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Labriola On

Tomlin on today's QB, schematics, handshakes

Q. OK let's start with the elephant in the room. Who's your starting quarterback today?
A. Mitch Trubisky.

Q. Earlier in the week, you said you were going to work both Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph in practice, provided Kenny Pickett wasn't cleared from the protocol, which is what ended up happening. What did you want to see during that work week before you made your decision on the starter?
A. It's really cut and dry. I wanted to see Mitch's ability to bounce back from the last game relative to taking care of the ball, and he displayed that. And I wanted to give Mason an opportunity to get some live varsity offensive reps, which he hadn't had a lot of opportunities to do in this regular season. To check his level of rust, his ability to anticipate, his timing with those guys in seemingly live action. I wanted to get a feel for all of that, and he did a good job in that regard.

Q. On Tuesday, when asked about your defense in the loss to the Ravens, you referenced run-game schematics. What would be some general examples of run-game schematics?
A. It's just the fronts in the defenses that you choose to employ based on known run game issues. You know, a lot of offenses have a personality. The Baltimore Ravens have a personality in that (Patrick Ricard) their fullback and (Josh Oliver) their blocking tight end take you to the run game fight. And so, we set defenses based on their location, for example. We'll do similar things in this game. Their tight end (Ian Thomas) carries you to a lot of run game fight, and so we'll set defenses and make schematic calls based on those things. What I was referencing is not just putting the outcome of our performance solely on the backs of the players. We've got to whup blocks and make tackles, but we as coaches have got to do a really good job of putting them in position to do those things, and that's the schematic component.

Q. When you refer to "divisions of labor" when it comes to preparing for an opponent, what does that mean, and how detailed are the plans when it comes to executing it?
A. In some instances it's very detailed. In other instances, depending on the level of skill per position required for the task, it's not. Anybody could do it. Some pass routes, a limited number of receivers in your receiving corps can run because of skill-set. Stop-and-go routes, some of the big guys don't do a very good job with those, for example. In the running game, certain perimeter runs are for scatbacks and not downhill guys, and so if you just look at it from that perspective, there are divisions of labor within a group, there are different body types within a group. Some linebackers are passing situation, dime linebackers, some linebackers are downhill run defenders. There's just a specialization in the game. And that's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about a division of labor. You're doing a good job when you put guys in position to do what it is they naturally do well per their position, and particularly in those weighty moments. Things get more specialized the weightier the moment. Situational ball possession downs, that's when you see coverage nickels coming into the game to line up vs. slot receivers, etc. Pass rush specialists play exclusively on third downs or in 2-minute, for example, on the defensive side. There are just a lot of examples of specialization, and most of that occurs in situational ball. And that's what we all talk about today when we talk about dividing the labor.

Q. When it comes down to snap counts for individual players, who is responsible for keeping track of that?
A. Position coaches specifically. Myself, the coordinators, we've got more global things going on during the course of the game. Now we may dictate how that is managed during the course of the week. That is decided as a collective, but the in-game management usually falls to the positional coach if there's a specific snap count, for whatever reason – health, conditioning, age. There is a myriad of reasons if you're just looking at division of labor from a snap count perspective, but again, most of the time there are more meaty components of the discussion, such as situations and putting guys in position to do what it is they do best.

Q. You called Baltimore's Calais Campbell "the most significant and accomplished kick blocker in our game today." How does a field goal unit go about minimizing such a player?
A. Recognizing when you're in the kitchen and doing what's appropriate, having urgency. They move them around. They move him around a lot depending on the placement of the ball, whether the ball is in the middle of field, or on the hash, etc. Or depending on if somebody might seemingly be a weak link to them from their perspective. In schematics, there are a lot of reasons why you move a dynamic guy like him around, and so having a bead on where he might be is something that is difficult to manage, because of all of those variables. One of the key things that you can do is in-game when you line up, recognize where he is located, and those in his close proximity feel the urgency of that.

Q. Another thing you said last week was, "Football is a legitimate humble man's game." What did you mean by that?
A. That's not often talked about enough. You know, football players are viewed as alphas, combative people, competitors, etc. But I think it's important that people realize that it's a game for the humble, that you get challenged in this game at this level in really unique ways. Nobody wins all the time. You get physically beat. You get intellectually beat from time to time, meaning you get tricked. There are a lot of things that keep your feet on the ground in this game, and I just respect that component of it. The men who play this game, who have played this game, respect that component of it. It's like the combat specialist in the MMA world. There's an honor in that competition, that maybe those who are entertained by it don't fully understand, but the competitors do. And so, there's a respect and humility there.

Q. One of the traditions in the NFL is the postgame handshake between the opposing coaches. Is it something you do because it's done after every game all over the league, or is it meaningful in some way?
A. It's just something you do. It can be meaningful, just based on your personal relationship with whoever that opposing coach is, but most of the time, it's just ceremonial. Just something that has been done, and you're just showing respect to a mutual combatant.

Q. So you go out to the center of the field. There are cameras all over the place. It's not like it's a private moment, and it always seems there is a little bit of conversation. What's usually the subject of the conversation?
A. Again, it depends on the nature of the relationship with the two parties involved, but it's less so now than it used to be because of obvious reasons. As you mentioned, there's just not a lot of moments of intimacy in our business anymore. Everything is made for television, there are boom mics and cameras everywhere you go. And if you have a personal relationship with somebody, you'd just as soon send him a text or give him a call in a more intimate setting, because unfortunately, that component of it has been lost for entertainment value.

Q. You've experienced the postgame handshake after winning a Super Bowl and after losing a Super Bowl. What were those like?
A. You don't remember either. There's so much going on in those moments. That's what I mean when I say it's somewhat ceremonial. In an environment like that, the intensity of that environment, and there are so many other things going on that I challenge you to find a coach who remembers that moment or the intimacies of what was said or what have you. You're swept up in a carousel of things. If you're the winning coach you're trying to get off that playing service, and if you're losing coach you're trying to get off because that confetti raining down is not for you.

Q. A rules question. The offense is in the huddle, and the play clock is running. With less than 20 seconds left on the play clock, the offense substitutes a couple of players into the game, so then the defense is given the opportunity to match those substitutions with its own. How long is the defense given to match personnel?
A. It's up to the discretion of the officiating crew. They give us some latitude there in terms of what is reasonable. And so that's something that's continually massaged. You know, you might have defenses that are moving slow in that instance and trying to challenge them from a play clock perspective, but generally the officials do a solid job of managing that. And it is a common sense judgment. I don't know that any of us overthink that from a strategic perspective, to be honest with you.

Q. Say the situation is flipped around, and the defense substitutes the players. If the offense isn't interested in matching substitutions, can it rush to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball?
A. Yes. The defense substitutes at its own risk, I think is the best way to describe it. The offense doesn't have to match, it doesn't have to wait. The offense's pace dictates what happens between plays, and that's just the reality of it. Not only in our league, but in any level of play. The offense's pace dictates what transpires. The amount of time that the defense gets to communicate, the amount of time or opportunity to defense gets to substitute or not, all of that is dictated by the pace and style of play of the offense.

Q. How much play clock will the officials allow to run down while standing over the ball waiting for the substitutions?
A. It's something that's not discussed, it's something that's managed. And there's a lot of that in our game. I know, for discussion fodder, people either like it or hate it. But that's just the nuances of our game. Linemen downfield in the passing game is officiated by the term, "a healthy yard." Well, what is "a healthy yard?" It might be a yard-and-a-half for some crews or some individuals; it might be 2 yards for others, or 2-and-a-half. There's a lot of that in our game, and I think those of us who are in the game, we understand it and respect it and teach it from an educational perspective. But it doesn't necessarily create comfortable or fluid conversations in layperson settings.

Q. What makes Brian Burns the elite edge guy he has become in what is his fourth NFL season?
A. He has a distinguishing trait in that his burst and straight-line speed are really unique. And over the course of his career, he has shaped out other aspects of his game to highlight it. It's no different than baseball. If somebody's capable of throwing 100 miles an hour, he's not going to become a legitimate starting ace until he plays off that unique trait with the development of his game. What I see from (Burns) is a guy who has developed his game around a unique trait, and that's what makes him formidable and doing the things that we see him doing today.