Labriola On

Tomlin on Taco, twins, Ben 'poking the bear'

Q. Let's start by revisiting the win over the Browns in Cleveland. When you were asked during your Tuesday news conference about that one 21-yard run by Nick Chubb, you said, "The one that we gave up was on me. It was schematics. We were trying to catch a play-pass. Sometimes you take the calculated risk trying to catch a play-pass and you realize that it might give them an explosion run. That wasn't on the guys." What does "catch a play-pass mean?"
A. Sometimes we'll make a pass call in run circumstances, trying to anticipate and trying to anticipate play-action pass. We actually did it in the overtime against Seattle, when T.J. got the sack/fumble on Geno Smith. They went to play-action pass on what seemingly is a running down. We mixed in a pass call, Geno had nowhere to go with the ball, and he got left holding the hand grenade. And so we were looking for a similar circumstance in that setting in Cleveland. We made a pass call trying to catch a play-action pass, and they ran the ball, and you win some, you lose some. I don't expect them to get 21 yards, but you've got to acknowledge from a strategy standpoint that you put the defense in a less than ideal circumstance in terms of defending the run play.

Q. What is the in-game, on-the-sideline procedure for getting a fake field goal, a fake punt, one of those kinds of plays called, because your face is on television a lot during games?
A. Those decisions are generally made in the week prior (to the game), so there's not a lot of sideline discussion. You're not gonna see Danny Smith and I huddled up for 45 seconds, discussing the positives and negatives of it. We work it during the week, we get to a level of comfort. We talk pregame about some in-stadium circumstances that could affect it. We talk about the scenarios in which we'd like to use it. And by the time we get to the moment, it's simply a walk-by or a nod.

Q. In your postgame remarks in Cleveland, you took the blame for the decision on the fake field goal and thanked your players, in your words, "for backing my play and fighting for 60 minutes and delivering a victory and making it a side note." Did you tell them the same thing?
A. No. Sometimes I talk to my players through the media. There wasn't a lot of time to have the nature of those discussions. It gets a little stale by the time you get back to town a day later. And so, sometimes I relay things that I want my players to know by communicating with the media.

Q. Does that work?
A. Yes; 100 percent. They pay very close attention to anything and everything that's said, and you better proceed with that assumption when you're in the position that I'm in.

Q. Does that also apply for your Tuesday news conferences and the Wednesday mornings when you greet the team for the start of the next work week.
A. No question. My Tuesday press conference gives them a snapshot of what Wednesday morning is going to be about, to be quite honest with you. I talk about the significant components of the matchup, the personality, the significant, situational things we need to be aware of, etc. What I'm doing is giving them a preview of what they should anticipate on Wednesday morning.

Q. With the trade of Melvin Ingram, Taco Charlton is now on the active roster and seemingly in line for a backup role at outside linebacker. He was the 28th overall pick in the first round of the same draft in which you drafted T.J. Watt 30th overall. What do remember about the pre-draft process with respect to Taco?
A. We liked him. We liked his skill-set. I went to Ann Arbor, took him out to dinner, watched his Pro Day and all of those things at that time. We had concerns about whether or not he was an outside linebacker or a 4-3 end, and he got drafted by the Dallas Cowboys as a 4-3 end, but he was probably 277 pounds or something at that time. He's lighter now. I think he's transformed himself. I think he's more versatile now than he was when he came out in the draft, and that's why he's here and why he's suiting up for us as an outside linebacker,

Q. In 2007 you had drafted another linebacker/defensive end from Michigan in the second round. Did you see any Lamarr Woodley in Taco Charlton?
A. Yes and really in a very similar way. And that's probably why Lamar slipped to the second round of the 2007 Draft, because he wasn't a slam dunk as an outside linebacker. Some people had him as an outside linebacker, some people had him as a 4-3 end, and really that's the same trepidation that we had regarding Taco. That's why we had T.J. rated higher.

Q. When you said you went to Taco's Pro Day at Michigan, did they have dual workouts for those kinds of guys who could be outside linebackers or 4-3 ends once they get into the NFL? Sometimes at the Combine, you can get them to work those kinds of players as defensive linemen and as outside linebackers.
A. Years ago, when I first got on this job, you had to make a request for dual work. The position is such a hybrid position in today's game, so nobody has to ask anymore. It is assumed. Anybody who's 250-to-275 pounds is showing you some defensive end work, showing you some outside linebacker work. It's just a function of today's game. And to be quite honest with you, a lot of colleges are hybrid, so those guys have more of a background in terms of playing with their hand down and playing on two feet in today's game. I think some of the perimeter aspects of college football, the jet-sweep game and so forth, has made traditional four-down teams stand up their edge people for peripheral vision purposes. And I think that's given us a wider net of consideration in terms of looking at 3-4 outside linebackers.

Q. Another recent addition was signing Khalil Davis to the practice squad, and his twin brother, Carlos, was your seventh-round pick in 2020. You obviously scouted both of them in the run-up to that draft, and so what can you tell me about Khalil vs. Carlos?
A. He is his identical twin. During the draft process, I had a difficult time distinguishing one from the other, just in terms of getting to know them. There are positives and negatives in all individuals, and so they are different, but they're identical twins. There are a lot of similarities in terms of their pad level, their quickness, their burst or straight-line speed. The things that that made Carlos attractive to us in the draft are the same things that make Khalil attractive to us now. I'm excited about having them both here, and we'll get to know (Khalil), and probably now that we have them both we'll have a better understanding of the differences because when you don't have them both what you recognize are the strong similarities.

Q. Did you ever experience them doing the typical identical twins thing where one can finish the other's sentences, where they know what the other is thinking?
A. They're their own men. Khalil was a frat guy, he pledged a frat at Nebraska; Carlos didn't. Khalil was more outgoing and more social of a guy among teammates on campus; Carlos wasn't. So, they're their own men. There are some differences, but as I mentioned, we'll probably become more educated and have a better understanding of those differences now that we have them both and we get to be around them every day.

Q. If you had to guess, why was one was drafted a couple of rounds higher than the other?
A. When you start talking about Rounds 5-6-7, it's a very thin line. There's not much difference between a No. 5 pick and a No. 7. It's one man's perspective. That's why you see guys categorized as "a late-round pick." You know, Rounds 5-to-7 just depends on how many people have come off the board at that position, or the specific needs of a team. And so they are very similar. I wouldn't read too much into the difference of their draft positioning.

Q. The Davis' are the third set of brothers on the team: Derek and T.J. Watt, and Terrell and Trey Edmunds. Is that happenstance, or can there be an advantage to the team of having brothers together?
A. I don't know if there are any benefits. I do know this: I've been in this game long enough to know that football is a family business. DNA is a component of it, whether it's brothers, or whether it's father-son. I had known Ferrell Edmonds a long time before I met the Edmonds brothers, for example, and so there are a lot of interesting components in terms of the genetics as it pertains to this game. I have known Devin Bush's dad, who's in my age group a long time, and he obviously was a first-round pick as a strong safety. But that's probably the tie that binds from my perspective. I acknowledge that football is a family game. I'm not surprised when I see sons or siblings excelling in the ways that their brothers or fathers do.

Q. I believe it was the same week that you addressed your complete lack of interest in a return to college coaching that Ben Roethlisberger did his weekly media session wearing gloves with USC colors, cardinal and gold, and he gestured with his hands often enough to make sure everyone saw the gloves and that the gloves made it onto the video of the session. Do you have to be a franchise quarterback to get away with that kind of "poking the bear," so to speak?
A. Yes, you do. (Laughs) I don't think you're going to see Kendrick Green or Dan Moore having that type of fun. My relationship with Ben goes back. Obviously, there are layers to it. We've been in a lot of battles together, and so he has certain latitudes that maybe some others wouldn't dare to cross.

Q. Since you were hired to coach the Steelers in 2007, your teams have a 24-4 record in games against rookie quarterbacks. Generally speaking, what about a rookie quarterback can an opposing coach try to expose and then take advantage of in game situations?
A. I'd imagine everybody has a pretty good record vs. rookie quarterbacks. That's the challenge of this business in this game at this level. I don't read too much into it. I've got a lot of respect for Justin Fields and his talents. We scouted him big-time when he came out, and we're singularly focused on that. As it pertains to rookie quarterbacks, the learning curve in this game is very difficult. And so most of the time when a quarterback is playing as a young guy, he's in less-than-ideal circumstances. He's relying on talent, and he's gaining experience in on-the-job training, and most of the time, that's not a good component for winning football games. I don't worry too much about that. I'm really singularly focused on Fields and have a lot of respect for him. He's shown maturity beyond his years, and you could just tell by the way his group has rallied around him. He's not your typical rookie starting quarterback in a less than ideal circumstances, usually on a team that's trying to get better and searching for identity and so forth. This group is a little bit more established. Coach (Matt) Nagy is not in his first year. He's been there. They've got some established guys around them. (David Montgomery), their running back was established a year ago, they've got guys like Alan Robinson and the tight end group. I can't say enough about Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet and Jesse James. And so it's really about plug and play for Fields, and that's a different circumstance maybe than some of the usual circumstances that you see when a young guy is playing and the circumstances are less than ideal.

Q. From the standpoint of preparing the defense for the challenge posed by Bears quarterback Justin Fields, is the experience of regularly facing Lamar Jackson a help in any way to your defense in terms of rush lanes, designed runs, etc.?
A. It is in terms of us knowing our personality and how we combat quarterback mobility. The guys don't come in asking questions about how we're dealing with quarterback mobility. We have a track record with (mobile quarterbacks) in terms of the schematics and our approach to game prep. And so in that way it is similar, but Lamar Jackson plays at a different speed than everybody on the field, and so I don't want to disrespect his talents by saying it's the same. Lamar is in a different stratosphere. There are a lot of quarterbacks who have mobility. Fields has mobility, Josh Allen has mobility. Lamar Jackson is in a different discussion. He's in that Michael Vick discussion in terms of quarterback mobility that's super unique.

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