Defensive end, Notre Dame
When did you have an idea that the Bengals might have interest in drafting you? Have you known for a while, or was this a bit of a surprise?
"It's a little bit of a surprise. I talked to them very briefly early in the process, but not really much coming around draft time."
Talk about the good news of being drafted. You're from Detroit, which has been hit hard by the virus, so a little bit of good news helps on a day like today…
"Yeah, definitely. Being a Midwest guy, it's definitely good to stay home. Cincinnati is only like four or five hours away, so it's close enough for my family to come see me play. I'm just excited for the opportunity."
There's kind of a checklist of things Bengals coaching staff is looking for from the players it drafts — smart, leader, team captain. It looks like you're a coach's son as well. Would you say you check all those boxes?
"Yeah, I would say so. I feel like the leader, definitely. Being a captain at Notre Dame, that's something I definitely take a lot of pride in. That's player-voted, so that just shows in the eyes of my peers that I was a guy they looked up to. That's definitely something I took close to heart – leading a bunch of guys trying to be the best for them – and for myself at the end of the day."
In the pre-draft process, what are some things you worked on technically to prepare yourself for the next level?
"I feel like the biggest thing technically I worked on was just more the X's and O's. I did a lot of board work. I tore my labrum against Duke, and then had surgery early in the draft process in January, so I wasn't really able to do a lot of things physically. I took that time to grow in the mental aspect."
What is the biggest asset to your game?
"I would just say the effort. I never really give up on a play. Even if I fall down, I'm still getting up and trying to make a play. There's been numerous times in my career when I've made plays like that. Also, I feel like my preparation and the time I put into football. Being a coach's kid, I was always around football a lot. Once I was on my own in college, I really took that time to take it upon myself to really develop my game. I spent a lot of hours in the facility either late at night, after practice or before practice. I feel like preparation is one of the biggest things for me."
What's one thing your dad gave you, from a coach's perspective, that's served you well through your career?
"I would say taking constructive criticism. If I can take criticism from him, I can take it from anyone. I feel like that's the biggest thing that helped me."
How far are you removed from labrum surgery? What's the timeline on being back?
"I'm at about 75 percent right now — 13 weeks out. I'll be 100% ready to go right before training camp."
Is that a Fat Head poster of yourself behind you?
"(Laughs) It is. My dad had it made for me."
Not many people have a big picture of themselves in their bedroom…
"It's something I kind of got used to. My dad, he made one from high school and I got one for college. I got to see how I changed, as far as stature. It ties it all in, with how far I've come in my career."
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was raving about your wingspan. How has that helped you in your play?
"It's something I've been trying to put to my game. My stabs, my long arms — they help me a lot. A lot of guys aren't used to seeing that length, when it comes to a pass rusher. When I get my opportunity, I try to leave my mark."
What did you do to pass the time before getting picked, and how did you react to getting the news?
"I was waiting yesterday; I thought possibly there was a chance I'd get picked. I was sitting around with my family, and had a few teammates over to enjoy the atmosphere. Today, I was thinking, 'Today's the day.' When I got the call, I was refilling my dog's food and water. I didn't expect it at the time, but I was definitely excited when I got the call."
Are there any players in the NFL you model your game after?
"One guy who I really like is Chandler Jones. He has great length, puts in the effort, and he's a technician. That's a guy who I really look up to, as far as pass-rushing goes."
What has Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly meant for your life?
"He gave me the opportunity to go to Notre Dame, and it changed my life. I definitely appreciate it. I can't thank him enough."
You were a business major at Notre Dame? Have you graduated?
"Yes sir. I graduated in December of 2019."
What do you like about Kareem, and do you view him more as an outside linebacker or defensive end?
"Yeah, I think (he's) another guy that brings us some flexibility. He did both at Norte Dame. I see him as a defensive end to start where we can, when we're in our sub-defense and he's out there securing the edges. At this point in the draft, when you can get a guy that's big, as tall and as long (as he is) — this guy's got an 84-inch wing span — had 13 or so sacks in his career, was a captain at Notre Dame last year, and has pass rush ability in the fifth round ... those are traits that we like."
Seems like everyone you're drafting has been a team captain and is seemingly building a strong locker room culture ...
"Yeah it helps. Those guys, anytime you've got guys that were leaders in college, that lends itself to being a better leader in the pros. And (especially) at a place like Notre Dame, which obviously is what it is (with him). We're very excited about him."
You went with Kareem over some other defensive ends that were available. What did you like about him more than other prospects?
"When you're talking about the length that the kid has — 34 and 3/8-inch arms, 84-inch wingspan — that's rare, and that can come into play in a lot of ways, (such as) separation from O-linemen, knocking balls down at the line of scrimmage, and just his overall play and makeup as the (player). We liked some of those other guys as well, but we just put this guy a little bit above (them)."
Did he interview with you at the Senior Bowl?
"We got a chance to do a Zoom (interview) — we have Zoomed with everybody. We got a chance to get around and visit him that way, so we felt good about the communication and how we did there. It was all good. (Defensive line coach) Nick Eason got with him some as well."
Your scheme was a bit of a hybrid last season. Are you drafting personnel that will fit what your scheme will be this year, with diverse, versatile guys?
"I think the less we can be pigeonholed into one thing, we'll be better (for it). Certainly, we're not an outlier when it comes to, 'Hey, we've some 3-4 (scheme) guys that can do certain things.' But, as always go back to, 70 percent of the time, you going to be in some kind of nickel defense with a four-down structure, and you want to be able to keep multiple (options open), so this guy lends to that as well."
You can do different things without having to substitute personnel then ...
"Trying to, yeah, if we can. We'll see how it all plays out. You don't know, but again, it goes back to you look for traits at this point in the draft that you can develop, and I don't care how long we stay out on the practice field, you can't coach length and size and speed. That's what we liked (about him)."
How fast is he?
"He ran a 4.85 (in the 40 yard dash), I believe."
You signed five free agents, and you have drafted some defensive players this weekend. Can you talk about how the talent on defense has been transformed?
"It was over the last few years — obviously, (I) got here late (in the hiring time period) last year — but, as I said since I've gotten here, this has been a proud place when it comes to defense for a long, long time, and it hasn't been (great) that way the last few years. Some of the players are getting older — whatever the reasons (may have been for that) — but part of it is (that) it's our job to evaluate talent and get younger bodies in here that can compete for spots, and who ends up starting will play itself out. Our job is to get a pool (in which) to create competition, and then the best guys will bubble up and play. We're doing that both with free agents, and the draft."
With players getting older, is this draft, along with the free agents, going to help in terms of load management on the field?
"I think so, yeah. I think so. I don't have any doubt that this guy will take snaps (from other) guys. And you know, especially early in the season when it's hot, you don't want them out there for 50 and 60 plays (anyway). Now, you get much, much better players if everybody's in the 30s and 40s (in terms of plays), as opposed to one guy in the 60s and 70s. That's the goal."