Hearing from Coach Mike Tomlin


On trades, third-and-long, Aaron Smith 

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. The NFL trading deadline passed on Tuesday, Oct. 20 with little happening. Why are there so few trades in your sport?
A. I don't know the answer to that. I think football is such a team game and built so much on chemistry, the infusion of significant players once the train has started moving down the track is very difficult. Probably more difficult than games like basketball and baseball.
Q. There are buyers and sellers, usually, whenever trades are made. Can you ever envision yourself being a seller?
A. I never say never. I like to subscribe to the theory that I'm not going to put myself in a box. I try to maintain an open attitude regarding all things that are a part of this business, so I don't miss an opportunity to help our team get better, and ultimately win.
Q. The seller in a trade, though, is looking to the future instead of trying to win now. Does that go against your philosophy?
A. For me, particularly at this time of the year, I can't see past the end of the week. Probably my nature is not toward selling.
Q. In a trade scenario, are there certain positions where it would be easier to bring in someone new and integrate him into the system quicker?
A. I think it's really more about the player than it is the position. Football is football, and when you run across a veteran player, particularly a veteran player who has been in this league and played in multiple cities or had multiple coordinators, it's really about learning verbiage more than it is about learning assignments or techniques. Those guys usually get up to speed pretty quickly. Take a guy like Braylon Edwards, who's not that old of a player, he can show up in New York and be ready to play and be ready to play winning caliber football in a few days.
Q. As a defensive coach, what's going wrong with the unit when it's allowing opponents to convert a lot of third-and-long situations, as the Lions did when they converted five third-and-double-digits?
A. A lot of things go through your mind when it's going on. When you remove yourself from it, you can see some things with clarity and have a different perspective. Looking back at that Lions game, you have to tip your hat to Scott Linehan and the rest of their offensive staff, because they did some obscure things to be able to move the ball in those third-down situations. They threw a screen pass to a tight end – Will Heller – and they had never thrown a screen to him; they had a fullback in the backfield in a one-back set, a guy there to block, and they ran a counter play with him and converted a third-and-9. They threw screens to a variety of backs; they weren't trying to throw the ball vertically down the field to move the chains like most people do in those instances. And sometimes, they're going to catch you flat-footed. More than anything else, after looking at it, from my standpoint I like to tip my hat to those guys for what they were able to do.
Q. What was your reaction while it was happening?
A. I was hacked off.
Q. But generally, are there different things breaking down when an opponent converts third-and-longs?
A. When they're throwing the ball down the field, there's usually a breakdown, but a lot of those other ones, you say, good for you.
Q. How do you get the players to believe you when you say that injuries are a part of football and the standard does not change?
A. I don't convince them, the guys who step up and play for the guys who go down convince them. There are some guys who have been around this football team since I've been here and heard me say that and have had tangible evidence of that. Guys like Mewelde Moore stepping up and guys like William Gay stepping up at times last year. They really made names for themselves and etched out roles for themselves on this football team because they took advantage of opportunities when people went down. It's what Rashard Mendenhall is in the midst of doing right now. The more often that happens, the more they see guys are capable of stepping up and delivering and delivering big, it adds value to those words.
Q. When you lose a team leader like Aaron Smith to a season-ending injury, can that serve as a slap in the face to some of the other guys to pick up their play?
A. I think it sends a message, or is a wakeup call to most guys. Opportunities to play this game are precious, and things happen, and you can't take it for granted, and that's why you have to feel the urgency of now and appreciate what you get to do. These guys ultimately love what it is they do. From time to time, due to different circumstances, it's going to be taken away from them. And eventually, it'll be taken away forever, so they have to enjoy these moments.
Q. Typically, there would be a reluctance to throw a rookie into the lineup, but can it be a good thing when an outside circumstance forces your hand, similar to what happened to Bill Cowher here in 2004 at quarterback when injuries to Charlie Batch and Tommy Maddox threw Ben Roethlisberger into the lineup?
A. Guys who get opportunities due to injury generally play better than coaches anticipate them playing. I won't be shocked if the guys who step up for Aaron, particularly Ziggy Hood, play and play well. But at the same time, you know what you're missing when you're missing an Aaron Smith. So it doesn't help you sleep like a baby at night knowing that he's not going to be in there.

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