Labriola On

Tomlin on fight, T.J., Minkah, Mac

Q. What did you learn about your team in its first regular season game?
A. That they're capable of smiling in the face of adversity, whether it's hostile environments, or whether it's the weighty moments in a close ballgame. I saw signs of it during team development because of the thoughtful situations we put them in, but you never really know until you get in those type of environments. It was good to see clear eyes, clarity of thought, guys communicating, guys doing normal things in situations where they could be potentially helter-skelter. I just liked the steely resolve collectively as a group in those moments.

Q. In your postgame comments last Sunday, you said, "I'm not surprised by the fight. I knew they would fight. I found comfort in that. I wasn't looking for comfort, but I found comfort in that I just saw enough of that during team development." What do you mean by fight?
A. Just embracing the competition that defines our game, and particularly our game at this level. You can't turn down competition; you can't shy away from it. We were in some weighty moments in that football game. How about the four consecutive downs our defense got a stop down there when it's first-and-goal on the 1-yard line? I saw that in team development during 7-Shots when we were competing for quality dining that night on both sides of the ball. And so, when they do it in-stadium, it's just confirmation of some of the things that we've seen in development, and that's a good thing.

Q. Is fight something that every team you've coached here has had?
A. I think to varying degrees, and so when I'm talking about that I would anticipate fight from them. Certainly, you could describe every professional team as having fight. You don't get here as individuals and ultimately as a collective unless you're appropriately a fighter, but there are differing degrees. And this group appears to be a group that has extreme desire in that area. And that's a good thing.

Q. You referenced 7-Shots and the quality dining at the Saint Vincent cafeteria, which was one of the perks you dangled during training camp. Is that how you instill fight during team development?
A. I think that's how fight is revealed. It can be nurtured and developed, if you will, or revealed, but I think they bring that with him.

Q. Another thing you said after the game, when you were asked about the performance of the offense was that "I'll comb through it from an analysis standpoint on Tuesdays like I always do." What did you learn from that Tuesday video analysis?
A. That we're moving in the right direction, and oftentimes, those signs are subtle yet significant. We had less negativity in our game than we did the first time we were in a hostile environment, and you know how hostile environments affect the potential of negativity for the offense. I thought we dealt with that (in Cincinnati). I thought we were significantly less penalized than we were in Jacksonville. We only had one offensive penalty, but it was a significant one because we got a holding call on a third-and-6 that Mitch (Trubisky) converted by scrambling for a first down. So, there's some lessons to be learned from playing penalty free in that perspective, but we were much better in that area. And we made weighty plays in significant moments. That third-and-1 play extension by Mitch when he hit Pat Freiermuth in the middle of the field – that was a significant weighty moment, and so was the one-handed catch by Diontae (Johnson. They made weighty plays in the significant moments. They minimized negativity, they minimized penalties, and to me that's pushing the train down the track.

Q. Is "negativity" referring to loss of yardage?
A. Yes, whether it's in the running game or the passing game. I think we had one sack where Mitch scrambled out of bounds and didn't throw the ball away. I think we had one negative run that I can think of – not nearly as much negativity in our attack as there was in Jacksonville. And that's significant because when there's not negativity, then you're in better position to stay on schedule and have manageable possession downs and thus possess and move the ball. When you have negativity, when you have penalties, when you have lost yardage plays that put you behind the sticks – in environments like that you're digging your way out of that well. So, there were a lot of positive things to draw from.

Q. Your philosophy in dealing with injured players is and always has been "next man up." But is that a realistic approach to take when the guy who is injured is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year?
A. It certainly is, because we work as a collective. Sure, whoever replaces him is not going to be T.J. Watt, but as a collective, we still have an opportunity to be dominant. What do I mean by that? You reconfigure your plan to accentuate your strengths and maybe minimize your negatives, and so your negatives and strengths may change. It's our job as coaches that when we got red paint, we paint our barn red. So, we will redistribute significant responsibilities to capable men, and we'll step into the stadium, and we'll expect those guys to be collectively dominant, like we always do.

Q. Then it might be up to others, not just the guy who's in T.J. Watt's spot, to pick it up?
A. No, it definitively is going to be up to others. I'm not going to ask Malik Reed to bear our flag, OK? It's probably going to be somebody that you would recognize, like Cam Heyward or Minkah Fitzpatrick, if you will.

Q. You also said after the game in Cincinnati that there is still work to be done, still areas in which the team can improve. But looking at it another way, is there anything positive that happened that can carry over into today's game and maybe carry over even deeper into the regular season?
A. I just think that being in thick circumstances and delivering – there is positive growth in that. Anytime you're up against it and you're able to see yourself out of it and be successful, we all grow individually and collectively in a positive way from that experience.

Q. During every pre-draft period, you spend some quality time in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. What was your assessment of Mac Jones during that process?
A. And not only looking at the Alabama players, but we were also preparing ourselves for quarterback evaluations and giving that position the type of attention that we knew would be needed. And so, I had a good feel for him. First of all, I liked his talents, his physical skill-set, his mechanics. He had a really high floor mechanically, his ball security was excellent, his football intellect, all of that stuff was excellent. Really, really impressed by his demeanor, his communication skills, his competitive spirit, the intangible things that are really valued and highlighted at that position. He appeared to have it all, not only in terms of his play and how he handled himself and his demeanor, but also how he was viewed and respected within that group. When you're at a place like Alabama, that's a group of NFL dudes. You know that those guys are the ones who eventually comprise NFL locker rooms. And so, the level of respect he had among that group was telling and reflective of the respect that he quickly was able to earn in New England.

Q. In your experience, are there any general characteristics that apply to Alabama quarterbacks, and does Jones fit that mold?
A. I don't have the answer to that. I just think that there are some subtle yet significant differences between the college and professional game, and so even if there is a template or a vision of what's appropriate, that same template or vision might not be purely applicable to the professional game. The college game is a different game. It's been cool to spend time talking to a lot of college coaches and see the subtle differences between their agenda and ours, and even from a skill-set perspective in terms of the things they value in a position such as quarterback can be dramatically different.

Q. During the week leading up to this game, Mitch Trubisky talked about the offense being more aggressive. What might that look like today?
A. I think he was talking about in response to the turnovers. When you get turnovers and you get the short field, you've got to have that killer instinct and complement one another. He was answering the question in that regard when he made that statement, but often when you're dealing with interviews and so forth, the answer gets lost in translation. Sometimes it can be a totally different subject or story. He was talking specifically last week in response to when we were getting the turnovers in Cincinnati. We will be aggressive. We're always going to have an aggressive posture. That's just ball at this level when you're playing and playing to win, and that's something we do. We don't play not to lose. We play and play to win.

Q. Besides the obvious – the tackles and the takeaways and the other in-game measurables – what does Minkah Fitzpatrick contribute that would qualify as a "winning edge?"
A. Just being Minkah. There's an intensity to his everyday presence that rubs off on others, other defenders, other offensive players, linemen. He's just he's a football guy. He's highly professional. He's unbelievably committed. He has a unique approach in terms of what he's willing to do. And so those are the things that these guys get to see – the six days a week when we're not in stadiums that produce what people see in stadiums.

Q. Did you see all of that in him when you were in Tuscaloosa during the pre-draft process the year he was coming out?
A. No question. No question. But again, I was window shopping. I knew I hadn't lost enough games to have a horse in that race. But I was just interested in getting to know Minkah Fitzpatrick, and I had an opportunity to do that. It's cool how life sometimes is, you know, 12-13 months later or whatever, he was on our team.

Q. Who is New England's key guy on defense?
A. Devin McCourty, no doubt. He's 35 years old. He's their active career interception leader. He's a centerfielder. He's a traffic cop. He's the hub of communication for all adjustments in terms of tying those things together on the back end. Their secondary is a catalyst for their defense. It always has been. They've always been opportunistic and fundamentally sound, and he's a guy who has been standing in the middle of it for a long, long time.

Q. For someone who hasn't ever seen a Bill Belichick team, what would you say that they could expect to see today?
A. All three phases tied together in whatever ways he intends. There's no blueprint, if you will, but it will be coordinated. They will be coordinated in terms of a plan of attack on offense, defense, and special teams. Last week in Miami, for example, they wanted to reduce the game – you could tell they were looking for a two-hour, 30-minute, eight-or-nine possession game just by the nature in which they were playing in all three phases. And that's what it was. Obviously, they came up on the short end of that game vs. Miami, but you could see a style of play that they desired to play that day. And that's often the case when you're looking at Bill Belichick teams. You'll see and feel the coordinated effort in terms of how they intend to engineer victory on any particular Sunday.

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