Labriola On

Tomlin on Bush, O-line, heat, Leal

Q. Your time at Saint Vincent College has ended for the summer. After two years away from Latrobe as your training camp site, was the time spent there everything you expected it to be?
A. It was and then some. I'm just such an appreciator of the atmosphere and the environment and what it does for us from a team development standpoint. The informal time, the togetherness, the opportunities that guys get to know one another and gain an understanding and appreciation for one another is worth its weight in gold. You can't measure it, but we all acknowledge that good teams have it, and it's a component of getting out of stadiums, and that's why we pour into it. It has been a good experience.

Q. Will you go back there next year?
A. I'm sure we will, but that's up to Art Rooney II ultimately. That's above my pay-grade, but I'm all for destination camping for sure.

Q. What have you learned about your quarterbacks as a result of this process so far that you didn't know before?
A. Just how solid of guys they are. When you're competing the way that they're competing, it's challenging. But I just love how all three have handled it, how they've supported one another and been stand-up dudes, been good teammates throughout the process. And you can't say enough about that. I don't take that for granted, I value that. That spirit has aided the process and probably helped all of them from a performance standpoint.

Q. What boxes still need to be checked?
A. All of them. We've been in one stadium, and that's just the reality of it. Obviously, the sand is starting to run through the hourglass, but so many stories are going to be told over the course of the next couple of weeks. I would hesitate to say that any box is completely checked at this point in terms of being Sept. 11-type ready.

Q. There have been three inside linebackers rotating through the lineup with the first group – Devin Bush, Myles Jack, and Robert Spillane. Are you looking for two to emerge, or is it going to be a three-player division of labor there?
A. I'm for letting it sort itself out in terms of quality of play, but it's not only happening at that position, it's happening at the cornerback position where we've got Ahkello Witherspoon and Cam Sutton and Levi Wallace. We've got two guys working at left guard in Kendrick Green and Kevin Dotson, and so there are some of those things going on. And I've just learned over the years you keep snapping the football, and the play provides the clarity. And that's what I mean when I say we've got two additional weeks in front of us, and I'm committed to allowing the play to do the sorting.

Q. Devin Bush was productive as a rookie, I believe in many of the ways you had in mind when the team moved up in the draft to select him. A knee injury ruined his second season, and he appeared to be trying to re-discover himself last season. Where is he now in that process?
A. All the things that you outlined are accurate, and I think he's ready to move beyond that and be what he's capable of being. I know that has been the nature of our discussions, and so he's going through the process. He's competing, he's making some plays, and I'm excited about him answering some of those questions. We get challenged in this business at this level. This is just our life, and he's very cognizant of it. He's a guy who was born into this game, his dad played the professional game. He has a level of maturity in terms of understanding that component of it, and he realizes that his play is going to do the talking, and I appreciate that mentality,

Q. Are the remaining hurdles physical or mental?
A. I think he could be described as 100 percent healthy, and so the things that are the challenges for him are that confidence, that rhythm that comes when you're on top of your game, and he's working to find that.

Q. When a team declines to exercise the fifth-year option on a player's contract, as happened with Bush, is that a message?
A. I think It's beyond a message. It's business. Guys understand the business, and they understand what the business means. We didn't exercise the fifth-year option, and so it puts a lot of weight on performance this year for him. And he's embracing it, like others have before him.

Q. What are the elements that go into making that decision on the fifth-year option one way or the other?
A. You know, there are so many moving parts. It's not only the person involved, but it's the people around him, the makeup of our team, salary cap-like things. There are a lot of layers to that discussion.

Q. On the offensive line, you added a couple of veteran free agents to the interior, Kendrick Green moved from center and is now working at guard with Kevin Dotson. How would you assess the development of that unit?
A. I've been pleased with the general progress, but I definitely think we're not Sept. 11 ready at this juncture. We have a nice challenge going into the stadium tonight, particularly with those high pedigreed edge rushers that they have in Jacksonville – Trayvon Walker and Josh Allen – and it's gonna be a big game for Chuks (Okorafor) and Dan Moore – and they've got some pocket pushers inside. That's a big step for us, particularly going into a road game environment and some of the challenges that come with being an offensive line unit in a road game environment. You know, potentially having to work on silent-count, and potentially getting beat to the punch in short-yardage circumstances because of it. When you're one dimensional from a pass standpoint, there's the the "get off the ball" component. There are some challenges environmentally that I think are a big component of collective development that we get to address and answer with this outing.

Q. After a recent practice, you talked about the challenges the team will face in tonight's game vs. the Jaguars. What specific challenges do you believe this matchup at this venue will pose?
A. First of all, they're a week ahead of us from a developmental standpoint because they played in the Hall of Fame Game. They've also been in one additional stadium. We've been in one game, and they've been in two. And so from a collective maturation standpoint, they're at a different stage of development. And that's the awesome challenge for us, an exciting one, one that I hope our group is excited about. I'm sure there's gonna be more extensive game planning for them because of where they are in their journey. Their starters might play longer than ours, and so it's really going to give our second-teamers an opportunity to get some exposure against some frontline NFL players. There's a lot to be excited about when you think about the nature of the matchup from those perspectives, and additionally, the venue. Just playing in a road game environment, what it means to situational football – red zone, short-yardage, goal-line – for your offense and what it needs to do to operate. It's an awesome challenge, one that I think we're ready for.

Q. You have talked about wanting to practice in the heat of the day during your time at Saint Vincent College, but lately there hasn't been much heat of the day. What do you expect down in Jacksonville as far as that goes?
A. It's J-ville. It's going to be muggy and it's going to be a good barometer from a conditioning perspective to see where we are. Particularly the young guys, the guys who are on the kick coverage units and things of that nature in the second half of the game. They're really going to be challenged from a conditioning perspective.

Q. Do you go to Jacksonville with a plan for dealing with that, or do you play it by ear?
A. I take it as it comes. There are certain guys who I'm watching more than others from that perspective, but generally I take it as it comes.

Q. During the offseason, you made some changes to your defensive staff. Teryl Austin was promoted to defensive coordinator and Brian Flores was hired as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach. On game day, where will Austin and Flores be, and how will the typical game day responsibilities be divided up?
A. You know Teryl is the coordinator, and so he's doing coordinator-like work. Brian Flores is going to coach the linebackers, essentially, and that's the division of labor. In terms of where they're located, we're exploring as you should at this time of year in terms of what's the best mix and utilization of our talents. And so, for Week 1 of the preseason, TA was upstairs and Flo was on the sideline. Today we're going to have TA downstairs and Flo upstairs and we just got to utilize the preseason for what it was intended to do some things differently, to look at some things in an effort to find the best mix and utilization of our skill sets.

Q. For whomever is upstairs in the booth, what are you looking for from that guy?
A. That bird's eye-view. You've got to be able to see all 22 players on the field in an instant. You've got to have a feel for the contour defenses and how offenses come together and be able to take a global picture and digest what happened. Both of those guys are highly experienced guys. It's a non-issue. It's really just about comfort zones for us, and probably more importantly for TA, as a play-caller and coordinator, what's the best environment for him to be in to make the decisions that he needs to make on game day.

Q. There has been a lot of attention paid to No. 1 pick Kenny Pickett, and also to No. 2 pick George Pickens. What can you tell us about the progress made by No. 3 pick, DeMarvin Leal, the defensive lineman from Texas A&M?
A. He's really done a nice job, and as you mentioned, some of the others have garnered attention, and appropriately so. I was impressed with what Leal did between the spring and camp in terms of his conditioning. You could tell that he was working extremely hard, and he came back ready, and that's a great platform from which to begin. He's growing and learning every day. He's in a veteran group, around guys like Cam Hayward and Chris Wormley and Larry Ogunjobi, so he's getting that type of tutelage. He's showing flashes of his pedigree and talent, and so the process is running its course. He's got some development to do, some plays to make, some more growth and development needs to transpire, but I like the general trajectory of where it's headed.

Q. Your last week at Saint Vincent College included a couple of training camp traditions – the Home Run Derby and the Rookie Show. Kenny Pickett won the Home Run Derby – is he legit, or was he the best of a mediocre group at the plate?
A. He's the best of a mediocre group. (Laughs) You know, it's kind of like a 3-point shooting contest at a football training camp. It doesn't mean the winner is a dead-eye shooter; it just means he's the best of the bunch. No, Kenny did a nice job. Mitch Trubisky did a nice job. Christian Kuntz did a nice job. We've got some guys who represented themselves. I thought it was as competitive of a Home Run Derby as I can remember.

Q. What, happens at the Rookie Show? Anyone have any talent, or is it a version of the Gong Show, or is it more like a roast?
A. No matter what happens, the veteran guys are going to be entertained. It's just whether it's quality entertainment, or they're laughing AT them. Either way, it's a good evening for the veterans. But more than anything, it's an opportunity for guys to let their personality show, for guys to get to know them, and for guys not to take themselves too seriously. I just think it's a component of team. You got to be able to laugh at yourself. You got to be able to be selfless and unguarded. And I think traditional things like that really are an avenue to develop those components of team.

Q. Anyone ever have the guts to do a Mike Tomlin impression?
A. Are you kidding? Every single year.

Q. Are there ever any good ones?
A. Crezdon Butler. Remember that name? I'd give Crezdon a few minutes at the beginning of team meetings from time-to-time because he was so good.

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