Labriola On

Tomlin on NFL's plan, Cam, captains

Q. Here we are, opening weekend of the 2020 NFL season, and all of the games have been played as originally scheduled. I have to admit, some months ago I wasn't all that sure the NFL would be able to pull this off, but it did. What are your thought about how the league has put everything together to make this happen?
A. It has been really impressive. It hasn't necessarily been fluid, but it has been impressive. Their willingness to continue to work to make adjustment after adjustment to protocol has been the most impressive thing. We didn't formulate a plan and then send that plan to press and be unwilling to adapt or adjust. We adapted and adjusted where necessary based on what transpired with us, based on the information gathered of the experiences of the other sports, and I just think that general attitude, that willingness to continue to adjust is what has us where we are right now.

Q. During your news conference last Tuesday, you said the focus of your plan for tonight's game would be to put your players in the best position to win by utilizing schemes they can perform well in a variety of circumstances. In that respect, is this regular season opener similar to a preseason game from a strategic standpoint?
A. It probably is in terms of my attitude of doing what the guys are capable of doing and executing, but given the amount of time that we have worked relative to the amount of time we would have worked leading up to the first preseason game, the expectations are different. I do want to bring the game to our players and allow them to win the game and play fast and free and all of those things, but I believe it's a reasonable expectation for them to have a decent volume of game readiness in terms of the schematics. It is similar in spirit, but I'll expect them to be able to handle much more football tonight than I would expect them to handle for a preseason opener.

Q. When you put together a plan designed to have the players do what they can do well, is it done by practicing for a period of time and then going back over those practices and grading the things that worked well on offense, defense, and special teams and incorporating those into a game plan, or is it more about first deciding what are the most fundamental elements of Steelers football and then drawing a line there and working on those so they can be executed at a high level of efficiency?
A. It is that line that you mentioned. It is that declaration of what our football looks like and the things that we value. Whether it's schematics or style of play or attitudes or approach to situational things, there is a Steelers way, and we do drop that stake into the ground and work from there.

Q. What did Zach Banner do to win the starting right tackle job?
A. Zach and Chuks (Okorafor) both performed above the line of expectation. I just think he performed better more consistently. He brought it on a more consistent basis, on a daily basis, and I think that's reflective of what he's capable of doing over the course of the journey. Both guys are starter-capable, but the ridiculous consistency not only of his approach but also his performance won out in the long run.

Q. When you're making a decision like that, and the guy not named the starter likely will be the swing tackle on game days, is it really a two-part decision you're making, in that you're looking for the solution that best fills two roles instead of just one?
A. For me personally, at least in that instance, the decision was made exclusively on the job at hand – the right tackle job. Maybe in other instances you have to weigh certain things in terms of specialization, but in that instance it was based solely on performances as right tackles.

Q. Your two new assistant coaches – Matt Canada and Ike Hilliard – will they be on the sideline or up in the booth during the game?
A. Ike will be on the sideline and Canada upstairs in the booth. We're going to be feeling our way a little bit in terms of some of those things – how we communicate, the amount of communication and so forth. There's really no way to simulate that, but I'm excited. We've got a professional group. We've got a group of really good communicators, guys who are comfortable expressing opinions and those opinions are welcome. I look forward to that.

Q. What information, what communication do you need to get from the coaches in the booth?
A. Sometimes chatter is not a good thing, and so I don't need a play-by-play. What I need is a perspective that the sideline does not provide us. Thoughtful infusion of information is what's really prudent and appropriate from upstairs. Often times there is a dialogue in an effort to perfect that, because there are certain things on the sideline that we can see and we don't need those things described, but there are different things from the sideline or perspective from the sideline where we need assistance: How plays finish on the far sideline. Line-to-gain related things. If we get pushed out of bounds on the far side, how far away are we from the first-down marker, particularly if you're working on a field that has any sort of crown on it. Field perspective is difficult. And it grows from there.

Q. Last week, Cam Heyward signed a contract that will allow him to end his career with the Steelers. What does he mean to this team?
A. He's just really a walking example of how we like to do business. That's a young man who Kevin (Colbert) and myself identified at Ohio State. Prior to his draft we went into town and got to know him and took him to dinner and participated in all the pre-draft things. We drafted him even though he wasn't necessarily a finished product. We put him around some quality leadership like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, and he grew and developed. As those guys' careers wound down, Cam's revved up, and it continues to improve and he continues to play at an extremely high level. In turn, he's training the next generation. It's a really a proud moment when we're able to do business like that, to watch a guy like Cam Heyward, who's homegrown and developed and produced and will have an opportunity to go into his third contract here – all of it is really reflective of how we like to do business and the growth and development formula we have for our players and the players' roles in it. Not only as a mentee, but now as he gets into his third contract as a mentor paying it forward is cool and fun to watch.

Q. Do you ever allow yourself to look at and appreciate what a guy like Cam Heyward and others do away from Heinz Field as citizens of their community?
A. It's really cool from my perspective, and I say "my perspective" because I've been here long enough that I see where the seeds were planted. I appreciate Cam's willingness to be in the community and represent us and himself in the way that he does, but I was also here for the early portions of his career when he was simply coming along and watching Brett Keisel do the things that he did and continues to do in the community. It was awesome to watch that training process and then it turned to a maturation process for him, and now it's fun to watch Cam as he conducts his foundational business and you see young guys coming along beside him.

Q. In past years at the beginning of the regular season, we've talked about September football and what's important for a team to succeed during the early stages of a season. With no preseason games this summer, has what's important to winning in September changed at all, or it is simply magnified?
A. It hasn't changed at all. It has simply intensified. Part of being a tough team to beat is not beating yourself, and in September that means doing fundamental things well, maintaining possession of the ball, working your tails off to play penalty-free, and be situationally aware. And situationally aware means being aware of circumstances in the game relative to situations. Fluidly getting 11 on and off the field through offense, defense, and special teams, and so forth. Without preseason work, those things are not things that you take for granted. Those are things that have our attention, and so we're working extremely hard to be a team that's tough to beat.

Q. Last week, the team named its captains for the 2020 season. It was Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey for offense, Cam Hayward and T.J. Watt for defense, and Jordan Dangerfield for special teams. Being that this is the NFL and these are professional athletes, what's the significance of captains?
A. It means different things to different people. Guys like Ben and Pouncey and Cam have been captains before, and they're respected not only for what they do but also for what they've done and how they conduct themselves. It means something totally different for someone like Dangerfield, who has been cut a bunch and been a practice squad guy and really has worked his way up through the ranks. It's really a sweet honor for him to be recognized by his teammates, given the challenges he has faced during the course of his career to find footing and to build to this point. And then it's significant for a guy like Watt, who has come of age and come of age in a big way. Although he is young, his teammates really respect him and look to him for leadership, and so new leaders are exciting, guys who have had challenging journeys and have come through the other side of it and get recognized, that warms your heart. And it's good to have known commodities like the other three that I mentioned.

Advertising