Labriola On

Tomlin on Kenny, footwear, stiff arm

Q. Earlier this season, Kenny Pickett was injured on a Sunday in Houston, and he came back to play the following Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. This time, Pickett's injury came on a Sunday against the Jaguars, and he says he's ready to play in tonight's game against Tennessee. How was your decision-making process different this time when compared to the previous injury?
A. First we deal with things on a case-by-case basis. The medical experts and their opinions prevail, and then we go on effectiveness in terms of his ability to do his job. Obviously he got clearance from the medical experts rather quickly in terms of him potentially being available, and so it was about whether he could do the things they said he needed to do, first to protect himself and play, and then be effective enough in doing so. We felt comfortable with what we saw Wednesday at practice. We had a Friday-like practice on Wednesday where we hit all of our situational football – third down, red zone, things of that nature, weighty down moments. He had a really good day, and so we feel comfortable with his availability and his ability to do his thing.

Q. In both cases this year of an injury to Pickett, you made no attempt to be vague about his status, when being vague could be a tactic to keep the opponent in the dark about whether he would play or not. Do you see no advantage in trying to keep a lid on that information to prevent it from getting back to the upcoming opponent?
A. I don't waste a lot of energy on that in general, because I know globally, most of the prudent football people are going to assume that the starter is going to be available and then work from there. And so if we were talking about non-starter-like decisions, if I was making a choice between backups with differing styles of play, like when we had Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs here, that might serve as an edge for us in terms of being vague in those circumstances. But I think most teams' default mode is starters will be playing, and so when the starter is playing I know that globally within our industry, it doesn't benefit you in any way to waste a lot of energy in that regard.

Q. One of the characteristics of a big-time quarterback is his ability to deal with adversity. Is playing with an injury or playing through an injury a form of adversity?
A. Most certainly, and it's probably one of the most significant components of adversity, because things happen in-game. And particularly at that position, plays gotta be made down the stretch. And so I think that's continually on display each weekend and in every stadium at that position.

Q. One of the things you said at your news conference was, "The longer you get into a season, the more evident your opponent's personality is, the more evident our personality is." What's your team's personality?
A. It just depends on what you're talking about. What element of play, what phase of the game, what situational component. What we've been talking about, kind of along this subject all year, is that today's game is very situational and very matchup oriented. And so those are very specific questions in today's game because everyone has differing personalities based on matchups and those circumstances.

Q. Is personality something you can create, or influence, or is it a trait that develops naturally on its own?
A. Both. It's very intentional from a planning perspective, in terms of the type of talent that you acquire and so forth. But then there's an organic component that's revealed to all of us through the bumps and ups and downs of the journey, just about what you are. And so the physical work that you do in terms of planning and the acquisition of talent, those are intentional things. The intangible component of identity or personality develops over time in play because of what transpires.

Q. On two separate occasions this season, Jaylen Warren has been fined $48,000 plus change because he was judged by the league to have improperly used the crown of his helmet on two plays that were not flagged during the game by the on-site officials. Do you have any concerns about how that might affect him as a player?
A. I do. But there's not anything I can do about it. But do I have concerns? Most certainly.

Q. Do you talk to him about it?
A. Talking to him doesn't put that $90,000-plus back in his pocket, so I don't know if I have the words that make him feel good about $90,000-plus in fines.

Q. On one throw into the end zone last Sunday against the Jaguars, Diontae Johnson was open but slipped going for the pass from Kenny Pickett. Is that something directly related to a player's choice of footwear for the conditions that day?
A. It could be. It could be what foot he planted off. It could be a physical or technical thing. It could be footwear. It could be the cleats within the footwear. It could be just where he was on the field in terms of the surface changing, and things of that nature. When you're in natural grass circumstances, re-turfing circumstances, there are seams and so forth. And so the bottom line is he's got to stay on his feet and make plays.

Q. Do you have any input into footwear; do you care to have any input into that?
A. There are so many things for me to micromanage. I will assume that all players will be professional enough to put appropriate footwear on. If I'm micromanaging footwear, chances are we've got insurmountable things to overcome.

Q. Tonight's opponent is the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry has a lethal stiff-arm, and he uses it to great effect. How should a defensive player go about trying to tackle someone about to use a stiff-arm?
A. First thing, the collective approach is to keep him in close quarters where (the stiff arm) gets minimized. It doesn't get used in close quarters. You keep him out of open space is the No. 1 thing, but if he happens to get into open space and you're in an individual one-on-one, that's where you're talking about the technical component. We actually work it. You identify skill-sets and traits that people have and how to combat it, and that is a tackling technique that you have to work. You have to knock the stiff arm down first, before you tackle. Obviously, you're giving up yards while doing that, but that's why it's so critical to keep a guy like him out of open space and why his stiff arm is so lethal. Because he turns 15-yard gains into 30-yard gains. You get in these one-on-one battles with a guy who's that fast and that long, it's in parts. You have to knock that stiff arm down before you tackle. If you run into it, he stiff arms you to the ground. If he puts that hand on the top of your helmet, then that 15-yard play that's becoming a 30-yard play could be a 50-yard play. And so, first things first you keep him in close quarters, you keep him out of open space, you keep him out of the second and third levels (of your defense) as much as you can. And if he so happens to get to that open space, it is a purity to a technique, and you better knock that hand down first. Knock it down or up depending on the nature of the matchup in terms of relative height and the angle at which he delivers it. But that is something that we work on in skill development in practice.

Q. So you can't say something as simple to the defender as "Go for his ankles?"
A. No, because he's going to put that hand on the top of your helmet and push your head into the ground and drive his knee up and keep rolling. That is also a technique. I've heard stories about how there's a helmet on a stick at Tennessee Titans practices, and equipment men continually poke that helmet on a stick at him, and he's continually finding the strike zone with his free hand. It is a technique that he has perfected, and so when I hear those stories, I am not surprised. There's nothing kind of unintentional about the game at this level. It is skill development. It is a unique skill that he has that he has developed, and it requires work in development to combat it.

Q. Did he come to the league with that, or did he develop it once he got here?
A. I'm sure it's a natural thing that has been honed. Oftentimes when you see things done at a high level in this league, it is first a natural thing and then it has been honed on a competitive level. I get asked about Alex Highsmith's spin move all the time. It is a natural skill that has been honed over his time in Pittsburgh, for example.

Q. Are there specific ways the Titans try to use Derrick Henry in an effort to try to help their rookie quarterback, Will Levis?
A. Certainly. You know, when they get a third-and-2 from the 2-yard line, and they get into the Wildcat and throw a jump pass for a touchdown vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, what they're doing is alleviating their quarterback from having to deliver in a drop-back passing situation in that weighty moment. They're leveraging Henry's run game prowess in an effort to find clear throwing lanes in what is a passing circumstance in today's game – third-and-3 third from the 3-yard line, for example. And so that's just one of the tangible ways that they do it. Wildcat for example, but just the mathematic commitment that you have to make in terms of minimizing his impact on the game in terms of the people that you need to put in terms of stopping the run. There's a reason why Levis threw three touchdown passes to DeAndre Hopkins last week. He was in one-on-one circumstances because of the commitment that needs to be made to minimize a guy like Derrick Henry.

Q. You coached against Mike Vrabel when he was a player. Are there similarities in how he played the game and now how the team he coaches plays the game?
A. I know the answer to that, and it is "yes," but it's because I know Mike. We sit on a committee together, we spend a lot of time talking about intentions and the construction of teams and so forth, and certainly the spirit in which he played, the things that he valued, such as football intellect, toughness, conditioning, and so forth are the same things that he values as a coach, and thus the construction of an outfit.

Q. Earlier. we talked about a team's personality. What kind of personality does a Mike Vrabel-coached team have?
A. I think it's born out in the significant players. It's a rough-and-tumble and big outfit. Their significant player on defense is Jeffrey Simmons, their significant player on offense is Derrick Henry. Both of those guys are big, physical guys per their position. They play in a certain manner. I think those units reflect the style in which they play, and thus that is the style of their collective.

Q. It seems to me that a game against the Titans feels like AFC North football. Is that an accurate perception?
A. Particularly under the circumstances. It's on a short week. You know we have a quarterback who's working his way back from injury. They have a rookie quarterback. It seems like all roads lead to risk management and attrition football. And the short week component can't be underscored. You know, in my opinion, a lot of these games on short weeks are determined by big men in line of scrimmage play and the consequences of defenses having to stay on the field or offenses that can't stay on the field. And so the big man component that tees up possession downs, the attrition component seems to always weigh heavily on short weeks.