Brian Callahan, Offensive coordinator and James Casey, Tight ends coach
Initial comments ...
Callahan: “We just took Drew Sample, tight end from Washington, with the 52nd pick, and he is a really, really versatile tight end. He’s extremely intelligent. He’s going to play a heavy role for us on offense. He makes our tight end group a little more dynamic with the guys we already have here. We’re really, really excited about Drew, getting him in the building and getting him started.”
Does he give you something that you don’t have in C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Eifert?
Callahan: “He gives is something different than C.J. and Tyler. I think that they all complement each other very well. I think he does a lot of things well. He’s eligible in the pass game, he runs well, he catches well, blocks well, he’s tough, he’s smart — he’s exactly the type of character guy that we want in our locker room and on our team, and he checks all the boxes in that regard. He has a skill set that’s going to bolster our tight end room and make that position more valuable and versatile for us in our system.”
Is he better in one phase or the other or an all-around versatile guy?
Callahan: “I think he’s an all-around versatile guy. I think that’s what makes our system unique is that we don’t necessarily need a dynamic guy one way or the other — we just need a guy that does a lot of things well, and he can do a lot of things well. He will have a role for us, and now he adds a dimension to our office and we can put multiple tight ends on the field as well.
Casey: “I’m very excited getting Drew out of Washington. Like Brian said, he’s a very polished player. He’s got great feet, great technique. When you watch some of these guys go through the process, he stood out to us — to Brian, our entire offensive coaching staff, to Mr. Brown, Duke Tobin, and across the board — everybody loved this guy. We thought he’d be a great fit within the room. I’ve only been here for a short while, but I think we’ve got a lot of great guys in the tight end room, and with the addition of him, he’s going to fit in perfect with our other guys. With our system that we’re running, I think he’s going to fit in with it well. He didn’t catch a ton of passes in college, but some of that was just scheme or what they were doing offensively. He’s a very good blocker. I think he’s going to come in and contribute right away, and of course I’m excited to have him.”
Who would you compare him to?
Casey: “It’s tough, because I do have a guy in mind, but I don’t want to put that on him. I see (Sample) as an extremely solid player. He’s well-rounded, he’s versatile, and you never know — it’s always to be determined — but I can see him playing a long time like some other tight ends in the league that played a long time and do a lot of good things in this league. I do have a guy in mind; I just don’t want to put that on him right now. I just want to let him enjoy the moment, and get here, and I think we’ll see. Hopefully he’s his own guy, and he makes a name for himself.”
Is he a guy you can put in the backfield in an I-Formation and be a lead blocker?
Casey: “He is that kind of guy. He can do a lot of different things in this offense the way we’re going to do it. As a former player, I was in a similar style of system as this, and you want tight ends that can kind of do everything. It’s great to have that pass-catcher guy, but then you’re pigeon-holed where you have to split him out and run routes, and there’s a vulnerability in the run game. You don’t really want just that big, stiff, solid blocker guy, because then he can’t get out and run routes, and you can’t create any kind of mismatches. So, you want that guy that can do it all, and I think he is that guy who can do a lot of different things. He can help you on special teams. He’s going to fit in well with what (Tyler) Eifert can do, what C.J. (Uzomah) can do. With Cethan (Carter) and all the other guys we got in that room, we’ll match well with Brian (Callahan) and the offensive staff, and create ways to get these guys involved.”
Given Andy Dalton’s strength with tight ends, was it a point of emphasis to take one this early?
Callahan: “It wasn’t a point of emphasis; I just know every quarterback likes to have tight ends. They tend to be friendly in the passing game. Quarterbacks do well when they have a lot of tight ends to throw to. Their route tree tends to lend itself to completions. Then some guys can stretch the field and get some plays out of them, the way Eifert has. He was the best offensive player for us for what we needed. We’re always looking to improve that position, with Tyler coming off of injury. He’ll be healthy and ready to roll, but it’s always good to have more tight ends in the room.”
Was the thought process in trading back that he’d be there at No. 52?
Callahan: “There were a number of players we were looking at, either going up to get or trading down. We felt like by moving back the players we had targeted would still be available.”
Did he detach much at Washington?
Casey: “He did just a little bit. Primarily he’s an in-line attached blocking tight end. We do think he’s adequate in the passing game. We saw him at the Senior Bowl run routes and he did a really good job. For what they asked him to do, he did it well. Then we’re looking to see if he can do what we want him to do. He’s a versatile guy that can do a lot of things.”
Do you view this as an insurance policy, given Tyler Eifert’s injury history?
Callahan: “I wouldn’t call it that. I think he’s a really good player. I view him as an addition that will help us. He’s a young player we feel really good about pairing with C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Eifert. He fits a different role than them. He isn’t a replacement or insurance, just an addition to a room that was solid to begin with. I think we improved it quite a bit by adding Drew.”
Do you anticipate running multiple tight end sets?
Callahan: “I wouldn’t say that. I do think we’ll see as we get closer through OTAs and into camp. Making proclamations about style and how we’re going to play is a bit premature at this point. It does open a nice avenue in the playbook. It gives us that option.”
The first two picks clearly emphasize running the ball ...
Callahan: “I think we want to be a dominant run offense. Any piece we can get to do that, we’re all for. This division is notorious for being hard and tough, with the weather and physicality. Its reputation is a physical one, so the more physical we can be, the better. The player’s we’ve added speak to that. You have to run the football in this league; it’s not a secret. These guys help us do that.”
Your first round pick Jonah Williams seems to love football. Does Drew fit that profile?
Callahan: “Yes you’re going to see that right away. There’s certainly a character profile we look for. Both of these young men have that. They’re guys that love football. They’re smart, tough, and dependable. The type of players you want in your locker room. They are definitely character traits we want.”
Tight end, University of Washington
Coaches were extolling the fact that you’re a complete tight end, and can impact the passing game and running game. What do you think you do best?
“One of my biggest strengths obviously is my versatility. I was able to do a lot of different things in college, whether it’s run blocking or pass protection in the pass game. But I think my versatility is one of the big things. My toughness in the run game is also one of my strengths.”
The Bengals have a pretty good history of tight ends and tight end play. Are you aware of the Bengals’ history at all at that position?
“I know they’ve had a couple of good guys recently in the last couple of years. I don’t know if I can say the full history, but I know there have been some good ones to come out of there. I’m definitely excited to be a part of that legacy.”
What were your expectations coming into this draft? Did you have a round in mind where you thought you’d go?
“My family, my agent and I came into it with an open mind. Obviously we had heard some (round) three talks and four talks, but we just didn’t know. We talked to a bunch of teams, and everyone said you really never know where you’re going to go. We were just waiting and were excited for whatever team called, and I’m really excited it’s the Bengals.”
Did you feel a connection with the Bengals? Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and tight ends coach James Casey just talked to us and said they were impressed from the meetings they had with you and working you out. Did you feel that way as well? Did you feel that you were making that big of an impression?
“Yeah, I definitely felt like we had a good meetings at the combine and other times we talked. I’m glad I was able to make a big enough impression for them to draft me, and I’m really excited for the opportunity.”
Did you feel like you were underutilized in the passing game at Washington? Can you provide more than what your stats showed in college?
“Yeah, I feel like I’m a complete player. I had one year of good production, and I think my best football is ahead of me in that regard. I’m definitely excited to showcase my abilities as a complete tight end.”
Do you feel that you sacrificed some of your talent level for the betterment of the team? Do you feel that you’re a team guy in that regard?
“Yeah, I feel like the emblem of our team and of our offense was to pound the rock and then play-action off of that. I definitely took pride in being able to be kind of the focal point in that regard. We used our tight ends in a lot of different ways. I took pride in opening holes for Myles (University of Washington TB Myles Gaskin) and our other running backs. I’ll do whatever I can obviously to help the team, but that was what I was able to do at Washington for sure.”
When you were on the grease board with them, going over their potential offensive concepts, and they were checking your intelligence, were you impressed with what they may involve the tight end in and what that role might be in Cincinnati?
“Definitely. I think that’s one of the things with my versatility. We did a lot of things with the tight ends at Washington. I’m excited for that because it’s something I love. It’s one of the reasons I like playing the positon. I feel like we could do a lot of different things, and they’ve had some pretty good players that have been able to do that. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
What kind of interactions did you have with James Casey?
“I think we met at the combine and he was obviously in our meetings at the combine. For him, it was just about being able to connect and show him my football intelligence, and just try to show him the type of player I was and the type of person I am. Obviously I think I made an impact there. I’m really excited to get to work with him.”
One thing that he referenced right away was your football IQ. He played tight end in the NFL, so as a rookie you have a guy with that experience to learn from. How big of a factor is that in your favor?
“That’s huge, being coached by a guy who’s been there and knows how the game should be played. Obviously he can bring a lot to the table, so I’m definitely excited to learn from him. I’m going to try to be able to learn as much as I can from him because I think he’s a great coach. I’m excited.”
How much do you know about the Bengals? Have you seen the Bengals play much? You’re a west coast guy, but have you seen much of them on television?
“Yeah, I definitely watched them a couple of times. Obviously Ross (Bengals WR John Ross) is there, so I’ve seen a couple of games. I’ve seen them a couple of times, so I’m definitely excited. I know you guys have some weapons on offense, so I’m excited to be a part of that.”
You have the unique opportunity to be a first-year player with all these first-year coaches here in Cincinnati trying to build this thing back up. Do you kind of look at that as a cool thing, to come here and be part of the change that’s going to get this team back to where they want to go?
“Yeah, definitely. I was able to be a part of that at Washington with Coach Pete’s (Washington head coach Chris Peterson) first class, and he built the program back up that way. It’s definitely something I’ve helped be a part of, and it’s something pretty special. Whatever way I can help the coaches with the Bengals, I’m excited about that.”
What do you have going on right now, in terms of a draft party? Are you in Bellevue?
“Yeah, I’m in Bellevue with my wife and my family. We’re all really excited and ecstatic. It was awesome.”
How long have you been married?
“I got married July 22. Not too long ago. Last summer. It’s been amazing so far.”
You come in with the background of being a tenacious blocker. 49ers TE George Kittle kind of came in that way. Has anyone dropped that comparison on you with how your game could project in the NFL, as far as coming in as a blocker and being able to blossom as a pass catcher that way?
“I haven’t really heard that, but I think it’s something pretty cool. Obviously he’s bloomed into a really special player, so I definitely think I can continue to grow in the pass game and do whatever I can to get on the field and try to help the team win. Hopefully if it presents itself, it’d be awesome to come out like that. I’m just excited and I’m going to learn as much as I can and help the team in any way I can.”