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Labriola On

Tomlin on weather, Franco, attrition

Q. Throughout your time as the head coach here, you have chosen to handle disciplinary matters in-house, and you kept to that procedure after the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Diontae Johnson and Marcus Allen in last Sunday's game in Carolina. Why do you believe the in-house method is the right way to go?
A. Because unless you're a part of our group dynamics, you don't understand the makeup of it. And so your judgment of such things might be skewed or inaccurate. I just try to minimize the distractions by letting in-house business be in-house business, especially when it comes to sensitive things and things that are discipline related. I just don't think it's fair to the collective for the guys to make private things public. And I view some of those things, whether it's discipline or corrections or learning at times when it's sensitive, as private things.

Q. Would you consider, for example, you bringing it up in a team meeting in front of the rest of the team, going public?
A. Not at all. As a matter of fact, that is just the forum that I'm looking for.

Q. When you say, "handle things in-house," does that necessarily mean that you're the one doing the handling, or might that include some of the individual's teammates?
A. It means that it's in-house, which means usually all of the above – me and then some.

Q. Have you found that one of those two approaches works better – you doing the handling or a teammate doing the handling?
A. When we start using terms like "handle things in-house, I think everybody knows what that means. And that means all hands on deck, and all tools are useful.

Q. Two weeks ago, during a loss to the Ravens, Baltimore came out ahead in the physical confrontations during that game, and then after the win in Carolina, you talked about winning the attrition game, which I took to mean your team won the physical confrontations. Is what changed between those two games more of a mind-set, or did it have to do with technique?
A. It's mind-set, it's technique, it's schematics. Sometimes it's just the bounce of the ball in terms of how things unfold. We had an agenda in terms of waging a war of attrition and putting the game in the hands of our big people. Carolina did as well. And we were able to get it done, and that's what I was acknowledging. It can be reflected in a lot of ways. The number of short-yardage opportunities we had on offense, because a lot has been written and said about the fact that we converted 12-of-16 or whatever on third down, 75 percent. But five or six of those were short-yardage related, and those globally are high percentage conversions. But they also speak to what you're doing on first and second downs. And so when I see statistics like that, and obviously I feel it in-stadium, that's what I mean when I say that we won the war of attrition. We were able to control the flow in the game through our ground game and manage possession downs and be in highly convertible possession downs. And by the same token, Carolina had one third-and-2, and they had no third-and1s. And so not only did that tee us up to win the possession down battle on the defensive side of the ball, but it's also reflective of what we were doing to them in terms of minimizing their run game on first and second.

Q. What about Larry Ogunjobi's game makes him an asset against the run?
A. He's got built-in leverage. He's not a tall guy for an interior defensive lineman, and he's got good quicks, whether it's vertical quickness in terms of his burst and get-off, or whether it's lateral quickness in his ability to move laterally with his gap on stunts. He's got good short-area quicks. He's got built-in leverage because he's not a tall guy. And I think oftentimes that plays as an advantage vs. the run game.

Q. When facing a team like the Raiders, who can deploy the NFL's leading rusher in Josh Jacobs as well as one of the league's most dynamic playmaking receivers in Davante Adams, does the defense have to pick one or the other to really focus on?
A. The defense has to pick one or the other on each snap, and so the game circumstance, the field positioning, the moment, all mean something. We've got a lot of experience in terms of dealing with an (offensive) unit with a similar makeup to this. We were very similar to this a number of years ago when we had Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, and so schematically on defense, we have lived that life down in and down out in training camp like settings and so forth. And so it's not an unusual circumstance for us. For us, it's about picking instances and circumstances where we feel like Jacobs could be featured and work to minimize him schematically, while understanding the ramifications of that in terms of how we deal with Adams, and vice versa. In one dimensional paths and circumstances we'll allocate a lot of schematics toward eliminating or minimizing Adams, but we also better understand how to manage the unintended consequences of that relative to Jacobs.

Q. Not that you would use the weather as an excuse, but in a situation like the one here tonight, don't you have to make some concessions to it?
A. Certainly. But I remind our staff and our players continually we're not the only ones who have to make the adjustments relative to the weather. The weather is a factor for both teams. It affects both of us logistically in terms of how we get from point A to point B. It affects us in terms of the schematics and how the game might unfold from a planning standpoint, relative to those things. My point is that weather is a factor that's not within any of our controls, and so as long as we do a relatively good job of dealing with it, meaning better than the Las Vegas Raiders, then that's what I'm searching for. And I choose to talk to our guys in that way, so we have a can-do attitude regarding it because we understand there's somebody else on the other end of this as well, and they have challenges as it pertains to it as well. Our attitude is usually going to dictate our outcome. We've got to have a can-do attitude. We recognize it's a factor, but we also recognize we got a job to do so and so do the people that we play. And then we move through it with that spirit.

Q. I don't expect you to know specifically all of the advancements there have been, but you've been in this game a long time, and there certainly have to have been advancements in terms of equipment for the people who are out there having to perform.
A. It's not even close to what it used to be on so many levels. There's piping under NFL fields now where they don't get frozen. Years ago when you'd watch legendary games on video, like the Ice Bowl between Green Bay and Dallas, you saw Bob Lilly literally digging his cleats into the ground trying to get footing before the offensive line came to the line of scrimmage. That's never an issue in today's game. There's heating under all fields. The field is not going to be frozen. The bench area has heated benches and technology, there's other technology in terms of hand warmers, foot warmers, and in the number of materials and things that you can wear now, it's not nearly what it used to be. The most challenging component of the weather, man, are the poor fans sitting in the stands. We're better off than they are, I promise you.

Q. Rookie inside linebacker Mark Robinson played seven defensive snaps in Carolina, the first regular season defensive snaps he's played in the NFL. He's a run-and-hit guy, and that makes him interesting, but what are some of the examples of the kinds of things he has to learn about playing defense before he can compete for a bigger role?
A. Just all the minutia associated with play. The ability to key and then trust what your eyes tell you. The ability to understand the communication component of the position at this level, talking to the guys in front of you and behind you. He's done an awesome job in terms of growing over the course of this season, and that's why we gave him some snaps. He was deserving of that. He has a skill-set that we can't coach: he embraces the physical component of play. He's a physical matchup and confrontation guy, but the intellect component of the game, the nuances of the game, the things that you have to know to play football at this level – he's still very much in development. He's a one-year linebacker at the college level, but within that year we did see some things that were really attractive. That's why we're doing business with him, and he's proven those things to be true. But we got into this relationship with the understanding that it was going to be a growth and development thing. There was a lack of exposure to the position, but if you value coaching and if you honor coaching, then you run to those projects, not away from them. I love to be a part of someone's developmental process. That's why we love drafting the third-year junior, the 20-year-old guy. Why we embrace that is because some of our best experiences have been with guys who were those type of guys. Maurkice Pouncey, Le'Veon Bell, and others. I view it the same way as I view a guy who's relatively new to a position, like embracing the opportunity to train somebody like Al Villanueva to become an offensive tackle, for example. I think those are good coaching challenges, and I want to put together a staff that embraces that and helps young people get better. I think that's how we add value to the talent that we have here.

Q. This past Wednesday, the Steelers, the NFL, the people of Pittsburgh suffered a great loss when Franco Harris died. As you might say, his football accomplishments need no endorsement from me, but could you relate your interactions with him in the community?
A. He just was such a special man. And for a lot of reasons. His appetite for people, his patience with people, his general good spirit and love for this organization and this community was very evident in everything that he did. We had an opportunity to spend a lot of time together in non-football settings. He served on some charitable boards with my wife, and I served on a board or two with him years ago when I first got here. When you know him and get an opportunity to spend time with him, it was just very evident that he's a guy who embraced the responsibilities that came with being him. He utilized his platform for the collective good. He really had a passion for the development, nurturing, and assistance of young people, and all of that is reflected in the businesses that he ran. Whether it was the bakery business that featured nutritional food, or whether it was his involvement in things like Pittsburgh Promise, which is a board that he and my wife served on for a number of years, raising money to educate Pittsburgh Public School kids beyond the high school level. That's Franco. He did it all in a very humble way. In a very matter of fact way. But man, his passion and love, and patience for people was ever-present.

Q. This was planned to be a special weekend for the Steelers franchise with the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception and the retiring of Franco Harris' jersey. Do those kinds of nostalgic events, those celebrations of history, serve as motivation for the current team?
A. I think motivation is probably an inappropriate word. I think it's education, more than anything else. To be in a location and having an opportunity to meet men you can relate to, men who walked on the same grounds that you walk onto, and you can see that ordinary people collectively through their efforts and work and spirit can do extraordinary things. I think it's a history lesson. And so I think there's an educational component that makes the discussion more than motivation. I view it as education, and that's how I talk to our guys. I educate them about the Immaculate Reception and its impact not only on the lives of the men involved, but on this organization, and what a global play it was to the game of football in terms of its relationship with its fans. I talk in that way because I'm an appreciator of history. I'm a studier of history, World War II, etc. I just think that when we take the studier's approach, we're able to get more out of it. And so, it's a learning experience more than anything else.