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Labriola On

Tomlin on Elandon, play-caller, 'mike'

Q. The major development of the week was your decision to replace Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator, and one of the things you cited as a reason was that the offense was still playing September football in November. What were some of the specific things you were seeing that qualified as September football in November?
A. We just have to have increased fluidity down in and down out, things happening on time. And that's the best way to probably describe it. The more fluidity in what you work with as a collective – and it should increase as the season goes on – it smooths out negativity, whether it's penalties due to poor technique, or lack of awareness, or negative plays because of identification, and things of that nature, and it should increase the probability of explosion plays just simply because of cohesion and understanding and playing faster because of exposure. And so I'm looking for more fluidity in our play. I'm looking to reduce the amount of negativity in our play, however you describe it, and I'm looking to increase the potential for splash or the positive components in play. And when you have more fluidity down in and down out, you have an opportunity for those things to develop. And quite frankly, those things weren't developing fast enough.

Q. Help me out. What's fluidity?
A. Meaning just guys moving in concert, rhythm passing happening on time, guys working in tandem, displaying understanding. Just the cohesion that comes from in-helmet perspective and collective play.

Q. Did the fact the team is still very much in the playoff picture have any influence on the timing of that decision?
A. For us, I just felt like that's where we were. We expected to be in the playoff picture to be quite honest with you. That's everyday life for us, and so it's just about us evolving in the ways that we need to evolve, particularly as we push into the latter part of November.

Q. You have explained how Mike Sullivan and Eddie Faulkner will be taking over different aspects of the offensive coordinator job, with Sullivan as the play-caller and Faulkner handling many of the weekly duties of an offensive coordinator. Where will they each be doing their jobs on game day – on the sideline or up in the coaches' box?
A. Both will be on the sideline, which is where they've been. We're not going to change perspective in terms of how they view the game just because they have expanded roles. I was just mentioning in-helmet perspective from a player's standpoint, and since I want the best from those men, I'm not going to change the space in which they work on game day.

Q. In the past when you have made decisions, you have explained the reasoning as "you know it when you're there." That also was the way you explained the switch from Mitch Trubisky to Kenny Pickett as the starting quarterback last season. In terms of your thought process, were there any similarities in that decision and the one you made this week?
A. Similarities in that you know it when you're there, and when you have the responsibilities that I have, you better trust your gut. That's what I am employed to do and keep this collective moving forward in an effort for us to realize our goals. There are a lot of complexities and layers to those decisions. But at the end of the day, you better own it in that way, and I do, and so from that standpoint or mindset, they are similar in terms of process.

Q. In your experience, what is a good play-caller?
A. One who's a step ahead in terms of the opposing play caller. One who builds concepts off concepts and sets up opportunity. Someone who has a personality, and having a personality is important, because that's the cohesion, that's the fluidity that I'm talking about. But also training the group in such a way that you're somewhat of a moving target in terms of the things that you do off of those things.

Q. Who are your offensive leaders? Obviously, Kenny Pickett at the starting quarterback would be one of them, but the leaders beyond him?
A. I think we've got leaders at every position. Mason Cole and Dan Moore are established guys in the offensive line group. Pat Freiermuth at the tight end position. Alan Robinson in a really big way in the wide receiver group, because you're talking about a guy who has done this for a decade in multiple NFL cities, and I appreciate the perspective he brings in that regard. And we have a young running back room, but Najee Harris is a natural leader and the leader of that group.

Q. What does the phrase "lost the locker room" mean to you?
A. It is a cliche that's tossed about too often today, to be quite honest with you. I don't know what it means. The locker room is somewhat of a mystical place these days. Because of social media and the intensity and the intimacy of how locker rooms and inter-locker room relationships and so forth are covered in today's business, I don't know what it means or if it's of any significance anymore, to be quite honest with you.

Q. Elandon Roberts was signed back on March 16, the second day of free agency, which indicates he was very attractive to the team. Did he show you anything more, anything special in the game against Cleveland when he led the team in tackles and played every snap on defense?
A. He didn't show us anything that we didn't already know. Those were the things that we were signing up for when we signed him on March 16, like you said. We were just highly familiar with him. We were highly familiar with him when he came out of school. We were at his Pro Day (at the University of Houston), and we got to know him as I mentioned before. I remember Kevin Colbert and I talking to him and his parents in the parking lot for like 45 minutes after the Pro Day. They asked great questions, and you could tell that he was a football guy, that he had come from a football family. You could just see good bones there in terms of the framing of a career. Obviously we followed him throughout his NFL career, competed against him. He's a vocal guy. He's a defensive quarterback-like guy. We just had the luxury to have three guys who were capable in terms of being varsity in Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander and Elandon, and so we used all three. But the loss of those other two have really just provided an opportunity for him to show what we all knew that he is capable of. So I doubt that any of us from within are surprised by what we saw from him.

Q. So is it fair to call him now an every-down, all-situations inside linebacker?
A. Or a "green dot" as we say. He carries the coach-to-player. He is the hub of communication. And last week (in Cleveland) was an example of him being an all-situations guy.

Q. There have been a bunch of additions to the practice squad lately, but on Wednesday the team announced it had signed inside linebacker Blake Martinez to the 53-man roster. Why Martinez, and why now?
A. We just try to stay a step ahead and insulate ourselves from a depth perspective. We're comfortable with where we are right now although we've lost a couple of veteran football players, but we better continually acquire talent and prepare that talent in case something else happens, and that's just doing due diligence from a professional standpoint. We talked about the expanded role of Elandon Roberts because of the loss of the other two. Well, what happens if something happens to Elandon Roberts? And so Blake Martinez is a guy with an NFL resume, who's a green dot veteran. He along with Myles Jack are guys who have resumes that fit the description of being capable of doing things like that. And we just felt like it was appropriate to insulate ourselves to be out in front of what potentially could happen because attrition is just a natural component of this thing. And you better be in continual identification and acquisition of talent.

Q. When there is a situation of miscommunication between a wide receiver and a quarterback in the NFL, is one position more responsible than the other for fixing that?
A. Fixing it is dual responsibility. In terms of who is responsible, oftentimes there's someone at fault. Usually, there's one person who is on the right page and there's another person that's assuming. And so the "fix" component of what you described is usually not a process. Usually, there's a knowledge of what transpired before the two parties involved get to the sideline. But when that is not the case, when it is a legitimate lack of understanding, all parties involved are mutually responsible for cleaning it up.

Q. What are the quarterback and the wide receiver looking at on the play?
A. Again, any particular play can go down in a variety of ways. There could be a miscommunication based on play design. There could be a miscommunication based on response to what the defense is giving you. There could be a miscommunication based on situational components of play. And so there are several things that could produce "guys not being on the same page." There's a lot of lines in that water.

Q. Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson had started every game this season, and he's played 100 percent of their defensive snaps in 2023. Is he their key guy on defense?
A. Without question. And not only him but his linebacker-mate No. 55 (Germaine Pratt). Those guys are homegrown guys, who were drafted and developed – I think Wilson and Pratt both came in the third round. It has been really cool to see their growth and development over the course of their careers. It's kudos to those men, and it's kudos to that organization to not only identify talent, but to develop it and for those guys to grow in the way that they've grown. That linebacker tandem I think has been responsible for 9 of their 18 turnovers – five interceptions and four forced fumbles between those two, for example, and I just think that's an illustration of the development and how significant they are to what goes on there defensively.

Q. Who on your offense needs to know where Logan Wilson is on every play.
A. Mason Cole. Kenny Pickett. Central communicators and decision makers, because Wilson is a central communicator and decision maker for them. There's mike-linebacker identification from a protection standpoint. It's just a major component. It's not only because he is significant, but it is also because of the position that he plays. Mike-identification, or middle linebacker identification is just the base component of offensive structure in today's game, run or pass. And so Mason Cole and Kenny Pickett are responsible for identifying him, or the mike, or the middle linebacker, really on just about every down.

Q. What qualities does Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase have that make him a special receiver?
A. You know, it's not just one. It's several. He's got elite top-end speed. He's got really good body control that makes that speed more potent, because his stop-start is equally as impressive. And so he's not a build-to-speed guy. He doesn't have turn signals at change-of-direction points. And then lastly, he's got really good hand-eye coordination and body control. And that allows him to contort himself to make plays along the sideline and to be sure-handed. He's got the three things that really can make a guy elite, and so it's not mystical why he's elite. He's got great top-end speed. He's got really good stop-and-start and change-of-direction. And he's got elite body control and hand-eye coordination.