Labriola On

Tomlin on Boswell, Hermann, volume, Gronk

Q. The team had something of a competition for the placekicking job this week. How did that go?
A. That was a unique experience, but sometimes tough circumstances put you in unique situations. I like what we were able to get done. I thought it was necessary. I also thought it was helpful from this standpoint: the position that Chris Boswell was in, he needed to earn his way into the stadium this weekend. We had an opportunity to bring in some credible kickers. We worked those guys out. Boz did his normal work during the week, and then we put ourselves in the very best position we could be in as we walked into the stadium today, which is having the ball going through the uprights. We were open to that being Boz, and we were open to that not being Boz. I think from that perspective it was fair given the situation we were in. This time of the year, if someone is unemployed they’re unemployed for a reason, and so we were hopeful that Boz would deliver. He delivered to a level of expectation, and so now we walk into the stadium doing more than hoping the ball goes through the uprights. We’ve taken some tangible actions to increase that hope, to have something to hold onto – not only for Boz but for us collectively as a team.

Q. Usually when teams stage that kind of competition, the incumbent doesn’t get a chance to compete. Did giving Chris Boswell that opportunity have more to do with his history with this team, or with the fact there isn’t a lot out there in mid-December?
A. It was more the reality of where we are. It’s December and we’re in the National Football League. Again, our point was not to shoot a hostage or to assign blame. We all are responsible for our current position. All of us, starting with me. Boz is just an element of it, and so the appropriate thing for us to do was to walk into the stadium this weekend with the very best capable man for the job. If it happened to be Boz, so be it, and obviously in this case it is.

Q. Shaun Suisham was at practice on Thursday to work with Boswell. Did you talk to Shaun after that practice to get his feedback on what he saw that day?
A. I just talked to Shaun socially. Good to see you. How’s life? I think it’s good from time to time to have this network that we have, this reservoir that we have to call upon, guys who are Steelers, guys who have been legitimate supporters of this current group, guys who have done the job and been inside the helmet. Shaun’s experiences allow him to relate to some of the issues that Boz is going through, and I just thought it would be beneficial and helpful for them to spend some time kicker to kicker, if you will. We’ve done that over the years in a variety of ways, and it’s cool to watch those relationships extend beyond the formal introduction into other things. I remember introducing Maurkice Pouncey to Dermontti Dawson, probably a day after we drafted him, and to hear the depths of their relationship some years later is just another awesome byproduct of this Steelers organization.

Q. You also brought in longtime linebackers coach Jim Hermann this past week to help at practice. What was the thinking behind that?
A. It’s really just allowing an unemployed coach to visit. I don’t necessarily view it as helping with practice, to be honest with you. I’m old-school. Visiting coaches are part of old-school ball. We’ve brought in Monte Kiffin in the past. We brought in a guy named Don Yanowsky, which probably didn’t register on the radar because the name isn’t familiar. We’ve also had a special teams assistant in here twice already this year by the name of Todd Yoder. Again, that probably didn’t register because that’s not a household name. It’s standard football operations for us, guys we have intimate relationships with, guys who are football coaches who are out of the loop, if you will. It gives you an opportunity to keep them close to the game, and if they can glean some information and it helps them as they move onto their next opportunity, and if they have some information or insight that can help us. We do it big in the spring. We do it big in Latrobe. We do it in-season on a much smaller scale because of the intimacy of the information and so forth. And those people are guys with whom I have personal relationships. Jim and I go way back – he was the defensive coordinator at Michigan when I coached in the Midwest at the University of Cincinnati. We were on that same speaker circuit together, two young guys cutting our teeth in the profession.

Q. During the media availability this week for the coordinators, Keith Butler was explaining that because of Tom Brady’s skill, experience, and knowledge of football, a defense has to have essentially two game plans prepared because if something is successful in the first half, he’ll adapt and it won’t be successful in the second half. From the standpoint of the defense, how does it work trying to come up with two plans for one game, and then install them and drill them on the practice field?
A. What he’s talking about with two plans, it’s not two distinctly different plans. What he’s saying is that you need volume. And volume is potentially uncomfortable for us coaches from time to time, because the more volume you have the less time you have to hammer out really intricate details within those calls. You can’t run out of calls against a guy like Tom Brady, you just can’t. And so you have to walk that tightrope of having enough volume, and within that, you also have to be able to execute that volume at an acceptable level. That’s what he means when he’s outlining the two game plans – he’s talking specifically about the volume of calls you better be prepared to execute. But the caveat is you better be able to execute at an acceptable level, because the guy at the other end of those calls is Tom Brady. That’s the challenge, but it’s also the same challenge when you see a guy like Philip Rivers, and that was the discussion we were having the other week when we didn’t have enough volume because of the absence of Morgan Burnett and Cam Sutton. So that veteran quarterback, with a lack of volume, maybe has a chance to catch up with some of your schematics. It’s something you deal with from time to time, and it’s something you deal with going against quality, veteran quarterbacks. It’s a tightrope, it’s a judgment, it’s a decision we all weigh in terms of what we put on our game plan sheet.

Q. Are the differences dramatic, or subtle?
A. It’s interesting how you define dramatic, or subtle. Sometimes subtle changes can have dramatic outcomes. Although it is subtle, we as coaches understand that the potential outcome could be dramatic, and that’s why we talk the way that we do in terms of the urgency of those types of decisions. They’re subtle. It may be two or three different calls in a situation. You’re looking at a third-down call sheet and you’re talking about adding two or three additional calls. Well, you have to rep those two or three additional calls several times over the course of the week to make sure you can execute it at an acceptable level. Then you may or may not get an opportunity through game flow to utilize that time spent. From a coach’s standpoint, it’s just the things you weigh as part of game planning. It’s the part, quite frankly, that’s really challenging and enjoyable from a strategy standpoint.

Q. Do you have to do that for your offense, too?
A. No question. No question. On offense, you dictate more, you have more control over what direction you take the game in terms of pace, in terms of personnel groups, but again, you better have enough. That’s the whole key – if we’re really looking for a common theme in this discussion in terms of just Football 101, you better have enough, but sometimes enough is too much in terms of getting the quality of execution you need to win vs. good people.

Q. You spoke openly at your news conference about the Steelers difficulty in dealing with Rob Gronkowski. Has anything ever worked for any team?
A. It just depends upon at what expense. Obviously, people have worked and are capable of working to minimize him. Maybe it comes at the expense of someone else’s performance. Maybe it comes at the expense of the running game. They’re a well-balanced outfit. They’re a well-balanced outfit because they have good players. They’re a well-balanced outfit because of who’s under center for them and his ability to diagnose what he’s looking at and distribute the ball. So you can go all in, if you so choose on minimizing Gronk, but there are consequences of it, and that’s just the reality of ball. You have to be thoughtful about it. You’ve got to minimize him at those moments. You have to spin the dial. You have to spin the dial on him. That’s just life in the National Football League when you’re talking about unique people, particular at the tight end position. There are several in today’s game who come in the mold of Gronk, if you will. That guy in Kansas City (Travis Kelce) being one who pops into my mind immediately.

Q. What do you think of your team right now, with three weeks left in this regular season?
A. I think we’re scalded, and appropriately so. There should be pain and hurt and discomfort and anger with the recent result of some of our games, but we also have to understand the position we’re in, which is first place in the AFC North. So there’s no need to look around, there’ s no need to hope and wish for assistance from others. We have control of this thing as it moves forward. Our preparation, our play, the outcome of games. Those are our intentions, that’s our outlook, but I acknowledge we’re doing it in a scalded manner. We’re doing it with the lumps associated with our recent performances. Hopefully, we utilize that in a positive manner as we step into the stadium today. I know that’s our mind-set.

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