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Tomlin on Harrison's candidacy, nuance, LarryO

Q. Matthew Wright had a tough start a couple of weeks ago against New Orleans with two missed field goals, but you stuck with him, and he rebounded in last Sunday's game by going 3-for-3. Was your patience with him based on a belief in him, or on the fact he had to be on the 53-man roster for three weeks anyway after being signed off Kansas City's practice squad?
A. We did business with him initially because of belief in him, and that didn't change based on what transpired in that one stadium. He's been in camp with us before, he's been through an offseason and preseason and so forth. We've called on him in regular season play. He was 21-of-24 in Jacksonville last year in varsity action. He's made plus-50-yard kicks in varsity action already this year. He's a starter capable kicker in this league, and we were really fortunate that he was available to us in the capacity that we have him in. There wasn't a lot of discussion about exercising patience or what have you.

Q. When you were asked recently about areas in which George Pickens has grown as an NFL receiver, you mentioned "nuances of the game." What did you mean by nuances of the game?
A. The things outside of specific skills relative to the position. The understanding component of the game, understanding and diagnosing coverage and being able to apply that to route running vs. zones, vs. man coverages, being able to sit down in open spaces and make yourself an attractive target for the quarterback. There's a lot that goes into playing the position other than the specific skills relative to the position. Obviously, he can run, he can jump, he can catch, he's got ridiculous body control, but the understanding component of it is an area that all young guys can really experience a great deal of growth in, and rather rapidly, I might add. He appears to be doing those things.

Q. What are the qualities or characteristics of a good red zone defense?
A. That you don't give up known issues. That you defend global high frequency concepts. That you defend the hotspots on the field. Obviously, you're stingy against the run, and I probably should have said that first, but in our business, it kind of goes without saying if you have a good red zone defense, people aren't running it into the end zone on you. Offenses have to assume risk in order to score points, and a quarterback turning and handing the ball to a running back is minimal risk from an offensive perspective. I want people to have to run routes. I want people to have to protect. I want people to have to throw it. So, smashing the run is the No. 1 component. And then it's the high frequency concepts and the hot spots on the field. What are the hot spots on the field? The pylon areas. Why are the pylon areas the hot spots on the field? Because that's the least amount of risk. Either you're completing balls at or on the pylon, or the balls are going out of bounds and no one's catching them. And so, the risk component of it is a component of the discussion if you're talking about red zone defense.

Q. In the NFL, when a defense chooses to double-cover a receiver, what does that look like, first for the receiver and then for the quarterback?
A. It depends on how they choose to do it. There can be same-level double teams, meaning people on or around the line of scrimmage in-and-out someone, taking them inside or outside. It could be a high-load double team where someone's on the line of scrimmage, but there's a safety over the top. There are so many ways to double and minimize a guy. There could be zone-doubles or man-doubles. And so, they're capable of looking dramatically different to the receiver and to the quarterback, and really, when you're talking about guys who are deserving of double teams, you better have a nice arsenal to mix it up and to minimize them. Different types of threats require different types of double teams. A third-down chain mover like Mike Pittman, a receiver we're facing tonight for example, he might require an in-and-out (double team); a deep ball threat like Alec Pierce, who plays for (the Colts) as well, might require a high-low double team, and so the conversation is ongoing. There are man-doubles, zone-doubles, same-level doubles, high-low doubles. All of them work individually because of the collective, because of the mix, because you're playing that visual game with the receiver and the quarterback.

Q. What has Larry Ogunjobi added to the defensive line this year?
A. He is a veteran, starter-capable guy. He's a global starter, and his resume says that, and his play says that as well. He's familiar with the AFC North, obviously playing in Cleveland and Cincinnati. But it's that steady veteran presence and the play that goes with it, first and foremost.

Q. Is Ogunjobi the kind of player you would have interest in doing business with beyond this season?
A. There's not a guy in our program, past or present, that we do one-year business with that we're not looking at in that way. You know, we realize these relationships have to be unique if we want special results, and so we're not a rent-a-guy type of a group even if we are in a rent-a-guy type of relationship. We're always renting-to-own if you will.

Q. Jonathan Taylor was the 41st overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. What do you remember about him from draft prep that year?
A. Splash playmaking. His ability to be a home run hitter. I thought that was the distinguishing trait if you will, on his profile video. The number of long runs, the way he could turn short to long, a third-and-1 and he'd turn into a 60-yard play, and the consistency in which it happened. And the level of competition that he did it against, in the Big 10, and the style of play – the responsibility that comes with being a Wisconsin running back. I think everybody in the stadium knows that you're the center of attention and the feature of their attack, and he wore it well, and he produced splash.

Q. Taylor played his college football at Wisconsin, as you mentioned, and that's a program known for giving its feature back a lot of carries. Taylor had 926 during his three seasons there. From an NFL perspective, is there a number of carries that becomes a concern when drafting a college running back?
A. No. I think the only time you're looking at number of carries is when you're already talking about some pre-existing medical issue, if they're showing a certain amount of wear and tear. His medical things were pretty clean, and so it didn't lead you to question those things. Le'Veon Bell was a similar discussion. I think Le'Veon probably had 900 cares over his three years at Michigan State, but he had a clean bill of health and so it was not that much of a discussion. It's when they carry it a lot coupled with an injury history that you started analyzing that component of it.

Q. James Harrison and Hines Ward are both semifinalists for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Previously, you talked to me about why you believe Hines is worthy of a gold jacket. Do you believe James is worthy, and if so, why?
A. James? James is legendary. He's Hall of Fame worthy. Ask anyone who was playing in the National Football League at that time. Anytime a guy is involved directly or indirectly with the change in the playing rules, that's significant in the ways that Mel Blount changed the way of the passing game when he was on his game. You ask anybody who was playing in the National Football League at that time, and James Harrison was probably directly responsible for the player safety initiative. Advancements in the game for the betterment of all parties involved is a good thing, but the men behind it, the guys who are kind of involved in change are special people, and no question that James' style of play, what he was physically capable of doing, his demeanor, his reputation, are legendary.

Q. You had Harrison in the starting lineup as an outside linebacker for the 2007 regular season opener, and that was your first year as the Steelers coach. Did you know about him before you got this job, or what was it that you saw that summer that had you believe he was an NFL starter?
A. I did. I did know about him, but you know, it was my job to know about him. I was a defensive coordinator in the NFL at that time. And I remember specifically, maybe 2005 that he was a question mark in terms of whether or not he was going to make the roster. And those guys with distinguishing traits who are question marks, maybe the totality of their game isn't ready, but a component of their game is. Those of us who are in this business, we know who those guys are. Those are the guys you keep an eye on and follow their development or lack thereof, or maybe you look for an opportunity maybe to work with them. And he was in that small collection of guys where you knew there were certain aspects of his game that were really varsity. And if you're not working with him directly, maybe you don't know what's slowing down progress, but you do know what's really good, and I knew he didn't lose physical confrontations ... as a matter of fact, he welcomed them.

Q. What was the special component Harrison had at that time?
A. His willingness to engage, his willingness to combat people. The butt-kicking component in this game will never go away. It's above schematics. It's above the "evolution of the game." You get a bunch of tough guys who don't lose one-on-one battles, you have a chance to have a good football team. And he really exemplifies that.

Q. In your NFL career, you have coached and been around a lot of tough guys. There were some tough guys on that Tampa Bay defense. Where did Harrison rank?
A. I haven't been around a football player who I can definitively say is tougher than James Harrison. Maybe we can have conversations about people who you would say, "might be as tough as" … but there are zero people, when I think about toughness and who I've been exposed to – the poster boy is James Harrison.

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