DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH KEVIN COYLEInitial comments:KC: "We're very happy to be able to choose Robert Sands at this point in the draft. He's a guy with some unique qualities. He's very tall — an angular guy — who's six-foot-four and 217 pounds. He has played in a lot of different spots in the scheme they run at West Virginia. He has a lot of position versatility. He has played as a safety — both free and strong — and he has played in the box as a nickel linebacker. He has even put his hand on the ground and rushed the passer as a defensive end in some schemes. They've utilized him in a lot of places because he's a rare athlete who can run. He has some very good football instincts."
Where is his natural fit?KC: "He has the size to play as a strong safety. That's a concern of ours. We continue to build depth at that position. We have some returning players like Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson who don't have this type of size. They are more like free safeties. He's played both in their (the Mountaineers') scheme. He has played in deep coverage as well as in the box. He's a physical guy and an instinctive football player. When you play the tape, the thing that impressed us the most was his ability be decisive and to attack the line of scrimmage. He plays with a really good feel for the game. He has range in deep coverage. He's a long strider, so it takes him a while to get rolling. He's a guy who can cover ground because of those long levers, and he can really pick up his feet and make plays that way. I think he's a guy that gives you the versatility of playing either spot with his size. When you get a guy that's six-foot-four-plus with 34 inch arms, he's going to get his hands on the football. Even in the underneath coverage when he played as a nickel and dime type linebacker, he showed his wingspan. You picture a guy like (Bengals linebacker) Brandon Johnson, who has that similar height, range and arm length. (Now we have) a safety with the same kind of qualities as far as body size. I think that will play to his advantage."
Can he play special teams?KC: "That was another consideration as we talked through some of the guys we were looking at. (Special teams coach) Darrin Simmons does a great job researching hundreds of guys as we get ready for the draft. He looked at Robert and felt very confident that he could play on all four major teams — kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return — because of his size and ability as an athlete. He did play in a number of those phases at West Virginia. He played with very good effort and intensity. A lot of times you don't see that when (teams) are starting players. He's an 'early out' — a junior — but he's been starting since he got there as a freshman."
It seems like he has the athletic qualities that you like ...KC: "Yes. When you look at the tape, you're trying to see if there is any hesitation — and on his part, he goes. When he sees something, he goes and attacks it. I saw him early in the season against LSU. If you put that game tape on, you see him making plays sideline to sideline. He's very aggressive, runs the alley and makes plays on balls out in space, which impressed us because he is a big guy. When you see tall guys like this, you want to see if they get broken down and make tackles on smaller athletic guys, which he did and did it pretty consistently throughout the year. He's a guy who has that type of athleticism. Because of his size, I think he'll have a lot of opportunity to help us."
You guys drafted a player in the third round — Dontay Moch — with incredible speed as well. Could you ever consider him as a safety?KC:"That's something you wouldn't go into the season thinking. He's going to be a guy who we need to bring along as a linebacker and designated outside rusher — that type of thing. I think he's still growing. He weighed in at 248 or something like that. He may end up being a 265-pound linebacker before it's all over. I don't see him as a safety. I think it's going to be a transition to go to the linebacker spot, so we'll cross that bridge first."
Has Sands been a little banged up?KC: "Not much. He hasn't missed a whole lot of time with them, no."
ROBERT SANDSWhat are some of your strengths?RS: "My height, first of all: I'm a 6'5'' guy. I'm able to cover a lot of ground. My speed and versatility. I can play the free (safety) and strong (safety). I can come down in the box and also drop back deep. I'm an all-around player with ball-hawking skills. I can go up and high-point the ball. I can make open-field tackles. Everything."
Was fifth-round about the position you thought you'd come off the board? Are you happy with where you ended up?RS: "Yeah, I'm happy that I got drafted because everybody doesn't get this opportunity to be drafted. For me to get drafted is a blessing; to go anywhere (is a blessing).
Did you think you might go a little higher?RS: "Yes, I did think I was going to go a little higher. But again, like I said, it's a blessing to even get drafted. Most people don't get this opportunity, and I got a chance to better myself and my family. This is the beginning for me — it's not where you start, it's where you finish. I started off in the fifth round, but I'm hoping I end up on top."
It's unusual for someone who is so tall to be a defensive back. How did you get started playing that position?RS: "I've been playing that since I was a little kid. My height just kept going, and as I got older, I just got taller. But I was always an athlete and able to play multiple positions. I'd go and play something that I'd never played before. I'm just an athlete and my height just kept going up as I got older."
What do you know about the Bengals? Did you have much conversation with them before the draft?RS: "Only at the Combine. I talked with them at the Combine for about five or 10 minutes. That was it."
You play many different positions, but where are you most comfortable?RS: "I feel comfortable at the free or the strong. I feel comfortable in the back (defensive backfield) being able to see the whole field and having everything in front of me. I like it back there. I played some linebacker last year, but that was because of special package deals in third-down."
How much did you play special teams at West Virginia?RS: "I played all three years on special teams. I was on kickoff, punt, punt return, punt block, PAT block — I was on a couple of the special teams."
Do you feel that you're better on one of the different special teams areas?RS: "I'm good at all of them (laughs). I'm a football player. I'm good at whatever I do. When I step out on that field, I make sure everybody knows who I am, and I make sure they're accounting for me."