Tomlin on captains, AB vs. Josh, Gilbert


Q. It's an annual rite for football teams, that being the election of captains. Is that just a quaint tradition, or does it have some function?**

A. It is a tradition, and it does have a function. Being selected to represent your team, not only at the coin toss but also in other formal ways, is a big sign of leadership. One of the things we talk about all the time is everyone is capable of leading. We subscribe to that, but we acknowledge what a tremendous honor it is be selected a captain. They're voted on by their peers, and the guys have a great deal of respect for the process itself.

Q. What's the procedure for that here?

A. I hand out ballots. I have the ballots blank. I have an offensive space on the ballot, a defensive space on the ballot, a special teams space on the ballot. I really don't put any parameters on it. I think the fewer parameters the more representative the process is. Sometimes guys pick one or two guys for offense, one or two guys for defense, one or two guys for special teams. I really try to minimize the parameters and just want to see their thoughts and feelings.

Q. Once the captains are selected, do they end up being conduits to you from the players, or from you to the team?

A. Not in any formal way. As I said, you don't have to be a captain to lead. I have many relationships with guys who are in position to lead and have experience with leading, and I lean on as many of these guys who have strengths in that area as I can.

Q. Tonight is the opener against the Washington Redskins. Is the opener a different game in any way, maybe in terms of the strategy you're comfortable with, or monitoring players' snaps because none of them have played a full 60 minutes since the end of the previous season?

A. It is different, and the most significant way it's different – and I have shared this with the team over the past few days – is it's less about the opponent you play and what they're capable of doing to you, and it's more about you being you and minimizing the negativity that we do to ourselves. We have to be assignment-sound. We have to be a detail-oriented group. We have to do fundamental things well. We can't be highly penalized. One of the key ingredients to having a good game the first week out is doing those things that make you a tough team to beat. And by that I mean not beating yourself.

Q. For a team to get off to a good start to a season, what are the important elements to attaining that?

A. It's handling the fundamental things. The team that tackles the best, the team that's the least penalized, the team that makes the opponent earn it – and by that I mean not making mistakes that produce chunk plays and points – that's the team that usually comes out on top.

Q. Over the past couple of weeks, there have been some players get contract issues resolved. Vince Williams, Antonio Brown, and just a couple of days ago it was David DeCastro. Is that something that's addressed by you, either one-on-one or in a group setting?

A. We talk about the elephant in the room. We subscribe to complete transparency, but we don't spend a lot of time talking about those things. The lines here with the Steelers in that regard are very bright. I think our policy of not extending contracts and not talking extensions for contracts once the season starts provides a very bright line. There's a very definite end to those types of things, and so it's less of an issue here than it is in many, many places.


Q. Do you ever share that with the team as good news, though?**

A. Certainly. You work shoulder-to-shoulder with men. You watch them chase their goals and dreams. To see some of those things pay off in the form of longevity or the security associated with contracts, sure you're happy for them, and you acknowledge that.

Q. Last year in the opener, the challenge was Rob Gronkowski. Tonight it will be Jordan Reed. How are they different as tight ends, and in the problems they pose for a defense?

A. There's only one Gronk. Not taking anything away from Jordan Reed, because he's a quality player, but Gronk is one of the best in the world regardless of position. That being said, Reed is going to be a big-time challenge for us. The rapport that he has with Kirk Cousins, the way they work on possessions downs, his patience in route-running and at break-points, make him a difficult guy to cover. Like Gronk, he is a tough cover for linebackers because of athleticism and a difficult cover for safeties because of his size.

Q. Is there a specific down-and-distance situation or a particular area of the field where Reed is most effective, or is he a man for all situations and places?

A. That will be determined as we get into this season. Last year, he was a guy for all situations, but part of that probably had to do with the lack of availability at times of DeSean Jackson. Reed was highly productive in the red zone, he had 11 touchdowns last year, and he's a big third-down guy, particularly when you're talking about third-and-medium. The rapport and the timing he has with Cousins is really highlighted in that area of the game.


Q. When a game is going to contain a five-star individual matchup – like Antonio Brown vs. Josh Norman – is that something you embrace and emphasize, or do you try to treat it like any of the other individual matchups?**

A. I really treat it like any other individual matchup. AB has been in so many of these over the past several years, and he usually always wins. It's not as much of a story as it's made out to be in the media. The coverage of quality wideouts who are working with a quality veteran quarterback – like No. 7 and No. 84 – it's overstated. I doubt that Josh Norman is going to be out on that island in the ways we like to sit around and talk about it. If he is, it's probably going to be a difficult evening for him. That's just the nature of the game. We had a similar matchup a few years ago with Joe Haden in Cleveland, and AB won all of the significant downs there. He's just at that point of his career – on top of his game mentally and physically and emotionally – he's not a one-man job. Antonio Brown is a multiple-man job.

Q. Will there be a discussion about keeping the trash talk from becoming a penalty?

A. I'm not concerned about that at all.

Q. From a defensive coordinator's standpoint, what's the advantage of matching up a cornerback with a wide receiver all over the field?

A. The familiarity associated with body mechanics and nuances that are specific to an individual (can be a positive). There are negatives associated with that as well – the cornerback has to be able to play on both sides of the field. You can be on the strong sides of formations and the weak sides of formations, and that creates complexities from a coverage standpoint. But the consistency of getting to know someone that you're covering, and what makes him work, and the routes that they run, and how they get in and out of breaks, there are advantages there. We've done it in the past. We've done it for very specific reasons usually. The matchup, whether it's speed or stature. We had a lot of success in the past giving Ike Taylor a matchup on A.J. Green  and so forth, but it takes unique individuals like Ike Taylor with a unique resolve, because it is what it is. It's tough business.

Q. Is there any trickle-down effect to matching up, because you have to move other people around as well?

A. It creates issues, but they're issues that you deal with in the secondary week-to-week and usually by the time you step into the stadium the level of preparedness has made it a non-issue. That's generally the case. It's not something that's decided in the stadium and on the sideline. It's something that's decided at the very onset of the work week, so that by the time you get into the stadium those complexities or issues are over.

Q. The Antonio Brown-Josh Norman matchup – if it happens – is the outcome of that as much about the personality of the quarterback, in this case Ben Roethlisberger, as it is the receiver vs. the cornerback?

A. There's a saying for old secondary coaches like myself: There's no defense for pinpoint accuracy. So when you're talking about an elite quarterback working with an elite receiver, a guy who's capable of creating space when there's very little and a guy who's capable of throwing into a tight space when there's very little, that's what I mean when I say that's a tough matchup. We have two guys who fit that description, and that's what makes that one-on-one battle a difficult one. I would imagine the Redskins aren't spending a lot of time worrying about winning that battle. They're worried about not letting that matchup dictate the outcome of the game. Therein lies a significant element of the mentality. When we face someone who brings special talents and has a special relationship, we're just trying to minimize their impact on the game so we can win it. Trying to win that matchup will usually put you in position where you'll lose sight of the bigger picture, which is winning the football game.

Q. As the 53-man roster was being formed, the Steelers acquired Justin Gilbert in a trade. During the preparations for the 2014 draft, what kind of young man did you find him to be?

A. Extremely talented, and when you're talking about the first cornerback picked in the draft that's a reasonable expectation. His height, weight, and speed were unique and still are unique. I flew into Stillwater and had an opportunity to take him out to dinner and spend some time with him on the evening before his Pro Day, and then spend time with him in a formal way – in a classroom setting talking ball – the day of his Pro Day. I found him to be a very sharp and engaging young man. I was highly impressed with him. He was a guy we would've definitely considered had he been available when we were on the clock. That being said, we weren't shocked, given all the things I said, that he wasn't available. But when you get an opportunity to boomerang back and maybe acquire a guy you have met, and he has the traits I described, particularly when you're talking about what we had to give up, we felt pretty good about taking advantage of that opportunity.

Q. You said at your news conference that you didn't talk to other people about Justin Gilbert about what happened in Cleveland, but that you talked to him about it. What were you looking to learn from that conversation?

A. I wanted to hear accountability for being here. A guy of his talents and his draft position shouldn't be here. I just wanted to make sure that he was ready to accept responsibility for whatever or any part that he played in him being here and not trying to shift that responsibility to environmental things and some of the things people can do or say in the process of seeking comfort. I found comfort in the fact that he wasn't seeking it. He really expressed exactly what I hoped he would express – that he was responsible for him being here, and that he was ready to move forward.

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