COURTESY OF CINCINNATI BENGALS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
What did you like about Akeem Davis-Gaither at the Senior Bowl?
"With both Logan (LB Logan Wilson) and Akeem, we were able to spend a ton of time around them. The Senior Bowl access to those kids has been invaluable so far. We had a chance to really hone in and know these guys better than most."
What did you like about Davis-Gaither?
"He's a tough kid, a coach's son. He's a guy that is going to be the first in and last out of every meeting. We had a situation during the Senior Bowl where the other team ran a power play that he kind of misfit. Coach Golden (Bengals linebackers coach Al Golden) got him on the sideline, then in the fourth quarter they run the same play and he fit it perfectly. He's a guy that will work his tail off to do whatever we ask. He brings a ton of athleticism, and we're happy with the value we got at this point in the draft."
It looks like he can play both inside and outside at LB…
"He has some position flex, which we like. He can do both, so we can move him around a bit. He played nickel some at Appalachian State. He's been out of the box, in the box. A guy like that can really help our special teams. He has the potential to be on the field for all four downs."
What's it like to see your defense get revamped over a short period of time?
"It's exciting. It's a tribute to Duke and the scouts and coaches. We've all spent a ton of time evaluating these guys. We have a chance to bring in competition. Most of these guys are coming from winning programs, and all the free agents came from playoff teams. We're bringing in guys that are used to winning, which is so important."
How important is it to have versatility these days at linebacker?
"It's huge. With the different things offenses throw at you these days, the more guys that you can have doing multiple things, saves you some roster spots and allows you to be more flexible. With a guy that can maybe cover a running back, tight end, be a good blitzer, start outside and move inside, all of those things can really help you."
It seems like teams in this division need linebackers that can both run and play in space. That's a unique combination …
"For sure. And I think we've accomplished that with both guys we've taken so far. You watch Logan play on tape, and he has almost 33-inch arms and can get in and out of cuts to make plays that some guys can't. Certainly Akeem can do the same. Both give you that flexibility to be able to chase guys down but still be stout enough to take on and shed blocks."
How important is the transition in smaller school guys in handling the jump up to
"To a degree. They showed down at the Senior Bowl that they'll fit right in with those guys from the power conferences. Those guys did not flinch when they went against kids from LSU, Clemson, or Michigan. It didn't matter. We got a good feel for that down there."
Do you feel like you will add any more depth at linebacker?
"We're never satisfied. We'll keep an open mind as we go forward. They great job we did in free agency, and now what we've done in the draft so far allows us to look at best player available type situations. If there's a guy we feel like adds value later on in the draft, then we'll go with them. It's not out of the question."
You've talked about looking for linebackers that could line up properly and had solid mental makeup. How do Wilson and Akeem fit into that?
"They're both in that light. Akeem graduated back in May. He's a smart guy, a coach's son. His dad is a wide receiver coach at Army, I believe. Logan's done a great job picking things up. I spoke to his head coach yesterday and he raved about him. From a mental standpoint, both those guys are going to come in and that part of the game should not be an issue."
What's the challenge with all these new guys that you expect to be contributors?
How long will it take to get the chemistry right?
"It's going to take time. That's just a part of it. I've seen it happen fairly quick with some guys, and others it takes a little bit longer. The good news is that everybody is on the same playing field. It's not like it's just us who will miss out on OTAs and rookie mini camps — the whole league is in the same boat. The learning curve for the rookies is going to be the same for everybody. The fact we'll have some new faces out there is just where we're at. We'll have to accelerate it a little on our end."
Were you encouraged when Davis-Gaither flashed as one of the best players on the field against better competition?
"Absolutely. You see him make plays against those caliber athletes, and those are the guys he will be playing against on Sundays. When you put all that together, it was a no-brainer for us."
There were some injury concerns out there, did you see any of that?
"We trust our doctors. We did our due diligence on that. If we felt there was an issue, we wouldn't have taken him. We feel good about it."
Coaching him for a week at the Senior Bowl probably helped…
"We concentrate as coaches on the football side of things. Our medical people will say 'yay' or 'nay,' and we didn't get any issues there. We're full-go. All these kids have something, let's face it. They've been playing football since they were nine years old. Akeem is no different. I'm not aware of anything that would hold this kid back."
What did you see about his intangibles at the Senior Bowl?
"He was the team captain on defense. He commanded respect in a week. The way he approaches every day, coming in first, leaving last, the way he practices — he has some natural leadership, which is great. The more of those guys you can add, the better."