*STEELERS vs CHARGERS SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008 KICKOFF -- 4:15 P.M. *
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN'S PRESS CONFERENCE TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11
Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon. I will start with the injury update because I know that a lot of people are interested in those things. Willie Parker came in today and was evaluated; he is scheduled to practice tomorrow and hopefully play for us this weekend; we will take it day to day. Marvel Smith is potentially going to practice this week; we will see where he is. He worked out this morning and I thought that it was a favorable workout; we will see if he is capable of practicing for us. Heath Miller is questionable, at best. It may be another week or so with his ankle injury. Bryant McFadden is recovering nicely, but he will be out this week. It is starting to look optimistic that his return will be soon. Deshea (Townsend) will be out this week with a hamstring injury. LaMarr Woodley had a workout today and looked pretty good; we will see where he is in the morning. How he recovers from that will determine when he will practice but at the latest we expect him to be on the field by Thursday to get him towards playing this weekend. The rest are bumps and bruises or status quo things. Along those lines, with mentioning those two corners, McFadden and Deshea, we signed Fernando Bryant to help us and provide depth in the secondary. We worked Fernando out a couple of weeks ago and had a very good workout; we wanted to be prepared if injuries set in so that we had a name to go to; it did happen and we were able to get him. He got in here last night and he is in the building today trying to learn in a hurry. We are optimistic about him being able to do that; he is a sharp guy and a veteran football player. He will spend some time with our staff today and tomorrow and start the practice process for us. Hopefully he will be able to help us this weekend. Looking at San Diego; offensively they have some weapons. Philip Rivers is playing some good football. He has a 106 quarterback rating and he has thrown 21 touchdown passes; he is playing great football. We will have our hands full dealing with him. The guy that he hands the ball off to, LaDainian Tomlinson, is arguably the best in the world at what he does, not only running the football but catching it and throwing it; he is capable of going a lot of things; he has and he will. This is another great feature running challenge for our defense, and we have had some of late. We have to prepare ourselves and respect what he is capable of; I am sure that we will as we prepare. At receiver, they have some legitimate weapons. We start first and foremost with Antonio Gates, who is probably the premier route runner at the tight end position in the National Football League. He is great versus zone, he is great versus man-to-man; he can box people out and separate at break point. He is a security blanket if you will, for Rivers. They have some big receivers outside. Vincent Jackson is a 230-pound guy; (Malcom) Floyd is a 6-5, 6-6 guy; (Chris) Chambers, they have some big people to throw the ball too. They create matchup issues on the perimeter. Defensively, they have gone through some transition with staff changes and injuries. They have some capable men and some guys that we have to be prepared to deal with and block. Jamal Williams is the man in the middle for them; I think that it all starts with him. He is a dangerous man. Shaun Phillips is the guy who applies pressure; he is their pressure specialist since (Shawne) Merriman has been injured. He is a very capable rusher; a double-digit sack-man last year. He probably has four or five at this point and he is a dangerous guy that we have to deal with. In the secondary they are led by (Antonio) Cromartie and (Quentin) Jammer at the cornerback position; they are both very rock-solid corners; we are aware that Cromartie had 10 interceptions a year ago. Probably one of the bigger things that we will talk about and prepare for this week is that this is a quality special teams unit that we face. They are one of the best in the world; they have guys that compete for and play in Pro Bowls year in and year out as special teams guys. They have a guy in (Darren) Sproles who is dangerous not only in returning kickoffs but on punts as well. That element of the game has to be a winning edge for us; we have to be ready to negate that element of their game. We have our hands full as we sit here today; that is what the coaches are preparing for, and what the players are working out for, so that we can have all systems ready here in the morning as we push forward to the weekend.
Who did you cut to sign Bryant?
Will he go back on the practice squad?
Yes, provided that he clears waivers.
Does Willie have a torn labrum?
To my knowledge Willie Parker has a slight shoulder sublexation; that is his understanding of it, my understanding of it and the staff's understanding of it. What that is, is that his shoulder briefly popped out of place during the Redskins' game and then popped back into place; adrenaline did not allow him to recognize it during the course of the game. We came in here on Tuesday and took a look at it; it was very painful and sore at that time. We were not able to let him go last week; it is our intention to let him go and practice this weekend and play for us this weekend.
Will he have to wear anything?
I think that we are fitting him with a shoulder harness that is similar to the one that Ryan Clark is wearing. Essentially what happened to him is what happened to Ryan Clark. Clark missed a week and then came back to play for us; he played pretty good football. We are hopeful that Willie is capable of doing the same thing.
How is his knee?
The knee is a non-issue; it is well.
What is Ben Roethlisberger's health situation?
It is our intent right now that hopefully he will practice; the shoulder is what it is. It is something that he has dealt with, and that he will continue to deal with. We will see where he is when he comes in here to get looked at today. He comes in and spends time with the coaching staff on Tuesdays; he gets treatment and such. We will see what his availability will be for practice after that.
How do you think Ben played against the Colts?
It wasn't a winning performance; I think that I expressed those thoughts after the game. That is the reality of it. We have to take care of the football; we didn't do it. They had interceptions and turnovers, we didn't. When you play good people, that is the outcome of the football game.
How much would it benefit to have Ben practice all week?
I think that it is important that you practice and get physical reps. It is one of the things that we have been dealing with in regards to his situation; a little short-term misery if you will. When people are dealing with injuries such as his; you miss practice, but they are veteran players and you get them to the stadium and you play. That is only a short-term solution; I think that the longer that process goes on, you see issues turn up in terms of timing and cohesion. I think that is really the spot that we are in at this point. He was able to play last week because Indianapolis is a very simple team to be prepared for schematically. They don't try to trick you; what they do is what they do. If there is a game that you can go in and play on a limited number of reps, it is a team like that. That was part of the process that we went through last week; this week is a new week. Some of the things that we did to get him ready to go were short-term answers and solutions. The reality is that as we go on, we recognize the value of practice and what the physical reps mean to us as an offense. We will live day-to-day and go through that process.
Is Ben having communication problems with Santonio Holmes?
There are no communication issues as far as I know. There might be some cohesion issues, probably for the reasons that I just mentioned. It is a stretch that we are going through, and all teams go through it. We believe that we are a good football team; we believe that we are capable of being a good offense. We won't blink; we are going to continue to prepare ourselves to play. The reality of it is that there is nothing that we can do about it today expect to prepare ourselves to play this weekend. That is what we intend to; compete against the San Diego Chargers and hopefully have a winning performance.
Was Ben's ability to throw the ball downfield affected as the game went on?
No, it was not.
Has Ben stayed in the pocket more this year?
I am not ready to characterize it as a grand plan in regards to 2008; I haven't evaluated it in regards to 2007. I know that we have prepared to do what we need to do on a week-to-week basis to give ourselves a chance to win. Some weeks that means pocket movement and some weeks it does not.
Ben has run for less yards than last year. Are you asking him to run less or is that just happening?
I am probably sure that it is just happening like that but at the same time he is aware of his health and what his health means to us. I am sure that he is probably exercising a little bit more caution than maybe he has in the past.
Do you have a deadline for him to practice by?
I do, but I am going to remain hopeful and see where he is in the morning; hopefully he practices for us tomorrow.
Will Byron Leftwich get more reps with the first-team?
Byron will get first-team reps if Ben does not practice. That has been the case here in recent weeks and that is why he has gotten first-team reps.
Why were you having so much trouble running the ball against the Colts? Was it what they were doing or what you weren't doing?
I think that ultimately when you get shut down, it is a little bit of both. I don't want to short-change them any credit; they put together a nice scheme for us. They had a guy named Bob Sanders back and in the box; he was active as usual like he is capable of doing. They did a nice job; at the same time, we have to do some things better.
Were those interceptions Ben's fault like he said they were?
There is always something more. I appreciate Ben's mentality in regards to his play. We are an accountability group. I would like to think that we are mentality tough out there; a group that looks within and accepts responsibility for the outcome of games, individually and collectively. I appreciate that approach that he has; I am hoping that we have 52 other men in the locker room that take that same approach; I think that we do. That is what is going to right this thing and allow us to win this week; guys looking within and making the necessary changes and adjustments so that we have a winning performance as a team this week.
Why has Ben Roethlisberger thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this year?
In terms of stats, I don't get overwhelmed by stats. He hasn't thrown as many touchdowns as he had last year. We ran for probably twice as many touchdowns at this point than we did all of last year. So we are running the ball into the end zone as opposed to throwing.
Were the interceptions poor reads, poor throws or his shoulder?
It is probably a combination of those things and others. The blame doesn't fall solely on him.
How important is it to strengthen muscled around Willie Parker's shoulder?
As far as I understand it is very, very important. That is why we have a strength coach and a weight program and that is why we do in-season lifting and training. I think that not only for his shoulder but everybody's shoulders in terms of having the ability to sustain throughout a football season. Lifting and maintaining strength is important.
Why is San Diego inconsistent?
They have been in some close ball games and they have come up on the short end of some of them. Some of them well-documented; the call associated to their loss earlier in the year and so forth. They are a 4-5 team and it is not and there is not much different between being a 4-5 team and a 6-3 team. They are a good football team and they have some weapons. They are well-coached. We respect those guys and we better be prepared to play this weekend.
Will Anthony Madison be nickel, or Fernando Bryant?
I think that is to be determined. That is why it was important that we get him signed. Got him in here last night and started this process that we are taking him through to be ready to play. We will make that decision later in the week.
What is your offensive identity?
When you aren't being successful, you probably lack an identity and that is us at this point, but that is not going to be our story. We aren't going to allow it to be. We will continue to work. Here at Week 10 as we sit here today, we are going to prepare to play and play winter football offensively and as a team. We are struggling a little bit right now. We accept that. We're not going to be mentally weak. We are going to continue to work, our standards are our standards and we are looking to be a great football team, looking to be a great offense. Preparing and playing and ultimately stepping in stadiums and doing that.
Did Indy do anything different on goal-line stand?
No actually they didn't. They are a pretty simple team schematically. Their three technique did a nice job in that last goal line sequence to stop us from scoring. It was the exact same defense, exact same play that we had success with earlier in the game.
How did Gary Russell do on kickoff return?
I thought he did a nice job. He caught the ball clean, got vertical, was decisive, I thought he did a nice job.
Will he keep the job?
Is the quarterback sneak out of your arsenal because of what happened against the Redskins (to Roethlisberger)?
The situation in D.C. was inside a yard. This was longer than a yard, actually it was just under two yards. So it wasn't under consideration because of that. As far as his injury, no we haven't taken it out of the plan because of that.
If Heath Miller is healthy, does that change play-call at goal line?
Oh yes, potentially. Heath Miller is a valued asset of course of our offensive football team.
Why has San Diego had trouble running the ball?
I don't have the answer to that. When I watch the tape I see what they are potentially capable of being and doing and we respect them because they have some talent. They have some big strong veteran people up front. (Kris) Dielman at the guard is one of the best at what he does. (Marcus) McNeill is the left tackle spot, is very good. LaDainian (Tomlinson) is of course LaDainian. We are concerned about them from that standpoint. When I watch their tape that is the vein that I look at.
Do you have final say on play going into the game?
I have final say on the plays that go into the game on three phases. Is there a play that you are asking specifically about?
You called same play back-to-back on goal line.
I take it that if you are going to be a good football team and have the personality that we desire to have offensively, then in those instances you have to be committed to and capable of running the football over people and running it into the end zone. They knew what we were going to do and we scored two sequences prior to that and actually the second one, Mewelde (Moore) went in standing up. I see no reason why we weren't capable of doing that again providing we have quality execution. We executed on the play in the two earlier instances and we didn't on the two later instances.
The play on 3rd and two – who called it?
It was a play that I approved. It came from the sideline.
Will two games in five days affect decisions on injuries this week?
I think it will in regards to how we prepare for Cincinnati, but at this point we are solely focused on what we have on Sunday and we can't see Cincinnati at this point. We are not worried about that, we are worried about the decisions we are making right now as it relates to Sunday.
What does Marvel Smith need to show to play?
He's got to show us quite a bit. He has missed some time. Not only in terms of health, but technically he has to be up to speed, he's got to knock the rust off quickly if he is going play for us this weekend.
Evaluate Max Starks.
I think he has done a solid job all-in-all. But overall, collectively we are not doing what it is we need to do right now, so nobody is performing great.
*Why has kick coverage improved?
We got a little continuity. It is year two. I think you have to acknowledge that. Also, we've got some continuity with the core players. Guys like Anthony Madison are in the second year in the coverage units, Lawrence Timmons is in his second year in the coverage units. They are making plays for us. The addition of Keyaron Fox is big. Young guys like Pat Bailey kicking in, but more than anything I think it's the continuity that is associated with being in year two. It has been a winning edge for us and it needs to be a winning edge for us this weekend because like I said earlier, San Diego is very good and it starts at Sproles as a return man both punts and kicks.
Why not run the ball on 3rd and two at end of first half?
We were backed up. We were inside the 10 or 12-yard line. We had a new punter. We were concerned about attempting to punt backed up in those circumstances. Even if we did execute a successful punt, we were giving Indy the short field. It was my goal and desire not to give them the football back. I didn't want them to get any points. Had we punted that ball we would pretty much assure that Peyton Manning has got a chance to kick a field goal at the end of the half with a minute or so and some change to work in a 50 or 55 yards of field. That was the intention at that point. We had been in a third-and-two at the half earlier in the game, and we hit Santonio (Holmes) in a similar play for 23 yards. Indy is a small menu team, we expected them to be in what they were in, just like they were in that third-and-two sequence at the beginning of the game that we executed successfully. We didn't execute it successfully in those circumstances, so it backfired. Instead of maintaining possession of the ball and not allowing Indy to get any points, we gave them the ball right there with the short field and they were able to do what we think they are capable of doing which is punch the ball in.