Q: What do you think about this draft as far as depth?
Hue Jackson: I think there is a lot of depth at several positions, but again, this is just the start of the process. I’ve spent a lot of my time focusing on us over the past month and a half or however long it’s been. Just watching us because we’ve got to do everything to help our team first before we’re able to put other players and now I’m shifting into the mold of the draft and going into that process but it seems to be a very strong class this year on offense.
Q: There look to be a lot of tackles and guards and WRs.
HJ: There are a lot of linemen. Looks like there are a lot of running backs, like there are a lot of receivers. Looks like there is a lot of everything. Maybe not the quote-unquote star player but I think top-to-bottom it’s a really strong class.
Q: What makes offensive line coach Paul Alexander such a good talent evaluator?
HJ: I think it starts within the organization with Mike (Brown) and Marvin (Lewis) and then Mike’s staff with Duke Tobin and those guys, and Bill Tobin, who go out and shake the bushes because they always come back and say ‘Hey, take a look at these guys.’ I think we have good people out in the field first who take a good look. And then I think he’s had a lot of good players he’s coached in the past. He coached Willie Anderson and you had the structure of Anthony Munoz having played for the Bengals you get a chance to compare. So you start comparing those guys as you go through this process so you’ve got a pretty good picture to look at.
Q: Do you look at the combine differently as a coordinator as opposed as a head coach or position coach?
HJ: Oh yeah, you do because as the head coach you’re talking about the team and obviously the combine is where you start to find places to get your team better, try to fill some holes or trying to, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams, find a way to get better. When you’re a coordinator it’s about the whole unit and it’s about working with your coaches to make sure they can identify the best players possible for your team, your scheme, the organization. I think all of that is involved. When you’re a position coach you’re only worried about your position. You’re really focused on evaluating and coming up with the best player who fits your style, a player that can do the things you want on the field. It’s really different. There’s a three-headed prong there that I think guys go through and I know that Marvin has done extremely well. I think position coaches have done extremely well within their position. I think the coordinators in the past have done well.
Q: How do you see this class of quarterbacks?
HJ: I think it’s still a good class. It might not be as top-heavy as most classes in the past but I think there is good nucleus of players. I think you might find some players in later rounds that are going to play very good in this league. That always happens at some point in time. But I think it’s a good class. Again, it’s about evaluating and going out and working them out, spending time with them to get a feel for who is the best fit for you.
Q: Greg Cosell of NFL.com said when it comes to QBs now you’re evaluating the evaluator. What do you need as opposed to strictly talent.
HJ: Absolutely. The best player might not be the best fit for your team.
Q: Would you need a guy that does what Andy (Dalton) does? Would the Bengals need another guy like that in your system? What kind of guy would you need?
HJ: I like Andy. I like what Andy brings to the table for us. Andy can do it all. I haven’t seen anything he can’t do. He ran with the ball last year. Obviously he threw it all over the yard, and obviously he ran our football team. At the end of the day, that’s the characteristics that we’re looking for in a quarterback for our football team as well as our organization.
Q: Marvin sounded like this year’s self-scouting was as extensive as he and coaches have done…
HJ: I would hope so. That’s the first thing I wanted to do, take a real strong look at us. That was Marvin’s mandate to the staff, let’s we make sure we study ourselves first and foremost. I have a process that I go through. Normally in the past, I will tell you guys, that when you self-scout you get all of these things to do and you kind of pass it down to the assistant coaches and very seldom do you look at it. I can tell you without question that we have looked at every one and we will continue to. That every one of these guys does. It may seem like a lot of busy work but it’s very important work that we need to do.
Q: More extensive than when you were a head coach?
HJ: Probably so because I want to make sure I un-turn every situation, everything that has happened with this offense so that I can see where we need to tweak, where we need to get better and where we can get better. I think it’s very important that you do that, and I think it’s important that you do that as a staff. I think everybody has to have a hand in it so that they feel comfortable because everybody does. Everybody has a hand in this offense that we’re about to build. At the end of the day we’ve got to know what it is we’re trying to build.
Q: What was your take-away from the self-scout?
HJ: Not totally done yet. I am not totally done yet. I’m still adding.
Q: How would you assess the backup QB situation?
HJ: I think we have some young men who are signed to our team but we’re always trying to get better. I think it’s fine right now until you go and you start working out again. Obviously every year you want to continue to grow in that area and have more quarterbacks on your football team that can play but I think we’re still in the process of evaluating and seeing what we need to be.
Q: There is no reason to preclude the Bengals from taking a QB in this draft after the first round?
HJ: If there is a good one on the board that the organization feels good about then I think we would.
Q: How do you balance competition making everyone better with starter going into final year of his deal and making sure it doesn’t screw with him mentally? There’s a lot in play.
HJ: There is, but I am not as worried about that as making sure that whoever that guy is if we decide to do that is the right fit and the right person for us. If we put a quarterback on this football team that we believe he has the makeup and the characteristics that we’re looking for that will help us get better.
To answer your question, I don’t think you can ever worry about the competition factor. I think at the end of the day this is what this business is all about. It’s a performance-based business. Guys have to play. Normally if you play really well you have an opportunity to get paid and I think everybody understands that. That’s just the nature of our business and I don’t think most players for the most part worry about that. I think your question is: how do you give that time to a guy to get him ready so you can really see him develop to see what he is? I think there is enough football between OTAs and training camp and preseason games to make that determination.
Q: Is the toughest part you don't play games until September and everyone is thinking about getting to January?
HJ: It is. Marvin said it best. We have to earn our way back. We're the defending AFC North champs. Everyone else knows that. No one is just going to walk out there and say here are some victories for you guys, go back to the playoffs. We have a lot of work to do. That's the thing I talked about with Andy. There is a lot of work between now and the first time we meet for OTAs, or the first time we go to training camp, or anything. And there's a process to this thing. There's a lot of teaching, there's a lot teaching with the staff on how we need to do things as we move forward.
Q: There has been lot said about your commitment to the run and still being productive in the passing game.
HJ: I think it goes hand in hand. I think when you're able to run the ball, you're able to throw it. I think when you're able to throw it you can run. We want to be an offense that's balanced. At the end of the day I still believe the physical makeup of our team and the mindset of your team has to be that you have to run the football because I think in this league if you can't run you can't win a lot games. I don't think you can win tough games. This is a tough league. Every week you're playing against really good defensive coordinators, really good defensive football teams. If you're going to drop back and throw it. I think a lot of bad things can happen. I'm not saying bad things can't happen when you run. But I know when I can call a run play and if I hand it off to the backs the quarterback's chances of bad things happening to him go down. And a lot of good things when you have special runners and special blockers. It's just a balancing act of those two things. We're going to throw it also. Marvin said it best. You have to be able to throw the football to win, to score points, to get chunk plays. I think defensive coordinators and coaches are just too good. If you do just one thing, I think they're just going to expose you if you don’t do something ok or good enough. I've always had the mindset you have to be physical. You have to line up and block the guy in front of you and if you don't have the ball you're a blocker and it goes for everybody on the team. If you start that way, you've got a good chance to have a very good thing happen because then people have to stop the run. At the end of day, that's where it all starts. But we'll throw it as well as anyone in the league. We did it last year and I suspect we won't do anything that's different than that as far as throwing it with that kind of efficiency. To me, we'll just throw it better. That's what I want to do. That's my goal for our offense. Throw it better than what we have.
Q: How do you become a better running team? Do you have a different line, different plays?
HJ: No. No. I think we're going to teach better. At the end of the day, that's what it is. I think it's creating an environment for our players. I think our players want that kind of environment. That’s the grind part of football. Running the football. It's not the beautiful part. It's not the big 40-yard completion, the 50-yard throw. It's the guts of the game. You get that runner that has the mindset that he wants to come out on the other side. Everybody has to commit to that part. That's where it starts. You can't get away from it because that's going to be who you are. If that's not who you are then you can't be a running team.
Q: You can do it with your personnel?
HJ: I feel good about our personnel. I think the people we have are good enough. I think what we have to do is go back and re-emphasize some things that I think are very important when it comes to running the ball and having that mindset where our guys believe in it, have some success and watch it grow.
Q: You guys had trouble establishing a true identity on offense. At least early in the last season. It seems like this is a focus.
H: It's kind of who I am. It's kind of who the head coach is and I also think we have guys that can do both. But I think the first part in the AFC North is you have to physical. The defenses of Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore, they're just too good. You just can't rear back and throw every single time. If you don't have that mindset, in my opinion, you'll get swallowed up. We were fortunate last year to do some things to win games. We turned it over, which we don't want to do, and still won. Hopefully this mantra of running the ball, I hope everybody understands what it's about. It's the re-emphasis of my belief and our head coach's belief on what we need to be successful.
Q: You talk a lot about what Andy has to do. What about what A.J. (Green) has to do?
HJ: I think our young players all have the potential to grow. That's what I talk to them about. I've talked to A.J. this offseason and some goals we've discussed, but I won't talk about them here. Same thing with Jermaine Gresham. I haven't talked to Tyler (Eifert) yet. I plan on it. Marvin Jones. Mo Sanu. Andrew Hawkins. We have lot of good players. I know a lot of blame goes to the quarterback, but I think as a group we all have to take our share. We all need to play better. It was good enough to win 11 games last year. But by not winning the most important game we played the second part of the season, we have to ratchet the thing up even higher and the expectation is higher. I don't know any other way to do it. I think A.J. understands that. I think Andy understands that. The linemen I've talked to understand that. I think it's in them. It's my job to pull it out of them.
Q: You're a Zimmerish, in your face coach. Do you think the guys need to be coached hard? Get in the face?
HJ: I don't know any other way to coach. I was asked to the offensive coordinator here and I'm going to be who I am. I think the players understand that, but I think they know I come from a good place. It's nothing personal. I want to make you the best player you can be. That's my job. If a guy's not performing at a high level, there's a reason. We have very good players here and our players are here to help us win a championship and I think from the classroom to the practice field to game day, they have to do it. But it's my job as leader of the group, along with the head coach, to create that environment to be all they can be. That's what I think about all the time. How can I get Andy from Point A to Point B? How can I get Giovani Bernard from Point A to Point B orBenJarvus Green-Ellis or A.J. Green or the linemen? That's my charge. If I can do that, then we'll get better. If I don’t, then we haven't.
Q: What does A.J. have to do to get better?
HJ: Well, again my expectations for him are through the roof. I don’t know what my expectations are also are his. This offense is all going to get joined at the hip and we’re going to talk about what the expectations are. I think as a group, it has a lot of confidence in themselves. It was number 10 in total offense last year. At one time this was one of the most feared offenses for a 3-4 week period and then all of a sudden… It has also been an inconsistent group. What we have to find is a group that can be consistent over a long period of time that all of a sudden we don’t have the ebbs and flows. That way you come into the game with a lot of confidence and you know what you are going to do. It comes from the classroom and a brotherhood of men studying and believing in each other.
Q: Who cares if you are a running and passing team, isn’t being a consistent team the biggest thing of all?
HJ: I do believe you have to have an identity and something you can hang your hat on. There are sometimes when things don’t go well. That’s the nature of the game. It sometimes doesn’t happen the way that you want. But you have to be able to go back to something that people believe in. To me that starts with a group of blockers and have them go be physical with the other team. After that things take care of themselves and the consistency that you get as a unit is because you can play off of each other. The receivers understand if I block we get more plays in the run game. If you turn around you get bigger plays in the pass game. It all begins with consistency and believing in what we’re selling. I have to sell this to our guys and have them truly understand and believe in it. That’s the way I think you win.
Q: How do you help Andy?
HJ: I can’t speak in the past and what he’s done. The number one thing I can do is create a picture and environment where every day he feels he can play free. Where he is playing and reacting and using his talents and his mental ability. We’re talking about a group that was 10th in offense, not 30th. Andy played well and led a team that scored 430 points. My goal is to see how we can score 530 points. We’re trying to get better at everything we do. It’s not just scoring. Andy is going to be fine. Everyone wants to talk about Andy but I am very comfortable and confident of who he is."
Q: Could he have a different brand of throws? Everyone talks about him being a rhythm passer?
HJ: I think every quarterback is a rhythm passer. I think any quarterback that doesn’t get hit can play pretty good. Our job is to keep him clean. It’s not just the offensive line, it is everyone’s job. Everyone has to make sure this guy is standing up straight and in a passer’s position because he can throw it. He has great anticipation. He knows where the ball is going to go. I’m just confident of where we are and where he is headed.
Q: He has shown he can beat teams in different ways. …
HJ: He has the mental makeup, physical makeup and the capability to do whatever we ask him to do. My job is to make sure he is doing it at a high level all the team. We’ve seen the highs and lows. My job is to eliminate the lows. Let’s not have a multiple interception game. Let’s not have the same where things don’t go well. He’s headed into year four, 30 wins and three playoff appearances under his belt. I think we all get it that we need a playoff win and now let’s see where the fourth year takes us. I think good things are in store for all of us."
Q: Andrew Whitworth, left tackle or guard?
HJ: However things fit for us. I don’t have a spot where he has to play because he is a very talented man. I know I am getting a big guy who is physical and angry and knows how to play the game. Once we see after the draft and free agency, we’re going to put the best five guys out there.
Q: I guess we all assume that if Anthony Collins is re-signed, AC is your left tackle …
HJ: But he’s not right now. I know we’re going to put a good group out there.
Q: What does Whit give you at left guard?
HJ: This guy was a Pro Bowl left tackle and a very good guard for us last year. You’re talking about a guy who loves to play and will do anything to help this organization win. Last year he brought a physical presence to our team. It looked like London Bridges out there where everything was getting knocked down. He brought that mentality and to me that is how we have to play every play. In the game in San Diego when (left guard Clint) Boling got hurt he went out there and didn’t blink. We had one of our best rushing days and that tells you a lot. That’s why I’m convinced in what we have to do. It is acquiring that mindset and doing a lot of big things.
Q: Do you use that physical presence as a motivator?
HJ: There are some pictures of Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith blocking people. We just got to do it on a consistent basis. You have to play every play to have the type of success that we are looking for. This division we play in is tough. We play two very good divisions. We have a lot of work to where we need to be.
Q: Are you in the market for another speedy receiver or big-play back?
HJ: I will never turn down good players. If everyone says put them on the team I am all for it. There isn’t a substitute for speed. If you have guys who can run and stretch the field, good things can happen.
Q: How do you find the next Whitworth, where you have tackle/guard/center versatility?
J: You have to, because again, that guy is your left guard, but he’s also your center. He’s a tackle, and he’s also a swing tackle. So you have to find those kinds of guys to play. So in order to do that, it’s coming here, spending time with them and going to their Pro Day and maybe working them out at another position and being able to project. One of (Alexander') strengths is being able to project whether this guy is playing really well, and maybe he’s going to give us something else here. And normally it works out with those guys. It takes a keen eye to be able to do that. It takes a lot of thought process to be able to put yourself out there as a coach and to say that ‘I believe this guy can be a very good right tackle, but he can also play right guard.’
Q: You’ve been in the league a long time, there’s 95 underclassmen in this group. How do you evaluate maturity with an early guy? Had Gio last year, but he was well seasoned?
HJ: You have to be able to evaluate that, but you also have to be able to trust your locker room. If you think the guy from a football standpoint can play to the level that you want him to play, hopefully you don’t have the other questions about him – is he mature enough? And you’re right. Underclassmen, you’re always going to have that question about them because they’re not that senior-laden player who came out and has been through it all and here’s the next step. But we have a locker room that I feel very comfortable with. You talk about the Whitworths and some of the other veteran players like the Leon Halls, the Terence Newmans who are in our locker room who understand that there’s an expectation that once you become a Bengal, this is how you do it.
And the Gios who you see last year who walked in that building and became very good players but also very good within the locker room. The locker room kind of polices itself. Marvin’s done a good job of that and the type of players that we’re putting on this team will help that kind of guy that you’re not sure about. Because you’re not. Are you really ever sure? You really are not. But you really are sure of your locker room and those guys will help bridge that process for some of these young men if we’re able to draft any of them.
Q: You could notice in Hard Knocks and even in practice that Gio took a lot of shots. They wanted to see how tough he was.
HJ: He wanted more of it. It was me who was trying to get those guys to pull up because we didn’t want to get anybody hurt. But that’s the beautiful part of it in my mind. That was like them saying, ‘OK, you’re here, you’re supposed to help us win? Let us find out.’ And he passed the test.
I remember those guys coming up to me one day in stretch. Rey Maualuga, talking about Vontaze, even some of the defensive linemen saying, ‘Hey, Coach. That guy can play.’ And it’s because he didn’t bark when it happened. It wasn’t like ‘Oh my God, why did you—‘ It was like, ‘OK, bring it on.’ That’s how he is. And he likes it. To me, that did more for me, because you still don’t know those things when you first get to play. You think you know those things, but until you see it? You don’t know it.
Here’s a young man who played last year – and I’m not trying to brag on him – he played hurt. The guy didn’t shy away from me. There were times when I said, ‘Is this guy going to play?’ And he didn’t blink. He played as hard and as well as any young player I’ve been around with as much as we asked him to do. He did a tremendous job.
Q: Do you think he was ever over the rib?
HJ: He told me he was, but he will tell you that. He’s never going to admit if he’s hurt or dinged or anything. Do I think he was? I think it went on a little longer than he wants to say, but he would never let me know it, and you would never know it in his performance.
Q: He’s got to be the No. 1 back, doesn’t he?
HJ: That’s yet to be determined, but he’s going to have a really good season. I really believe that.
Q: Is he going to get more touches?
HJ: He’s going to have a lot.
Q: Can we double what he had last year?
HJ: He’s going to have a lot. I can promise you.
Q: You guys had the third-most points in franchise history last year…
HJ: Like I say, Jay (Gruden) did a great job. He did a great job of leading the group and the young guys, they worked hard. At the end of the day, which I hope you guys do, give Andy some credit. He did a great job leading these guys and again, he’s the first to always take it. He has to, he’s the quarterback. But he’s the first to tell you he’s going to do it and wants to play better. He wants to play better. He’s chomping at the bit to go. Not yet, though. There’s rules.
Q: You can talk to him on the phone, right?
HJ: I can talk to him on the phone, I can text him. I try to do as less as I can. I don’t ever want to get caught up, because it’s easy to get caught up in those situations. As bad as I would love to coach him every day right now, it’s also time that he needs to be away from football for a little bit right now. You’re just talking concepts and all that? We’re talking about all kinds of stuff. What really needs to happen is happening. When you lose like we did, it needs to burn in you a little bit. Players and coaches. It has. That’s the fire you keep up underneath you to get you back to where you need to be. To earn our way back, the fire has to burn. And it’s burning.
Q: Does Andy need a little fire with the guys around him?
HJ: He will. He will. We all will.
Q: Do you need a fullback?
HJ: Yeah.You do need a fullback on the football team.
Q: Can Orson (Charles) do it?
HJ: We’re going to find out.
Q: Do you need a traditional fullback, like a John Conner?
HJ: What I would love to have is that I’m going to take whatever the organization’s going to give me.
Q: You can tell them.
HJ: Well, that’s the most important thing. And maybe I have. But I’m just saying, whatever we get, we’re going to get it and coach it. I’m not as down on Orson as maybe some people are. He has some improving to do, but again, it’s like anything else. If you want somebody to be good at something, you’ve got to let them do it. You’ve got to do it more in order to see if a guy can really do it. Late in the year, he did better things. Maybe not where he needed to be, but he got better.
At the end of the day, he now has an understanding of what the position is and what the demands of it is, and hopefully he’ll ascend to that.
Q: You seem to like two-back, two-tight end systems …
HJ: I like it all. I’m not married to anything. I’m married to winning. I’m married to whatever it takes to win on offense. You know, everybody keeps talking about system. And West Coast, and this coast. I love to look at our players and take our players and put them in positions to do well. I don’t care. We might put seven linemen out there. There might be. I don’t care what it does.
Q: You might run behind four wide?
HJ: Absolutely. It’s whatever it takes to win. It’s whatever it takes to defeat the teams that we have to defeat, and sometimes you don’t know what that is until you get there. But I know we have a lot of good players that if we can coach them up and keep improving their skills and their abilities, then great things can happen.