When you look at some of the great teams in NFL history, they always seem to have a great quarterback-wide receiver tandem. How close do you feel that you and A.J. Green are to becoming an upper-echelon tandem?** AD: "As soon as we were both drafted, everybody already had already linked us together. Before we even played a game. Now that we've played a couple years together, I expect us to play a lot more together. We've done some good things together since we've been here. We want to keep getting better and keep doing things to win games. Hopefully we'll be doing that for a long time."
Expectations for this team are pretty high this season. Do you care at all what other people's expectations are, or do you care only about your own?
AD: "Just ours. That's what matters most. We've got a lot going into this year. We've got basically everybody back from last year. We've added some new guys, which are going to help us out a lot. I'm excited about getting the season going. There's not a whole lot of new learning going on here in these first few days – installs, or things like that. Everybody basically knows what we're doing. That's going to make us better going into the season. I'm excited to get going. We've got a good group."
Does the sting of a playoff loss not go away until you actually play in another game?
AD: "Yeah, because that's the last time we played, and that's the last thing that everybody remembers – the playoff game. It'll be good. I'm glad training camp has started. I'm glad the offseason is over. There's football back. It'll be good to get playing again."
What did you learn from the Houston loss?
AD: "You've got to take advantage of every opportunity you get. There's going to be good plays that happen and bad plays that happen, but at the end of the day, when you have the chance to hit a big play, you have to hit it. Unfortunately we didn't do that in that game, and we ended up losing. There are lots of little things that we could have done better that would have helped us win the game."
The first two picks of the draft—TE Tyler Eifert and RB Giovani Bernard—were both picked to help bolster the offensive side of the ball. What do they bring to the table?
AD: "They're versatile guys – both of them. Tyler, he played every position in college – tight end, he was out at receiver. I expect us to do a lot of the same stuff with him here – move him around a lot. We'll be able to do these two-tight end sets, and he's really going to be able to help out Jermaine (Gresham) in there. And Gio, he's a guy that can be in the backfield or split out wide, and he can catch the ball really well. He's really shifty, and he's going to be a great compliment to BenJarvus (Green-Ellis).I'm ready to see what these guys are going to be like with pads on, since we've just done OTAs, with no pads. I'm ready to put the pads on and see what these guys are, and see how good they are. They've got the potential to be really good."
During the offseason or going into the season, do you pick a few areas to specifically work on?
AD: "Yeah. I've gone back and watched every game a couple of times. So you find the areas you want to improve. There are some things with some footwork that I'd like to get better at, that would help me with the deeper throws. So there are little things that will help me get better. I feel like I was able to do a lot of stuff to improve during the offseason, and I expect to keep getting better as training camp goes on. Now is the time that really matters."
In your mind, what are you doing best right now?
AD: "I think I've really taken control of this offense. I have an understanding of everything that we're doing. Everything that they're asking me to do at the line of scrimmage – changing plays, changing protections, changing routes. Whatever it may be, I have full control of that. All of that is going to make this offense better, and make me better as a player."
What kind of leader do you think you are right now?
AD: "I feel like I'm not just a lead by example out there, I'm also being vocal out there. Now that I've played a couple of years, I've got some notches on my belt, so I feel like everybody knows that they can trust me. They know how hard I work and how much I study to get prepared for these games. I feel like I'm able to be a really good leader for this, not only offensively, but for everybody as a whole."
Do you think you might be more vocal this year because you've had the three years? Is it a change in style a bit?
AD: "You try to be more of a leader as you go on. The older you get and the more that you play, that's how it should be. Experience is going to help me and having the same team around. We've got the same guys. You know how guys respond. You know guys' personalities. You know all that kind of stuff. All that stuff is going to help me be a better player and a better leader on this team."
A.J. (Green) alluded that it's your team now. Do you feel that? Are you getting that kind of response from the guys?
AD: "Yeah that's how it should be. It should be the quarterback's team. The quarterback is the leader of the team and the quarterback is the one that has the ball in his hands every single play. You have to make sure that the other guys around you trust you enough to say stuff like that. I think that I've done enough around here for A.J. to say that it is my team and for other guys to say that because that's how I feel. A quarterback has got to take control and I feel like I've done a good job with that. Not just what we're doing offensively, but in the locker room getting to know guys and hanging out with guys. All of that is going to make you a better team."
In this division alone, and now even in Cleveland with (defensive coordinator) Ray Horton, they give you everything under the sun to look at in terms of coverages and fronts and everything else. Do you feel like going into your third year that there's nothing you haven't seen and you can adjust to anything at the line of scrimmage?
AD: "Well I wouldn't say there's nothing I haven't seen. There's always something new that everybody is trying to do. We're in a division where pressure is key. Everybody is trying to confuse you or disguise stuff and bring lots of pressure where they try to make you move and get the ball out of your hands quick. Playing in this division helps me when you play other teams. We've got really good teams and teams that have won Super Bowls here. You know when you play the best you are going to get tested to see where you are at as a team."
You've had your share of national demands the past couple of years. How much is having these guys (HBO/NFL Films Hard Knocks crew) around help?
AD: "The best thing about having Hard Knocks here is they are going to get to see what type of team we are and how hard we work. Getting to know the players and getting to know everybody's work ethic is going to be big. At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to get better during training camp and it's going to lead us into the season. I think Hard Knocks is here to show everybody else what we do."
Going into your first year, people generally thought the Bengals were going to be bad. You made the playoffs and going into last year people say you played a soft schedule. Now people seem to think this team is a legitimate contender. Do you sense a different vibe, internally, externally about how good this team is?
AD: "When I first got here I remember the media was picking us not to win a game. We ended up making the playoffs and made the playoffs the last two years. For us the goal is to get back to the playoffs. That's everybody's expectation. Once you get back to the playoffs it's its own thing. There's a lot of confidence on this team and there should be. We've done some good things since I've been here. We've got to play with that confidence and that swagger. I think everybody is excited and ready to go. We haven't even practiced yet. We're ready to get going."
Earlier this week, Mike Brown was talking about how this team has been stigmatized. He said 'Put it on me. It's my fault. Some of the players I tried to give a second chance to didn't work out.' You guys had nothing to do with that. You're still under that stigmatism umbrella. Is that frustrating for you guys?
AD: "The ownership and everybody that's been a part of this organization has done a good job bringing in good guys. One thing that you can say about this team and this locker room is that we have a bunch of really good guys on this team. I don't know what it was like before I got here because I wasn't part of the locker room. All I know is that since I've been here, they've done a great job. I'm excited about the team we have and I've got a lot of really good friends on this team."
Excluding maybe Peyton (Manning) and (Tom) Brady, is there a quarterback or maybe two or three that have a couple of years on you that you look at and say 'That's how I want to handle my business?'
AD: "Every offseason I go in and I don't just watch our film but I watch other guys to see what they do. I really just focus on Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. They are two really good players and two of the best to every play the game. I watch both of those guys to see what they do, see how they handle pressure, see how they make checks at the line and do all the different things. It's fun to watch them throw the ball around because they're really good. I watch those guys and try to take little things of what they do and try to implement them into my game."
(Right tackle) Andre (Smith) missed OTAs and minicamp, and now he's got an injury that's going to limit him. How important is it for the offense to get him up and running?
AD: "It is important. I don't know what the time table is on him but I'm sure he will be back soon. It will be good for him to be playing football again. We've got to get everybody out there. We don't want anybody hurt. We want everybody out there as quickly as possible."
Last year at this time at receiver it was A.J. and from two to six you didn't really know what you had. Now with (Mohamed) Sanu, (Marvin) Jones and (Tyler) Eifert, you've got a lot of options.
AD: "We've got guys that have been here at least a year now and some two years. I'm comfortable with the guys that we have. Last year it seemed like there was a different guy rolling in every couple of weeks. Now if there is a different guy, we've got the consistency to know how they play and know that they've done some good things in the offseason and have worked really hard. I'm comfortable with everybody we've got out there."
What makes you comfortable with Sanu? You guys were really in a rhythm before he got hurt in November:
AD: "He's a reliable guy. He understands the offense very well. He doesn't have to take the reps in practice for him to know what to do. He understands all the different positions. That's what makes him such a good player. He understands the offense. He understands running routes and getting in windows. He was doing a good job of that when he was playing. Unfortunately he got hurt at the end of the year but that's what makes him the player that he is."
It almost seemed like he was like your security blanket and you could go to him when things were kind of rough:
AD: "A lot of things he showed when we were going through OTAs and early in the season were good but it just took him a while to get his opportunity. When he got his opportunity he played well, but unfortunately it ended with an injury."
When James Harrison was introduced to the media he was asked about you and he said 'I don't have a view. Next question.' With you being a leader, he's a leader, does that move change at all?
AD: "Ever since James has been here, I've had a good relationship with him. I've gone and talked to him and he's come over and talked to me. I've even seen him in the airport and talked to him there. I don't know exactly what he meant by that but I'm sure if you asked him now it would probably be a little bit different."
Obviously Mike Zimmer has done a great job on the other side of the football with top ten finishes in consecutive years. Working against that defense every practice, how much has that affected your evolution as a quarterback in the NFL?
AD: "It's been big. Zim does a lot of different things with all the different blitz packages he does. He doesn't have to because we have a pretty good defensive line. All the things that he does helps me and it helps me get prepared for what other teams do because there's a lot thrown at us."
Talk about Sanu having what I like to call 'a feel.' Tyler Eifert seems to have it. Guys that seemed to have a feel for the game. It's invaluable, isn't it?
AD: "It's huge. You don't have to be the best athlete. You don't have to be the fastest guy or run the best routes if you've got a good feel and you know how to get open. That's the biggest thing. You can say a guy runs the best routes all you want but if he's not getting open, that's what's most important. That's what Mo (Sanu) does. I'm not saying he doesn't run good routes. He does a lot of things really well. Just having that feel for the game is huge."
I don't think anybody here can imagine what it must be like to be a quarterback in the NFL with the pressure and the expectations and the media and everything else. In year three, have you reached a point where it's normal and not a big deal?
AD: "I understand how all of it works. I understand how the media works. I understand what it takes to play the position and what it takes to win at this position. I'm trying to get better all the time. I put enough pressure on myself and I don't worry about what everybody says. I'm confident in my abilities and I'm confident in what I do. I'm ready to get going."