Tomlin on Bush, rush lanes, carrot vs. stick

Q. We often hear about the importance of gap integrity when it comes to defending the run. Is there anything similar for rushing the passer, where players are expected to be in certain areas or occupy certain lanes on the way to the quarterback?
A. No question, and the fewer rushers you have the more significant it is. When you're blitzing and you're rushing five guys, it's less critical in terms of your awareness of your rush lanes than normal, when you're rushing four. And it's doubly challenging when you're in drop-eight scenarios and you're rushing three and you have to try to rush, contain, and constrict the quarterback with only three men. So it's always a critical discussion. The number of rushers is a critical element of that discussion.

Q. Is it safer not to run games where the pass rushers loop around each other?
A. No. Actually, the games and loops and things of that nature can serve as a trap. You present what appears to be an opening, and then the looper comes around and closes the door. There is some risk with it, because you have to present an initial opening, but the whole premise is that initial opening gets closed by the looper and you set a trap and close it.

Q. Against a mobile quarterback or a running quarterback, would it ever be better for a rusher to just stop and stay in his area or lane rather than get pushed or influenced in a way that creates an escape lane?
A. It's better to stay in your lane, particularly if it means being behind the mobile quarterback. A guy behind the mobile quarterback just reduces your number of rushers by one. So, a five man rush becomes a four man rush when one guy is behind the quarterback. A four man rush becomes a three man rush, etc., and so there are bigger escape lanes downhill. And you don't want downhill escape lanes for guys, particularly for guys like the one we're facing today.

Q. Do you tell your rushers that if you're about to go behind the quarterback to just stop?
A. No, it's proceed with caution, because we've seen some really spectacular plays this year when guys rushing behind the quarterback get strip/fumbles and things of that nature. So you do it, but you understand it's calculated risk-taking. There are times that you do it and times that you don't, and you understand that when you do there is some risk involved. But there's always risk involved with the pursuit of splash plays. The sack/fumble is an enormous play in a game. There's risk going behind a mobile quarterback trying to create that.

Q. How would you evaluate what you have been getting from Devin Bush?
A. It has been really solid. We've been thoughtful about what we ask him to do in an effort to preserve him over the course of a 16-plus game season. We realize he's a rookie. We've removed him from some sub-packages and things of that nature, trying to keep his snap count in a reasonable place so he doesn't wear down as a young guy, and I think he really has been responding to that. He has been just as productive as he was in the earlier portions of the season but on a fewer number of snaps. It's a good sign of what we're getting from him, and it's going to allow him to maintain productivity and strength as we get deeper into the important month of December.

Q. I don't actually keep track of snap counts, but it seems Devlin Hodges has been under center a fair amount of time, at least last week. Did he have any experience with that when he got here, or was that something he had to learn from scratch?
A. I don't know about high school, but very little if any in college, but that's not unusual these days. You could say the same thing about Mason Rudolph or Paxton Lynch. It's just part of the evolution of today's game. It's not unusual to get a quarterback with very little experience in that area, where 13 years ago when I got this job it probably was.

Q. What are the specific things he would've had to learn to operate under center?
A. Just the mechanics and some of the minutiae associated with certain plays, plays where the center has to pull, plays where the center has to move laterally. If a guy is a good athlete, it's not a big discussion, but there is some comfort that you gain associated with muscle memory.

Q. In what situations is it more advantageous to have the quarterback under center instead of in the shotgun?
A. You could just take one specific aspect like use of cadence. If you want to utilize cadence as a weapon, if you want to quick-count somebody, if you want to hard-count someone, the very best place to execute that is under center. Particularly when you're going into an environment like we're going to go into and we're trying to figure out this weekend whether or not we can use cadence. And if we can, then it can be a weapon.

Q. Run plays vs. pass plays. Is there any advantage one way or the other in terms of where you put the quarterback?
A. Certainly, but it's minimal in today's game. You gain more of an advantage in the running game with the quarterback under center, and you gain a little bit in the passing game with the quarterback in the shotgun just from perspective. But in today's game you're thoughtful about those decisions, and you work to minimize the differences.

Q. You often refer to situations as "teachable moments." In those instances, would you describe the teaching as more offering a carrot or using a stick?
A. I thoughtfully use both, to be quite honest with you, and I guess the key is thoughtfully. The key is to know what's appropriate for the moment, what's appropriate for the player or players, and to give them what they need and not necessarily what they want. That's kind of always a guiding thought for me in terms of the decisions in how to deal with those moments and how to address them. The speed with which you address them, the tone with which you address them. There are appropriate things, and there are variables involved, and you have to thoughtfully push the right buttons.

Q. Certainly without getting into any names, what kind of situations require one or the other?
A. The younger the player, the less carrot you use. If they're smart, if they're the kind of people who learn quickly, then they do, and so you eliminate further discussion down the line in those areas if you attack it initially. That's a general approach.

Q. When it comes to teachable moments, would you welcome assistance from other players, or is it better if that is handled by you or one of your assistants?
A. I welcome it, because I recognize it's a natural thing. It's like breathing. Leaders lead. They're going to support, and particularly the veteran players you've been around for a number of years who are the ones you have cultivated, the ones you drafted. They've grown up in your culture. They're not going to say anything that's not supportive of what it is you're saying. So it becomes a reinforcement thing. I don't care where good ideas come from. I don't care where leadership comes from. There are strengths in numbers, particularly when there's an understanding, when you don't have to call a meeting to be of one accord. And we have that here, with guys like Cam Heyward, guys like Maurkice Pouncey, guys we've drafted and cultivated here. It doesn't require a meeting. It just happens, and that's a beautiful thing.

Q. You just brought up Maurkice Pouncey and Cam Heyward. We've talked previously about Pouncey and the kind of leader he is. Can you tell me a little bit about the kind of leader Cam Heyward is?
A. Neither one of them is a big carrot guy, but Cam is probably more of a carrot guy than Maurkice. He's got a softer heart for the young, inexperienced player. He's a nurturer by nature. You can put him in a game setting, and he's a ridiculous competitor and that nurture leaves him. But in a practice setting around the building on a day-to-day basis, he's more of a nurturer probably than Maurkice.

Q. Tell me something about Heyward that not a lot of people would know.
A. He's just a thoughtful guy. He has this appearance – he's an enormous man and has a beard and he's loud, a very physical guy who when he's talking to you he's putting his hands on you. He's playful, and sometimes he has to realize how big he is. But he's thoughtful, he's thoughtful about people. He's a servant leader, and that's a good thing.

Q. What is Victory Monday, and why is it sometimes a part of the weekly schedule after a win?
A. Over the second half of the year, it allows the player some autonomy. It given them a reward for doing the job, but more than anything it gives them some autonomy to do what it is they need. Some guys need rehabilitation over the second half of the year on a Monday, and some guys simply need rest. Having a day off really gives them the autonomy to do what it is they need in preparation for the week's work that lies ahead, and that's how we sell it. Guys come in just like they normally do on Monday, but it allows them to come in at their convenience. So a guy can sleep in and come in during the afternoon if he so chooses, etc. It's a carrot for them, but it's also a carrot for the coaches. It provides us additional game planning time for the next opponent, which we need. It provides us with the opportunity to have a more thorough preparation process. Over the second half of the year, there's more tape available to study, so it's helpful for us to have the time to look at some additional tape.

Q. You've had some experiences with Larry Fitzgerald, and there was that famous narrow escape in Super Bowl XLIII. When I brought his name up just now, what comes to your mind?
A. Class. He's a guy who's a representative of all of us. By us, those of us who are in this football business. He does everything the right way, on and off the field. He's an ambassador of the game. I'm just so impressed when I'm in his presence. I've always respected his game, but just when I'm in his presence, when I hear how he represents all of us as a football man, I just lift him up. I have nothing but respect for that guy. He's worthy of the gold jacket, and the consideration he'll get when his career is over.

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