HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN PRESS CONFERENCE AUGUST 21, 2008
Coach Mike Tomlin: *We are extremely excited this week to be playing the Minnesota Vikings for a lot of reasons. There couldn't be a better team to play, I think, in the third preseason game than the Vikings. They are a very physical football team and that is not just from a repetition standpoint. They have video evidence and statistical evidence to back that up. They are number one in the league in running the football and number one in the league with stopping the run. What a great measuring stick for us here this week with where we are in our development. They have two Pro-Bowl offensive lineman. They have two Pro-Bowl defensive lineman inside at the defensive tackle position. It is a steep challenge. One that I am excited about watching the guys face and going through and we look forward to going up there. I'll answer any questions.
What is top priority of preseason?
We multi-task because I like to do it all and not necessarily in any particular order. You look forward to winning because any time you step inside the white lines, I think that is the nature of the game. You have to get to know who you are and you have to prepare for a legitimate September battles that lie ahead.
*What do you expect going back to Minnesota?
Personally for me I don't know how I feel. It is the first time that I have coached against the team and the men that I worked with. I imagine that it is going to be unique and fun but once the ball gets kicked off for sure it will quickly become normal football. I look forward to seeing those faces. They are great men. I have a lot of love and respect for a lot of people. Not only players and coaches but also front office and ownership. I enjoyed my time there.
*Have you spoken to anyone up there?
I've gotten a bunch of phone calls but I can't necessarily say that I have returned them. That's how it goes.
*Comments on James Farrior…
James (Farrior) has played at an extremely high level for the entire time that I have been here. It is a pleasure to get that deal done. I am glad that it is done. It is great to know that he is going to be a part of us here in the future. Not only is he an outstanding player but he is an outstanding professional and of course he is an outstanding leader for us and has been the captain of our defense here for a while.
*What is Troy Polamalu's status?
It's very questionable. He is probably in the same position that Tarvaris Jackson is in. We'll see.
*Will you game plan more?
We're prepared to play our opponent. We are prepared for the looks that we are going to see, probably more so than we have been in the previous two. But it is about getting an evaluation of our men. There is some game planning to a degree. Preparation won't be a factor. We're prepared to play this game and we need to go out and play it.
* How long will starters play?
We are going to play them at least a half and play it by ear from there, but at least a half on both sides of the football. And it's not only starters, it is rotational players. We will look at some of the division of labor that we focused on going in. Even though they aren't technical starters you will see Mendenhall (Rashard) play some and Lawrence Timmons play some and so forth.
*Who will be the starting center?
Right now Justin is the one we are going with. We have a better idea of what Sean (Mahan) is capable of. To get a fair evaluation of the two men at this time I think it is better to run Justin with the first group.
*What is Rashard Mendenhall's rotational niche?
We'll see. A lot of it depends on the flow of the game and that is the reality of it. If we are moving the chains and getting the first downs then you are going to see a bunch of them. If we get behind or are not moving the chains, then that is another thing. I think that we have a vision on how we see them running and getting touches, but ultimately the flow of the game will determine that.
Has no one stepped up at center?
That could be a safe assessment. Yes.
Any other starting positions up for grab?
No not really. Not at this time. No.
Talk about Gene Upshaw's passing…
It is a sad day and not only for the National Football League but for professional sports. This man's contributions are countless and his contributions will be remembered for years to come. Our heart and our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones.
How will you use your punters (Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster)?
Very similar to how we used them last week. We are looking to get a full game of participation from both so one will punt in one half and then one will punt in the other half; they will swap the holding assignments. Maybe Paul will get to kickoff some later in the contest.
How have you changed from 2007 to 2008?
I think that is to be determined to a degree. I feel extremely comfortable with what it is that I need to do and we need to do. If you rewind twelve months I would have told you that I felt comfortable then. The reality is that I have a better understanding of the men that I work with and their strengths and weaknesses. I am probably more focused on more specific areas of development of our football team this year as opposed to last year. You probably don't miss as much when you have a focused attention to what it is that you are looking at then when you watch the whole thing.
Have you been pleased with what you have seen from Troy Polamalu?
We are very pleased. He is running fine and he felt fine in the morning which is a big part of it. He is taking some scout team reps. The offensive guys hate when he is on scout team because he is a little bit too good of a scout team player if you know what I mean. He is taking some legitimate defensive snaps as well. We like where he is at.
Does he need to play in the preseason?
I am not trying to devalue the preparation process that is involved in preseason games; that is critical. If it wasn't then we wouldn't play them. Part of his readiness is having the ability to play in games. We are dealing with a situation that has created short-term misery as best as we can. Sometimes you don't always get what you want.
Do you share James Harrison's thoughts on the play of the first-team defense through the first two games?
Specifically, I do not know what thoughts you were referring too. We didn't tackle well; we didn't tackle well in the first preseason game and we didn't tackle well in the second preseason game. It can't become a habit; it can't become us. I think the guys understand that and hopefully it will turn up in Minnesota where we are tackling well. One thing is for certain, if we do not tackle well, they have a couple of backs, 28 (Adrian Peterson) and 29 (Chester Taylor) that can go up-and-down the field on you. We are certainly well aware of that.
How has your familiarity with the players affected your interaction with them?
I don't know that it has. Formal interaction is the same. We have a relationship that is based upon mutual respect. Coaches coach and players play and we know that. Informally, I have known the guys longer and I have known them on a personal level. I am sure that some of our informal interactions are deeper than they were a year ago.
When did becoming a head coach become a goal?
I don't know if I could point to a particular time where I put that on the radar. I have been blessed. I have had some great opportunities and I have always enjoyed the jobs that I have had. I really focused on that and really it is just something that has evolved. I wish it was my plan; I am not that good of a planner. I just have been blessed because I have been in the right place at the right time and been around some great coaches that have helped cultivate me professionally. I have been given a great opportunity.
Can you talk a little bit about Marvel Smith?
I am not concerned about anything more than 2008. Marvel is a very good player for us; he is our left tackle. The protection of our quarterback starts there. He is having a great camp. He is coming off of offseason surgery and he is performing well. He appears to be completely healthy and we are excited about the battle that lie ahead this year and include him.
How many times will Santonio (Holmes) return punts?
Really, it is going to depend on whether or not we are capable of stopping them. Hopefully he gets a bunch. Tentatively we are going to give him a couple of looks at it because we have some other men that we want to continue to work. I thought it would be nice to target this game as a game to get him some in-game action and prepare for the upcoming season.
*What was your reaction to the strength of the 2008 schedule?
These local guys can answer that. I don't concern myself with things that we can't control; the schedule being one of them. Having the quote-unquote toughest schedule based upon last year's performance, one thing you know about this game, things never stay the same. Some of these so-called tough teams that we play may or may not be, and that includes us. We do not take this process for granted; we are preparing to be the very best that we can be. We anticipate the best from everybody that we play but aren't concerned with things that are out of our control.
What do you see from Darnell Stapleton?
He is quietly a very effective football player. Sometimes you say that he is a good little football player, but he is 310 pounds. He plays with great leverage, he is football smart and he has position flexibility. He is a guy who is always in the hunt, always has been and probably will be up until the 11th hour.
What have been the highs and lows for Tony Hills so far?
It is just that; its highs and lows. Some of the things that characterize being a rookie, he has experienced. He has shown flashes of what he is capable of being, although probably not enough to satisfy us and hopefully not enough to satisfy him. He is going through a growing process, as are all of those guys (the rookies) in that regard. No question you see a level of talent in terms of what he is capable of being, but not enough consistency there at this point for our comfort.
Do you talk to guys on the bubble in advance of cut-down day?
We'll address that at the appropriate time. Right now our focus is on preparing to play this football game. We let the tape evidence lead us in terms of the decisions that we make. This tape is a big part of it. I think that any discussions along those lines would be premature at this point.
Where have they showed that they will line up Jared Allen?
I hope that he plays right end and stays there. If they start moving him around then we might have to make some adjustments.
Is being a head coach harder than you thought?
I love it. You look at the glass as half-empty or half-full. I recognize that there are only 32 of these jobs in the world and I am fortunate enough to have one of them. I take what comes with it. I try to keep it in perspective to be quite honest with you. I love what it is that I do, but it is what I do and not who I am. I have a wife and three kids at home that are important to me. Some of the positive and negative things to the job, you deal with. You appreciate the positive ones and you deal with the ones that may be negative at times.