Labriola On

Tomlin on QB1, QB2, backup OLBs

Q. Today is the start of a new season, and you're about to embark on this journey with a different starting quarterback for the first time in your career here. Does that create a different feel to the start of this journey for you?
A. Certainly, it creates a different feel. There's a sense of the unknown when you're working at a position of significance like quarterback, and especially if you had that type of consistency in terms of the presence of Ben that we had for such a long time. Sure, it creates a different feel, but it's one that I've embraced, it's one that I've challenged the team to embrace throughout this entire process. We laid that gauntlet down back in the spring and just acknowledged that there were going to be some differences, that we weren't going to be resistant to it. As a matter of fact, we're going to run to it and embrace it and look for the silver lining in it, such as the opportunities to grow and grow together, the opportunities to gain some understanding of why we do things and alter some things to meet the needs of this crop of guys. And so, it's been a good process. I feel really good about it. I've challenged the group to feel good about it collectively. But ultimately, you know, that ball is going to be kicked off and we have to play, and I'm excited about that as well.

Q. Part of every NFL coach's job is his relationship with his players. What is the coach-quarterback relationship like at the NFL level?
A. I think it's on the men. I'll ask guys to be themselves, but I will simply ask them to be their best selves, and so when people are being themselves, the nature of relationships are different based on the people. I've had really intimate relationships with individuals at that position. I've had strictly professional relationships with people at that position. The bottom line is, we've got to have good, clean professional communication. We've got to gain a professional understanding. There's got to be mutual respect for the jobs that have to be done. Those are the things that are required. I think the personalities oftentimes dictate the nature, the depths of the other peripheral things, if you will.

Q. Is the head coach-quarterback relationship different than the relationship with other players simply because of the position?
A. It can be but again, like I mentioned, it's the personalities. It's the men. It certainly can be. There are certainly more opportunities for it to be, but not a requirement.

Q. In situations like today – the start of a regular season on the road against the defending division champion – when I would ask you what you needed from your starting quarterback in this game, you would say something like, "We need Ben to be Ben." Mitch Trubisky is a different player and person, so what might "needing Mitch to be Mitch" entail?
A. It's really the similar things that I would have asked of Ben. We just worked together so long, and he had become so consistent at delivering it that it became him. I expect Mitch to smile in the face of adversity, deliver the significant plays in significant moments. Players, teams, and particularly players at the quarterback position are defined by their ability to operate in those weighty moments – possession downs, two-minute, etc. I expect him to communicate and do the informal things that come with the position, particularly in moments of adversity, and particularly when it's difficult because of crowd noise, etc., and never tire in terms of dealing with those things. And ultimately, take care of the football. You've got to take care of the football at the quarterback position. You've got to take care of the football at any position on offense, but because of the frequency in which quarterbacks handle it, it gets triply important.

Q. Your backup quarterback today – the guy who's potentially one snap away from having to play the most important position on a football team – is a rookie. Obviously, Kenny Pickett earned your trust, or he wouldn't be in that role. What about him convinced you he's ready for that?
A. His play inside stadiums, and in the maturation process and the rate of that maturation process inside stadiums. I think once we got into a stadium, boy, you saw something click in him where he says, "OK, this is what it is." It wasn't anything mystical. It wasn't anything that he couldn't have a feel for or understand, and I think he realized pretty quickly that he can swim in those waters. And so, I think he has taken off at a really consistent rate since then. And so, his comfort level creates a comfort level in those around him, whether it's teammates or coaches, and I think we're all comfortable with his position within this group. And if called upon, we won't blink because we know he won't blink.

Q. During your news conference on Tuesday, one of the things you said about Trubisky was that "he came to us with franchise quarterback experience." What did you mean by "franchise quarterback experience?"
A. He walked into that building, or he pulled up into that parking lot every day in Chicago for four years wearing the responsibility of being the second pick in the draft and the guy who was anointed to play the position for the organization. And there's no substitute for that experience. The responsibilities, not only formally in terms of playing and preparing and leading and things of that nature, but the informal responsibilities – the dealing with the media and the things that happen when you're a high-profile guy and holding down a position like that. It's a very natural thing for him because he has experienced it, and that experience is golden.

Q. A guy in that position, is he told that those things are part of his daily existence – all the things you just mentioned – or does he just come to learn it because he has to go through it and experience it?
A. Whether he's told or not, I think the doing, the experience component of it is paramount. I met with Kenny (Pickett) earlier this week, and I was talking to him about the amount of urgency that he needs to have in his seven-day cycle from a preparation standpoint. He needs to find his rhythm; he needs to perfect that process. The things that he does in a formal business setting, the things that he does in an informal setting to supplement the things that he does on a personal level to get a sense of comfort and game readiness, and he's got to perfect all those things before he's on the clock legitimately. You've got to carry that urgency. You know, Mitch has lived that life. He's lived that life for a substantial amount of time, and boy there is value in that. I think you're really comfortable with the unforeseen and the things that happen during the course of a football journey when you wear that experience.

Q. Over the offseason, the Bengals retooled their offensive line by adding right tackle La'el Collins, right guard Alex Cappa, and center Ted Karras in free agency. On the surface, that would seem to be similar to what you did during the offseason with your offensive line. When you studied the Bengals offensive line, did you see similarities in terms of where the respective units are when it comes to growth and development?
A. I did not, because the Bengals essentially didn't play their (starting) offensive line in the preseason. There's not a lot of visual evidence of their growth and development collectively. Different people bring different approaches to the preseason. I never judge. I just want to do what's appropriate and right for our group. The development, the collective development of a unit or a collective within a unit, I think, is something that has to happen through snaps. And so, I'm a proponent of work. I work the group. I want to take them into hostile environments. I want them to grow under those circumstances. I thought playing in Jacksonville, the "hostile environment" against a team that was further in development than us was a good challenge for our group. I just think that's necessary for development. But that's my vision for this collective, and so I don't question how it is they choose to go about business, but there wasn't a lot of visual evidence of the growth and development of that group, so we'll see.

Q. You often talk of the importance of making plays in the weighty moments. What does that mean as it pertains to an offensive line?
A. By blocking No. 91 (Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson). And I'll just be that bluntly honest. There are dynamic players, game-changing caliber players just about every week on every team. This week, you've got to acknowledge that No. 91 is the type of guy who can change the climate in an instant, and the probability of that goes way up when you get in one-dimensional circumstances – third-and-long and things of that nature. Part of standing up and smiling in the face of adversity is understanding when you're in the kitchen. And if you're playing tackle and we're one-dimensional, and you got No. 91 across from you, you are in the kitchen. So that's how an offensive lineman stands up and answers the bell in those weighty moments. We've all got responsibilities; we've all got to stand up and deliver. It's easy to recognize sometimes when you're talking about ball carriers and quarterbacks and receivers, but if you're playing left tackle, and you're blocking No. 91, and it's third-and-8, that is a rep. And that's a rep that should be highlighted.

Q. Another thing you said in your Tuesday news conference about today's game was, "The process is the battle?" What do you mean by that?
A. Meaning, we could spend all week talking about the game and waiting for one o'clock on Sunday. But what are we doing with the time between now and then? You know, we've got a chance to do something about one o'clock on Sunday when you're sitting there on Tuesday, when you're sitting there on Wednesday. I like to shift the focus of the group away from what's exciting and what we all know is coming, and I want them to be excited about the present, about the construction and the engineering of a great day in preparation for Sunday. We're not comfort seekers. We want to focus our energies on the process, but we find comfort on Sunday at one o'clock when we've paid that price. And that's something that I continually sell to our football team.

Q. Neither of your backup outside linebackers – Malik Reed or Jamir Jones – spent any time with you during this training camp or this preseason. What was the process of preparing them for today?
A. It's really simple. Malik (Reed) is a guy who played over 1,400 snaps in the NFL in the last 24 months. He played 700-plus snaps in Denver last year, 700-plus snaps before, so his process is simply learning what the language is: this means this; this means that. (Jamir) Jones is a guy obviously with less experience, but he was on our football team a year ago. He did play guard on our punt team a year ago. He did make our team a year ago, and so he has that place to hang his hat. And for those reasons, their process of readiness has probably been more fluid than one would imagine in terms of guys getting on a moving train.

Q. Najee Harris was voted an offensive captain by his teammates in his second season in the league. What makes him worthy of that recognition?
A. He cares. His talents are his talents, and we're all cognizant of his talents. But he cares and it's more than just emotion. It's displayed in approach. It's displayed daily. It's displayed on the grass and in meetings. How he holds himself accountable. How he holds his teammates accountable. He wears it in a very natural way.

Q. Larry Ogunjobi will be going against his old team today. In your experience, is there anything special about that for a player?
A. It depends on the player. Some guys are serial killers, you know? They're emotionless. I'll never forget when we played Cincinnati when James Harrison was playing there. I walked up to him in warmups. I said, "Hey, James, how you doing?" He said, "Good. What's up?" It was like I had just seen him the day before. Certain guys are wired a certain way, and they can compartmentalize, and they're like great white sharks. All they do is swim and eat. For some guys, it's an emotional moment. For James Harrison, he's a great white shark. He's a swimmer and an eater.

Q. Is Larry Ogunjobi a shark, too?
A. We'll see. I doubt he's James Harrison. There aren't many who can compartmentalize like James Harrison.

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