The NFL Owners Meetings kicked off in Orlando, Florida on Monday, and it was the first time Coach Mike Tomlin has gone on record talking about the new additions to the team's coaching staff this offseason, as well as a change at a key position.
Randy Fichtner was named the team's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach following the departure of Todd Haley, and Tomlin said it's all about keeping things moving and making progress.
"We've just got to keep moving," said Tomlin. "We were having some success when we made the change to Todd Haley. That is just the nature of our business. We had a great time, we had a great time deal of success. I appreciate the contributions that he provided us. I just thought it was an appropriate time and equally as important, I thought I had the appropriate guy to assume the role.
"I am excited about moving forward with Randy. I am excited about his experience. Not only his experience, but the experience within our program. The fact that he has been the wide receiver coach. The fact that he has been the quarterback coach and how those experiences will help him lead the group. Not only from a play caller standpoint but organizationally as he works with the staff and the players. I think it is going to be an asset to us. Again, I am very appreciative of Todd's contributions and really enjoyed the time that I had to work with him. "* *
There are some new faces on the staff, too, as the team hired defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, wide receivers coach Daryl Drake, and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, all coaches Tomlin had some familiarity with, even if it wasn't working with them firsthand.
Bradley joined the coaching ranks in 1979 as a graduate assistant at Penn State, and over 30 years at the school worked his way up to defensive coordinator from 2000-2011, and the interim head coach in 2011. Under Bradley's guidance, Penn State's defenses were regularly among the top in the national rankings. From 2004-09 he led Penn State to six consecutive Top 15 finishes in total and scoring defense, and from 2004-11 Penn State held 53 of its 88 opponents to 17 points or fewer, including 10 games in the 2009 season. Bradley spent the 2014 season at West Virginia University where he served as the senior associate head coach. He was the defensive coordinator at UCLA from 2014-17.
One thing missing from Bradley's resume was NFL coaching experience, but in this case Tomlin looks at that as a plus, as he will be working with a young group that includes Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Cameron Sutton, Mike Hilton and Brian Allen.
"I love the fact that he has no professional coaching experience," said Tomlin. "I wanted a teacher, or a guy with a teacher's mentality in that position. We have a lot of young people in the secondary and the development of those people is critical for us.
"The fact that he doesn't have NFL experience is not a negative for me, it's quite the opposite. I am excited because he is an accomplished coach with a legitimate resume who does have experience in terms of development of players and I think all of those things are real positives as we embark on this journey, which would be his first one in the National Football League."
Drake started off in the college ranks, which is where his relationship with Tomlin began, even if he doesn't fully remember it.
"When I was a young coach, coaching wide receivers at Arkansas State, he was one of the most respected wide receivers coaches in college football," said Tomlin. "I sought him out. He was very giving of his time and expertise with me and others. Actually, he doesn't even remember that being me. I had to remind him that guy was me. That is our profession. That is what you do. You help young guys grow and develop."
For the past 14 seasons Drake worked in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears. He worked with some of the best receivers in the game, including Larry Fitzgerald with the Cardinals and Brandon Marshall with the Bears.
"He has been one of the solid positional coaches in our business in that area," said Tomlin. "His reputation and resume reflect that. He has coached some of the most significant guys in the last quarter century in our game and our league, and we are excited about the expertise he brings."
Dunbar also brings a mix of working in both the collegiate and NFL ranks, spending 11 seasons as a defensive line coach in the league with the Bears, Vikings, Jets and Bills.
"Karl is a veteran coach, coached at college, coached in the National Football League," said Tomlin. "He and I have a history. We worked together back in '06 for the Minnesota Vikings. Interestingly enough he played for John Mitchell at LSU. There are a lot of things to be excited about, not only in terms of what he brings as a coach, but his background makes his inclusion to the group an exciting one."
Tomlin also weighed in on the following topics:
On the catch/no-catch rule:
"The catch/no-catch is something that needed to be cleaned up. We feel really confident about what we've been able to do in that area. More than anything I think is language. Everyone knows what a catch is, or that's debatable, but everyone feels comfortable about their knowledge of what a catch is. The key is to find appropriate language to not only cover obscure but the unforeseen obscure. So, I feel comfortable with what we've been able to get done. I think I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that catch/no-catch has been officiated really well on-field and in real time. Where we've gotten into issues is replay in that area, so we focused our language in an effort to assist that replay process. And while doing so, we acknowledged that the on-field officials have done a really good job officiating the play."
On downfield contact:**
"I've got an interesting perspective because I've been in this thing long enough now to know that that's something that cycles. There will be a point of emphasis in terms of defining downfield contact and what's allowed on both sides. The referees will get around to the organizations in the summer and do a good job not only communicating that but communicating with video as a point of emphasis for competitive fairness as we push forward to 2018. Largely, we respond to numbers. We use numbers to provide information for us, and scoring was down I think two points globally in 2017. So, you look at elements of play like contact down field and how the game was being officiated in that area. So that's something we've done. We communicated with organizations from a questionnaire standpoint and got feedback there. All of that has led us to a point of emphasis, not in any general direction in terms of offense or defense, but just looking at that contact down field, defining it, defining what's admissible, what's permissible and what's not."
On if he expects to schematically change or tweak anything with the defense:"I am not opposed to it. That is the mentality I got into each year with in terms of our evolution, or how we evolve from an X's and O's standpoint or a utilization of players standpoint. We are just beginning that journey in terms of analyzing what we have done, putting together this current crop of guys and charting out a path in terms of what we are going to be in '18. I am not opposed to dramatic changes. I think that is the appropriate mentality to have. We may change in dramatic ways, we may not. It depends on what the totality of the variables mean for us. I think it's great to have an attitude that's not resistant to it."
On fixing the run defense:
"I'd like to think that the players that we have are going to be better. I'd like to think that the schemes that we employ with the coaching staff are going to be better. I think all those things are going to culminate in the desired result. We've got to be stronger against the run and more consistent than we were in '17."
On if Sean Davis and Morgan Burnett have a similar skillset: "I am reserving any thoughts I have about Morgan Burnett's skillset until I get an opportunity to work with him. I have a vision about what he brings but I am open to being pleasantly surprised and I just think that is the appropriate mentality to have. He has done a lot of things for his teams in ways that Sean Davis has done for us so I am excited about that journey of discovery. They are both very versatile guys and I think that provides big flexibility for us."