Prospect interviews at Combine important part of process for Bengals

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

INDIANAPOLIS — The Cincinnati Bengals typically have shared the philosophy of trying to keep their own guys when it comes to free agency, but director of player personnel Duke Tobin didn’t want to disclose if that remains the case.

Even with a $30 million salary cap increase this year, there isn’t enough room to pay every player what they would want. The NFL Draft is a good way to fill holes without the big spend, and the Bengals gained some valuable intel on their prospects this week at the NFL Combine.

Not only did Bengals staff members, scouts and executives get a chance to watch workouts, they also were able to interview prospects to get to know them better on a somewhat personal level. Tobin particularly enjoys that aspect of the Combine.

“I like sitting and listening to guys express themselves and answer our questions and talk about where they came from and what makes them tick and why do they like football and how do they view themselves,” Tobin said Tuesday in a press conference at the Combine. “When you spend a lot of time researching them from afar and then you get them in front of you and they’re expressing themselves I enjoy that. It’s long, I mean it’s 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes from seven o’clock to 11 o’clock and so it can be a grind, but I enjoy hearing the players express what they’re all about and why they feel they’re going to be a good football player and it’s fun.”

Tobin said the Bengals don’t rely on those interviews to understand the character of the players, but those are opportunities to confirm things they already think they know about them. Most of the research is done by the scouting department during the college season, and the interviews are a chance “to put a face with a name and a personality with a name,” Tobin said.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said hearing players tell their stories sometimes answers questions the coaches have about them. Up until about a month ago, he knew very little about the players the team scouts had been busy gathering information on, and this time of year is when the coaches get to dig into it more.

“To hear them tell their story sometimes … makes things a little bit clearer what can make them tick, and again, you don’t really ever want to ding the guys in these interviews,” Taylor said. “This is a bonus. They get a chance to put their best foot forward and our scouts have done a great job researching their backgrounds. But I’m excited to watch these guys go compete on the field and do all that stuff, go to the pro days and gather all of our information, so that we can make the best picks for the Bengals.”

The Bengals have the 18th pick in the draft, but Taylor said it’s not always expected the first-round pick will be able to come in and contribute right away. That is always the hope, but sometimes it depends on the position and the depth at that spot, and also some players just hit the ground running faster than others.

Tobin pointed out that perhaps more time is actually spent studying the guys that will be taken in the back end of the draft, where there are a lot of differing opinions on a player’s value. Hitting on some of those picks can be especially helpful when the budget is tight.

“I don’t know that it could be any more important than I’ve ever viewed it because I’ve always viewed every draft pick we make as vital,” Tobin said. “You know, whether it’s the seventh round or fifth round or our fourth round, we approach those as eagerly as we do the very first round. You know, sometimes we put even more into those guys, because there’s a bigger universe and we want to make sure we’re trying to take the right guy for us. And so there’s a lot that we want out of those late round picks. So it’s important, yeah. You got to hit on your draft picks and that’s not a new thing just because of our cap situation and so forth.”

Cincinnati will have an even better idea what areas to target in the draft after the first few waves of free agent signings. The new league calendar begins March 13, and free agency officially opens at 4 p.m. that day.

The Bengals have 16 players heading into free agency after releasing quarterback AJ McCarron last month, using the franchise tag on Tee Higgins and tendering exclusive rights players Cal Adomitis and Jake Browning last week. Tobin said some of those other players the team would like back, but the increased salary cap only helps so much.

“I won’t get into our strategies for roster building, you know, but I will tell you that if there’s more money, there’s more opportunity to add people and that’s just the reality about it,” Tobin said. “There’s also more opportunity for the other 31 teams to add people too, so maybe it provides a little flexibility. Hopefully, you know, if you’re talking about the same people just being paid more, it doesn’t really affect the club. But as long as we can use those dollars to maybe supplement what we would have otherwise done, then I think it is a benefit for us.”

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