You picked up G Cole Toner for the practice squad, who's a Harvard grad. Were you looking to add a little intellect to the offensive line and practice squad?
* *"He got good experience last year after coming out (of college) a year ago. He spent the year with Arizona on their squad. I guess he felt it was better to get a new start, so he's here now with us."
How about Sojourn Shelton, the CB you picked up who was also released by Arizona?
"He was a good prospect this year coming into the draft. He had a productive career in college. For some reason Tony (McRae) chose to go elsewhere."
What did you see from Hardy Nickerson to put him in one of those last linebacker spots?
* *"From the day he's walked in here, he's been impressive in every area. Understanding how to play. The ability to play. The suddenness to play. He seems more mature and experienced beyond his years."
What do you think about the way Cethan Carter carries himself? He seems more like a 10-year veteran than a rookie.
* *"The good part is that we have a number of young guys who have come out of programs and been able to separate themselves that way. They came here and competed from the first day and didn't take a back seat to anyone or anything. There's going to be a step up and an uptick come Sunday, and I think they're ready for that."
What do you think about the young players' approaches? A lot of them, like Jordan Willis, seem to have a business-like approach.
"If you're as serious as Jordan… That's 24/7, every second, every minute (laughs). It's always a battle. But that's a good thing. They're all cut from that same cloth. We all noticed that right away, and it's been good."
Can you tell if a guy really loves football, versus someone that isn't motivated by the game?
* *"You know the guys that like it and aren't coming in basically to punch the clock. They're here. They're studying extra and doing extra. They want to spend extra time with the coaches. Most importantly is, when they make an error, how they correct and move it forward to a positive the next time. I think these guys have that. All of them have been able to do that. When they've been a little bit off, they've been able to make the correction and move forward and feel good about it. Then they've got to lock down."
Do you still love calling those undrafted players and roster bubble guys and letting them know they've made the team?
* *"I do. That makes things, after the other 30 or so that I had to talk to (and tell them they're released), much better. I talked to Cethan (Carter) and Hardy (Nickerson), just to make sure they could relax a little bit. And (Randy) Bullock, right way. It's important to do. It's a long day on Friday. But that's the fun part of it. They're being rewarded for what they've done. They're getting an opportunity to start here and move forward in their career."
On the flip side of that, it has to be hard to have those conversations with the veteran guys you had to cut, like Eric Winston and Wallace Gilberry?
* *"The thing about it, and it's been proven, is that the guys we've let go have all gotten opportunities. If you're deserving of it, you're going to get a chance somewhere else. This week, next week, or whenever it may be. The veteran players obviously know how it works. They can count and figure out things. They don't know how many (in their position group will be kept), or how many of this or that particular position we're going to end up keeping. We all know that sooner or later, your number is called."
What do you see from William Jackson as he's on the verge of making his professional debut?
* *"He's done certain things that have been stellar. There are other things that we're just trying to get him caught up on a little bit, and get him up to speed. That's part of being a young player. But we know he has the athletic tools and the intellect to play the position. Now it's just (refining) some of the nuances with things that you do within the structure of the schematics. We're trying to make sure that he's good to go in week one."
What do you make of his ability to just flat out cover a receiver?
* *"He's as good a guy as I've had an opportunity to be around. I said that from just a few days last year. I've been around a lot of guys that are very good at that, and William, as a young player, has that kind of ability."
The feel-good story has been Trey Hopkins who has taken his opportunity by the horns.
* *"As you put the squad together with the 53 guys — or 52 (current players on the Bengals' roster) — and 10 on the practice squad, those 10 are guys that you are keeping because you feel like they have a future, whether it be development or depth or whatever. We've proven to develop those guys, and that's been important to me when I speak to the team, as I did this morning. I talk about that about the fact that you're not here to be a part of the 'look team' or 'scout team,' or whatever it's called in college. We're going to coach you every day, because I'm going to watch every play. And if I don't watch it with the coaches or watch it with your unit downstairs, I'm going to watch it before I go home, and then I'm going to talk with you about it in the morning if you're not doing something right. So for the most part, if you're giving your opponent work, we're still going to coach that guy. At some point, he might be the next guy in, and we want him to be ready to go. That's important. We've relied on that. Some of the guys may no longer be here, but they're playing somewhere across the league. That's the type of development that you've got to have."
Your practice squad usually stays intact, whereas other teams have more turnover there. Why?
"We're trying to get what we can and keep guys who are worthwhile, and guys that have an opportunity if an injury were to occur. Or, maybe there's opportunity next year when 'graduation' occurs, so they can step up and compete for those spots. Now, that doesn't mean you're not going to draft a guy to compete with that player. That's the part of the NFL we've got to be fair about. We have to give the guy an opportunity to win the job."
You're going from having one of the older rosters in the league last year, to having one of the youngest this year. Does your approach as a coach change at all because of that?
* *"Our approach has changed this entire camp. We've had more physical work. We've had more competitive things since we started (offseason activities) back in April, because we knew we were going to be in this situation — or at least I knew we were going to be in this situation, and nobody else did (laughs). But this was what I envisioned, and I feel good about that. We wanted to put these guys in those situations all the time so that they would be ready to go. Now we've got to go prove it."
That'll make for an even more exciting opener for you, right?
"It's exciting. It's an exciting time and a chance to be better."
So you're saying you have a better sense then of what you'll see from the young guys?
* *"We're pretty sure of the competitiveness we have, and now we've got to go apply it."
Are there guys who have developed into leadership roles?
* *"We said this in April: There had to be a changing of the guard. It's inevitable in the NFL. There's a few left from 2009, and Pat (Sims), who was here before then (in 2008). And then there was the rest of the group that came in 2011, '12, '13 and so on. That group from '11 is still pretty doggone good. That's the thing — no matter what, that's the meat and potatoes and most talented part of the football team. And it's the most experienced on the football team. And we've got some young, emerging guys, which is great to have."
Does that go into how you select captains?
* *"I'm not going to discuss that process."
How much does special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons' say factor into these roster decisions? A lot of the younger guys on the roster are going to end up being on coverage units, since some of the veteran special teams guys, like Cedric Peerman, won't be out there.
* *"We didn't have Ced (Cedric Peerman) last year, so there's no change there. You go through this every year. We need to have the best offensive and defensive players, and a part of it is that they have to be a part of special teams. From the day they walk in through this door, they're beat over their head with it. They're a part of it all the time. And that goes from John Ross to Joe Mixon, or whoever it may be. They may not have done it at their school, but they're part of it now in some role or capability. Gio (Giovani Bernard), Jeremy (Hill) — they've all been through it. That's part of what they have to do now. But you're right, they have to grow up in a hurry, as all groups do. They've been exposed to it the entire preseason. We've mixed and matched, knowing the end result would be what it has been."
How much does the element of trust, and how much you can rely on them, factor into playing these young players?
* *"It's earned every day. You go from the offseason program, to training camp and into the preseason games, and it's earned. That's what I tell them all the time. The problem is, if the (position) coach doesn't trust you, he doesn't want me climbing up his tail all the time about you. You better get to where he trusts you. Figure that out. Trust goes both ways. You've got to earn the trust of those coaches on that side of the football, in order to earn more opportunities to be out there and do it."