Tomlin on O-line, Le'Veon vs. Marshall, fumbles

Q. In going over the team's performance last Sunday night, one of the things you mentioned was a play in which Tyson Alualu punched the ball out in a critical situation and the Bills were able to recover. Is there a coaching point in there somewhere, and what would it be?
A. You create your fortune, and you create your fortune by building fundamentals that push you in that area, and then reinforce those fundamentals by creating a culture of hustle, It's a very technical thing to be ball-aware and punch the ball out, and you maximize those opportunities by creating an environment where everybody is hustling and flowing to the ball. The reality is we got the first end of that done with Tyson able to punch the ball out, but whoever the receiver was from Buffalo who recovered that ball was moving to the action a little bit better, a little more fluidly than we were, and he was in position to recover it. And that's why you're always working on what can become cliché-like things – building fundamentals routinely on a day-to-day basis, showing ball awareness, and hustling to the ball – but you create your fortune in this business, and what some people might deem as lucky is in fact far from that. You create that methodically with your approach and the culture that you build daily.

Q. Do players who see the ball on the ground call it out? Does everybody go for the ball, or should some guys try to do something to try to help a teammate get to it?
A. The people who call "ball" are people who always are too far away to do anything about it. Anybody within any kind of vicinity on either team who has an opportunity to field that ball says nothing, and just scrambles. Any ball call you hear is usually from someone on the periphery who is not in a position to recover.

Q. The one area of the offense that hasn't had to overcome injuries or inexperience is the offensive line. Veteran guys who largely have been healthy through the regular season. Are you getting what you need from that group?
A. I have, and I am continually, but it doesn't mean their job is going to be an easy one. When dominos are falling around them it gets increasingly difficult for them to do their job. They're a group that's capable of winning the line of scrimmage and allowing us to run the ball, but if we're without significant perimeter people like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald, then the number of people they have to block in an effort to do that changes, for example. So I don't base their overall effectiveness on tangible things like numbers and results that we could easily talk about. I acknowledge that things they need to do routinely change, and the difficulty of it changes based on who's available or who's not available around them. I love the group. They're a steadying force. They've been an encourager to these young people at other positions – quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end. They've done a heckuva job of leading and being that consistent anchor for that group, but it doesn't mean their job has been easy.

Q. After studying the Jets offense, how are they using Le'Veon Bell?
A. He's an every-down back. It's kind of a unique thing. They try to find ways to rest and supplement him. They supplement him on first and second downs with Bilal Powell, and then they maybe substitute for him with someone else on third down. But he is an all-situations back, he's always been an all-situations back. That's what he was for us, and that's what he's doing for those guys.

Q. You had some experience going against Marshall Faulk when you were an assistant at Tampa Bay, and you coached Bell here. Is it more difficult to minimize guys like that as a runner or as a receiver?
A. It really just depends on their capabilities to produce splash plays, and how they're best capable of producing splash. Marshall was unique because when he got outside the backfield he produced splash plays at the rate of a receiver or like a receiver. Le'Veon is a dominant pass game guy, but not in that way. It's out of the backfield for him. He's more like Larry Centers, a volume catch guy, works underneath defenders. Marshall was a potential down-the-field threat. He became a legitimate component of their down-the-field attack. So they're both something to deal with, but they're something to deal with in different ways.

Q. Devlin Hodges gets the start today at quarterback, and you explained your reasoning for that decision at your news conference by saying you looked forward to giving him an opportunity to rebound. What did he do in your mind to earn that opportunity?
A. Just his presence at this level of competition. That's one of the ties that bind all of these guys. There are certain things in their journey, and their journeys are all different. Some guys are urban guys, some guys are rural guys. Some guys have been playing football since they were in second grade, and some guys picked up football in the ninth grade. But the reality is to make it to this level you faced some adversity and you stared it in the face of it and you've overcome it. That's one of the things I love about this game at this level. These guys are very different, but that's a common thread. And so I like to call on that common thread. These guys are here because of their ability to do that. So I like to try to give them an opportunity at this level to show that trait, that trait that got them here, that bounce-back trait. Success is one thing, adversity is another. Anybody who is doing anything at a high level is doing it at a high level because they proved they are capable of overcoming adversity. They've had some success, no doubt, but they're capable of overcoming adversity. Those are the guys who play football at this level, whether they're Pro Bowl guys or whether they're R-5 on kickoff, they all share that common thread in their football experience.

Q. About Hodges, you also said, "I think it's reasonable to expect him to learn from those negative experiences from last Sunday night and apply it to this next opportunity and really, hopefully, to not make those same mistakes twice." What is it that gives you reason to believe he's capable of that?
A. That's a human trait, particularly in infancy, and we're at the infancy of his career. He learns, and learns at a ridiculous rate. When my kids were young, I'd read these books and they'd talk about their ability to take in information and how they learn at a young age. And you can teach them to be bilingual at the age of 2 and things of that nature. I draw parallels from that in terms of their football careers. When you're at the infancy of your football career, you're learning lessons week in and week out. I urge these guys to keep a journal, because it helps you organize these lessons because there are so many of them. A young guy is learning a heckuva lot more inside stadiums than a guy like Maurkice Pouncey, who has been walking inside stadiums for a decade. So it's reasonable to expect Devlin to learn some lessons, some of them negative, some of them hard, but apply those lessons and apply them quickly and learn in a way our children do when they're toddlers. You see it and you see it almost on a daily basis.

Q. You also mentioned that you were looking for a good week of practice, not only from Hodges, but from "us collectively." What would you define as a good week of practice?
A. Guys dialed in. Guys communicating. It's more of those things than it is physical work this time of year. We've shortened practices because you call on the cumulative work from a preparation standpoint to save that fuel or energy for the game. But it's also the nature of practice, because we don't practice in shoulder pads because it's a task just to get people to the stadium with the cumulative effect of the physical demands of playing 14 football games. So our Wednesdays are not as physical as maybe they are in September. How do you measure guys dialed in? How do you gauge readiness? How do you gauge guys really infused into the preparation process? By how they communicate. How they take the class to the grass. How they talk pre-snap. How they talk post-play in the assessment of what happened. And sometimes you can stand back and gain an appreciation for the collective engagement by listening to those informal communications.

Q. And did you get it? Did you get a good week of practice?
A. I felt good about it, but I wanted to. The real measure is how we perform. We'll kick this ball off in a little bit, and that will be the true story-teller.

Q. What would you tell an inexperienced quarterback about going against a Gregg Williams coordinated defense?
A. Smile in the face of the adversity that he is going to work hard to create. We have to minimize the number of times Devlin is in those circumstances, and by that, you stay on schedule. If you're in third-and-5, you're going to see fewer of the things you're going to see on third-and-10. And so we all have a collective job in terms of minimizing the amount of exposure that Devlin gets to a Gregg Williams coordinated defense. But when those things occur, he's got to smile in the face of it, he's got to deliver in the face of it. And if he does, it's going to disappear. If he doesn't, it will intensify. And that's just the reality of competing at this level.

Q. When it comes to the passing attack, what do your receivers need to know about the style of defense they're going to face today in terms of helping their quarterback?
A. To be where they're supposed to be. Notice I didn't say anything about catching the football, because the catching of the football can't be a discussion. That's why they're receivers. It's important in terms of assisting him of being where he anticipates them being, them seeing the necessary adjustments to the pressure packages and the coverages.

Advertising