Labriola On

Tomlin on handling success, spy, wildcat, NFL-open

Q. There are quarterbacks who use their legs to buy time to make plays in the passing game; there are quarterbacks who use their legs to scramble for yards if their receivers are covered; and there are quarterbacks whose running is a designed part of the offense. Which of these categories describes Lamar Jackson?
A. Probably the first two. Him actually running as opposed to the threat of him running are two different things. His talents are such that you better respect the threat of him running, and so you have to deal with the potential of that just about every down. But they don’t run him that way. He’s their franchise quarterback. They’re building everything they’re doing organizationally around him. So there’s some risk in running him the amount you described if you describe him in that way. But whether they choose to run him or not, as a team that’s competing against them you have to respect the potential of it on just about every down, and so that’s what makes him the threat he is. I think we all understand he’s not going to carry the ball 20 times a game, but you better defend the potential of it down in and down out because you don’t know when they’re going to thoughtfully infuse that into play.

Q. From the standpoint of the defense, do you have to treat Lamar Jackson differently than Russell Wilson, as an example?
A. Most certainly. Russell Wilson is an athletic guy who extends plays through mobility. The Seahawks don’t have a level of designed runs, and he’s not a contributor in the team’s running game nearly to the level of Lamar Jackson. Maybe he was five-to-seven years ago, but that’s not where he is now.

Q. In terms of how the Ravens use Jackson, is it similar at all to a few years ago when the zone-read seemed to be a hot trend around the NFL?
A. Very similar. As a matter of fact, the offensive coordinator for the 49ers when Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback there is the offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens this year – Greg Roman. I would imagine Coach Harbaugh was very thoughtful about putting together Greg Roman with Lamar Jackson.

Q. We often hear about the strategy of using a spy to neutralize a running quarterback. Can you explain the usage of a spy, and what would a defense need to make that successful?
A. A spy is a secondary defender designed to capture the quarterback once he escapes the first wave. And usually, he plays behind the first wave so that he can adjust and fit where needed as the quarterback uses his talent to improv and create something out of nothing. That’s the use of a spy. It better be a guy who’s capable of closing vertical or horizontal distance as well as someone who has similar athletic ability to the athlete he’s chasing.

Q. How does utilizing a spy impact the rest of the unit?
A. It really depends on scheme. Some teams employ a spy with man-to-man coverage, and it has very little effect on the others because the others are in coverage and they’re in coverage regardless. It could be of some impact if you’re in zones, because if you’re sitting someone in a short zone to put them in position to minimize the quarterback running, then there would be some space behind him in some deeper zones, and that’s just the reality of zone defense.

Q. We have seen a lot of trends from college football creep into the NFL, but one of the ones that hasn’t crept into the professional ranks is the running quarterback. Why do you think that is?
A. Because there is a price to pay for a quarterback putting the ball under his arm and running, and running on a consistent basis on a National Football League field. And that’s just the reality of it. These guys are the best of the best. These guys are big and fast and dangerous, and people are building organizations around the availability of quarterbacks. In general, you give the ball to those you employ to tote the ball, which is the running back. It’s interesting in talking about spying the quarterback, Ben was a guy at a young age when people would spy Ben. Or they’d never play two-deep-man-under coverage vs. Ben because of the threat of what he was capable of doing with his legs when those plays break down. Now, as he’s in his mid-to-late-30s, he doesn’t see some of those tactics anymore, because he has very little desire to run the ball.

Q. You used the wildcat last week against the Bengals and had success with it. How did you decide upon Jaylen Samuels as the guy to take the direct snap from center?
A. He really distinguished himself in that offense at North Carolina State. He was a jack-of-all-trades at N.C. State, and we really liked that about him during the pre-draft process – he was an H-back, he was a tailback, he was receiver-like, he played wildcat quarterback for them as well. He’s a guy who’s really versatile in offensive skill-related things, so it was an easy decision for us.

Q. What skills does he have that made him a good candidate for the job?
A. Good ball handler, good decision-maker, and patient. It requires a certain level of patience to pick your spots, to articulate the motions, and make the decisions relative to the position. He’s just got a good feel and aptitude for it, but he’s got a good feel and aptitude for a lot of things football related. He’s just one of those guys where the things relative to the game are an easy learn for him.

Q. For an inexperienced quarterback like Mason Rudolph, is there a way he can be coached to understand the difference between a receiver who’s NFL open and a receiver who’s Big 12 Conference open? Or is it something he has to learn on his own through experience?
A. Certainly it can be pointed out, and that accelerates the learning process. But really, it’s about gaining in-helmet perspective and experience and getting a certain level of comfort with squeezing the trigger. They can always tell you what it is after the play, but can you make on-spot in-play decisions and pull the trigger? I think that’s the discussion. I don’t think any of the young guys have any issues of understanding the difference between college-open and pro-open, and even being able to articulate it after the play. It’s the in-play, split-second decision-making that’s required to squeeze the trigger and deliver the ball to the receiver that’s a process.

Q. Are you ever willing to trade an interception in return for a quarterback being aggressive and taking a shot and squeezing the trigger to get the ball to a receiver down the field?
A. No. I’m not. You have to learn those lessons. This is professional football, and the guys we’re talking about are the very best of the very best. Maybe they lack experience when you’re talking about the pool in which they’re in, but in terms of the pool of quarterbacks globally, you’re talking about all of these guys who are the best of the best, and I have no issue in asking them to take care of the football in the ways that a professional quarterback should.

Q. At your Tuesday news conference, in part of a response to a question about Diontae Johnson fumbling, you said, “I am not surprised when these guys respond appropriately to negative plays or negative outings. I am more concerned how they respond to positivity, success and their ability to remain singularly focused in the midst of that.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
A. These guys make it to this level because they can overcome adversity. They failed enough and they persevered. You show me any successful person in any walk of life, and I’ll show you a person who has failed a lot and overcome it. I know the nature of the journey, I know what gets a guy here. If he doesn’t have the stuff to endure that, they don’t make it here. So I worry less about that. What really defines these guys long-term, not only professionally but in the quality of their lives now and after they play, is their ability to absorb and understand success, and how to build from it and build off it and maintain an even keel in the midst of it.

Q. How do you help them do that?
A. Just by living, and just by telling them the truth. Part of success is your jokes are a little bit funnier than they really are, and people enjoy your presence and your company probably more than they should. So these guys need people in their lives who tell them the truth that keeps their feet on the ground. Part of what this brotherhood is, the people who are intimately involved in this and know it and understand it like coaches and veteran players, it’s our job to educate the young guys to some of the things that are going on around them in life aren’t real, and they need to treat them as such.

Q. As the coach here, you have experienced losing a player of status, which is what Terrell Suggs was for the Ravens. What is the impact of that?
A. You never really can quantify it, because if they’re legitimately players of stature there is intangible value in their presence. It goes beyond the plays they make. It’s the standards that they set that those who come after them have to adhere to and then becomes the new standard. The awareness that Terrell Suggs played with at outside linebacker and defensive end in their schemes that made perimeter passing difficult. Wide receivers screens – I still think about the time he jumped up and intercepted a wide receiver screen against us at Heinz Field, which was a freaky play – it has become the standard of outside linebacker play in Baltimore. If you play outside linebacker in Baltimore, your awareness in terms of defending some of those plays, the standard of expectation is different. That’s what special players do. Not only the plays they make, but they change the standard of what is acceptable for those around them, and there’s an intangible quality to their contributions that can really be weighed. It’s no different than Hines Ward in Pittsburgh. If you’re just talking about his receiving stats, that doesn’t tell the impact of Hines Ward and his presence within our organization and football team. What he did without the ball as a wide receiver was a standard-setter for those who came after him.

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