Labriola On

Tomlin on Ben, leverage on FGs, Cam

Q. There were some unique challenges provided to you and your team this week by COVID-19. How did the week go?
A. I'll let you know how the week went based on the outcome of the game. Needless to say, it was a challenging week, but it was something I think we have a certain level of preparedness for. We've acknowledged at the very outset of this journey that it wasn't going to be fluid, that we had to have a can-do attitude, that we needed to be light on our feet, and be able to utilize all of the tools and resources at our disposal to teach and to learn and to prepare. So we've modeled the process that we went through this week at different points during team development. So I have a high level of comfort in what we were able to get done, but we have to step into a stadium and deliver the goods, and that's when it's real.

Q. Your love for your job comes through every time you speak publicly, particularly about the preparation for an upcoming opponent. Do you get a little extra jolt when the opportunity presents itself to overcome some kind of adversity in doing your job, some adversity outside the norm?
A. I love it. I do. I think we as competitors, we all love it. We hate the process. It's been a challenging week, dealing with some of the uncertainties and some of the things we've had to deal with. But you love the competitive atmosphere that it creates. You love the opportunity to smile and to rise up in the face of adversity. Sometimes that adversity is created by your opponent, sometimes you create your own adversity, and sometimes it's just circumstantial. Regardless of how it's created, if you love to compete, you love to rise up against it.

Q. At your news conference on Tuesday, you made it clear that Ben Roethlisberger would start at quarterback against the Bengals provided he tested negative for COVID during his week in quarantine. Why was that an easy, automatic decision for you?
A. I've been through so many scenarios with Ben over the last 14 years. Some of them health and availability related that this is a drill we have been through before. The fact that his health is not a factor in his availability quite frankly makes it a more comfortable venture for me. So we've gone through what we needed to go through over the course of the week, and he's been engaged in a big way virtually. He has snap experience and 17 years of it, and so we're going to call on that and go into the stadium and play.

Q. I want to be clear that I am not asking you to comment on the officiating in the game against Dallas. During an appearance on the DVE Morning Show, Gene Steratore said the Cowboys were guilty of leverage violations on placement attempts by Chris Boswell. Can you explain what leverage is in that context?
A. They utilized a man to elevate themselves in an effort to get through a gap and/or block a kick, which is illegal. We all know it's illegal. We've just had issues in terms of getting it officiated consistently, and some of it probably has to do with vantage point. I'm not in those meetings, but I know that it's troublesome, particularly when it has the potential to be game-altering.

Q. Is that a player safety issue?
A. It is. And that's why the emphasis on the rule change for the jumper himself. That's just been a point of emphasis for us from a player safety initiative.

Q. Because of the fact there were no offseason programs or minicamps or preseason games in 2020, the belief was that it would be tough for rookies to assimilate and contribute early this year. Yet you have had three rookies – Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, and Kevin Dotson – each make meaningful contributions already this season. What has allowed that to happen?
A. Their talents, their attention to detail, their ability to learn in a variety of ways because some of it has been alternative learning, as we have mentioned. They deserve the credit, and it has been a challenging atmosphere to cultivate the development of the rookies, or rookies to get an opportunity to show themselves. We have several other rookies that we're pretty excited about, guys like Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks who haven't necessarily had their opportunities yet. But we're excited about what they're going to do for us moving forward as well.

Q. Of the three positions those rookies play – wide receiver, outside linebacker, guard – which is the most difficult to learn in the transition from college football to NFL football?
A. Probably the outside linebacker position, and the reason I say that is because Alex Highsmith played defensive end at Charlotte. When we've had Kevin Dotson rise up and play, he is doing exactly what he did at Louisiana, and when he was playing for David DeCastro he was playing the exact same position – right guard. As for Chase Claypool, there are receivers who come into the league every year and show that the transition from college to the pros is not a difficult one for that position. But for an outside linebacker, particularly a guy who was a non-dropper into coverage in college to make the transition that he has made and to make the type of plays we have seen him make as a dropper, an example being that interception in Baltimore, is an impressive thing.

Q. During a Zoom call with the media, defensive line coach Karl Dunbar referred to Cam Heyward as the "Pied Piper." I'm not going to ask you to speak for Karl Dunbar, but what kind of a leader is Cam Heyward?
A. Man, he's a hands-on leader. He's got intimate relationships with the guys he works with. He's also very open and welcoming. He opens up his home to players for rehabilitation and additional above-the-neck work, etc. He's very demanding, but he gives them as much as he asks for, and I think that's why guys love and respect him.

Q. You once said, maybe jokingly, that defensive backs aren't good choices to wear the green dot because "big guys don't like to listen to little guys" in the huddle. Does that apply in a similar way to leadership, in that words have more of an impact when they come from a big guy?
A. There's no question, especially when it's Cam Heyward's leadership style. When I say he's 'hands-on' I mean he's literally capable of being hands-on.

Q. Your team currently is on an eight-game winning streak to start this season. As the streak continues, does it get easier to get the necessary work done to continue the streak or does human nature tend to get in the way?
A. I'm able to get singularly focused and trick myself, and so it's "one week at a time" for me, but I'm not oblivious. I understand that young people particularly are capable of getting distracted, so we utilize all the tools at our disposal to get this group singularly, professionally focused at every turn throughout the course of the work week. I think those are the things that have allowed the eight games that you mentioned to happen, and so why change the formula? We're singularly focused on this AFC North battle we have today vs. Cincinnati, and it requires our attention if we're going to be successful.

Q. What are some of those tools that you referred to when you mentioned getting the group professionally focused?
A. To look at our tape. Your tape is the most significant teacher. You want to watch what the Cincinnati Bengals are watching this week, as an example, and analyze it and critique it to the level that they are. I think that's important. Often we spend a lot of time looking at opponent's tape, looking at their tendencies, their people, matchups and so forth. Often, particularly as you continually try to challenge yourself and get all the meat off the bone, the most significant tape to study, critique, analyze, alter, and build a plan for your next course of action is your tape. So that's one of the things we do, and that's one of the things we've done this week. We've looked at a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys video in an effort to learn from it.

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