*The NFL has gathered for its annual Spring Owners Meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla., this week, and as part of that all coaches are available to the media. The following is a transcript of Coach Mike Tomlin's media session, which was held on Tuesday morning, March 27:
Re: The New Orleans Saints' penalties for violating the bounty rule:
I didn't have a lot of intimate details about the investigation and what transpired during the investigation. I read the Commissioner's words. When you read his words, there is pretty clear justification for the action that he took, under the circumstances with player health and safety. That is his No. 1 initiative. The Saints were breaching that. There are consequences that go with that. I am sure all of us understand that.
Re: The team's head coach being held responsible in these situations:
I don't think that situation in particular is any different than any other. There are a lot of things that fall under our responsibilities as coaches, whether or not we have knowledge or direct participation in it, we have responsibility for the group and we embrace that.
Re: Baltimore Ravens saying they had bounties on Steelers players:
That talk has been around, but for us, it's not something that we've engaged in. we've always been somewhat amused by it, not that it's amusing, of course. We are going to play and play to win. We'll play hard regardless of circumstances. Sometimes that is just noise to us.
Re: Losing veteran leadership as a result of cutting Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior:
There is cause for concern there, but there is also some excitement. It's a changing of the guard. We are at the void of some leaders that we've had for an awesome run. Some guys are going to have to step up in that regard, but the more I think about it – and I've had a lot of time to think about it – it has already kind of evolved. It already has. I think it has to a degree the last several years with guys like Brett Keisel ascending within the group. Guys really respect his body of work and his approach to the business. And so have some others stepped up.
Re: Situation at inside linebacker without James Farrior:
Ideally, we would like Lawrence Timmons to play his Mac-linebacker position. He didn't get a lot of opportunities to do that last year. We expect Larry Foote to play and to play well.
Re: Looking to add depth at cornerback:
There's a possibility that we could add some competition there but we are excited about the prospects of these young men – Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. We drafted them a year ago with the potential of these things in mind. They've been a part of our program and have been given the opportunity to contribute in some ways, on special teams and even in some sub-package defense for Cortez. Obviously, it is a step up but I compare it to a similar step up that a guy like LaMarr Woodley had four or five years ago when we lost Clark Haggans in free agency, and we had drafted Woodley a year before. He had 12 months in our program. There was some uneasiness about Woodley at that time, and I don't think we have any about him now. One or both of these (cornerbacks) has to step up and step up in a big way, and I anticipate one or both of them doing that.
Re: Keenan Lewis being in the mix at cornerback:
Certainly he is. He played a lot last year. He is not an unknown commodity in my mind. We are talking about our third cornerback. The way he played sub-package football last year, he logged quite a few snaps.
Does Lewis have the edge to start over the other two?
From defensive playing time, you have to give the nod to Lewis. He's been a part of our program longer than the others, but we are going to give all those men the opportunity to earn that position.
Re: Todd Haley's offense coming into focus:
It is. It's been fun. He is very flexible and very sound in his approach. We've had awesome discussions in terms of building it, but as I always say, and it will be the case, we are going to build our attack around the strengths of our men. Ben Roethlisberger is a talented guy. We have talented receivers. We have an interesting group of running back prospects. We are putting together an offensive line. We are laying down the fundamental bases of how we are going to approach what is going to be good for us, regardless of circumstances. I really think some of the personality things, some of the things that will capture people's attentions, have yet to be discovered because of roles and so forth. We are having fun. We've had some good discussions. He has really brought some awesome ideas and approaches to the group.
Is Haley a tough-love coach?
I think we are all capable of that. I try not to paint with such a broad brush from a personality standpoint. I think we are all humans. We all have swings of emotion. We all use different coaching techniques. I would agree that he does have a reputation in that regard, but I am not going to pre-judge him. Like any good coach, I am sure he is prepared to be whatever the group needs him to be.
What sold you on Haley?
First and foremost, I've always respected him as an offensive-minded football coach and play caller. I had the opportunity to compete against him, not only since I've been here in Pittsburgh but even as far back as coming into the league when I was a secondary coach and he was a wide receiver coach, and we were in the same division. I was in Tampa Bay, and he was in Chicago. We go back as far as 2001 in that regard. The most significant thing for me was when I started the process of visiting with him. The first time we sat down in Mobile, Alabama, his genuine love for Pittsburgh, the way he embraces the standard that is the Pittsburgh Steelers', that's something you can't quantify. That's an intangible that is going to help us, when somebody legitimately understands and embraces what comes with being a part of our organization. I think it's a leg up. I saw some of those same things with Carnell Lake a year ago. I am always going to be attracted to that, because this is a unique place. I want men who embrace the legacy.
Re: Bruce Arians' situation:
Football is about change. He served us well, and he's a really good football coach. I thought it was time for a change. Change is never comfortable or easy, but we all embrace that. We are moving into a situation where we have the opportunity to grow and develop some young talent on offense. It's awesome to have the opportunity, where some people in our division who are comfortable with how you play football get uncomfortable. That is what is going to happen with us this year and we are excited about that. But more than anything, I am not going to apologize for change. That's football. I think all of us in this industry understand that. Our intentions are that it's change for the better.
Did Art Rooney II tell you to do that?
He didn't. I don't know where some of these perceptions come from. I don't break my neck and try to combat them in any way. I don't know where they come from, I don't. And I hired Todd Haley as well. Was that your next question? That's another funny one to me. Don't get me wrong, Art Rooney II owns the football team. He can do what he wants to do, but those directions did not happen.
Are the Steelers evolving into a passing team?
I think our game has evolved into that. I think it's legislated and officiated in that way. If you have a signal caller as talented as Roethlisberger and some of the young – we had two wide receivers that were in the Pro Bowl a year ago, one as a return man, but we have some talented young people. For me, it's about playing to your strengths in an effort to win football games. We embrace running the football and winning the war of attrition. At times we've had more success in doing that than others. Sometimes it's dictated by circumstance, but probably one of the central and most important things is that we've got some talented people in the area of passing the football, and we are going to utilize them.
Is it tough to embrace the way the game is changing?
I don't know if it's a tough thing to embrace. If you have a desire to be in this league for a length of time, you are going to roll with the punches and the ebb-and-flow, the evolution of the game. Thankfully I've been in the game long enough to see a little bit of that. Those who are able to sustain success are pliable and flexible, and I fashion myself as one of those guys.
Re: Concern about losing some more players:
Sure, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned, but I am not. It will play itself out. We feel comfortable with our plan. We feel comfortable in our ability to develop young players. Injuries are a part of the game. You know we are not going to lose sleep over that. More than anything, this is an exciting time of the year. We all are undefeated and are laying some bricks in the foundation of how we are going to play football this year. That's all exciting.
With Rashard Mendenhall's injury, would anything you get out of him this season be a bonus?
No, I am not looking at it from a totality of the season standpoint. I think it is prudent to say he might not be ready at the start. We might have some options there in terms of addressing that, whether it's the PUP list or otherwise. At some point, he is going to be ready to play, and when he is, he is going to be an asset to us.
Re: Running back group:
The great thing about it is that I like all the men. When given the opportunity, they've all shown that they are capable of being reasons why we win, and not guys that we win in spite of. Isaac Redman has proven that he is a legitimate NFL running back. He is not an unknown commodity. Jonathan Dwyer has been in our program for a number of years now. He had a 100-yard game a year ago. We all are excited about Baron Batch. We saw him in Latrobe a year ago. He's a young guy who hasn't done it inside stadiums in a regular season setting, and he is coming off an injury, but we saw enough there in terms of his competitive spirit and skills. John Clay got an opportunity and all he did was score the first time he touched the ball in the NFL. He needs to embrace that it's not going to be that easy moving forward.
Re: Baron Batch's rehabilitation:
This guy has worked hard. It's fun to watch a young man deal with adversity. Sometimes you like to think they will get a chance to get their feet on the ground. But we are not in control of that. I'd like to think he's embraced the adversity and attacked the rehabilitation process and remained a part of the group.
Are you OK if you don't get another running back?
I am sure we are going to get another running back, whether it's in free agency or in the draft. We will address it.
What do you expect from Mike Wallace?
The thing I love about Mike is that I don't think any of this is going to change his approach to what he does. One thing that sticks out to me about Mike is that he is a football guy. He is a competitor and he has a desire to be great. He and I hadn't had a lot of conversations at all about money in the three years he has been with us. This guy loves to play football. This is an element of the game at this level where the business will take care of itself. Mike will report and be the guy he has always been, and that's a guy who has a desire to be the best and is willing to work daily to be the best. That's what is exciting about our young group of wide receivers. They work at it. They are legitimately humble guys. I think they have a lot of fun with the "Bugatti Boyz" and making T-shirts, but that's just that. When you get below the surface, that's a group of guys who work hard, are legitimately humble and motivate one another, and they have a desire to be the best in the business.
Re: Wallace's production dropping in the last half of last season:
In many instances, teams took him out of the game. When you reel off the kind of seven-to-eight game run that he had there to start the season, that's some scary video for defensive coaches in preparations for games. They responded accordingly. That's what makes football the ultimate team game. With a concerted effort, sometimes you can minimize what one man is capable of doing to you. But if you have a good football team, it's going to potentially create opportunities for other ready young men. We saw what Antonio Brown did over the second half of the year. Did one produce the other? I think that's debatable but the reality is, we got good balance there in those two young guys. Either one of them is capable of hurting you and hurting you pretty bad.
Re: Peyton Manning's new opportunity:
I don't know what to think of it. I don't know the medical information. I don't know where he is from a rehabilitation standpoint. I think like a lot of fans. I am just excited about watching him. If you are a fan of football, particularly a guy who is committed the way he is, I think you root for guys like that. It's an interesting story, and that is really been my perspective on it. I don't have enough information to have a professional opinion.
Re: The job Commissioner Goodell has done, and James Harrison:
That's a two-part question. I am not in a position to evaluate the Commissioner. It's not my job. I am not going to do that. James is a grown man. Are there times I wish he wouldn't say some of the things he says? Sure, but I can say that about a lot of our guys, Ryan Clark and so forth. When you have a veteran group of guys like we do, you are going to have guys who aren't afraid to express their opinions. We live in a country where that is OK. Sometimes it creates issues that they have to deal with and we have to deal with, but we are big boys. We can embrace that and understand that. The big thing is that I have a strong desire for everyone in our group to be professional and respectful towards the people we compete against and the NFL itself.
Does the decreased number of OTAs hold the team back a little bit with a new offensive coordinator?
I am not worried about it because the playing field is going to be level for all of us. There will be plenty of opportunities to sharpen the sword. We look forward to getting to do that. One of the interesting things for us – I've been spending a lot of time with Kevin Colbert – this new offseason calendar does provide you with a lot more opportunities to be draft ready. He and I have been on the road all month. It's been fun. It's been a great experience in terms of information gathering, getting out to these pro days, seeing the prospects and talking to coaches. When you get your feet on the ground, you get a better feel for it. The more you get the opportunity, you feel better. I feel better about where we are in the draft process than I have in other years because of it.
Have you done more pro days this year?
Not just pro days, but the energy and mentality, because we haven't had guys in the building in terms of the offseason program. Most years, our offseason program would have started a week-and-a-half or two weeks ago. It hasn't. It doesn't start until April 16. I've had more time to devote to the draft.
Re: Anticipating Roethlisberger easing into working with a new coordinator:
I'm not going to anticipate tough times. I am a glass half-full guy. I'm excited about the change. I'm excited about the possibilities, and I think everyone has that at this point. We are not naive. We don't expect smooth sailing. We don't expect 19-0. It would be great. Maybe we will have a few bumps along the way.
Re: Using tight ends more:
We are capable of that. But again, we are going to gear our plan to the strengths of our men. Haley is excited about what Heath Miller is capable of. He's been very clear about that, his excitement to work with Miller. I would imagine that the tight end is going to be a part of our plan.
Will the players have to learn a different nomenclature in this offense?
Yes, but in football, when you get to this point in your career, whether as a player or a coach, you have heard it in a variety of ways. We are all bi-lingual, if you will, when it comes to football language. We are not going to get caught up on what we are calling. I think it's important that the guy making the calls when the play clock is running is comfortable. But it has been a collective effort. We've built it bit-by-bit in a group setting, in terms of what we declare things and how we identify language. That's been fun.
Yes. It's a great way to get started and get on the same page. That's been some of the things we've been doing as a staff.
Will the blocking schemes change?
Probably not. We believe in (offensive line coach) Sean Kugler and what he is capable of with that group. Some of the verbiage will change and the manner in which we kind of assist people will change, because that has a lot to do with formations and the personality of the play-caller. The core essence of the blocking techniques won't change.
Re: Offensive line:
I am optimistic about the offensive line. Some things have to come together for us, but any time you sit here at this time of the year and you are talking about building around a young and talented guy like Maurkice Pouncey, that's a lot to be excited about.
Do you think Marcus Gilbert can play left tackle?
We fully expect him to.
Didn't he start out there at training camp?
Yes. I probably had more concerns about him being the right tackle than I did him being at left tackle, just because of his college experience.
Re: Problems Tim Tebow presents and his role with the Jets:
I will preface this by saying that this is an educated guess. I haven't followed the scenario very closely. Knowing Coach Rex Ryan, and him being a defensive-minded coach, we all have a respect for situational football. Obviously, Tebow has a skill set that levels the playing field in short yardage and goal line situations. We are talking about a guy who can run the ball, and can run the ball between the tackles. He is capable of moving piles, but at the same time is a legitimate quarterback. It really gives their offense a leg up in some of those downs and distances. I would imagine, at least on the surface, that's a place where they could begin. That's speculation on my part.
Re: Preparing for someone of that skill set:
That's every week. I think they are all unique animals. You have to cater your plan to reflect that. He is a guy, for the very reasons I just mentioned, who creates some unique problems, because of his willingness and ability to run the football, particularly between the tackles.
Can having a two-quarterback system work, in general?
Sure it could work. It's the ultimate team game. Those are good issues, from a coaching standpoint, to have.
Would you consider bringing in another inside linebacker?
Certainly, at just about every position, we are going to have an approach that we are going to bring in competition and/or depth either through free agency or the draft. Obviously, we haven't been major players in free agency up to this point, but that's not unlike any other year for us. We will get in the game here at some point.
Is Stevenson Sylvester the guy who could challenge Larry Foote?
He should be. This is a guy moving into his third year. He's played quite a bit of football for us but not a lot on defense. He moved from being a special teams contributor as a rookie to being a core special teams contributor a year ago. The arrow needs to continue to move up with him. He and I have had very direct discussions in that regard. I am excited about seeing his readiness for that.
Re: The future of nose tackle, and Ziggy Hood:
Hood is potentially part of that. He is a very talented and strong guy, but I think Steve McLendon proved that he is a capable backup a year ago, and in some instances a starter. He played a lot of football for us, so we are not in any way discouraged by his progress or what he might continue to evolve into. In terms of the long scenario of Casey Hampton not being there, I am not of that mentality. We are gearing ourselves for 2012. I am singularly focused in that regard. He is going to be a part of it.
Re: Outlook on AFC North and the defenses in the division:
It's exciting for me. I take a great deal of pride in competing in what we feel is the best division in football. The ways the defenses play represent that. There is some young and exciting offensive talent in our division, including the quarterback and receiver in Cincinnati. They are making a lot of noise. I think each year, we all have a lot to prove. There is some familiarity there. We have some stability with coaches in our division who have been around for a while. It makes it exciting, competitive and great for our fans. It's all positive.
Are running backs devalued?
I think you could make an argument in that regard, but I don't think that's the case for the running back position in our building. If you look at what has transpired in free agency, there hasn't been a lot of money spent at that position. Wide receivers have gotten a lot of money. That's a fair discussion. I haven't looked at it from a global perspective. I know there hasn't been a devalue of that position in our building.
Do you still think that running the ball and being physical sets up a lot of good things for you on both sides of the ball?
Absolutely. I think it helps you. It allows your defense to sit on the sideline, and a lot of great defenses spend a lot of time watching. It helps your play-action pass game, and of course play-action pass games is what produces the chunks offensively that produce the short-play scoring drives. I think there are more four-to-five play scoring drives than there are 14-to-15 play drives, and I think that is usually associated with play-action and that usually is aided by a sound running game. So I think it feeds a lot of beasts, and that is what I believe in.
Does the pendulum ever swing back to where defense is dominating or are the rules set up to where that won't happen?
I still think if you are capable of playing good defense, that's going to help you win. I wasn't necessarily saying that offense was dominating when we were having that discussion earlier. I was just saying that passing games are evolving. That doesn't necessarily equate to offensive dominance. I don't know how much scoring or things of that nature are up, but I'd imagine teams that play good defense have a chance to win. I'd imagine that is going to be unchanging in my lifetime.
When the passing game has become so prominent, does it change the way you draft?
I think it changes how you draft in that the more people who employ three-or-four wide receiver sets the more you're going to need to employ sub-package football on defense. You are going to need to employ guys who are capable of covering, those (extra cornerbacks) and pass-rush specialists, so it does affect how you acquire talent. No doubt.
You have some veteran backups to Ben Roethlisberger, but down the road do you look to bring in someone young, or is it too soon yet?
We are interested in acquiring a young quarterback in some form or fashion, and I think that's why we signed the guys we are working with in the offseason that's coming up here in a few weeks, in Jerrod Johnson and Troy Smith. But we could add to that, be it the draft or free agency. We are going through that right now from a preparation standpoint.
Re: Emmanuel Sanders and injury problems. Are you convinced at all that he will be able to overcome all of that?
No, I am not. He has had some injury problems, and so you can't anticipate that it is going to stop. But the same can be said for Willie Colon. That's football, that's what is exciting, that is also what challenges you from a planning standpoint. Those are all parts of the equation as we build our team for 2012.
Is Emmanuel OK now?
Is he healthy right now?
I don't know if he is 100 percent healthy, I don't know if he would be able to play if we were playing this week, but he is on the right track.
Is it any more worrisome that his foot injuries seem more prominent and it is that same injury that keeps getting hurt?
I haven't looked at it in that form or fashion. The reality of it is he has durability issues. When that is the case sometimes you have to plan accordingly. We are hopeful that he going to help us and remain injury free, but that hasn't been the case to this point, so it is something you have to evaluate.
You could be getting a little thin at wide receiver. Do you need to fortify that?
Again, we intend to. Whether it be through free agency or the draft, or both. We have been thin at that position before, and we have acquired men like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and it has worked out OK. So hopefully it works out in a similar fashion.
Does nose tackle fall into the similar category where you need to acquire someone?
Yes, and inside linebacker and cornerback and offensive line. Seriously.
Do you expect Casey Hampton to be 100 percent for the start of the season?
He is a possible PUP candidate, but we are hopeful. We will see where all of that takes us.
Do you think the suspension for a full year was a little too harsh for Sean Payton?
No, I don't have an opinion on that in any way. I think the Commissioner has a tough job to do. I hadn't followed it really closely until yesterday, or the day before when I read his words about the investigation and his feelings about how it was handled. And when you read his words it is pretty clear that he is justifying his actions.
Do you have an update on Kirby Wilson?
I think progress is good. We are of course excited about it. He has been out of the hospital now for over a week. He is attacking the rehabilitation. He is an extremely tough guy, an extremely blessed guy and we are excited about getting him back at some point.
Do you take this time of year to look at what other teams are doing?
I don't, because I don't pay attention to the Jones'. I don't spend a lot of time at this time of year worrying about what is going on in other cities and on other teams. I just try to stay singularly focused on the development of our team and the acquisition of talent for our team, whether it is through free agency or the draft. There will be time for that, where we will look at the totality after the personalities have set, after other teams finish acquiring talent and drafting talent. That's when I really start looking at the acquisitions of opponents, after we start developing our group. So I really haven't done a lot of that to this point.
Why have the interior parts of the offensive line become so critical over the past few years?
I think not only in terms of play of course, but communication in that group starts inside to out. The identification of fronts, the picking up of pressure, all of those things generate inside to out, which makes the core of that group important, which makes it exciting for us because we think we have a really talented guy in Maurkice Pouncey, in the middle of our group.
What does Ben need to do to tweak his game?
He just needs to continue to evolve as a player, like all of our guys do, and I fully expected him to do that. Ben is a competitor, Ben is a professional. He is going to continue to work at it, he is not going to rest on past success, he is going to continue to chase dreams and goals, and I think the evolution of his game is a part of that.
Are we going to see him in the pocket a little more, getting rid of the ball a little quicker?
I think Ben is Ben and we are not going to ask him to be something he is not. I just think you are going to continue to see him game-evolve and mature, as he should.
As he gets older, obviously he is not as spry as he was, does that mean he can't do those kinds of things anymore outside of the pocket?
I don't think we are at that point. I think that point is somewhere in the future, you acknowledge that, he is probably one of the older guys we have on the offense, so there is something to be said for that. But I don't think we are to the point where he is diminishing physically to where we have to alter his game from that perspective.
Would you like to him minimize some of those hits?
It depends on the outcome of the play. If he runs around for seven seconds and throws a 70-yard touchdown, I like it. When he gets hit and injured, you don't' like it. So I will sincerely say it depends on the outcome of the play, and therein lies a dilemma in something that I embrace and that we all embrace. He has a unique skill set and it benefits us, it benefits him, so let's just continue to focus on utilizing it for good.
What do you think the nature of the Ben Roethlisberger-Todd Haley relationship will be?
I am not worried about right away. Often we look too quickly for short-term solutions. I think the more those two guys work closely, they will get an understanding of who they are, what their desires are from a professional standpoint, and I don't expect any issues in that regard. Through my experience with both men, I anticipate them getting along great because both men have a desire to be great at what they do, both guys are singularly focused on winning championships for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that is a great place to begin.
Have you internally paid more attention to the Mike Wallace situation?
I haven't, because obviously if another team is going to give him an offer, we will be allotted a certain amount of time to respond to that. But I haven't spent a lot of time anticipating anybody making an offer. We will cross that bridge when we come to it, if we come to it.
Re: Getting away for training camp:
Personally, I believe it's a critical part of team building. I am not going to pass judgment on how other people do business. That's their business. For us, coming together and getting in that training camp-like setting, old-school training camp-like setting, eating together, sleeping together, the fellowship and removing ourselves from some of the natural things we have to deal with as men and members of our community, I think it's good for the team building process. I think it helps us and I am glad we continue to do it.
Re: Rosters possibly being at 90 players for training camp:
We will see how it goes, as long as I don't have 80 and others have 90. Whatever the number, we will deal with it.
Do you think defenses will counter the passing attack in the NFL?
I think there always will be. I think there was a defense counter punch to the Wildcat. It was amazing. A few years ago we were here and we talked about the Wildcat. I bet you nobody has had a wildcat question today, because there was a counter punch defensively. That's the awesome thing about football. There are guys in labs right now, like Dick LeBeau, working and responding to things. The same thing can be said offensively to things that evolve defensively. That's what is exciting about our game, particularly at this level.
Re: The league making it easier for offenses:
I don't necessarily buy into that. People who are capable of playing good defense have a chance to win. I know. I've seen it first hand in our division, and the people we play against. People who play good defense have a chance to win.
When can you start meeting with players?
We can start the strength training and conditioning part of it on April 16. That is phase one. It has clearly been prescribed for us by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. There will be a period of time when we can start getting back into football a few weeks after that.
Could you give them playbooks right now?
We are not going to get into that. We are going to focus solely on the strength training and conditioning part of the program on April 16. That works for us, particularly in the situation we are in, because it gives us time to continue to develop our plan offensively. We have a new approach there.
When do you start OTAs?
It's going to be after the draft. I don't have the calendar in front of me. It's May 22. It's dictated for us.
Will you have a traditional minicamp?
It will be pushed towards the end, like the third week of June.
What does the next month bring?
It's getting ready for the draft, the war room and setting the draft board. It's the 30 visits you get prior to the draft. We will visit with the players and read the medical reports and medical call-backs. We will comb through the free agents to try to find value. It's about starting the process of making sure our guys are highly conditioned so when we start the process of playing football, they will be ready to do so.
Are you happy with your compensatory picks?
I am always happy.
Are you happy you got three?
I don't understand the formula. We always make light of it because I don't. It's always a mystery to me, but I will take the picks.