Zac Taylor, Head coach | Brian Callahan, Offensive Coordinator | Jim Tuner, Offensive Line Coach
Initial comments ...
Taylor: "I have Brian Callahan and Jim Turner up here with me. So we took Jonah Williams, tackle from Alabama. We're very excited. We thought highly of Jonah ever since this process started — starting at the combine from the first interview. Obviously his tape speaks for itself, so it's a really exciting addition to our offense and to our offensive line room. High football IQ, great football character, the game means to much to him, and that's the type of player we're looking to add to this team. Fire away."
Was versatility a big thing at left tackle? Obviously he can play anywhere ...
Taylor: "Exactly. He's played three years in the best conference in all of (college) football. He's done a great job at left tackle for them. Certainly he can play guard. He has great flexibility here, so he enables us to get our five best linemen on the field. So we're excited to get him into the mix."
Were you envisioning him being here? Do you have a plan of what that could be right now?
Taylor: "Absolutely. Let's get him in the building and get it all sorted out with these linemen, but we do have a great plan in place. He's a guy that we were really excited about. He fell to us, quite frankly. So we felt like it really worked out in our favor."
Is he going to play left tackle in the future in this league? Is that where he should be?
Taylor: "Yeah, he has three years of tape to prove that he can compete against the best. That's his most natural position, and he's done a great job there. Again, he gives us a lot of flexibility coming into this building."
How many mock drafts did you do where he slid to you?
Taylor: "That's hard to answer. I think with picking at 11 this year, it could have sorted out in a lot of different ways. (There were) 17 or 18 prospects that could've all gone in the top 10, depending on what the needs were for teams. We're happy that Jonah fell down to 11."
Was there surprise overall that no offensive lineman was taken until the 11th pick in the draft? Coach Turner, were you surprised by that?
Turner: "Yeah, I was surprised by it. I didn't know that he would be there at 11. I'm obviously very excited that he was."
Was there any consideration for trading back with all of the linemen still available at 11?
Taylor: "You're happy when your guy is there. You want to make sure that you can grab him. But you're right, there are a lot of good offensive linemen that people hold in high regard. But Jonah was there, so we grabbed him."
What was the most unusual thing that's happened so far in the draft?
Taylor: "It's hard for me to say, because everybody views these players differently in each building. I wouldn't say there were any surprises necessarily. Never surprised when people take quarterbacks. How many have gone so far? Two, I believe? It'll be interesting to follow."
Coach Turner, can you describe what you like about him?
Turner: "Out of all the positions in any sport, I think chemistry in the offensive line rooms is one of the biggest — especially on football teams. That chemistry in that room is a big part of the success or failure of that offense. The head coach (Zac Taylor) made a great point in our draft meetings about this young man that we just drafted — Jonah Williams — and what he can bring to the table, and I felt the same thing. All we kept coming back to was his character. And obviously with the talent and all the things he brings to the table, and the production of blocking everybody in the SEC the way that he did. There's other guys that can block well too. But then when you put the character in (which) is an A+, he is a great fit for any line room. We are really excited to have him in the building."
He's only 302 pounds, but he's a pretty good athlete. Is that a big part of what he brings to the table?
Turner: "A phenomenal athlete. When we went to work him out down there at Alabama... The thing you've got to remember is he blocks everybody in the SEC. So you always go back to these little pieces on players, and you're like, 'Well, this isn't good. This isn't good physically.' But then when you watch the tape, if he blocks all the best players in the country that are getting picked in the first round, he's a first round pick, and he's going to be able to do it at this level. Again, we're very excited. He played at Alabama, so not only is he blocking everybody in the SEC, he blocks everybody in practices, and practices against some of the best players in the country every day. So, it's a big part of why he is the polished player that he is."
And he's coached hard too, right?
Turner: "And he's hard coached. Yes he is."
How important was the interview with the evaluation of Jonah, as far as knowing somebody that can be kind of a pillar of the locker room. You've talked a lot about culture, is this somebody who can be kind of representative of that for you?
Taylor: "You're right about that. We're looking for people with the right character. Obviously they need to be talented and good enough to be a first-round pick to come in and play. We want guys with the right mentality. We want guys that have a championship mindset, are driven by their future success every single day, and are trying to improve themselves. In getting to know Jonah, we had him at the interview, and we went down and worked him out at the Pro Day. The more you spend time with him, he's got that championship mindset, which is clear — he's competed for many championships while he was there. He's always gotten the most out of his ability. We're really excited about this pick."
What's the mood in the room when a division rival jumps 10 spots to pick right in front of you?
Taylor: "That Jonah Williams is right there at 11 (laughs)."
But you didn't expect Pittsburgh to go offensive line, right?
Taylor: "I suspected that's what they were going to do, which is how it sorted out. When it's one spot ahead of you, with a division rival ... We knew there was a guy we were targeting right there at 11, so that was encouraging for us."
With all the talk about potential trades and jockeying for position for quarterbacks, it turns out that it was a linebacker that was the object of that trade right in front of you...
Taylor: "You just never know in the draft."
You just never know what's going to shake down, right?
Taylor: "No. You never know. Never know."
Do you expect we'll see you again in the first round?
Taylor: "Never say never (laughs)."
Offensive tackle, Alabama
What was this night like for you, from sitting there waiting until walking to the podium?
"It's wild. Obviously, the waiting was tough. It's hard to be patient at the time, but as soon as you see the call from the 513 area code, all that dissolved. All I could think about was getting to work and being a part of a team."
What did you think about your interactions with offensive line coach Jim Turner?
"I think he is great. I had interactions with him at the combine, and then again at my pro day. I liked the attitude he had. I think it suits me — suits the work ethic and the nasty attitude I want to bring."
What is your mindset about playing different positions on the offensive line?
"That's fine. Hey, they picked me. They wanted me to be a part of their team, and I want to be part of that team. I want to be on the O-line. I just want to be out there competing. I will play any position they want me to play."
What was your sense of the Cincinnati Bengals' interest in you?
"It's pretty normal. It's tough in this process because you never know who might be smoke-screening or who might be doing this or that. But, it was pretty good interest. I had great meetings with coach Turner and with (head) coach (Zac) Taylor, so I had my hopes they had the same interest in me."
Did you get into any technique conversations with coach Turner?
"He coached at Texas A&M, so he knows what it takes to compete in the SEC West, and that is some of the same stuff it takes to compete in the NFL. We will see about the intricate details, but I am willing to learn and adapt to whatever he coaches."
What does it mean to be the first offensive tackle selected in the 2019 draft?
"It means a lot. That is the most I can ask for as an offensive lineman. As a competitor, you want to be first. I think the other tackles and linemen are great, and they are going to do great things. But as a competitor, you want to be the first one taken. But like I said, none of that matters. I am a Cincinnati Bengal and I am ready to get to work."
What's your answer to people saying you are too small at 302 pounds?
"I think everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and if you are 320, you may have more trouble moving than I do at the 305 or 302 range. What I feel sets me apart is my preparation — the way I go about doing things. I don't have rose-tinted glasses. I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and I know how to improve. I want to break down my opponents. How can I use my strengths to exploit their weakness, and how can I prepare for their strengths? You have four months during the draft process, and just think about all those things. But when it gets down to it, they drafted me to play football, and that is all I want to do."
Teams have been studying you. How about vice-versa? Were you looking at certain teams?
"That is more on my agent to field those questions and put out the feelers to see who wants certain positions and where. I wasn't really doing a lot of that. I just wanted to prepare myself so whoever did take me was going to get the best version of myself."
Coaches raved about your intangibles during the press conference. Where did that come from?
"I had great support in my life. My family has always been really supportive. They taught me that nothing is given, and you had to work for everything. I had great coaches along the way from high school to college and mentors that have shaped me into that. All of that was the drive within myself. I was walking to my middle school weight room at five in the morning trying to get workouts in the seventh grade. That is kind of who I am. I was driven to do that. I had great people around me."
For clarification, you were going to the weight room in the seventh grade at five in the morning?
"Yep. They opened at six, so I waited outside the door until the coach came and opened it up."
What was your bench in the seventh grade?
"Probably low 200's"
Is that when you started working out?
"I think sixth or seventh grade. I played every sport growing up, and then I realized there were a couple of sports I loved, and I wanted to do whatever it takes to be better than everybody at those sports. As a competitor, I wanted to be better than everyone else. I wasn't doing anything until school starts at 8, so I might as well do something to get better."
How long of a walk was that?
"It wasn't bad, honestly. It was about a 15-minute walk. But I ended up building a weight room in my basement because the weight room (at school) wasn't always open in the summer and over Christmas break. So there's a weight room of two by fours, metal poles and Craigslist weights."
What's the name of the school, and what town?
"Maynard School in Atlanta; that's where I was raised in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, and then I moved to California and went to two different high schools out there."
Who is the best player you've played against?
"There are a handful of guys from my freshman year from practice — Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen, guys like that. There are great defensive lines in the SEC West. You never have a week off, and I think that's similar to the NFL — everyone is good, and there are no cupcake games. No off weeks (in the SEC) — LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Georgia. They all have great defensive lines. We played Clemson every year, and they had two guys taken in the top 15. I feel like I'm well-prepared, and that will have to continue in the NFL."
Did you go against Carl Lawson?
"I did. My freshman year. He's a stud. He has great hands, great bend. He's a really good player."
Are there left tackles you've emulated your game after?
"Obviously, the long-time guy would be Joe Thomas. But a guy currently playing is Joe Staley. He's a guy I tried to emulate, and I had a chance to work with him in the training process."
What do you know about the Bengals?
"I'm excited what's going on. Obviously there's Coach Taylor being an offensive-minded guy, with all the success he had with the quarterbacks at the Rams. I'm impressed by that, and I want to be a part of that and kind of the 'new-look Bengals.' I had great meetings with coach Turner (Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner). I like what he's about and what he's teaching. I have a lot more to learn. I've never been to Cincinnati, but my impression of it is that I think it's going to be a perfect fit, with the hard-working, tough-guy mentality. I love that."
Do you feel pressure to make an impact on the offensive line?
"It's just an opportunity for me to come in and play. I have nothing but respect for the veterans and the guys that are there. My goal is to come in there and compete, and be a good teammate. Help the team by my own actions. I'm not going to come in and be a big 'rah-rah' guy. I'm just grateful for the opportunity, and I hope the way I work rubs off on people in a good way."
Was this a dream of yours back in the seventh grade?
"Absolutely. That's where I set my sights. I wanted to be the best of the best of the best, and that's what it is in the NFL. I had signs hanging up in my room and in the weight room I built, with just the percentage of high school players that get full scholarships to go to college and the percentage of college players to get drafted into the NFL and play how many years. It's just a small percentage. I know I'm talented, but it's going to take a lot more than that. I just wanted to outwork everyone, because I know how slim those percentages are. That's why I'm so honored and grateful to be here."
Did you come from a sports family?
"My parents played sports in high school. We grew up a big sports family. We were always watching football. I started playing in the second or third grade, and I fell in love with it. I played every sport. I threw shot-put and discus in high school. What was different about football was being on a team. It's different than throwing shot or discus by yourself, but it's also that physical, nasty mentality that you can bring. You can only throw a shot so angrily. When it comes to football, it's a channel for all that competitiveness and physicality. I kind of circled football as something I wanted to do, and it just grew into my passion."
Who dropped you off in the mornings when you went to the weight room so early? Was it your mom or dad?
"They would have (dropped me off) if I'd asked them to, but I didn't want them to. I like the idea of getting up with my alarm before anyone else was up, putting on my headphones, putting on a hoody and walking over to the school. My sister was driving to school at that point, and she was three years older than me, so she would keep a duffel bag with my school uniform in her trunk. I would load it up the night before, and I'd pick it up from her in the morning. My parents were always extremely supportive and they offered plenty of times to drive me, but I told them no. I wanted to do this on my own. That's what gets me excited about it."