Labriola On

Labriola on 'Matt Canada gets it'

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Matt Canada gets it.

• When Mike Tomlin added Canada to his staff of assistants on Jan. 15, the obvious significance of the move was that the Steelers now had a dedicated quarterback coach for the first time since Randy Fichtner had the offensive coordinator position added to his duties in 2018.

• This was an important hiring for that reason alone, because Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, and Paxton Lynch all could benefit from some individual attention as they continue to work on their craft. Quarterback is the most important position on a football team, and it never made any sense for those players to be the only position group on the team without its own coach.

• But just below the surface of this hiring was the belief that it was done with something more in mind, and the suspicion was rooted in the move Tomlin had made the previous year.

• On Jan. 11, 2018, Tomlin hired Teryl Austin, whose resume included stints in the NFL as both a secondary coach and a defensive coordinator, and with the Steelers his title became Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary. Translating that job description into reality, Austin joined Tom Bradley in working with the defensive backs and he also brought his coordinator experience to the weekly defensive game-planning sessions.

• Based solely on resume study, Canada could be viewed as the offensive version of the Austin hiring, because he has spent time as a coordinator at seven different college programs, including LSU, and he also spent a season as the head coach at Maryland. But because one of those college stops as a coordinator was at Pitt, which shares the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with the Steelers, the growing assumption outside that building became the hiring was more than adding someone to work with the young quarterbacks.

• "Obviously, (Canada brings) expertise in years of coaching quarterbacks, years being around offensive football. Years of being a play-caller and experience being a head coach," said Fichtner last week. "It is more knowledge in the (offensive meeting) room. It is one more opportunity to throw ideas around … I also know that when it comes to ideas and thoughts and things you can bring to the table every week, what he can bring to the table might be different than I would in that room, (which) is going to be really fun to see and watch develop."

• One thing about Tomlin, and he says it often whenever speaking to chunks of the Steelers organization, is that he "doesn't care where good ideas come from." And so just as Austin likely contributed ideas last season that helped the defense, Canada's input during offensive game-planning sessions will be welcomed/encouraged.

• But Canada isn't the head coach. He's not the offensive coordinator either. And so he will be encouraged to offer ideas and make suggestions, but he cannot implement policy. Matt Canada won't be the one to decide whether Paxton Lynch or Devlin Hodges is the team's No. 3 quarterback in 2020. He won't be calling plays in the red zone. It's not his decision whether Roethlisberger lines up in the shotgun or under center.

• Maybe that seems self-evident, but judging from some of the questions posed to Canada during a Zoom call with the Pittsburgh media this week, it's apparent that it's not self-evident to everyone.

• Question: "Play-action was really effective for Ben Roethlisberger early in his career. Where does that fit into your playbook and your utilization of pre-snap motion?"

• Canada's playbook? "Your utilization" of pre-snap motion?

• "I am coming in and learning our system and what we have done here, and that is my job to just enhance whatever I can," answered Canada. "Obviously, play-action is a big part of things we have done in the past. We are going to certainly focus here on what Ben does well and what he has always done well, and however I can assist with that, I will do that."

• Another question: "How long have you been the master of misdirection plays and what do you find appealing about it?"

• "I don't think I am the master of much of anything," said Canada. "I am coming in and joining what we are doing here. I have always enjoyed that (misdirection) part of the game, and we were doing that probably starting all the way back in 2009 or so. Certainly, at Wisconsin in 2012, we started having some fun with it. It has been part of what we have done in the past. But again, I am coming in here and more focused on learning our system and getting going with what we are doing here."

• Maybe the Steelers end up implementing some of the motions and other wrinkles Canada introduced during his time at Pitt, but anyone who believes the Steelers are going to have Ben Roethlisberger executing the Nate Peterman offense is delusional.

• "Obviously, Ben has 17 training camp camps coming in, so he obviously has a lot of experience," said Canada. "I am going to do whatever I can do to assist him, whatever he might need me to do. Obviously, the younger (quarterbacks) are different. They don't have as much in-helmet time and playing experience. I'm working with everybody, but there's certainly a difference … (Ben) has history with Randy, been with Randy a long time. I'm just kind of coming in to facilitate what I can in any way with him and then also with the younger guys."

• I have been part of a press conference that announced the hiring of a Steelers offensive coordinator and listened to that man talk about his desire to become a head coach instead of showing any excitement for the job he just got. I have listened to a Steelers assistant, who was part of two Super Bowl championship seasons here, talk about the highlight of his coaching career being a victory that came when he was a college coach against a 3-7-1 opponent in a stadium that was two-thirds empty. I was told by another Steelers offensive coordinator that the best quarterback on the Saint Vincent College campus that summer was his son, who was a teenage ball-boy at the time, and neither father nor son carried the surname of Marino. Another one promised me, absolutely promised me, that the center on the team he just left was way, way better than the center he had inherited on his new team, a center by the name of Dermontti Dawson. Ego. Self-importance. Arrogance.

• All of those guys ended up getting fired, and in that sense they got what they deserved.

• Matt Canada is the Steelers new quarterbacks coach, and he is excited about that job. He comes across as someone who understands his role, someone who's more interested in helping the players he's assigned to coach get better than he is in furthering his career, more excited about winning than being right. While he's being paid to be a teacher, Canada understands he has a lot of learning to do himself.

• "Ben has way more experience than I could ever imagine having in the NFL, so I am listening," said Canada. "We've talked. Reads, concepts, and those things. How he has done it, and what he has done. I am obviously learning from him and Randy, and if there's another way of seeing something with him, or more importantly with the younger guys, then I'm just trying to take that and go. I think football is football, but it's a different game (in the NFL). There are parts of it that are different that I've tried to learn, and I certainly have a long way to go, and that's why I'm excited with where I am. I'm in a position to learn and assist Randy in any way I can, to assist the quarterbacks in any way I can, and just be part of the group. Just really excited where I am in my role."

• Matt Canada gets it. And because he does, it really doesn't matter if a segment of the media and fan base don't.

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