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Labriola On

Tomlin on shells vs. pads, home run derby, planet theory

Q. Coming off the preseason opener, your next three practices were in shells, not pads. You've often said you want to give the players what they need at a particular time. What did you see that made you believe that was the correct way to work the players at that time?
A. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the players directly. Sometimes it's about the environment in which we work. We had taken a lot of rain in Latrobe during training camp, and it dictated (which of) the fields we were able to work on. When we work on the (artificial) turf field, that's the chosen attire. I put them in helmets and shoulder protection. We don't carry full pads, we don't tackle on that surface. We like to tackle and play regular football on the grass through this team development process. The attire had more to do with the weather than it did about the development or the condition of the players in that instance.

Q. You refuse to use weather as an excuse, the same way you treat injuries. But can you gauge the impact of the weather on your time at Saint Vincent College this summer?
A. Here's the impact, and this is what I wanted the team to focus on: Weather is outside of our control, and we've had to deal with it a lot through this team development process, and that's not a negative from my perspective because there are things during the course of this journey that are going to be outside our control. And those things might cause us to make adjustments. We might step into a stadium and have a 90-minute lightning delay, and the team that comes out of that delay rightly focused and getting back to business will have a leg up in terms of winning that football game. So we've taken all of these inconveniences that we've dealt with from a weather standpoint and addressed it in that way.

The weather issue is what it is, and so let's talk about a protocol to make sure we have the proper footing with our cleats. What's our frame of mind when we take the field if we have a delay? We're held in the locker room, because on a day when we thought practice was at 2:55 p.m., practice turned out to be at 3:55 p.m. What's the quality of that practice? What's the spirit in which we work over the course of that practice? All of that prepares you to deal with some of the unforeseen things that can happen over the course of a football season.

Q. Whether it was a successful training camp or not won't be determined until the end of the season, but did you leave believing you got the work done that needed to be done up there?
A. I am. It's been a good process for us. It's been highly competitive. The guys have created that, and we'll just continue to move forward. I think I make a conscious effort not to over-evaluate the training camp process at this point in the journey, because quite frankly the purpose of training camp is to set you up for the season. So, the season's performance really dictates the quality of the camp. So I'll reserve all judgments in terms of grading this camp based on how it is we perform throughout the course of the season.

Q. One of the purposes of camp is team-building, and you have off the field scheduled things to promote that. Let's start with the annual home run derby. What does that do for team-building?
A. It's always interesting just to see who the athletes are. There are football players and then there are athletes. And all the football players think they're athletes, but the bottom line is there are a lot fewer athletes in this operation than we choose to believe.

The home run derby, to get them out of their space, to create an opportunity for those guys to compete in another area is always fun. You're always pleasantly surprised. We had some really impressive performances this year. It was probably our best home run derby ever. Guys were putting the ball out to the street.

Q. Anybody on the roster have any game?
A. Josh Dobbs has a nice swing. Matt Feiler, he won. He looks like one of those AAU travel teamers who played first base and was a catcher, but he can put it over the fence.

Q. Was anyone banned, like say a guy who's the son of a guy who was inducted in Cooperstown back in July (Trey Griffey, son of Ken Griffey Jr.)?
A. No, he was a full participant, but he's in his right sport, which is football.

Q. Another annual event that's been a football tradition is the Rookie Show. What's that like?
A. It's the rookies getting an opportunity to entertain the rest of the group. And it's usually through comedy skits that illustrate funny or interesting things that have happened during the course of this training camp setting. It's really an opportunity for the rookies to show their personalities, or any hidden talents, and so forth. Or just to get ridiculed in a formal-like way.

Q. So do you have anybody who could qualify for "America's Got Talent?"
A. "America's Got Talent" is very safe with this group. These guys can play football. Very few of them have any other talents.

Q. One more question along these lines: In the case of players who room together at training camp – how are those pairings determined?
A. It's determined by our player development person, Terry Cousin. Veterans of more than 5 years get their own room. Anybody with less experience gets a roommate. It's usually positional. There's not a lot of thought given to it, to be quite honest with you, because if we're going to be the type of team we need to be, guys need to have great relationships, unique relationships. Whoever you're assigned to be your roommate, that's your roommate. We're not into any switches or things of that nature. We have to have close, intimate relationships throughout our football team.

Q. How do things change in terms of the day-to-day practices and meetings now that the team will be back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex?
A. Nothing really changes at all in terms of the structure of what we do on the field and in the classroom. Really just the setting changes and some of the informal opportunities are lost that occur in a training camp setting. That's why we appreciate and really enjoy our time at Saint Vincent. It's a sterile environment, if you will. It provides a lot of informal time for growth, both individually and collectively, that you just don't get when you get back home.

Q. Tonight will be your second game of this preseason. Does what you expect from the team change or maybe expand from what was expected in the preseason opener?
A. There is a natural expansion of expectations, similar to the expansion of expectations for the second-year player. We often talk about the second-year player who has made a lap around the track, who knows what's expected of him and has some experience in terms of professional football – it's reasonable to expect a significant jump in performance, consistency, etc. I think the same can be said about the second preseason game. These guys have been through the process of preparation, they've stepped into a stadium, and they have performed. So it's reasonable to expect an elevation or an expansion in terms of some of the things they're doing inside stadiums. It's reasonable to expect them to expand on the positivity and to minimize the negativity, whatever it was.

Q. You've had a couple of injuries to backup offensive linemen – Jerald Hawkins lost for the season during OTAs, and Ramon Foster out until maybe the start of the regular season. Have Chuks Okorafor, Matt Feiler, Jake Rodgers, maybe some others shown you they might be able to take advantage of the situation?
A. I think they already have taken advantage of the opportunity. And taking advantage of the opportunity is simply putting yourself in position to assume the additional reps. They've done that. They came in with a level of conditioning that allowed that to happen. Now they've gone beyond that, and they're experiencing gains associated with those additional reps. It's going to be fun to watch that continue to unfold.

Q. Why does it seem that capable offensive linemen are at such a premium throughout the NFL?
A. There are just not a lot of big people on the planet. I saw a statistic this summer that said you've got a 20 percent chance of being an NBA player if you're a male and you're 7-feet tall, simply because there are not a lot of 7-feet people on the planet. The same thing can be said about the structure of the NFL offensive linemen. There are not a lot of 6-5, 300-pound people on the planet, and so there's a certain scarcity there. And I think it's revealed through times such as training camp when you're dealing with injuries and a large number of people on each of the rosters of the 32 teams in the National Football League.

Q. Is it time for guys to be getting separation on the depth chart if they hope to win a roster spot, and has that been happening?
A. I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the depth chart and thinking about it. Now that we've exited Latrobe and are about to get a second preseason game under our belts, I think it's reasonable to start looking at that structure and what people have done as a cumulative body of work. That's going to be coming, increasingly more a topic as we come out of this second game.