Labriola On

Tomlin on Haden, speaking up about Bell, the '18 Steelers

Q. Since the last time we talked, you have made 37 roster moves to get down to 53 players, and you signed 11 guys to the practice squad. What kind of team do you think you're taking into the 2018 season?
A. I think we're taking a team in that's talented positionally, a team that has some specialization. Anytime you have a guy who's a dedicated return man, like we were able to acquire in Ryan Switzer, I think that speaks to specialization. We have some identified interior sub-package players like Mike Hilton who play nickel kind of exclusively. So we have talented people, guys you know, some of the best in the world at what they do, but I really like the specialization opportunities we were able to put together within that – nickel cornerbacks, return men – people whose skills are really highlighted in certain aspects of the game who could give us a potential winning edge.

Q. That's a physical description of the team. What about emotionally?
A. I think they're an excited group. I think they're a group that's ready for action. They appreciate and respect the process. They've seen guys ascend within the process, and so there's a certain fairness there. They've watched Josh Dobbs take a challenge and ascend to second on the depth chart at the quarterback position, as an example, and so I think all of that is good for team building and morale and cohesion as we get started on this journey.

Q. In your experience, is there a difference between individual players, or a team as a whole that wants to win vs. individual players, or a team as a whole that hates to lose?
A. Those things are reflected in personality traits. I think those things are very similar, similar to the way you can describe a number as six, or as a half-dozen. It's the same thing, but it's the outlook or the perspective of the individual. If you're an ornery guy, somewhat of an edgy guy, then you hate to lose. If you're an optimistic, upbeat guy, you thirst for competition and the drive for a win. I think that's really determined by personalities more than anything else.

Q. In this business, which kind of guys would you prefer?
A. I like the grouches. (Laughs) I think the grouches are more at home in football.

Q. During your news conference on Tuesday, you said because this game against Cleveland is the opener, your focus needs to be on "our preparation, our play, our execution in our plan, our division of labor, our utilization of talent and time." Why do you feel that way?
A. Because it's less about how you're attacked. It's less about what the opponent does. Less about the quality of their people, particularly for the first time out. Games are going to be won and lost in man vs. himself-like ways this weekend across the National Football League. Teams that are tough to beat are teams that win. You have to take care of the ball. You can't be highly penalized – Thursday night was the first regular season game in the National Football League, and there were 28 called penalties, and 26 of those were accepted. If you do a good job of taking care of the football, if you're not highly penalized, if you have detail in your work – beyond knowing what to do – if you have that quality detail in your work that will allow you to win when it's good vs. good, those are the things that define a winning performance particularly at the early stages of the year. And so that's where our focus is.

Q. Does that recipe ever change?
A. That's why I said "particularly in the early portion of the year," because it's highlighted because of negligence at the early portions of the year. People beat themselves at the early portions of the year. That's ever-present, but I think it's highlighted in September football.

Q. With respect to the Le'Veon Bell situation, when you were asked if it would affect the team, you said that it could, but whether it was positive or negative would be up to the team. What did you mean by that?
A. I meant simply this: one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. We've talked a lot talking about Le'Veon Bell, and so we should spend some time talking about what an awesome opportunity this is for James Conner, and his story, and what that means. If our team does that, and focuses on that, and rallies around him, and he performs, it can be a very positive thing. If we continue to dwell on the negativity, or the tools that we don't have in the toolbox, that's no-way useful when we step into the stadium. That's why I've taken the approach that I've taken. I've continually talked about building the plan around those who are here and working, and staying singularly focused in that way because I want to set the stage where that happens. And I believe that I have.

Q. At that same press briefing, when asked whether you were surprised that some of the offensive linemen spoke up about Bell not being here, you said, "I am around these guys every day. I'm surprised by very little that they do or say." Do you think it was a good thing or a bad thing for the team that they did speak up?
A. If that's how they felt, it's never a bad thing. It just isn't. That's the world we live in. You can't hide from it. These guys have microphones shoved in their faces multiple times a day every day. I'd rather have them tell the truth and move on with life than tote baggage. Toting baggage is how this thing could potentially be negative. We're not going to allow it to be negative. We're going to say what we feel needs to be said, and we're not going to dwell on it beyond that, and we're going to prepare to play football.

Q. In looking at the Browns, you said that one of the things that makes quarterback Tyrod Taylor difficult to defend is his mobility. In your view, is a mobile quarterback different than a running quarterback?
A. There's no question, and I thoughtfully use the word "mobility" because it's his prudent use of his running abilities. He uses it to escape. He uses it within the confines of their offense. There's not a lot of negativity associated with it. He doesn't turn the ball over when he starts moving and things of that nature, and that's why I'm thoughtful about how I'm describing his running abilities. It's the prudent use of those running abilities that make defending him a tough task.

Q. How would you describe a running quarterback, by comparison?
A. You see a lot of schematic highlights of their talents. Option-reads and perimeter plays and so forth. Limited sophistication in the number of reads in the passing game. This does not describe Tyrod Taylor's usage. He's got four and five eligibles out, and he's going through route progressions. He plays quarterback in a very traditional sense. He's just got an X-factor in terms of his running ability and his prudent use of it.

Q. What is important in trying to defend against Tyrod Taylor's mobility, and who are the players, or which positions, are most responsible for executing that?
A. You have to be conscious of the number of people you bring on the pass rush and how you employ them. The minimization of escape lanes. You also have to be conscious of the athletes who get caught in space or in one-on-one circumstances with an athlete like him. You'll see us bring Mike Hilton off the edge, and that's nothing new, that's part of what we do. But part of the reason why we do it is to have an athlete show off the edge from time to time to make sure that quarterbacks and those who call plays know we can match that athleticism on the perimeter. It's not always a defensive lineman or a linebacker. You just have to be thoughtful about how many you send, who you send, and why you send them.

Q. Do you see a difference in Joe Haden from the guy who went to Cleveland with you last season for the opener, and I'm not referring to him as a player?
A. There's no question. He was a Magnificent Seven a year ago – he was a hired gun. He hadn't spent a lot of time with us, and we were getting to know him along the way. He's very much ingrained in this football team now. He's been a part of us since day zero of this offseason. He's a guy who's always in the building, bringing energy and working. He's a central figure in what we do, not only in terms of his play but also in what he brings. I think that's the significant difference.

Q. What do you need from your quarterback today?
A. I just need him to be him. To compete, to communicate with the young people, to do a good job of steadying the waters. He's been in these types of situations a million times. It's a first time, or fewer times, for a lot of people. It's important that he utilizes his collective experience and know-how for our collective good. To keep a James Washington level-headed. To communicate with young, emerging players such as JuJu and James Conner. He's done a heckuva job of that throughout the preseason, and I think outside the very tangible things that define his performance, those things also define his performance.