Analysis begins: Coach Mike Tomlin was hoping for one thing and one thing only this week. He was hoping to be preparing for an AFC Divisional Round Playoff game.
Instead, though, Tomlin held his season-ending press conference on Tuesday, wrapped around exit interviews with players as they put a bow on the 2021 season.
And as he conducts those meetings, as well as meetings with the coaching staff and others, it about analyzing so many things.
"I'm excited about doing it. I'm not excited about the fact that is happening now, but just the analysis, the beginnings of the analysis that leads to building is something that I personally am excited about," said Tomlin. "The growth and development of these guys, individually and collectively, is a passion. And so, I'll start with that process. That process always starts with exit interviews and a myriad of those between a lot of people, players with positional coaches, players with support staff, strength coaches, training staff, equipment, etc.
"Wrapping a bow around what it is that we've done, and planning for the future. I personally have started the process of meeting with players, I've have been doing that all morning. And will continue and meet with virtually everyone. But I prioritize the rookies, I prioritize the first year Steelers, the guys whose contracts are up. I usually hold leadership off until the end because our conversations extend beyond the blocks of time that I have allotted and things of that nature. So that's where we start that process. I started that briefly somewhat with coaches, as well as support staff that will be ongoing in the upcoming days and weeks."
One thing Tomlin knows going into the meetings and the evaluation is that change will come. No team looks exactly the same year after year with free agency, the draft, etc. And Tomlin knows the 2022 Steelers won't look like the 2021 Steelers.
"I'll say this about this process, and I expressed it to the team yesterday. I understand change is a part of our business and I don't run away from it," said Tomlin. "I'm not overly resistant to it. I don't run to it as well. I don't change for the sake of changing. I'm open to change where appropriate. I acknowledge that. That's one component in this business and among all parties involved. We proceed with that understanding. I'm appreciative of the efforts, but things usually don't stay the same in totality. I'm sure we'll be gaining some clarity about that component of it and the division of labor within as we proceed. But it's really early in that process. For me, I'm just acknowledging that that's a component of what we're doing here."
Looking ahead: When talking about change, Tomlin was asked about the future of defensive coordinator Keith Butler and if he anticipates him coming back.
Tomlin acknowledged that Butler has had conversations about this potentially being his last season coaching, but there was nothing definite as the two haven't met yet as they are both conducting exit interviews with players.
"Butts has had conversations about this being potentially being his last year. He and I hadn't had an opportunity to sit down," said Tomlin. "I'm doing player interviews, he's doing player interviews, and so we haven't had a detailed conversation in that regard.
"But defensively, we didn't play as well as we'd like either. We got to get better in that area. And you can talk about player availability or lack thereof, if you seek comfort. I don't. We don't. All we have is what's on tape and our record. We need to be better. I'm not comfortable with what we did against the run. I don't think any of us are comfortable or happy with what we did against the run. That needs to improve. That will improve and we'll plot a course in which to do so."
Center of attention: After starting the first 15 games of the season at center, rookie Kendrick Green didn't start the final two games of the season, instead it was J.C. Hassenauer who got the nod.
Green, the team's third round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, played both center and guard at the University of Illinois. It was that position flexibility that attracted him to the Steelers, and something that could be re-visited in 2022, although Tomlin hasn't ruled anything out.
"I do believe J.C. gave us the best opportunity to win it at the latter portions of the season and that's why we played him," said Tomlin. "And I am optimistic that KG has position flexibility. That's one of the reasons why he was attractive to us. We saw 2020 Illinois tape where he started and played games at center, and he started and played at games at guard. That's a component of his resume.
"But I'm not ready to lay the center work to bed either. We made decisions at the end of the year that gave us the best chance to win based on those circumstances. There's a myriad of variables in those circumstances that it might not reflect our plans, our intentions as we push forward into 2022."