Executive Vice President, Football Operations & General Manager, Andrew Berry and Head Coach Kevin Stefanski (4.26.24)

Opening Statement:

Berry: “Jeff, did you wear that hoodie in honor of Mike (Hall) [laughter]? All right. Okay, so, closing day two of the Draft with Mike Hall and Zak Zinter. Just quickly, what appealed to us about both players. You know, with Mike, he’s really tailor-made for our attack front. He’s explosive, he’s quite quick. He can rush the passer. He’s long, and he plays, really with a very high motor. He’s really the quintessential three-technique in our defense. And for us, pass rushers will always come at a premium, especially those that can affect the pocket from inside and we think that’s something that Mike will be able to do along our front. So, we’re really excited to kind of keep him home, so to speak, and think his skillset and passion really matches perfectly for our organization. And then with Zak, I think you guys all know that we’ll be a team that invests in the trenches, invests in the O line. Zak, we just thought, was a rock-solid all-around player his entire career at Michigan. He was really the heartbeat of their culture when we met with him throughout the pre-Draft process. You know, very smart, professional, passionate about football, and I think his blue-collar mentality will really fit well within our offensive line room. So, we’re very excited to add both guys to the team tonight, and with that, I’ll open up for questions.”


[Zinter] like a red shirt this year? Will he play?

Berry: “You know, I think for any player that we add – any rookie that we add, time will tell. Like, I don’t think any of us can really make that call. As we sit here today, the one thing I always talk about with Kevin, there typically aren’t any red shirts in the NFL. Like, everyone who’s on the 53 will be called into action at some point, but we’re just excited to get him in the building and get him up and running.”


Will he be healthy enough to compete?

“I gotcha. Yeah. Yes, yes.”


Is Michael the one who rolled up on Zach?

“That, I don’t know. Off the top of my head Tom (Withers).”


Was it difficult to resist trading 54? Glenn said there were a lot of phone calls.

Berry: “Yeah, I mean, we gave a lot of thought to doing so. Honestly, we felt like, with the run of players that we thought had the potential for real interior pass rush ahead of us, you know, that was probably our last opportunity to get a prospect that we thought could do that in a, what I would say, like a featured manner. So, ultimately, the offers weren’t enticing enough for us to move off the spot, but we did give it great consideration.”


We’ve been asked before, but it seems like you really do like to go to big schools like Ohio State, Michigan. What is the attraction there?

Berry: “I think that’s probably just coincidence, Jeff (Schudel). We look for the best players. They come in all different shapes and sizes. We had guys on our board that were part of power five conferences, group of eight, and what I would say, like non-DI conferences. So that’s just kind of how it’s worked out. I wouldn’t say that there’s any bias in that regard.”


It was said that Jim Schwartz was the happiest man in the room when you selected. If you could talk about how he’s going to really fit into your defensive front.

Berry: “Yeah, Jim – anytime you get a pass rusher, Jim’s happy. And, you know, I think one of the hardest things to find are players that either can or you project to have the ability to affect the quarterback from inside. Because, you know, we’re in a favorable situation where you have either Myles (Garrett) or Z (Za’Darius Smith) on the outside and they really dictate the protection for the offense. That usually means in this game, you know, the interior player opposite them is going to get the one-on-one matchup with the goal. So, guys that can convert a one-on-one into pressure on a relatively consistent basis, they have great value for this scheme, but they also have great value when paired with the best defensive player in football.”


How valuable is it to have Joel (Bitonio) and Wyatt (Teller) for a guy like Zak coming in?

Stefanski: “Yeah, extremely valuable. And he’s coming into a really talented room, a room that supports each other, they’ll push each other. But anytime you can attach yourself to veterans that have been there and done it at your position, I think is huge.”


Was he able to work out for you guys?

Berry: “So, I mean, I won’t – we didn’t do a private or anything like that, but we felt really good about the medical. You know, they did send video of him, you know, moving around, on his own and kind of at his, I would say, like maybe private workouts. But he’ll be ready to go this spring and there’s really no concern about the leg.”


How do you feel about the defensive tackle position because you signed some guys, you got Quinton. I mean, it just looks like a really super strong room right now.

Berry: “Yeah, we’ll always want to be strong up, you know, up front. We want to make sure that our defensive front, it’s a lot like the Guardians have a reliever day, right, where they’re, you’re throwing five or six pitchers for one to two innings apiece. That’s really how our defensive line rotation, that’s what it’s predicated upon, is guys throwing fastballs and then you’re really exchanging them out, almost like hockey shifts. That’s maybe a better analogy. So, we have to have depth there with the way that we play and the style of this specific scheme, and we feel good about the guys that we have in the room.”


All the attention seemed to be focused on wide receivers and tight ends. When it came to the speculation about what you might do. You come out of this with, you know, two guys in the trenches here. Was it a matter of, you know, those players just weren’t there for you anymore, or did you just, you know, feel like that the two guys, you got superseded what was available?

Berry: “I can’t help it if people don’t believe what I say every time I’m up here before the Draft. So, I mean, I think I’m pretty clear in terms of our philosophy in that regard. You know, I can’t help it if people don’t pay attention.”


Were there players at other positions at 54 that were serious considerations?

Berry: “No, we felt really good about Michael. And that’s not to say that there weren’t other players that we liked that went off after the pick or something along those lines. It’s not like he was the only good prospect at that spot, but we thought he was the best prospect for us.”


You have a biased guy in the building in Mike Vrabel, did he kind of help push you guys over there a little bit?

Berry: “You know, he got to spend some time with Mike as well as, you know, the rest of our coaching staff when he was in for his 30 visits. You know, Mike obviously likes his (Ohio State) Buckeyes, but we really follow the process, you know, through and through. But we have a lot of happy people in the building today.”


Was the goal in the offseason to get younger at both interiors, both sides of the ball?

Berry: I wouldn’t say that was a specific goal. I think we’re not naive to the fact that we have guys that are either in their prime or the later stages of their prime, but I can’t say that was the primary purpose for selecting players that we did tonight.”


Did your plans for Michael include any kind of a convo with Dawand (Jones), because they seem to be super close?

Berry: “We have a lot of Ohio State alumni who were very excited and very positive on Mike Hall. Actually, the individual that you all should talk to on Mike is Luke Wypler. They were lockermates and lifting mates for two years at Ohio State, they might as well be brothers.”


Just Zak, I mean, was such a leader, you know, viewed so strongly in that Michigan locker room, you know, that those intangibles, that sort of thing. How much, you know, how much you guys, you know when you’re breaking, especially him. How much did that kind of come off the page?

Berry: “The football makeup of an individual always comes into play as part of the evaluation of where you’re going to take them off the board or how you’re going to invest in the player. And that’s something that came back unanimously strong with everyone that we talked with that was around the Michigan program, so it certainly played a role and we’re excited to add him to the group.”


Would he have a first-round grade without the injury?

Berry: “I don’t know that I could speculate on that, Tony (Grossi). I just know that we liked him. I can’t. I don’t know what the rest of the league would have thought.”


Being that Joel Bitonio is coming back is there a chance he just isn’t ready to hang it up?

Stefanski: “Not necessarily in that way, Mary Kay (Cabot). He’s a huge part of what we do. He’s a huge part of who we are. You know, had a lot of conversations with him over the years, but not worrying about those types of things. He’s just been a great leader for us, been a great player for us, and he’ll continue to do that.”


The sack numbers for Michael were down a little bit and Glenn (Cook) talked about this, too, but what are some other things that you guys really liked about his pass rush that really showed through in this film?

Berry: “Yeah, I think it’s probably a little bit. I remember when we selected Martin (Emerson Jr.), I think one of the first questions was like, oh, well, this guy had zero interceptions his last year, one career interception. And it’s kind of like when we’ve talked about Myles (Garrett), like over the past – the second half of the year where I think everybody focuses on sacks when really with Mike, he was really one of the more disruptive forces in college football, specifically in pass rush. Like guys that can win one-on-one, they create pressure. That’s just a lot more informative than looking at someone’s counting stats or sack numbers, which just aren’t as predictive. You know, Mike has really exceptional physical tools. He has outstanding get off, quickness. He’s very long, and he uses his hands well. And I think specifically, as he continues, I mean, he’s only 20 years old – as he continues to grow into his body, he can already win two ways, and I think realistically, he’ll very quickly learn how to win three. So guys that can do that, they’re just very hard to block when you give them a two-way go and the slide is pushed away from them.”


How many guys did you have at the Ohio State vs. Michigan game this year?

Berry: “I have no idea, Tony. I do not remember. I do not remember. It seems like eons ago.”


Considering those trade offers before you pick Michael, how much was not having a fourth round pick a factor in whether or not you were going to make it?

Berry: “It was part of it. Like, it was definitely part of the thought process. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I wouldn’t have liked to walk out of the evening with an earlier pick in day three, but you have to balance that with what the actual offer is. I’m not going to prioritize that over everything else. If it’s a bad offer to move back, or if you’re at the end of a run for a premium skill set. And so all that comes into consideration when you’re making the decision.”


Glenn had mentioned that when you guys were gaming through your draft scenarios, the scenario that occurred actually happened, where you had trade offers coming in, the phone’s ringing off the hook, and Hall is sitting there, is there any satisfaction there you take away from that where, you know, something that you had worked on, it just kind of fell the way that you’d hoped?

Berry: “I think it’s probably just more credit to just our process for preparation with strategy and particularly Ken Kovash. He deserves a ton of credit because he really heads the month of April with our strategy prep. So really, at that point, it ends up being about execution. And it was a similar scenario. I can’t say it was the exact same, but I feel like, you know, because of that part of the process we never really come into a draft where there’s something that really catches us off guard.”


Did the experience with Dawand last year and how well he integrated and was able to get thrown into the fire, inform in any way your selection of Michael, or do you take these guys on such a case by case?

Berry: “Yeah, that’s all. I would consider those two, you know, completely separate circumstances. But look, we get a lot of insight into Ohio State, for all the obvious reasons, and we feel we’re really excited, feel really good about Mike.”


Is it feasible at all to get in the fourth round tomorrow with what you have?

Berry: “Anything’s feasible. I mean, we’ll see. We’ll see tomorrow. See if I have a track up my sleeve or two.”


Stefanski: “Tony, tune in tomorrow.”


That defensive tackle position, like some of the contracts that have been handed out the last couple of years, the run that kind of preceded your guys’ pick. Are you seeing it changing in how teams are prioritizing that position?

Berry: “I think it’s less about how they’re prioritizing the position in general and more about paying a premium for guys that can rush the passer from inside because that’s just one of the hardest skill sets to find. So players that can do that, like you said, Dan (Labbe), that’s going to be, that’s already north of a $25 million player. And so, you know, I think it’s really more that as opposed to just any defensive tackle, it’s the guys that can rush.”


So I go to this NFL.com scouting report because I don’t know these guys, and says that maybe he’s too small, he picked out his size, that he’s too small to be a durable NFL defensive tackle. So what do you say to that?

Berry: “So who is arguably the greatest defensive tackle of all time?”


I looked up a scouting report on him ten years ago, and it was basically the same thing.

Berry: “You know, you look at John Randall like, I think all of that really depends on what you’re asking them to do within the scheme. And also just quite honestly, not everybody with the same dimensions is built the same like Mike, ]he’s very long. He was, I think he was actually 299 [pounds] at his pro day and he’s 20 years old. So, I mean, the weight was never really an issue for us, even if he didn’t show up at 299 at the pro day or anything like that. And I’m sure, I mean, he may not admit it publicly, but I’m sure a little bit of that was probably water weight anyway. But no, I think in this scheme, again, it’s about getting off the line and rushing the passer. And we really stopped the run game with numbers. You know, I think when Jim (Schwartz)got hired and we talked to you guys earlier, it’s not a space eating position for us. We want guys who can move. And so our prototype for the position is going to look a little bit different than other schemes in the league.”