DARRIN SIMMONS - Special teams coordinator
PAUL ALEXANDER - Assistant head coach/offensive line coach
JIM HASLETT - Linebackers coach
Darrin, what are your thoughts on Jake? Obviously it's been a while since the Bengals have drafted a place kicker ...
Simmons: "That's a good thing to not have to draft kickers a whole lot. He's not going to scare anyone with his size, that's for sure, but he has a very powerful leg. It showed up a couple times — it showed up on video, his college video, it showed up at the combine, and it really showed up at the workout I had with him down in Memphis. He was a four-year starter down there. He's got pretty good accuracy. He's got makes over 50 yards each year. The thing that really impressed me is his mental makeup. He's very steady. He had a lot of interest. I think he's a very stable. The thing that really showed up was the kickoffs. The kickoffs really pushed him out above those other three guys. The kickoffs were fantastic. He can drive the ball up in the air for hang time, or he can drive it down the field for touchbacks. He can do a lot of different things."
With respect to the overall draft picture, you've drafted a lot of speed, and that speed hopefully filters down to special teams ...
Simmons: "Yeah, this is like Christmas. In that regard, John (Ross) is obviously somebody that I watched. I think he scored four times on kickoff returns. The things that really show up with him, and the thing we haven't had in a long time, is that top speed. He'll get a chance to come in and compete and see what we got. (Joe) Mixon is the same thing. Mixon scored on a kickoff return this past year, so he's got that ability as well. It's been very good that way."
Drafting Jake Elliott so high, does he come in as the starter or is it still a competition?
Simmons: "I think he comes in and competes for us. It's a fifth-round pick. It's not a second-round pick, like the kid got drafted last year (Roberto Aguayo; Tampa Bay), so I think it's a little different. He'll get a chance to come in and compete with Randy (Bullock). I know Randy's going to compete his tail off, and it'll be good to have both those guys come in and go against each other. Competition always brings out the best in everybody, so this will be the same way."
Did you work out Zane Gonzalez at all? And what tipped it in Elliot's way?
Simmons: "Like I expressed earlier, the kickoffs really set it apart. Zane came in with a lot of fanfare. Honestly, they are all three really good guys — him, (Harrison) Butler from Georgia Tech, and Jake. All three are fantastic kickers, and I would have been happy to take any of them. Like I said, what pushed Jake out in front was his ability to kick off. Zane's got more career made field goals than anybody in college football history, but kicking in our climate here is a little different than kicking out west like he got to do in Arizona. The kickoffs are what set it apart for me."
Jordan Evans' dad, Scott, was a former NFL defensive lineman. Do bloodlines matter at all when evaluating prospects?
Haslett: "Obviously his father played in the NFL, and he was raised here in Cincinnati. He moved to Norman. I didn't know that when he came in here. That brought more excitement to him and his family. He's excited about coming back. He's an excellent football player, and one of the better cover guys I've seen in a long time. He had four picks last year, and two for touchdowns. He probably should have had two more for touchdowns. He has good athletic skills, and is fast. He can help Darrin right away. He's about 6'3, 230. He's athletic and can run. He's not a polished guy. He has to use his hands better to get off blocks, play a little better in the run game, and be more physical. In that division (Big 12 Conference), they run about 100 plays a game, so you're going to have a lot of zone reads. It's a little different in this league. I like his makeup. I spent a lot of time with him here. I like his athleticism, and I think he's very smart. He's a good pickup for us, especially at that round."
Do you think his pass-rushing skills will translate to this level?
Haslett: "He's more of a 'stack backer.' He has cover ability. He had 2.5 sacks last year, but I wouldn't say that's what he does best. What he does best is coverage skills. He can run with tight ends, he's a good zone defender, and he understands coverages. He has great hands too."
What did you like about J.J. Dielman's fight? Was it his multi-position versatility?
Alexander: "We had an interesting day up in the draft room. All three of us (Alexander, Haslett, Simmons) wanted the guys, so we decided to arm wrestle over it (laughs). Haslett and I went at it first, and I beat the count and pinned him. I had to cheat. Then Darrin and I went off and Darrin beat my butt, and he got the kicker (laughs). As it turned out, all three of us got exactly the guy we wanted. That happened with us the whole draft. There's a lot of happy coaches and management people up there. The way this draft fell, we love the guys we got, and that's great for the Bengals.
"Dielman will fit in with the guys we have. He's a big, tough, physical, smart guy that has a passion for football. I like him. He can play center, guard, and a little tackle. He's a versatile guy."
Four offensive linemen have been drafted out of Utah this year ...
Alexander: "Yes. If he were the fifth, I'd feel bad (laughs)."
So he passed his medical checks?
Alexander: "He's fine. He just broke his foot and they put a screw in it. I worked out with him out in Utah. He's fine."
Do you think he's comfortable playing anywhere on the line?
Alexander: "I think he's versatile. He only played (five) games at center before he broke his foot. He looked like a guy who was just learning how to play center. However, you could pull out plays on tape that made you say, 'Whoa, this guy has some talent.' As an inside player, that will be his strength."
Is this a draft where you've been able to grab guys that had higher grades than their draft positions?
Alexander: "I think we knocked it out pretty good."
First kicker off the board. Was that anything important to you in any way?
"I was just excited to go anywhere. I've talked to Coach Simmons for a while now and thought this might be a possibility. For them to come to snag me in the fifth was an honor, and I'm excited to be a Bengal."
Did they tell you that you were at the top of their board? What were those conversations like with Coach Simmons and the people here?
"I talked to him (throughout) the process, and he basically told me that I was a guy that they liked, but we really didn't know what round they were thinking of or if they were even thinking about me. You never know what's going on behind the scenes with other guys. It was a crazy process, but it obviously ended up the way I wanted it to."
There's obviously a competition in camp and the job isn't going to be handed to you. But being drafted in the fifth round gives you a leg up. The other two components, holder and punter, have been here a long time. The deep snapper has been here a long time. So two thirds of the components of your kicking game have experience with each other. How big of an advantage is that as a rookie?
"It's awesome. Having veterans there to learn from is going to give me a huge leg up. I'm just looking forward to camp and to competing. I know the job isn't going to just be handed to me, but I'm looking forward to competing."
Were you in a kicker competition at Memphis at any point?
"I was in a slight one my freshman year, but besides that the job has been basically mine. I love going to the camps that I go to in the summer and training like that — competing with the other guys. Definitely love that environment."
Had you ever met Coach Simmons before this year
"Not before this year, no."
You've kicked in Paul Brown Stadium before. Do you remember it?
"I don't recall a whole lot. It was a while ago, like my freshman or sophomore year. Definitely a cool stadium. I remember it was right on the river from when we pulled up to it."
Do you have a relationship with Stephen Gostkowski?
"I do, I actually just got off the phone with him. He's been a mentor along the way for me a little bit. He's another guy I can reach out to, and he can offer me any advice I need."
What kind of advice has he given you so far about kicking in the league?
"Just keeping a level head, and that everything is a competition. Just offering me any advice or talking about any (uncomfortable difficulties) I might have."
It's a pressure league when it comes to kicks a lot of times, as it can come down to it. Do you like those moments?
"Love those moments. That's what you have to live for as a kicker. You live for that last drive to come down to you. You live and die by those moments. Those are the reasons I do it."
What's the longest kick you've ever had in practice or a game? What's the longest you've ever hit?
"I've gone out to like 70 (yards), but that's with a little bit of wind, and stuff like that."
Are you a big hang time guy with kickoffs and long kicks?
"That's something that's definitely improved. I shoot for anything from a 4.2 to a 4.3 hang time and try and get it to the back (of the end zone). I know there's probably some other schemes that I'll pick up along the way as I'm learning throughout camp."
What's your reaction to extra points being 35-yard field goals in the NFL?
"Yeah, nothing is given at that point. You have to be as accurate as you can every time you go out there. It definitely adds another element to it, but those are your money kicks right there."
How did you become a kicker?
"Long story. I was a big tennis player and I was messing around with my friends just kicking field goals and playing pick-up football. At a pep rally my freshman year in high school, one of the coaches saw me kicking in some crazy competition and offered for me to come out. I kind of brushed it off, but my junior year rolled around and someone from the football team came and grabbed me from the tennis courts. So I decided to go out a week or two before the season and had a great year. Everything kind of rolled from there."
"Thank you very much. I appreciate it."
What was this process like in terms of medicals?
"I didn't start looking at any of that stuff until our season was over. And once that was over, we had to make a game plan on when my surgery would be, how that was going to work and if I was going to be invited to the combine. But I have had a great support staff, great trainers that helped me out. I had a great surgeon, my agent did a great job, my family and friends. I'm really lucky to be where I was at, in my senior year, and to be here now. I couldn't be more blessed."
Can you break down your injury timeline?
"I broke it the first of October (2016), and then had surgery the sixth of October that next Friday. And from then on, I was waiting to heal up, and then doing some rehab. So then it was like, 'Do I take my screws out early and maybe possibly be ready for the combine, or do I keep my screws in and guarantee my health, be ready for rookie mini camp and possibly not take part in the combine?' We took that (risk), just because we come here to play football, not run around at the combine. That was a tough decision obviously, but it was what had to be done. Then, a week after my pro day, I took my screws out and from there it was rehab. I'm feeling as close to 100 percent as any football player in this draft can be. I'm ready to go."
Will you be ready next weekend for rookie mini-camp, or will you wait for training camp?
"I'll be in contact with the training staff in Cincinnati, but as of now I feel great and I feel like I'm ready to play ball. But if that's not the smartest decision to be ready by the season, we will move forward from there."
Have the Bengals told you where you are going to play?
"We haven't gotten too deep as to where and what I'm going to play, but I would assume center and the interior position. But I've spent time at tackle too, so I am down to play wherever, just as long as I play on the O-Line."
Where do you feel most comfortable playing?
"I've gotten really comfortable at both spots, believe it or not. I played two years at tackle. I feel good there. I played five games at center, and jumped on that steep learning curve. So I feel good at both spots, and I'm willing to play wherever."
Did you play guard?
"I practiced a lot of guard my first three years, but I have never gotten a rep as a guard in any game."
Was it a steep learning curve playing at center?
"The calls and more of the offensive scheme stuff was the easiest part for me. It was more of the technique and adjusting to playing the interior guys, as opposed to exterior guys on the D-Line. The scheme part was something I picked up fairly early."
Did you know the Bengals were considering drafting you?
"I did have a feeling I might end up there because I trained out there in Cincinnati and went for a visit there this past month. So I guess it just feels right to get drafted by them as well."
Where did you train in Cincinnati — Ignition APG?
You have Cincinnati ties, in regard to your upbringing, correct?
"Yes sir. My dad (Scott) is originally from Cincinnati and lived there up until right before he went to high school and moved to Oklahoma. But he's originally from Cincinnati."
Your dad was a three-time Big Eight all-team defensive tackle, right? He lived in Cincinnati for how long?
"(He lived here) until seventh or eighth grade."
What is the best part of your game you can bring immediately to the team?
"My athleticism. I feel like it's something a lot of the coaches like. I'm versatile, whether it's helping on special teams, at any position (among the) linebackers, any of that. I think I have good character too, so I'm a good fit as far as getting out there and getting ready to go to work."
Dropping into coverage and defending the pass seems to be a plus for you. Do you agree?
"Yes sir. I definitely agree with that because I used to play defensive back in high school, so I just kind of transitioned over (to linebacker) when I went to college."
You were teammates with Joe Mixon at the University of Oklahoma — what was your relationship like with him, and are you excited to be with him again now as Bengals draft picks?
"Most definitely. Me and Joe are real good friends. Actually, he just called me about 10, 15 minutes ago, and we were just having a good time on the phone laughing saying it's crazy we're teammates again. I'm looking forward to linking back up with him when I get there."
What's your perspective on how Joe has handled things with his incident?
"I think Joe handled it very well, especially with what he had to go through at such a young age, and at the same time dealing with all his school stuff. We all know Joe. I always speak very highly about Joe, and I'm glad he got an opportunity. I know he won't disappoint anybody."
You must be about the 50th captain the Bengals have drafted this year. What kind of a leader are you?
"I'm an on-the-field and off-the-field leader. I lead by example. I try to do everything right, whether it's working hard, practicing or in the film room and off the field, I try to live right and do the right thing. Plus, I'm a playmaker, and guys like to follow playmakers."
The AFC North is a physical, run-oriented division. Do you think the style of play here is going to be a challenge for you, or do you look forward to playing that type of football?
"Nah, I definitely look forward to that. I play linebacker, so I feel like that just suits me even more. You get to be more involved, and I'm just ready to go out there and play."