Labriola On

Tomlin on Boswell, helping OTs, Ray-Ray

Q. During your tenure as the Steelers coach, you have been involved in a few of those midseason placekicker tryouts that were made necessary by an injury. When you are involved in those, what are you looking for from a candidate before offering him a contract?
A. The ability to perform in competitive circumstances. As funny as it sounds, it's a challenging environment, specifically for a kicker. We're in an empty stadium. I, Kevin Colbert, standing within his personal space analyzing everything that he does. Generally, a guy's ability to perform under those circumstances is a pretty good indication of his ability to perform in game circumstances. I remember the tryout when we ran across Boz (Chris Boswell). I think we had three kickers in that day, and he really kind of dealt with our presence and the unusualness of those circumstances significantly better than the others. And that's why we chose him, and that's played out. There's not a challenging kicker circumstance that he does not embrace. And I think that's one of the things that makes him one of the best at what he does.

Q. You said that you and Kevin would get in the kickers' personal space and evaluate everything he does. Are you doing that out loud so he can hear you?
A. Certainly. Think about when you're kicking in a game. There's not anybody outside of the holder in your personal space. And so we create this discomfort thoughtfully. We get into personal space, but we also do it with a function. We're trying to get a sense of their leg power, how the ball comes off the foot, etc. The approach, the fluidity and consistency of it. So, there's certainly some things to evaluate that require you to be up close and personal.

Q. You mentioned the tryout where Chris Boswell ended up winning the tryout and getting offered a contract. What do you remember specifically about that day?
A. I don't remember anything specific other than the fact I thought he was he was cool in the face of the adversity that I outlined. He was focused, but not hyper-focused. He was focused but not robotic. It was a comfort in watching him perform in that manner in those conditions. And it really was a deciding factor for us.

Q. When you're working him out and he's doing well, but it's the middle of a season, and so do you ever stop and think, "Am I missing something here with this guy? Why does this guy not have a job in the league?"
A. I go into those situations with the understanding that guys are unemployed for a reason. But also, there's opportunity in this game and sometimes one man's misfortune is simply another man's opportunity. And that's how a backup becomes a starter, or that's how someone gets a job, and you need to start somewhere. So I'm cognizant of the fact that there's a reason these guys are unemployed, but I'm also hopeful that it might be a catalyst or the start of something good for them and for us, whoever it is we choose to do business with.

Q. During his first three seasons, Boswell converted 85-of-95 field goal attempts, which is a percentage of 89.5. Then in his fourth season, he slumped to 13-of-20 field goal attempts, which is 65 percent. What was it that allowed you to continue to believe in him?
A. His performance (in 2018) wasn't where we wanted it to be, or where he wanted it to be, but he never lacked in confidence. He never wore it. You didn't feel it when you were in his presence over the course of a work week, and that gave us enough belief to press on. He believed in himself, and so we believed in him.

Q. Do you have any interaction with your placekicker over the course of a game, such as what he believes is his range based on that particular day's conditions?
A. We have a lot of interaction, yes. Formal, informal, sometimes banter, sometimes getting his perspective on wind conditions and things of that nature because he's more keenly locked in on some of that stuff when I'm multitasking. It's a myriad of things.

Q. As an example, was there any discussion with Boswell leading up to that 54-yard attempt in the fourth quarter against the Bears?
A. I go into the stadium, I go into any game circumstance with a pre-existing mind-set about what distance he can function, and all I want to hear from him or Danny Smith is if that's untrue. And so it minimizes some of that banter and talk. I go in assuming a certain distance, and all I want to know is if we need to have a discussion to alter that, and usually we do not.

Q. Is he honest about his limitations?
A. There's not a kick that guy doesn't want or think he's capable of making. So I don't ask. I don't. I don't ask him about distances and so forth. The only question I'll ask is, "What hash do you want the ball on?"

Q. What do you expect from a placekicker in terms of performance – what's the Mendoza Line?
A. I think you've got to make 45-yard kicks routinely. Those are professional kicks. That mid-40s, mid-40-something yard kick is a kick that has to go up and down with an appropriate level of consistency. I think that's critical. And I also think that the kickoff element of it is something that needs to be evaluated as well. I don't care if people are outstanding in that area, but there's a certain floor that you've got to have, where you're not presenting people with short fields all the time because the ball is being returned to the 30-35-yard line, because you lack distance or hang-time on kickoffs.

Q. When it comes to kickoffs, are you OK with just kicking it out of the end zone every time, or do you want to put the ball in play occasionally?
A. It depends on our planning. We make plans week to week. The challenges are different based on personnel and schematics. Sometimes fatigue is a factor if we have a lot of snaps in the game from a special teams standpoint, or we've kicked off eight, nine times and you want to preserve or protect your guys from that element of it, too. Then it's, Boz, bang it out (of the end zone).

Q. In each of the games in your current four-game winning streak, the opponent has scored more points and gained more yards after halftime than they managed in the first half. What were the factors that contributed to that?
A. I don't know. I hadn't analyzed it, to be quite honest with you. I would imagine we've done the same, but I don't know that. I imagine that's probably a consistent trend within the game. As you get more exposure, familiarity with what people are doing defensively, particularly if they're a small menu group you have an opportunity to function and work in a more efficient manner as the game unfolds. I don't know that. I hadn't spent a lot of time analyzing it.

Q. But you do grade the video of each performance. Did you sense there was any drop-off in play in the second halves defensively?
A. I think there are mistakes in first half, I think there are mistakes in the second half. When I look at the tape from an evaluation standpoint, there are too many mistakes on our video in general, and I think that's why we're giving up yards and points as you mentioned. But I don't think it's anything relative to halftime. I'd like to minimize it in all four quarters, to be honest with you.

Q. When your team takes a lead into halftime, do you spend any time talking about or trying to prepare for what the other team might try and do in the second half, or are you strictly focused on your team?
A. We have those conversations regardless of whether we're ahead or behind, and we talk about what it is we need to do. Maybe it's in terms of our planning, whether it's adjustments, or things to get out in front of in terms of potential adjustments our opponents might make, forecasting some of their moves. In general, procedural things that really have very little bearing on who's leading at the particular time is routine discussion.

Q. If I said Minkah Fitzpatrick played his best game of this season last Monday night against the Bears, would I be wrong?
A. I don't have the answer to that. I know he played well, and I know it's not the first time he's played well. His tackling has been really solid. He makes the critical plays in the critical moments. I think about the play he made against Jarvis Landry two weeks ago in Cleveland. I thought he played really good football in Cleveland as well. He's been consistently playing well. I know there has been some discussion regarding interceptions, but I've been really pleased with his level of play. And I just trust and know that the interceptions and things that people somewhat measure his position by are going to come. It's just like a pass-rusher who's playing well who might not have an impressive sack total. You still know that he's playing well, but those who define him, particularly from the outside, in the media, define pass-rushers by the sack total. But it's not reflective of how they're playing globally.

Q. You mentioned Minkah and the (lack of) interceptions. That does seem to be the way people on the outside judge his play. How do you judge it?
A. By his play. By all the things that we ask him to do. Middle of the field, half field, man-to-man, tackling. He plays a well-rounded game. We ask him to do a lot of things, but he has the talents to do them.

Q. For the lack of a better phrase, is he the quarterback of the secondary in terms of getting people where they need to be?
A. Without question. Without question.

Q. Is that a job description for his position? Or is he just uniquely qualified for that?
A. You better have someone who's capable of that, ideally someone who's in the middle of the action and plays in the free safety position, which he does. But I would imagine he would be that guy even if he wasn't in that position, because he just has an aptitude for it. He's a detail guy. He's a good communicator. He digests football very well.

Q. Are you getting what you need from your inside linebackers?
A. Man, I don't know if I'm getting everything I need from anyone. That's a funny question. Ask me that in three months. You know what I mean? We need more. We need more from those guys. But we need more from everyone. I don't know how I can appropriately answer that question. I get what you mean, but no, we absolutely want more.

Q. OK, what do you want from them?
A. I want knock-back tackles. I want splash in the passing game. I want tight coverage. I want the energy that's required to be the front hub of communication. I want good fluid communication, pre-snap and so forth, and so we'll be forever searching for means of getting those eight pounds in that five-pound bag. It's a lot that position is called to do. We got one guy coming off an injury, and we got another guy who's new to us. So, there's a lot of work to be done.

Q. From a schematic standpoint, what can be done to help an offensive tackle with pass protection?
A. Positioning of eligibles, chipping their way out, whether it's tight ends or the positioning of receivers and bunches around the tackle box area. Whether it's off-set running backs assisting, whether it's full slides of the line where (the tackle) can kick in vertical and know that he has interior help if somebody shoots an inside move. There's positioning of the people, there is schematics, there are a lot of options in terms of helping him.

Q. Is it similar at all in how (helping the offensive tackle) impacts the rest of the unit to the way having a cornerback match up with a particular receiver impacts the rest of the defense?
A. Everything has a cost. If you help a tackle in protection, meaning a back is helping him, then then you've got four guys out in the route as opposed to five, and so there are consequences for all the decisions that you make regarding strategy.

Q. After the game, you called Ray-Ray McCloud's fumble on the punt unacceptable. Is something like that enough to cost a player his role?
A. We know when we're there. It's a feel thing. It's a gut thing. I have respect for analytics and things of that nature, but there are elements of this job in this game that are gut-related, and that's a neighborhood I know I'm in when I'm there.

Q. So, I imagine there's only one gut consulted in those situations?
A. Absolutely.

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