Tomlin on pace, hurry-up, no-huddle

Q. I'd like to start with some questions to help me better understand no-huddle offense. We hear the concept referred to as "tempo," "hurry-up," and "no-huddle." Are all of those descriptions of the same thing? If not, how are they different?
A. They're all descriptions of very similar things. When you're talking about pace football, and you're talking about the offense jumping the line of scrimmage with the personnel group that's on the field and not huddling, there are several things that can happen once that happens. They can work at legitimate pace, which is the global generic description of no-huddle, or they can play pace football, where they make the defense execute a call by springing to the line of scrimmage, and then the offense can make a call. Whether it's a call that they've already had prescribed, or whether they're calling it from scratch. You have coach to player communication up to 15 seconds left on the play clock, so oftentimes, offensive coordinators will spring the offense to the line of scrimmage and gather information. And then there's a coach communicating with the quarterback, and the quarterback has an opportunity to communicate with others. And so obviously, although it's no-huddle, that's not hurry-up. That's check with me. And so, all of it falls under the same umbrella. It could be described generically as no-huddle, but the pace in which you work really distinguishes the difference within that category.

Q. So then hurry-up or no-huddle are kind of the same things, but tempo might be what you just described?
A. Exactly. Gather information, make a decision, communicate, and go. Or they might be simply springing to the line with a run-pass option, based on structure, and then that communication is a little bit quicker. And then you go. Or you have a play called, you spring to the line of scrimmage, and you run it. And so, there are subtle differences in the different forms of "pace"

Q. If it's a time of the game where the scoreboard clock is not an issue, and you're going no-huddle, what is the offense trying to accomplish?
A. We could be trying to accomplish any of the three things that I mentioned. We could be trying to beat them to the punch and pace them, and so we're getting to the line of scrimmage, we got a call and we're executing it and running it. Or we could have check-with-me football, where we're getting to the line of scrimmage with enough time where we've got a run-pass option, or a run-run option for that matter, but we want to gather information, allow the defense to show itself, and then we select from a small number of plays. Or the third category is we can get to the line of scrimmage and present a formation to them and call a play from scratch. That third category takes the longest amount of time of the three categories that we discussed.

Q. Is preventing the defense from substituting also a factor?
A. Correct. And that often falls into the last category that I described where you don't have a play-call, you just have a formation structure. And then you call something from scratch. The primary use of that usually is to dictate defensive personnel exchanges or limit defensive personnel exchanges.

Q. When the offense is operating this way, is the quarterback necessarily calling the plays?
A. No. The only one where the quarterback is calling the play is the real pace of legitimate no-huddle, where you're getting up (to the line of scrimmage), you're calling it, snapping it, you're running it, and there's no information gathering.

Q. In that situation, is the entire menu of plays available to the quarterback to call, or is it a prescribed or predetermined number of plays?
A. It's a predetermined subset of plays. And week in and week out that may differ, depending on the plan.

Q. How does the quarterback communicate to the rest of the offense in that situation?
A. Verbally and with hand signals, depending on the distance of the players who are on the field with him. He's at a close proximity with the offensive line, so he communicates verbally with them. Oftentimes, because receivers are at great distances, you'll see some hand signals.

Q. But even with those teammates the quarterback is communicating with verbally, he's not saying the same stuff he would say in the huddle?
A. He's giving them the portion that they need. When you're in the huddle, you can give the formation, the pre-snap movement and adjustment, the full components of the play. When you're talking to people individually, if you just talk to the offensive line, you're giving them what it is that they need. When you're signaling to receivers, you give them specifically what it is they need. So, no, when you're communicating in a no-huddle capacity, you're not giving the full language because you're not talking to the full group at one particular time.

Q. Is this more difficult to do with inexperienced players around the quarterback?
A. Certainly. Certainly. There's value in huddling and having an opportunity to hear the full components of the play and gather information, and then work toward the line of scrimmage and process and diagnose situational circumstances. "Hey, we got this called, and it's second down, and remember, they could bring the free safety on a blitz on second-and-long. All right, everybody good? Ready, break." There's a lot of things that go on in the huddle, not only formal communication regarding what it is that we're doing, but potential things about what the defense could do, and obviously that aids the young and inexperienced player. And you lose some of those things when you're working at pace.

Q. If the decision is made: OK, we're going to open the game working at pace on offense. What are the potential drawbacks?
A. Game plan specific things that your opponent has drawn up for you, and maybe a young guy doesn't have the experience to let his rules take care of them and deal with it on the fly. The added communication opportunity associated with huddling really insulates yourself from the unforeseen. And let's be honest, at the beginning of the game there's a high potential for some unforeseen, particularly when you're dealing with somewhat unfamiliar opponents.

Q. It seems to me anyway, that Ben Roethlisberger is very good at no-huddle, hurry-up. What makes him good at it? What skill-set, what talents does he have that allow that to be the case?
A. I think Ben's good at a lot of things. I think we can isolate any particular component of the game, and we'd say he's pretty good at it. That's why he's had the career that he's had and has made the plays that he has. He's good in competitive moments, in hurry-up moments, but he's good on possession downs. He's good in the red zone. He's good in two-minute. Situational football defines players, not only him or not only the quarterback position, but the most dominant players show up in situational moments. The most dominant pass rushers show up on possession downs; the most dominant ball-hawks show up in those circumstances. To me, it's not an unusual discussion when we're talking about good players showing up in situational moments.

Q. But Ben seems to thrive in chaos. Is that accurate?
A. I just think all really good quarterbacks thrive under those circumstances. When others are blinking, they are not. When things are gray for others, they see it in stark black-and-white. It takes a little chaos for a revolution, you know what I mean? And so most good players, regardless of position, operate, communicate, and see things with greater clarity than others in those thick, weighty moments.

Q. You had talked about another padded practice to start the week of preparation for the Titans. Did you get what you were looking for from having a practice in pads?
A. I did. We were coming off on an extended weekend, and that's a good way to get into the week in terms of getting the attention and getting back on the train after having a couple of days off. But more than anything else, it's symbolic. Symbolic of how we need to play today and the challenges playing the Tennessee Titans present us. This is a line of scrimmage group, offense and defense with their bigs. Regardless of whether Derrick Henry is playing or not, their personality hasn't changed. And so, we just wanted to pay respect to that with the attire on Wednesday.

Q. During your news conference last Tuesday, you talked about the growth and development of young players, and one of the things you said was that college players don't come to you as finished products. Can you gauge how far developed in that area they might be during the pre-draft process?
A. Absolutely. Not only can you gauge it, but there's also some general understanding just from time spent in the process. A third-year junior is going to be less developed than a fifth-year senior. And not only physically, because there's a difference between being 20 years old and 22 years old, but also mentally and emotionally. How many games they played, the exposure they've had. For example, we drafted Anthony McFarland out of the University of Maryland as a redshirt sophomore. So this guy played two years of college football. We drafted Najee Harris as a fourth-year senior who played at Alabama and played four full seasons and probably 15 games in each of those seasons. And so his level of maturity and experience is on a different level than Anthony McFarland's. Although they may be real relatively close in age, Anthony being in the draft class in front of him, Najee comes with a significantly different profile from an experience and a football maturity standpoint than Anthony McFarland.

Q. Do you determine that by watching video, or talking to the player, or both?
A. All of the above. It's displayed in video in terms of maturity displayed on tape. It's displayed in personal interviews in terms of life maturity, or not. And obviously, we have boots on the ground, whether it's me, or Kevin Colbert, or our area scouts and so forth, who glean quality information from relationships at their universities. It's information gathering for us. And it doesn't determine our drafting patterns, it's just information in terms of developing a profile. In some instances, you might want to employ somebody who's more game ready. In other instances, you might be afforded an opportunity to draft someone with upside. A case in point is Kendrick Green. We knew we were looking for a center who needed to be game ready, and so we were looking at a senior, a guy who played four years of college football like he did at Illinois, as opposed to maybe somebody who was an underclassman with upside who may be less of a finished product.

Q. Has Tennessee's run-pass ratio on offense changed much since Derrick Henry was injured?
A. Thoughtfully, not at all. That's their personality now. They have a committee of backs, and that's what you see when you watch tape. There have been a lot of backs playing, but the distribution in terms of run-pass ratio has remained the same, and it is obvious that's a personality they are thoughtfully committed to, which makes it a part of the preparation process for us.

Q. What characterizes a team coached by Mike Vrabel?
A. I really hadn't thought a lot about it, to be honest with you. We've played these guys so much annually, it's almost like they're a division opponent. It's a situation that's very similar to the relationship we've had recently with the Buffalo Bills. It just feels like we've been in stadiums with them so much, and particularly in some critical games, that I hadn't pondered it in that way, the way that I would if I was playing somebody I'm somewhat unfamiliar with. It's just Tennessee Titans week. We all know what that means. A commitment to the run game, corresponding play-action passes, mis-directional changes, and schematically sound aggressive defense.

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