Zac Taylor Head coach and Jonah Williams Offensive tackle, Alabama
Initial comments ...
Taylor: "Meet Jonah. Like I said yesterday, the things we really liked about Jonah were that he played tackle at one of the premier universities in college football. He played against some of the best competition every single day and every single weekend. He's always been driven, since the time he was in middle school. We're all aware of the stories that have followed him. The guy is a winner, the guy is a competitor, and he brings a championship mindset to this team that we so desire. We're really excited to have him. He gives us the ability to really have some flexibility up front on the offensive line and get our best five players out there. Really excited that he came to us at No. 11. Everybody in this building is excited to have him and we look forward to having him get to work here in two weeks. He'll have to head home after the draft here and he can come back. We'll have the rookie minicamp two weeks from now, so not next weekend, it'll be the weekend following that. It'll be the first time that Jonah and the other rookies can come in and then they can stay here for the long term. With that, I'm going to turn it over to Jonah, and I'm going to head out."
What do you think is your biggest strength or biggest thing you bring to an organization?
Williams: "I think it's just my competitiveness. It's the way I go about doing things. I try to approach everything the same way, whether it's walkthroughs, lifting weights or watching film. I always want to push that and make sure that, when I step on the field, I know I've done everything in my ability to be as prepared as I can be. I think it's just that professionalism and the type of competitiveness I bring."
Have any Bengals players reached out to you yet? Have you heard from anybody?
Williams: "Yeah, I've heard from Andy (Dalton), Joe Mixon and Billy Price. It's awesome to hear (from them) right off the bat. These are my future teammates, and that's my goal — to come in, buy into the team and be a great teammate. That's what is most important to me right now."
Have any University of Alabama alumni on the Bengals reached out?
Williams: "I know about Dre (Kirkpatrick being here), but haven't heard from him yet. It's just really cool to be a part of this team."
Are you going to go out to dinner with Bengals QB Andy Dalton tonight? I know he's done that in the past. It's a good free meal. Did you get that set up yet?
Williams: "(Laughs) Yeah, I think that's the plan right now, so I'm looking forward to that."
I'm sure you've been looking forward to this for a long time. Was the moment you got drafted everything you thought it was going to be when it took place?
Williams: "It was surreal. I'm still not sure that it was real. It could have been a dream. It's just so exciting. As soon as the Bengals were on the clock, I was hoping that my phone was going to ring. As soon as it did, and I saw the Cincinnati area code, I just starting nudging everyone around me. I was like, 'Look, look, look!' I didn't have any words to say. I was just so ecstatic, and it hasn't really settled yet. I'm still just grateful and humbled for this opportunity, and I can't say 'thank you' enough to this organization."
The Bengals were pretty surprised you were there at No. 11. They thought you'd go earlier. Did you have any conversations or any dialogue with teams that made you think you'd go earlier as well?
Williams: "Sure, I think that's part of the process, which is just trying to get a feel for where you might end up. I definitely knew the Bengals were a possibility at 11, so I was preparing myself. As soon as it came around to that pick, it kind of hit me how good of a fit I feel that it is. I love the culture here, and I love this organization. The new coaching staff is great. I'm just proud to be a part of it."
What do you like about the culture? I know you just got here, but do you think you have a handle on it?
Williams: "Coach Taylor coming from that Rams offense, which has been so prolific. And his forward thinking, the way he's able to (help) players make plays, to get people open in space, to utilize their talents, to exploit the defense — that's something that's unique to him. (Offensive line) coach (Jim) Turner (too), and what he was able to do at (Texas) A&M, having coached in the SEC West. There are philosophical similarities that we have. Also, it's exciting to be on the ground floor with a new (coaching) staff. Being a rookie with a new staff, it feels like we're all on the ground floor. So, just buying into this, and seeing where it takes us."
Obviously you check all of the boxes with the intangibles. As a football player, what do you think your strengths are? Is it your technique, your strength? What is it?
Williams: "I think I'm talented, athletic and strong. I think it all circles around to those. ... My approach to the game and my practice habits. I'm really a perfectionist with my technique. That's something I hang my hat on, which is just being able to go on the field and know that I know exactly what I need to do to beat the guy across from me. At the end of the day, it's O-line. I can talk about all these numbers, stats and (other) things I try to keep, but at the end of the day, you have to go on the field and block someone. So that's what I build my whole game around — making sure when I go to do that, I'm as ready as I can be."
Who taught you to break down film? Was it when you got to Alabama? Or had you already been taught in high school? When did you really start to focus on who your opponents were and how to break them down?
Williams: "I had a head start on that in high school. I had great high school coaches who had film. And they had the end zone angle film, which not a lot of high school coaches have. That allowed me to break down, from an offensive line standpoint, defensive structure, and to be able to become a perfectionist with my technique. Every time I watch a clip, I see something I could have done a little bit better. I think if you do that enough times, you start to get pretty refined. So a lot of it is just on my own, sitting there with the iPad, going over the film over and over again, seeing what I can do, and going out on the field and applying it the next day. Knowing that if I did something wrong, why did I do that? What was wrong with my hand placement, my footwork — things like that — and how I can fix that. I know when I watch that, I learn what I need to do, go on the field and apply what I just learned, and doing that enough days (in a row) until you get better."
Were you the kind of player that comes out on the field before the coaches, knowing what you need to correct before they tell you?
Williams: "I like to think so, but I'll still do whatever the coach tells me to do (laughs). I usually have a good idea after I do something. Like, I'll be out practicing footwork ... I'll do that, jump back and realize that I have too much weight on my outside foot, or this or that. So I definitely do that."
How quickly after you arrived today did you ask if No. 73 was available?
Williams: "I actually didn't really think about it too much, until we went into the equipment room. They asked, 'What number do you want?', and I was like, 'I guess 73 if it's available,' just thinking to take whatever number is available. They said it was, so I was pretty stoked about that, getting to keep that number. It's a Bengals jersey, and that's what I'm most excited about, no matter what the number is."
You mentioned Joe Thomas was one of your guys. Was choosing that number in honor of Joe?
Williams: "It was. I was 77 in high school but couldn't do that at Alabama. Somebody already had that number, so I had to pick a different one. I wanted to be in the 70s, and I just couldn't really pick. Then I realized that I really idolized him and watched a lot of his film, so if I'm going to pick a number in the 70s, it'll might as well be that."
Jonah, everybody in this room had at least a little decision as to why they wanted to work in Cincinnati. You have a unique perspective, since you were going to go wherever it was that you were picked. You didn't have a choice of where you get to go. What was the most overwhelming part of coming to Cincinnati, a new city, starting a career against people who are at the top of their game? You talked about it being surreal, but what's so overwhelming about this situation?
Williams: "This time yesterday, I could have been in any 32 cities in the U.S. Today I know I'll be spending my time in Cincinnati. More so than it being overwhelming, it's a relief. From all of that uncertainty, to knowing what team I'm on. I'm an offensive lineman, so I'm part of a unit of five guys that are out on the field at any given time — always on a team. So to be kind of floating around like a mercenary, not knowing what team I'm on and what I'm going to be doing. Now it's just a relief to know what city I'm going to be in, what team I'm going to be on, who my coaches are going to be and where I'm going to be practicing. We were just walking around out there. To have that structure is a really good feeling. It's my first time being in Cincinnati, and I've just had such a great impression so far. I haven't seen much, but it was a beautiful drive in and the facilities here are incredible. It's all been good so far."
Did you get that cool moment coming down the hill from the airport and seeing the city for the first time? What was that moment like for you?
Williams: "Patrick, the guy that was driving us, I was looking at his navigation thing, and it was saying we were eight minutes out, seven minutes out. I knew from looking at the maps on my phone that the stadiums are right on the water, right in the city. I just hadn't seen the city yet, so I knew there was going to be a moment where it was going to pop up. I think we were all pretty amazed by the skyline. We were all talking about it in the car. It was kind of overwhelming, because I feel like this team represents the city, and this city really loves its team. This is an awesome community and culture, so to literally be driving into it, it feels like a really nice welcome."
You seem like a tremendously grounded guy, a classy guy. Your family is here. Family has to be important to you ...
Williams: "Yeah, I was raised really well. I have great parents, great siblings, a great girlfriend — just a good group of people around me. That's helped a lot, and I know I wouldn't be here without them."
Who was with you in the car?
Williams: "Mom, dad, sister, brother, girlfriend — the whole gang. It was a nice moment."
You were talking about your high school film and the views they had. There's film of you in high school where you look like you're destroying human life. What were some of those games like? Did you notice people being literally scared of you?
Williams: "(Laughs) Yeah that's kind of something I want to do. I want to impose my will. Then when you go to the SEC, sometimes you throw people around and sometimes you won't. Then in the NFL, not a lot of guys get thrown around. If you aren't throwing guys around in high school, you're not going to touch guys in the NFL. I had this one-track mind. I wanted to be the best at what I was doing. We were living in California at the time, which had great schools with great coaches. But I knew it was going to be hard. I wanted to play in the SEC, and I was going to be hard to get back there from California, because I was raised in Atlanta. I knew I had to do something extra. I knew that I had to pop off the film, so I was working out all the time, and I still am. I wanted to make those people feel that and be able to send that to the coaches and say, 'This is me, this is my resume.' It's the same thing I wanted to do in college. I know my tape is my resume, and I want to put all the best stuff on there, to the best of my ability. These coaches and this organization are giving me a chance like they did.
At first when you got to Alabama, were you trying to throw some people around like you did in high school and realized that doesn't quite work in the same way?
Williams: "I think so. I was playing against a great defense. When I first came in, there were a bunch of guys who are current NFL players, and they were definitely not being thrown around. I play hard, and I think I did my best. I didn't know everything back then and sort of learned more of it now. I still don't know everything. But I think they gained a lot of respect for me because I was just coming out and playing hard, whether or not I was winning every single rep at that time."
Do you play with a different 'personality' on the football field?
Williams: "Absolutely. I'm not a trash-talker, I'm not dirty or anything like that. My goal is to make person not want to keep lining up across from me. I want them to ask to switch to the other side or ask to get a sub in. I'm pretty calm, pretty collected off the field, but I have a switch that I can turn on, and it's a whole different deal when that happens. I think people try to put other people in boxes, especially in this draft process. A lot of people will put me in that technician, smart-guy box. That's true and that's something I pride myself on, but I'm also a lineman, and I want to get on the field, I want to impose my will on people, and I want to be part of a unit that does that to opposing defenses. There's no better feeling than blocking up the D-line, driving them off the ball, being physical, seeing your running back make a play or seeing your quarterback get the ball out. That's such a satisfying feeling as an offensive line."
What would be some of the other nouns or adjectives, other than 'technician' or 'smart,' that maybe weren't on the scouting report?
Williams: "Like I said, the main other one would be the physical tone and physicality. It starts to sound like clichés, but it's true. It's what goes through my head — just imposing my will and making people quit. That's something you can see, and that's what I love about this game. You keep doing your job over and over again, you keep your opponent from doing their job, and you just start to see their face change, body language change, and things like that. That's really rewarding to me, both personally and with the whole offensive line, to make the other team quit."
Offensive linemen always say they have to play with controlled rage. At what point in your career did you learn how to play that way?
Williams: "I think it was when I transitioned to playing (primarily) offensive line. Up until my junior year of high school, I played offensive line but didn't really think about it too much. I didn't really have coaches that taught me how interesting that position is, so I just wanted to play D-end, where the ball snaps and it was like your hair is on fire, running and trying to make a play. As soon as I started playing o-line — my coach jokes about it — we're pass-blocking on a pass play, and I was coming out grabbing the guy and trying to just maul him. He was like, 'OK, you can't do that. You've got to set back and use your technique.' But like you said, there is a rage component to it. There is that physical, nasty (component). You can't come out and try to be soft and finesse it and just try to outsmart guys. The way I think of it is, I get in my stance, and I'm comfortable in my stance because I've run it through my head a thousand times. I look at the defense, I look at the safeties, I look at what I need to look at. By the time the ball is snapped, I've diagnosed what I have to do. I know what my first step is going to be. I know where my hat is going to go. I know where my hands are going to go. And I have an idea of what the D-end or D-tackle — whoever I'm going against — is going to do. At that point, you just cut it loose. The ball snaps, you come out, and you already know what you're doing. You've practiced it to the point that it's muscle memory. So during the play, I'm not thinking, 'Alright, I need to step six inches here, and a foot and a half here.' You're just coming out and playing hard and being physical. I do think there's a combination. I think it flips when the ball snaps."
After playing three years at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban, who coaches his players hard, do you feel like you're now uber-prepared for the NFL?
Williams: "I think so. To the best of my ability. I know the NFL is a whole different animal. I'm coming into it as humble as I can be; I'm not coming in thinking that I already know it all and have already learned it all. But I do feel like the program that he ran there definitely helps with mental toughness, as far as being coached hard and being able to face adversity. The coaches put adversity on you, and then we play such great teams every single week. Every practice is a battle between the offense and defense. I definitely think that helped me prepare for the next level, where it's always like that."
When did your family move to California, and how did you end up there after living in Atlanta?
Williams: "My dad's job. We moved out there after my freshman year in high school. Like I said, it was motivating to me. I was fortunate to have the coaches I did. My parents were always helping out, as far as going down to a couple camps in the SEC to show that I was interested in that. And then one school in the SEC offers (a scholarship), and people are like, 'Why did a southern school just offer a California lineman?' Then they watched the tape and understood the story, and the dominoes started to fall. I've always had a chip on my shoulder, but I got that chip there knowing that I had to do a little bit extra to prove myself. I carried that through college, because when you try to be a prospect, everyone wants to pick the team apart and pick you apart as a person. All you can control is what you can control. I want to do that to the best of my ability, and I want to do that physically and as intense as I can."
Growing up in Atlanta, did you become a fan of the SEC? Is that why you chose to go back to play in that conference, even though you lived in California at the time?
Williams: "Yeah. My dad went to Georgia, and my mom went to Auburn."
What happened when you made the call to go to Alabama then?
Williams: "(Laughs) They were happy for me. I think their allegiance to their son takes precedence over their alma mater. But I knew I wanted to play in the SEC. I visited all those schools, and after meeting with Alabama and Coach Saban, I felt that was the best fit for me, so I made the decision to come back down (to the south)."