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Tomlin on study habits, T.J., Kazee

Q. One of the theories attached to rookie quarterbacks is that if things don't go well for them when they first get playing time, they could lose their confidence. What would that loss of confidence look like, and do you see any sign of this in Kenny Pickett?
A. I haven't been around a lot of rookie quarterbacks, but I think that can apply to any player at any position to be quite honest with you. There are a lot of challenges in playing at this level, and obviously quarterback is a unique one. The amount of attention that goes with success and failure more than anything is a personality related thing. A guy has to have steely resolve, a guy has to be a flat-liner, if you will, a real competitor, a guy who runs toward action and competition as opposed to running away from that. And so really, you do your due diligence on gathering information on all of those things really even before you get into playing a guy. That's part of the selection process. We vetted Kenny, we like his mental makeup, his steady demeanor, his competitive spirit, his belief in himself. And I just think those are the things that you lean on when the ball isn't bouncing your way and you're not getting the results you desire. And so, from my perspective that work already has been done. We buy into that young man. We believe he has the physical characteristics and the intangible quality that's going to allow him to ride the wave that is professional ball, and so really, it's kind of a non-discussion for me and us.

Q. When players talk about their study habits, maybe they're making the point that they have to study more, or study better – at the NFL level, what is it that players are studying?
A. You know, you do what it is you need to do, and that's what I found the longer I've been in this league. We're not paid by the hour; we're paid based on results. Some guys are quick studies, and some guys aren't. Some guys can be duly prepared simply by coming to work and doing what's required while they're at work. Some guys need to do extra on the front end to tee up performance during the course of the work-week. Some people study with a review mentality, with a look back at the data they just executed as opposed to the front-end work. The key as a professional is to know what group you're in and what's best for you and then to do what's appropriate. Like I mentioned, we're not paid by the hour. If you're not a quick study, then you have to make the commitment, whatever that is in an effort to be ready to perform.

Q. My recollection of studying for an exam is that it involves being able to regurgitate facts or other information when asked about it, but isn't studying football more about reacting in certain ways in real time to things an opponent presents?
A. Most certainly, and so the study component of it is different, and although we use that term "study," it is somewhat different. Oftentimes, when you prepare yourself as a football player, you review on your feet because you play on your feet. You activate different responses standing on your feet than sitting in the comfort of a chair for instance. And so oftentimes studying for us is ballroom adjustments, where we move all the chairs out of a ballroom in whatever hotel we're staying in, and we make adjustments, and we talk, and we do things on our feet because the game is played on their feet. If there was a football classroom, there might be desks in it but there would be no chairs. You play the game on your feet, and so you prepare with that understanding.

Q. Recently, the NFL made it clear that it's OK for the offense to push the ball carrier forward in order to gain more yards but pulling the ball carrier forward is not legal. I'm old enough to remember when any tactic like that – pushing the pile, dragging the ball carrier forward – was a penalty. Do you know why that changed to allow pushing the pile?
A. I wasn't privy to the discussions, but I think it's more of a natural act, the pushing as opposed to the pulling. You want to be able to give guys something to do in an effort to assist their teammates when they're faced with confrontation. And so, it's a more natural act would be my assumption.

Q. Pushing the pile seems to now be a part of every quarterback sneak and just about every goal-to-go situation. What should the defense do to counteract that strategy?
A. Those downs are usually won or lost before the component of the push becomes a factor, to be quite honest with you. It's about beating the offensive line to the punch and getting penetration, your bigs vs. their bigs, and the push from the linebackers, the secondary people who come into the fray are less significant. Those downs are won and lost on the initial charge of the offensive and defensive lines.

Q. Something I saw while watching football last Sunday happened during the Rams-Buccaneers game when Bobby Wagner jumped over the blockers on the line of scrimmage to block a field goal. What's the rule on when that's legal vs. illegal?
A. As long as you don't aid the jump. (Bobby Wagner) cleared them, I saw it, too. He came down, he didn't elevate off anyone. They left that component in the game to encourage guys to add excitement, to highlight athleticism. There's a limited number of guys who are capable of doing it and doing it wearing football equipment and doing it legally. And so really, it's just kudos to Bobby Wagner. That safety out there in Denver (Justin Simmons) is a guy everybody knows is also capable of doing that. There is a limited number of people in the league, and so it's a unique skill set and talent, and personally I like the provision that the National Football League had regarding that in an effort to maintain a level of excitement. Those plays allow a guy who doesn't use people – his opponents or his teammates – in an effort to elevate, and he doesn't come down on anybody. That makes it a legal football play.

Q. How would the field goal protection unit be coached to combat that?
A. Keep your eyes up. You can't stand up because if somebody is pushing you, you might get pushed back into the kicker. The key is to know when you're playing somebody who has those capabilities. And let's be honest, you don't see that every week. But when you do, and when you know somebody has those capabilities, it's important that the blockers keep their pads down but their eyes up, and if they happen to get a jumper, "punch them" is the coaching term. Punch them, not in a boxing way but in a football sort of way, is the coaching point.

Q. On Thursday, you put Chris Boswell on injured reserve, which means he has to miss at least four regular season games. You had used Nick Sciba as a fill-in kicker vs. the Eagles before the bye, but you waived him and signed Matthew Wright off Kansas City's practice squad before Boswell went on IR. What did you like about Wright to decide to go with him?
A. We've been with Matt before. Matt has banged with us before in games. Matt banged with Jacksonville last year, and he was 21-for-24 on his field goal attempts for the season. He's got a couple plus-50-yard kicks this year already for Kansas City, so we were extremely comfortable with his resume. And the fact that we've been exposed to him before, and if Boz is going to be out for an extended period of time, a number of weeks, then we just felt really comfortable with that certainty and that more extended resume than Nick had.

Q. You've been through a few of these kicker tryouts, too, and so is it pretty much the resume and the experience being the things that really separate one of those guys from the others?
A. In this instance, it's about our shared experience. Matt is more experienced. Matt is more experienced with us. Matt is more experienced in the National Football League last year, the year before, and this year. It's just a higher floor and a more predictable outcome when you're dealing with a guy with a resume like that. So, it's really not apples and apples. We've had first-hand experience with both guys, and so we're comfortable with both guys. So when that's the situation, the resume wins out.

Q. You often have said you'd rather have to say, "whoa," than "sic-em," and I'm sure that applies to T.J. Watt. Can you trust him to take care of himself today by not trying to do too much, or will he have to be monitored?
A. No, you can't trust him. But that's what makes T.J. T.J. That is a good problem to have, as we say in the coaching business. And that's what we mean when we say you'd rather say, "whoa," than "sic-em." You want guys who are aggressive, who have a can-do attitude, who are competitors, and it's our job as coaches to protect them. And sometimes that means protecting them from themselves. That's a much better discussion than trying to sic somebody on someone. So that is very real as it pertains to T.J. We've gone to great lengths to make sure that we're doing what's appropriate with him and monitoring him. Not only as we lean in on the game, but in preparation for the game throughout the course of the work week. We're excited about that. We're excited about having him back. It does require some work on our end, but it's the type of work you run to.

Q. Does it come down to having somebody up in the coach's box with a piece of paper and marking down every time he's on the field?
A. It's more than that. It's the type of plays. It's not just the play count. It's the type of plays. This guy is coming off an upper body injury or shoulder injury, and so maybe some of the short-yardage and goal-line things you might want to protect him from. There's a lot of layers to the discussion. Make no mistake, he's completely healthy. We have no reservations about that component of it, but it's more than just a snap count. And I just use that as an illustration to display that.

Q. What does Watt's presence in the lineup allow the defense to do from a coverage standpoint that it might not otherwise be able to do?
A. It's really not about what we're able to do from a coverage standpoint. It's what the offense can't do. When T.J. is on the edge, there's going to be somebody beside the tackle, assisting that tackle with protection, and oftentimes that guy is an eligible. It's a tight end. It's a running back. And so that's one fewer eligible receiver in the route and one fewer guy you have to deal with. And that's the benefit from the secondary perspective. It's not that his presence allows us to do more schematically. He's a guy, he's one of 11. We have no restrictions in terms of the schematics whether he's in there or not. But it's the number of people in the pass route concepts that you have to deal with where his impact is felt, and to be quite honest with you in significant moments, on one-dimensional downs, whether it's two-minute, third down, etc., there's going to be an eligible assisting that tackle and so there's one less guy you got to deal with in the routes. And that's why guys like him are significant from a coverage standpoint, but it has nothing to do with the defensive schematics.

Q. One of the defensive wrinkles you worked on over the summer was a three-safety look, which sometimes is called a "big nickel," and your version had Damontae Kazee in the role as the third safety. What makes him effective in that role?
A. Safeties match-up well with tight ends, and so the "big nickel" or the three-safety defense is a thing that manages two-tight-end personnel groups pretty well, particularly when one of those tight ends is really athletic. And so sometimes people throw two tight ends at you – our offense is capable of throwing two tight ends at you with Zach Gentry and Pat Freiermuth. And Freiermuth is oftentimes too big for nickel corners to manage, but too athletic for linebackers to manage. And so that's the third safety or the "big nickel" component. Matching up against athletic tight ends, and doing similar things that you do in nickel, but getting a bigger body. Bigger than a nickel, more athletic than a linebacker. It's just about the continued specialization of the game on offense and defense in one matching the other and just evolving.

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