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The Conversation: New Bengals Safeties Coach Jordan Kovacs' Whirlwind Spring Of Transition And Teach Tapes

Secondary/Safeties Coach Jordan Kovacs
Secondary/Safeties Coach Jordan Kovacs

With the Bengals getting set for next week's mandatory slate of practices, senior writer Geoff Hobson camped out for a conversation with new safeties coach Jordan Kovacs as he handles an intriguing and revamped depth chart in his first year as a position coach.

In his sixth year with the Bengals after playing safety for three seasons when Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo coached the Dolphins secondary, Kovacs has all kinds of NFL pedigree in his room. It ranges from returning captain Vonn Bell and former Raven and defending AFC interceptions leader Geno Stone to seventh-rounder Daijahn Anthony and undrafted free agents Michael Dowell and PJ Jules. Kovacs also reveals why Dax Hill's photo is still on his office door even though Hill is now in the cornerbacks room.

The conversation:

GH: Your first impressions out of the gate?

JK: Start with the room. I love where we're at. Just in terms of the guys who are in it. Vonn and Geno and Jordan Battle being the vets in there. Tycen (Anderson). You've got a young group of guys who are competitive and tough and are eager to learn in Daijahn and PJ and Michael Dowell.

It's just fun to come in and work with guys like that every day. You feel a sense of urgency from the older guys. And you really feel an eagerness and competitiveness from the younger guys. They're picking the older guys' brains. It's been a lot of fun to be in that room. It's a room that's kind of taken the right step forward. It's not perfect. There's still a lot to clean up, but they're trending in the right direction, which is where you want to be in OTAs.

GH: Is there anything that has surprised you in your first year as a position coach?

JK: Not really. If there's anything, I don't think I realized how much fun I would have just teaching the game. Coaching the guys on the field and just being a teacher off the field. Putting together teach tapes and cut-ups, and having a sense of pride in my position and in our position. It's been fun being on the field with them. I think there's still a lot for me to learn in this role.

But I do feel good that I played the position, played in this defense damn near. It's like riding a bike because, frankly, I've been in the front for my first seven years in coaching. If anything, it's like, oh yeah, I remember this from seven years ago when I was playing. In "Gold," the backside corner has to do this or whatever it is, the nuances of each defense. Hasn't changed.

In "Gold," one of our defenses that went in today, I know exactly what Lou wants. We're calling this for the double posts. I can put myself in their shoes.

GH: What's it like coaching against Joe Burrow in practice?

JK: I hate it in practice. I love it on Sundays. He's fun. I just like to watch him. I like to study guys and just watch how they practice it. If you ever watched Joe, what I've always appreciated about Joe is he doesn't think he's arrived. Every snap he takes, he's trying to get better. And he is so dialed into every rep that he takes.

You see it throughout the week and in individuals, but then you see it when we're in season. I just like to watch him. He has a play. It's good or bad. He gives no reaction. He walks out, he gets the next play, and he moves on. He's so mechanical, so robotic in that way. But it just seems like there's such an intent in the way that he practices, I think he's impressive. I'm happy he's happy he's back, I'll say that much.

GH: He would seem hard to fool with a disguise.

JK: He is. Yeah. I want to pick his brain on that. I want to get with him on things he sees from our defense. That's a point of emphasis that I'm trying to make is we need to be better in disguising our coverage. Let's not give it away. We all work together. I'm going to pick Joe's brain. What do you see here? Where can we be better?

GH: How does a guy go from walk-on to captain at Michigan?

JK: A lot of hard work and belief. And even more luck. And the ball just has to bounce right. Fate has to fall your way at some point. But I just felt like I had to do everything that I could to control the controllables to put myself in position for if and when it did. Things fell my way, but I put myself in position to make the most of it when it did.

GH: You coached under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. What was the biggest thing you took from him?

JK: As a coach, I have a belief that your players take on the identity of you. That program became gritty and tough and it was something that was instilled in that team from the top down. Eventually, you just get the right players in there, the right culture, which they did, and culture can win you a lot of games.

GH: Is that your identity?

JK: I'd like to think so. I'd like to think so. If you told me I was gritty and tough and worked my ass off, I'd be happy about that.

GH: With Harbaugh coaching the Chargers, what kind of game do you expect on Nov. 17 in LA?

JK: Just that. They're going to try and be physical. They're going to try to run the ball. They're not going to turn it over much. They're not going to make mistakes and they're going to make you beat them. They're not going to give you the game through turnovers or anything like that.

GH: In that first seven-on-seven this spring, guys like Mike Hilton and Logan Wilson were saying Vonn hasn't missed a beat in the defense.

JK: Hasn't missed a beat.

GH: What's that mean when you have a guy like that?

JK: A great leader. He's always been a great guy to be around, on and off the field, but you talk about leadership. I mean he's the guy first in the building. He's banging on Joey's (Boese) office to work out at six in the morning every day. And he's bringing guys with him. Geno is with him. Germaine (Pratt) is with him. He's bringing guys with him. He's always done that going back to when he was first here in 2020. They're running extra meetings.

And then you have guys like Jake Browning that are getting in those meetings to help the defensive guys. But Vonn is running those meetings and it's always been that way. Just the standard that he sets in the room. Just a great guy for younger guys like Jordan, Tycen, the rookies, to pick his brain. And I like to ask him questions, too, because I've played the position, so I put myself in their shoes. But I like to see it from Vonn's perspective, too. And he's been great that way.

GH: What do you like about Daijahn?

JK: First of all, I like that he's competitive. He's a competitive guy, and he wants to be great. And if you've got a guy like that with that type of demeanor, I think that's a great starting point. But he's a guy that wants to be coached hard. He wants you to tell him every snap, what did he do wrong? What can he do better? He wants you to be on him and I've appreciated that working with Daijahn. Obviously, there's a long way to go. But he's a guy trending in the right direction. It's early. We don't have pads. But I like his approach so far. That goes for all the rookies, really.

(Cornerbacks coach) Chuck (Burks) and I were just talking about it. It's just a really good rookie room. There's good competition happening and they're working with each other. They're studying outside the building. For me to be a first-year position coach and have vets like that and younger guys eager to learn, it's good.

GH: Battle ended last season as the starter as a rookie. With Bell back, what is the impact on him?

JK: I think competition brings out the best in everybody. We're so early into this thing, I don't know how it's all going to shake out. But I think having a guy like Vonn in the room is only going to help a guy like Jordan, right? He's the consummate professional. He has maxed out his ability because of the stuff he's done off the field. I can't learn enough from him as a coach. The rookies can't learn enough from a guy like him, and Jordan Battle can't learn enough from a guy like him. And I see them off the field talking ball. In individual, talking ball. Stuff like that is going to be invaluable to Jordan in his second year.

GH: What's it like being the son of a municipal court judge in Oregon, Ohio?

JK: My dad, he was a walk-on at Michigan, too. And it's funny because my friends all relate to this. And my wife, too. He is one of the most stoic guys you'd ever meet. He does not give you much emotion until you really get to know him. But that was him as a father for me. Very direct. Stern. He was a coach himself at one point. He was in the weight room at Michigan. He was a graduate assistant there. He coached us growing up. We had one of the best dads you could ever ask for.

I imagine he runs his courtroom the same way that he ran the house growing up.

GH: Have you ever been in his court?

JK: I have. Not when he's in session, but I have been there. I've seen him work in other ways. I've seen him run a room as a coach. But he's very, very much that way. He's very stoic. He's very direct. You're not sure how to read him sometimes. He gives you a tough read. He's great. My friends, my wife, everybody loves him.

And then my mom, I think what I take from her, she was a teacher. We just had her retirement party the other day. She taught in the Toledo public schools. Just the passion she had for teaching. I find myself having that same passion. I've been in her rooms watching her perform. She taught everything and was a reading specialist recently. I think I got some of that passion and communicating in different ways from her and the stoicism from my dad.

GH: So the safeties room is a combination of the Oregon Municipal Court and a Toledo public school classroom?

JK: Probably fair to say.

GH: It seems like your room has everything. The respected veteran in Bell. The new playmaker in Stone. The young gun in Battle. A budding Pro Bowl special teamer in Anderson. And even though Dax Hill has moved from your room to Coach Burks' room, he's already well versed at safety in this defense.

JK: The more you know. I'm excited for Dax. He's very talented. The one thing I like about Dax is he works his ass off. He doesn't say much. He just goes to work. He's such a good guy. He's a good leader in that way. He's able to relate to these young guys and take them under his wing.

You ask me who the hardest worker in the defensive backfield is. First of all, I'd say we've got a lot of good ones. Dax is right up there. He's a guy you watch after practice, every practice, he's always out there getting jugs, doing extra press work. He just wants to be great. He's done it all on the back end for us now, which is going to be invaluable for him. His first start was at nickel. You forget about that. He played pretty damn well in that game.

GH: Every coach has a picture of a player from his group on the office door. You still have Dax's picture.

JK: He's a Michigan man. I'll leave it up as long as they let me. They haven't changed it yet.