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Tomlin on long-snappers, how a trade is made

Posted Aug 26, 2017

Coach Mike Tomlin addressed a variety of issues before the third preseason game of 2017.

Q. Have you been satisfied with the way the team has transitioned from Latrobe to Pittsburgh for this phase of the preseason process?

A. Based on what I’ve seen so far, the answer is yes, but often times my satisfaction is steeped in results. How we play in this football game tonight really will be the determining factor in our ability to transition and still get our work done for the objectives this week.

Q. What specifically have they done well in that regard?

A. I just like the pace of our work. There’s urgency in how we work. That’s just an example of it. I have everything scripted out for practice on a day-to-day basis. On Thursday we were scheduled to get off the field at 3:12 p.m., and we got off the field at 3:05. We gained seven minutes. That just lets me know we’re moving around at a brisk pace from drill to drill, transitioning and so forth, and often that’s a reflection of how the guys are wired-in. I think they’ve been wired-in, we’ve gotten good work, but ultimately the play defines us.

Q. As the evaluations continue through the preseason, when does the process of actually putting together the 53-man roster begin?

A. When we walk off the field in Carolina. In a lot of ways, the story has revealed itself prior to that, but the totality of it all, the finality of it all transpires as soon as we walk off the field in Carolina. That’s because you could have really solid ideas of the direction things could go, and something could happen in the Carolina game, injury or otherwise, that changes that thought process. We have a good idea in some instances, but the reality of it is no hardcore decisions are made because you don’t have all of the necessary information, and part of that information is who’s available, who’s healthy, and you don’t have that until we walk off the field after that football game.

Q. The flight from Charlotte to Pittsburgh is about an hour long. Will you have things figured out in your mind by the time the plane touches down?

A. Nothing is done in a vacuum. I have an opinion, Kevin Colbert has an opinion, Art Rooney II has an opinion. We’ll visit at some point and make the decisions that are best for us. Largely in my mind, I do have an idea but the conversations had (with Kevin and Art) always have been beneficial, the perspective of different people who are equally invested, it helps us make good, Pittsburgh Steelers decisions.

Q. How are contributions on special teams factored into the decisions? Is it something where you look at the players who are valuable on special teams and then factor in their play at their respective positions, or is it more the other way around, where you look at the guys at the bottom of the depth chart and determine whether they can be an asset to special teams?

A. To put it in simple terms: the further you are down the offensive or defensive depth chart, the more dynamic you better be in special teams if you have a desire to be a part of it. If you’re a second-team offensive player or defensive player, then you’ll have a role on special teams and that role needs to be useful and helpful and productive. If you’re third on the depth chart at whatever position you prescribe then you better have big-time special teams value, because there are no third-teams in the National Football League. If you look at any football team, that third-team player, whoever he might be, he’s on the roster primarily because of his special teams contributions because there’s just not a lot of depth in the NFL. So that fifth cornerback, for example, he’s more of a gunner than a cornerback. And he’s on a 53-man roster because of his ability to cover kicks, more than likely. That fifth inside linebacker, he’s more of a special teamer than he is a linebacker. If you look at our football team, you have to have position flexibility, we don’t have a backup mack linebacker and a backup buck linebacker. We have a third inside linebacker. If something happens to any of our inside linebackers, Tyler Matakevich is at this time the linebacker who goes in. So if you’re the fifth guy, you’re several plays away from playing defense, so you better be valuable in the special teams area.

Q. Are you willing to keep a player for special teams who isn’t NFL-caliber at a position?

A. That has occurred a lot over the years, not only on our team but on many of the teams we compete against. There are a lot of valued guys on special teams that you really have a lot of respect for, and they realize that’s primarily how they earn their check.

Q. Were you in favor of the new rule that eliminated the roster cut from 90 to 75 and now will have all teams cutting just once after the final preseason game, from 90 to 53?

A. I personally was not (in favor of the new rule). I liked the process of taking the team down after the third preseason game. Some guys are ready to go, to be quite honest, for one reason or another. Just because the rule says there only has to be one cut-down doesn’t mean that we can’t reduce our roster in the manner in which we choose, and we’ll make that consideration after this football game tonight.

Q. What are the supposed advantages of the change to just one cut-down from 90 to 53?

A. Having guys available to you in the fourth preseason game to add to the quality of that game, to give guys extended opportunities to put quality things on tape so that they can earn a job, whether it’s in your city or another city. Those are hard to argue against, and that’s why I didn’t put up a big fuss. I’m not strongly opposed to the rule. I just have a great deal of respect for the process that is roster reduction.

Q. In evaluating one long-snapper vs. another, what are the various elements you consider?

A. It’s really simple. Velocity is an element, and that’s measured by the stop-watch, whether it’s a short-snap or a long-snap associated with a punt. And accuracy is another element of it, and that’s evaluated by eye or by video. Really, varsity snappers have both. They have an acceptable level of velocity relative to the stop-watch, whether it’s field goals or punts, and they are extremely accurate in terms of where the ball is placed.

Q. What is NFL-caliber time for a long-snapper?

A. It really depends. There are several ways of measuring it. Sometimes they measure exclusively the snapper – from the time the ball leaves the ground until the ball hits the punter’s hands or the holder’s hands. Some of them measure the quality of the snap by the total operation, because you have to send a ball back there that’s easy to handle, so they put the holder’s or the punter’s operation time into the total time if that holder is consistent or that punter is consistent. In our situation, it’s Jordan Berry in both instances – he is the holder for both of the long-snappers who are vying for the job, and he’s the punter for both long-snappers as well. So we tend to use a total time, from the ball leaving the ground until the ball is kicked, whether it’s field goals or punts.

Q. Why is a long-snapper’s size important in the NFL?

A. It’s getting less and less important because the rules of the game regarding player safety are minimizing the importance of size. Years ago, particularly on PATs or field goals, you would see a backup offensive lineman almost always in that job of long-snapper, because you could get inside the framework of his body, you could line up multiple people over him, you could really run down the middle of that guy. In today’s NFL, you can’t run down the middle of that snapper, you can’t hit him in the head or neck area, and you can’t even align within the shoulder frame of his body. So the structural size of the snapper is less important these days, and it’s more about his makeup and what he’s capable of doing. Obviously the guy has to have a certain amount of girth to him, because it’s a close-quarters position.

Q. The team made some roster moves this week, signed a couple of guys and also made a player-for-player trade. When moves are made at this stage of the process, what are you looking for from the guys you bring in?

A. Most of the time it just has to do with availability. Most of the time the guys you are moving out are injured and unavailable and unable to state a case for themselves, and you replace them with viable guys who are healthy and can take advantage of the opportunity to put snaps on tape to help themselves. Largely that’s the case this time of the year.

Q. Are you grading those new guys on the curve, so to speak, because they’re so far behind?

A. You make certain acknowledgements based on the ground they have to cover, but largely they have to do something to justify your thought process as you look at them. Ross Cockrell is a recent example of that. We got Ross at a similar time in the year, and we knew a little bit about him. Maybe he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to state a case for himself, but he showed us enough for us to continue to work, and it was probably a couple of weeks into the season before he became a real viable option before he had enough detail in his assignments to be able to help us.

Q. Was Dashaun Phillips someone you were interested in back in 2014 when he was eligible for the draft?

A. He wasn’t highly on our radar in that way. How we got familiar with him was that he started the opener against us last year and played quite a bit of football last year against us for the Redskins. You get familiar with him from that, and we tracked him the rest of the year. This is a guy who has played some NFL football, he has some starts and things under his belt. You give him some consideration.

Q. How does something like that happen? Is it something where Kevin Colbert comes to you and says a certain player might be available, or is it initiated by you in saying to the personnel department to look for a particular player or a particular position via a trade?

A. Usually the conversation is about what we need or what we’re looking for, and those are on-going between Kevin and me. The thing that really initiates whether action is taken is a dance partner. That’s when the trade conversations start. Usually, Kevin or I will be contacted by an outside organization, and then whoever is contacted takes that information to the other guy, and then we ponder the possibilities. The other element of the discussion, the conversations about what we need, that’s ongoing between him and me over a 12-month calendar.

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