Labriola On

Tomlin on FBs, play-action, WRs getting open

Q. As a coach, can you learn anything about your team as it goes through a game like the one last Sunday night, and if so how can you put that to good use moving forward?
A. As a coach, we’re always gathering information about the team, the men we work with. That’s good food for thought as you plan and proceed through the journey. We’re going to be faced with continuous adversity through the journey because that’s just the nature of a football season, so you’re always looking to gather information. I’m always looking to gather information regardless of circumstance – positive experience, negative experience. The negative experiences are the ones that stay with you and the ones where our antennas need to be up in terms of the gathering of that information.

Q. What did you learn?
A. Just how important communication is, particularly for young people. We have to be cautious about the positions we put them in, and you knew that but as a general statement. When you apply it specifically to individuals, you gather information about how they specifically fall short. Some people are poor communicators in terms of vocally. Some are poor in the areas of communication from a listening standpoint. You gather information like that so you can better insulate them from negativity as you’re moving forward.

Q. You have ruled Rosie Nix out for today’s game, and he’s the only fullback listed on your roster. But you have said that in such situations you have some candidates and looked at candidates during the spring and summer. How are those candidates identified?
A. It’s a small number of guys. What you’re talking about are those medium-body types. You’re talking tight ends and linebackers. Generally, our tight end and fullback positions are somewhat interchangeable by personnel group anyway, and so that’s the first place you start. The tight end depth usually provides some depth at fullback. That’s where you start, and then sometimes you have a linebacker or two with an appetite for it and who maybe has a background in that area. Those are the two specific places you look.

Q. What qualities would a player need to qualify as a candidate to play fullback?
A. Built-in leverage contact people, guys who have a base about them, or guys who play with their feet shoulder-width apart. It’s those 230-250-pound men on your football team.

Q. What are fullback-like duties and responsibilities in today’s NFL?
A. They have to catch the ball in the flat, and they have to lead-block. If you talk about responsibilities relative to the passing game, fullbacks have to be proficient at running flat-routes and catching the ball in the flat and catching checkdowns, and things of that nature. I think it’s a unique skill-set when guys can get beyond that and can get down the field and make plays in the passing game, and there are guys like that. In regards to the running game, it’s meat-on-meat and bone-on-bone, guys who are capable of meeting the needs of the lead plays, and less talked about but equally important is the ability to shuffle and adjust laterally in an effort to get up on those people. Often times you have to work through trash to get those lead plays executed, and a fullback’s ability to slide to the right or to the left and adjust and then get vertical again and still have the power to win those confrontations is critical.

Q. Today’s opponent – the Seattle Seahawks – is one you see every four years. How does that unfamiliarity impact your week of preparation in terms of what you might have to spend more time on, vs. a week of preparation for a team in the AFC North that you will see at least twice every season?
A. I think it pushes you more toward fundamentals, but where we are in the journey – not only in terms of being Week 2 but also where we are coming off a negative performance – that pushes you toward fundamentals anyway. The familiarity that’s associated with division play – they know us and we know them – that’s a lot of personnel and matchup oriented things. When you play a team like Seattle that you don’t see every year, it pushes you toward fundamentals, it forces you to look within and focus specifically on the details of your execution and what you’re asking your people to do.

Q. You mentioned in your news conference that the Seahawks will pose a challenge to your defense with their running game. Against such an offense, what does a defensive player in the front seven have to be looking for at the snap and then doing to help stop the run?
A. They have to play responsibility football first. We have to be in the gaps we need to be in, particularly with an offense like this that incorporates the quarterback potentially in the run game. The quarterback carries an extra gap. We have to be really gap sound, we have to play our gap first and then we have to get to the football. A team structured like this, a team that runs the ball with the commitment Seattle does, coupled with quarterback mobility, all roads lead to gap responsibility first.

Q. As a defensive player, what are you looking at – the line of scrimmage, into the backfield?
A. It depends on your technique and your alignment, and within every defensive scheme each individual player has an alignment and a technique, and often times the alignment tells you the technique or the line of vision. So all 11 people will never be looking at the same thing. If you’re in a head-up technique along the line of scrimmage, you’re looking directly at the man in front of you, for instance, with very little peripheral vision because that guy, that battle needs to be won. That meat-on-meat, bone-on-bone battle needs to be won. Others with greater distance between them and confrontation can have a wide frame of view and can see big-picture things, offensive structure or formation, and that’s where the secondary comes into play in terms of some of the communication and adjustments prior to the snap. In no defense are all 11 men looking at the same thing at the snap. It’s usually tied to their alignment and their technical assignment per the call.

Q. What is play-action, and what is its purpose?
A. Play-action is coordinated passing game that generally marries your run game and assists you in attacking defenses vertically, throwing the ball down the field. In today’s NFL, it doesn’t necessarily mean that. Offenses and defenses are so multiple that sometimes offenses have play-action passes that don’t directly correlate to the run game, but the action itself freezes second-level defenders or linebackers and provides opportunity or pause to get the ball behind them or in between them and deep defense.

Q. So it’s not only a tactic to slow down the rush. It’s also an opportunity to take advantage of the coverage?
A. No question. It slows the rush down by virtue of the run action. It creates space between the second-level defense and the deep defense also by that same run action. By doing the same things, you get a couple of things done.

Q. Does play-action help you gather any information if you’re on offense? Does it help the quarterback discern what the coverage is, for example?
A. Often times, from the quarterback standpoint you have less information with play-action because if it’s an effective play-action you’re taking your eyes off the defense. In drop-back passing, the quarterback has a visual on the defense all the time, so he sees the subtle movements, the things that happen just prior to the snap or after the snap. Many times in play-action, the quarterback is going blind to the defense for a moment as he rides the ball into the belly of the runner and then he comes up and he has to find what’s going on in the secondary. So it’s probably the exact opposite from the quarterback perspective, because you have less visual information about what the defense is doing, but you have the action itself that adds to your cause.

Q. Is it the quarterback who makes or breaks the effectiveness of play-action?
A. I think more than anything it’s the offensive line. We spend a lot of time talking about the mesh point between the quarterback and the running back, the back doubling over for a good play fake, but I think it’s a feel thing more than anything. You feel low hats of the offensive line like they’re trying to win the line of scrimmage in the run game, and often times that’s not given enough credence because those offensive linemen are worried about protecting particularly when we’re playing a guy like Jadeveon Clowney. We’re playing against Clowney this week and try to sell to the offensive tackle to give you a hard run fake when he’s responsible for Clowney. But he has to buy into the scheme that we’re all collectively working, and that collective deception aids him in his job. And he needs to understand that.

Q. When it comes to receivers getting open, are there skills besides speed and quickness to be used to get that done?
A. There’s no question. Just like we were talking about an offensive tackle in reference to blocking a defensive end on a play-action pass, a receiver who understands how what he is doing fits into the big scheme of things has that knowledge also as an assistance to his play. The craftiness that veteran receivers display from time to time as they lose a little speed but still are functional and able to get open is a clear display of that. That knowledge of coverage, the ability to recognize zone or man and sitting down immediately and maximizing space when you recognize zone, having the ability to stay on the move and create separation vs. man-to-man. I think (all of that) knowledge is an element of play at that position that really creates space as much as speed or agility or change of direction.

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