Hearing From Coach Mike Tomlin

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. When a kickoff is short, say down to the 15-yard line, is that most often done on purpose?

A. Yes.

Q. What's the thought process there?

A. It really depends on the personality of the return team. Some returns teams have one man deep, and so you spray the ball and make that guy work to get it. On other occasions, you may simply want to utilize hang-time, if under the circumstances your kicker can't drive the ball for distance, so you'll let height be an issue and hopefully get down the field for the same desired result.

Q. If your kicker can drive the ball for distance, would you ever try anything else?

A. Sure. Because you might want to utilize some opportunities that may be created if they don't have their guys evenly dispersed along the back line.

Q. A punt returner and a kickoff returner. How are the respective skill-sets different?

A. For a punt returner, short area quickness and stop-and-go ability is highlighted. For kickoff returns, in order to be a finisher, your straight line speed is an issue.

Q. Based on that description, it would seem to be rare for one guy to excel at both?

A. Those guys are rare, and you can think about the guys who are and were. Mel Gray, Devin Hester, Eric Metcalf. There are a handful of guys – Brian Mitchell is another – who distinguish themselves at both because they are very different skill sets.

Q. December football. What characterizes that?

A. Individuals and the team that's on the rise. People who are getting better, people who are honing their skills and getting better technically. People who have a better understanding of situational football and how they fit into it. The development of cohesion. All of those things characterize teams that are on the rise in December, and those are the teams that have a legitimate chance to make a splash in playoff football.

Q. As a coach, making your plan during the week and then calling the plays during the game, what are you more willing to try in December as opposed to September?

A. Whatever is necessary to win. Not that it's not your personality in September, but you know more about the pieces in place in December than you do in September so that makes you more aggressive in terms of the decisions you make. Not only do I have a better idea of the people I have executing things, but I also have a greater volume of video to anticipate what the opponent is going to do – which is equally important – in those situations. When you're talking about September football, it's hit or miss in terms of anticipating some of the things your opponents are capable of doing, because you don't have a large enough volume of information regarding what they've done in those situations prior to that moment. In December football, you have three months of information, and there are many of those scenarios when you can pin down or anticipate what the opponent is capable of better than you can in September. That's as big a part of the equation as knowing who you are and what you have.

Q. When you get to this part of an NFL season, what's the general difference between 8-3 and 3-8?

A. A handful of plays, and as scary as that sounds, it truly is the difference. But at the same time, even though it's only a handful of plays, the 8-3 teams make them, and the 3-8 teams don't. And both teams deserve to be where they are.

Q. Since confidence seems to play such a significant part in success in the NFL, how much of that difference between 8-3 and 3-8 is mental?

A. So much of this game is mental, but at the same time there is an element of it that you cannot measure. You acknowledge that it exists, you'd love to bottle it and harness it, but it's somewhat mystical as well. Which makes it interesting.

Q. Sometimes it seems as though it can be the same personnel who make plays one week or one year, and then don't make them the next week or the next year. As someone whose job is to identify problems and then solve them, isn't that maddening?

A. When you're dealing with people, that's an element of the equation that you must acknowledge. That's what makes this job challenging, fun and interesting at the same time. Those parts are moving. They're human beings, and we all understand the complexities of that. That's probably what makes football the ultimate team game. You're talking about 22 men on a football field at the same time, with 11 of them working in concert trying to get a job done. It's awesome.

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