Tomlin on angst, bell cows, Batman & Robin

Q. In talking about Kevin Dotson at your news conference you said, "There is some angst there, so if he is called upon this week, it is going to take a tremendous effort by him and by us. And by us, I mean us putting him in the very best position to perform, so there is some dual responsibility there." How do you put a right guard in the very best position to perform?
A. We're just thoughtful about the schematics, or the play selection that we call. Some plays challenge individuals or individual positions more than others, and so we have control over that. You can run play-action passing game that insures that he has help. You also can run play-action passing game that puts him on an island. So when you're working with a guy who has the level of inexperience that he has, I just wanted to make the point that we're not putting him out there and hoping for the best. We're engaged in his first-time playing process with him, and that we're doing things thoughtfully to raise the floor to give him a solid chance of performing at a high level.

Q. In a situation where you have to put a rookie into a regular season game, is the angst more about the physical demands he'll be facing or the mental ones?
A. Surely, it's the mental demands. These guys are here because of their physical talent. They're all above the line from a physical talent standpoint. The things they lack with regards to in-game play are experience, the experience and the knowledge that comes with the experience where they can anticipate and have some sense of what situational ball means and how that narrows the field in terms of the things they have to deal with. It's those experience things that only playing the game provides you, but everyone has to start somewhere. We don't let that slow us down in terms of the process, we just move forward thoughtfully in an effort to best support him.

Q. Zach Banner had surgery on his knee on Friday and was placed on the injured reserve list. Have you spoken to him about his situation, about his future, offered any words of encouragement about what he's going to be facing over the next several months?
A. I have and we've spoken very openly. We talk about the things we talk about collectively all the time. It's not about what happens to you, it's about how you respond to it. It's unfortunate that he has the knee injury, but the most important thing as we sit here today is how he responds to it, how he fights through recovery and rehabilitation, and I'm excited about watching him reveal his character through his actions.

Q. When it comes to the division of labor for running backs, why are you in favor of the "bell cow" approach?
A. Because I believe in most cases backs warm up to the action over the course of the game, meaning they find a level of comfort, they see the holes more fluidly, they understand the nature of some of their physical matchups, and they get to wage the war of attrition on potential or would-be tacklers. The guys who have feature runner characteristics all bring those type of characteristics to play, and so you want to give them an opportunity to get in that flow and to get in that rhythm and to see that manifest itself in how they carry the football. I thought it showed over the course of the game with Benny Snell last week against the Giants. Between carry No. 10 and carry No. 19, you really saw an extreme level of comfort in his play and vision and ball placement, and thus in his production.

Q. Did Benny Snell do anything in the opener to make you either reconsider the "bell cow" approach, or make you think about who the "bell cow" should be?
A. I think he has stated a solid case for himself not only on Monday night but throughout this whole process. Any of us who had the opportunity to watch team development at Heinz Field, and I know it wasn't open to the public, what he did Monday night was very reminiscent of how he's been throughout this entire process. We are cognizant of his capabilities, and we do plan to utilize him, but we still have a "bell cow" mentality. We acknowledge, like it was on Monday night, that it could be him on any given week.

Q. Are there "bell cows" on defense, and who would he or they be on this team?
A. It's the animal who hunts the running back – it's the all-situations linebacker. It's Devin Bush for us now. It was Ryan Shazier before him. Often times those are the guys who carry the green dot in terms of coach-to-player communication, because they are in the game in all circumstances and just about all personnel packages. So the all-situations linebacker is the counterpart to that "bell cow" running back.

Q. The play that T.J. Watt made on his second quarter interception against the Giants, did he freelance and drop back into coverage there, or was that his assignment based on the defense?
A. I think freelancing would be a mis-description of it. He was scheduled to rush on the down, but as an edge rusher we give him the latitude to pull out when he sees or feels rhythm passing, and that's the passing that happens so quick that the rush becomes irrelevant anyway. And often that's indicated by formation structure, by the sets of the protectors, and things of that nature. T.J. is a very aware player, so he picked up on some rhythm passing clues and he aborted his rush and put himself in the throwing lane, and that's one of the many reasons why we moved him to left outside linebacker. Just that level of awareness puts him in position to affect the game in ways like that. Against right-handed rhythm passers, he has an opportunity to bat or intercept passes, as well as mis-direction passing that occurs in a lot of offenses that go to the right. His awareness and cognitive abilities really help him and help us in play.

Q. What did you see in Bud Dupree a few years ago that indicated he would turn into the kind of player he has become?
A. He brings a work ethic that's really consistent. He's a craftsman, meaning he works at the skills of his trade and has continually improved them. He was a hybrid player at Kentucky. He played outside linebacker, but he did a lot of things. He had a lot of room for growth in some of the technical expertise, and he has been consistent in improving those over the course of his stay here, and I think that's why we've seen the continual rise in his production to match his awesome talent. All the roads are converging, if you will, and he's a guy in his mid-to-late 20s and it's coming together for him and coming together for him in a big way.

Q. This tandem of outside linebackers you have right now could be your best since James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley of 2008 vintage. About those two, you once said Harrison was Batman and Woodley was Robin. Of this duo, who's Batman?
A. I think the story is still out on those guys. It depends on what night they play. Last Monday night, Bud looked a lot like Batman. But we've been in a lot of stadiums, obviously, where T.J. is Batman. That's what you want. You want 1 and 1a, you want the type of tandem that people can't game plan for, that has guys they have to respect equally. I would imagine that the tape those two are putting out consistently these days merit that type of discussion and consideration.

Q. Mike Munchak spent five seasons here as your offensive line coach, and now he holds the same job with the Broncos. Is there anything, any calls you have to change as a result?
A. No. Not really. The plan of the game is the plan of the game. I respect Munch and his knowledge and his capabilities and his expertise as it pertains to line play, but I would imagine Munch has spent his week preparing to block Bud and T.J. and not necessarily helping their defense deal with some of the things their defense has to deal with.

Q. Is there information Munchak can share about players or schemes that could have an impact on Sunday's outcome?
A. There's potentially some information, but there's a lot of fluidity in today's game. There are players coming and going. We had Paxton Lynch here and he came from Denver, for example, and that's just part of today's game, particularly when there is intimate knowledge about those you compete against because we are such a small fraternity from a coaching standpoint. Regardless of whether Munch is working for us or Denver, I know his philosophical approach to line play, to run game development, just like he knows my philosophical approach to elements of play. When you have relationships with people around the league over time and the movement associated with our game at this level, that intimate knowledge is really kind of commonplace. It might merit some attention because Munch was here for five years, and that's just the type of fodder or commentary that happens in terms of play-by-play, but you can tell that story any and every week. Last week, we played the New York Giants. Amos Jones spent five or six years here in a special teams capacity, for example, and I'm sure you could say that again and again in subsequent weeks if you were looking for an argument along those lines.

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