Friday, March 13, 2009

Q&A: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College

Boston College defensive tackle B. J. Raji was interviewed on the All Access Football Radio's Football Friday on March 6 2009 by Ralph Mancini, Daniel Mogollon and Rodney Towe.

You are a projected to go in the top 10, do you think about that while you are preparing for the draft?

I try to keep it out of my mind, but at this time of the year with all the media attention it is kind of tough to put it out of your head, but I am trying the best that I can, to be honest. I am just going to continue to work and keep the same mentality that got me here.

You are coming from a program that is putting first rounders in the NFL basically on an annual basis. Do you feel any pressure to live up to that legacy, what is your mindset moving forward?

I learned over my years of playing football that when you play with a lot of pressure on yourself, you’re not going to play your best, so whatever type of person you are, when you bring that to the game of football, you have to be that person. I am a pretty calm individual, so I try to bring that demeanor to the football field.

In one particular interview you described yourself as being a hard worker who takes care of the little things as a defensive tackle. Can you describe to us some of those little things that you do at your position to help your team win?

Raji: During pre-snap I come up to the line of scrimmage and I am able to read line splits, particularly between the guard and the tackle or between the guard and the center. I am able to get a feel for the kind of block I am going to get and that helps me to prepare. Pre–snap moves tell me if it is going to be a one-on-one block. If that’s the case, I can do a quick swim move or if it is going to be a double team I make sure to play stout against that double team block. I also try to get movement.

How about representing New Jersey in this year’s draft? I am sure you noticed there are a lot of guys such as yourself coming out of Jersey that project to be 1st round picks, guys like Brian Cushing out of USC, Donald Brown and Knowshon Moreno. Through your high school and college years do you feel that New Jersey has been underrated as a state producing talent and do you know any of those guys?

I am pretty good friends with Brian Cushing and Donald Brown. Donald and I are signed to the same agency, so I have gotten to know him pretty well. We are always saying that Jersey is an underrated state in football. We are not as big as the states of Texas or California, but we do have some DI talent out there, it’s pretty evident looking at the success of a lot of our guys.

Do you guys take pride in that, proving that you're are as good as some of the other states at producing talent?

If you look at this class, half of the top guys were highly recruited, half weren't. We all have the same mentality, the same hunger, that’s just where we are from and that has helped us to this point.

You are 6’1” 320 lbs, who do you model your game after?

When I was younger I would say a Warren Sapp or Kris Jenkins type of player. Now I realize what you need to do at the defensive line position is get the trust of your coaches to the point where your coaches allow you to do things. At the end of the day, you are getting graded for each game and at Boston College you wanted an 85 percent or higher. As I got older I got a little more leeway from my coaches and I was able to do more things.

There are few defensive tackles that have the size and bulk to play nose tackle as you do, but you also have the explosive of a 3-technique. Where do you see yourself playing at the next level, over the center or trying to shoot through the gaps?

Raji: Honestly, I think I can play both positions pretty well. At Boston College I played a lot of 3-4, I played some 4-3, and sometimes I was able to play the boundary defensive end in some packages. I feel with that versatility I am able to play both schemes pretty well.

Can you tell us a little bit about your teammate and partner in crime, Ron Brace, and how you guys complemented one another and helped each other produce big numbers at B.C.?

In college football it is hard to find one defensive tackle that is as good as Ron and find two on the same team is a rarity, so to play with him was a blessing and an honor. Ron is a great player with great strength...a great work ethic and I think he has a bright future.

So in other words, you guys turn around and tell Mr. Mark Herzlich of course you’re going to get 10 tackles-look at who you have in front of you, you’re going to produce.

Yeah...jokingly. Mark is going to be a great player. I heard that if he would have come out this year he would have been a top-15 pick. Next year I hear he’s a top-10 pick, for sure. Hopefully I can get him to come to my agency. He’s going to be a tremendously sought after player.

You dropped a few pounds recently. At one point you were up to 350 lbs, can you tell us the difference between playing at 350 versus 320, 325 (lbs) and ideally what weight would you feel comfortable playing at in the pros?

For me, it is different from a lot of guys. For instance, I compare myself to Ron, I carry my weight quite differently from him, he is more top heavy. I am more bottom heavy in my thighs and gluts. Initially, coming up to BC, I was able to carry this weight well, then Coach Jagodzinski came to the program and wanted me to get down to around 325 pounds. For one week during the summer, he had me wearing a 15-pound weighted vest to see what the weight felt like. After that experience I really learned that 15 pounds can make a big difference in your play and your daily life.

You had eight sacks playing an interior position, which is a pretty high number for a defensive tackle. What is your secret?

I have to give the credit to my defensive line coach. The way he prepared us for games, the way we got after it at practice...practice was usually simulated to be harder than the game, so the games were easier for me. I was receiving double team blocks and was still able to make some plays. I have to give all the credit to my defensive line coach.

In 2007, you had to sit out that season. What was that year like, was it tough watching your team make it to the ACC Championship game? What did you learn from that experience?

That was a tough year. Looking back at it, we had the great Matt Ryan and it was probably the best season we had in 15-20 years. Having to sit that out it showed me that I was a good player but the guys didn’t really need me to have success. I didn’t play a snap and these guys made it to the ACC Championship and to No. 2 in the country. It was a very humbling experience. I went from playing my first three years in college to spending my fourth year on the scout team to help the team. It also taught me a lot about patience.

During the Senior Bowl practices, you were very impressive to say the least. You were pushing around big time centers like Alex Mack and Max Unger. Could you tell us about the Senior Bowl experience? What did you gain from it?

It was great experience and it was obviously a great honor to be among the top college seniors in the country. You get to meet some of the guys you’ve seen on TV and you realize they’re just people like you. I’m a normal guy. I've had some success, but I am still a down to earth guy and the majority, if not all the guys, were the same way that I am. We have common interests like a normal person. The experience was great. I got to meet a different coaching staff. It was the first step in the long process of getting to the NFL. It gave me a little confidence and a sense of urgency.

Did any player stand out to you? One that made you say. “Wow, I didn’t know this guy was as good as he is”?

I didn’t know these guys coming into the game, like the top center Alex Mack from California and Eric Wood from Louisville. I had never played against these guys. It wasn’t a sense of 'this guy is better than I thought'; it was more along the lines of 'these guys are good'. I am at the Senior Bowl, so I know these guys are the top in terms of talent. Things that I got away with at college, you couldn’t get away with here, so you have to be precise with your movements and things like that.

That was kind of a transition for you, moving from being a college player to a professional. You were coached by the Bengals' staff, what was that like and what did you learn from them that maybe you didn’t know going into that week?

I learned that the NFL is a different game based upon how these guys coached. The Senior Bowl was pretty basic with our schemes, you couldn’t blitz. From the coaching aspect it wasn’t that tough, but these guys demanded perfection on every play, so you have to give them all you've got and that is what they look for. They look for a lot of energy during practice. My guess is they feel as though those are the guys that are going to be there on game day.

You have your pro day coming up and you’ve helped your stock a lot, maybe as much as any player who participated in both the combine and the Senior Bowl. What are you planning on doing on your pro day?

I am just going to do D-line drills. The combine was really a plus, it showed that I can compete with the other top players around me. It is more convenient, not to knock anyone that waits until their pro day, but the coaches get a sense of who is going to compete and that is what the NFL is about. It would be easy for me to hold everything off and work out on pro day but I showed at the combine, with the other top players, that I could compete. I did everything I needed to do and I tested pretty well, so I am pretty happy with the results.

You’re going to stand on your combine numbers then?

Yes, sir.

Time for three-and-out...First Down: Saddest movie you have ever seen?

Maybe, Saving Private Ryan.

Second Down: Who is your favorite female singer, Beyonce, Madonna, Gwen Stefani or Pink?


Third down: Are you a Biggie or Tupac guy?


Photo Credit: College Press Box (Boston College)