Were you getting a little nervous since your name had yet to be called?
"A 'little' is probably an understatement. I was starting to stress a lot once the fifth round was over, because I had been told I was going to be gone before that. So that was kind of my expectation — the sixth and seventh round, I was starting to stress a lot, and my family was too. But I'm thankful I got drafted. The Bengals took a risk on me, and I'm really excited to be going back home to Ohio and Cincinnati."
How relieved are you to be a Bengal, and how do you fit with the team?
"I'm very relieved, because like you said, I was stressing out a lot. But to hear my name, to see my name pop up there (on TV) and have the coach call me and say they were going to draft me, that's obviously a childhood dream I've been working toward my entire life. So it was a moment of validation for all the work I've put in. I've had several FaceTime and Zoom conversations with Coach Duffner (senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner) and Golden (linebackers coach Al Golden), both linebackers coaches, and I think I'm going to fit in great there. We've already talked about some scheme and everything, so I think I'm going to have a good shot to be successful there."
Does being drafted this late give you extra fuel?"
Maybe a little bit, because of just the feeling of agony and dreadfulness while I was waiting for my name. I know my worth, I know my value, and I'm really excited I get a chance to go out there and prove it now."
Do you think your injuries and not having team doctors evaluate you in person are reasons why you went late in the draft?
"Yeah. The injury definitely didn't help my draft stock. And the pandemic — which is very serious, obviously — took away some of the access that they would have normally had during this process. So those are definitely factors that affected me."
Where are you right now health-wise?
"I feel great. I was cleared to do full movements the week before the Combine, and then I came back after the Combine planning to do a pro day at Purdue on April 2. Obviously that all got shut down, but I continued to train here in Phoenix with the NFL group at (the Fischer Institute) full-go, full reactive with no limitations. So I was preparing my body to get ready for rookie mini-camps and OTAs."
Did you send video of your workouts to all 32 teams?
"Yeah. That was my simulated pro day video that we had to send out. It was just the drills that they did in Indianapolis at the Combine."
It's been said that you're always in the gym and studying the game. Are you a football junkie?
"I don't think that's a bad thing to hear about yourself (laughs). I would agree with that. I love watching film, learning how to diagnose plays and understand the game on a deeper level. I feel like there's always something you can do to get better. Not necessarily running your body down by doing an endless amount of reps, but quality of reps and figuring how to actually improve. The details are what has made my game so good to this point."
The coaches have said you have position versatility as a linebacker. Do you have a favorite part to your game in terms of making an interception, a sack or stopping someone for a loss?
"You touched on the versatility. I love the fact that I'm able to play multiple positions, because I feel just specializing in one would be pretty boring. I like moving around. It's like a different frame of mind you need have out in space on a receiver, versus on the line of scrimmage, versus a lineman or tight end or in the box. It's really fun for me to play football because I just love football in general, but I love the specific aspects of my game. I have really good balls skills. I'm able to get some interceptions. I think I'm a really good inside blitzer. I can utilize a lot of different third-down packages because of my ability to make running backs miss, and use leverage, and use technique to be able to get to the quarterback."
Have you ever been to a Bengals game or Paul Brown Stadium before?
"No. I've actually never been to a NFL game, which is kind of funny. Well, I've never been to a NFL game as a fan, like when I was growing up. I went to a Cardinals game while I was out here (in Phoenix), but that was just recently in this past December. I went to a Cardinals game with my agent. But growing up, I didn't go to any games."
What did Coach Golden and Coach Duffner tell you about your role and their expectations for you?
"I'm not exactly sure yet; I know in my meetings I've had with Coach Duffner, he's talked about those two inside backer positions, and I can go between those. I'm sure I'll be talking to the coaches more in detail in the subsequent weeks, obviously."
What are your thoughts on contributing on special teams?
"Because I played every snap on defense, I didn't play special teams my last two years. But my freshman year and my sophomore year, I got well-acquainted with it. When it comes down to it, special teams is just understanding leverage, angles and movement. I'm a football player and I'm a good athlete, so I feel like I can contribute. I'm excited to contribute to special teams, especially when it's my rookie season."
How did this last rehab process go, since you've been through it before with your left knee a few years ago?
"When it happened to my left knee, I was only a true freshman and I'd never really had a serious injury before. So it was a big shock for me, and a lot harder for me to kind of flip the switch and start getting toward the rehab of it and the comeback part. When it happened this time, I didn't have any time to be sorry for myself, or be sad that I missed my senior year. I had to quickly figure out my next move, I had to find time with an agent, I had to figure out where I was going to get surgery, and I had to figure out where I was going to train — all of the components that go into having a successful pre-draft process, I had to switch to focus on that, and because of that I was able to get drafted today."
What inspired you to pursue a master's degree in leadership?
"I was able to graduate early with my undergrad in sports science. And so I wanted to take advantage of my time in my fifth year, and the extra time I had in the classroom, and actually have something to show for it. There's a few other guys that had gone through that program and said it was really good. Being able to get a master's degree from Purdue University on scholarship is something I feel like a lot of people would like to be able to do, or wouldn't pass up the opportunity to do. I think it will help me outside of football a lot, and it's kind of kept me busy during the time I've been training."
Were you were All-Academic Big 10 every year?
"I would assume so. I think so, because my GPA was usually over 3.5."
That must be hard to do at Purdue...
"Yeah, I guess you could say that. School has always been something that's been interesting, and hasn't really been difficult for me growing up. In high school you didn't have to put as much effort into studying. So as long as I put the effort in and was making sure I got my work done, it's not too difficult if you have good time management skills."
Where were you ranked in your high school class?
"My high school was a really good high school. We had like 450 kids in my graduating class. I think was in the top 40 or top 50. People's GPAs were like 4.5 because everyone had those AP classes and honors classes. We had a really good high school that put a lot of guys in college."
With two torn ACLs in college, what does it mean to you to hear your name called?
"I feel like it's almost an 'against all odds' type of thing. I know from an NFL and business perspective, looking at a guy with two knee injuries is kind of nerve-wracking and can make you a little weary. But I feel like we've done everything that I could on my side, with my agent and everyone that's helped through the process, to show teams that I am healthy and that this is not something that should continue going forward. It meant a lot to hear my name and know that there was a team that believed in me. Now I get a chance to show my value."
Is your academic achievement self-driven, or are your parents a big factor there?
"Yeah, I mean academics had always been of utmost importance to my family growing up. It was never like a situation where we were allowed to slack in that part of our lives. That was always something that we had to finish our homework before we did this, or before I started practice. Academics came first. I just got interested, and I found joy from starting off trying to win at 'times tables' in second grade and doing 100 multiplication tables. Me and a few of my buddies tried to compete and do as much mental math as we could, so it kind of started there I guess. I've always wanted to learn as much as possible."
You seem like a pretty cerebral guy. When you think about players in the NFL that approach the game in that fashion, who comes to mind for you?
"Probably guys like Luke Kuechly, who just retired. I know Sean Lee has been known for that. Jaylon Smith is someone I met this past summer. We were able to watch film together, and I know he's pretty cerebral with that. Someone like Bobby Wagner is like that as well. So those are some guys that I can name off that are like that."
Take a look at some of the top images of the Bengals seventh round selection, linebacker Markus Bailey from Purdue.
You mentioned Jaylon Smith, who also had a knee injury his final year in college. How much did you talk to him about this whole process of coming back and what it's going to take to stick in the NFL?
"Actually it's kind of interesting — I went to the same surgeon that did Jaylon Smith's ACL surgery. We kept in contact a lot throughout the process. He kind of knew what parts of the rehab would be tough, or where I would be at mentally trying to come back from it. But his injury was a little more serious than mine, because of the way he got hurt. We've kept in contact, and he's been kind of a mentor for me since I met him."
Have you ever crossed paths with Logan Wilson or Akeem Davis-Gaither, who were selected by the Bengals earlier this draft?
"Logan is actually with my agency too – Steve Caric represents us both. So me and Logan are part of the same agency. And then I met Akeem Davis-Gaither at the Combine, and he seemed like a really nice guy. I know those guys are two really good players, and I'm excited to see what this rookie class of linebackers can bring."
You grew up in Columbus. Did you cheer for the Browns or Bengals?
"Honestly, I didn't really have a favorite team. My first favorite team was actually the Raiders when I was like seven years old, because they had that logo. I liked that logo that they had, and they had Randy Moss. I used to like offense growing up, so I liked that. I was a little bit of a Colts fan when they had Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark, because I played tight end. And they had Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and all those guys. I wasn't a huge fan of either, but it wasn't like I didn't like them either. It's whatever."
Do you feel like the football gods owe you at least a year of health, or five or 10 years of health after what you've been through?
"Hey man, I'm planning on staying healthy the rest of my career. I've got two fresh ACL's. I've been feeling good, and I'm ready to go out there and start a successful NFL career."
Did you think you'd be talking to the media this much today?
"Of course. I always think positive (laughs). It's a good thing, just the way that everything fell. And as I said before, the whole organization – Duke (director of player personnel Duke Tobin), the scouts, ownership — everybody's been on the same page. For as tough of a time as we're all going through (due to COVID-19), this was one of the smoother drafts, I have to be honest."
How much better do you feel now about your linebacker corps coming out of free agency and the draft, compared to last season?
"It's going to help. You know we've got obviously now a bunch of new faces and guys that can do multiple things, so we're super excited about it and looking forward to getting going, whenever that may be."
It's been mentioned, but without the traditional offseason schedule, how valuable was the Senior Bowl to this year's draft?
"I go back, and I think said it the first time we talked today, but the Senior Bowl was invaluable for us. It was an extra five days with these guys, and you got to know the players on both teams — that's the good news. It's not just our (South) team (that we coached), it's both teams. I feel really good about it, and really good about the guys we got."
Every pick seemed to be a captain of their college team or a coach's son. Were you trying to find guys with a certain edge or pedigree?
"Yeah. From the top down, as I said earlier, and going back to free agency. What did we do? We brought playoff guys in — guys that were on playoff teams. And now in the draft, we're adding as many captains and guys with leadership (qualities) as you can add to any organization, which is going to help. That's not the only part of the equation, but it's certainly a big piece."
What can you say about Markus Bailey?
"We had high grades on him, and he was there (in the seventh round) for whatever reason. He's had obviously a little bit of an injury history, but we feel good about it. We feel good about his ability. He's done it all. He's played out in space as a displaced linebacker out covering receivers, he's covered tight ends, he's blitzed – he's really showed up. He's a football junkie. He's one of those guys that's a gym rat — he's always in there. I know those coaches well there (at Purdue), and they've got to kick the kid out of the building. He can do all three (linebacker) positions. Again, he's another guy that brings flexibility and has a passion for the game. He's a good guy that wants to do well, so we're excited to add him to the room and to the team."
What concerns do you have with Bailey coming off the ACL injury? What's his timeline?
"As far as I know, he's going to be OK. But the doctors will have final say on that. I'm not 100 percent sure on the exact timeline, but I do know he's got a passing grade, or else we wouldn't have taken him."
Head coach Zac Taylor talked about the work you did on the linebacker class. Was there more work done there than say other positions this offseason leading up to the draft?
"I mean, maybe. Certainly consciously or unconsciously, you're going to spend maybe some more time on an area of need. But for what has occurred this year with all of us, my face and the coaches have been stuck in front of these computers, and we've had an unbelievable amount of time to watch guys. Not that we wouldn't have done that anyway, but it just seems to have played out that there's a little bit more that way. We feel good about all of them, but we were honing in on this one for sure."