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Labriola On

Tomlin on Green, Watt, Najee, Cam, ties

Q. Last Monday night against the Browns, Najee Harris had his most productive game rushing of the season. What was at the heart of that individual productivity?
A. You know, as an individual, I just thought he was highly competitive. He took it personal. He wanted to deliver victory. I sensed that in him. All week he and I were having conversations about measuring himself against his peers and some of the best running backs in the world are in the AFC North, and so he doesn't have to look around when he's looking for his place in this game. That running back on the other sideline last Monday night was Nick Chubb, or when you play the Cincinnati Bengals that running back on the other side is Joe Mixon. Those guys are as good as anybody in football. It's important how he performs when he's in those environments if he wants to measure himself against the very best, and I think those conversations and with that mind-set, he took it personally and he gave a great performance from a collective standpoint. I think (the Browns) had a strong desire to kind of minimize Ben in the passing game. There were in a bunch of two-high-safeties. There was a lot of emotion associated with Monday night, you know, Ben being recognized and in the way that he was being recognized, and I think it affected them a little bit in terms of how they played defense, at least schematically. We saw more two-high-safety structures than we anticipated, and that really allowed us to run the ball and for that pile to fall in the right direction.

Q. In terms of what your offense was able to do schematically, was there anything that worked in that game that you can carry over, or was it a unique situation because of the alignment of the Browns defense?
A. We saw a lot of two-high-safety defense, and to be honest with you, people understand the talents of No. 22 in first- and second-down football, so we don't see a lot of two-high-safety defenses as a base, but there was a lot of it in that football game. And that really was a catalyst to us having a big evening in the run game. Specifically.

Q. The Ravens come into today's game with the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL. Who is the guy on that Baltimore defense you have to get blocked to have success today running the ball?
A. The two big interior goons – Calais (Campbell) and (Brandon) Williams – Nos. 93 and 98. They're the guys who provide the post that everyone else plays around. Those are the guys who keep (inside linebacker) Patrick Queen clean and allow him to run inside-out sideline-to-sideline and proceed to the football. They're built inside-out. They've got goons. They've always had goons. It is an organizational philosophical approach. You can go back and think about Kelly Gregg, and Haloti Ngata, and others. They're gonna have some big men who specialize in minimizing the interior run game, and it goes all the way back to (Tony) Siragusa and Sam Adams. It is an organizational approach.

Q. Kendrick Green didn't play against the Browns because of injury, but before that he had started the first 15 games of his rookie season. How would you evaluate his transition from playing mostly guard to being a starting center in the NFL?
A. I thought the transition was really clean. I thought he did a really nice job, but I thought that he wore down over the course of the season. There were four preseason games, and then 17 regular season games on the schedule. I think the attrition element of it affected him particularly as we got into the holiday season. But strictly from a transitional standpoint – the learning of the assignments, the gaining of cohesion, doing things relative to the position – I thought that was very fluid.

Q. So you think he's physically capable of the move from guard to center?
A. No question.

Q. What does he have that has you believe he can complete the transition and become a quality starting center in the NFL?
A. Quicks. His ability to get to and perform in space on the second level I think is one of the things that make the centers in our game unique. That was an awesome trait of Maurkice's. His spatial athleticism, and (Green) has similar spatial athleticism. I mean (Green) ran a 4.8-and-change in the 40. That's real. His ability to move in space, his ability do those type of things is exciting.

Q. When it comes to mobility and escapability, what's the difference between Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley?
A. I just think Lamar is in a totally different category. And that's no disrespect to the mobility of Huntley, but Lamar is arguably the fastest guy on any field he steps on, regardless of position. I don't think that characterizes Huntley. I think Huntley is extremely athletic and fast for a quarterback, but Lamar is fast regardless of position. Lamar can get in a foot-race with anybody in the National Football League and hold his own, and so that's what makes it uniquely different. I think there's quarterback mobility, and that can describe Huntley, that can describe Josh Allen, that could describe a lot of guys. Kyler Murray. But Lamar is in a different category. He's in that Michael Vick discussion. You know that Randall Cunningham discussion, if you really want to get historic. There's not a lot of guys in that box.

Q. When Huntley gets out of the pocket, what's he trying to do?
A. He's got a real fluid relationship with (tight end) Mark Andrews. You could just look at it in terms of Mark Andrews' targets since Huntley has been the starting quarterback, and the efficiency in which Andrews is targeted. I think he had 13 targets for 11 catches one game, 12 targets for 10 catches in another game, eight targets and eight catches in another game. The relationship that Huntley has with him, to the comfort that Huntley has with him when he's delivering the ball to him and giving him a chance to make a play, all that kind of answers that question. Whenever Huntley's under duress, whenever he's at a crossroads, if you will, he goes to Mark Andrews, and I don't blame him. I mean, Mark Andrews has 99 catches and 1,200-plus yards to justify that approach.

Q. This past week, T.J. Watt's teammates voted him Steelers MVP for the third straight year, which is the first time that ever has happened since the award was instituted in 1969. What does that say about him, and about what his teammates think of him?
A. Succinctly it just speaks to his level of dominance, and where he is in his career in terms of talent and experience, and in finding that mesh point between experience and youth. He's young enough where he's got the gas to do the things that he needs to do. He's in the prime of his career. He has gained enough experience so that he can play the above-the-neck game and make the critical decisions in situations that allow him to make those splash plays that we think of when we think of him. And his teammates just simply recognize that we're talking about a guy who a few years ago was third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting; last year he was second in the voting, and this year he's the favorite. And so from a team perspective, that obviously puts him in position to potentially be the MVP, and his teammates are stating the obvious.

Q. What makes Watt a good teammate?
A. It's so many things. Just his general approach. His level of professionalism. Forget his play, how he conducts himself. Monday through Saturday in preparation, he is something to behold, something to follow. He also quietly embraces the responsibility of being who he is. He nurtures and helps younger guys develop. We've had a lot of turnover at his position during the course of this year just due to the natural attrition associated with play, COVID, etc. It's been cool to watch him embrace Derrek Tuszka, embrace Taco Charlton, and help them get on the moving train. He does a lot of leadership things naturally well in an understated way, and I just think his teammates gravitate to that.

Q. How does Watt mentor? Is it during practice?
A. He's not warm and fuzzy, OK? No, I'm not gonna pretend that he's warm and fuzzy. I'm talking about in a very technical way. "Hey, read the stance." "Hey, when this guy's feet are parallel, this is what you're getting." "Hey, you got to recognize that formation." "Hey, is the tight end's helmet breaking the waistline of the tackle? Or is he completely off the ball? If he's completely off the ball, you gotta be alert to potentially him going behind the line of scrimmage at the snap to the other outside linebacker." I mean, it's strictly football. It's very clinical. But that's just his approach. It is no-nonsense. That's the way he mentors.

Q. Also in the year-end awards category, Najee Harris was voted by the media as the team's Rookie of the Year. There's no issue in my mind regarding his productivity, but how do you think he was able to avoid the "rookie wall," beyond the fact Alabama regularly plays more games per season than most college teams?
A. I think it starts there. We were talking about (Kendrick Green) waning. (Green) played at Illinois, OK? He was not in the single-elimination tournament ever. I don't know even how many bowl games (Green) played in. There's a significant difference between 11 regularly scheduled games and the 15 or so that Najee was routinely used to playing. And so it starts there. But it's also his level of physical and emotional maturity. He is mature beyond his years in terms of his approach to business. He also is mature beyond his years physically. Every week to start team meetings, I put up a childhood photo of select players. It's funny, and a number of weeks back, I put a high school picture up of Najee, and guys thought the picture was from last week. You know what I mean? He's been in that body for some time. He was about 15 or 16 years old in the picture and looking just like that. His physical maturity is on another level relative to most guys in his age group.

Q. Acknowledging your bias, why is Cam Heyward a worthy winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given annually to honor a player's volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field?
A. Because he lives it. I have participated in a lot of things with Cam. I know what he does in the community. He and I, pre-COVID, had locked in on (the Pittsburgh neighborhood of) Homewood as an area we collectively wanted to help and address. He's just got a heart for the community in general, but I think it also is extremely important to him because of his family legacy. His mother's family are Pittsburghers. His grandmother lives in (the Pittsburgh neighborhood of) Highland Park. This is home for him and it's that in a lot of ways. His parents went to Pitt. I think that just really stimulates him in unique ways relative to others in terms of really immersing himself in non-football related things and using the power of his influence for good. He doesn't run away from it. He runs to it.

Q. One of the many playoff scenarios during this final regular season weekend allows for both Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Chargers to qualify in the AFC if their game against each other ends in a tie. This has resulted in media speculation that the teams could "beat the system" by intentionally playing for a tie. As someone with 20-plus years in the NFL as well as being a member of the Competition Committee, what's your reaction to the possibility of employing such a tactic?
A. I think the topic is completely asinine, to be honest with you. Anybody who suggests the possibility of that is just trying to fill airtime. If you know anything about professional football, could you imagine us and Baltimore, or us and Cincinnati, or us and Cleveland, coming to an agreement? In a stadium, where both teams would want to advance, it's the exact opposite. You want to pour dirt on your divisional opponent. You want in, and you want them out. That's the nature of NFL football. And so, I laugh at those discussions. I understand it creates good airtime, it makes people tune in to all the 24-hour football networks and all-sports networks and so forth. But it is just water cooler talk. It is not the reality associated with our business at this level.