When did you know Joe Burrow was going to be the pick?
"We wanted to go through the process and utilize all the time that was allotted to us. We wanted to research and get to know everyone. We had a lot of confidence these last few weeks in who we were going to select. There was nothing that was going to happen to make us change our minds."
Why is he the ideal quarterback for your offense?
"He's a proven winner. He throws with anticipation. He has a great football IQ. He can diagnose defenses as well as anyone we've studied. He can create off-schedule plays as well. He does a great job keeping his eyes up in the pocket and eluding defenders. They have great coaches and players at LSU, but there are some times where a defense gets you. He still had the ability to create and extend plays. Those are traits you can't pass up."
Are his intangibles part of what make him so special?
"He gets the most out of those around him. He has the respect of coaches, teammates and everyone he's played with. You talk to anyone at LSU or OSU, and they all love the guy. We're excited to add him to the building; that's the type of character we're trying to add as we grow this thing. He understands the platform he has being the No. 1 pick playing in his home state. He understands the attention that brings and how to handle himself. We're excited to get know him even better and work a lot more closely with him."
Conceptually, is he the most ready to transition from college to the pros?
"There's a lot of carryover there. Maybe conceptually they're named different, but certainly a lot of things you see on tape carry into our offense. He'll be able to get up to speed on that quickly. They did a great job at LSU of putting him and other players in great positions. Those guys took ownership of the offense, starting with Joe. It will be exciting to integrate him into what we want to do."
Did you guys entertain trade offers for the No. 1 pick?
"No. Once we made the decision to take the guy you're taking, it further confirms what you're thinking. We'll keep that within our own building. We were steadfast in who we were going to take. We believe in the guy, and there was nothing that could make us trade that pick away."
Numbers aside, it seems like he can bring a lot to the culture you're trying to build…
"All the pieces fit together. Not only the stuff you saw on film and the field, but the leadership and work ethic he brought to the program. Talking to those close to him, he brought a lot of intangibles to the table. Then you turn on the tape it verifies everything you've heard. He's worthy of the first pick, and we're excited to get him into the building."
Is there enough to do virtually to get him to speed?
"You can install the plays. That's really the extent of it. It looks like we'll have plenty of time to do that, and show him tape from last year and what we will continue to do in the future. We quiz our guys on that stuff and make sure they're confident in what we're asking them to do, and know the ins and outs of all the schemes. But at the same time, it's on the players to manufacture the physical reps. They won't be able to throw passes or work as a unit, but you have to find a way to get in your backyard and get reps in. Whether it's telling your girlfriend or mom where to line up, or how many steps to take on each route — just make sure you know it inside and outside. We're going to challenge our guys to get creative, to make sure that when we do get a chance to practice that we hit the ground running and are prepared to win football games."
How big of a moment is this for the franchise?
"We will never pick No. 1 again. We don't want to pick in the top 10 again. We're looking at this as the only time you're ever going to get a player of this caliber and add him to the program. That's a big deal. There's a lot of expectation that comes with that. We're going to challenge him just like the veterans, and just like the guys we pick the next two days. They're all on the same playing field, and they all have great expectations for themselves and the team. We will hold them to a high standard and make sure they're up to speed quickly."
What did you say on the call to Burrow tonight, and did you make him aware he was the pick earlier?
"We never told him outright, but he probably had some strong indications we were leaning that way. I said on the call that he should be proud of all the work he's put in at this point. He was a championship caliber player in high school and college, and he's helped those teams play in the biggest game there was. That expectation does not change now that he's a Bengal. We expect him to come in with that mindset. Everyone we bring in that building will be held to that standard."
Were you able to install anything with him over the last few weeks?
"We kept everything in the evaluation phase. There are ways to test him, giving people things you're comfortable with and see how quickly they can retain and have a command of it. That's all part of the process we went through with him and all the players we look at in all the rounds. He showed great ownership with what they did at LSU and OSU, and with what he can be asked to do at this level."
What impressed you the most about him during this process?
"He has an earned confidence. It's a confidence he's earned because he put the work in. He's achieved success on the field with a national championship. I can tell he doesn't take that for granted. He knows that he has to continue to work even harder than he ever has before at this level. There's new challenges he hasn't faced before. You can tell he's very comfortable in his own skin, and comfortable with what we're asking him to do."
Did you feel like you had to sell him on Cincinnati at all?
"He's got relationships with players already in the building here. They did a great job communicating to him. They'll feel the second they step into this building what kind of vibe and energy we have here, and what the expectations are. There was never any concern about that."
He's had a lot of adversity. Do you like that aspect?
"You grow the most from the adversity you face. We've all been through that, whatever career you're in. It's not always roses; there's adversity that knocks you down. You learn the most from those periods. I learned the most I ever have from this last season. I'm sure Joe's no different going through that process at Ohio State. It's only going to serve him well in the future."
Did you talk to those people in the building that knew him already, including his former Ohio State teammates?
"Absolutely. With any player we look at, if we have someone we're close with and we feel like we can get good information from, you use it during the draft process. We did that with the guys that had played with him at Ohio State."
There seems to be a lot of people in the building who have relationships with him already in place …
"It's great. There's some comfort when he comes in already. When you talk to those players and hear the same thing, the respect for the guy grows. Especially coming from a place he transferred out of. It shows how highly they think of him, and that they've maintained that relationship the last few years. It just further confirms all the things we had heard."
Do you expect him to compete for the starting job? Is that the expectation?
"Yes it is."
What will you be looking for from him when he arrives in May?
"The physical part of things. That's identifying the defenses we'll face, and the speed of the game. He faced some pretty good talent, but when you put him with a unit of 11 guys that are all in the NFL, it's a step up. That's a challenge for everyone we pick — getting used to that and getting comfortable with how quickly you make decisions. We selected him because we know he can handle all of that, it's just a matter of accumulating reps."
Will he be the opening day starter?
"We won't get into those predictions now."
From this point forward, your legacies will be connected with one another. Do you look at it that way?
"I don't think of it that way. I can understand that. We're focused on winning as many games possible this year. We think adding Joe will help us do those things. All I focus on is the immediate future, and how to get this team running when we're playing football games. Last year was unacceptable, and so we feel like he's a good piece of the puzzle to add as we look to compete for championships."
Have you thought about getting a receiver now?
"I think we're in a really good position to see what happens at pick 33. We didn't pigeonhole ourselves into a particular position. It's exciting for us to get a chance to regroup in the morning. We've put a lot of work into potential scenarios, and we'll get a chance to run through it one more time. I'm sure people will be excited to see how it shakes out, but we'll have plenty of time tomorrow to sort that out."
You've evaluated a lot of quarterbacks in your coaching career. Is this one of the cleanest prospects you've ever evaluated?
"Yeah, he's pretty dang good. There's not a lot of warts to it. Nobody's ever perfect, and everybody's got things they can improve on – there's no doubt about it – but it was exciting watching his tape. It seemed like he got better in every single game he played. He started off fast in the season, but the stage just kept getting bigger and bigger, and he and all of his teammates continued to raise their standard of play one notch higher, which is pretty hard to imagine. That was a pretty special run to watch all of these guys have – Joe included.
Burrow is from this part of the country and is pretty much a local kid. How big is that for you all and for him?
"It's cool because he's been in the area, and he knows what we're all about. Obviously there's probably people in the area that know him well, and will be drawn to the Bengals that maybe weren't already drawn to the Bengals. That's not an intended consequence of drafting a guy, but it's a pretty cool scenario that's taken hold here. It's just really exciting for the whole state of Ohio."
If there was one discussion point when it came to evaluating Joe Burrow, it was his arm strength. Is that concerning at all to you?
"No. I look for the decisions, the timing, the accuracy. Sometimes you can get that much more out of your arm when you know exactly when that ball needs to come out, and you're throwing with a lot of confidence. The hashes are wider in college than they are in the NFL. I've seen him throw plenty of comebacks where you're not going to have to throw at that distance in the NFL. We've got full confidence in him in this building."
Through the vetting process, was there one thing somebody told you who knows Joe that really stood out?
"No, just because everybody was really preaching the same thing. He's a different kind of competitor – meaning that in a good way. He pushes everybody to their limits just because that's the standard he's set for himself. That's just expectation for everybody around him. And that's why he played for a state championship in high school, and that's why he played for a National Championship at LSU. That's probably why he went to Ohio State, because he knew that they were going to be playing for national championships as well. Everybody's really given us the same feedback."
Did you talk to any of your wide receivers to get a sense of what they thought about Joe Burrow?
"No. We spent a lot of time looking at his coaches and scouts. I'm sure players always have opinions on guys they want to play with. Unless they've got a relationship with the guy and we feel like we're going to get pretty good information out of it, it's usually not something that comes up."
How important is the swagger factor at that position in particular?
"It's not swagger that's important. Like I said earlier, it's that earned confidence in guys that aren't trying to manufacture some persona because they think they know what it's supposed to look like. They put in the work, so there's no guesswork. You're not hoping you're going to get the job done, you know you're going to get the job done because you put in the work, and you've got full confidence in your abilities, and you help raise up the level of play of those around you. So when you walk on the field, 'swagger' is not the word I'd use. It's a confidence you've earned where you know you're going to go out and execute to the highest level, and that's what he's proven to do."
People have referenced that he's one of the first guys in the building, and one of the last to leave. Are all these things an important part of the evaluation as well?
"There's no question about it. He certainly had a great plan in place with how to attack the game week at LSU, and he put himself in a position to be prepared on game day. That's really all you ask for out of your starting quarterback – really all of your players. He did that when he was a starter there at LSU, and we'll continue to hold him to that standard in our building."
If Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa didn't have the hip injury, would you guys still have picked Burrow?
"We evaluated all of the quarterbacks that had a first-round grade, and ultimately we decided that Joe was the best pick for us. I'm not going to spend too much time talking about those other guys. It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out and where they all head. Just because you did the work on them, you're interested to see where they shake out. All I can say is we decided to pick Joe as the quarterback, and I'll leave it at that."
You still have Andy Dalton on the roster. Do you expect conversations about him to accelerate after the draft, when you see how it all plays out around the league?
"Yeah, I think we'll get through the draft and revisit that to see where we stand."
Joe was an effective passer under pressure last year. How important is that?
"It's not always going to be a clean pocket, regardless of how good your offensive line is, so you've got to be able to throw in tight windows. You're not always going to be able to see – you're going to have to trust. And there's times you're going to have to create on your own and be strong in the pocket. One thing that stands out with him is you always preach (keeping) two hands on the ball as you're making moves in the pocket, and keeping your eyes downfield. That's something you can tell he really takes to heart. He's really strong, and he's ripped himself away from some tough defenders and can create plays on the move. Again, throwing under pressure is a big part of the game, especially in the NFL – that's what you're going to see on third down. He's obviously made really good strides in that area so far."
Is it safe to say that when you bring in that guy, who had that hype, in this season, under your wing, that the pressure is all on you now? Do you feel like all pressure shifts to your shoulders at this point?
"I think that we love the pressure – that's why we're in this game. If you don't like pressure, then you definitely shouldn't be a part of the NFL. That's probably what draws us to this profession. We're not good enough to play, so the best way to simulate that feeling is to start the coaching side of things. Whether we had the No. 1 pick or not, I'm always going to feel the urgency that you need in order to put in the work to be successful."
Do you recall the moment during this process that you realized you wanted Joe and that he was your guy?
"It's hard to peg. There's so much work that's done over the past four months or so that it's hard to pinpoint an exact moment. There's probably a lot of signs that we thought to ourselves that this guy was a great fit. There was no need to rush into that decision. We've been on the clock since January. We had plenty of time to make that decision. We weren't going to rush into it, because there's no reason to do that. We gained no advantage from declaring him the first pick of the draft on April 1 compared to tonight. We just did our due diligence, and I think everybody in the building's approach was the right thing to do to make sure we vetted all these prospects and that we were using all of the time that we were allotted. In the last couple of weeks, we just made the decision that we've done all the homework and he's the guy."
He has sent out his first tweet since being selected. It reads "Enough talk. Time to get to work." Is that about right for Joe Burrow?
"That's good to hear. That's good to hear. Yep, that's the expectation we have."
He played against high-level competition in college. The fact that he's faced adversity, does that give you a sense of comfort?
"It does. Like I said, with guys that have been through adversity and faced some challenges, you learn the most from those experiences. He's obviously played in some pretty volatile stadiums and environments, and on some big stages. Not just last year, but the year before too. I'd be willing to bet there were probably seven or eight top-10 teams in 2018 as well when you look back it at. Now it's just time to put in the work."
How hard did other teams go after the first pick and try to get you to trade out of it? What sense do you have about what other teams in the league had about what Joe is going to be able to do in the NFL?
"We'll keep that to ourselves. But again, any thoughts teams had is just further confirmation that it was a guy that they obviously thought highly of. Again, we didn't really entertain it. It's a guy we believe in, and if you believe in the No. 1 pick and you believe he's going to be the right fit for your franchise for a long time, then you take him. And that's the decision that we made."
Is Joe Burrow the most accurate college quarterback you have ever studied?
"Yes, he sure is. I think both statistically, and just watching him, he is the most accurate I've graded in the NFL so far. The only guy that was probably close in terms of (being) a total package was Andrew Luck when he came out. He (Burrow) is exceptionally accurate. It's by far one of his greatest strengths."
What's the biggest intangible he has beyond his physical attributes? What stands out to you there?
"I think he's wired the right way when it comes to how he approaches the game. His ability to diagnose and see things on the field comes from his intense study and preparation. He's one of those guys that's rare in that regard. He's so well prepared, he works so hard. And those things, they come with a lot of hard work, but they (also) come easy to him, if that makes sense."
When you met with him and he was doing board work, how quickly was he able to process all of that information?
"He, to me, came across like a guy that had been playing NFL football for 10 years. His ability to understand — he's a coach's kid — (seems like) he's been around it his whole life. Everything just comes naturally (to him) when we're talking about understanding. The things that he could recall, the way that he talked about football, and in the meetings that we've had, the most impressive thing was his ability to understand how it all fits together — what the defense is doing, what the offense is doing, what the protection scheme is. His knowledge was far superior (to) most kids coming out of college."
Can you talk about the responsibility — but also the excitement — you feel in mentoring a kid with this kind of potential?
"I'm extremely excited. It's a unique responsibility to have. I've been fortunate (in that) I've been around two other guys that have been taken No. 1, (but) obviously not as rookies. I was with Peyton Manning for four years and Matthew Stafford for two, both later in their careers, so there's a little bit of difference there, but I understand how those guys think and are wired. The development portion and responsibility that's on all of us (coaches) to bring him along quickly, it's immense and it's fun. That's what we want. I'm looking forward to that challenge, and I know he is too."
What plays does Burrow like best?
"I think he likes good plays best (laughs). They ran a really good system at LSU. They were well-coached. I worked with their offensive line coach in Denver, James Cregg, so I had some familiarity with some of the things they did up front. They were really well coached. They ran an NFL (level) passing game and those guys executed it, both Joe and all of his supporting cast. What you see on his tape versus what we have in our playbook is not going to be all that different. Ultimately, our job is to find ways to highlight our players' strengths; whatever those things are, (and) we're going to find a way to do it. So, you know, if there's some things that Joe likes that he did at LSU that we didn't do as much of (before), we're certainly open to making those additions and using some of the things that he did well. In turn, I think there's things that we do that will help him. It's a marriage, in that sense of trying to find all the ways to put our guys in the best position (to succeed). We also had different types of players than they had at LSU, so the way we feature those guys is going to depend on their strengths as well. It all kind of fits together, and we'll get it all sorted out once we get back to work here at some point."
Terminology is always a big thing as concepts can be similar but can be akin to learning a new language. With the current situation because of the pandemic, you can do things virtually ... but it doesn't compare to actual on field work, right?
"Yeah, I think it's a concern, because we just don't know what to what to expect. Nobody's been through this before. I was part of the lockout year, but this is something entirely different than that, so it's going be a challenge, and one we're going to look forward to attacking. I think that any time you get thrown off your normal rhythm, it's a challenge, and this is certainly well-beyond off anything of a normal rhythm. We're going to have to be creative, we're going to have to find ways to get things done. The unique thing is that everybody is in the same boat. No one's at a supreme disadvantage; we're all working through the same things. It's certainly going to be a challenge, but (I'm) looking forward to it, to be honest."
Did you watch Burrow's college football playoff performances against Oklahoma and Clemson, and if so, what was going through your mind at the time?
"I did. I didn't watch all of them (live) because (for) one of them, we were getting ready for meetings on a Saturday night — probably the semifinal game. We were just peaking at it as we were getting ready, (so) I didn't get to watch all of it. I did watch the national championship as much as I could, and you saw him in the biggest moments on the biggest stage just play his best and raise his teammates' (play) around him. Anytime you get to watch teams play for championships, it's fun to watch those guys rise to the top like that. He clearly rose (to the occasion). To anybody that was watching, they saw a guy that was in total command of everything that was happening around him. That's impressive when those moments show up, and you could see it from watching the TV copy of the game. You could see his competitiveness, his charisma, his pride — all those things. (And) the toughness — all those things showed up, and I remember thinking (about) those things as I watched that game, just as a fan of football."
Some teams like the New Orleans Saints have an advantage with having a veteran quarterback, right?
"Yeah, I think that every team is different when it comes to that. They're obviously a veteran-heavy team. They've all been together for a very long time, especially their offensive system. Those guys know what they're doing. Drew Brees knows what he's doing. All those receivers, they really are productive; if they need to install their halfback choice to Alvin Kamara three times before training camp starts, I don't really think it's going to give them much of an advantage, so I understand where maybe they're coming from. Some teams are not in that same boat. We're only going on year two and we're going to need all the time we can get. We're going to do everything within the rules to use that time, and we'd be foolish not to for us at this point."
A lot of pundits have talked about who Burrow reminds them of. Who does he remind you of, and what is it about him that makes you feel that way, regarding players you've coached or seen before?
"He does remind me mentally of the guys that I've been around — I only reference them because I've been around them — and that's Peyton (Manning) and Matthew Stafford, (who) were two other very, very intelligent players. They know how to play the position. I see a lot of their makeup in Joe. Not to say I'm comparing him to either one of those two, but just as a guy who's going to come in and be a starting quarterback as a rookie, and the expectations are high. How those guys went about the business — I see a lot of similar things in Joe from the time that we spent with him.
"As far as comparing him to anybody (else) currently — and I've heard all the comparisons that are out there — it's hard to compare a guy sometimes because I don't want to put it on him fairly or unfairly, so I'm going to refrain from (doing that). But he has the makeup and the traits of a lot of the good quarterbacks that I've been around, for sure."
You said at the NFL Combine that you would be shocked if the three top quarterbacks made it out the top 10 and they went within the top six picks. How close are Burrow, the Miami Dolphins' choice in Tua Tagovailoa and the Los Angeles Chargers choice in Justin Herbert, or was there a big gap between them?
"No, those other two quarterbacks were extremely productive in their college systems and in their own rights. I thought highly of these three top quarterbacks, really from the time we started the evaluations. They were guys that I thought would play in this league for a long time, and I think that will hold up to be true. They're all different. They all possess traits that people like, but I think, at the end of the day, they're all going to be good NFL quarterbacks."
What can you say about what the selection of Burrow says or means to the status of current starting quarterback Andy Dalton?
"I'll leave most of the decision-making up to the people that make those decisions, (Head Coach) Zac (Taylor) and (Director of Player Personnel) Duke (Tobin) and (owner Mike) Brown. But just as a side note, I do have a ton of respect for Andy — for how he handled the situation last year. I still think he's a good NFL quarterback and the situation was unfortunate, and Andy took a lot of the blame as all quarterbacks tend to do. Fairly or unfairly, that's just how it goes in this league for quarterbacks, and he knows that. But his class in how he carries himself and what he means to this team and this organization — I don't think — will ever be able to be understated."
What are your thoughts on the talk that Burrow may not have the best arm strength for a NFL quarterback?
"There is a threshold. There's a baseline you have to meet to play (as an) NFL quarterback, and that's one that Joe certainly has exceeded. To answer the question when you evaluate a quarterback, there is a baseline. There are throws you have to show you can make. (With respect) to Joe, I don't worry about how much arm strength (he has). As long as you have enough to meet that threshold, the stuff that becomes more important in the NFL is the decision-making, the timing and the accuracy. Those are always the three things that we'll lean on when it comes to looking at successful quarterbacks because, if you can anticipate and you can throw on time, a lot of the arm strength debate can go out the window. I've never had a reservation about his arm strength at all."
Who are some of the more impressive wide receivers you've seen that could be available with your first pick tomorrow?
"Well, there's a lot of them. I don't want to take up all your time listing all the receivers, but there are some good players, and they all have some different places that fit (them). There are good inside players, there are good outside players, there are good ball carriers — guys that get the ball in their hands and play well, so we're sitting in a pretty good spot in that regard. This class is deep and it's talented, so if that's where we roll at (pick No.) 33, and there's a guy that we think is the best player there, they may be available for us."
Do you think the guys who could be in that position could come in and be immediate impact players?
"Yeah, I think the philosophy (is) if you're picking at 33, you're picking a starter. There are few (instances) where you take a guy there that you don't anticipate having an immediate impact. We're anticipating whoever that is on either side of the ball that they will come in and have an impact."
Could you put an estimate on the number of people you talked to vet Joe Burrow, and was there a particular story about him that stood out to you?
"I talked to a handful of people, and I know Zac reached out to some of the head coaches and stuff like that, (as) it's a little easier for him to do. I got a text from the new media personality that he's become, Dan Orlovsky, at one point early in the process. I asked him if, in his travels, he had come across him (Burrow) at all, just as a person — I had coached Dan for a year in Detroit, so I have a relationship with him — and he (Orlovsky) just more or less passed along the same things that everybody else has come to know about him. (He said) his whole package — his demeanor and how he approaches the game — he said, 'He's a stud.' Those are some of the things you hear from a lot of people, but from a guy who's played that position for a long time in the NFL and got a chance to talk to him and that I have a relationship with, I just thought that carried some weight for me ... a former NFL quarterback talking about a guy I was doing some research on."
Quarterback, Louisiana State
What was it like to finally get that call that you've been drafted to the NFL as a member of the Bengals, especially after so much speculation that you would be?
"I was excited about it. It's a dream come true to finally be picked. And to get to play so close to home, me and my family couldn't be more excited about it."
How do you embrace the pressure, expectations and all of the things that go with this selection?
"You don't think about it, you just continue to work really hard and do what got you here. I'm the No. 1 pick, but it doesn't mean anything in four months, so I'm going to continue to work really hard to be the best player that I can be for this team, for this franchise and this city."
What is your best attribute that you bring to this team?
"I think it's leadership. I've always been really, really good at bringing everybody together to form a common goal, and I think my work ethic kind of permeates throughout the team. I'm excited to get around all the guys and everybody within that building."
Is there something the Bengals said to you throughout the process that made you excited and look forward to coming to Cincinnati?
"I don't think anything specific, but every single conversation I had with Coach Taylor and Callahan (Offensive Coordinator Brian Callahan) and Pitcher (quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher) was very, very positive. They made me very, very excited to become a Cincinnati Bengal."
What's your overall impression of Zac Taylor?
"I couldn't be more excited to work with him. He's an up-and-coming star in the league in that coaching position. I think his philosophies on offense fit my game very, very well."
It's been reported that you received a note from Bengals president Mike Brown that welcomed you to Cincinnati. Was that note hand-written? What did it say, and what did it mean to you?
"It was typed out. And it meant a lot. He also wrote one to my mom and dad as well. That kind of shows the person that he is, and I'm excited to be his quarterback for hopefully a long time."
When you look at your journey from Ohio State to LSU, you went through a lot of adversity. What kept you going through all of that?
"It was tough. When you have all that failure for three years, it kind of weighs on your mind. But I just kept faith in the fact that I knew I was working really, really hard and improving every single day. When I wasn't playing, I was in the weight room and staying after practice just to improve my game to get to the point where I am now. I'm going to continue to do those things at the next level to continue to improve my game to become a better quarterback."
Leading up to the draft and even now, have you gotten a feel for how popular you already are in Cincinnati?
"I have, and I'm very excited to reciprocate that to the fans and to the city. I think it's going to be a great relationship, and I think we're going to win a lot of football games, and that's going to make it a lot better."
In talking to some of your former coaches about your character, they all mention your desire to win. Where does that come from?
"I'm not sure what it is about me. I just work really, really hard every day, and I think that probably rubs off on people. But I'm just unapologetically myself, and I think that's a good thing and people respect that."
Have you heard how bad the city wants a winner?
"Yes I have. I'm on social media like all us young people, so I see it and I'm hoping – I don't want to say 'hope' – I'm going to work as hard as I can to bring winning to Cincinnati. And I know the people around me will as well. The culture that Coach Taylor is building, I'm very excited about it."
Are you getting a crash course in Bengals history from your friends Ryan and Adam Luehrman, who are Bengals fans? What was their reaction to knowing that you're coming down to Cincinnati?
"(Laughs) Yeah. They're excited. They made sure to tell me all their moves in free agency, everything that they were doing, so I've been kept up to date by them."
It's rare for a 2-14 football team to have the talent it has on offense here statistically, with WR A.J. Green, WR Tyler Boyd and HB Joe Mixon. Are you excited to be surrounded by some pretty good players, despite last season's record?
"I am. The thing about the NFL is there's good players everywhere. A couple injuries here or there can really change a season and change you from a playoff-caliber team to a 2-14 team. So we have what it takes. Whatever they need me to do, I'm going to do it. Hopefully I can bring something to the team that is positive and brings about wins."
How was it being at home in Athens County for the draft, versus a ballroom in Las Vegas for this special moment in your life and career?
"I was very excited about it. I kind of initially wanted to do something here in Athens anyway, and not go to Vegas. But (I decided) I was going to go to Vegas and walk across that stage, and it was going to be awesome. But as soon as the pick came in, people were driving by the house, honking their horns and screaming out the window. That's the kind of place that it is here, so it's been great to experience this with some of my closest acquaintances."
If you were to critique yourself, what are the next steps you feel like you need to take as a quarterback?
"I'm going to continue to improve all parts of my game. Everything has to be a step faster in the NFL, so I've been working on faster footwork, faster release, stronger arm – just the whole package has to become better when you get to this level."
Your Heisman speech raised over a half million dollars for your community in southeast Ohio. How overwhelmed were you either in that moment and/or by the response to your speech?
"It was pretty overwhelming. It's tough when you're in the middle of the season to think about it because you're so focused and dialed in on just winning football games. But after the season and especially during this quarantine, I think it really hit me how many people it has helped because a lot of paychecks aren't coming in right now and that food bank money, that food pantry money is helping a lot of families during this tough time."
This is a franchise that doesn't typically spend a lot in free agency, but this year they committed a lot of money to it. What was your takeaway from that?
"I was very excited about it. I think it shows the direction (in which) this franchise wants to head. I think it's going to be a winning franchise for years to come, and I hope to play a big part in it."
Zac Taylor was asked about your 'swagger' and the way you carry yourself, but he responded by saying he sees it more as confidence. What to you is the difference between those two words?
"I think 'swagger' is... I mean it's something, but there's not really anything behind it. I think 'confidence' has preparation behind it. There's a lot of false confidence out there that I think you could describe as 'swagger.' The reason that I'm so confident is I know the work that I put in. I know the preparation I do before every single game and in the offseason. That's why I'm so confident in myself, because if you put in the amount of work that I put in on the field and you don't succeed, I think something's wrong."
Duke Tobin said you love the grind. Is it the fact that you're the son of a football coach and you've been around it all your life?
"You know it might be, but something I've been scared of is the old saying out there that there's always someone out there that's getting up earlier and working harder. I've always tried to be that other person. When people say that, I try to be the guy that they're talking about. So that's something I've always really prided myself in."
What time do you get in to the building?
"At LSU I would get there 9:30 or 10 (a.m.). Wake up and make breakfast — you've got a little time — and then get in there at 9:30 or 10 to watch your film. I've got my film study routine throughout the week. Every day is something different. Then you're there until after practice until 7 or 8 (p.m.), around then."
When did Zac tell you that you were the guy?
(Laughs) "I think you'll have to ask Coach Taylor about that one. I heard when the pick came in on the TV, and when he called me right before."
There's a difference between putting hours in, and then having a plan and methodology to your approach. When did you start putting that together?
"That's a really good point. I think a lot of people say, 'I spent five hours watching film yesterday.' OK, what are you watching? Were you watching the quarterback make a great throw? That's not how you watch film. The key is being efficient with your time. I really honed in on that this year, and I had a very structured routine. I had my Sunday routine, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So I had a very structured routine on how I watched film and prepared for the week."
You talked at the combine about not wanting to be presumptuous about the No. 1 pick, but this has really felt inevitable for a long time. Did you tap into your friendship with Sam Hubbard about the culture here?
"A little bit — not too much. I don't think it was really my place. I was just working to prepare to be the best quarterback I can be, and whatever happened on draft day happened. But I couldn't be more excited about what happened tonight. I'm going to come in and be the best player that I can be, and try to help build a culture of winning here."
How much of a luxury is it having four or five former teammates in the building?
"I'm very excited about it. I loved playing with all those guys. Unfortunately, I was just never able to see the field with any of them. So I'm very excited to do that — and even some other guys have reached out to me tonight and the past couple of weeks — to just start building those relationships."
This is a franchise and city that hasn't won a playoff game since 1991. Is that something that you have to mentally adjust for?
"No, you don't mentally adjust for it at all. You don't sacrifice your standards for anything. I think going into the season and thinking our goal is to win a playoff game this year — I don't think that's the case. I don't think that's the right way to go about it. I think you go in to the season, we're going to work really, really hard and focus on one play and one week at a time, and we're going to win a lot of football games that way. I think if you go in thinking, 'Oh this is the year we're going to the playoffs, this is the year we're going to win a playoff game,' it gets too daunting. It sounds corny, but you've just got to focus on every single step of the process."
Maybe there's more pressure for a No. 1 pick here than in other places because that success hasn't been here in so long. Is that something that you've thought about, and that you have to adapt to it perhaps?
"For me, it doesn't matter where you get picked. I could've been the 189th pick or I could've been No. 1. I'm going to work the exact same, and try to be the best quarterback I can be for this city."
At what point last season as you were going through the process did you think, 'We're going to be pretty good here'?
"As soon as we walked off the field in my junior year after the bowl game. I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew the guys we had coming back. I knew the people, more importantly, that we had coming back — great guys that just worked really, really hard and knew what it took to do what we wanted to do, and that was win a national title. And like I said before, we didn't focus on winning the national championship, we focused on dominating every single team that we played, and I think that was the key to our success."
If we talked to any of your teammates from LSU and asked them what was the one key ingredient that made you the leader, what would they say?
"I think I'm fairly good at connecting with a lot of different people. I'm a Southeast Ohio kid. I think my high school kind of prepared me for it a little bit. We're not super racially diverse, but we're very socioeconomically diverse, so you get (to know) a lot of different kinds of people. And I think that allowed me to connect to a lot of different people, and that really helped me when I was at Ohio State. And going down to LSU, I've been able to connect with people from rural Virginia, people from inner-city Chicago, New Orleans, rural Louisiana ... so I think that's something that I do very well."
You talked on ESPN Radio the other day about how this social distancing period can be advantageous for you. Can you elaborate on how you've been taking advantage of what otherwise has been a difficult time?
"Yeah, I think it really has been an advantage for me. I'm not missing any workouts because I've been flying — I'm not getting jet lagged. I'm just really focused on my routine, and going to work every single day — throwing, lifting, running. And I've really changed my body the last few months. I'm going to keep building it up for the season. The NFL is a physical game, so I'm going to keep lifting weights, getting stronger, getting bigger, getting faster, and the last few weeks getting in this routine has really helped."
How has your body changed?
"I've leaned out a lot the last few weeks. It helps when you have money to buy the right kind of food. That's one of the first things I'm going to do — I'm going to get a chef, so when I'm done with my workouts I can come home and eat great food to fuel my body and just relax. I think that's been key. My mom has been doing all that for me right now, so it's been awesome being home. Now the next step is putting on more muscle and gaining some weight before the season starts."
You've faced a lot of adversity in your career. How do you think that the path you've taken has prepared you for what you're going to face here?
"Teams are picking at the top of the draft for a reason. I'm not going to sacrifice my standards of play, and I expect to go out and win every single football game, but you also have to be realistic. I've gone through ups and downs. And through the entire process, I've just kept working hard, and kept faith in that preparation and that hard work to get me to this point. And that's exactly what I'm going to keep doing through the ups and downs this next year and the years to follow."
What new teammates have reached out to you tonight?
"Joe Mixon messaged me right as the draft was starting. Tyler Boyd, and C.J. (Uzomah) the tight end reached out. Sam Hubbard, obviously, he reached out. I'm just excited. It feels like a great culture that's being built, and great guys that I'll be with."
What new teammates have reached out to you so far?
"Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd messaged me as soon as the draft started. The tight end, C.J. (Uzomah) reached out. Sam Hubbard obviously reached out. It feels like a great culture being built, and great guys that I'll be with."
What level of swagger would you describe yourself as having?
"I think it's another term for confidence. My confidence was really shaken after I left Ohio State. I didn't know if I could do it. I knew I had put the work in, but I hadn't done it yet. So I wasn't quite sure. After the last few games of my junior season, it started to click for me. I knew exactly what I had to work on in the offseason to really take my game to the next level. That made me super confident in myself, and I also had great people around me that I had total faith in. We had great coaches as well. So that's why I was so confident in us and me."
You listed all your offensive linemen in your Heisman Speech, and that seemed to stand out to a lot of people…
"I think those guys are some of the most underappreciated people in not just football, but the entire sports world. We had a lot of great guys on that offensive line that worked their tails off to protect me and let me throw the ball. They know how much they mean to me, I just wanted to let the world know the kind of work they've put in."
What does your schedule look like tomorrow?
"I'll get with the public relations people and see how many interviews I have to do. I assume I'll be watching the draft again tomorrow night with my family, and see where my guys get picked."
How are you preparing to compete on the NFL level?
"I want to be the best player I can be. I'll have to get mental reps in from missing these mini camps and OTAs. I'll have to get into the playbook really hard and go through the process of calling plays in the huddle. The thing about being in the huddle is you have to be stern in your voice. If you're wavering and fumbling over your words, players will look and think, 'What is this guy doing? Get him out.' So that's something I want to be focused on."
What jersey number will you wear? No. 9? No. 10?
"I did think about No. 10 a little, but I had some not-so-great memories when I wore it last. No. 9 had some great ones, so I decided to stick with it."
Teammates always mention how competitive you are in everything. Is that true?
"I think so. I've always prided myself on competitiveness. Ping pong, video games, football, basketball, chess — it doesn't matter, I'm going to win."
Is there a certain level of pressure that comes with being the top pick?
"Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to focus on putting in the work every day to become the best player I can be. The media loves to talk about pressure, and I think some guys let it get to them. I think if I put in the work, that pressure will be mitigated."
Do you think about all the records you set last season? There were a lot of them...
"Hopefully in 20 years after I retire. I haven't thought about it in months."
What's the story behind the shirt you're wearing? (outline of the state of Ohio, with "740" inside of it)
"It's the area code of southeast Ohio. I signed with Nike, and they made some great custom stuff for me. It's what I wanted to represent. We have more in the works as far as foundations go, but I'm excited to help my hometown."
Whose idea was it?
"Mine. I had some shirts that said it before, but not like this. Nike came to me with this idea, and I loved it."
How important would it be for you if the Bengals picked a WR in the second round?
"The more help you can get as a quarterback, the better. At the same time, I haven't been with the team yet. I don't know the holes that need to be filled. That's a question for me next year, with a year under my belt."
Have the Bengals asked you about any of your teammates?
"Every team talks to me about my teammates. I think the best way to find out about them is to ask players they've played with. I've played with some great guys that I'd love to have on the team."
What are your thoughts on Andy Dalton's situation? He has been the starting QB in Cincinnati since 2011 and has one year left on his contract...
"I'm not sure. That's a question for Coach Taylor and Mr. Tobin. Either way, I'm going to continue to work to be the best player I can be. If I'm with Andy for a year, I think it would be a great learning experience. He's someone that's done it for a long time at a high level."
Are you more comfortable with a veteran quarterback in the room?
"I'm going to make either situation work. If I'm all alone in there with younger guys, I'll make it work. If I'm with Andy, I'll make that work too. I'll adapt to any situation thrown at me."
You're wearing a silver chain around your neck. Is that the chain that Lil Boosie gave you?Y
"Yes it is. He gave it to me after the last game."
You've said in the past that you aren't a fan of Skyline Chili. Could those thoughts change?
"I haven't tried it in a long time. Maybe my tastes have changed. We'll have to find out. Maybe I'll try it here in the next few weeks."
You've talked a lot about your love for Gigi's Diner, a restaurant in your hometown. You've said the Western Omelet is your favorite meal there, but what's your second favorite?
"I honestly have never gotten anything other than the western omelet. That's the only thing I've gotten the last five years."
How excited is your girlfriend right now?
"She's very excited. We've been apart for a long time."
How often did you come to Cincinnati as a kid?
"I would come to Reds games as a kid, but other than that not too much. With my dad being a coach, we didn't do a lot of other stuff. I was playing a lot of sports and traveling a lot. We had a lot of baseball and AAU tournaments in Cincinnati."
You've talked about your love of video games. What's your favorite video game of all time?
"I'm stumped. Ask me at the next press conference, I'll have to job my memory.
What have you been playing recently?
"I'm playing Rocket League now, and occasionally Call of Duty."