Labriola On

Tomlin on Zach's blocking, Pierre's growth

Q. In the win over the Broncos last week, the offense posted season highs in points scored (27), total yards (391), and rushing yards (145). As you studied the video of that performance, what was at the root of the improvement?
A. The things that we've been talking about continually in the last several weeks. Eliminate negativity in our run game, and that's displayed in the continuity that's born out of working together. There were not unblocked guys, and so we didn't have negative plays. We were on schedule. We were penalized less, even though we still need to improve in that area. Penalties kill drives, and we had less of that. And so, we had fewer challenges in terms of overcoming behind-the-chain circumstances. If you just look at the third downs in the game: I think we had five third-down situations that were third-and-5 or less, and we converted all of them. And when you're on schedule, you have an opportunity to function and do the things that you outlined in the question.

Q. If there is one thing you would point to, beside turnovers, would it be staying ahead of the chains?
A. And having big-play capability. We've also talked about missing some opportunities in recent weeks when we've had guys downfield and we're not connecting on big plays. Coupled with that discussion (of staying ahead of the chains), you have to have the potential for big plays and splash. Splash plays, chunks of real estate, eliminate a lot of execution. And so that's something that we're working hard on as well.

Q. One of the things I noticed in the game against the Broncos was the offense using an unbalanced line at least once. What does the use of an unbalanced line do for the offense?
A. It could give you an advantage in terms of some tight inside runs, and you get a bigger body over there, as opposed to a (smaller body), and so you get three-man surface runs with two tackles, as opposed to three-man surface runs with a tackle and the tight end. And so, you're talking about an additional 50-60 pounds in most circumstances, and so that's helpful.

Q. Does anyone have to report as eligible if the offense wants to go with an unbalanced line?
A. You don't (have to) report eligible, but you do acknowledge it in pregame circumstances with the officiating crew. You alert the officials, "We have some unbalanced we can shift in and out of it." You don't want to catch them off guard.

Q. In college football, just about every offense aligns with the quarterback in the shotgun close to 100 percent of the time, and it seems as though all of those quarterbacks clap their hands in place of a snap count. Why is the quarterback not allowed to clap his hands in place of a snap count in the NFL?
A. To be honest with you, I'm not familiar with the background or the discussion in terms of why it's illegal. I know in the college game they've talked quite a bit about the clapping in the simulation of a snap count in terms of intent to deceive. For instance, when our quarterback is in shotgun, he can't have quick and abrupt movement in an effort to draw a defense offside, and I think the discussion is along those lines lie in that area.

Q. One of the things you have done occasionally after a victory is stand outside the team's locker room and greet each player as he comes off the field and enters the locker room. Why do you think it's important to do that?
A. I just want to show appreciation for the effort given, and as a leader I just think that's my responsibility. You don't get an awful lot of opportunities to individually look a man in the eye and let them know that, and I discovered that years ago if I stand in that doorway it's one opportunity you get while it's still hot, when you still are in the moment to look at look those men in the eye and let them know you appreciate the efforts they displayed in the pursuit of victory.

Q. Does the game have to fit a certain criterion for you to do that? Why after last Sunday's win over Denver?
A. No, it's sort of an organic thing for me, really, it's kind of born out of circumstance. You know when you got to fight for victory and there are some plays that have to be made, particularly in the waning moments, and guys get challenged, individually and collectively. You know when you're there, and we had some moments in that game (against Denver). We had some young guys step up, like James Pierre making that play late in the game, and you just want to be able to wrap a bow around that and let them know you appreciate the efforts and the growth associated with producing those plays.

Q. Late this summer, you made a trade to acquire Joe Schobert. Have you been getting from him what you hoped to get when you made the trade?
A. Absolutely. Joe is an all-situations guy. He's a great partner for Devin Bush. They're really interchangeable; both guys have been playing in dime, both guys have green-dot characteristics, meaning they're good for all circumstances. Against the run, they play a good spread game, they're good underneath-match-defenders. He's a really good communicator. He's been everything we anticipated.

Q. Is Schobert as good in coverage as Devin Bush?
A. He doesn't have the long speed or the burst of Bush, but his football intellect makes all of those things irrelevant. He's got a really good feel. He understands route distribution and concepts. And I think that allows him to play, not that he's talent deficient. But you know, Devin Bush is the 10th pick in the draft, and we traded up to get him. He's got unique burst in that he runs like a defensive back. Those are the things that kind of make him him.

Q. Zach Gentry was a high school quarterback but was switched to tight end early in his college career at Michigan. Was the blocking, the being physical aspect of the tight end position the biggest adjustment he had to make, being that he was a quarterback?
A. I'm sure it was, because he actually spent a few days at receiver (at Michigan) before he moved to tight end, and so it's been a continual evolution for him. He's a big-frame guy. For instance, he was probably 260 when we drafted him, and he's in the low 280s now. And so, not only has he evolved from a technical standpoint, he's continually physically evolved as well. I think he was probably in the 220s when he made the transition from quarterback, spent a couple of days at wide receiver, ate a couple of sandwiches, then was 240, and then it's kind of gone from there, but his frame allows those discussions to happen. He's such an enormous-framed guy and the room for growth is massive.

Q. How would you characterize his development at tight end?
A. Continual is a word that I'll use. He has done a nice job not only growing technically, but also redeveloping and shaping his body. He's one of the poster boys for our offseason program, meaning during the time of year where you wonder what's going on with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, guys like Zach Gentry are in our building every day grinding away and growing and working and getting better. That guy spends a lot of time there.

Q. If I called him the best blocking tight end on the 53-man roster right now, would I be wrong?
A. You would not be wrong. I don't know if that is a real discussion, from a talent standpoint, from an aptitude standpoint. Particularly like this week, for example, the Seahawks have some edge guys like Carlos Dunlap, who's 6-6, 290 pounds. Would you prefer Zach Gentry blocking him or would you like Eric Ebron, at 245 pounds, blocking him? And so, there are certain matchups that he's built for, and that's why you need a collection of men and that's one of the reasons why you divide the labor. When we're trying to stretch people vertically, we've got options, when we're trying to block people like Carlos Dunlap the options usually lie in the discussion of Zach Gentry or offensive tackles reporting as eligible. That's just prudent, matchup football, and so Gentry has a trait, he's got a role. And so, there's a certain expectation that comes with that trait. If we weren't talking about him definitively being the best blocker, that would be a problem.

Q. In the game against Denver, James Pierre ran down Javonte Williams from behind on a 49-yard run that saved four points when the Broncos settled for a field goal. He also didn't keep a lid on it when he allowed Courtland Sutton to get behind him for a 39-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Is one of those two plays more of a teaching moment than the other?
A. I don't know about "more," but I think they're all teachable moments. Add to those two the play he made at the very end of the game, and that's the life of a young corner in this game. You are going to make some plays, you're gonna not make some plays, but you better stay in the fight. There are lessons learned, there's growth and development in days like that. The guy grows at warp speed in those circumstances. Think about what that young man experienced in that game and the lessons he learned and the things he's going to take with him moving forward. The impact of his hustle will be etched in his mind forever. That'll be a characteristic of his play. The lesson he learned from getting beat over the top, the lesson he learned from bouncing back and delivering plays will aid him in terms of some of the battles that await him not only in this business, but just in life. It's cool to watch it develop, it's cool to experience the wisdom, and talk and guide them through that maturation process.

Q. The Seattle defense bears little resemblance to the famous Legion of Boom group, with linebacker Bobby Wagner just about the only holdover. Is Wagner the model for the new breed of linebackers that has included Ryan Shazier, Joe Schobert, and Devin Bush, just to name a few?
A. I'm biased because I worked down in Tampa in the 2000s with No. 55, that "gold jacket guy." I think that guy's the prototype for today's linebacker. The Lavonte Davids, the Devin Bushes, the Devin Whites, you can name them, those oversized safeties, those guys who look like the animals they hunt, if you saw them in street clothes you don't know if they're linebackers or running backs. That's Derrick Brooks in my mind, and I had a front row seat for it. He was about 227 pounds every day of the week. He ran like a running back, you couldn't make him uncomfortable in any circumstance, he could match up with receivers in certain circumstances based on structure. All downs, all situations. There weren't green dots on the helmets back then, but in my opinion Derrick Brooks is the original green dot.

Q. What development in the NFL hastened the change from inside linebackers like Bart Scott and Vince Williams to inside linebackers like Bush and Schobert?
A. The consistency in which offenses break formation. The consistency in which offenses spread you out. Years ago, if you had a dangerous running back in the passing game, he was dangerous out of the backfield. I grew up on Roger Craig. He'd catch 70-80 balls, but it was all done out of the backfield. And then there was a guy in St. Louis named Marshall Faulk, who was dangerous out of the backfield, so dangerous that they aligned him outside of the backfield. And he ran routes – slants, curls, digs, you name it, he ran routes like Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce, and it created complexities. Being a secondary coach in Tampa at that time and being in some of those significant matchups against the Greatest Show on Turf, I realized what he did to defenses, and like I mentioned earlier, thankfully we had Derrick Brooks. But other people had to go get Derrick Brooks-like guys. The offense's willingness to continually break the formation and highlight empty (formations), and a variety of route concepts that running backs were capable of running, really kind of pushed the evolution of the game and changed the nature of that animal. When I came into the league, you go to the Pro Bowl or you coach the Pro Bowl, and Derrick Brooks was the outlier. It was Jeremiah Trotter and guys built like him. They were 250-to-260 pounds and then there's Derrick Brooks at 227. It's interesting, because we were coaching the Pro Bowl in 2017 and I made a comment to Derrick Brooks because we were in Orlando practicing and he was down there watching practice, and I was looking at our linebacker corps, and Joe Schobert was one of the linebackers on our team, and I was like, "Look, Brooks, they all look like you now." And we just had a nice laugh about it, but that's just the evolution of the game. It's adapt or die in our business, and that's the adaptation that defenses and defensive coordinators have had to make just because of the stress that formational football has placed on the game from the offensive side.

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