ML: “I think it was a productive fifth round for us. We were able to fill some depth with some good young talent, starting out with Shaun (Prater), the cornerback from Iowa. He gives us another guy to compete and has been a great guy in coverage at Iowa. They play a lot of quarters coverage, which we like to play. He has a couple things that will be able to transfer well, and one of our coaches was with us with the Ravens, and Kirk Ferentz was as well. We feel good about the guy he is and how well he has played on special teams as an outside gunner as well. He will be able to compete for all of those spots here as well. Now, moving on to
It seems like every pick have been high-character type of guys that you want to bring in:
ML: “These guys thus far in their career have done a nice job. They are all very intelligent both on and off the field, and I think they all have great upsides. None of them have hit their ceilings thus far, and that is the exciting thing as a coach. You get to take these guys and develop them to the best player that they can be. In the case of all of these players there is a lot of growth still. They have amazing physical and mental traits, and we have an opportunity to develop them and coach them to be great players.”
It seems like Chip (Morton) and Jeff (Friday) [Bengals strength and conditioning coaches] won’t have to light a firecracker under them to get them going ...
ML: “All of these guys come from outstanding programs. They are used to the training regimen and things like how to eat and so forth. It has just fallen into place that way this year. Programs like Alabama, Wisconsin, Georgia, Clemson, Boise State, Cal, Iowa, and Penn State …all great programs. Looking at how this all fell into place and where they came from is impressive. Also looking at what they have on their campuses is impressive too. They all won a lot of games in the places where they have been in their careers, so that is also a positive.”
What was your reaction when you got the call from Cincinnati?
SP: “Big relief. That was the longest wait of my life.”
Was it a relief because you were expecting to go earlier or just a because of the waiting game in general?
SP: “Pretty much just the waiting game, sitting here watching everyone. I was just hoping that someone would call my name. I’m blessed with this opportunity.”
I saw on your Twitter page that you have “get picks or die trying.” Is that your saying?
SP: “Actually, it was a fan, and I thought it was kind of catchy. I thought that I would stick with it. My style is when the ball comes my way, I try my best to pick it and score it right away.”
Since Iowa does so many NFL-type things, how much of an advantage do you think that will bring you?
SP: “The thing about playing at Iowa is that they teach you to be very disciplined and very smart. We have to know the game plan of the opponents, we have to know formations and personnel. We had to play fast both mentally as well as physically. Coming from Iowa and playing for coach (Kirk) Ferentz, I’m truly blessed to have the opportunity. He does a great job of getting every player ready for the next level.”
What type of contact have you had with the Bengals coaches to this point?
SP: “We met at the combine. We had a formal meeting. I met a bunch of scouts at the East-West game. Besides that, I have received a couple phone calls which were pretty brief. I had no idea that this was coming.”
Do you remember who was in the room at the meeting at the combine?
SP: “Yes. The whole coaching staff, plus the owner and the owner’s daughter.”
How would you describe your style of play?
SP: “Very energetic. I try to fly from field to field. I play very physical, aggressive, smart and I try to be the total package.”
What was your experience from the East-West game?
SP: “It gave me a chance to play man-coverage to show that I can play it. It showed that I can turn my head around, catch the ball and score. At Iowa, we played a lot of zone, and it showed that I was able to man as well as zone at the East-West game.”
I read somewhere that when you were at the East-West game, when you dropped potential interceptions, you immediately dropped down and started doing pushups? Is that an Iowa thing or is that you?
SP: “That is my thing. I try to be the best at everything I do. I want to be perfect at everything. I realize that I’m not perfect, but I always strive for greatness.”
What do you know about the Bengals cornerback situation?
SP: “I really haven’t paid that much attention to the National Football League. I’ve been tossed into this over the last three months and I really haven’t had a chance to study the Bengals. Hopefully I can come into this situation and figure out everything and have a chance to play.”
Where were you when you got the call, and what were you doing today?
SP: “At home in Omaha, Nebraska with my family in the living room. I’m sitting here talking to my family and then I got the phone call. I’m very blessed.”
Why Iowa and not Nebraska?
SP: “The thing was, at Iowa they showed up at my high school and they called me just about every day. They told me straight up, ‘At Iowa, this is a very pro-like organization and the best player will play. When you come in, if you prove yourself, then you will get a chance to play.’ At every other school, they were telling me that I was going to start and that I was going to do punt returns. Iowa kept it very pro-like, and that is something that I truly liked and understood.”
Were you a gunner on special teams?
SP: “Yes, I was.”
Was there anything else that you did on special teams?
SP: “I was the corner on the punt defense. I was on kickoff and I tried to return kickoffs. I caught some punts. I told the coach, if you want me to hold the ball, play quarter back, I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Being from Omaha, how strange was it to face Nebraska this year?
SP: “It was something that I had always dreamed of, having a chance to play with them or against them. Showing up at Lincoln and playing those guys ... I played my state championship there and we won and I was able to come back around my senior year and play those guys in college, and it was a great experience.”
Were you watching the draft today?
SP: “Yes. I’ve watched just about every bit of it.”
You can turn it off now:
SP: “I’m going to turn it off now. I’m going to turn it off and go walk my dog. I’m going to try and catch up with everything that’s going on right now. I have everyone looking at me and staring at me and I just want to get back to football.”
What’s the dog’s name?
SP: “Denz. After Denzel Washington, one of my favorite actors.”
Did you recognize the 513 area code when you got the call?
SP: “Yes. I have an I-Phone, so I have all the area codes with all the states saved. When they first called, they hung up. I thought it was a prank call. Then they called back and I looked up at the TV and it said that the Bengals had the next pick and I saw that they needed a cornerback. I just took a deep breath and I prayed to God that this was real, and now I have a chance to go prove myself.”
You know prank calls and the Bengals have been a theme of this draft. Did you hear about that story?
SP: “Yes. I heard about it with the player from Rutgers.”
Was your antenna up to be aware of such things?
SP: “You just have to focus on the future and the bright things. You can’t worry about what people do, so I wish the best for that player. Obviously, he got picked and things are going well. So, I wish him the best of luck.”
You are now teammates. You can now say it to his face in a few weeks:
SP: “That’s right.”
MJ: “Thanks. It’s definitely a blessing.”
What has today been like? Has it been a long day waiting for that call?
MJ: “Yeah. Everybody says it’s an emotional rollercoaster, and I definitely went through that, thinking you’re going to be taken a little higher. As the picks are going on, you kind of have some uncertainty. But I landed in a great spot. It’s one of the spots I actually wanted to be in, so I’m happy.”
Where did you think you were going to get drafted? You were rated higher than where you got picked:
MJ: “I don’t want to say I was misled, but what was said to me was that I could go anywhere from high second (round) to mid-second. I could see going to lower second, too. But you look at what happened in the draft, there wasn’t a run on receivers like everybody expected. So I expected to go in the second round. But hey, it happens. Anything could happen, in terms of the draft. That’s where I thought I was going, but I’m happy that I’m here.”
You said you thought Cincinnati would be a good landing spot for you. Why?
MJ: “With the Bengals, you look at
Did you ever attend any camps or have any experience with A.J. Green when you guys were in high school or college?
MJ: “No. I didn’t go to any camps in high school, except for one Scout.com camp. But we were some of the top receivers in the nation – I was a little lower. When you’re one of the top receivers in the nation, you look at who else is up there on top and see all of their highlights and that stuff.”
You’ve said that you like to attack whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it’s football or school. Can you talk about academics? Have you graduated, or are you graduating soon?
MJ: “No. I have two online classes that I need to take care of, and I decided not to do it this spring because of preparation for the draft. But I’ll have my degree and paperwork by next spring.”
What was your major?
MJ: “African-American Studies.”
Your game has been compared to former Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco. Did you watch much of him while you were growing up? Is he someone who you try to model any parts of your game after?
MJ: “I haven’t tried to emulate him, but I’ve definitely watched him, with the way he gets in and out of his breaks. It’s unconventional, the way he separates, and he has his own way of getting in and out of his breaks. But at the same time, he’s a great player and a great route-runner, and I’m a great route-runner. I’ve never really tried to emulate him, but I do respect his game.”
You bench-pressed 22 reps at the NFL combine. Do you pride yourself in blocking and the physical part of the game?
MJ: “Definitely. Ever since I picked up a weight, I’ve always tried to attack everything. Physicality is a part of me where I think I have an advantage over my competition. When I’m out there on the field against the DBs, going out there knowing that you’re 99 percent sure you’re stronger than any secondary on the field, that helps in terms of blocking and doing all that stuff. I do pride myself off of everything. I’m a well-rounded guy, and I don’t want to lack anything in any part of my game. Whatever it is, whether it’s on the field or lifting weights, I try to be the best. In conditioning, I try to be number one all the time. That’s what kind of guy I am.”
Did you play at all on special teams at Cal? Maybe early in your career?
MJ: “I never really did special teams in my first three years – coach’s decision. But my last season, I got a lot of returns – 31 punt returns. As far as that, I got some experience in special teams. But I’m willing to do that stuff. In practice, I’ve seen gunners and I’ve done that. We’ve had a great special teams coach, so I know the basics of all special teams. So that’s something I can do as well.”
Did you pick up being a punt returner pretty quickly? How do you think you did?
MJ: “I think I did pretty good. I picked it up quickly. I worked with the punt returners since I was a freshman, so I had that experience. It wasn’t necessarily the years and games experience – I only had one year of experience – but I was always one of the guys that was always there. Once the special teams period hit, I wasn’t one of the guys that hid on the sidelines. I’m out there trying to be active, and I’d always be out there with the kickoff return and punt return. When my number was called, I went out there, and I think I did a good job.”
Did you break any returns deep or score?
MJ: “I almost broke some deep. The longest one, I think, was about 40 yards against USC at the beginning of the game. But it was my first year (as a returner), so there were some things that I didn’t see that I could’ve capitalized on that would have resulted in touchdowns. But that just comes with me being a beginner in that arena. Going the whole season as the punt returner, now I know what holes to hit, or it’s a particular type of return, where I go. So I think that’s something I can do.”
What’s this day been like for you? (It’s been) a long wait to hear that phone call, right?
GI: “It was definitely a long wait. My initial feelings were relief and then excitement, you know. You can’t control where you go, but I’m just excited for the opportunity, so once I saw my name called and the saw it was the Bengals — they have a good defense — I was just excited. I wish I could get in the pads right now but it was really like a relief and then excitement. In a way, it had just been eating at me, eating at me and then I got the phone call.”
What do you know about the Bengals?
GI: “Mike Zimmer is a good defensive coordinator from what I’m hearing and from what I’ve been watching last year when I was in college. They made the playoffs last year with a young team, so the future’s bright. You have a sophomore quarterback, the defense has a lot of young guys, so just based on what they were able to do last year with that team and taking them to the playoffs, I just want to get in there and contribute as fast as I can.”
How would you describe your game? What are your strengths?
GI: “My versatility, my ability to play different positions (and) my ability to line me up anywhere in the backfield, and my consistency and my dependability.”
Where all have you lined up on the field?
GI: “I played nickel and dime (coverage), free and strong (safety), and corner in my last three games in college due to injury. So I played every spot possible on the back end, but my main position was free safety.”
Your size/speed ratio seems to be pretty impressive. In the NFL, all these teams use multiple tight end formations. Do you feel pretty good about your ability to run down the middle when they try to stretch it down the seams?
GI: “Definitely. I feel that besides the seams, I can cover big tight ends that are athletic. You need someone that can match up with them. I’m just going to try to go in there, take coaching and sharpen my skills and try to contribute as fast as I can.”
The Bengals like that combination. You’re coming to an organization that fits what you present pretty darn well:
GI: “Right, definitely. My agent just told me about some of the safeties that are there, and they have some pretty tall safeties from what I’m hearing, so I’m just going to go in there, come to work every day and compete and by competing make the secondary better because everyone knows they have to work every day.”
You guys won a few games out there. How much did your success define yourself as a player, as a winner? It seems all the guys that come out of there (Boise State) view themselves that way, as the ultimate team winner-types:
GI: “Effort is one thing that they’re big on, as is being sound in technique — those things (are mentioned) before you even worry about the athletic ability to help you out. That was one of the main components for why Boise was successful, and now with the athletic ability (added in), that’s why we were able to win so many games. I’m just trying to take some of the things I’ve learned from Boise, keep that with me and pick up some new things from the team I’m on now.”
The offense at Boise gets a lot of credit, but the defense has to be playing pretty well to win against SEC teams and all those (other) teams you beat over the years:
GI: “Definitely. Our offense gets a majority of the pub, but isn’t that (the case with) every football team when you think about it? That’s how the defense was: Just come in and do our jobs and let the offense get the credit.”
A scouting report said you were able to start and play as a true freshman at 17 years old, correct?
GI: “Yes, I came in and started at 17.”
The report also said you had to overcome some immaturity issues. Can you talk about that a little bit?
GI: “Like you said, I was 17 and I just had some immaturity issues — I just needed to grow up. Just being tossed in the fire so early, I wouldn’t say I was spoiled, but as a true freshman — I played great (and) made (the) Freshman All-American (team) — but there are certain things you can do to as a rookie cornerback that you can’t do your sophomore year. From my freshman to my sophomore year, I didn’t take it so well. I’d make the same plays I’d make as a freshman, and they’d be down on me or something like that. It definitely took some growing up to do. School wasn’t never an issue — in my sophomore year, I didn’t take it serious — but when all that pieced together, that’s when I was a better player. I never had characters issues, never got in trouble with the law and stuff like that, but little kid stuff, that was definitely me my freshman year, and then I sat down with Coach Pete (Boise State coach Chris Petersen).”
You were a big special teams contributor:
GI: “Yeah. This year I played special teams — I started on all four special teams at the beginning of the year and then I started on two special teams at the end of the year as we had more depth then. But that was one thing that was big on our starters at Boise: You’re starting, you’re playing special teams and that’s how we did it there.”
The Bengals just installed new turf. Unfortunately, it’s not blue — I hope that’s going to be OK with you …
GI: “Oh, man — I’m on to greener pastures.”