Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin

On practicing indoors vs. outdoors, noise, red zone

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Throughout the 2010 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.

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Q. Every practice sessions ends with you gathering the team around you on the field. What goes on in that huddle?

A. It's usually as routine as the practice itself. I make it a point to talk to the team about being robotical about our preparation and our attitude regarding our preparation. I want them to approach each day as its own day. Wednesday has its own personality, Thursday has its own personality, Friday has its own personality. So generally the things I say after those practices are in line or appropriate for those days. Usually it's very similar from Thursday to Thursday to Thursday.

Q. So it's not a critique of what you just saw?

A. Very rarely. Very rarely it is, because I don't like to ride the emotional roller-coaster. I know over the course of the season you're going to have good practices and have some ones that fall below the line, and the reality is we have to play winning football when we step inside stadiums. What has happened in the practices is really irrelevant to that. I've had great practices and not performed well, and I've had bad practices and played well. It's our desire to practice well, because we think it increases our chances of winning, but by no means do we expect our practices to define our performances.

Q. Practicing indoors vs. practicing outdoors: what goes into making that decision?

A. If we can out, I prefer to go out. More than anything what prevents us from going out is the surface. Surface is the No. 1 issue that determines whether you practice outside or inside. If the weather is such where the surface is somewhat unsafe, where you could potentially pull hamstrings and roll ankles, then we go inside.

Q. When your team goes on the road – and let's say the game is to be played in a dome – what adjustments do you have to make in order to deal with the crowd noise?

A. You have to be able to operate as a cohesive unit or units, with limited or maybe no communication. That's just the reality of playing in a hostile environment from time to time. It's not only an issue we have to deal with, but one that everyone has to deal with. That was a unique environment (in New Orleans), but we expected it to be. We just didn't do a good enough job of getting settled down and playing within it quick enough to be successful and win.

Q. What are the offensive linemen doing before the snap?

A. They're identifying fronts and coverages, identifying potential blitzers, how we're going to pick those guys up, who would make the ball come out hot and so forth. And communicating the adjustments in our protection to pick those things up.

Q. Can offensive linemen do all of that and look to see when the ball is snapped since they can't hear anything?

A. A lot of the silent count things are less about looking at the ball and seeing the ball, and more in rhythm. Defenses are capable of picking up that rhythm as well, and that's why silent counts are advantage defense.

Q. Are you in favor of any kind of attempt to regulate crowd noise?

A. I personally don't care. It's my desire to be a dominant football team, and part of doing that is being able to step into hostile environments and beat people. Regardless of opponent, regardless of game location, that's what great teams do, and that's what we desire to be.

Q. What makes a good red zone offense?

A. One that doesn't take points off the board. When you have points, you get them, and of course when given the opportunity to get seven you want seven.

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Q. If an offense is capable of running the football, is that the key in the red zone?

A. It really has a lot to do with the defense's personality as well. Some defensive coordinators are committed to not letting you run the football into the end zone, even at the expense of being un-sound against the pass, and you can't deny those opportunities when they're presented to you. I probably, as a young defensive coordinator, had that mentality – that you were not going to run the ball into the end zone on our defense. I paid the price for it from time to time, but that's the nature of the cat-and-mouse that goes into strategy in that area.

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Q. All games are important, but aren't division games more important?

A. The reality is that if you want to be division champs, you have to play well in division games. Not only that, but also road division games are critical. I think that ultimately determines who's kicking butt in the division and who's not. Obviously, we were not a year ago. We were 0-3 on the road in the division a year ago, and we look forward to rectifying that this year.

Q. Do you like the way the NFL is set up, with the four-team divisions that put a lot of emphasis on division games?

A. I don't have any problem with the structure, with how it's set up right now. At the end of the regular season, you know who the dominate teams are, who the deserving teams are, who are not.

Q. Do divisions have their own personality?

A. I believe that, because if you want to be a playoff caliber team, you have to dominate your division, and a lot of the decisions that are made in football – whether it's free agency or the draft – are done so to combat division matchups. I thought it was interesting a few years ago when people were picking tackles early in the draft, maybe as a response to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Cincinnati went and drafted Andre Smith, Baltimore went and drafted Michael Oher, Cleveland already had Joe Thomas, and then they picked a center in the first round to go against somebody like Casey Hampton and Haloti Ngata. When you look at how people make moves in the draft, largely those decisions are made to combat division matchup deficiencies.

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Q. What's the personality of the AFC North?

A. Rough and tumble. The game is won along the lines of scrimmage. Physical combat is a big part of our play in this division.

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