Q. Today is opening day at Heinz Field. From the perspective of the players and coaches, is the opener different, or is it just one of 16 games?
A. In the big scheme of things, it's one of 16, but there's no denying the emotions and the atmosphere associated with the opener. It's the Cleveland Browns, it's AFC North football, we're here at Heinz Field, it's the start of the 2014 season. To deny that would be a lie. This is going to be a great atmosphere for football today.
Q. It's also Chuck Noll Day. The players will wear a commemorative decal on their helmets, and the coaches will wear pins. What are your thoughts about being a part of that?**
A. It's a huge privilege and an honor. We'll do it in an official capacity today, but I imagine there's not a day that goes by where I don't appreciate the legacy that is Coach Noll.
Q. You always have embraced the history of this franchise. Do you ever take the time to teach the players about that history?
A. Quite often. There are so many lessons to be learned from those who have come before us in this business. Often times, like in a lot of areas in life, things repeat themselves in our game. I just think it can be very productive and insightful to talk about those who have come before us, and their experiences and their accomplishments.
Q. What have you told the players about Chuck Noll?
A. His way of communicating with guys. I've heard a lot of stories over the years about Coach, but the intimate relationships that he was able to build with people within a large group is something to be modeled by a lot of coaches, and it's something I try to do.
Q. You ended the 2013 season with a game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, and you're opening the 2014 season against them at Heinz Field as well. How are they different?
A. From a personnel standpoint, particularly from the defensive side, they're very similar. All of the core components are there. There's the defensive line rotation inside and up front with Phil Taylor and Ahyyba Rubin, there's Joe Haden and company in the secondary. They've simply replaced some solid veterans with some other solid veterans. Karlos Dansby replaces D'Qwell Jackson, Donte Whitner replaces T.J. Ward, so defensively they're very similar. There are some significant changes on offense, and it starts with Josh Gordon not being available to them. But they've got some new components – Miles Austin, a new back in Ben Tate who fits with what they're trying to do from a run-game standpoint. And then, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel are different signal-callers.
Q. What's different about the team you're bringing into Heinz Field today?
A. The wheels keep on turning here in Pittsburgh, just like every NFL city. We have some exciting, young, new components, and we also have some guys who have been a part of the program but are ascending within the group, whose roles are expanding. They may burst onto the scene and be new to fans, but they're not new to us. Guys like Justin Brown, who has worked hard, a practice squad player who worked his way through the ranks, will have an opportunity to be a big-time contributor today. There are many stories like that. All of the young guys who seemingly are seen as bursting onto the scene have been here and working and behind the scenes often. You can put Sean Spence in that category as well. This will be the first time to see him in a regular season stadium, and it's been three years in the making. There are some awesome stories like that.
Highlight photos from the last game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns during the 2013 season. The Steelers defeated the Browns 20-7.
Q. When you're studying a team with a new head coach – do you end up getting more out of studying what the coach has liked to do in his previous jobs, or from looking at the players who maybe were playing in a different scheme?**
A. It's really some forecasting as I do both. I look at the personnel that they have this year and how they were utilizing them in the preseason, but I also look at the shared history we might have with that coach. For example, the Browns defensive staff was in Buffalo a year ago, and they were with the New York Jets prior to that. So we have an extended history with those guys. The Browns offensive staff has been in Washington for a number of years, and we played them in 2012 in the regular season and in 2013 in the preseason, so we have an extended history with those guys as well. We try to utilize all those things.
Q. You have said you expect to see Johnny Manziel today at quarterback. Why do you believe that?
A. They took him in the first round. He's that type of talent. He was the most dynamic player in college football for the previous two years. His growth and development is probably very important to them, and he needs to get opportunities to continue to do that even as he pushes into the regular season. And I would imagine he provides a unique wrinkle or change of pace with the unique skill set that he has. So it's just prudent business for us to assume that he's going to play. Obviously, the decision is theirs, and if he doesn't play who am I to question it. But from my perspective and from our perspective, it's the prudent approach to take to prepare for him.
Q. Is the strength of the Browns offense the offensive line, a unit led by left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack?
A. There's no question. Mitchell Schwartz is back at right tackle, and even though John Grieco switched from one guard spot to the other he's still an experienced starter for them. Alex Mack is one of the best in the business, and Joe Thomas is Joe Thomas. It's a very strong group up front.
Q. What does an offensive line like the Browns', allow them to do on offense?
A. You spend less time thinking about ways to help the line and more ways to help the quarterback, particularly in the passing game. When you have guys like that and left tackles like Joe Thomas, you're essentially talking about another one-half a receiver, if you will, out in routes. Because Thomas is a guy who doesn't need chip-help, or body-position help, he can stand up on his own regardless of what he faces. So then instead of four eligibles for the quarterback, you're talking about five out in the route. It's really that simple when you have a guy like him and some of the others working in their offensive line.
Q. Flipping it to the other side of the ball, is the strength of their defense their defensive line, a unit that will start Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Armonty Bryant?
A. Yes, and they're also supposed by some high quality backups. Desmond Bryant is out this week, but he's a big rotational player. Billy Winn is a big rotational player. Ishmaa'ily Kitchen is a big rotational player. They have quality front-line players and quality depth at the position as they've had for a number of years.
Q. What are your plans today for Browns TE Jordan Cameron?
A. We're going to mix up who covers him. A guy like him is trouble for strong safeties and linebackers, so we'll share the load. We'll cover him with our speed linebackers like Ryan Shazier, we'll cover him with safeties like Troy, and often times we'll put two people on him. We realize he's an integral part of their attack, particularly in situational football.
Q. James Harrison announced his retirement on Friday, an event you took the time to attend. You coached Harrison longer in the NFL than anyone else. Any James Harrison stories you'd like to share?**
A. Not to share. (laughs) Just rest assured all that you've heard about James is true. He's a beautiful creature and an original. He's a great Steeler. One of the things that really stands out to me about James – and there are a lot of James Harrison stories – but this is a football lover, and he's a Pittsburgh Steelers lover. He's a Steeler for life. We're glad he's back in the family, and we'll continue to push forward with him alongside of us.
Q. You were on the opposite sideline during Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII. What do you remember about that?
A. Some seven, eight years later, I'll admit now that for the better part of the run I was rooting against him, because I wanted to have an opportunity to get the field goal unit out on the field. I didn't think he could make it. When he got to the Arizona 25-yard line, I started rooting for him.