Head Coach Mike Tomlin
Opening Statement: Good afternoon. We are anxious to get started. We are going through a few procedural things with the roster cutdown. Some of those things are ongoing and probably will be ongoing for the next day or so as other teams make their decisions and we evaluate what is available. It's just a normal procedure for us. We acknowledge that we got a little bit of our business done, obviously, with the game coming on Thursday. But we will continue to keep an eye on what is going on in other cities and the things that may help us be better. Obviously we have a few administrative things to do with our group, Maurkice Pouncey and others. But we will do that at the appropriate time. We are excited about playing in the season opener on Thursday night in Foxborough, against the Super Bowl defending champions. It's a tall task for us but one that we are excited about. When you set out on these journeys that are football seasons, you are excited about facing stiff challenges, and we have one right from the start. It's going to be a hostile environment. There is going to be high energy, against a very good and well-coached football team. Talking about them starts with their quarterback Tom Brady. He does just about everything well. He makes good and quick decisions. He does a good job of getting them in appropriate places. You have to be very conscious of your pre-snap looks at the line of scrimmage. He probably has a great deal of autonomy in terms of getting them in place to attack looks, whether it is the run or the pass. His play-pass game is exceptional. He can turn his back to the defense and come up throwing. He had an exceptional game against us a few years ago up in Foxborough doing so. He has a myriad of targets. It starts with Rob Gronkowski. We have to minimize his impact on the game. He made a bunch of plays against us in situational football last time, and on third-down and in red zone. He is a vertical threat. He has a big-time catch radius. He is difficult to cover. He is oftentimes too athletic and savvy for linebackers, and he's too big and powerful for defenders. We will use a combination of people, and I would imagine a combination of schemes to work to minimize his impact on the game. They have a very solid receiving corps, Julian Edelman and others. Reggie Wayne is a new addition to that group. They have a good stable of running backs. They are a very good running team but they do it with a collection of running backs. It's tough to identify a bell cow at times. It depends on the week. But we respect all those guys and their run game in its totality. Dion Lewis is a new addition to them. We are familiar with him. He used to be next door, when he played for Pittsburgh. He's had a really impressive preseason, particularly in the area of third-down, catching the ball out of the backfield. I would imagine he is going to have an opportunity to impact them in that way. They have some new people up front, particularly on the interior, but the line is stabilized and anchored by their tackles. They have really good and solid tackle play from Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. Those guys have been around a long time. They do a good job of setting the edges, cutting the edges some in the passing game. They utilize a variety of tight ends, not just Gronkowski, like Scott Chandler and others. They do a great job of creating C, D and E-gap issues in the run game with a variety of personnel groups and tight ends in those areas. Their crack-toss running game is excellent. They will challenge your perimeter people to be consistently physical and aware, and the play-pass and misdirection pass associated with it. On the defensive side of the ball, it starts up front with them. They have a talented front, both individually and collectively. Guys like Chandler Jones, their first-round pick, Malcom Brown, an early pick for them the other year, and Dominique Easley is really distinguishing himself as a rusher. Rob Ninkovich is a quality rusher. They do a good job of rushing individually, but they also do a good job of rushing collectively, the game in their rush and minimizing the escape lanes and collapsing the pocket. We will be challenged in that way to protect Ben Roethlisberger, not only in terms of one-on-ones but the collective protection in an effort to neutralize their games. Staying on schedule will obviously be a big component of working to minimize that. At the linebacker level, they have a nice mix of savvy veteran players and youth with big-time upside. Jerod Mayo has been around and has been playing at a high level for a long time. They also have Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins. I've really been impressed with Collins' work throughout the preseason. They play him all over the field. He is involved in the rush some. He is involved in coverage. He is on the line. He is off the line. He appears to be a very talented player and is really rounding into a really good professional. On the back end, they have a nice group of guys at the safety position, Devin McCourty, obviously is an established guy. He has played some cornerback also, as late of this preseason. Patrick Chung is back in action with this group. We are familiar with him. I really like some of the things I am seeing at their cornerback position. Malcolm Butler is a really good football player. I wasn't very familiar with him other than the splash plays last winter in the playoffs for them. But I had an opportunity to really watch and study him. He is a good football player. He is savvy, very aware. He is good with his hands. He is consistently physical. I like a lot of the things I am seeing from their secondary. They have really solid special teams, good specialists. They have solid veteran and core contributors to their teams game, guys like Matthew Slater. He has been to multiple Pro Bowls for the things that he does on special teams. But oftentimes it is the case, we could talk about all day about their attributes and the qualities that they have, and rightfully so. They are the defending Super Bowl Champions. It is important that we focus on our preparation, what it is that we do and our readiness, particularly at the early outset. Usually those things define the outcome of games. It's less about the opponents and more about the quality of your preparation and play. So that's where our focus will be as we start our journey this week.
Here is the 53 man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers as announced on Saturday, September 5, 2015.
Will one of your fullbacks also serve as a backup running back?**
Will Johnson is very flexible and has played some tight end as well. Roosevelt Nix has done good things not only as a fullback but as a special teams player. He had a splash play last week with a punt block, but he also had quality punt coverage. We will utilize those guys in a variety of ways, because they've shown they are capable.
Re: Signing Ross Cockrell:
We really liked him when he came out of Duke, He's a smart, savvy guy. He knows how to cover guys as well. He has long arms and we are excited about getting to know him and include him into our equation.
Do you remember having a defense that wasn't highly looked at going into the season, but turned it around eventually?
I think that occurs every year. We worry very little about reputation or expectation. It's more about results. You can get yourself in trouble by finding too much comfort in reputation, or worrying about it. I'm excited about getting going with this group. We obviously have some questions that need to be answered with them, but they will answer them soon enough.
Were any challenges presented while putting together the 53-man roster because of Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant being out?
It really didn't present challenges. It actually clarified some of the challenges associated with putting together the roster. You often spend a lot of time debating on the guys from 50 through 55, and having those two additional spots minimized that discussion.
How quickly did the Brad Wing trade come together?
I think there had been a few discussions, even prior to the Carolina game. I'm not in on the specifics of that, but I knew there was some interest there. It's more important for us to finish the game and get a good assessment of those guys. Like I said prior to the game, it's nice to be involved in a battle like the one those guys were going through. Not because both guys were marginal, but because both guys were performing extremely well. I tip my cap to both guys. Usually things work out in the manner in which they did when you have those battles, and both guys have an opportunity to be employed.
How has Ben Roethlisberger evolved as a leader?
That's a long story. A lot has changed in the nine years I've known him. He's in 30s and is married with kids. He also has about a decade of experience to go along with it. So the natural maturation process that comes with the things I just described.
Will we see more of Dri Archer while Bell is out?
We will do what's appropriate, in terms of giving ourselves a chance to win. We acknowledge we have talented players, Dri being one of them. We have guys who are capable of proving some unique things. I think that's the challenge that the next couple of weeks will provide us as we work to minimize the absence of Le'Veon. Replacing a guy as dynamic as him is not usually a one-man job. We have guys with skills capable enough of filling that void. I'm excited about watching them do it, with Dri being one of them.
Re: On Shamarko Thomas' preseason:
Like most young guys, he's had positive and negative moments. We are excited about his overall work and the trajectory of his play.
Is Mike Mitchell ok? Was he held out Thursday as a precaution?
A lot of the guys who missed some time at the end of the preseason, particularly on Thursday, had the appearance of being ready to go. We will let their practice participation speak to that.
Re: On the 2015 rookie class:
They've done a nice job. I think a lot of guys have helped themselves by being in relatively good shape. Collectively, I think the group is still figuring out what being in professional shape is about. The veterans have done a nice job of helping them. Guys like Heath Miller and Matt Speath are great for young guys like Jesse James. However, you can say that about all of the positions. I'm excited about these guys. They have really earned the spots they have. We will see if they earn roles as we start to prepare and we will see if those roles expand based on performance.
Have you gotten to know Bill Belichick more over the past couple of years at coaching meetings and clinics?
No, I haven't.
Have you tried?
No, I haven't.
Re: On New England's defensive scheme being different this year:
What I have seen on preseason tape I take with a grain of salt. I imagine they are putting together a formula involving their regular-season personality. It may or may not be similar to what they've done in August, so I respect that element of it. They've got guys who can play, and I would imagine they are going to work to lean to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Ultimately, that's what professional coaching is.
Re: On New England QB Tom Brady getting rid passes quickly:
If they get rid of footballs in two seconds, there isn't a lot you can do. We have to challenge these guys. When you're facing a group that has the continuity they have, it takes a full menu to keep them off balance.
Re: On Dion Lewis:
I acknowledge he's had a really good preseason in both the running game and passing game.
Re: On the safeties not playing together much in the preseason:
It's very critical for them to communicate. But we have had a lot of practice time. Hopefully, that serves us in a lot of areas.
Is Antonio Brown the No. 1 punt returner?
We will use him and Dri. In the kick return game, we will use Dri and Markus Wheaton. We will determine what that means as we get closer to the game.
Are you confident DeAngelo can carry the ball as often as Bell did last year?
I have a lot of confidence in DeAngelo. This is not his first rodeo by any stretch. He has been in the league for a decade. He is a 6,000-yard college rusher. If you listen, he will tell you about it [Laughs]. He is an energy bringer. He is a hard worker. He's had not only a good offseason but a good preseason. I am excited about watching him play.
Re: Harrison saying the staff asked him to be more vocal in the spring:
It's more about what James does as opposed to what he says. We just continually try to remind him that there is a lot of weight in what he says, and he can provide a lot of positive direction for young people with his words. But James is not a big talker. He is more of a doer. I buy into that in a big way. When you watch him, he provides a blueprint on how to go about day-to-day business both on the field and off.
Re: Young linebackers reacting to James' words and actions:
There's no question that they gravitate to them. Most of those guys grew up on him. Bud Dupree was probably sitting around in a onesie pajama set when he watched James run down that sideline in Tampa Bay a number of years ago. They hold that type of regard for him. So what he says or does they try to mimic. That's just good, sharp football for young people.
Re: Two-point conversion percentage this preseason being nearly the same as last year:
What you saw was preseason football. We will see if that holds in regular-season football. I really think that story is going to gain more significance the further we get into the season, and weather and game conditions probably become more of a factor than they are right now. So the jury is still out on the impact of that rule change. And I think that largely all of us will be looking at it as we continue on this journey for what it holds.
Was there a consensus in those meetings about how frequently it would be used?
There was not.
Was the goal to maybe foster more two-point attempts?
I think the goal was to stimulate some strategy in that area. But I don't think a lot of thought was given in terms of what people would do with their individual teams. Obviously, you are going to make judgments that are best for you in your circumstance.
Do you like the rule?
Do you see your defensive line getting to the point where they have a different plan each week like New England does?
I think time will tell the story with us. As guys etch out roles and we find cohesion and rhythm, more than anything we are trying to do what is required to win in this stadium this week. We will let our work speak for itself as we continue on our journey.