Labriola On

Tomlin on backup QB, closeness, varsity

Q. The team broke camp yesterday, and so how would you characterize your time at Saint Vincent College, and what do you feel was accomplished?
A. I thought it was excellent. I always think that it is. I'm a proponent of destination camps. I see the value in it. There's tangible work that needs to be done in environments like this in terms of taking 90 players to 53, divisions of labor, schematic personality development and all those things. But we play the ultimate team game, and I think there are some intangible things that happen in environments like this. The togetherness, the mutual respect, the understanding, the legitimate closeness. I think being in an environment like this at Saint Vincent College and in Latrobe is awesome for that. We're in the minority now in the National Football League – only four teams go away to camp, and quite frankly, I view it as a winning edge. But the journey itself either confirms or denies that, and so I just really feel good about our positioning, and I look forward to us making that a true statement.

Q. You often have talked about the benefits that you see of a destination camp, and you just mentioned the Steelers are in the minority now. And also, there were two summers related to COVID when you had training camp at Acrisure Stadium and yet in 2022 you came back to Saint Vincent. Why do you think the Steelers are in the minority when it comes to going to a destination training camp?
A. There are certain things in today's game that make a destination camp a little bit more cumbersome. There are workplace rules and regulations in terms of the amount of time you can work people during the course of a business day that didn't exist years ago, when most teams were doing destination camps. And so there are some things to manage from a daily scheduling perspective, and what the players do with their free time and so forth. But man, Saint Vincent and Latrobe are just so nice and isolated for those things that you don't worry about that down-time being a negative thing. It ends up being a good thing, because guys are sitting around picnic tables, discussing football-related things or life-related things and I just think it has been really good for us. But all environments are different. I imagine if you're in a major city with those things, it's probably a little bit of a different discussion. I think there's a lot of layers to that discussion and a lot of reasons why, but the continuity of this relationship and the proximity of Latrobe to Pittsburgh and the setting at Saint Vincent is just really perfect for team-building.

Q. When drills were happening simultaneously on different fields at Saint Vincent, what goes into your decision as to which one to watch?
A. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the bigger the men that's the drill I'm going to. I recognize the power of my presence. I value big people. The big people on our team in particular are going to play a significant role in terms of the outcome of us, and so I show them that respect by being with them when things go down. Just about daily when we do 7-on-7, for example, we'll do O-line vs. D-line pass rush, and you will almost always see me at pass rush. I'm gonna be with the bigs. Forget the littles. Football is a big man's game, and I just want my actions to match my words, and I understand what my presence means. And so I'm gonna be with the bigs.

Q. What qualities does Mitch Trubisky have that allow him to handle the role of NFL backup quarterback?
A. He's got experience as a franchise quarterback. I think first and foremost that experience he had in Chicago – forget whether it was positive or negative, or the perceptions of it – that guy walked in that building every day with the responsibility of being a franchise quarterback. He's not speculating what that feels like and what that means. That positions him to be a great support to Kenny. Secondly, it's not unfamiliar territory when called upon for him to deliver, and so that experience I value. I view it very similar to Charlie Batch's experience in Detroit before he came to Pittsburgh. I see the value in that. Byron Leftwich had walked around Jacksonville as a franchise guy. I just think it's an awesome component of a resume for your backup. When they have been that guy and they've been saddled with that responsibility, it provides perspective for them that allows them to be legitimate support to the starter, and then it also makes them calm in the midst of the storm. When a "backup" is called upon they have a resume that allows them to say, "Hey, settle down, I got this."

Q. What kinds of adjustments does that role require, since the guys who make it to the NFL level never have been backups at any level of the sport in their lives? Does he have to change his approach?
A. I don't believe that. I believe that these guys are ultra-competitors. I don't think there's any less urgency or competitiveness in him. I understand the nature of your question, but I think the same could be said about all of these guys. Those guys covering kicks, they were captains of their college teams and they were out front. They were not covering kicks at their college teams. I imagine Miles Killebrew was the absolute most dangerous guy ever to come through Southern Utah, for example. There's a lot of that in professional sports. The sixth man on NBA teams have probably never been the sixth man, and I'm sure that's an adjustment in mentality and so forth. When the air gets thin and rare, things happen. And that's what happens when you're at the highest level of competition in any endeavor.

Q. I want to talk to you a little bit about what I perceive to be the closeness of this team. I was on campus every day during training camp, watched every practice, and I have seen these interactions between players all over campus. In the weight room chatting and interacting, goofing around between sets of lifts, maybe even giving each other a hard time about the music being played. On the practice field, players lingering after it's over and congratulating each other on the day's work, and it's even offensive guys interacting that way with defensive guys. Where does this come from?
A. It has been an agenda of ours, particularly in this training camp that those things you mentioned, that intangible quality that makes up team I don't believe is a mystical thing. I don't want to hope that it develops, I don't want to watch it develop. I want to create it. I want us as individuals and as a collective to own the responsibility of the creation of those things. Whether it's the creation of a good day, or whether it's the creation of a brotherhood that represents team, we own that. And so we've just been talking openly about it as a team, that when we walk in the door or we address a day, we decide whether that's going to be a good day or not. We intentionally create good days with our attitude, our approach to business with our consideration of others, and so, we've just been talking openly about it. We've been failing some and when we fail, we talk about the failure. When it goes well, we acknowledge that. I just never want the outcome of games to be a mystical thing. Sometimes it becomes a mystical thing in team sport endeavors, because individuals feel like there's a loss of control. I want these guys to know as individuals that they have control of these days, that they have control of the creation of this environment. They've got control of the brunt of the creation of the brotherhood by what it is that they do. Control of their level of professionalism and their level of consideration and respect that they have for those they work with and what they're trying to get done and what we're trying to get done. And that it's all in an effort to produce a consistent winner. I don't want to be a group that believes in the superstition thing that oftentimes rules sport – "You won three or four games in a row, so you're due a loss. Or you lost three or four games in a row, so you're due a win." No. Uh-uh. Each of those performances stand on its own. You create them. There is no mystique. It's the work that we do. And to me, that's how you create an environment where you produce a consistent winner, or the type of approach that produces consistent winning. That's what we desire here. Football is our game. Our job is to win.

Q. Is this particular group extra special in regard to the closeness of it?
A. That will be determined by the journey. It is easy to display some of the things that you've mentioned right now when we sit here undefeated. The wear and tear associated with the journey, the physical wear and tear, the mental wear and tear, all of those things have a way of eroding away at that agenda.

Q. Tonight is the second of your three preseason games, and so in what areas of the team's performance do you expect to see improvement based on the fact this is their second time in a stadium?
A. The things that the first exposure should provide them. I think it's reasonable to expect us to have 11 men on the grass doing what it is they're supposed to do at all times. We had 12 on the field in one instance last week. OK, first time out, third group, you hate it, but OK. It's reasonable to expect that to be zero because of that experience. It's reasonable to expect guys to show more in game awareness and have more fluid and professional communications. I want to see coaches adjust more fluidly and communicate in that way. Some of the things that only happen in-stadium that I expect to see are us being aware and weaponizing play-clocks, where this disguise is on defense or anticipating the snap count or whether it's gathering information offensively. It's kind of those things that aren't necessarily surface-level discussions but we all know in this business are major components of development. This second lap around the track is like the second-year player. We expect a significant jump from them, so it's reasonable to expect a significant jump with your second outing in a venue with this collective.

Q. Sean McDermott said on Thursday that QB Josh Allen and the starters will play a quarter and a half. Does the way the opposing coach handles his personnel during a preseason game impact or influence how you might decide to handle your personnel during that preseason game?
A. It never does, but I am always appreciative when they play their really good players. I just think that we want varsity action, and whether or not I have my first unit out there or my second unit out there, it's good action. Particularly when will you get an opportunity to see your 2s against someone's 1s, that's good business. I'm excited about that. And I think you know that Sean and I come from the same school, we got raised by legendary William & Mary Coach Jimmy Laycock. It doesn't surprise me that he has a commitment to growth and development, even with his established players. I share that same belief.

Q. Will there be guys who had been running with the JVs in the preseason opener get a shot with the varsity tonight against the Bills?
A. There will always be some of that, but I think it'll be probably more evident and defined in Week 3 of the preseason because you should anticipate that maybe Atlanta's varsity is going to run longer next week, and there's a progress to varsity exposure. There are very few varsity opportunities in Week 1. There are more opportunities in Week 2. There's an anticipation that there could be even more in Week 3. So the question that you suggest is probably more evident next week, because there are simply more opportunities to elevate a guy who's distinguishing himself in some of those other things. I'll be really transparent with you: Keeanu Benton is a guy who looked pretty good in the JV game. I'm gonna be excited over the course of the next week, trying to see if he can display some skills in a varsity game. Because if that's a young man who's going to make our team, and obviously we drafted him in the second round with the mindset that he was going to make our team, we need to know what it's going to look like before we face the San Francisco 49ers.

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