Q. In just about every aspect, college players have a significant adjustment to make when they come into the NFL. One area where they might not have as big of an adjustment is in the area of handling crowd noise. Dan Moore Jr. has experienced Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Athens, Georgia. Kendrick Green has experienced the Horseshoe and the Big House and Happy Valley. Do you find that rookies from the big-name programs come to you with a foundation of how to handle crowd noise?
A. It's an interesting thing, and I was just talking to Pat (Freiermuth) about it just the other day. And this is the way I explained it to him: In college football, teams' fans go to stadiums and they root for their team; in the professional game, fans go to the stadium, and they root against the opponent. And so, while college players might have been in some loud environments, the intensity of it, the nastiness of it in professional football is a little different than in college.
Q. What procedure do college teams follow during games to deal with the kind of noise you're likely to face today in this stadium?
A. You know procedurally, from a practice standpoint they do some of the same things that we do in terms of utilizing artificial crowd noise while working on a silent count. I'm keenly aware of it because of the close proximity that we have to the Pitt Panthers, and so they do similar things. Guys have been in similar circumstances in preparation for this, but I'm telling you that when you're in a visiting stadium in the National Football League, the intensity of the fans' hate, if you will, is at a professional level, and it's something to be appreciated.
Q. Which offensive position player on your team plays the most significant role in the execution of the silent snap count?
A. It really is up to Ben and the center in terms of the execution of the silent snap count. Then, the people who are put in the most challenging circumstances are the offensive tackles. And so that's why you see in many instances, when false starts come into play, it's almost always the tackles. It's in those definitive passing situations, where you know that the opposing team is passing, where defensive linemen are really trying to get off on the ball, that really test the offensive tackles in silent count situations, and so they're challenged. But mechanically, it's really on the quarterback in the center.
Q. Is the silent count used only when the quarterback is in the shotgun?
A. (It's used) whenever the crowd circumstances dictate. And so, you're going into games like this anticipating (noise on) possession downs is going to be a significant factor. Also, the first series, the second series of a game, just the intensity and the excitement associated with the beginning of the game, (and then) we'll play it by ear from there. Often times the quality of our play determines the intensity of crowd noise moving forward. If we make enough plays early on, (the noise) becomes less significant. And that's something that we've been talking about and acknowledging through the preparation process.
Q. In what ways can crowd noise have an effect on the home team's defense?
A. I've explained it this way: When we prepare for home games our defense works with (artificial) crowd noise, because their communication is strained. Believe me, that's a problem that defenses embrace. It's a challenge, but it's a problem that defenses embrace because they definitely want to minimize some of the things that come with offensive football. The adjustments that you have to make in regard to crowd noise is a welcomed adjustment from a defensive perspective.
Q. Are there things you can do offensively to take advantage of the home team's defense having trouble communicating because of crowd noise?
A. Very little to be honest with you. You're going to open yourself up to errors, working at pace and things of that nature, trying to be in attack mode, particularly in the early portions of the season. We can simulate it, we work hard at it in a practice setting, but nothing is going to simulate exactly the environment on Sunday, so we're more focused on what it is that we do, as opposed to things that we could potentially do to Buffalo's defense because they're in the same (noisy) environment.
Q. The Steelers family and the Pittsburgh community lost Tunch Ilkin about a week ago. How will you remember him?
A. I remember those non-football moments. We had a formal relationship, but we also had a very informal relationship. I am honored to consider him a friend. He walked alongside me in a lot of things that were important to me. He was a mainstay in my ManUp initiative in terms of encouraging guys to be the very best dads they could be. He was the emcee for that every year. When you would see Tunch and walk past him and say, "Hey, good morning. How are you doing?" He always would answer with, "Better than I deserve." And that resonated with me, and I would say it in return, and I also would say it to others. That's just the type of guy he was … he was a walking, talking, blueprint for all of us in terms of how to live our lives.
Q. T.J. Watt signed a contract extension on Friday afternoon. What's your policy with regard to involving yourself in negotiations in a behind-the-scenes manner in trying to help the sides come to a resolution?
A. I want the focus to be on football. And so, I work closely with the player who's in the midst of contract negotiations just talking about how he needs to conduct himself, where his focus needs to be, educating them about the process, reminding them that they hired agents and so forth to handle the negotiations. It's a very personal thing for a player, and so sometimes it's good for the player to create a little distance for himself for sanity's sake and let the people employed to negotiate do that. Those are the kind of things that I try to involve myself in. It's a repeat thing for me because I've been in this business at this level for a long time. Oftentimes, like in the case of T.J. Watt, it was the first time he was involved in something like this. And so, I just try to be helpful to them in terms of information, in terms of what the process is like, so that they can manage their energy and their focus and be right-minded in regard to their craft, which is football.
Q. Last Tuesday during your news conference in talking about Dan Moore, the rookie tackle who'll start today, you said his floor was higher than anticipated from your perspective. What specifically were you referencing?
A. His general readiness, the skills that he possesses relative to his position – his hand usage, etc., but more than that, his maturity, his mentality. The way he takes in information and the quality in which he takes in information. He's a quick study. He almost gives you that veteran vibe in terms of how he receives information, which is a great asset to a young guy. He's a quick learner. And that's what I mean when I talk about this floor being higher than anticipated.
Q. Is that similar to you saying that "it's not too big for him?"
A. No question, but to me, "it's not too big for him" is somewhat mystical. I like to talk in more tangible ways. Such as, the reasons why it's not too big for him. He's a quick study. He came here with a nice level of preparedness, but often times you know you get that from a three-year starter from the Southeastern Conference. That's the case, and that's one of the things that's really attractive about guys who competed in that league. The reputation that league has, there's a certain readiness associated with it.
Q. Do you believe the use of a spy vs. a quarterback like Josh Allen can be an effective strategy?
A. It's an avenue. Some people like it more than others. It can be a good strategy, depending on who that spy is. I laugh when they sometimes put a defensive lineman at the spy position, or another player who is not as good an athlete as the quarterback is. It depends on who your spy is. I used to always feel comfortable when our spy was Ryan Shazier, because Ryan could run down anybody. There are a lot of layers to that spy discussion.
Q. How does the use of a spy impact the other 10 guys on the defense?
A. It's one less guy in pure coverage; it's one less guy in pure rush. And so, there's some give and take there. Football is very mathematical, it's an 11-on-11 game. And when you start talking about quarterback mobility you're talking about even numbers. So, you have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and we've talked a lot about that this week, in terms of where we're lacking when we're working to minimize Josh Allen's mobility. But that's the world we live in. We're an AFC North team and we play Lamar Jackson twice a year, and so we probably get more practice at it than most.