Labriola On

Tomlin on No. 1 WRs, 'business decisions'

Q. You referred to today's opponent as battle-tested. What does battle-tested mean to you?
A. They're an undefeated group, but they've been in some close ballgames. They've been behind late in some of those ballgames, and I just think you can grow from some of those experiences, particularly when you've been able to be successful. When you look at the score differential in a lot of their games, these games have been hotly contested. They stood up in the waning moments and made the significant plays in those moments, and it has come in a variety of phases. They've had game-winning field goals as time has expired; they've had necessary defensive stops or turnovers; and obviously the big man (Derek Henry) has delivered for them on the offensive side along with (quarterback) Ryan Tannehill. They've won games in a variety of ways. They've had to dig down deep and do the things you need to do to win in this league, and that's what I mean when I say battle-tested.

Q. Are the 2020 Steelers battle-tested?
A. I think we are, but I don't think we've had as much exposure as they have, and so you have to respect that.

Q. When a coach is faced with replacing a significant player because of injury, as is the case with Devin Bush, is it important to the team that the coach publicly show his support for the replacement to instill confidence?
A. I don't think the team cares what I say publicly, to be honest with you. The team probably has already formulated its opinion about that player based on what he has done on a day-to-day basis. In the case of Robert Spillane I can just tell you that the group is excited about him, and that excitement is based on his daily approach and his work ethic and the way he competes in a practice setting. They respect that, and that's why they're excited about him. Largely you can do things as a coach to try to maybe shape a perception, but it doesn't work inside the locker room. Those guys know. They have an opinion, and very little that I say is going to change that. The only thing that's going to change it is the quality of that player's play.

Q. What are the qualities and/or characteristics of a No. 1 receiver?
A. A guy who's able to deliver in the moment, and here's a key element of that: They see you coming. There is a routineness to it, meaning they spent all week trying to minimize you in that moment, yet you still deliver. You'll see a bunch of young guys step up from time to time, a young, talented wideout will have a big game and so forth. The real guys, they show up every week. Coaching staffs are drawing up schematics on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to minimize them on third downs and in the red zone, and yet on Sunday they still deliver and do so routinely. Those are the guys you are referring to when you talk about a No. 1 receiver.

Q. So it's almost the opponent that designates the No. 1 receiver by what it does to minimize him, rather than you just identifying a certain player as your No. 1 receiver?
A. Hey, I have news for you: everybody doesn't have a No. 1 receiver, just like every franchise doesn't have a franchise quarterback. Everyone likes to talk like they do, but it's a poorly kept secret.

Q. Do you have a No. 1 receiver?
A. I don't know yet. There haven't been enough plays made, to be honest with you. There's that routineness element of it that I'm looking for. Once it becomes routine, once I feel like it is routine that people are drawing up schematics to minimize you and yet you still deliver, then I'll be willing to acknowledge it. Until then, I'll just chuckle at some of that "Who's the No. 1 receiver" talk.

Q. On Friday, you made a change at punter. Why?
A. We made a change earlier in the process in an effort to get better, and quite frankly we didn't get better, and so we have to be light enough on our feet and humble enough to acknowledge that and make the necessary adjustments in an effort to move forward. And so that's what we've done.

Q. You're going back to Jordan Berry as the punter. Why that alternative?
A. Because in this environment, there's comfort in going with what we know. And so that's the approach we're taking. There is a lot that's going on in this COVID-19 environment that dictates how you do business from time to time. We're not interested in bringing in a bunch of unknowns, exposing the group and things of that nature to the things that come with that. We're comfortable with what (Berry) has been able to do with us in the past. He's available, and he's willing to work, so we're moving forward.

Q. The NFL trading deadline is Nov. 3. In your mind, what boxes must be checked before you'd even consider pulling the trigger on an in-season trade?
A. If you're putting somebody on a moving train in the manner you mentioned, having some intimate knowledge of their character or their football character or their day-to-day is important. Forget what you see on tape. Everybody has access to that, that's global information. But in an effort to feel comfortable, to know how they might fit into the group dynamic and what they might bring to your football team, it's good to have some intimate knowledge of who they are as men, how they go about their day-to-day business and so forth, and usually that comes from shared relationships or past research.

Q. In assessing your team's performance against the Browns, you said, "We didn't get an opportunity to see if we are capable of standing up vs. their type of a running game over the course of four quarters just because of game circumstance." What is required to stand up against the kind of running game the Browns have, the kind of running game you'll see from the Titans today, over four quarters?
A. It's that attrition element of football that I was referring to. When a team is committed to the run and the game circumstances don't get away from that team, that team can turn and hand the ball off to a featured runner, or two featured runners, 25-plus times. That has a way of eroding away at a defense and the individuals within a defense. Because we got up on Cleveland the way that we did, it probably minimized some of that in terms of their intentions. I think Kareem Hunt ended up with around 15 carries or so. That's the same mode of operations the Tennessee Titans subscribe to. So we're going into this game against a team that's committed to winning by attrition, and we really haven't been tested in that way to this point because of how the game unfolded last week. We haven't checked that box yet. Chances are, if we're going to be successful in this game, we will have to.

Q. Beyond the impact from a football standpoint when an opponent runs the football successfully, is there a psychological impact on the defense as well?
A. It's less about the attrition element for the defense and more about the attrition element of it that it is for the individuals within the defense. If we're dealing with a lot of circumstances where Joe Haden and Steve Nelson are having to tackle that back repeatedly, and that occurs several times over the course of those 30 carries, that's different than Vince Williams having to step up and tackle that guy repeatedly. I don't believe Vince minds. I think guys like Joe Haden and Steve Nelson may mind if it gets to be a game of attrition in that way.

Q. It is sometimes said that defensive players "make business decisions" in games against Titans running back Derrick Henry. In the football business, what does that mean?
A. People always have that discussion in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, but it is a real thing. If you play cornerback in the National Football League and you're going against one-wide-receiver offensive personnel groups and they're running the ball at you and you're 185 pounds and that back is 250 and that happens 25-30 times over the course of the game, there are some meetings you have with yourself. Covering people on third down in bump man-to-man, that's their wheelhouse. They relish those opportunities. Some of that other stuff is a little bit foreign to them. That's one of the things to me that makes football such a unique and interesting and the ultimate team game. There are very different athletes who have very different challenges week in and week out. The challenges that Joe Haden and Steve Nelson face week to week are very different than the challenges Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt face. There is mutual respect and that mutual respect is required in order for us to be a good defense. Every now and then Joe Haden and Steve Nelson are going to have to get dirty and do the gritty things that may be unattractive to them, and every now and then Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are going to have to cover some grass and turn and chase a screen and make a necessary play for us in space. That's just the thing about football that makes it the great game that it is.

Q. When guys are "making business decisions" and you're watching it either in person or on video, what does that look like?
A. It looks like they turned it down, because that's what they did. To cower if you will, to worry about your personal well-being over the well-being of the collective group. It's a gory discussion, it's the elephant in the room, but that is life in our business and particularly at this level.

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