Q. It is your practice that once the team leaves Saint Vincent College and returns to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the remainder of the preseason that you switch the schedule into the same one you use during the regular season. What can you learn about the young players, or what might you be trying to teach them, by doing this?
A. I want them to get comfortable with our global schedule so they can find their individual schedules within it. The process of being available week in and week out in the National Football League is a task as we get into this journey, both the physical wear and tear as well the mental wear and tear on them throughout the process. It is my hope as we present the schedule to them that they will find pockets of time where they do the things that are necessary for pros to be available consistently. Whether that’s the massage therapy on Thursday night that a lot of veterans do, or the things they do early in the week for recovery, on a Monday or a Tuesday after a Sunday game. I want to get real static for them so that they can find their rhythm within the global schedules to aid the process of making them more available on a consistent basis.
Q. You’re someone who refuses to use the schedule as an excuse, but you play the Titans tonight on a Sunday, and then the next game is in Carolina on the following Thursday night. Do you have to make any allowances for players with respect to the number of snaps they play since there will be two games within such a short span?
A. You have to monitor everything, and you have to be light on your feet and deal with everything. But really, it’s an awesome opportunity to address the kinds of things that can happen over the course of a journey. Some of it is scheduling, some of it unforeseen. Several years ago, we were in Kansas City to play a playoff game and we didn’t know when the game was going to go on or where the game was going to go on for that matter. Times like these you can forecast and look ahead and talk to your team about being light on your feet and being adaptable and being able to do what’s required to step into a stadium regardless of circumstance and produce a winning performance. Sometimes it’s short weeks and scheduling, and sometimes it’s Mother Nature and we all have our hands up and hoping for the best. Either way, we have to be ready when we kick that ball off.
Q. On Thursday, the team announced that Ray Sherman will be the interim wide receivers coach for the 2019 season. What makes him a good candidate in your mind?
A. It’s easy. His resume and his experience speak for itself. And secondly, he has been with us. We invited him to camp as a visiting coach as we often do. We love the veteran retired coach and we get him in a training camp setting, and they get an opportunity to watch us, to watch the players. I spend time with them gleaning expertise based on their experience. It’s just a good experience. Often times the retired guy loves the camp environment, loves to be around team development. It’s a fun couple of weeks for them. It’s invaluable information for us to get that truth, to get that transparency or that aspect of evaluating when we do it from an outsider’s perspective. He was providing us with that. He was getting to know our guys. He had been with us for several weeks, and it really made the transition a fluid one. Him understanding the sensitivity of our circumstance, we don’t have to explain it to him. He was there, he was a part of it. We’re very blessed to have Ray Sherman, and thankful he’s going to be with us the rest of the year.
Q. The visiting coach thing – is he telling you what he thinks of you and your staff and how you do things, or is he providing another set of eyes in the evaluation of players?
A. A guy who has been in the business four decades like Ray Sherman, I don’t put any parameters on his ability to evaluate and provide insight and information. It’s coaching, it’s the coaching vocation, it’s how we interact with players, it’s staff interaction – coach to coach – it’s scheduling evaluation. He has been in a lot of places and done things a lot of ways. I might ask, “What do you think of these days, about how these days are structured?” It’s also player evaluation, and player instruction. This guy has coached wide receivers in the NFL for 20 years, and so I’m not going to not allow him to interact with young, emerging players when we’re out on the field. I don’t care where good ideas come from. It’s been a very good program for us, and he isn’t the first veteran visiting coach we have brought in. Usually that’s done without fanfare, but there is some (fanfare) in this instance, but I’m glad he’s here and with us.
Q. When the team has a situation where there is a competition for a starting spot or competition for a role within the team, such as is the case at right tackle and at backup quarterback, does there come a time when some announcement is made to the team about who won the competition?
A. They just learn it. The reason I thoughtfully approach it that way is because these jobs are not ours, we simply occupy positions, and how long we occupy those positions is based on our level of performance. So someone could win the job for the opener, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s their job. They have to prove it and earn it continually, like we all do. Ben Roethlisberger continually earns his job. We don’t talk about it because of his consistent level of performance, but every time he steps out on that field, that’s what he’s doing – he’s earning the right to be the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So I thoughtfully take that approach to all that we do. I don’t make grand announcements when jobs are seemingly up for grabs because jobs are always up for grabs.
Q. In the past, you have said publicly that you believe in the importance of the preseason. Beyond the evaluation of players that takes place, are preseason games necessary to acclimate players’ bodies to the hitting they’re going to face in the regular season? Is it similar in any way to having a boxer do some sparring to get ready for a fight?
A. I agree with what you just said. A guy wouldn’t step into the ring without sufficient sparring, and there are equations regarding the number of rounds you can anticipate in a fight and the number of hours required to spar in preparation for those fights. I view football in a very similar way. I don’t put an equation on it, but there are certain areas of play that transpire in stadiums that you can’t duplicate, and one of those areas that’s really significant is special teams. We can often times create football-like environments offensively and defensively in a practice setting, but the amount of grass and the amount of velocity and speed associated with it in the special teams area of play makes a lot of things that go on inside these preseason stadiums really significant.
Q. For the anti-preseason game people, one of the solutions they often propose to take the place of those games are joint practices. Is that a good substitute?
A. I like joint practices, but not necessarily as an exclusive substitute. We need to provide latitude for organizations and coaches to do what it is they see fit in terms of getting their group ready to perform and execute the season. If coaches want to get together and have a joint practice, they should be allowed to do that. I value preseason football games. Why does it have to be one or the other? I just believe these guys need time to grow and develop. These guys are chasing their dreams. There’s a difference between the college game and the professional game. There are different rules. There are different unwritten rules. There are different nuances from an understanding standpoint. And I think if we really want to be inclusive and give guys an opportunity to live out their dreams and state a case for themselves, the more opportunities we give them to gain that learning and to display that learning, the better it is for all of us.
Q. Can joint practices actually be more dangerous, because of all the fighting, than preseason games in terms of keeping guys healthy?
A. I think the fights in the joint practices are about mutual respect and the relationship between the coaches involved. And if the relationship between the coaches involved is solid, then it permeates down to the players. I have a good and close personal relationship with Doug Marrone; we worked together several years ago with little or no issues. I have a great relationship with Jim Caldwell, and we worked together with the Detroit Lions with little or no issues. I think that’s something that can be handled between the coaches. I think unfortunately it does get too much press when it does occur from time to time. I just think that’s how ESPN functions – they’d rather show you a fight than highlights from a scrimmage.