MOBILE, Ala. - The Bengals coaches may be preparing for Tuesday's first practice of Senior Bowl week, but for director of player personnel Duke Tobin it's early.
As in the draft process and the Senior Bowl would agree because the all-star game's motto is "The Draft starts in Mobile."
So Tobin isn't ready to say the Bengals definitely won't trade the No. 1 pick in the April 23-25 draft. And he says there is plenty of time to get to know LSU quarterback Joe Burrow even though he won't play in Mobile.
But it's never too soon to look for defense. Tobin wouldn't call that side of the ball a priority in the off-season, but he thinks they need "an infusion," on defense and he says they'll do what they always do and evaluate free agents to see if they're a match.
"You've got a whole team to service. But I think we can use an infusion on all three levels of the defense," Tobin said Monday of draft needs. "We need help there, but we're not going to ignore the other side of the ball. If there's a guy that shouldn't be available when he is, we'll think about taking him, too."
And, yes, they're thinking about taking Burrow No. 1. But when it comes to talking about the No. 1 pick and who to take with it, there has yet to be a final, drop-dead meeting. So when he heard there was a report out there that said the Bengals weren't going to trade the No. 1 pick, Tobin said, "That's news to me."
"I don't know that any decision has been made for what we're going to do in April. We're early in the process," Tobin said. "We certainly haven't had any meetings to determine that at this point. Those will be meetings we'll have as we go through the process."
Burrow lit it up this season and Tobin, a former college quarterback, enjoyed watching it.
"He had a wonderful year, a year very few people have had," Tobin said. "And their team had the same success. The way the coaches put the group together, the schematics that they had, the culture that they built all came together and the players were extremely well coached and with that comes success. When you start winning close games, you build camaraderie as a group and when you watched them you could really see it building and they became a complete team."
Tobin says the Bengals have plenty of time to catch up with Burrow and the team certainly understands why he isn't here
"We've seen him. We'll have a lot of opportunity to get to know him through the process," Tobin said. "We feel very comfortable by the time we have to make a decision in the draft on him and the other players as well.
"We respect his decision. He's had an incredibly long season. It lasted a lot longer than ours did. Fifteen games at a high level. I can certainly understand needing a little time to decompress after the year they had. We certainly understand what his thoughts there."
- Tobin, friends with Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy through the scouting trail, won't pick out a position on the two rosters that is blessed with more talent than others.
"There's a lot of good defensive linemen, good receivers, some quarterbacks that have a ton of ability," Tobin said. "There are guys at almost every position that are interesting."
- Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo runs a hybrid defense that can flip to 4-3 as well as a 3-4. So in the draft are they looking for a pure 4-3 end like left Carlos Dunlap or a 3-4ish guy like right end Sam Hubbard?
"We're going to look at the best players," Anarumo said. "Whatever the best players are, we'll figure it out. We'll fit the scheme to them. I'm not worried about having a guy for a particular spot. It's going to have to be best player available. We'll make it work."
- The Bengals coaches are going to be looking across the field at the North linebackers. They've got some good ones in Ohio State's Malik Harrison, Michigan's Josh Uche and California's Evan Weaver.
Harrison is Ohio all the way. His day-before-a-home-game routine is well known in Buckeyeland. He makes the pilgrimage to the east side of Columbus to his alma mater of Walnut Ridge High School, where he visits with his old coaches and current students.
- The South also has an interesting backer in Colorado tackling machine Davion Taylor, a Mississippi product. He played one game in high school, respecting his mother's Seventh Day Adventist faith that prohibits recreation from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
The coaches get an opportunity to talk to the North players one night this week when they switch teams with the Lions coaching staff to conduct interviews.