Your defense's pass-rush obviously wasn't up to par last season. What do you like about Joseph Ossai to help that cause?
"He's relentless. He really brings a nice physical presence, has great burst off the edge. I really like what he brings to the table."
The NBA has seen an increase in the number of players of Nigerian descent, and now that same trend is showing up in the NFL. With the addition of Ossai, you now have several Nigerian players on the Bengals roster. It seems like a love of football is growing there and it's having an impact on the game of football ...
"Yes. I don't feel totally equipped to fully give you great answer on that one, but we were really impressed with this character and our interactions with him. We also had some coaches down at his pro day. I really, really like him as a human being, and really like him as a football player. We're excited to have him."
The word that seems to be most often associated with him is "motor." Is he at a different level with that?
"We want guys to finish. The play is not over until they finish. They've got to put their hand on the ball and that's what he shows over and over on tape. That says a lot about your character. Even if you don't know that about the kid or the man, you get a chance to see that on tape. I mentioned that last week when I did the interview with you all, and you talked about evaluating a guy and what he's about just by watching tape. You can tell just by what (Ossai) puts on tape every single snap of the game — that's what he does. We're proud to make him a Bengal."
Your big board likely looks different than a lot of other scouts and analysts, but a lot of people had Ossai as a top-50 player in the draft. Was he a guy you considered drafting in the second round?
"We certainly did not expect him to be there where he was. But again, that happens. Everyone's board is different, so it's not shocking that something like that would happen. But when it comes to your pick, we're watching every pick tick off the clock there and you're hoping he's going to be there anyway. So we're fired up about him."
You have seven more picks in the draft, as of right now. Are you looking to add more depth on the offensive line, and what positions are you still looking to address?
"What we've done is put ourselves in a position to take the best players available. You can double up at some positions. You can take some some guys that maybe followed other positions that really help us as a football team. But we've put ourselves in a good spot. Those were two areas of need that we just addressed. It didn't mean that we were hell bent on taking a player in that round if they didn't fit us with the value there. But they did, so we took them. We just feel really good about how we're positioned the rest of the way."
How much was Ossai one of those guys that maybe was out of position at first, and then once they got him into the right position on the edge, he started to show more than he had previously?
"It's hard with the season like this to factor things like that. 'OK, did he just become more comfortable at the position as the season went on? How much did a lack of offseason or training camp (affect him)?' I don't exactly know what every team went through in terms of shut down. Some teams I know were shut down two weeks in training camp because of (COVID-19) outbreaks. I can't (recall) that information for every team, but whatever it is, you saw how he finished the year. He's got a lot of tools that we like, and he continued to develop. I'm happy he fell to us."
Is there a chance you could package some of your picks to move back up into the third round, or do you think you're going to just take the picks you have and draft accordingly?
"Anything is a possibility at this point. You wait and see. There's 40 picks or so before we pick again, if I'm not mistaken. So we continue to have all those conversations. 'If there's players you like, what would you do?' Is it better to just sit and wait?' We'll just see how it plays out tonight."
How do you think Ossai fits in with DEs Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard?
"It's always good to have depth and guys that can fill in. I don't expect Trey and Sam to play every snap of every game, and so when you're looking at guys that can be that third guy for you with Khalid (Kareem) or Amani Bledsoe, we've got guys that are competing. With that third DE spot, you look at that like a starter just because of some of the reps that they get. It's a 17-game season. That's a long way, and that guy's got to play a lot in that role. So we feel like he really helps with the depth, and he'll come in and compete for a lot of playing time right away."
There's some talk he could put on some weight and play on the inside. How much versatility do you see in his potential?
"That's one of the things you see when you get around him a little bit more. But right now, we feel great about the player that we're getting. He can play a good role. Sometimes you need to get the guy in the building and be around him a little bit to fully understand how he's going to help you. But we feel really good about how we're going to use him right out of the gate."
You spent a good number of resources overhauling the defense through both free agency and the draft. How excited are you to see what this defense can and will be? How imperative is it for it to be improved, or at least play like it did toward the end of last season?
"It's huge to just continue the momentum. Obviously that week 17 game (vs. Baltimore) wasn't what we wanted, but before that we were playing some good football. But just to get guys healthy, first of all, and get the D.J. Readers and Trae Waynes of the world back in the mix is really encouraging. And then there's that leadership just continuing to step up, like the amount of guys that are texting me tonight for these guys' numbers. These are guys that won't be in the same position room, and they're not even on the same side of the ball, but they're guys that want to reach out. That's what we've been working toward these last two and a half years. I'm just really happy with the attitude of the guys that are already on the team."
Did you have Ossai running a 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range at his pro day?
"I'm pretty certain of that. I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but I recall as we were talking through the pick that he's pretty close to that."
You have a lot of young assets on the roster, especially when you factor in guys coming off of injuries. Do you think sometimes people don't really know how well this roster is stacked because of last year's injuries?
"I'm certainly encouraged by what we've got coming back. I don't worry about the perception of what other people think, because I just know. I just know what we've got coming back and what we've positioned ourselves to do. We've got to go out there and prove it. We haven't done that yet. I wouldn't bother telling anybody what to think, because until we walk out there and start winning football games, it doesn't matter. We've got to go out there and prove it. But I'm excited about the football team we're going to put out on the field that gives us the opportunity to go out and do that."
Were you egging on Zac to draft a defensive guy after the first two picks were offensive players?
"The two guys we got in the first two rounds — they're going to help our team for sure. I was super excited to get those two, and now Joseph. He's really going to help our team. I'm excited to get going with these guys."
How does Joseph help you?
"You look at the guy and he jumps off the tape. He's explosive, has great length, brings some position flex, and plays the game the right way. He plays extremely hard. I'm excited about what he brings to the table."
Do you feel like you have extra draft picks, with the injured defensive players coming back?
"One hundred percent, yes. D.J. Reader played only a couple hundred snaps for us last year. Trae Waynes didn't play at all. I look at it that way for sure. That's two new additions to the team, even though they were both with us here last year."
Do you like having a rotational guy look different and have a different style than the other two guys in the front?
"He's close. He's 6'3 and change. He's almost 260, right there at 256, 257. He's close to those guys. I'm good with where he's at from a size standpoint. He brings some position flex, which is nice. The more they can do, the better fit it is for us. I'm excited to get these guys on Zoom and get them in there and work with them."
What was the most impressive thing from his tape?
"Just how he plays the game. His physicality, his effort. You can see his explosive first step off the ball. His length shows up as well. Any great pass rusher has good length, so we're excited about those elements he brings."
How encouraged were you when his explosiveness on tape was backed up at the Pro Day?
"It's nice when both tape and workout match. It gets a little more challenging to evaluate when one is drastically different than the other. He was pretty consistent with both the workout and the game tape."
What's his football acumen like?
"It's good. Marion Hobby spent time with him, (and) Mark Duffner spent time with him. We did a bunch of Zooms with him and we were all pleased with how he was able to communicate. His football instincts were good, so we're excited about it."
You're talking about the edge and drop when you talk about positional flexibility?
"Yes. The ability to do a bunch of different things. He brings that. He's shown he can do that. But first and foremost, he can rush, and that's what's most important."
Is his effort and ability to finish plays something you can teach?
"It's something you want to be built into these guys. If they have a great motor, that's going to continue with them. If they don't, sometimes those things are hard to change. This guy brings that relentless effort, which is terrific."
It sounded like they moved him inside a little last season, and that brought out his best. Did you see that as well?
"I agree. He had a bunch of tackles for loss last year. I think maybe he became more comfortable being over there, and that certainly bodes well for us. We're excited for that."
They call that the jack linebacker. How would you define that?
"He was playing defensive end for them."
Were you surprised to see him still there in the third round?
"You never know with the draft or how its going to shake out. We were certainly pleasantly surprised he was there. Once he was, we were excited to get him. You never know — this thing is so subjective. Everybody sees things a little differently. The good news is we were all on board with it."
Was finding a rusher your No. 1 priority in the draft?
"I think the organization did such a great job in free agency in helping us in the back end, in helping us at corner and safety, and in adding depth. I think it was important to add to our front, and this is a good start."
This defense is starting to take on your identity. What do you want them to represent in terms of how other teams view it?
"I want them to see us as a physical, fast, smart football team. It starts with physicality and toughness. If you put that on tape every week, you'll have teams that have to game plan for you for different things. Football has never changed. If you're physical, bring toughness to it, play fast, and make good decisions on the field, you're going to be hard to beat."
Defensive end, Texas
You're the first defensive player taken by the Bengals in this year's draft. How does that make you feel?
"That feels great. It's awesome. I'm glad they chose me and gave me this chance — this great opportunity. But first off, I do want to say thank you to God. I want to say thank you to my family and my friends. I want to say thank you to the coaches for taking the chance on me."
Is there a nickname for you that we can call you?
"It's a clean slate. You guys can it out as it goes, but I go by a lot of things. Joe, Jo Jo, Big Joe, and — going way back to junior high school — the Nigerian Nightmare, but there's a guy who might already have that one locked down. But I'll let you guys figure that out."
You play, you hit with a mean steak. How would you describe your play, because it feels like it would be terrifying to be anywhere near you on a football field ...
"I just describe it as relentless. Like you mentioned, fearsome — fearless and relentless, because I'm not afraid of anyone on that field. I can't wait to prove that. No disrespect to anybody, but it's just that I can't wait to prove it."
Where did you get your motor? Everyone talks about your motor. Where did you get it, and who gave it to you?
"That came from two places. It came from competing with my siblings. When I was a kid, I would always play around with my brothers. And we were an odd amount of kids, well, an odd amount of boys, and it would be me against the two of them. And then the motor came from freshman year of high school. There was a pass that went out to a tight end and I didn't chase the ball, and the coach pulled me off and said, 'You have to chase that ball, because there's that slim chance that it might happen.' So, even the next play or another play before, the same play happened. I ran, I punched the ball out and ever since then, it was like euphoria when that happened. So, ever since then, I have to get to that ball. It's like Road Runner. Who does he chase? The cartoon — when he's chasing that bird. That's how I feel when I'm chasing that ball. So, maybe that could be a nickname. Road Runner, something like that."
Talk about your family tonight. Obviously, this is a beautiful night for you, but so many times it's shared with the family. Talk about the family and when you got the call tonight ...
"It was awesome. My family is everything to me, and I'm going to have to get them to every single game I can, because that's my stronghold. These guys are my pillars in keeping me balanced and keeping me doing what I do. So, I'm just happy for them because we've been through a lot. We're not there yet because this is just the starting line, but we finally have a chance to run that race, if you know what I mean. So, I'm excited for them and I know they're excited to see me."
Have you been to Cincinnati before?
"I have not, but we're about to make it. The college in Cincinnati was my very first college offer, so a little bit of full circle coming around there. It will be dope."
Did you see football before coming to this country?
"I had not."
What attracted you to the game once you started seeing it?
"I had seen rugby, and I thought rugby was football. And then when I figured out that rugby wasn't football, it confused me. So, it was that. And I watched the game with the 49ers and the Steelers, I'm pretty sure, when I first came to the country. My uncle sat me down and explained the game to me. The basic rules of how to score and the point of the defense and the point of the offense. I remember Big Ben [Roethlisberger] throwing a bomb to a receiver. I think it was Antonio [Brown], and he caught it and just ran it in. I remember the whole stadium just erupting. I just kept thinking to myself, 'I want to control that level of excitement and emotion one day.' And from then on, it just kept going. My love for football kept growing."
My guy Danny Davis said that you are one of the few guys who has sacked Joe Burrow, and he's one of your 11 sacks. Do you plan on bringing that up to him whenever you're in Cincinnati?
"I can't say anything to him because he has all the bragging rights because he won that game. And then he went on to win the Heisman and win the National Championship. So, I can tease him with it, but he only has to say two words to shut that up. It's definitely going to be exciting playing with him on the team."
Looking back, does it still blow your mind that they converted that third-and-17?
"That's a touchy subject. He's a great player and he had great players around him, so it's not too shocking. Obviously, I would've wanted a different turnout. But yeah, he's a great player and he had great players around him."
Now you're going to have to sack Big Ben instead of watching him throw ...
"It's a must."
Where are you as a pass rusher? You've played a lot of different positions. Is this something you've started to do that you're starting to get your feet wet?
"I was a pass rusher in high school. I came to college, and in my first three years, I was asked to stand up and do a little bit more dropping. But in my third year with the defensive staff change, I was asked to rush the passer more. I don't mind it. I didn't mind the switch-up, but I do know that I need a little bit more refining. And that's something I'm open to doing. I love working. Working hard is my M.O. If I was perfect in everything I did, I'm pretty sure I'd be bored because there's nothing to look forward to and get better at. There's nothing to work at. So, I can't wait to get to Cincinnati. I can't wait to get developed with these coaches and just to put in work. So, I'm excited."
Is there a player you pattern your game after?
"I don't know if we're match-for-match, but I like to watch Cam Jordan. I love the way he's consistent with his rush. That's something I want to emulate. He's great with his hands. From the first to his second move, he's very fluid. That's what I want to eliminate from my game, that pause from the first to second move. I want it to be more fluid. And then Von Miller — we have the same body type. He has exceptional lean, and that's what I want to be able to get into."
How has soccer helped your game?
"That was early-age competitiveness. All we did was play soccer growing up. It kept me in shape, allowed me to be coordinated and helped with my footwork. All of that. Soccer was the foundation, for sure."
You have a Bengals hat on right now. How did it get to you all the way down in Texas?
"They shipped in all 32 hats. This one looks good."
What will you do with the other 31?
"Garage sale? That's a good question (laughs). I'm a loyal guy, so this is the only team for me. I can't have all these other teams in the house."
What was waiting through the first night of the draft like?
"It was a new experience. It was totally flipped from high school, where you're the one choosing. You're not on the hot seat and waiting. I feel great because I'm a huge believer that God knows what he's doing. He can see into the future, and you can't. He knows the best possible situation for you. This was the best possible situation for me. It may not be the flashiest. I was prepared for flashy with the Louis Vuitton and diamonds and everything (laughs). It might not look good to other people from the outside looking in, but I know and believe this is where I'm supposed to be. It's the right situation for me, and I'm going to make the best of it. We're going to work."
So Louis Vuitton and diamonds aren't flashy?
"No, they are. I was prepared for the flash. But I'm going to come in custom everything and be prepared for anything. I'm happy to be a Bengal."
What will you miss most about leaving Texas?
"Nothing. Everything I do miss I'll bring to you, like my family."
There's no Whataburger here though ...
"What?! That's cool, we're going to fly Whataburger out. Maybe there's a substitute? Maybe we can YouTube and TikTok one and do a how-to video. I'm about to be eating a lot of homemade Whataburgers."
What made you pick Texas for college?
"I'm very rooted in my family. Being a first-born son, I felt a need to lead my three younger brothers. I wanted them to be around the game-day atmosphere. I wanted to surround them with college football so I could encourage and help them go through it on their own. That, and they had to be close. Everything else was really far from Houston. I would ask the staff at each school: I want to bring my family with me and get them to games, can you help? They said all they could help with was game-day tickets, and those stipends were not near enough. We eliminated far schools solely for that reason. Texas was a good fit. It was close to home; the game-day atmosphere was great. Coach Herman (former Texas head coach Tom Herman) had a great recruiting class coming up and had just had a winning season. Everything was trending up for Texas, so I decided to hop aboard and hopefully win them a championship."
Presented by Tide, the Bengals select DE Joseph Ossai with the 69th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Check out the top pictures of the Bengals third round selection.