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Tomlin on Kenny, chunk plays, fun

Q. Now that the preseason is about to start, the PRE-preseason game portion of training camp is over. In your mind, what needs to be accomplished during the PRE-preseason game portion of a training camp? Did you meet that goal this summer?
A. You know, we had to get the right installation schedule and get to that portion of it. But beyond that, because that's just surface level, we've really been trying to educate this group as it pertains to situational ball, particularly in the last week. Everything that we do is situational, short-yardage, goal-line, red zone, possession-down play, two-minute football, etc. A significant part of getting a group stadium ready are those situational things that transpired during week two or week three in this (camp) process, which is kind of what we are in this week. It was imperative that we teach and educate and take snaps through scenarios in an effort to be game-savvy and ready and aware once we step into a stadium.

Q. A distinguishing characteristic of last summer's training camp was the quarterback competition held to follow Ben Roethlisberger, and it eventually became rookie Kenny Pickett's job a few games into the season. What have you seen from Pickett so far during his first training camp as the incumbent starter?
A. It's a big camp for him. Think about largely my approach regarding expectations for second-year players. We routinely talk about how we expect second-year players to make a significant jump. They have awareness, they have experience that they didn't have, they have the ability to anticipate the journey in terms of what's ahead. And so that allows them to be better focused to see things maybe that they missed a year ago, and so I've been focusing on that component with him. Last year, we were talking about surface-level things, and this year we've spent a lot more time talking about some of the things that come with the job, such as the leadership component. I'm really excited about taking him into a stadium, not necessarily for what he does in-stadium from a preseason perspective, but I would imagine his game prep is going to be different this year. Last year he was probably singularly focused on calls and execution of calls and things of that nature. I'm hopeful that he'll have a broader perspective on game prep. And as he leans in on the game, he's probably less concerned about what it is he's doing and more open to being what others need him to be. The leadership component or the communication component of the position and making sure that those within his unit are on one accord. I'm really excited about seeing those things. And so that's our focus. He and I, that's our focus. This lap around is a little bit different than a year ago.

Q. In terms of playing time for the starting quarterback during the preseason, so many of us became accustomed to Ben not playing the preseason opener during the latter stage of his career. Being that your starting quarterback is a second-year pro, how might that plan change tonight and then over the following two weeks?
A. And that's exactly what I'm talking about. Forget how much he plays. He's got three opportunities here in the preseason to lean in on game action. And that's good experience for him in terms of being comfortable in his shoes and being what others need him to be – communicating with others, getting the unit on one accord. And so there's some work there prior to even the ball being kicked off that I'm interested in him partaking in. It's less about the volume of play. It's just the readiness to play and maybe some of the secondary things that come with the j-o-b.

Q. In describing chunk plays by an offense, a common impression is that those are created by throwing the ball deep down the field. But there also can be chunk plays created via the running game. In terms of yardage gained, what would you consider a chunk running play?
A. Ten yards or more. That's the global analytical definition from an NFL perspective. Runs of 10 yards or more are big runs in today's game, and it's kind of become a global thing in the analytics community, and I think we all kind of use that as a frame of reference.

Q. To gain that much yardage on a running play in the NFL, what needs to happen from an execution standpoint?
A. You've got to be clean at the point of attack. The runner has to be clean as to his tracks and reads. The secondary and the perimeter blocks are a component of it, and then it's the run talent. This is the NFL, and these are not college holes. Even when plays are executed to an acceptable level, there are going to be some things the runner has got to work through on the 10-yard run component. And so his ability to finish on the second and third levels, and the receivers ability to position themselves appropriately to block kind of defines the makeup of those plays.

Q. A regular feature of every NFL camp is a visit from a group of NFL officials for a few days. What's the most valuable part of that visit in terms of the team development process?
A. The on-field work with them. The communication, forget whether or not they throw flags, but the communication, the teaching of what produced the flag, the things that they're looking for. The line between what is and what is not a penalty, if you will. To have an officiating crew in a setting like this for a number of days, guys really get a sense of "the line." Where is the line, whether it's hand-play down the field between receivers and defensive backs. Whether it's holding in the line of scrimmage or not. To get that frame of reference of where the line is, I think is an important component of development.

Q, I know better than to ask you a question about being "comfortable" or whether you find comfort in a particular development or aspect of the team. I know you love your job, and being what the team needs you to be to achieve the desired outcome is gratifying and necessary. But do you have fun? For example, doing that episode of Grillin' and Chillin' with Zach Gentry and Pat Freiermuth looked like you were having fun.
A. I have fun every day, and it's probably the absolute best component of the job. I love what I do, certainly, There are challenges, we're highly competitive. But I'm not so absorbed in it that I don't realize what a blessing this is. And I want the guys to recognize that, too. And so having fun is a component of it, and it's OK to have fun. Grillin' and Chillin' is an example of that. I'll tell you this: There were some components of that that ended up on the cutting room floor that were very funny. (Laughs)

Q. Former Steelers Ike Taylor and Merril Hoge have been added to the staff and have been regulars at camp. What are their contributions?
A. I love guys who know what it means to be a Steeler. You don't have to educate them. As a matter of fact, they educate others. They believe it, they believe it to the core. They're "Steeler men", and you just cannot have enough of that. The oral history that goes on out there, the informal interaction is invaluable. I smile when I see Ike talking to Minkah about Troy. You know what I mean? I know what the conversation is about, and that is a cool thing. You can't put a price tag on that. Same thing with Merril. Merril has a scouting assignment and is attached to the running back room. In an environment like camp, he's with them and he's evaluating them every day. But in the midst of that, there's awesome interaction and teaching. And that's just a beautiful thing.

Q. You used the term "Steeler men." What does that mean?
A. You know, they embody the things that we value. And it's a natural act. They are football lovers. They're good men, they buy into this organization's business model.

Q. During the first Saturday of camp, the four new members of the Steelers Hall of Honor were announced, and you coached two of them – James Harrison and Aaron Smith. Besides statistics, what makes them deserving members of the Hall of Honor?
A. I don't know that stats indicate the impact of Aaron. And particularly at that time, the 3-4 end and what he did, he kept James Farrior and Co. clean. He chewed blocks. He was immoveable. He re-established a line of scrimmage. He played a physical brand of football. His impact on the game is not reflected in stats. James, man, James' demeanor was infectious and contagious. When you've got legitimate tough guys, it makes others around him more brave. I like to say, there would be guys who would be like, "James, let's get them." You need a lead dog. And he's a lead dog in demeanor. It is real. And when you play with guys like him, that makes regular guys a little bit more brave.

Q. At the end of each practice at camp, you gather the team on the field and talk to them before the group breaks up and heads to the locker room. What are some of the kinds of things you're touching on during that post-practice gathering?
A. Some lessons are so significant, the quicker that we can get to it, the better. The immediacy of the lesson is important. Things that are uncompromising, fundamental things, like if we put the ball on the ground, we're turning the ball over in a practice setting, I'm not waiting to get into a team meeting to talk about it. We're talking about it right there on the grass. If we're giving away free yards on defense, if we're highly penalized, if we're in the neutral zone for pre-snap penalties … it is very difficult to stop offenses in the National Football League, and to give away first downs, to give away yardage is something that doesn't sit well with me. And so those are examples of some of the things that could occur during the course of a practice that require immediate attention in an environment like that. Sometimes, the talk it's complimentary. Sometimes things go so well in a practice, I want them to know immediately how significant it is and why. Usually it's something that requires immediate attention and since you don't want to waste time, there's no time like the present. And so we talk about it on site.

Q. What are you looking for from your team tonight?
A. Oftentimes people think NFL football is spectacular. Particularly for the guys who are new to us or new to the NFL, I'm looking for them to make routine plays routinely. That's something that I've been harping on. Catch the catchable balls, make throws, and put people in position to run after-the catch. Make tackles, leverage the ball appropriately on defense. Be where you're supposed to be and looking at what it is you're supposed to look at. I want to see routine things done at a routine level. And I think that would be a good platform to build upon as we step in and out of this stadium.