HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN PRESS CONFERENCE OCTOBER 14, 2008 STEELERS at BENGALSSUNDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2008 KICKOFF -- 1:00 P.M.
Coach Mike Tomlin: Good afternoon; we are ready to get started this week coming off of a well-needed bye weekend. We feel like we are a better team from an injury standpoint; I will quickly start by talking about those things. Dallas Baker will be out this week with a shoulder sprain, or a separation, depending on how you look at it. Carey Davis has an ankle sprain; he will be out again this week. Keyaron Fox has a hamstring sprain; he won't make it this week. Some of guys who have been out that are returning for us; Brett Keisel, like we talked about, is ready to go. Casey Hampton, we will see how he goes this week. He ran yesterday and looked pretty good. He will probably run again tomorrow. We will target Thursday as a practice day for him and see where he is. Some other guys who experienced some discomfort; Jeff Reed is much improved; we will see where he is. Willie Parker practiced yesterday; he is just going to get better with confidence as we push forward towards the weekend. Marvel Smith was held out yesterday due to back spasms; we will see where he is tomorrow. All of those things aside, we are getting pretty healthy. Let's talk about the challenges that we have this week. We are going on the road against another division opponent; we know how important those are. This is a team that we are very familiar with but when we really look at the tape, some people that are playing key positions for them are new to us. I think that is what we are spending a lot of time (studying) in preparing for those guys. Offensively, you know about the receiving tandem in TJ (Houshmandzadeh) and CJ (Chad Johnson). It is well documented what those guys are capable of. We will spend a lot of time looking at Ryan Fitzpatrick; this guy is a very mobile passer who has shown the capability of making all of the throws. I think that the biggest distinct different in terms of dealing with him instead of Carson Palmer is that we have to be very conscious of our rush lanes. This guy is running for about 6.8 yards-per-carry; he will pull the ball down and escape on you. Some of the things that you have done to combat TJ and CJ in the past; two-mans and so forth; you have to be very conscious in terms of dealing with this guy because he can hurt you with his legs. Of course Rudi Johnson is no longer there so the feature back position is new to us; they have (Chris) Perry and of course they acquired Cedric Benson a few weeks ago; he is looking comfortable. Both of those guys are slashing, tough backs who can run downhill. On the receiving corps, Ben Utecht is a new acquisition in free agency. He provides a unique matchup from a tight end standpoint; he is very athletic; he can split out from the core. You have to make some tough decisions in terms of who you put on him based on jump balls in the red zone and things of that nature. He is one of those unique tight end body-types that we have to consider. They use Antonio Chatman more on offense than they have in the past. This guy is working the slot; of course we know what he is as a punt returner but as a receiver he is a very quick guy and he is working inside much like TJ has done in the past, but he does it very differently. TJ is a big, powerful, position guy and he is a tough matchup because of that; Chatman has great short-area quickness and he can escape people in a short area and get open in the interior. They use those two guys very well. Of course up front, their big people are anchored by what I feel is a very good tackle tandem in (Stacy) Andrews and (Levi) Jones. They felt good enough about Andrews that they let Willie Anderson go back in the summer; he has proven them right with how he has played. Levi Jones was a highly-regarded first-round draft pick. Defensively, talking about things being new, Coach (Mike) Zimmer is a new (defensive) coordinator. They have (Antwan) Odom up front, who leads them in sacks; he was a free agent acquisition for them from the Titans. He is a new guy that we better get familiar with in a hurry; he can bring some heat from off of the edge. The linebacker, Keith Rivers, a first-round pick out of Southern California, has proven that the NFL game is not foreign to him; he is making plays all over the field, tackling guys sideline-to-sideline. He shoots gaps extremely well; that is a guy that you have to be concerned about backside. He is getting his hands on some balls; he has an interception. In the secondary, they have a rock-solid corner tandem in (Jonathan) Joseph and Leon Hall; young guys who are quickly proving that they can play this game. At the safety position, (Chinedum) Ndukwe is stepping up big for Dexter Jackson; he has a sack, he has a pick, and he plays around the line of scrimmage. He is very active and is a guy who you have to know where he is at all times. On special teams, they have a very rock-solid return game; Antonio Chatman is averaging over 10 yards a punt return. (Glenn) Holt is about 26.6-or-so as a kickoff return man; he has hurt us in the past so we will have our antennas up in that regard. Shayne Graham is a very accurate kicker; I think he is 9-for-10 on the season. They probably expected to have him back. That is where we are; we have to knock the rust off, if you will and turn our attention to that battle. We had a great practice yesterday and we will continue to prepare today and get the troops back in here tomorrow.
Do you understand what Hines Ward's fine was for?
I joined him in being bewildered on the second one. That's how this guy has played football in this league for a long time now. Neither one of the incidences were penalties. Don't get me wrong, I understand what the league is trying to do from a safety standpoint and I am for that. We've got to be competitive, we've got to be professional, we've got to put a good product out there for our fans. But boy it is starting to cost a little too much money to come to work for some of these guys. We have to get a little clarity in regards to that and I just think that is something we are working on as a league.
What did he do in the Jacksonville game to get the fine?
He played football. I plan to make a phone call and get some clarity this week and relay that to him because more than anything, we want to be a team and he wants to be a player that plays the game the way it is suppose to be played. The way our league wants it played and we respect that. But we need a little clarity on that situation.
Are you concerned they are targeting him?
I think he probably plays the position different than a lot of people that play this position. You can say target, but I don't choose to use those words. Make no mistake, he plays the wide receiver position different than most people that play it. He is probably viewed a little differently because of that. He is a very physical player. He is a football player first, and a wide receiver second. But like I said, it is our goal and our desire to play within the rules of the game. We believe that we are doing that, he has been penalized, but at the same time we want to share the Commissioner's vision in terms of players safety, so we need to get a little clarity on those issues.
Is the league obligated to say this was the quarter and this is the play that the incident happened? Was the Commissioner even clear on it?
I think he is familiar with what he play they are talking about and I am familiar with what play they are talking about. I just don't know what merited the fine.
Was it the first play when it happened?
It was early in the game. I don't know if it was necessarily the first play.
How do you refer to #85?
Whatever #85 chooses to be recognized as. If he wants to be known as Ocho Cinco, that's what we will call him. We respect that guy. He is a talented guy. He needs no endorsement from me. His resume is his resume. The bottom line is that when he stops out on the field to play ball, he is somebody to be reckoned with.
Do you see 0-6 when you look at Cincinnati on tape?
No you don't but that is the story of the National Football League. I know people say this all the time and it becomes a cadence, but there's not much difference between being 0-6 and 6-0. These guys have played good football in pockets of time, I think they just haven't put it together in terms of finishing 60 minutes and winning a football game. They took the Giants into overtime. They are a capable team. They have some new people like I mentioned earlier in positions. They have had some instability at the quarterback position and when you have that and don't have a healthy Carson Palmer it makes life tough. There are a lot of reasons why their record is their record. We are not concerned about their record. I'm sure they are not concerned about ours. This is going to be a highly contested battle. You throw records out of the window when we go to Cincinnati or when they come to Pittsburgh for that matter. It's going to be a rough and tumble football game like it always is, I am sure.
Injured players, will you limit their play?
I think it is important that we conscious about how we do that, at least in some instances, but probably in most instances. When guys have been out in extended periods of time, they have been conditioning themselves, but conditioning and football conditioning are two different things. We will be conscious about how we monitor their reps. The men that stepped in for them have proven that they are capable of playing winter football for us. So that is our intention, but that specific plan will become a little more clear as we push forward in the week and see where those guys are and how they hold up throughout practice.
Has Mewelde Moore earned more touches?
We know what Moore is capable of. Mewelde (Moore) is a guy that is going to deliver. He will probably never get the number of touches that he feels or desires or what he is capapble of handling. But this is a team player and he is always ready to go. This guy has helped us directly win two football games. We know what he is capable of and when we call on him we know that he is capable of delivering.
Is your message to the team reinforced by the upsets this weekend?
It's not just this weekend. It is every weekend. We respect that. We understand what that is about. We are the same football team that went to New York and got beat by a Jets team that probably had one win a year ago. That's what this National Football League is about. It is the ultimate parity league. I think that is why our fans love it so much because if you prepare and you play well, you play to your capabilities, everyone has a chance to win on any given Sunday.
Do you want to put pressure on Fitzpatrick?
We are going to apply pressure because that is what we do. We are going to play our game. There is no question that he has experienced some problems under pressure, but that is any quarterback that lacks experience. The thing that you have to be conscious of when pressuring this guy is that maybe their play selection changes some then is usually is when they have Carson Palmer in. These guys are changing the launch points. They are running misdirected passes, boots, they are running some sprint-outs. So you can also get yourself in trouble pressuring some of those things when they change the launch point on you. But we are going to do what it is that we do defensively and offensively and for special teams for that matter. We are trying to establish a personality and win football games, but at the same time we respect what those guys are capable of doing.
Are you worried Hines Ward may change his style of play?
I don't think you have to worry about that. The big thing like I said is we want to do what is right and play this game the way it is supposed to be played. I need to get him that information and I need to get us that information in terms of what the exact issues are with his quality of play.
Were there others who were fined?
I am not interested in talking publicly about fines to be quite honest with you. It is obvious in this league that quite a bit more fines have been given out than are talked about publicly. I am not interested in adding to that. What I am interested in is playing the game the way it is supposed to be played.
How has Limas Sweed been progressing?
He is doing well and he will get an opportunity this week to be the number four receiver. He just needs to have consistency in route running, in catching the football and in assignments. It is just that simple. He has improved and really he is probably the guy that has been on the brink of deserving an opportunity. The other guys who have been playing in front of him have done a nice job. With this injury to Dallas Baker, it may be a window of opportunity for him. One that he needs to take advantage of.
Was Jacksonville a special win in terms of perseverance?
I've moved on from Jacksonville. You would hope that we have learned some quality leassons from that, but ultimately, what we do form here on out will display whether or not we have. We like to think that we have, but we have to go play football. What lies ahead is most important and hopefully some of the things that have happened to us in the past positively like Jacksonville we learned from and negatively like Philadelphia, we learned from.
How is Willie Parker running laterally and does he have confidence in his knee?
He is not 100 percent. He is probably better equipped to answer the level of confidence than I am. He looked pretty good yesterday and we are going to push forward.
If Marvel Smith can't go, who will start at left tackle?
Max Starks. Trai's (Essex) performance in the last game was exactly what I said it was. We were late in the football game, we were going to be doing a bunch of passing, they had an undersized, very fast defensive man in Quentin Groves. We felt like he gave us the best match-up under those circumstances. That was a specific game circumstance, late in the football game where we needed to throw the ball virtually every down and march the length of the field and that is what he provided.
Are you sticking with Stapleton and how did he do?
Yes we are. He has done well. When you think about the six quarters of football that he has played, you measure his performance because we have been effective on offense. We played half of winning football on Monday night versus the Ravens when he was in there and we played a game of winning football in Jacksonville when he was in there. He has more than held his own. He is a pretty good communicator. The guys appear to have a good level of comfort with him playing at tackle and centering around him. He is doing a nice job. Of course he is going to continue to grow and get better with reps. But he is ok right now.
If Jeff Reed can't go, what are your options?
Boy, Jeff better go. It is my mentality that I don't even want to think about Jeff not going.
Will you consider Mitch Berger kicking off?
Yes, we will. That is something that we will take a look at but really Jeff's recovery as the week progresses will determine what direction we go in regards to that. Really, Jeff is a veteran player so that is something that can be decided as late as Sunday.
Have you brought in a kicker to look at?
No. Again, I don't even want to consider those things; I just looked at Jeff, crossed my fingers and told him to get well. I think that the biggest thing is how he felt the day after the game. There was a great improvement in him. I think that we had intentions of doing that last week but he immediately felt a lot better the morning after the Jacksonville game and that kind of put us at ease because we knew that he would be headed in the right direction, and he has continued to do that.
How did the week off help Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder?
Again, Ben is probably more equipped to handle that than I am. Ben has played winning football for us; he hasn't missed game action so I haven't thought that much about it.
What did you see that you liked with Darnell Stapleton and what kept him on the roster?
This guy has performed, first and foremost. He has performed from an assignment standpoint, he has performed from an execution standpoint; he plays with nice leverage and he appears to be a quick study. He doesn't make a bunch of mistakes repeatedly; if he makes mistakes, they are new mistakes. He has position flexibility in that he is guard capable and center capable; those things keep us coming back to him and have allowed him to remain around. When given an opportunity, he seized it. I think that what he has done over the past game-and-a-half has proven those things.
What made you keep Bryant McFadden as a starter?
Again, Deshea (Townsend) is less than 100 percent at this point; we are just trying to push him towards game day. There is no denying that Bryant McFadden has played winning football for us. We are happy with his performance; he needs to continue to deliver that and we need to continue to get Deshea well.