Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley
Re: Filling in spots on the offensive line:**
I think that's why we are playing the games. I think that's a big reason why Kelvin Beachum, when the early change was made and he ended up over there [left tackle] we left him there and didn't mess with him, even though he might have been a good option at center. We had issues there. He could have been a good option at other spots, like guard, where we had a couple of issues. We wanted to leave him at left tackle and let him get settled in and see how good he can be. Unfortunately, he got hurt but he has been practicing some. So we will see here as the week goes on.
So these last three games are kind of his job to lose?
I would think that he earned the right to be in there right now. He played at a pretty high level for us while he was in there against good competition. I think he has earned every right as much as anybody else has to be in there and play.
What do you do with Mike Adams if he is your left tackle?
Are you talking about this week?
Down the road:
[Laughs] I am worried about this week and having enough hands on deck to play. Obviously, we've had significant injury issues and had to do a lot of shuffling. We need to be ready to go for this week, so we are seeing how Beachum makes it through the week and adjust from there.
So you aren't prepared to answer a question about having too many offensive linemen?
[Laughs] How do some people say it? That's a crazy, stupid question. [Laughs]
Re: Progress in the offense:
I think what's important to me and what gives me hope for this group as we go forward is that we have made progress as the year has gone on. That hasn't been without obstacles, injuries and significant lineup changes, so we've been able to overcome a bunch of that and continue to make progress in most areas. It hasn't translated to wins, which is what this is all about but I think there's been enough increase in production in most areas to feel good about what the guys are doing. I think the sack numbers have gone down and the turnover number has gone significantly down. I think in the second half of the season we've turned it over twice. We have to keep going in that direction. The run game has continued to look improved, though we haven't been able to get into a game where we hand it off 25-30 times. Last game, if we got a couple of things done, and didn't run into the penalty situation, might have been one of those games where you get up a couple scores and pound the defense at home, in bad weather. I just think that a lot of it is these guys continuing to work and get growth from guys, like Beachum. Heath Miller is getting back closer to himself. We got Matt Spaeth back. A lot of different things have factored into it but the one thing that has stayed the same is that these guys have continued to work and get better. I think that is showing week-in and week-out as we go forward.
Re: Emmanuel Sanders is having his best season:
I think he is getting to play more. He is a number-two as opposed to being a three or four. Whenever you're in there getting more snaps and more pass plays are called while you are in there, I think generally you should be more productive. But he's done a good job. He is working hard. Obviously there are some that he'd like to have back as most of these guys would, but I think there's been good progress made there. He's shown he can play in this league at a high level.
Re: Trying to retain guys when the season ends and would you make a pitch for Sanders:
We talk through all that stuff as a staff, with Coach Tomlin and with Kevin Colbert, so I think everybody gets to express how they feel.
What's allowed Beachum to have the success he's had?
I think he has a great mindset. I think that he carries a chip on his shoulder. We were just actually talking about this. I've seen guys like Curtis Martin carry a chip on their shoulder all the way to the Hall of Fame, getting drafted where they got drafted, whatever you can use to motivate yourself. But he's that type of kid. He is mentally tough. He carries a chip on his shoulder. He's been told he's not good enough to do a lot of different things. And yet he tries to prove everybody wrong, and he has to this point. I just love having him on our side. He's a great guy to work with.
It sounds like you could be describing Antonio Brown:
[Smiles] Like I said, guys have carried chips on their shoulder that has taken them a long way. The secret is you have to always have some carrot dangling or some chip. You can't ever feel like you arrived. Generally the guys that never feel like they've arrived are the guys that become great.
Re: Turning point in the season where the offense started getting on the same page:
This question has been asked so many times but I understand it. I felt in training camp we had made significant progress as an offense. Unfortunately, and they are not excuses, they are facts, we had a lot of disruption at key positions throughout the season. The encouraging thing is that we've continued to improve and overcome some of those things but there were adjustments that had to be made. We were watching the tape of playing Cincinnati in our last game. David Paulson was lining up at the point of attack tight end. Our starting left tackle now, Beachum, was a backup tight end. Fernando Velasco was playing center, and we didn't know how to pronounce his name yet. You didn't see number-26, Le'Veon Bell, anywhere on tape. So a lot of different obstacles the guys have overcome. Again, what's encouraging to me is that everybody has continued to work and get better, and I think that it's shown. It has shown to anybody that watches the games. We are doing better in most areas and are playing at a level that gives us a chance to win.
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
What have Jason Worilds and Cameron Heyward meant to your defense the last half of the season?**Both players have played really well all year long and you've seen continued growth of two young players that we drafted early that we thought a lot of. Jason had some injuries, and he had a lockout in there that slowed him up a little bit, but I think you can see what we saw in him. They both really play well. Cam is just getting better every week. I really think the best football is in front of both of those guys. They're playing very good football.
Was it tough for Heyward being stuck behind those veterans you had at defensive end?
You'd have to ask Cam that, but I think in terms of his growth progress and learning progress it was a good thing because he was behind some very experienced, knowledgeable players. You could see that Cam was going to be a very impactful player, and I think that's what he's been.
Some of your veteran defensive backs said they can't put their finger on why there have been as many big plays as there have been. Can the aging process be attributed to anything in the secondary?My dear cousin, who's like a brother to me, says the aging process sucks [Laughs]. Nobody knows that any better than I do. We have given up many more big plays than we're certainly used to seeing around here. That's been our strength for years and years, and until we cut them out of the defense, we're still going to have those same problems. I don't believe the problems that we're experiencing there are age related. I really don't. They're positional, sometimes communicative, all things that we can handle and should handle.
Is it tough when you have trouble tackling and you're limited to the amount of contact you can take during the week to sort of shore that up?
I don't think so. I think that tackling, in general you might say, is not maybe as sharp as what we have seen in several years. But some of that, I think, is attributed to the great athletes that are over there on offense. With all these spread offenses that are coming out from all over the colleges and they're all speed and skill guys, and everybody that touches the ball – sometimes it makes you look like you're not trying to tackle him. I'm not trying to make excuses. Our job is to get the guy on the ground, but we are facing some wonderful athletes, and we still need to make that tackle. When we play well, we do. So, we're capable. Our problem really has been consistency and we need to solve that.
How has Will Allen integrated himself back into the defense?
He probably won the Detroit game, at least from a defensive standpoint. He picked up that fumble and ran about 60 yards in the Cleveland game. He's done a great job for Coach [Danny] Smith on special teams. Before he left, he was a starting safety for us in a high percentage of games. I've always had a good opinion of his football ability and I think he's delivered for us. Again, the inconsistency, where we've got a different mix of people, and some of that has shown up, but that's certainly not Will's fault.
How difficult is it for players such as Troy Polamalu, or any player, to be responsible for so many different techniques that he has to know with playing two different positions?
Troy has always done that. I've never had any second thoughts about what I ask Troy to do. He is a football genius, really, from that standpoint. Troy makes very, very, very few mental errors. He sometimes will make an error of commission, but if you're a coach that's the kind of errors that you can coach through and correct. He's going so hard and so fast and wanting to do so much sometimes that he ends up in the wrong place. I would say mentally you could give him three or four more positions and he wouldn't have any trouble. That's my opinion.
I would imagine it's not an easy thing to do and not everybody can do it.
That's why Troy is Troy. He's been one of the better defenders in this league for a long time, and that's one of the reasons. He studies hard, and he can take that knowledge and apply it instantly on the field. He's played a lot of good football for us this year.
You've used that package more than usual this year, correct?
Well, that was our package before we drafted Lawrence [Timmons]. When we drafted Lawrence, we wanted him to get some game experience, and he took that position, and Troy went back to the safety. When we lost Larry [Foote], which moved Lawrence to Larry's position, we just went back to Troy playing the dime because of the experience factor there.
Do you worry about him taking a pounding in there?
I did originally, but he's really played very well against the run. We have what we call the nickel, which puts two linebackers in there, and we've used that a lot, too.
What area would you like to see Jarvis Jones improve on the most moving forward?
I think his whole game needs growth, but I think that he has exhibited steady growth. I'm very pleased with the progress that he has made. He's been asked to play a little bit more than what we normally ask our first-year linebackers to play. In the end, that's going to be a big benefit for him because he's got that on the job training and in-game experience. His out-of-position errors have diminished. He almost is never in the wrong place now. I think the more comfortable he gets, you're going to see that this guy is going to be a really good football player. How would I like to see him get better? In every place, like all of our players.
You said with age not really being an issue as far as the big plays, is correcting the big plays something that can be fixed rather easily and you don't have to totally rebuild the defense?
I definitely think that that's true. We've had some games that there haven't been any big plays in. In the past when we've led, it was almost every game. The biggest malady that we have experienced this year is significant, big yardage plays, which we have to eliminate. I definitely don't think that the defense needs rebuilding. Maybe their coach is getting a little old [Smiles]. I think the players can still get it done. I do.
Do you still have the same zest for coaching?
Well when I don't, you won't be sticking that microphone in front of me [Laughs].
Have you caught James Harrison playing at all this year?
I get to see him occasionally when we're studying a team that we're playing that week that Cincinnati has played against. Of course, I'm always going to take a look at 92 every now and then.
They're using him more now than they did earlier in the season. Do you see him sort of looking like the same old James, or are they experimenting and doing different things with him?
James is a great football player. He's going to be all right. He was in a new system and it's been interesting, I think, to watch from the first of the year to late in the year. Now, believe me, I haven't made a case history out of it. I've had problems of my own, but to see him get comfortable in the role that he's playing – you'd have to talk to them. But I think he's been a significant contributor for them. I can't imagine what team he wouldn't be a significant contributor for.
What kind of reception do you think he will get on Sunday?
I know what he'll get from me. He's one of the great Steelers' defenders. I'm not going to wish him success in the game, but I do love the man.
What has the season been like for you personally? Frustrating? Confounding? Disappointing? All of the above?
None of that is what this is about. This is about getting better every week, putting up enough wins to get in the playoffs and trying to get better every day that we come out here. If a coach is applying his profession steadfastly, he won't have time to even think about that kind of question that you asked. I just work on what I see and trying to get us better. What can I do better? What can I help our players do better? And we've been plenty busy doing that.
Marvin Lewis talked the other day about your defense and said he could probably walk in and know the calls and understand the terminology. Something that stands the test of time like that, is that about the best thing you can say about it, in terms of its soundness and value?
I don't think it's a deficit, that's for sure. Marvin probably could stick his head in the huddle and play outside linebacker for us. We haven't changed that much. If we've changed, it would take him five minutes to get the nomenclature. He was here and we were all together here for a few years. Things evolved and there is stuff that's different, but there is a lot of stuff that's the same.
Your defense is old enough to vote now.
I think all of our players are old enough to vote [Smiles].
I mean that you hatched this scheme in the early 90's and it's still going strong.
Actually, I started on this scheme in the early 80's [Laughs]. Marv came in in the 90's.