One of the guys that seems to be making a lot of plays in the first week of camp is Chris Smith. Are you happy with what you've gotten from him early on?
* *"We are. I've been very pleased. Last year when we played Jacksonville in the preseason, we were getting ready to watch some of their players. As you go through and watch who they may or may not release, Chris is someone who stuck out to us. When the offseason came around this year and (Bengals director of player personnel) Duke (Tobin) had mentioned that he may be available, we obviously pulled the trigger. We looked at some things and decided to acquire Chris. He comes in here and has played some football in the NFL. Once you've been somewhere else, you end up with a different perspective when you come to a new team. He understands the competitive part of it. He's working his tail off to make the football team, and that's good. He shows the athleticism and ability that we see, and he gives you some flexibility as a guy who could contribute on special teams. When you can gain a half-man from the defensive line group, that's a good thing.
You've talked about Kevin Minter being a plug-and-play guy. Is it more important for a guy like Chris Smith to play off of instinct and athleticism, since his position is so reactionary?
* *"He was out of a 4-3 scheme (in Jacksonville), so it's an easy transition for him up here. Terminology might be slightly different, but most of the fundamentals are easy to do. He's been able to make the transition very easily."
One week in, what do you like from Carl Lawson? And what is one thing that he needs to work on?
"The difficult thing about Carl is that he's a million miles an hour. He needs to understand how we have to continually practice here. He's going to get unleashed. That's what I told him again in the team meeting. It's a hard thing. He's trying to be impressive. Well, he's impressed me enough. He'll continue to grow. He's making a bit of a transition to playing on his feet in the base defenses. Making that transition and understanding the passing game is the biggest growth of playing linebacker. He's doing a great job. It's funny, he and Jordan Willis are conscientious in the same way. They don't ever want to be wrong. I keep telling them, 'Give me a little of (Carlos) Dunlap. A little Carlos. Just a pinch, and you'll be fine.' Because you have to be reckless to play this game on defense effectively. You have to have a little bit of that, because on defense, if you think you're going to coach this game based on numbers, you're going to get your butt beat."
Is Lawson kind of a perfect piece in the new NFL, with his ability to rush and play outside, and give you a mix of size and speed on the edge?
* *"We've had this 'guy,' and it never worked out totally. Now, I have another one. David Pollack got hurt in his second year. He didn't get any training camp his first year, but he had a really good rookie year for what he got to do. Then he got hurt in the second game of his second year. But we've been searching for this kind of guy again, and we found another one. He's smart, football-wise. And he wants to be good. All the arrows are pointing up."
Is that a hard position to develop? Because we've seen guys that are kind of a hybrid. Or is it pretty easy once you get them going?
"I think it's a very easy spot to develop, personally. But that's also my background."
How come you haven't pursued and developed that type of player — defensive lineman in college who switches to LB in the NFL?
"I don't know. Things have to fall your way and you have to get the right guy. Some people get afraid of making those kinds of transitions with people. I'm not. It's common to me and my background. Other people get afraid of that. You guys write about it all the time. If you were to write less about it, maybe there would be more of that (laughs)."
Who's the best guy you've had make that transition?
* *"I've been fortunate to have a lot of guys do that. I've had Chad Brown (Steelers) who did that. I've had Jason Gildon (Steelers) who did that. Peter Boulware (Ravens) did that. Cornell Brown (Ravens) did that. And, Levon Kirkland (Steelers), who did that in another way. All these guys were 'down' guys (played defensive line) in college, and I coached them into linebackers. Otherwise, you are limited to such a small group of players just because, in college football, you have cornerbacks, outside rushers, inside rushers and this safety/linebacker group. And on offense, you have quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tackles and interior linemen. Only a few groups of guys. So, your pool that you're picking from has to be flexible. You have to be able to coach and adapt."
How has Joe Mixon looked?
"I think Joe has done well. We've been very pleased."
Do you expect to have Michael Johnson back?
"Yes. You left it open-ended (laughs)."
Do you expect him back today?
How has Andre Smith made the adjustment from tackle to guard?
"He came back with a great focus as we got into (wearing) pads. Andre had surgery during the offseason, so he's worked through that and the rigors of training camp — the pushing and shoving on people. That's why you've seen him miss a bit, because it's gotten him a little sore. We had the longest stretch of football in a row last week, and fortunately or unfortunately we won't have that type of stretch again. So hopefully he can go out there and compete. Obviously he is in a competition for a spot."
Does he look natural at guard?
"I think he does. For me, if you flip the guy over from left to right, in some ways it will be a bit harder. But he's done a good job. He committed to it when he came here as his spot. He's got to keep competing. He's got an opportunity a week from tomorrow to start that."
Trey Hopkins seems to be doing well. How has he looked to you?
"Trey has done a really good job. Trey has been here and been doing it for a little bit. He understands the in's and out's and mechanics of it. He's taking full advantage as guy who we've kept around here. He was a smart guy when he got here. He's taking full advantage of his opportunities."
Is there something there with him?
"He is a big man. He has the arms of a guy who is 6-7, so that helps him to play those spots."
What type of feel do you have for the depth of the offensive line?
"We've got a lot of open areas, which I think is the hardest thing for them. We've got to see them against real folks. You've got to block somebody and finish the block, which we can't do out here (in training camp). You've got to play on the block, off the block and then go from there, which we kind of do here. But we can't finish it. We're playing (regular-season) games against good football teams, so I'm glad we're playing the teams that we are in the preseason."
John Ross and Andy Dalton have stayed after practice a couple times to work together. How important is it for Ross to develop that chemistry with Dalton early on?
"It gives John a vote of confidence, and he gets a little bit of extra work. And the quarterback sought him out. For these young guys, you want them to have an opportunity and stay positive, and to let them know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because some of the stuff seems like it is so far out. With him and his timeframe (for return to full participation), it's good that Andy is taking the time to spend some extra time with him. The one thing about John is his consistency. He is willing to do the work, and that's been great."
Have you gotten a sense of when he will be ready to participate fully?
"When the doctors tell me he is ready to go."
How has Cody Core grown from year one to year two?
"Last year, he couldn't finish a practice. For a guy who supposedly played at Ole Miss, I would tease him, 'You can't handle our humidity here, huh (laughs)?' I think he has matured a lot physically, and he obviously knows what to do — he's smart. He was a big contributor for us on special teams (last year), and when A.J. (Green) went out, he got a chance to go out there and play. Just like the question about John (Ross), its like, 'Hey, it's my opportunity now, it helps me grow. It helps me work hard with those things, because now I'm going to get a shot. When my shot comes I've got to be ready and take full advantage of it.' So whether it's Andy (Dalton) or AJ (McCarron) or Jeff (Driskel), the guys have great confidence in him. When he gets in on a one on one situation, he can win that battle. That's a good thing for a quarterback to feel good about a wide receiver."