Sat, 02 Dec 2023

Tomlin on 'more,' communication, RB or OL

The Steelers
21 Nov 2023, 05:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Q. On Tuesday, you talked about the fact that you as the head coach, and Kenny Pickett as the starting quarterback, are measured by wins and losses, and that the two of you talk about that often. What is the nature of those conversations?

A. You know, I just want to make sure that I'm educating him formally and also informally about the nature of his position, his role and what comes with it. And obviously, there are some tangible things to discuss. But there's also some value in intangible discussions, so that he can learn how to manage what comes with being him. Oftentimes the head coach and the quarterback both get too much praise when things are going good. They also have the responsibility of absorbing negativity when things don't (go good) by virtue of the leadership position, and we have to embrace that because it's not going anywhere. It is as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling, particularly at this level, and so I'm not doing my job if I don't educate him and work to help craft his attitude and mindset in terms of how he manages some of those things.

Q. In that same answer last Tuesday, you also said this when asked about needing more from Pickett, "We're going need more particularly as this road narrows." Was that a general statement about needing improvement from all players as the season progresses, or did you have specifics in mind in terms of an aspect of Kenny Pickett's performance?

A. It was a blanket statement. It was a blanket statement acknowledging that Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays can become routine if you're not careful. To me, you do routine things, but they are anything but routine because the variables change every week. The challenges, the matchups, the strategic things, the venue. They can't be routine, because that is how we continually get better. That's how we grow. That's how we develop fine motor skills relative to our positions. That's how we develop knowledge that allows us to anticipate and make plays in situational moments. And so I was talking about him, but I was talking about everyone in that we've got to continually get better, we've got to feel the urgency of now. There's no such thing as routine processes that lead up to performance. There's a cumulative effect of all of those days, and we better be growing in the midst of it.

Q. How can you minimize the communication issues you might have on defense as a result of losing Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander in the middle of the defense, and also playing without Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end?

A. On the surface level, we can absorb more responsibility as coaches by asking them to do less, to communicate less, to have less multiple-call structured defensive calls. That simply puts more pressure on us as coaches to be right with down and distance personnel related things, and we're not running from that; we run to that. The first thing to being a difficult unit or a difficult team to beat is to not beat yourself. And so we better do a great job of communicating, but we also better be cognizant of what they're capable of handling and capable of communicating. And so like I told the team at the top of the week, it is big-time responsibilities on all parties involved. We're going to press them all week as coaches and challenge them to grow and see what they can handle. But it's up to us as coaches at the appropriate time at the end of the week, to make the necessary judgments about what the group can handle and what they can't. And if that means subtraction from the menu in an effort to not kick our own butt, then we're willing to do that.

Q. Generally speaking, does the plan for the upcoming opponent need to be complete when it's time to meet with the team on Wednesday morning, which typically is the start of the week of preparation?

A. No, it is a continual process. We lay the framework down on a Wednesday, first-and-second- down high volume things for us and high volume things for them, personality-related things. On Thursdays we start to move into some situational ball, specifically possession-down-play on both sides of the ball. And then we get into the extreme versions of situational ball on Friday - short-yardage, red-zone, goal-line, two-minute, etc., but all the while we are evaluating and making changes along the way, and most of the time those changes are subtractions in terms of things that we don't feel good about for a variety of reasons - our execution, its appropriateness, etc.

Q. In a situation such as this week, when it only became official on Wednesday that Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson would have surgery on his right shoulder and miss the rest of the season, how is that handled with respect to the game plan?

A. For us, it's about whether Deshaun is playing or not, and that only. No disrespect to the other quarterbacks, but they don't have long enough resumes for us to ponder and try to get a sense of their personalities and things of that nature. So really, we just looked at what Cleveland has done when Deshaun is playing, and what they've done when he is not playing. And to be quite honest, it is a pretty big body of work in that regard from 2022 and 2023. There are three games that P.J. Walker started this year that they had an opportunity to game-plan and they knew that Deshaun wasn't playing, and so we're just looking at their distribution of schematics and things that kind of represent their personality while playing with the backup quarterback, and we're letting that be our template for preparation. As opposed to going back and looking at UCLA tape of Dorian Thompson-Robinson and things of that nature. No, it's either Deshaun's playing or Deshaun's not. What are some of the things that they value? How do they play offensive football when they don't have their guy?

Q. We talked about this last week, and so of course it was brought up during your Tuesday news conference, about this group having no fear and having a desire to compete and make game-changing plays in the weighty moments, and that such a quality is something you look for in the acquisition of players. How does a player's resume reveal that a potential acquisition is that kind of a competitor?

A. Something as simple as a component of our quarterback evaluations - there's a space in any quarterback eval sheet that we have, and we look at his fourth quarter comeback record. Down at the beginning of the fourth quarter, what is their record? That's an example of that. Guys who are capable of rising up in the weighty moments and leading their team in the face of adversity is something that is aligned with what we're talking about. And most of the time, those are negative records, but it's different degrees of negative. Somebody might be 0-11 while behind in the fourth quarter during his college career. Somebody else might be 4-6, and that 4-6 is speaking to you. And so you look at that tape, study that, see if there's an innate quality being revealed of someone who values the fight. And that's just one example at one position, but we're always trying to figure out tangible ways to capture that intangible quality, that "will" component that is really attractive in our business and what we do.

Q. What about Minkah Fitzpatrick? He doesn't have those kinds of stats that you were just alluding to, so what would you be looking for in evaluating someone like him?

A. Minkah is a Jersey guy who flew over a lot of quality institutions to go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I'm always interested in a guy who's regionally out of place chasing competition. Najee Harris is from the Bay Area and went to Tuscaloosa. He flew over a lot of formidable, solid programs. I'm interested in guys who run to challenges and not from them. Some people might choose a mid-major situation in an effort to be comfortable, to be "the guy," because they're wined and dined. I have learned to really value the Jersey guy who's looking for a fight, the Bay Area guy who's looking for a fight, who want to be around other outstanding 18-to-22-year-olds and sharpen his sword daily. And there's risk involved with that, because you could be a backup, etc., etc. It's probably the same things that are driving young men to go to Athens, Georgia, these days. I'm interested in the guy who has no regional connection to Athens, Georgia, but wants that. Those are the type of guys who may be the type of guys that we're talking about.

Q. When it comes to having a successful, consistent running attack in the NFL, who is most responsible for that reality - the offensive linemen or the running backs? Or maybe I should phrase it this way: Is it easier to plug in a running back behind a quality offensive line, or can a great running back make an offensive line look better than it is?

A. It's really both. It's degrees of quality. The greater the back, the less significant the line play. The greater the line play, the more coordinated the line play, the more that the back can run before he's got to make a decision. You always say about a back, "He gets what's blocked. He's a gets-what's-blocked runner." Then what does that mean? It means he probably doesn't have a dynamic trait, and he's probably going to be a function of the environment that he's in. And so it really depends on degrees of great is what we're talking about. The greater the runner, you know, we see some superhuman things, while at the same time when you've got a highly coordinated offensive line that's well-tooled, then pedestrian people are gonna get positive yards.

Q. Today's game contains two of the best and most productive defensive players in the NFL - T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett. I'm not going to ask you to rate one over the other, and even though you don't have a vote, what in your mind makes T.J. Watt a deserving candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year Award?

A. His tape is a storyteller. It is. It's not only the plays he makes, because the plays he makes speaks for itself. But when you turn the tape on, you see the moments in which they occurred. That's probably the difference for me. Those same two guys were in one stadium not too long ago. T.J. had a big sack on third-and-7 right before the first half ended when they were marching in the two-minute drill and that kind of shut that two-minute drill down. He scooped up a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown in the waning moments of the game and kind of solidified our position. His highlight reel is comprised of plays like that. It's about the moments in which they occur. The weight that's on those moments. His ability to rise up and deliver for his group in the timeliest of moments is the thing that makes me feel really solid about his greatness.

Q. Today, the Browns' starting quarterback is going to be Dorian Thompson-Robinson. You said earlier that you didn't go back and watch his UCLA video to get an idea about him, but in preparing for him this week, what can you tell me about the kind of player he is?

A. Well, he started against the Ravens in their first game against Baltimore this season, and so we have NFL regular season video to look at regarding him and his skill set. His mobility, his arm talent, the velocity of his balls, the distance, trajectory of balls, where he can place balls and things of that nature. But I just hadn't looked a whole lot at maybe what they intended to do with him, because in that instance he and they found out a short period of time before kickoff that he was starting that game. And so you're not seeing the planning component of it that really highlights his skill set. But we do have tape that gives us an indication of what competing against him is going to be like. How much of a factor his legs may be, the types of throws that he's capable of making, the types of throws that he makes repeatedly, etc. So we're really comfortable with the video that we have. We're just not looking at the strategic component of the video, because we understand the nature by which he started in that game.

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