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Q & A With Duke Tobin


Last week while subbing for Mo Egger on ESPN 1530, I had the opportunity to interview Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

In case you weren't listening, here's the transcription of our Q & A:

Is the roster set, or could you still add Dwight Freeney, Leon Hall, or somebody else?

We have the ability right now. We have a spot open so we've talked about some things. We feel good about the roster as it is. If there's an opportunity to add another piece at the right position at the right

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price we'll think about doing it. From our standpoint in personnel, the roster is never set. We're always open to improvements if we can find them. Who knows what will happen, but it's a pretty quiet time around the Bengals facility right now.

How do you weigh bringing in a veteran like a Dwight Freeney when it could mean having to cut a guy that you drafted and have tried to develop?

I think you always weight the ramifications of adding a guy. Anybody that we bring in at this time of the year is going to have to make his way. We're not going to be signing anybody – I don't care if it's an 8-time Pro Bowler or a college free agent – there's no guarantee for anybody you bring in at this point. Whoever we sign if we sign somebody will have to prove their value and will have to make the club. And they're going to have to be better than who we already have on the club. At the end of the day we'll make some tough cuts – we always have – and this year won't be different. But we're going to keep the 53 best players for sure.

Do the Bengals have any interest in Anquan Boldin?

I don't like to proclaim yes or no on anybody that's out there, but we have not had any discussions with him. We feel pretty good about some young guys that we have in that position group. It's a position group that's in flux, and it's a position group that's going to have to step up – particularly with Eifert out early in the year. We're going to have to have some production from there and we have some good candidates. So we want to see when we get going in the preseason who steps up and who raises their hand and says, 'I'm the guy.' Hopefully multiple people will do that.

What appealed to you about free agent Brandon LaFell?

We wanted some experience and he's got that. We liked his size. We liked that he's played in a number of different systems. And I don't think that the game is too big for him. Any time that you change teams there's a transition and he's going through that right now. He's like anybody else on our team – he's going to have to prove his worth and make his way and we hope that's the case. But we felt like we needed to add another veteran presence there after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and hopefully he'll fill that and be the guy that we think he is.

You wound up drafting two receivers in Tyler Boyd and Cody Core. If Boyd had not been there in round two, was there a significant drop-off at the wide receiver position?

I think there were some candidates, but we felt that Tyler was by far the best available at that time for us in our situation. There definitely was what we felt like was a little drop. It wasn't a super deep draft this year and didn't exactly fit our needs. There were some guys that we had targeted and if they were there for us we were going to be pretty happy and Tyler was one of those guys. He's got to come in like anybody else and show that he was worth it.

On paper, the top three receiving candidates would seem to be A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd. Who do you look at as the leading candidates among the up-and-coming guys after that?

We have a few. We have Mario Alford who's coming in after spending a year on the practice squad. We were pretty happy that he's made some transition and he's shown that he's got a chance to be a guy for us. So we're happy that he's on board. Jake Kumerow who we developed as a practice squad guy last year has really opened some eyes in the offseason program, so we think that he's a young guy that might be able to come up and we never doubt Brandon Tate and his contribution. He's certainly a guy that can contribute some for us and he's going to get an opportunity as well as the other guys.

Is it fair to call this a make-it or break-it type year for Margus Hunt?

I don't know that I would say that necessarily to him, but it should be a year where he gets the opportunity to show what he really is. Whether it's our fault or his fault, he hasn't been on the field a bunch. He had an untimely injury and when he has been healthy he's been a pretty impressive guy. I never like to put that kind of pressure on anybody for a make-it or break-it year, but he's certainly a guy we're counting on to be in the rotation. We think that he has some rare physical traits that we can work with and use. I think he's bonded pretty well with our new defensive line coach Coach Burney and hopefully he'll be a valuable part of what we do because he certainly has the ability to do it and the desire to do it. We're hoping that he comes on for us for sure.

*You've added Karlos Dansby to the linebacking corps. He was a very productive player for Cleveland last year but he is 34. How do you determine if an older player has enough left in the tank before signing him?      *

I think it's somewhat difficult. You have to bring him in and see how he looks once you get him in your uniform and doing the things that your defense does. He's looked good doing that so it's been helpful to have the offseason with him to see that. I would say that he's every bit of what we thought he would be. He still has the movement that we saw on tape and he still has the passion to play which is a big thing. At that age sometimes that passion can go, but he's shown that he wants to be here, wants to be a leader, and wants to be productive. You never really know for sure until you get them in your building and he's done everything we had hoped he'd do so far.

For those who don't know, your dad Bill who now works in the Bengals scouting department, was largely responsible for building the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. Did your dad have certain bedrock principals in putting together an NFL team that you have copied?

I'm certainly a product of my father, so the way he thinks is largely the way that I think. And when we look at players I think that we look at them in similar ways. We like production, we like guys that know how to be part of a team, we like guys that make the most out of their abilities, we like tough, physical players, and we like players that come up big in crucial situations. Those aren't dynamic things – everybody is looking for those – but I'm certainly a product of my father. Just growing up around the pro game and learning from him for so long, I just kind of picked up what are important things in an NFL player. He's an important part of what we do still and hopefully he'll decide to keep working for a long time because he certainly helps us out a bunch.

This past offseason a couple of teams apparently reached out to the Bengals to say that they were interested in talking to you about their vacant general manager positions and you elected not to go through the interview process. Why not?

When I came here in '99 – and this is another thing that my dad did for us when we were in Chicago – I fully committed to the Bengals and wanted to be here long term. I wanted to make myself valuable to the club and make an entire career out of this and they gave me an opportunity to show that. There are very few organizations like the Cincinnati Bengals and people like the Browns and Blackburns to work for and it's just a really neat situation and I'm thankful for the opportunity that I have here. I really can't imagine wanting to be somewhere else and wanting to work for another team. Sure the challenges would be fun, but we have challenges here to work through that keep me occupied. I'm very happy to stay and be a part of it.     

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