Labriola On

Tomlin on Mason, Moncrief, Minkah

Q. You have said that you’re not big on making announcements to the team about various things. Does that also pertain to a season-ending injury to your franchise quarterback?
A. By the time I walk into the room, that information already has worked its way around the room, and such is the case in most big instances when we have something to talk about. And that’s what I mean when I say very rarely do I make announcements. That information is already out when I walk into a room, and so more than anything I address the ramifications of such information. That’s what I did in the instance of the injury to Ben. I didn’t necessarily talk about the injury to Ben, or make an announcement relative to the injury to Ben, but I talked about how do we move forward, how do we meet the standard of expectation, how do we get this train rolling.

Q. What was the tone of what you said to the team in that instance?
A. The tone is: team is just that. Team. We didn’t call a press conference when Rosie Nix went down the other week and somebody else had to play L-3 on kickoff, or somebody else had to play slot-left on the punt team. No. The men who were responsible for meeting that standard stepped in and played with little fanfare. There’s a little more fanfare with the quarterback position, and I understand that. But none of that is any different from the inner workings of our group, and what we expect from Mason and how we will support him, and the standard of expectations for us collectively. We anticipate and expect to win this football game. We expect Mason (Rudolph) to play winning football, just like we expect the guy replacing Rosie Nix on the punt team to play winning football. We’re not anticipating punts to get blocked. I work hard to make sure they understand that from a mentality standpoint, that the quarterback position is no different than any other. Although outside of our group, respectfully the position garners a certain amount of attention.

Q. Because of the nature of the quarterback position, does more have to go into preparing the backup at that position to start than what would be required to get a backup guard or safety ready to step in and start?
A. The significant element of it, I think, is if you’re a backup at other positions, you get opportunities to play football. And in playing football, you gain comfort and you grow. If you’re a backup linebacker, you cover kicks, you’re playing football week in and week out. If you’re a backup running back, Benny Snell has played a lot of football before that 23-yard run last week. He had covered punts and kickoffs and being involved in the game itself. The difficult element of it at the quarterback position is that you don’t play until you play. There are probably some nerves and other things to get over in terms of being on the field that other positional groups don’t deal with.

Q. What have you seen from Mason Rudolph, what about him makes you believe he will be ready for this once the ball is on the tee for the game’s opening kickoff?
A. Quarterbacks aren’t made, they’re born. He’s a quarterback. How he walks around the building since the day we drafted him indicates that. How he goes about his business is a little bit different maybe than some other positions, a certain professional flair to it. That’s what provides comfort for us in terms of being able to anticipate the quality of his performance, although we’re not seeking comfort.

Q. In what specific areas have you found the team to be lacking in losing the first two games of this season?
A. We’re warming up to possession downs on offense, and you can’t do that. You don’t establish any rhythm. You allow your opponent maybe even to get in front of you, as was the case in Week 1. It wasn’t the case in Week 2 because we started fast defensively. But we have to win possession downs much sooner in games. Three-and-outs don’t allow us to establish rhythm, it doesn’t allow us to wear down the opposing defense, it doesn’t allow us the required number of snaps to find rhythm and get our running game going. We have to convert possession downs and then we’ll see what kind of a run game outfit we have, and we need to be able to play a game from that position, as opposed to the positions that we’ve played from in the first two weeks because we haven’t won those possession downs. And on defense, we cannot give up big plays, and we have to play better in sudden-change situations. There were two instances last week: One where we got off the field and forced a field goal, but we got a penalty on the field goal attempt and we had to go back on the field, and we gave up seven points. The other was the first possession of the third quarter, when we turned the ball over to put them on a short field, and we gave up a touchdown. Part of playing great defense, and a part of playing good team football is supporting one another. Defensively, we didn’t do a good enough job of supporting the other units when placed on a short field last week.

Q. How do you handle a situation like the one with Donte Moncrief, where you have a veteran receiver who seems to have lost the basic ability to catch the ball? Work with him? Demote him? Bench him? Cut him?
A. All of the above are on the table. If we’re talking to receivers about catching the ball, what are we talking about? That’s just a requirement of the job. It’s just like talking to a linebacker about tackling. It’s the essence of the position. People go through tough times at times, and sometimes you’re afforded an opportunity to give them a chance to recover, whether it’s in-game or in practice settings, but other times you have to move on. It’s just the nature of the business. He has been able to continue to be a part of us, and he’s working hard at practice to get his mojo back, but in the meanwhile we have expectations to meet and plays to make. So, we’re going with the guys who are consistently making them.

Q. This week also included a trade in which the team acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick. What did you learn about him, both as a player and as an individual, during the Pro Days you attended at Alabama?
A. First of all, I just had an opportunity to really have an appreciation for his game. When you go to two Pro Days, there is a lot of down time and a lot of opportunity in the facility like Alabama’s to grab film and really watch a lot of tape. I probably saw eight or nine of the games he played in his last year at Alabama. The quality of the player, first and foremost, but also spending two days there you get an opportunity to see the level of respect his teammates and coaches have for him, not only as a player but also as a young man. The seriousness with which he takes his participation in this game, the level of professionalism he has in terms of preparation, his football character being on display, all of those things were really attractive. And over the course of the two visits, it really became clear to me that because of those characteristics, we would have no opportunity to draft him in our draft position. And so we did further study on the class, and that’s how we ended up with Terrell Edmunds, because we knew Minkah would be off the board.

Q. In that kind of Pro Day setting, what might you learn about Minkah from his teammates?
A. I don’t necessarily know that I talked to his teammates about him, but I just think when you’re in their setting at their facilities, you watch their interactions, you watch them support one another, you watch the attentiveness of the other guys when the defensive backs are going through their individual drills and offensive linemen are really engaged in supporting them. I think it speaks to the level of respect his teammates have for him in the ways they supported him when he was going through his drill work at his Pro Day. If you go to a lot of Pro Days like we all do in this business, you learn to see the clues that indicate a high level of respect for a teammate and a peer.

Q. His head coach at Alabama, Nick Saban, called him “the best leader I ever coached.” In your experience with college coaches, can you take a statement like that one literally, or is it usually something you take with a grain of salt?
A. It depends on the college coach, and the fact that statement came from Coach Saban says it all. He’s not a guy who throws around compliments freely. He’s a guy who says less, and so the fact he holds him in that regard and was bold enough to state it says a lot.

Q. We talked earlier about getting a backup quarterback ready to play in one week. Can you take me through the process of getting a completely new player, a guy from another team, ready to play in one week?
A. These guys have played a lot of football by the time they get to this level. They’ve done it all before at some level, and a lot of times it’s just language. It’s: What do you call that? OK, I’m familiar with that as this, and now I just have to learn the language. So they’re not learning the action. They’re not learning the alignment. They’re not learning the line of vision in terms of the visual keys. They’re really just simply learning environmentally what we call it. And so, the learning process isn’t as daunting as you think, although you better respect the communication end of it and the naming end of it. It really is just, more than anything, learning another language, as opposed to learning new ways to work and maneuver your body within a space. He’ll be doing the same things within the framework of our defense that he’s did last week with the Dolphins, but it’ll just be called something different.

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