* *"Obviously the care and the concern that I got from here and from everyone was appreciated. The care and swiftness of things with the scans and studies was appreciated. Thanks to all the doctors, nurses and technicians that checked me in and out of The Christ Hospital a couple of times. I appreciate their staff and everybody. It was not as serious as things could have been and what I was originally told."
You were walking to the locker room yesterday intending to go to practice. Did something happen between then and practice yesterday?
* *"They wanted to have me go back and have more tests done. I had three tests done yesterday. They asked that I go and get it done. My point was that two hours wasn't going to make a huge difference, but I was back here by a little after 5 (p.m.).
* *"No, not at all."
What about standing on the field? Going down the sideline doesn't pose a problem?
* *"No. No problem. It's actually encouraged. Walking and running are encouraged."
Did they drain it?
* *"No. It'll absorb and go away. The more I move, the better it will be. I've had no problem with that.
So it's the knee that's bothering you?
* *"Yes, it's my knee. But anyway, I'm glad it got resolved and I appreciate everyone's concern and professionalism with how they went about their jobs. Now, let's move on to what's important here (laughs).
"It's exciting for us to get an opportunity to play a football game. When you start anew like we do in April, and we get started with the new season, we begin to put together a football team and add new guys and look at guys who have matured. Then you add the draft class on top of that. And now, we've got to go play an opponent with different colored helmets. Tampa Bay's football team is put together well. They're well-coached and disciplined. They did a good job of finishing off their season. They got themselves in the playoff hunt and obviously have aspirations of that this year. We know they have a great, young quarterback. They have a defense that played very well last year. They were excellent on third downs and in a lot of areas. They've added some great pieces again this offseason. So, it'll be fun. I don't know how long their guys will be out there. I have an idea of how long our guys will be out there, as far as our starting groups. But we've got to go out and start playing football again. It's important that we do that."
You've been around the league a while as a head coach, so you know a lot of staffs. But this staff has Dirk Koetter as the head coach, Mike Smith the defensive coordinator and Jay Hayes the defensive line coach. Does that make this game kind of interesting?
* *"Yeah. There's a lot of guys that I've coached with and been with for a while. And there's offensive line coach (George Warhop), and a number of other different coaches that Dirk has on his staff. The first two phone calls I received when I was getting sprung out of the hospital were from Dirk (Koetter) and Smitty (defensive coordinator Mike Smith). I had to cut Dirk off and have Smitty fill him in (laughs)."
Being a preseason game and you having such a great relationship with Dirk, how much do you both talk about how you would like to approach this contest?
"We haven't talked yet. We tried a couple weeks ago. I tried to call him a couple weeks ago and he called me back, but we haven't talked since he was in Idaho on vacation and I was in Lake Tahoe."
Is that something you would do though? Just so you are both on the same page?
* *"No. Generally you have an idea on how long they would play some of their starting group. He has to prepare his football team as he sees best fit, and we have to do that same.
How close did it come to the two teams coming together for joint practices, as you have chosen to do in the past with other teams?
* *"They're going to Jacksonville next week, and that's been in their plans. I was not really looking to do that this year. I wanted to do what we've been doing. Unfortunately, the last three or four years we've had a guy get injured on today (the last practice before a preseason game where the teams were practicing together). There will be no chance of anyone getting injured today. What was out there yesterday practicing will go into the game playing."
Can you say what your game plan is for the starters?
* *"No. They'll play until we pull them out."
Is anyone restricted?
* *"There will be some guys that won't play."
Are any of them starters?
* *"I don't know if you call them 'starters,' but there are some members of the football team that won't play."
Based on what you've seen so far in camp, what are your hopes to see against Tampa Bay?
* *"The first thing, obviously, is your pads and pad level, and how well you're coming off of the football on both sides. We don't want to have any pre-snap penalties or errors, and we need to take care of the ball — the fundamental things that we preach about all the time. We want to see good timing on offense and defense. Get to the right spots. Execute on special teams. We have some guys that are trying to make the team, and their execution on special teams and how they fit into the numbers as backups will be big for us. Guys who last year did not get to play will obviously have larger roles for us this season. And it starts Friday by proving that you can go out and play in an NFL football game with real NFL players. Practice is one thing, but there is not a 'finish' element to practice that has to come about in games. That would be the last thing. The 'finish' element, and playing real football."
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, has there been a concern that you haven't been able to 'finish' in practice as you have been in years past?
* *"The CBA didn't affect that one bit. We practice just as hard as we ever have. There are limits to when we can start and how many times a day we can practice, but that hasn't affected how we've gone about it. That's not an issue with the CBA, but we've had an opportunity that's been no different than any of the other 15 training camps I've had."
What has impressed you the most about Joe Mixon?
"His personality, his work ethic, how he comes and approaches practice everyday. From the very first rookie camp here in Cincinnati, you felt that, but you aren't sure because it's a very limited exposure. Now that's a day-to-day thing with the ups and downs in camp — being tired, being asked to run and finish every play. He likes to do that. He likes to run down that field like he is scoring a touchdown, and we are going to give him a lot of opportunities to do that. That's just part of his make up, and that's good. He can never lose that. That's the other part of it, you don't want him to lose that. I hope he keeps that enthusiasm that he has now. We have to continue with that, because he is still a very young guy."
On the other side of the ball, is Carl Lawson the guy you expected?
"He's been the early (to work) guy, the (staying) late guy. He wants to do everything correctly. He actually talks out there on the field. He doesn't seem like somebody who talks much. He wants to come over and talk. He comes in my office and wants to sit and watch film. That part, you really like about him. We are blessed with that."
What are the biggest things you want to see from Mixon on Friday?
"Play with great pad level, and protect the football. He's very natural at the other stuff. And then he is going to get an opportunity to protect the quarterback. The rest of the stuff he does very naturally, like running or catching. But (I want to see) his pad level, and making sure his tracks are correct. Those are the things we are going to continue to evaluate and make sure he gets up to speed on and stays consistent. So far, he has been very good with that, and I don't expect that to change."
How do you feel about the progress of the offensive line?
"We are still competing to see who those five are going to be, which is a good thing. Friday night will be another step."
We have seen John Ross working on the punt returns. How is the transition for him, since he never returned punts in college?
"John has made huge progress, and he's being coached in punt return technique. I have been pleased. Mike (Bengals president Mike Brown) and I talked about that yesterday — his comfort underneath the ball is way better than it was, and we have to keep coming and working with him. In 2003, when we came here, Peter Warrick was not very good at catching the football (on punts), and he became very good. He should have been, but working with Darrin (special teams coach Darrin Simmons) and the hours spent with him, he got a lot better and we became very, very comfortable with him."
Do you feel like this roster depth is comparable?
"In a lot of places I feel like we are a lot stronger. These preseason games going into the regular season, I'm just crossing my fingers and have everybody get through it healthy. I'm pleased where we are. We are in a good spot."
How important is it that John Ross sees action at some point in the preseason?
"It doesn't matter. We don't need to talk about it. You're probably wasting time thinking about it. When they (doctors) tell me that, medically, they feel comfortable with him playing some, he will play. We'll see when when he continues to progress physically. There is no difference between the preseason and the regular season, in that respect."
Will he get more snaps in the preseason?
"We'll see. Its about that exposure."
Is there a level of sharpness you would like to see?
"Yes. We better see it, or they might get a little winded (laughs). It's happened before."
Are you still trying to piece together the offensive line?
"I don't think we are going to piece anything together, We're allowing guys the opportunity to compete for jobs, and that's part of it. Some guys have been in there a little longer and some are newer to it. I'll play it by ear."
Is it dictated by what Tampa Bay does?
"Not necessarily. Again, Dirk's got to do what he feels good about."
Is it helpful that you won't be making a roster cut to 75 players this year?
"I'm old school, so I prefer the cut. We raised the roster limit to 75, and it gave us an opportunity to have enough guys go out there and compete for a chance in the last game. Some guys have made the team with the fourth preseason game. We don't necessarily need those extra 15 guys. Obviously there was some sentiment around the league that was different, and that's fine. We can make cuts whenever we want to at any point, at any time, any day. We don't need to carry 90 and unlikely will into that last game. I think it's important that anybody that's here has an opportunity. I stress that to the players all the time. I want you to know mentally what to do and how to do it in order earn your opportunity to go out on the field. I don't want to be the guy that has to look at that player on the sideline who busts his tail for me, and he doesn't get a chance to play. I want him to have the opportunity to put his calling card and resume out there. He should be able to have that opportunity."
So there are no restrictions from 90 to 53 players? You can go up and down at any time?