Labriola On

Tomlin on 'a spark,' audibles, rookie RBs

Q. You said you made the switch to Devlin Hodges in the second half vs. Cincinnati because you were looking for a spark. When you’re thinking about that kind of a move, does the individual’s personality and how he’s viewed by his teammates play a part in actually providing the spark you’re looking for?
A. It really wasn’t about that individual. It was about the guys who were participating, and what I was not seeing from them. It was about a hope that he could change what was trending in terms of what I was looking at. So really it was not about Devlin, it was about I didn’t like what I was seeing from the offensive unit that was on the grass, and you have to give guys an opportunity to turn the tables if they’re capable.

Q. How does the quarterback do that?
A. Just by making a play. By putting a different set of eyes on the same plan, and a different interpretation in terms of how it plays out. We sent the same plays in, but often times a different set of eyes produces a different result, and that was what I was hopeful for.

Q. When playing with a young, inexperienced quarterback, what’s your philosophy in terms of them changing the play at the line of scrimmage?
A. We want to eliminate a lot of the pre-snap thinking for them. If there’s a play change, it’s done within the guidelines with which we’ve prescribed, and all he has to do is acknowledge what he’s looking at or the trigger that changes the play. But unilaterally allowing him to change the play and pull from an infinite menu, you’re asking for trouble, you’re complicating his day. He has enough problems just executing what’s required at the quarterback position. And that goes beyond inexperienced guys. That goes for most guys. It’s a discussion when you have a guy who’s capable of doing what you suggest. The vast majority of guys – not only here but globally in this game – need that type of assistance from coaches, and we don’t mind providing it. That’s our job.

Q. When it comes to rookie running backs and their ability to contribute quickly in the NFL, what aspect of the job are they most able to perform quickly?
A. The natural things, the instinct related things, the things associated with the ball in their hands and specifically carrying the ball. Those are the things they’ve done all their lives. There are a lot of adjustments at every position as you transition from level to level of football, and that’s no different at the running back position, particularly in pass protection and the complexities in the passing game, whether it’s route-running and so forth. I think the thing that really comes natural to them, and the place where they find comfort, is when they have the ball in their hands and they’re doing what they’ve always done.

Q. You have talked about ball placement. What do you mean by that when it comes to a running back?
A. Ball placement is the desired place in which you want the ball to hit based on the contour of the defense and the offensive call. A back’s ability to find that place is significant in terms of run game efficiency and the percentage in which they hit it. The vast majority of the time, they have to find that space, but we’re talking a 98 percentile back as opposed to an 89 percentile back. That’s a significant difference in terms of how it plays out in yardage.

Q. Is it the responsibilities in the passing game the thing a rookie running back finds most difficult to learn in order to put himself in a position to contribute quickly?
A. Depending on where they come from and their role within those environments. It was not as much of a chore for Jaylen Samuels because that was his niche at North Carolina State. They had a two-back system, and he was the back who performed in passing circumstances, whether it was catching the 71 balls he caught in his last year, or the protection that came in the times when they didn’t have him out in the route. He was a practicing third down back even prior to coming into the NFL. So largely, blanket statements, yes, most have a lot of room for growth in the passing game with the exception of players like Jaylen, which is where he carved out a niche.

Q. Staying with the running back position, what does it mean when it’s said that the back got what was blocked?
A. It means he did nothing special. He didn’t do anything to add to run-game efficiency, or to that play. Getting what’s blocked most of the time is viewed as a negative, and rightfully so. You want to win the line of scrimmage, and that’s the job of the offensive line. You want to have run-game efficiency, and that’s 4-yard runs, and that’s based on winning the line of scrimmage and ball placement. You want to be explosive, and that’s running back ability and perimeter blocking. So you want it all in the development of your running game, and the back has some specific responsibilities within that, which are ball placement and then being dynamic beyond that. And when a guy is getting what’s blocked, he’s lacking that dimension of explosion.

Q. Today’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, have a couple of high draft picks starting at cornerback. Denzel Ward was the fourth overall pick of the first round in 2018, and Greedy Williams was a high second-round pick in 2019. When you look at their individual skill-sets, are they similar players, or would you look at them as more complementary?
A. They’re complementary players. Having scouted both players, I have a lot of respect for Denzel Ward’s awareness. He’s one of those guys who makes plays because of his eyes. He has a really good feel for the game, he’s a very capable zone defender. He made some interceptions in his very first professional game against us a year ago because of that vision. Greedy is a bump guy, an Ike Taylor type. He’s a receiver eliminator. He’s a bump-and-run cover guy and is very good at that and is probably less of a zone player and more of a man player.

Q. Browns inside linebacker Joe Schobert has had two interceptions in each of their last two games. Have they been deploying him differently to get him more involved in pass coverage, or is he on a hot streak?
A. He’s on a hot streak. They’re not deploying him any differently, but to call it a hot streak is probably disrespectful to his capabilities. He’s getting some splash and getting some splash of late, but it’s no fluke. This guy is a top-quality player, and we have a lot of respect for him. We got an up-close look at him when we coached in the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago. He’s a college teammate of T.J. Watt, and so we have inside intel in terms of his level of athleticism. T.J. has a lot of respect for him, not only as a player and a man but also as a high-grade athlete.

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