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Tomlin on opening night in New England

Q. Do you make any attempt to prepare your young guys for the type of environment they're going to be facing tonight inside Gillette Stadium?

A. No, I leave that up to the veteran players. Some things are better served when they come from player to player, and the guys who have been in that environment in a helmet, those messages are received better from those guys. I spend a lot of time in weeks like this week, and in weeks early in a season, talking to established guys, been-there-done-that guys. Guys in the secondary like Will Allen and Will Gay, and making sure they're preparing the guys for the informal things that are issues when you get into situations like this. I handle the formal things.

Q. The Steelers are going to be forced to be a part of a pregame coronation tonight, a ceremony that's going to include the raising of a championship banner. Is there any extra juice to come from being in that situation?

A. You love it. If you're a competitor, you love being in that circumstance, and more important than that is you love overcoming those circumstances. One of James Harrison's favorite sayings is, "It's no fun when the rabbit's got the gun." You like being the rabbit.

Q. You said earlier that you believe it's better for the veteran players to handle certain things in terms of delivering messages. Is this also one of those times when it might be better to have James Harrison tell them himself how much fun that rabbit can have?

A. It's another thing handled by those veterans, an oral history passed down from seasoned veteran player to young player.

Q. Who are some of the major voices in the locker room now, when it comes to things like that?

A. On defense, James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Will Gay, Will Allen. On offense, Heath Miller, Ramon Foster, Ben, AB even now. It's funny to say that, but Antonio's a been-there-done-that guy. He has been in just about every situation professional football can put him in. He's one of those guys now.

Q. Putting this roster together was a little bit different in that you were practicing for the opener before the league's deadline for the roster cut-down to 53 players. How did that make putting this roster together different?

A. It was different, but it was different for New England as well. And so from that standpoint it's fair and the playing field is level. I try not to focus on some of the things that are outside your control, just with the understanding that the opponent you face has the same issues. Then it's fair.

Q. Understanding that it was fair because New England went through the same thing, how was it different?

A. It wasn't. In terms of what I do with players in terms of preparation, it wasn't. It created more things for me personally to deal with, but I tried to minimize the effect on the players as much as possible.

Q. With no Le'Veon Bell tonight, does the offensive game plan change that much with DeAngelo Williams as the starting running back?

A. No, not at all. DeAngelo has done it in this league for a decade. He came to us in great condition, he had a really good preseason. We're confident and excited about watching him be our feature back tonight.

Q. Over the weekend, the Steelers signed Jordan Todman, who had been cut by the Carolina Panthers. Is he DeAngelo Williams' backup?

A. He's going to be a hatted-back tonight. We're familiar with him. He played in Jacksonville a year ago and was a kickoff returner and a core special teams player for the Jaguars. We acquired him with that in mind, being DeAngelo's backup, but we also realize he has some value as a special teams player. You'll probably see more special teams contributions from him tonight than him playing in the backfield.

Q. Does the absence of Martavis Bryant for the first month of the regular season do anything to change your passing attack and concepts?

A. It doesn't change anything at all. We have a great deal of confidence in Darrius Heyward-Bey. He's got the type of vertical speed to stretch the field, much like Martavis, and Heyward-Bey is a veteran player who has been around for a few years now. He's very position-flexible, in that he can play the z-receiver position, the x-receiver position, and the f-receiver, which is what we call the guy who works from the slot.

Q. You put two of your draft picks – Doran Grant and Anthony Chickillo – on waivers but then signed them to the practice squad. Is that an indication both players are a part of the Steelers' future?

A. They're both guys worthy of development, and that's what that means. We put guys on the practice squad we deem not ready yet, but with upside. Those two quality young men came up short in pursuit of being on the 53-man roster, and so we'll give them an opportunity to get better on a day-to-day basis.

Q. The pass rush wasn't all that productive during the five-game preseason. Is that a matter of concern?

A. We'll see here at some point tonight. I don't try to seek comfort based on preseason performance, and I don't stay awake at night based on preseason performance. What happens here tonight is an indication of where we are and in what direction we're headed.

Q. In the final analysis, would you say the Steelers are happy to be able to face Tom Brady in this regular season opener?

A. At the end of the day it really doesn't matter. Those things are outside of our control, and if we're going to be the type of team we desire to be, the people we play, the game location, the time of the game and variables like that are less important than the variables that we can control. Those variables are our overall preparation and readiness, and ultimately our play. If we're right-minded, then that's our mentality.


Q. What is it about Tom Brady that makes him so difficult to defend?**

A. His above-the-neck game and the autonomy under which he works. He's a very good line-of-scrimmage check guy, and it's not always in the passing game. One of the reasons they have a very effective running game is because he's very sharp in that area and gets them in very good running plays, almost all the time. He has pinpoint accuracy as a passer, but his above-the-neck game and quick release are two physical attributes that are special.

Q. What do you expect from the Patriots running attack tonight?

A. It's much like they've done over the last decade. They've always done it with a committee of backs. The only time you can even think about them having an identified feature runner was the Corey Dillon years. They always do it with a bunch of serviceable guys who answer the bell. They've always had a guy who's very good on third downs and in the passing game; once that was Kevin Faulk, and now it appears to be Dion Lewis. We have to be prepared to minimize all of those guys, and we have to understand that just because they utilize a group of guys it doesn't make their running game any less significant.

Q. Why is Rob Gronkowksi so tough to defend, and so dangerous to a defense?

A. He's big. He uses his body well. He's got pure hands. He's got a big catch radius. He's got good vision and run-after-catch for a big guy, and that's very underrated. This guy had 500-600 yards in run-after-catch last year, which is unheard of at the tight end position.

Q. There are a lot of new names on the Patriots defense, but are they utilizing the same schemes?

A. They're multiple. When you think about the Patriots defense, that's what you think about. From week to week, they're whatever it is they need to be to minimize their opponent. Some weeks they're a three-down-lineman group, some weeks they're a four-down-linemen group. Their sub-package game is very extensive. They're very good at putting all of those parts together and being sound fundamentally at the same time.

Q. Do you feel good about this team, this season, this situation you're in tonight?

A. I do. But check back with me a little later.

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