Initial comments ...
"Today I have with me Rick Webster from Indiana. Rick is going to be at the draft for us with his wife, Juanita. He’s been a season ticket-holder for 13 years now, but most importantly after the draft, you’ll be celebrating your 37th wedding anniversary, is that correct? The day after the draft, or a couple weeks after the draft. So I’m excited to have Rick represent us, and I’m sure you’ll be very excited to get up there on stage with the commissioner and hand him the jersey. That’s great. We appreciate you, Rick, and we’re excited for you. I’ll open it up to questions now.”
Who are you going to take?
“Yeah (laughs), what are your recommendations?”
Who are you not going to take?
“(Laughs) It’s important, and I’ve said before, that we have a good roster. In this draft, there’s a lot of good prospects out there at 11. It’s kind of an intriguing place to be, and there’s a lot of options on the table. So I would not want to remove anything, but it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out for us.”
Do the strengths of this draft hit you well?
“Yeah. At that portion of the draft, there are a lot of strong positions this year. Honestly, I could name five of the positions that there’s a lot of strengths. It’s an intriguing year. We’re always looking to bolster our roster, so there’s some good positions that are going to help us.”
When you evaluate quarterbacks outside of the game tape — taking that off the table, since obviously that’s the most important — what do you like the most to learn about them? Is it their pro day, work on the white board, your conversations with them? What do you like the most when you’re looking at those things?
“The first thing is the leadership qualities they have. That’s not necessarily coming from them, that’s coming from people around them. So those are the questions, as you investigate from any round in the draft, that you really have to ask. Not just the coaches, because sometimes the coaches want the guy to do well, so you have to make sure you ask everybody around them to get a feel for that guy. From there, different guys play in different systems. To measure their football IQ, sometimes you just want to hear them talk for a long period of time. Sometimes the systems are great for the conference they play in and it helps them produce and win a lot of games, but it doesn’t translate to our level. You just want to hear them talk. You don’t hold stuff against them. They know what they know, they know what they’ve been taught and exposed to. You just want to get a feel for his football (IQ), what the most important thing is to this guy, and when he walks in the building is he a great leader? Is he going to elevate those players around him? Then you take into account the game tape. Those things all mesh together to figure out if you want to take that quarterback or not.”
Is it hard to find that stuff out in the limited amount of time you get with guys, or do you find that you’ve found kind of a good niche or a way to work it?
“I think there’s a great way. You can always casually ask other players from the team that come around, off-guard a little bit with the way you phrase it sometimes. I always think there’s ways to find out the things you want to find out about those guys.”
What have you thought about this quarterback draft?
“I think you can compare them year to year. It’s been the same level of players each year. There was that strong draft in 2012, where there were a lot of first-round picks. I guess last year there were quite a few as well. It’ll be interesting. I’ll be interested to see how many guys go in the first two rounds with the group they have coming out.”
Do you feel like you’re surprised every year? It seems like every year, people are surprised at where they go or how far up or down somebody goes. Is that the one position that seems to always surprise people?
“I don’t think I’m ever surprised at how high the quarterbacks go. There could be a lot of teams that often times don’t have a lot of first-round grades on guys that are going in the first round, and that’s just the nature of the business. It’s a critical position, so that doesn’t ever surprise me. Often times when a guy drops, you think to yourself, ‘Well shoot, I should’ve had him in the second or third round anyway because that’s where he was.’ I shouldn’t say that you’re ever surprised by that stuff.”
You went through this process as a quarterback. Did you take anything from that experience and use it as an evaluator?
“Oh yeah absolutely. You have your canned answers when you’re at the combine and the things you’ve been programmed to say. ‘Hey, what’s your favorite third-and-seven play?’ Trust me, I knew a couple of the tricks that I was taught, so I tried to weasel my way around those and made sure I could get past those answers from these guys. I know a little bit about how they’re programmed as they go through this process.”
You kind of had that experience with L.A. Rams QB Jared Goff. People said that he was a bust during his rookie year, and he wasn’t playing in the right fit systematically with his skillset. Your coaching staff came in and all of a sudden, you have a phenomenal player. Is one of the big things trying to project their skillset, whatever their position is, to your system?
“Yes, you’re right about that. It is important. We came in Jared’s second year. It’s hard for a rookie to come in and play. I think we turned over the top four receivers in the offseason as well, so there’s a lot of things that go into that. You sign two veteran offensive linemen that year and drafted a couple of receivers that came in and played right away. Not only was Jared a very talented player, it was a difficult first year. The offense as a whole changed around him, and then you started to see the most around the guys. Often times you’re evaluating a quarterback and maybe they don’t have all of the things around them that they need, or maybe they’re in the wrong system. It’s scary that a guy sometimes can almost get buried for that and just never get the opportunity to shine when he has great potential. Jared is going to have an unbelievable future in this league. He’s already started to show that. It’s interesting the things that can happen to quarterbacks in this league sometimes, just based on the situation they find themselves in.”
In your first pro assignment, you were handed a first-round quarterback. What was that experience like?
“That was probably the most unusual experience, because I’d been with Ryan Tannehill for four years at Texas A&M. We were running the exact same offense that we ran at Texas A&M because Mike Sherman came to Miami. That was the most unique in that we brought a quarterback into the building who knew the system better than everyone really. He’d invest more reps than any person. That was an unusual situation, so he was a little bit more ready to come in and play because he felt comfortable in the system, and that was a big advantage.”
Are there any lessons you took from that for this draft or past drafts?
“For any young quarterback, what happens to those guys is that the season ends and then they get ready for the Senior Bowl. Then they’re throwing and getting ready for the combine, then they’re throwing and getting ready for their pro day, then they’re throwing and getting ready for the rookie minicamp. So they’re throwing nonstop since the season ends, whereas the veterans that are in this league, they’re not throwing. Once their season ends, they probably take off until March or April and then start to get back into the mix of things. You’re adding a lot of throws as these guys basically get ready for the biggest moment of their lives, to show off their skills. You have to be mindful of that in the summertime and in training camp, especially if the guy is going to be your starter. I’m talking just generals here. Those are things you noticed with those young quarterbacks when I had one. You have to try to manage that guy and manage his reps, because they’re young and they’ll throw all day, every day. Then December rolls around, they’re the starting quarterback, and all of a sudden their shoulder starts to wear down a bit. I think every team in the league is aware of that and does a pretty good job of managing that.”
As a quarterbacks coach, I’d imagine you’ve looked at every quarterback, down to the least likely college free agent guy. As a head coach, how many position groups and how many guys are you studying?
“You really do try to manage those first couple rounds. We’ve been in draft meetings for the last couple of weeks with Duke (Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin) and his staff, so you hear about all of the prospects. As the head coach, you’re not going to be able to watch every single prospect. You have guys that you trust in the scouting department, and you have position coaches that you’ve hired to trust and manage their position, and you respect their opinion. You try to get through a good portion of them in these early rounds to be educated on what you want and who’s available, but at the same time, you trust the staff in the building and their opinion. It all is taken into account as you go through it.”
In your experiences in the NFL from a draft standpoint, does anyone have as close of a relationship as the Bengals have here, in terms of all the coaches having a voice in the draft process?
“It’s hard for me to say, to be honest. It’s not a question I directly ask other people. I certainly think the communication here is second to none and that the coaches get to go to as many pro days as they desire, or research these guys that they’re thinking about drafting. We sit in there and everyone gives their opinion, so it’s been a great process in that you’re getting all of the information and everyone’s opinion is respected and taken into account. There’s still a lot of work left to do in this next week as you sort things out, but it’s been a great process for this staff so far.”
Whenever players are selected in the first or second round, there’s a ripple effect in the locker room at that position sometimes. When that happens, do you plan on calling a player that maybe would wonder what’s going on if you drafted a player at his position in the first or second round?
“It just depends on the situation often times. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to that. You do take everything into account. You’re managing a lot of different people on the team, and you ought to get the most out of everybody. You’re always open and honest with these conversations, so those are just things we’ll handle as they come up.”
Mike Sherman was the Green Bay Packers’ coach when Aaron Rodgers slid to the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Have you ever talked to him about that day, and are there any lessons to be learned from quarterbacks sliding?
“Not necessarily. I was in college, so I remember it happening, but at the same time not really knowing the caliber of the players. They were both in the Pac-10, I think Matt (Leinart) — or no, it was Alex Smith wasn’t it? So I didn’t pay too much attention to it. And to be honest, it’s never really come up with us. I’m sure they’re glad it happened. It’s worked out well for them, but we haven’t had a specific conversation about it.”
Are you guys going to have any joint practices during training camp, or are you considering it?
“It doesn’t look like we’ll have any joint practices this year. That’s something we’re always open to in the future, but nothing set in stone right now. I would say to start that it doesn’t look like we’ll have one this year.”
Do you like the idea of those?
“I’m always open to that. I’ve done it in the past. A lot of it depends on the scheduling, when and where you’re playing, and just if it works. Again, this year it doesn’t look like we’ll do that, but I’m certainly open to it in the future.”
What are your thoughts on playing at Seattle for your first game?
“We were going to have to open against somebody (laughs). Everyone this time of year is a good team and they’re looking to make their team better, so it’s certainly a team I have played a couple times the last couple of years. They’ve played against me as well. It will be a good challenge. It’s a loud environment, great team, well-coached. Those guys are physical, and they play hard. It will be an exciting first test for us.”
Three out of your first four games are on the road, but four of six to end the season are at home…
“That’s right. It’s however you want to look at it.”
What’s your gut feeling on that?
“I try not to read too much into anything, to be quite honest with you. We knew how many games we were going to play on the road and against who. It doesn’t matter to me how it was all going to play out. We had a sense the first game was going to be on the road, so it’s at Seattle. We have two west coast trips this year, so from a travel schedule standpoint it’s probably nice that one is early in the season, before the grind of the season gets going. I’m exited for it. There’s a lot of great opportunities as you look at the schedule. You like how it plays out — you’ve got a Monday night game, and some great division games early and late. I’m just excited to get the process started.”
Have you played in London before?
“Many times. Almost played in Mexico City once (laughs), and then we didn’t.”
Are you going to travel over to London on Thursday of that week?
“We’ll likely go on Thursday.”
Is there anything you have learned from in your previous experiences about the travel?
“I’ve been there three times, so this will be my fourth time if I’m thinking correctly. We probably have always done it similarly and gone over on Thursdays. It’s important the things you have to educate your players on, with the sleep patterns and all that stuff, and how to eat and what all that stuff is going to entail. I feel like the Bengals have some experience, since they did it a couple years ago. I’ve done it a couple times, and a lot of the coaches on our staff have done it several times. I feel like we will be ready and prepared when that time comes. We’ve just had brief conversations about it so far, nothing too far in-depth.”
Regarding the west coast trips and London, it seems like being on the west coast and traveling east is actually harder. What have you learned from your experience doing that with the Rams?
“That was difficult, going from west to east. We don’t have to do that anymore, so that’s nice. Anytime you travel there are challenges that come with it. This will be no easy task, but the facts are that it is not as much of a toll on your body to go from east to west. The time change doesn’t get you as much. Instead of getting there and physically it feels like an early game, it’s like a 1 p.m. game that’s at 4 p.m., or an afternoon game whatever way you cut it. It’s not as taxing on the players’ bodies from the time they wake up and go to bed if you would be going the other direction. I probably sound pretty goofy talking about that. Somebody else could probably articulate that better than I can, but the bottom line is it’s easier going east to west.”
Will you travel to the west coast on Friday or Saturday?
“We haven’t made that decision yet.”
Are you happy not to have a Thursday night game?
“There’s good and bad with that. I’m surprised — surprised we didn’t have a Thursday game. You have a short week, the players don’t love it, and then you have a mini bye after it. You can look at it from many standpoints. If you have it early in the season and you’re healthy, you can probably play well and kind of get a little breather there on the weekend. It’s difficult if you draw that Thursday game in November or December and you’re beat up and have key players hurt — that can be a big disadvantage. We don’t have one, so it’s just the way it is. We’ll continue to plan our seven-day weeks, with the exception of the one eight-day week before we play Pittsburgh. But we’ll just roll with it. That’s the way it cut out this year.”
Going back to the draft, do you have a group of guys dig into these prospects’ social media and look for red flags?
“I think we do a really good job here of using all of the departments to figure out anything we can on the character of players and stuff that you are mentioning. Those conversations always pop up as we talk about players and all those things that can come up on social media and the character. We factor all that stuff in.”
Are there guys you have already taken off the board completely because of red flags?
“I think just character in general is the thing we look at. You can take everything into account, whether a kid got in trouble in college or there is something on their social media account. You just take it all in and factor it all in and try to get a good understanding of what kind of prospect you’ll be getting at our level. I can’t specifically say if someone has been thrown off because of their social media, but character in a whole is really important to us.”
How do you envision minicamp going?
“It will be a good way to evaluate our team before the draft. We have watched plenty of tape on our players, but it’s good to get them on the field firsthand. It will be nice for us to get a chance… So we have had Phase 1 where we have met with the guys and they have lifted. Then most teams go to Phase 2, where you can go on the field and do ‘11 on zero,’ where you can’t put anyone across from the guys. For us, it’s an opportunity to go against the defense, and the defense to go against the offense and get that tape out there. So for the three days that we practice, we get a chance to use that tape to make a lot of corrections. And for the three weeks that we have Phase 2, when we aren’t allowed to go against a defense, we can then use that tape to really coach on the field the good things we did and any errors we made. It’s nice from that standpoint that we get this three extra days to practice against a defense and go full-speed and be able to use the three weeks following it to make those corrections. The guys will have a better understanding of what we’re taking about, because they’ve done it in a competitive environment. That’s as opposed to sometimes when you’re on the field in ‘11 on zero,’ and you’re talking through it and get them to understand blocking schemes, but they wouldn’t have seen it because no one is lined up across from them. It’s a benefit, but we only get it for this first year. But we’re going to use it to our best advantage.”
Is it also a chance to evaluate how well they learn on the field?
“It is. You get a chance. We’ve been installing the last few weeks, and we will get a chance to install right before we go on the field and see how the players retain it. It’s hard for everyone, players and coaches. When you’re in a meeting room, it’s easy — you see the video, write it down on paper and can ask a question. Now break the huddle and see how you respond. It’s really good that we are going to get these three days to just get a good run before OTAs and the last minicamp comes around. It will benefit us, and this Phase 2 period we can hone in on cadence and all the motions and stuff you can do against air.”
Is there any player from your previous coaching experience that really picked up on the playbook quickly?
“A lot of guys. A lot of guys really impress you in the way that they learn. I feel bad mentioning one because I feel I could mention a bunch. There are a lot of guys that have been around that have been really smart players."
How much of the offense is in now, and how much will be in for minicamp?
“We usually have seven or eight installs with our guys. I would say we have three installs in right now, and we won’t utilize all of that in this minicamp because it’s the first time we’re on the field. If you overload them you won’t see the player at his fastest, at his best and thinking sharply. You have to minimize it to an extent so these guys can get out there and get some confidence, and start to understand what these schemes look like and our systems look like on offense and defense. We can then better evaluate the player early on, and then when we get going, put more on them and start growing from there. It will certainly not be the full offense, defense and special teams as we start this minicamp.”
Is it nice to know as the head coach that, if someone is there you want at pick No. 11, your voice is a little louder in the room?
“Is it nice to know? We just want the best player. I don’t care if it’s my opinion or anybody else’s opinion. We just want to make sure we find the best ways to improve the team, because we have a lot of picks this year. We get one in every round for certain. I really don’t care at the end of the day who made the decision to do it. We just want to make sure we are getting a player that’s going to help our team become better.”
How have you found the draft process so far?
“It’s great. Typically as a quarterbacks coach, you just sit in on the quarterback meetings and hear about the quarterbacks that you already know about. I think we all enjoy sitting there and hearing about all three sides of the ball. It’s been a great process for all of us.”
Where have you been in previous drafts? Have you been in the draft room?
“I’ve done it a lot of different ways, to be honest. A lot of different ways. I don’t think there’s one tried and true way that’s the best. Certainly it will be nice that we will all be in there and see it all as a group.”
Do you feel good about your coaches coaching the guys during install, since you’ve worked with a lot of your coaches before?
“I do. I think Lou (defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo) feels the same way about the defense, and Darrin (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) and Brayden (assistant special teams coach Brayden Coombs) on special teams. It’s nice knowing we’ve worked with each other. Working together does help, and when I’m away, Brian (Callahan) and I really have the same background of where it all comes from. When I’m not around, Brian hits the ground running and knows how I think. We get together at the beginning or end of the day when I’m away and make sure we have a good plan for the day, and cover any questions that have come up. We’re always on the same page.”
Do you have a type of player in mind for your system?
How does that translate to competing in the AFC North?
“Again, how do they fit our systems? The goal is always to win the division, no question about it. It’s a psychical division that’s evolving. It doesn’t take away the psychically of it, but the systems are evolving in this division. But what’s most important, like we say, ‘It’s about us,’ right? It’s how we make our team the best and make teams play us. If we can make our systems the best we can make them, then that’s other people’s problems. We are looking for players that fit what we want to do on offense, defense and special teams. When we identify those players we’ll try to draft them and make our team better.”