“We tried. The phone was ringing. We were making calls, but there was just nothing that made a lot of sense to us at the time.”
For OLB Aaron Lynch, a lot of people remarked about how he played at Notre Dame and then transferred. It was kind of interpreted it as a drop-off, that he didn’t play up to expectations at South Florida. How do you account for that and what are your, what kind of drew you to Aaron Lynch?
“Well, I can’t account for the performance. That’s up to the individual. He’s a young man that started his career as you said at Notre Dame and transferred down to South Florida. A good football player. There were reasons why he made the transfer. He did, as he mentioned in his press conference that he held there were some up and downs to it. He’s a young man that has a lot of talent and a lot of traits to work with. He’s young, 21 years old and has a huge arrow up. And, he’s got the keys to the car now and it’s up to him to drive it.”
Head coach Jim Harbaugh just said that there’s a significant process with him, it’s something that needs the structure and that’s something that this team is willing to do to work with him. What is it about him that makes you satisfied that you can work with him?
“Well, he was one of those players that we had brought in to visit with and we spent a lot of time with him. Coach is very good friends, as you know, with the head coach down there, coach [South Florida head coach Willie] Taggart. We know a lot of those coaches on that staff and spent a lot of time interviewing them, talking with them, talking to Aaron and just felt at the end of the day that he was a young man that we could work with.”
You mentioned before something about you have to take chances, calculated chances, with guys. Does he fall into this category?
“I think you need to dig into him a little bit more. This isn’t a young man that has a rap sheet that you’re dealing with. He’s not a young man that’s been in a lot of trouble. He’s made some mistakes. He’s got to do some things differently. He understands that and we as an organization understand that. We have a structure here, a system here, that we feel we can help him. But, ultimately it comes down to the individual, as we all know. With Aaron it will be a process, but a process that we’re comfortable he will be able to endure and flourish in.”
You guys obviously, like everyone, want to identify guys that have a real passion for the game, that really love it.
“Love football players, good football players.”
Does he qualify as far as those intangibles as far as you know?
“All I do is put on the film. Could you make it an A-plus-plus highlight tape? Absolutely. Is he a guy that every time you turn on the film was playing to that level? No, self-admitted. He would say that himself and has said that himself. What we’re hoping to do is get him to play to that level consistently and we feel we can do that.”
He was suspended like one quarter for some violation of team rules this year. I know you talked to coach Taggart about that. You’re comfortable with that part of the whole thing?
“We’ve vetted him extensively. Like I said, we’ve talked to a lot of people. When we brought him in here we had him go through a couple of things, had a process to it when he was brought in. And feel very comfortable with the situation as it stands today.”
He said that he had met with you three or four separate times on his one trip here. Why did you want to talk to him at different points throughout the day, if that happened?
“Just wanted to visit with him. Wanted to get to know him a little better.”
You guys had a roster obviously that went to the conference title game and with 11 picks, conventional wisdom would think you’d use some of those picks to make some moves in next year’s draft. Why not do that?
“Conventional is not fun.”
Is that a testament to the overall depth of this class I guess is the better question?
“Once again, as we said, in order to make trades you have to have trading partners. And, sometimes you’re able to do it and sometimes you’re not. And then there’s other trades that just don’t make sense that people would be willing to do and do with you, but you’ve got to give up too much to do it. We’re firm believers that the roster can’t be 20-deep or 25-deep or even 45-deep, it’s got to be 53-deep. And we try to build the strongest 53-man roster that we can. And in order to do that you have to have good football players, you can never have enough of them. Because, if you have 63 of them competing for 53 spots, it makes those 53 that earn them that much better and that’s the goal.”
What do you like about WR Bruce Ellington?
“I like a lot of things about Bruce. He’s very competitive. You don’t play two sports and major college football at the level he did without having something special about you, the mental toughness, the physical traits to do those things. He’s a skilled athlete and he’s a competitive athlete and those are good qualities to have. He’s also a very smart, instinctive athlete. You put all that together you’ve got a pretty good package.”
Were you surprised to see him there at 106?
“Anymore I’m not surprised at anything that happens in the draft. Guys fall, guys taken earlier than we may have had him valued. That doesn’t’ mean we were right. That doesn’t mean the other team’s wrong. That’s the beauty of the draft. Everybody builds a different board. It would be very easy to make the picks if there were 260 players and they were valued one through 260 and guys just pull them off one at a time, but that’s not how it is.”
In terms of growth potential for him, does he have more just because he was splitting time between two sports, because he wasn’t a receiver until he got to South Carolina? Do you see real upside to what he can do?
“Anytime you’re sharing duties as an athlete and not being able to fully concentrate on one sport, there’s certainly, you have to envision that there’s some upside to the sport that they end up choosing because they haven’t been able to spend as much time. Now, he’s very unique. If you go back and look at his history in the sense that this is a young man that didn’t bow out of spring football. This is a guy that would bounce between spring football and basketball, didn’t miss any basketball games, didn’t miss much if any spring ball. So, just a very competitive guy that’s given everything he’s had to both sports. Now he’s going to be able to focus on just one like he has for the latter part of his last year there.”
Even though the draft is over now, the undrafted rookie free agents, how many can you sign? [Inaudible]
“I don’t know the exact number, but we’re up there working on it as we speak. Some of the guys are still on the phone. But, we can have 90 total on the roster. I think, I want to say it’s somewhere between eight and 10 rookie free agents that we’re going to add, something like that.”
Has Stanford S Shayne Skov signed?
“I don’t know that. As I’m sitting down here they’re still working up there.”
In the material that was handed out on FB Trey Millard, it said that he’s an accomplished writer and has published two poems. Did you read his poems as a way to get insight into him?
“If it didn’t have anything to do with the draft I haven’t read it. So, to answer, no I haven’t. I’ll be interested to when I do have some time. I love poems”
Who’s your favorite poet?
“Did Dr. Seuss write poems?”
Yes, he was the best.
“Perfect. I love that guy.”
What did you like about Trey on the field and DT Kaleb Ramsey your other seventh round selection? What stood out to you about those two?
“They’re both good football players. When you look at Trey, he’s played a lot of football at a big-time program. He’s run the football effectively, he pass catches effectively and he blocks effectively. To be a fullback in our system you got to do those three things, and he does those three things. Kaleb’s a young man that the scouts were tired of grading, to be honest with you, because he’s been in the last three drafts. He’s had some history, medical history that’s kind of knocked him out of a couple of seasons. So, they were finally glad that this was the last time they had to watch him at the college level and put a grade on him, because in all honesty I think we have graded him for three straight years.”
The 12 picks, they don’t count on the 90 right now until they sign?
“Nor do the free agents. Nobody counts until they are officially signed. So, once that comes around, I’m sorry, the draft picks do count. The free agents will count as soon as they sign.”
I have you at 86, 74 are already signed and then the 12 picks. That would only leave four guys that you could sign.
“I don’t know what the number is. As I stated earlier, I’d have to get the sheet to be honest with you.”
So, might you release some guys that were on the roster before the draft to make room for some?
“Once again, I don’t know the exact number. Could somebody be released to make room for somebody else? That’s always a possibility, but at this point in time I don’t know if we’re in that situation. Guys are still working upstairs. I’m down here taking care of this.”
With FB Trey Millard, do you see him as just a pure fullback or is he somebody that can kind of have a more varied role in the offense?
“He’s a fullback in our system and that is a varied role if you look we play [FB] Bruce [Miller]. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be asked to block, a guy that’s going to be asked to get out into routes, block both run and pass game and also at times, although it be vary few, they get the football. So, he’s a well-rounded guy and has played a lot of ball at a high level.”
You said you’ve got scouting reports on Kaleb for three years. What’s the gist of the reports?
“Good football player. A very versatile football player. Has played all along the front at Boston College. A guy that can play three-technique, can play four-technique, has played some five-technique, gives you some inside pass rush. A very athletic big man and has played at a lot of different weights. So, he’s a guy that has one of those body types that you can kind of massage to what you want him to be. A guy that could get down and play some stand up on his feet. He’s athletic enough to do that. Or a guy that you keep the weight on and you make him an end in a three-technique in your sub package stuff. So, just a lot of versatility.”
With 12 draft picks now and so many guys back from the last couple years, do you feel this is the strongest roster you’ve had at this point looking back at the last few years?
“We’ll wait and see when they show up. Right now, we feel very good about the collection of guys that we have, both the guys that are in that locker room currently and the guys we’ve just added over the last three to four days. Feel very good about it, but the proof will be in the pudding when they show up and we get them on the field and we go to work.”
What do you like about your new corner CB Dontae Johnson?
“6-2, 200 pounds. Runs 4.44, verified. Has played safety. Has played corner. Versatility. Intelligence. Very smart football player and an A-plus-plus character guy.”
So he’ll have an opportunity to compete for other positions aside from corner?
“Right now, we’re going to lock him in and put him at corner and let him go to work. Once again, with all these young guys, the more focused you can get them in one area, at least early on, the better chance they have of developing. So, you want to give them the best chance that you can for them to be successful and the best thing for him is to put him out there at corner and let him go to work.”
How much do any of these guys play press in college, at NC State for example?
“A lot, and quite honestly, that’s one of the problems when you’re watching receivers. You don’t see them get pressed. So when people say, ‘Well how’s he going to do against press?’ You tell me. We did one guy that, in fact we did all of the guys that we had ranked at a certain level, all the receivers, had our guys go through and cut up all of the plays that they went against press, even if they weren’t throwing the ball on that down, just to see how they got off of press. And the most we saw one guy had 20 snaps against press coverage. A lot of them were down in the single digits, seven, eight, nine snaps in all the film we had on them. So, it’s hard to say.”
So how do you project a Bruce Ellington? Do you look at his bench press to see if he’s got power? What are the things that you look at to try to project that?
“You look at their traits, their quickness, their strength. Those are two things that they need. They’re savvy. Because technique you can teach them. You can improve their quickness a little bit. You can certainly improve their strength, but you look at the athlete, you look at the structure of the athlete and you look at the traits that you believe he has and what’s in his body that you think you can develop and from that point on, it’s up to the athlete.”
He seemed to have good short-area quickness, in at least two combine drills that measure that. He ranked very highly. Was that something that you factor in?
“Yeah, if you play point guard in the SEC, you’ve got to have some short-area quickness. That’s something that he definitely has. And one thing about basketball players, good basketball players understand spacing and they understand- they’ve got great instincts. They’ve got great body awareness and great feel for creating space for themselves because that’s what good basketball players have to do. On defense, you’ve got to take that space away. On offense, you’ve got to figure out a way to create it and he’s a guy that’s able to do that on both ends of the court.”
Did you watch him play basketball?
“Yeah, we watched a little bit of it. In fact, [Indiana Basketball head] coach [Tom] Crean said we’ve probably got the best point guard in the National Football League.”
Yesterday, you said you need to stretch a field vertically and horizontally. You hear a lot of stretch a field vertically. When you say horizontally, what do you mean?
“53 yards, use it all. That’s all you’re blessed with, right? 53 yards. So, you use all 53 yards and you stretch them out. And then you do what you can vertically to stretch them out that way. And the team’s that throw the ball well historically are team’s that know how to get all 53 yards in play. If you only use 37 yards of it, you’re probably not going to be as effective as the team’s that can use 53.”
Following up that question about the roster, would you at least say after the WR Stevie Johnson deal, do you think this is your best roster at wide receiver ?
“We think it’s deep. We think it’s talented. And there are guys that guys aren’t talking about. We feel good about all 11 that are currently on the roster, 11 or 12, whatever that number is, I’d have to go back and look. But, we feel very good about it. I feel it is going to be a very competitive camp for that group, as it is for many.”
Is this your deepest roster ever at that position?
“We feel good about it. I think you could make an argument that it is. But, once again, until they get in here and they go to work and these young guys get in here and we see where Stevie’s at, we feel very good about it. Feel very good about the group and looking forward to watching them compete.”
You took Ellington in the fourth round. Was this draft so deep at that position that in any other draft, he would have been a third round or second rounder. Can you say that? That guys are pushed into a later round and maybe they were more talented than that round?
“The deeper the pool is at any position, the further guys can fall, the more guys can get pushed down. But, to say last year, if he’d have been in last year’s draft, he’d have been a second rounder or if he’s in the year before that, he’d have been a fifth rounder, I don’t know. We feel we got good value at the place we took them.”
What kind of feedback do you get from your players during the draft?
“I get a few text messages. It’s kind of interesting. Guys reach out a little bit. The one thing that good football players and good football teams have, they’ve got a competitive nature and our guys are not afraid to compete. So, when you guys are looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, that’s a deep roster, how is so and so going to react to this?’ I would hope that they react very positively because it’s only going to make them better. And that’s the whole objective. If they become better, we become better. That’s the number one priority, for us to become better, for us to become a better football team.”
Any of those text messages compliments on a certain pick or are enthusiastic with an ‘OMG’ or anything like that?
“No, I wouldn’t share that with you and they’re all very positive. There’s always a little bit of ribbing going on, but they’re all very positive.”
“Dr. Seuss poetry. Dr. Seuss.”
What was your reaction to the DE Michael Sam pick and was he ever on your radar?
“Very happy for him. Very happy for him. Yeah, he’s a good football player. And you look at what has done in his college career, was he a fit for us? Yeah, we could use him. But, good football player that wish would’ve not went to the Rams. Wish he’d have went to another team so we didn’t have to play against him. But, certainly a guy has make-it traits and is going get every opportunity to do that.”
When you’re in this evaluation process, do you ever forecast a year ahead knowing some other guys are going to be coming out draft eligible next year and does that maybe impact your line of thinking this year?
“I wish I could say yes to that. I know some guys do forecast out a little bit and say, ‘OK, next year’s tight end class is going to be…’ I’m trying to get through today, to be honest with you. Do we know, have kind of an idea what’s coming out the next year? Yeah, we do. But to say, there are so many guys that end up coming out, what, 100-plus juniors came out this year. No one would have predicted that. You’d have thought 60, 70 maybe. But, you throw 30 more guys into that pool and all of a sudden you’re dealing with guys you never thought of. So, it takes a position that maybe wouldn’t have had much depth and makes it a position of depth. It’s hard to balance that out. All I know is in two weeks now, because the NFL’s done such a good job of pushing this thing back, we’re getting on a plane and going to Florida to start on next year’s class already. Can hardly wait.”