COURTESY OF CINCINNATI BENGALS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
The Bengals coaching staff must have been impressed with you at the Senior Bowl. What was your time and experience like with the Bengals down there?
"It definitely was a good week with them. I love the way they coach, the passion they have behind it and how they want to develop players and take their time coaching them. The week I had with them was really special. I got connected with Coach (Al) Golden, the linebackers coach and Coach Duff (Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner). I really enjoyed them coaching me hard at the linebacker position, since that was my first time actually fully playing that position. It showed me the way with that. The Senior Bowl week definitely went good for me."
Did you have more confidence you could play at this level based, on the Bengals' feedback at the Senior Bowl?
"I know I can play at this level based off the season I starting having last year. Every year, I just increase what I'm doing on the field. The Senior Bowl just increased that confidence with me having a standout (week) and playing a new position, and then just getting the confidence from the Bengals telling me how good a job I was doing out there."
Can you describe your responsibilities on defense at Appalachian State last season?
"Normally, I was in that hybrid position — the nickel linebacker, where I was defending the slot, taking away RPO (run-pass option) read, and sometimes defending the run depending on the back of the line."
What was your biggest takeaway from the Senior Bowl?
"Just being able to see the whole picture, the whole box, since I've only had to read a half of the box. To see the whole box, that was a little bit different."
How do you think playing running back in high school helped with transitioning to linebacker?
"Just knowing what the linebacker is trying to see. When I played running back, I just knew what I wanted to do, so I took that into account and tried to take away their cutback and make them one-dimensional."
What are your strengths as a player?
"(Strengths are) my instincts in being able to find the ball and cut down the ball, and my ability to play every down, whether that's in pass rush, in coverage or in man (coverage)."
Your dad Keith has coached a lot around the country. How did that affect you growing up and as a player?
"When I was in high school, it was almost like he was there, (talking) over the phone or FaceTime and things like that. With him coaching, I always took his advice, and I wanted his advice. He would always give me feedback from watching my games, and I knew it was going to be about the hard stuff, the real things I needed to get better at. He always did that and it paid off."
So he was commuting when you were in high school basically?
"I spent the summers with him."
How hard was that? A lot of time spent on FaceTime?
You were elected a captain at both Appalachian State and at the Senior Bowl. What does that say about your leadership, in your opinion?
"That just tells you what your teammates and your coaching staff thinks about you as a player and as a leader on the team. I always want to stand out, be in that leader role on the team, and really be that go-to guy on the team that all the guys want to be around and take some notes from. Just being a role model on the team."
Linebacker is a position of need on this team, and you may have a chance to play right away. How excited are you for that opportunity?
"I'm just ready to get suited up."
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson ran all over the NFL last year, and you will see him twice in the AFC North each season. How confident are you that you and the new LB corps can slow him down?
"I look at football as faceless opponents. Going in, you know he's a good player out in space. So every chance I can get, I want to make him one dimensional and take away any chance he has to cut back or do anything, and just take away any moves he has to try to get back. But I don't like to do too much talking before the games."
Is there a NFL linebacker you watch a lot on tape that you feel has a similar game to you?
"I usually watch Darius Leonard (of the Indianapolis Colts)."
What do you like about him?
"His passion for the game, his instincts. He goes hard every play, and I just like how he plays."
When did you think you were going to get drafted?
"I just try to go in with a clear head and let things take their own course. My agent kept telling me the third round."
Yesterday probably felt like a pretty long day for you then...
"It was a long night for me."
You hear so much about guys who go later than they thought they should, and the chip on their shoulder. Are you already feeling that right now?
"I always carry that chip on my shoulder, regardless if I would've went in the 2nd round (or later). That doesn't matter. I know there are people out there that doubted me. I just want to prove them wrong."
I guess being an Appalachian State guy, the chip has already been there ...
"(Laughs) Yeah, it's our motto."
When the Bengals took a linebacker in the third round, did that surprise you? Did you think that was it?
"It caught me off guard a little bit. I didn't know if I'd make it around to be a part of the Bengals organization after that. I'm glad I'm here."
Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons was impressed with you at the Senior Bowl. What's your feeling about helping out on special teams?
"I love special teams. My sophomore year, I was Special Teams Player of the Year, so I give my all to special teams, just like if it was on defense."
Special Teams Player of the Year with your team?
"With the team, yes sir."
What did you take from your year with (former Appalachian State head coach) Eliah Drinkwitz last year?
"He just wanted me to be a more vocal leader. I'm more of a lead-by-example type of guy, so he just wanted me to open up, and I feel like I did that. I feel like he took App State to higher ranks, trying to bring more new things to the offense, and things like that. I think he did a lot of great things at App."
How's your health right now?
"I feel great. I'm back running from my surgery. I think I'm doing pretty good."
I guess you'll be back for training camp, right?
"Yes, I'll be back in two-and-a-half weeks."
The injury that you had surgery on, did that occur during the Senior Bowl, or did you play through it?
"I played through it in the Senior Bowl. It happened the third game of the season."
And that was a stress fracture?
Did it hurt? I guess you can play with some pain ...
"It hurt, but I just wanted to fight through it for my teammates."
Did somebody tell you it might not be a great idea? "Of course the doctors gave me the risk factor. They told me at any moment it could completely snap, but I just took those chances."
Because you couldn't travel and get checked out by teams, did you do anything to let teams know you were doing well?
"I sent videos of me doing treatment, rehab, upright lifts. I sent them some videos of me doing drills before I had the surgery. Then I showed them my weight, and things like that."
A lot of your game is based on speed, and to still be able to fight through that injury and play — that had to help you a little bit in the evaluation process ...
"Yeah, I would've thought that too. There's definitely more in the tank for me (laughs)."
Have you ever been timed in the 40?
What's your weight right now?
They talk about the modern linebacker a lot. Last year there were two guys who were your size picked in the first round. That seems to be the wave, doesn't it?
"Yeah, that's what it looks like (laughs)."
Did that give you hope when you saw Devin Bush and Devin White go last year?
"Honestly, I didn't pay too much attention to the draft with everything I had going on, getting better with football and being responsible with my daughter. So I didn't really focus too much on television (last year). My assistant coach played linebacker for Green Bay, so he showed me the way. He just told me, 'Give it all you got, and it's going to pay off.'"
Where are you at now?
Who are you with?
"My mom, brother, sister and daughter."
You've contacted your dad?
"Yes, he's on FaceTime."
He's probably at West Point, right?
"Yes sir. He didn't want to take the chance to travel down with the virus going on."
Do you have any plans for the rest of the day to celebrate?
"Just celebrate with my family that's downstairs, and enjoy them while I can."
How old is your daughter?
"She'll be 2 next month."
What's her name? "Camilla Joy."