Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin


On in-game communications, signing QBs off the street
Throughout the 2009 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin will provide his insight and observations to Steelers.com on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. What's going on in your headset on a game day?
A. It's ever-changing. It's talk about the down, it's quick reflections on what has happened, it's anticipation talk on the flow of the game and what could happen in the next play or the next series. Conversations happen to a bunch of people in instances.
Q. Is there some chain of command, or can everybody get in your ear during a game?
A. I control who I communicate with. I have three lines on my headset – offense, defense and kicking. Generally, I'm in fluid communication with the unit that's on the ball, on get-off downs or anticipation downs, after I get the call of the next play, I may click over and talk to the unit that could potentially take the field. Same thing occurs with regards to the kicking game. On third downs, there could be communication with all three phases in a span of 45 seconds to a minute.
Q. Are you spending more time talking or listening?
A. I'm doing more listening with the units on the field. I'm doing more talking in anticipation talk with the units that aren't on the field.
Q. Let's pretend you're the coach of a team that loses its top two quarterbacks to injury during a game on a Sunday in mid-November. What do you do?
A. First, you ask yourself, what can this third quarterback perform above the line? What can he do adequately? What is his comfort zone? Once you've determined what he's capable of running and when, you categorize that information, you put it into situational football and you don't dial those things up on first and second downs. You keep them in your hip pocket for significant downs. Then you play to your strengths, you limit the opportunities, or exposure that guy's going to get to a defense. You run the ball, you play perimeter ball, you get the ball out of his hands quickly. Quick game, pocket movement, wide receiver screens, etc., and you squirrel your nuts for a get-off down or red zone football, so that the limited comfort that he has is used in a significant way.
Q. At no point in that answer did you mention going out and signing a veteran quarterback off the street. Is that not an option?
A. In the short term, no.
Q. What kind of time frame would be required to bring a quarterback in and get him ready to play and turn in an above-the-line performance?
A. It really depends on the guy, the circumstances and how you build a plan around him. A veteran quarterback can learn an offense in a week and perform adequately, I think, particularly if he has starter experience.
Q. You have shown a willingness as a coach to go out and sign people off the street in the middle of a season. Not quarterbacks?
A. This is a unique position, in my opinion the most difficult position to play in all of professional sports. I respect that element of it. Most of the time your answers, or potential answers, are found in-house in regards to that.

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