Initial comments ...
"That wraps up our six picks. We started out with eight and traded up using two of those picks and came out with six guys that we really feel good about — guys that really give us some good spots for depth, competition. All the guys that we've added, again, are about the right stuff intangibly. From their personal character (to their) football character, those are all the things that we strive (for) and we feel that we added a really good mix of players that fit that mold that we're looking for. I'm excited to get to know these guys a lot better over these next couple weeks. They'll report here in two weeks and start when the rookies start here, in two Mondays from now, so we'll be excited to get them in the building and mix them up with our veterans and get going from there."
It seemed like some of the core things valued in this draft for you were, especially in the back end, speed, and in other spots, versatility. Was that a coincidence or a core tenet going into this draft?
"A little bit of both. There's just some guys that we really liked that happened to be there (and) fit some of the versatility — that's a good thing to have. At the end of the day, we're happy that they had it. The speed, certainly that fits that as well. But those were guys that we were high on from the beginning. We were happy that they were wherever they were at and excited to get them over here."
There's so much talent every draft. How often were intangibles the tiebreaker or the deciding factor in making a pick? Do you see that consistently when you guys would go through the draft process?
"I think not when you're on the clock and not leading up to it. Those are the conversations that you have in the weeks leading up and maybe at the start of the day (like), 'Hey, we got a couple of picks here. Let's talk about these guys.' Some of the character stuff could pop up at that point. But I think that's what (Bengals director of player personnel) Duke (Tobin) does a great job of is ironing all those conversations out, so that you're not all sudden getting new character developments while you're on the clock. We sort through that so we're all on the same page, when we're on the clock."
On a similar topic, how does character and intangibles help you win football games?
"It does because (the players) love the process. They love the grind. They're great teammates. They like to be coached. They understand how to take criticism and ultimately, guys like that like winning and they all the things that come with it and what it takes to do it. They don't just love being a football player and the things that brings with it. They like being a football player and striving to win championships, I think that we've added the right group of men that will continue to help us fight for that."
What sort of character things would you preclude somebody from not being adaptable for you guys?
"I mean, it depends on the person. There's a lot of things that I can answer right there that could fit into that mold. It's really impossible for me to throw them all out there. Those are just the things that we talked about behind the scenes of what we value and what's important for us."
Players are getting bigger, faster, stronger as every year, it seems like you got 340-pound guys running 4.7. What is it — diet, nutrition training, etc. — that has you seeing the development of these guys on a year-to-year basis?
"Sure and those are things that we certainly track with these guys over 12 months — how they've handled their weight, are they disappointed in that area? Are those going to be issues that we have to deal with on our level?
"That's a good example of finally the football character of the guy. Is he disciplined with how he controls his weight, how he works out on his own (and) all that kind of stuff. Is he on time regularly or does he have issues with that? Those are things that we investigate and ultimately feel good about before we take the player."
Can you tell us a little bit about your seventh round pick Jeff Gunter?
"Yeah (he played at) Coastal Carolina (and) he really fit some depth for us. He will come in initially as more of a DPR (defensive pass rush)-type guy but we think he can really evolve and play some different roles for us. He went to Coastal, went to N.C. State (and) came back to Coastal. I have not personally spoken to him, but the coaches that have like (defensive line coach) Marion (Hobby) and (senior defensive assistant Mark) Duffner really like his personality and feel really good about him. Speaking to him on the phone, I know he was he was really excited to be here. The reports are all that he's a tremendous kid. The staff there really enjoyed having him and we think that he provides some value for us in the seventh round. We're happy to get in there."
What position did you say he was playing for you again?
"He's got some flexibility. But you know, with his weight, he'll come in and be a defensive end and we can move around. But again, you guys love the versatility phrase that we've been throwing around these past few days and I think certainly he's got some of that."
"DPR" — is that an acronym for "designated pass rusher?"
"The outside linebacker position, defensive end, DPR ultimately, those guys were in the room and they got to learn all that stuff, and that's kind of an area for us."
It seemed like it just fell defensive-heavy in the draft. Can you give your thoughts on how why you spend so much capital on defense?
"(It) was just you know, the value that was there and again, there is value with the players that were there (that) fit with the need. You always hear people ask are you taking the best player available or you take it for a need? Well, we thought the combination was there. That really hit us at the right spots over the course of the draft. So again, (we're) really content with the players that were there when we took them and certainly could have gone into the draft and if you told me there have been more offensive players taken it wouldn't surprise me because there were some good ones there. But ultimately, there was the right defensive players there that we really liked and had good grades on and felt like they were a good fit for us."
How different did this draft feel knowing what you just did last season, knowing what your roster is now?
"Well, we don't have the starter needs that maybe we felt like we've had in the past. You can find the right fits and you don't feel like you have to reach (to fill) a huge hole there. It is different picking up the ends of the rounds, certainly, because you can see 20 picks above yeah, there are some players you got high grades on and they get snatched up where maybe in years past, you've got those guys. But again, we feel really good about the six that we're adding there. And if you told me on Wednesday that this was how it's going to shake out, I think that Duke and everybody upstairs would have been really happy with adding these six players to the mix."
Not that offensive linemen aren't skilled athletes, but the fact that the only offensive player taken was a lineman and there were no skill position players taken an entire draft, did you expect that going in ahead of time? Did you think it would shake down that way?
"That was hard to predict, but certainly, we're happy with the one that we got on offense. (He's a) four-time national champion (and) comes from a program that's done some incredible things. (It's) as solid as any program in the United States. He's about all the right stuff, he's a football guy. I think you hear (offensive line coach) Frank (Pollack) and (offensive coordinator) Brian (Callahan) get up here and talk about him. We're really impressed by him and really happy that we were able to get into the mix. He'll be able to come there compete."
A position a lot of us thought you'd address was TE, but you ended up not drafting one. Is that because you guys felt so good about Hayden Hurst and Drew Sample that you didn't feel like you needed to add another one?
"It's always good to add competition, especially at those third spots. We did feel really good about Drew and Hayden. There's a reason we drafted Drew, and he's played a lot for us these past couple years. And then adding Hayden — we've got high expectations for him. You're always looking to add competition into the mix with that group. We didn't happen to do it in this draft, so that's just the way we went. We found value at other positions, and selected those players."
You made six picks, which is kind of a small class. How does that impact undrafted free agents that you'll have to go out and get?
"A lot of them. That's why I'm going to sit here as long as I possibly can, rather than being upstairs and dealing with all that (laughs). But yeah, there's lots of room for these undrafted guys. Historically, there's been great opportunity here. I know none of them are going to watch this sales pitch I'm throwing out now, but just historically a lot of those guys have come in and performed well for us in training camp and made the team. You look at Stanley (Morgan), Damion Willis, Alex Erickson, Josh Tupou. There's a million of them you can name that have found homes here and had good careers here, and opportunity. Again, we're very hopeful we'll find a couple more in this mix of guys."
Is that where you may get your WR/TE type of guys to round things out a bit?
"We're certainly going to try. It's always interesting. That would be the reality show —starting now, in a war room with the coaching staff and scouts on the phone. If Roger (Goodell) is listening, that's the pitch right there for a nice 30-minute reality TV show immediately after the draft."
With wide receivers and tight ends, is that something where you may look at veteran free agents that are still out there?
"We always have a target number for training camp that you want to carry, so however we fill that. Whether it's through college free agency — or OK, you don't get it done in college free agency, so you evaluate what's out there so that we have our number that we want to carry in camp. It's not something that you immediately overreact to one day after the draft. We'll talk through it. We don't get on the grass with our players for another two weeks, and even then it's not what it was 10 years ago with some of the 11-on-11 stuff we're doing. So it's not quite the rush to make sure that you've got all those positions filled. We'll take our time and make sure we're adding the right people."
When you see the talent teams are adding at WR and stacking the offense, what's the challenge of building a defense that can go out and win NFL games with offenses as good as they are?
"We value smart players, for sure. And we feel like on our defense we have the talent to compete for championships. But just the overall football intelligence of our group. As you guys and ladies will be around them here in the next couple months and get to know them better now that COVID is kind of done, you all already know this, but it's a very smart group from top to bottom. And we value that. We think that matters. It matters just getting to the line pre-snap and making the right adjustments post-snap. So when you're combating that with the talent that's on the other side of the ball, you've got guys that can play fast and confidently and communicate. It gives you an added advantage there, and we place a lot of value on that. We've got those guys from top to bottom on our defensive roster."
You got five defensive players, and they all seem to have run and tested well. Is that a big factor when you're looking at getting the defense you wanted and that you guys envision?
"It's just part of the puzzle. We feel like on tape they're really good football players who happen to test well as well. Just that combination from hearing from the scouts that scout that area — and the scouts that do the cross-overs and cross-check some of those positions — the guys we added, we felt like we got good opinions and had good conversations to where we feel like they fit a need for us and can bring value."
Do you anticipate adding a punter to that undrafted class, or in a perfect world do you bring back Kevin Huber to compete with Drue Chrisman?
"That's something we'll continue to discuss these next couple of days. Obviously, Darrin (assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons) and I have talked a lot about that before. Now that the dust has settled from the draft, we'll revisit that and see where we're at."
Do you enjoy getting to dust off your recruiting chops?
"No (laughs). I'm more than content to leave that behind."
On paper, you have four offensive line spots that are pretty settled. Left guard seems to be the only one that isn't. How comfortable do you feel about the guys on the roster that are going to be competing for that job, and do you want to bring in somebody else?
"We've drafted that position over the last couple of years. We've got young guys like Jackson (Carman), guys like Trey Hill and Akeem Adeniji, and we just added one (Cordell Volson). So those guys get a chance to come in here and compete. A lot of them are in year two of the system, year three of the system, and we've got a rookie that's coming in here too. It's an exciting evaluation that we'll have going forward here to see those guys compete. We'll just see how it plays out. But you're right, you feel really good about four of those spots, and there's just inexperience there at one spot. But we do feel confident that somebody is going to rise out of that group and give us a really good guard there."
Did you ever think you'd see a modern-day draft where you didn't draft a guy who touches the ball?
"If you told me it's only six picks, the chances become higher. And again, we didn't have starter needs there. You're always looking for competition at depth, and guys who can rise in the future. If you're talking about a lack of an immediate need, I think the offensive skill is certainly one that doesn't jump out at you as something you have to immediately address. But again, we're always looking for the right value."
What kinds of things are you trying to establish before you get on the field in two weeks?
"The first is getting the guys back in the building, getting them back in the process of getting the 2022 season underway and just establishing the chemistry. Our guys have been separate for several months — time to decompress from our last game. There's a lot of new bodies that are going to jump in the mix here. So again, establish that chemistry that's been so important to us recently. I know that's the primary goal here in these first two weeks. I'm not going to give you names — I don't know all the names, but I'm sure it's not going to be 100 percent attendance right out of the gate. Some guys have pretty good routines on their own. We'll be on the field in two weeks, and I expect the attendance to improve at that point. Again, it's all voluntary, but it's just what our guys have been about these last couple of years. I know we typically have pretty good attendance there."
When guys get back in the building, do you have some sort of message about how close you were to winning a Super Bowl and this is how close you are to getting back again?
"There will be a message that's very particular to this season. I won't reveal that right now, but that'll be what the team meeting is about on Monday. We'll have the team meeting, then let these guys run and lift these next two weeks, and then really hit the ground running as more collaborative team stuff starts and we get on the field for Phase 2. And then we'll have a lot more meetings take place and kind of gear us toward next year then."
As you've drafted what that message is going to be, have you spoken to any coaches from around the league who have been in similar situations that have given you advice on how to navigate this offseason after the Super Bowl loss?
"Sure. I'm lucky. I have a lot of great resources who have been in all types of situations. A lot of veteran coaches. Some on staff, some not on staff. And so I feel very comfortable about how to approach next year."
When you made the Daxton Hill pick, was that Bengals scout Andrew Johnson who was really hyped about that pick?
Is he usually that hyped?
"You know guys who have those areas, they spend a lot of time and effort studying guys in those areas. So it was just a happy moment for everyone."
It was his first first-rounder, so kind of a good moment for him ...
"It's our first rounder. But yeah, it's good when guys have conviction on players, and certainly we all have conviction on Dax. So that was one that we all felt comfortable with."
I know he was tired, but how did it go having him in the building?
"Great. Very confident. Great personality. He's just one of those guys who has achieved a lot of success in his life. He was a premier player coming out of high school, and then lived up to those expectations at Michigan. Three-year junior coming out, first-round pick — he's always stepped up to the challenge. He's naturally very confident. You can tell that because of the work that he's put in. It's not some façade that he puts on because he think he's a first-round pick. You can just tell there's a confidence about him that's going to fit very well in our locker room and the organization. We felt great about him beforehand, and you feel even better about him once you get a chance to sit down with him."
Do you have any big impressions from the draft around the league? Did anything surprise you about the way it went?
"No. There's runs on positions. There was a point here in the seventh round where I think eight of 10 picks were DBs, as teams try to shore that up. That's usually tough in free agency to grab some of those guys. So some of it is predictable in that way. It's interesting to see the run on a position over a period of 20 to 30 picks. That's just the way it always goes."
Circling back to Gunter, is rushing the passer his best trait?
"He's played effectively for them at Coastal Carolina. They've had a great team. That's a team I've followed from afar for a number of years now. They've done such a tremendous job. I think they're really innovative on both sides of the ball with their schemes. They've had a ton of success. They're now starting to have some players come out of there, and it's one of those programs where you can just tell those players are made of the right stuff. They have high standards there at that program. They've been coached the right way. Their expectations are to win. So it's exciting to evaluate players from programs like that, that come into the building and they know there are going to be high expectations for them. That's certainly a trait that he's got. Again, he's one of those guys who's going to add versatility to that room. But he's more of an outside guy (on the defensive line) as opposed to an inside guy for us. The definition of what his role is — that's really hard to say. He's going to jump in there and provide competition for our guys that play more outside than inside. We'll just see where we fit him from there."
Is he a good special teams guy? Has he played special teams?
"That's one of the things we're going to figure out how much he can do. I know that he's played a lot of defense there. Over the course of his career, he has appeared on special teams. We'll see how he fits in the NFL."
Defensive end, Coastal Carolina
Congratulations. We can hear the excitement in your voice. What's it mean for you to be an NFL draft pick?
"Oh man, you all are going to make me cry (laughs). I've been dreaming about this day since I was eight years old. I used to be five and I would watch America's game back to back to back on NFL network. Seeing my name go across that screen, everything I did was worth it, you know?"
As the seventh round was winding down, were you getting nervous that it wasn't going to happen?
"(Laughs) Was I getting nervous? I was almost sure it wasn't going to happen. But I kept faith in God and he pulled through for me in the end. So thank you all for taking a shot on me."
You're joining a Super Bowl team. What do you know about the Bengals?
"I just know you all are very, very good at football. I been watching you all since I was a kid. Who gonna beat them Bengals? Nobody! (laughs)."
What do you bring to the table? What are your big physical assets that you bring to the table?
"First and foremost, effort and versatility. Those are my two things. Wherever they tell me to line up, I'm going to line up and make plays. Second, my relentlessness. Third, I can drop in coverage. You know, I just bring a lot of versatility. I can drop in coverage, I can rush the passer, I can set the edge — anything you need as a defensive end/hybrid to do. I'm going to do a lot of good things with the Bengals."
What's your best pass rush move?
"Definitely my power. My long arm is my go-to."
You have a good stab move?
"Yeah, a good stab club, you know?"
Who are your favorite edge rushers?
"My favorite edge rushers? Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard (laughs)."
Coach Taylor was just saying he's been really impressed with Costal the last few years. He seems to think the guys going through that program have great attitudes and great work ethic. How did Costal get your ready for this opportunity?
"I'm going to say something that is a little different — nobody wants to go to Costal. The reason I say that is because everybody wants to go to Alabama, Clemson and all that. The players at Costal are the same way. We go to Costal because they are the only ones that gave us an opportunity. That's what I carry on to the Bengals. I have a chip on my shoulder the size of a bolder. I'm going to take that to practice with me every day, take that to every rep, take that to every play. That's what Costal brought me — a chip on my shoulder — and it taught me how to work. That's what I'm bringing to the Bengals."
What kind of special teams experience do you have?
"I did everything when I was young. Every phase of special teams I played when I was a freshman. As I got older they decided to take me off a few of them, but I used to make plays all the time on kick off, kick return, I blocked a few field goals in my career. I hope to bring that to the Bengals as well."
Coach Taylor was saying that he was impressed by the innovative style of play at Costal as well. Defensively, your coaches and the schematic — did it allow you to show you versatility? Did they use you in a bunch of different ways?
"Yes sir. They lined me up everywhere. I played four-I, five-tech, six-tech, seven-tech, nine-tech — I lined up all over the line of scrimmage. I dropped in coverage and I played man-to-man on tight ends. The multiple fronts we ran allowed me to showcase a lot of my skills and it paid dividends."
What's the celebration been like?
"Man, there are like eight people in my crib right now, but it feels like a hundred thousand — it's so loud in there. It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time. I'm going to go soak it in when I get off the phone with you all."