to be pleased with."
Have you ever had a situation where they all left after minicamp and someone reported to training camp with an injury from playing basketball or something?
"I don't think playing basketball, but maybe one where they were working out. There's no question about that. I don't recall a specific one, but that's why you've got to reserve judgment until you open up training camp. Them being a part of their physical test is part of the physical test we give them, with their physical when they come back. We are not going to check all of their boxes, they do."
Andy (Dalton) is going into his seventh year now. How have you seen him grow and mature as a player and person and leader over his tenure here?
"He takes the bull by the horns. That's important. He knows that he's got to be the leader of the football team. He didn't need to do that early on because we needed him to focus on being quarterback and to focus on doing his job. 'Keeping yourself, Andy, within yourself.' But now he's out with the defense and the rest of the offensive team, and that's good. Those guys want to be led, and he's done a good job of that. They're happy and pleased with him that way, and they continually encourage him to let him know they want to be led. He knows that."
Did you tell Dalton to be more vocal when he first came in?
"No. We just told him to focus on being Andy and being the quarterback. The rest of those things will just take care of themselves. The rest of the football team knew how talented he was when they watched him practice. He was a rookie, and No. 18 (A.J. Green) was a rookie. Everybody had to get behind him and believe in him. And he's grown immensely through those times."
The defensive guys seem smoother and are in sync with this scheme and more ahead of the game than where they were last year. Do you see that on defense?
"The thing is, you can't assume that everybody understands it. Continue to work at it day in and day out. We have to stay on the same page defensively, and stay on the same page all the time. And that's important. This is what you do now, and then taking it into the season is another step. So we've got to take it into the season."