GENERAL MANAGER JASON LICHT
NFL DRAFT Links
"I can't tell you how excited we are about these two guys. We went into the draft knowing that we had to shore up the offensive line. We needed to bring in some guys and we didn't want to reach for these guys. They were on our board exactly where we took them. Donovan Smith is a guy that we've had some knowledge of – good relations with the prior staff at Penn State. He's a big, athletic guy. He kind of first jumped out at us watching him in 2013 tape against Randy Gregory. Of course, we've watched all the tape now. A big guy, very good athlete, powerful guy, good run blocker, good pass blocker, we're going to start him off on the left side. That's his natural position. But we also feel like he's got versatility to play on the right. He's also got the bend and the quickness that we look for for guys that can move inside. He's got versatility, but we're going to play him on the left side here to start off – feel really confident about that.
"Perhaps my favorite guy – and Lovie will tell you the same thing – in the draft of O-line was Ali Marpet, just in terms of him being a small-school guy that you rooted for. Not saying that we liked him better than Donovan, but just a guy that we rooted for. Watching college football every Saturday when Hobart's on (television – laughter). Our scouts did an excellent job of digging him out early. We had scouts come back saying early in the year that there's a guy at Hobart that we're going to like. The first chance that I had to really watch him was at the combine. We immediately started watching tape on Ali while we were in the suite watching the workouts because he was that type of guy. We couldn't wait to start watching him. He dominated there at Hobart, but the concern that a lot of people had is 'How is he going to play against top-notch competition?' But at the Senior Bowl – I'm going to back up. We saw him first at the Senior Bowl. The first time we watched the game tape was at the combine, for Lovie and I. Our scouts had it all done. He played very well in the Senior Bowl. He looked like he belonged and we feel like he's going to make an easy transition after spending a lot of time with him. (Offensive Line Coach) George (Warhop) spent a lot of time with him. We had him visit here, George visited him there. He's a smart, tough, dependable, face of the program, very mature guy. That's what we're trying to build up front."
(On what position Marpet will play)
"We're going to play him at guard. He's got a tremendous skill set. He can play center, too."
(On if he thinks Donovan Smith is ready to step in as a starting left tackle)
"I do. He's going to get every opportunity and I feel very confident about it. So does our entire staff and Lovie."
(On scouting reports that labeled Smith as an underachiever)
"We feel very confident with him. We've got some strong relationships with everybody that's coached him there. Sometimes there's a reason guys fall a little bit. You've got to take chances and we didn't want to wait for chances – we'll take him. And it's worth it for us."
(On if the team traded up to try and get ahead of a specific team)
"Sometimes we get some knowledge that we want to act on and not risk it."
(On if Donovan Smith will compete with Demar Dotson for the starting left tackle position)
"I'll let Lovie talk more about it. The plan that we've talked about is Demar staying on the right side, where he's been a very good player."
(On how important it was to improve the offensive line to help the team's rookie quarterback)
"We took two guys in the second round. We moved up to get one. I think it was pretty important. It's also important – you know, a lot of times, as we learned here and as we've seen in the past, free agency just doesn't work all the time. You've got to be sure on those guys. When you're bringing guys in, young guys, especially when you're bringing a quarterback in and you're bringing the O-line in with him, these guys grow together and gel together. Usually that works out better and you can build something special. These guys coming up together, it's like a fraternity."
(On if he has a problem drafting defensive players)
"(Laughs) No, not at all. It's very odd seeing Lovie doing cartwheels in there after we've drafted two offensive linemen in the second round, but Lovie loves athletes now – especially Ali, he really jumped out at us. Now Donovan, at 338 pounds, running a sub-5.0 (second) 40(-yard dash) – not that we draft off the 40 – but it's pretty damn impressive too. We're excited about these guys, as you can tell."
(On if there are still good pass rushers on the board)
"Definitely, we've got our eye on those. We also kind of think here in the third day, we want to do the best player available, too."
(On if the team was targeting Marpet or another player when they traded up)
"Thinking of Marpet."
(On if the team plans to start Marpet at right guard)
"The plan is that he's going to compete for a starting spot."
(On how the team evaluated each player's pass blocking and run blocking)
"Donovan is a very patient left tackle. Sometimes patience is something that's really tough to coach. He's got great feet, he's patient, he doesn't get bull-rushed – he's a big man that's got a strong punch. Very fluid – bends well. He's also a very tenacious run blocker, very powerful and can dominate up front there, too. He's got a very unique skillset, where he's got a great blend of being able to do both well. Ali, we think that the sky's the limit on his upside. I think he's got a chance to be really, really good as an interior offensive lineman, in both areas."
(On if he is concerned about pairing a rookie left tackle and a rookie quarterback)
"There's a lot of rookie tackles that have played in the league and started their first year with rookie quarterbacks. You can't go off all the studies. Like I've said before, it takes great players to win and that was my study, so that's what we're going to stick with."
(On if his relationship with Penn State coaches influenced his decision to draft Donovan Smith)
"This whole business is all about relationships and you use every relationship that you have as a tool. If you don't, you know how it is – everybody's joined at some point."
(On if Donovan Smith having played in a pro-style offense helped the team's evaluation)
"We dug deep on these guys, just like all the picks. These guys checked all the boxes for us, so we're excited."
HEAD COACH LOVIE SMITH
"You know, we started today's draft with a couple things in mind – drafting a quarterback yesterday – we wanted to solidify our offensive line some. Really, two of the players we had pegged were the two we ended up getting. Got a chance to spend good time with Donovan (Smith) when he came through for the pre-draft visit, as we were able to do with Ali (Marpet) also. You know, we're trying to add good football players but we want an athletic football team too. I love speed at all positions, except quarterback (laughter). Of course Donovan – long arms, good size, can really move. Same thing with Ali. I know it's been documented what he did at the combine, which was impressive for a guard, but what he was able to do at the Senior Bowl really got our attention, got my attention. I didn't know a lot about Ali until then, but we've added two good offensive linemen to the mix. We're a better football team by doing that. I'll take your questions."
(On if he is trying to shake the notion that he is a defensive coach by drafting offensive players)
"It was brought to my attention up there again – really hadn't thought about it much, just kind of looking at areas of the football team that we need to improve. People keep talking a lot about the draft, but in free agency we've brought in quite a few defensive players so it's leveling out a little bit, but eventually we do have to draft some – I assume we're going to draft some defensive players."
(On having rookies at key positions like quarterback and left tackle at the same time)
"Well, when you go through the draft and you're building through the draft sometimes you have to. That's just a part of it. You just try to get some players that you feel like can make that transition quickly. Both guys are bright, smart players. I've never been one to shy away from playing young players. If they're the best we have, we'll let them go."
(On the best examples of players he can think of who have made the jump from Division III to the NFL)
"As I get older, it's hard for me to keep up with the number of grandkids that I have. But I just know that that (jump) doesn't really mean an awful lot. You just look now at what players make it in the league in general, it's just not the guys that are playing at the top programs. The national champion, I don't think they've had – well, they've had one player I think drafted, or something like that – so you get them from a lot of different places. But again, that's why the Senior Bowl is good where you bring everybody together and you see how some of the small college players, how they can handle playing against the big boys, and Ali did a great job with that."
(On if he feels the team has added three starters through this draft)
"We feel like we added – potentially, yes. I think all of these three players definitely have a chance to play a lot of football for us. Of course, you draft the first pick in the draft, that goes without saying, but both of these offensive linemen have a chance to help us some day."
(On the 'media reports' of Donovan Smith not being in love with football)
"Those 'reports' and 'the source' guy – we don't go on that an awful lot. We did our research and we like Donovan what he brings to the table. You look at college players in general, I can't say that you probably have a player that you love every time they go out and play, but Donovan Smith is a good football player. Everything you're looking for in a left tackle, that's where we'll start him out. We feel like he has – we think he's going to be an excellent pass blocker and of course we feel like he can really be a good run player, too. Has all the talent to be able to do it, and I just don't think that that's going to be a big problem here. If a player is on our football team, one thing you're going to say about them is they're going to play hard always. I guarantee that."
(On if he's going to sleep okay with rookies potentially starting at quarterback and left tackle)
"Very much so. I've been sleeping a whole lot better as we've gotten closer to the draft, of making these selections. I think you sleep better when you feel like you have good players at the position as much as anything, and I think it's easy to see that we've added two very good football players that should help us win a lot of games in our future."
(On if the impact of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter might improve the play of the offensive line)
"I think yes, no doubt. We've talked a lot about that, what Dirk and the rest of the group will bring to the table. There's a lot of things we have to do, it's not just about adding talent. I mean, the way we lost some games this past year, that's why we're kind of looking forward in the future. A lot of those things aren't going to happen. I feel like we're going to be a talented football team. We see what's happening in our division and we feel like we're gaining on them and again, it's a new day. But to answer your question, Dirk will help us a lot with what we're going to do on the offensive side of the ball."