Initial comments ...
Jackson: “Well obviously, we took A.J. McCarron. Again, this is not about
Is his girlfriend, Katherine Webb, coming with him (laughs)?
Jackson: “It’s not about her, either (laughs). This is about the young man. Seriously (though), I think it’s been a little bit unfair (as) I’ve heard all the reports and things that have been said about him (being cocky). You know, a lot of people call me cocky. I have a lot of confidence, too, and I kind of like that in a guy. I kind of like that in a quarterback. I think you have to have a little bit of that so that you can rise above sometimes some tough times. Whatever this is, the stigma that’s been put on him, hopefully he can come here and play good football, behind and with the other quarterbacks that we have, and continue to grow as a player as he progresses in the National Football League.”
Former Bengals quarterback and head coach Ken Anderson had McCarron as his guy as he was training for the Scouting Combine, and he prepared passing routes that would answer any questions about his supposed lack of arm strength. Were you guys impressed with his pro day?
Zampese: “I didn’t make it down for his pro day; I went by myself and just spent a day with him, just he and I on the board, on the field, and I felt fine with his arm strength.”
He’s got a pretty good football IQ, too?
Zampese: “I loved it. I love how he carries himself, the enthusiasm for the game, the work ethic. You know he’s tough, playing for (Alabama head coach (Nick) Saban down there and being in so many big games. He’s played with pro players every year he’s been down there, so hopefully this next step for him — it will be big — but he’s been playing with some guys that are pretty good, too.”
How do you find the reps when you’re trying to develop a guy like A.J., and how will you work on developing him without taking anything away from Andy Dalton?
Zampese: “Well, the time before and after practice, we’ll maximize all the minutes that we can. (We’ll use) the meeting room time, so when we go out there, we’ll know exactly what we’re working on and why we’re doing it and hone in on some of the specifics we need to get him going on in a short period of time.”
Jackson: “I think Kenny just said it best: He’s going to have to do more. We’re not going to take any of those reps away from Andy and what we’re trying to accomplish for him and with him, and I know that’s always the case when you bring in another quarterback. ‘Where does get the opportunity to grow?’ I think with Coach Zampese (and) being in the room with the other guys will help, but he’s going to have to do more before and after practice in order to be caught up to speed.”
Were you surprised the third tier of quarterbacks had lasted this long on the board in this draft, since the talk was many of these guys would be going much earlier?
Jackson: “No doubt. I mean, there’s some very talented players and you never know how any draft is going to go. It’s all based on need and where people have people slotted within their board. Obviously, it’s no different than the running back deal; it was a while (in the draft) before that took shape, you know? Now here’s the quarterback situation, and guys are starting to come off the board pretty quickly here. We all know the quarterback’s value is normally higher than what it’s been this year, but I just think this is a very uncommon year.”
The first thing in an evaluation of a guy is the physical ability, but other things like playing in the SEC, Saban and his system, where do all of those other factors fall when you’re doing an evaluation on a guy like this?
Zampese: “There’s a lot of things that go into it, but there’s a certain physical characteristic that they all have to have. Is his size and arm talent worthy of this level? From there it’s all the intangibles, and you start listing where he played, who he played for, who he played with, who he played against, how he carries himself, how he studies. Those are all those things you find out through the process of spending time with him. At this position it’s not all height, weight, speed. It’s about what are the intangibles and how do they fit for you, and does he have the perseverance and the determination to fight through some of the things that are going to happen to him in the process.”
Certainly waiting until the fifth round for a quarterback suggests that Andy Dalton is the guy?
Jackson: “Andy Dalton is our quarterback and we stand behind him 100 percent. He’s done a tremendous job during the offseason, and I’m so looking forward to working with all these guys, but obviously he’s the leader of our football team and I think he has a bright, bright future ahead of him.”
Did you guys have conversations with Andy before this?
Jackson: “I did not. I don’t think that’s what’s important. We’re in the draft, and the most important thing is to continue to get our team the best we can how the organization sees it, and I think all of the players understand that heading into the draft. At the end of the day, if you’re really a good football player and you’re playing here in Cincinnati, I don’t think guys are worried about who is put on the team. You have a job to do and you’re going to prepare yourself, and you can’t worry about who comes in. Marvin (Lewis) has done a great job of making sure our team understands that we’re going to add players, and if you want to be here the most important thing is that you work to be here, and you continue to get better and I think everybody understands that.”
How much conversation was there of taking a quarterback a couple rounds earlier? Were there a few spots where quarterbacks would have been in that conversation?
Jackson: “Yeah, Mike (Brown) and our department and coaches all do a great job of bouncing things off of each other. There’s obviously times where you talk about something, but we’re trying to handle needs. There’s a player sitting there, but maybe there’s a need at another position at the time. I think we’ve done a great job at this point of addressing those needs, and we’ll continue to do it as we finish out this draft. There’s always discussions about who’s there, do they fit, where are they slotted at, and again, we’ve done a really good job and I think we just added another really good football player to our team.”
He’s got a lot of skins on the wall. National Championship, there’s no bigger skin than that. He had to wait his turn and then he capitalized. In interviews with him, are you confident that he’s a “we” guy and not a “me” guy?
Jackson: “I’ll let Kenny speak to that and then I’ll address it.”
Zampese: “He’s a “we” guy, and we’ll make sure he’s a “we” guy. There’s not going to be a “me” guy in our room, period. I know I’m not going to stand for it, and neither is Coach Jackson. I didn’t get that impression from him. He did have to wait his time, and when it was his time, he did his business down there better than most other people in the country. I really enjoyed the time I spent with him, and I think he’s going to be terrific for our room and raise the competitive level of our group.”
Jackson: “Kenny just said it best. I wanted to make sure we were definitely on the same page, and we are. Honestly, none of that happens in any of our rooms. It’s about becoming the best football player you can be. It’s not about them, but it’s about the team. It’s about you when you’re getting yourself ready and preparing, but at the end of the day it’s about the football team, the offensive unit. I think he will fit. You said it, the guy has won a lot of games and he’s waited his turn. If that’s what it is here, then that’s what he’ll have to do. We’re trying to become something very special, and in order to do that, every player in every room we have has to do their part. We don’t know him that well yet, we’ll get to know him as we move forward, and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
Jackson: “That’s yet to be determined. Obviously Andy is our starter and Jason is our backup, and we still have Josh here at this point and here comes McCarron. We’ll work through that process as he gets here and we’ll see how that all shakes. There’s a lot of young quarterbacks that have climbed really fast because guys have been prepared. I don’t know where he is in that process, other than I see that skill set. I know of the player, I know our quarterback coach has a real good relationship with him at this point, and then we’re going to go from there.”
Are you going to keep three quarterbacks?
Jackson: “I don’t know that. That’s yet to be determined. We’ll let all those chips fall as we go. We’re just excited to keep adding real good football players to this organization and this football team.”
What are the biggest things you need to work with him on, and how does that project over the course of a year or two years to get him to where you want him to be?
Zampese: “We’ve got to speed him up. The game is faster. All these guys that come from college are used to a certain speed, and the guys that are playing with him and against him are faster than what they’re used to. Right off the top of my head, we will speed him up from the day he gets here, his learning process, his movements, his urgency. Everything about what he does will take another tick forward.”
Jackson: “We have the best quarterback coach in the business, so I feel very comfortable that we’ll get him going as fast as we can, as fast as he’s willing to learn it, as much time as he’s willing to take, we’ll get him where he needs to be.”
What do you think his best intangibles are?
Zampese: “It’s important to him, really important to him. The bar in his mind is set really high. I know that he felt that this was a long way down the road for him to get picked. He saw himself in a much higher light in regards to how the NFL saw him. He sees himself as a guy that’s a starter, that’s on top of the heap that can do all those things, and I love that about him.”
Nobody is more demanding at the collegiate level or maybe at any level than Saban. A.J. seemed to thrive on those demands. Is that part of the process when you’re looking at a kid like that?
Jackson: “Yeah where he comes from, the conference he plays in, obviously the way he plays, and all the characteristics we look for in a quarterback. But at the end of the day you have to win. When it’s all said and done, that’s what quarterbacks do, and he’s done that. He’s done it at a very high level and a very good college program. He has a lot going for him. If we can take this talent that he has and channel it, and get it to mesh with what we’re doing and where we’re headed, then I think there’s going to be an opportunity for him as we continue to move on. We tell our quarterbacks here, and it’s something I truly believe in, ‘You may not start here, but if you come in and you prepare, and you grow and you learn, you may have to play some place else in your career.’ You never know how that’s going to unfold, but what we’re going to do is create an environment where our quarterbacks can become the best that they can be. That’s what we’ve done up to this point, and we’re going to throw him in the mix and see where we can get this young man to.”
How much of an emphasis do you place on the winning aspect?
Jackson: “I do a lot. I think it’s very important because those guys are able to raise the level of play of people around them, and they’re able to make those special plays that I think you have to make to be considered one of the better players, whether it’s college football or pro football. It’s too, too important. Like our guy right now, our guy has won 30 games in three years. That’s a lot of football games. That’s why I’m so confident and comfortable with Andy Dalton. We’re bringing in another guy that’s won a lot of games at Alabama. I think that’s very, very important as we move forward.”
Particularly the SEC Championship and National Championship?
Jackson: “Absolutely. Yes sir.”
Were you disappointed that the call came this late? What was your mindset as the draft unfolded?
“First, let me say that it’s a blessing to be in the NFL. It doesn’t matter if you’re taken No. 1 overall or No. 199, like (New England quarterback Tom) Brady. It doesn’t matter when you get picked, just about where you go and making the most of it when you get there. You’ve still got to perform no matter where you get picked, and I’m just excited and blessed about this opportunity. I feel like God has a plan and everything was supposed to happen for a reason. I’m just extremely humbled and thankful that the organization in Cincinnati gave me this opportunity. It’s going to be awesome to learn from Andy (Dalton). He’s one of the best in the league. I just can’t wait to get to work, get up there and be part of the team. It feels good to be part of “Who Dey Nation.” I’m very thankful to be a part of this pack.”
You worked during the pre-draft process with the greatest QB in Bengals franchise history, Ken Anderson. A lot of people think he should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. What was your experience with him and what did he have to say about getting ready for the next level?
“Yes sir. I definitely wish Coach Anderson would have been in the Hall of Fame. He’s an unbelievable man. He’s helped me a ton through this process, and I could never thank him enough. Also, my other QB coach, David Morris. But I’ve been blessed to be around and have a great family. I have a small circle. They’re always with me and always stay by my side. Every day, they’ve showed up to my uncle’s house to watch this draft with me. It’s just awesome to have support like that. Coach Ken has been unbelievable to me. I’m sure he’ll give me a call pretty soon; he was texting me earlier today, actually. So it will be good to talk to him later on and just chat with him and see what the best places are out there (in Cincinnati). I can’t wait. It will be great.”
Bengals QB coach Ken Zampese said he came down to Alabama to talk with you for a day. What did you guys talk about?
“Me and Coach Zampese just talked about life, really. We went to dinner that night, and I worked out the next day for him. We just sat there and talked, really. We talked about anything that came up. He’s such a good man and knows the game so well. He helped me a lot. I’m just really excited to be able to work with him as the QB coach, and like I said, also with Andy Dalton. I respect Andy, I watch him a ton, and I think he’s one of the best in the league. I’m excited to get up there and learn under those guys and be the best teammate I can be for our team, and hopefully to help us out in any way I can. I’m just very thankful. I really can’t thank them enough for this opportunity.”
Playing in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and for Alabama head coach Nick Saban is considered very good preparation for a prospect like you. Do you feel ready?
“Yes sir. I’m confident in myself, but at the same time I know Andy is the QB up there. And I respect that. All I want to do is go in and help us in whatever way I can. If that means me holding the clipboard for a couple of years and giving Andy reports during the week, or watching film with him and helping him out in any way I can. I’m just ready to do it. I’m excited about this opportunity, and I just can’t wait to get up there and get to work.”
Former Alabama QB Greg McElroy was with the Bengals this past season. Have you had any contact with him?
“No sir, I haven’t. I’m sure me and Mac will talk at some point. I just haven’t had the chance to talk to anybody right now.”
Are you surprised by some of the reports that said you were too cocky?
“The thing about this whole process is, somebody can come out with something, and somebody runs with it and it’s just like wildfire spreading. I think it’s a little crazy. I was voted captain three years in a row by my teammates. I felt like I was respected at all times. People listened to me. Myself and C.J. Mosely always made the team decisions. But somebody can tap on bad information and it hurts you sometimes. I don’t believe those people. Everybody has a job and that’s their opinion. I respect that. I just need to figure out what’s the best way I can do to be the best teammate for us in the future. Be a part of the Bengals organization and help us in whatever way I can. I’m just excited and very humble about this whole opportunity. I just can’t wait to get to work; I really can’t. I want to get back to playing football and just put everything to the side.”
It sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder. Do you want to show people they should’ve drafted you earlier?
“Yes sir, that’s the way I’ve always played my game. Coming up I’ve always been doubted in some way. But like I said, I’m putting that stuff to the side right now. I want to know these teammates that I’m about to be teammates and everything about these guys. The good thing is that I know a couple of them already — Dre (Kirkpatrick), Andre (Smith) and
Do you think you and Dalton are similar quarterbacks or do you think there’s a little bit of difference in style?
“I don’t know. Andy is one of the winningest QBs of his class. He’s on a whole another level from me. It’s an honor to even be mentioned with him, but at the same time, he’s his own player, I’m my own player. He’s proven that he can do that in the NFL. I’m just coming in. I just want to earn the respect of teammates and get to work and show them I’m here for the team. I’ve always been about the team. I’m just ready to go.”
Was there anything that Ken Anderson said to you during this process that stuck with you?
“I think coach just always said that you can’t listen to everybody else and you can’t worry what everybody else’s expectations are. You’ve kind of just got to focus on what you can control. That’s the weird thing about the draft. It’s really things that you can’t control. God has a plan; whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I truly believe that. I felt like I did everything that I could while I was at the University of Alabama. One of those rumors gets out there and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just ready to come to work and be a great teammate for this team. I really am. I can’t tell you how excited I am and thankful I am for this opportunity. I’m just ready to play football.”
What is your best attribute as a quarterback and what do you think you need to work on?
“I think I know how to win. I know what it takes to win. I’ve always put in the work to win and I don’t accept anything less. I’m sure this organization is the exact same way, that’s why I love where I’m at. I can’t wait to get up there. I feel like you can master your craft that much more at all times. Some of the best players in the world in all sports; Peyton Manning, he’s still practicing. He goes and visits some people to better himself. Tiger Woods is the same way. There are so many athletes that are at the top of their game, but they feel like they never are. They can always keep getting better. So whatever coach tells me I need to work on, that’s what I’m going to buy into and I’m going to work my tail off to do it.”