Are you more serious with the media this year?
I am. Growing up, you know. I guess that comes with the territory. It's just focus. That's all it is.
How are you looking at this year?
Like every year, trying to be the best I can be, trying to go to the Pro Bowl, trying to help my team as much as possible.
Do you feel this is a rebound effort for you?
It depends on how YOU want to look at it. For me, everybody goes through their ups and downs. You just want to be consistent with it. It's not a problem with me. I know what I can do. YOU know what I can do. It's just a matter of me going out and doing it.
Will you admit there was some inconsistency last year?
Right, but that's with anything. It's not just me. You've got to look at the overall picture. Everybody's not going to have a good game. Some people don't even have a good season. But it's important to bounce back from that season, from that game. The longer you play, you're going to go through your ups and downs. I felt in the 2005 year for the Super Bowl, I couldn't do no wrong. So I knew sooner or later it was going to happen to me, and it happened to me last year. It's over with; it's done. Now it's the 2007 season.
Everybody pegged you as the cover corner and that's why your inconsistencies bothered the fans and the media. Are you the cover corner?
I leave that up to y'all. I leave that up to my teammates, the coaching staff. I feel like I am, but at the same time y'all got to stick with me through my ups and downs. That's how it's going to be. You can look at any corner. Go around the league; any corner. They have bad games. It just comes with the territory. If a defensive lineman has a bad game, y'all ain't going to see. If a linebacker has a bad game, who knows? But if a corner has a bad game it's more obvious, so it's understandable. We know it comes with the territory and we play through it.
Do you have your confidence back?
No question. I never lost it. It's just that when you're playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and you've got a fan base nationwide, it hurts to let the 10 guys down and the fan base down. We are human. It hurt me. But at the same time, you've got to stick with me. Anybody, any one of my teammates, no matter what we're going through, we still need that support.
Bill Cowher didn't stick with you. Does that still, to this day, bug you?
It comes with the territory.
Coaches usually stick with their guys, don't they?
Hey, it comes with the territory. That was last year. I'm going to leave last year alone. This is a whole new season, a whole new year. We've got some new, exciting young guys. I'm just glad to be back playing football.
They drafted pass-rushers in the first two rounds. There's no question that will help the secondary. Was the pass rush a problem for you last year?
To be honest with you, as a whole the team could've played better hands down. We all know that.
What about the new staff? I saw Tomlin talking to you one-on-one. Do head coaches give technique instruction? And is he doing that?
He coached the position. And I've got a great coaching staff. Coach LeBeau, he should be in the Hall of Fame, he played for like 17 years. Coach Ray Horton played for 10. Coach Ray Jackson played for another eight or nine. Then you've got the head coach, Coach Tomlin was a defensive coordinator. So anything they tell me, I'm all ears.
Are there too many cooks in the kitchen?
No, not at all, because I think every coach has something to say. Coach LeBeau is more laid back, and if he tells you something you've got to do it, because he don't speak too often. Coach Ray, that's our coach so he gets paid to coach us up. Coach Tomlin, if he sees small things in between, he's going to tell you.
Has Tomlin given you any tips? And is there a change in techniques?
Not techniques. Coach LeBeau, he and Coach Ray always want us to be technicians. There've been some tweaks here and there. I'm a tall corner, so staying low for me is my best position to break in and out of breaks. That's something I've had to work on the last year and a half, and that's what I've been doing. As far as changing anything, so far I don't see anything changing.
Any more cover-two stuff?
We've been doing that. We've been mixing it up. Coach LeBeau has been mixing it up since I've been here.
So that mix isn't going to change?
Okay, so what are you seeing this year? What's your soul telling you about you and the team?
I'm going to take it one step at a time. As for the big picture, the Super Bowl – and I'm talking realistically – I think we've got a shot. I think we've got a great shot. I mean, we always talk about the talent we have, but I saw a shirt, a Hines Ward shirt, it said, "Talent doesn't mean nothing without hard work, but if you put in hard work that equals hard work." I thought that was a great philosophy. We've definitely got the talent. Now, we're laying the foundation down. We're taking it step by step and we know there's going to be some bumps in the road. But as Coach LeBeau said, you have to pick up the offense if it's having a down game, because there's going to be some games when they're going to have to pick us up. Everything goes hand in hand.
You should be wearing that shirt.
It's cool. I just look at the guys we have, like Coach Tomlin, the same defensive coordinator and our staff. We've got a great group of guys. It's not really about anything else but going out and playing for the other 10 guys we have on the field. That's what it's all about. I don't want to let Casey down. I don't want to let James down. I don't want to let Troy down. That's how I think. Everything else comes with the territory. The media come with the territory. Y'all get paid to observe and make your opinions and we understand that. But letting those 10 guys down out on the field? Aw, man, that hurts.
How is the new staff affecting the defensive backs?
Well we still have the same philosophy. Nothing has really changed but we have a lot of young players who are coming into their own and we've got a good group of guys who understand the defense. Any time you have that it's going to make the secondary pretty good.
Is Mike more hands-on with the secondary than Bill was?
Coach was a DB coach and they had some good DBs at Cleveland, so he used to talk to us all the time about DB play, but Mike, being a DB coach, he was working at that position. I wouldn't say he was more hands-on. They both do a lot of talking to us about the importance of DB play.
Has Mike given you any usable tips?
Everything you hear from a coach is pretty good, especially with coaches who watch as much film and have been around the game as the DB coaches we have. I don't know if they've wowed me, but you have to take everything in that he gives you.
So, you've heard it all before?
No, never will I say I've heard it all. You can always learn new things. When you think you've heard it all that's when you're going to be in trouble.
What about Ike? Is he still The cover corner?
He is that guy. He's a great physical athlete that's getting better. The one thing about him is he's young, so he's still learning the little things about the game that apply to covering. When you look at the great cover guys, they get plays made on them too. But a lot of times we get the brunt of things that happen but you have to take that as a corner and make yourself stronger. Some guys have down years, up years, but the one thing that you have to be when you're a corner is to be consistent and I think Ike's going to be that. He's new to the position and still learning, and when you have a guy who's still learning, with those physical abilities that he has, he's going to be a good one.
Did he deserve to be benched?
You can never second-guess coaches. It's the coaches' job to coach and our job to play. When you have that mindset you have to take that coaching and go with it, because decisions have to be made. The one thing about Ike, when that happened you never saw him with his head down, you never saw him quit working, and when it was his chance to get back on the field he went out there and played. That's what's going to make him a professional. And when you become a professional like that, you have a chance to become a great corner.
Have you noticed how serious he is this year?
Yes, and that's what's going to make him a good one. He knows he has to go out there and do his job. I'm sure, being a young corner, it's easy to get caught up in what their saying and to worry about it. I know that in the 10 years I've been here I've heard a lot. They're always bringing in somebody to take my job, but you can't worry about that. To be good, you've got to get out here and do your job. That's one thing Ike is starting to learn.
Who lined up at first team RCB the first day here?
They still can't take the job from you, can they?
Well, my thing is I want to play. Whatever decision they make, I want to be on the field. If it's not me starting, tell me where I'm going to be. If it's nickel, I'm going to come out here and play at a high level. That's the thing about a lot of guys on this team. I don't think a lot of guys could care. If something happens, you won't see them going crazy to the media, saying they should be playing. They just go out and do their job. That's another thing to say about the Rooneys, the type of guys that they draft. To be a great team, a consistent team, you've got to have guys do whatever it takes to win.
How do you rebuild the confidence of your cover corner?
I'm not sure if he lost his confidence. You'd have to ask him that. But I think you just go back to the building blocks: You go back to right footwork, right eye keys, right hand placement, and you do what you do.
How's he responding?
Fabulous so far. Barry Bonds, I guess, was in an 0 for 23 slump and he hit two home runs. Athletes, they go through cycles; cornerbacks the same thing. He's focused, he's ready to go, he's strong, and he's competing for a job.
Was their angst in the coaching staff when he was benched last year? Or were you guys just tired of it and it had to be done?
I think more for him, just let him reflect, see if he could get out of it. When you look at our numbers, everything wasn't that bad. But I think when you look at why are you losing, it's: Should he have made a play? Yeah. Expectations? Yeah. But it wasn't one guy, so I think it got blown out of proportion that it was Ike's fault. It wasn't his fault. You could go back and say, ‘Well, wait a minute. If they don't have a chance to throw the ball, they don't get in that situation. There are a lot of different factors, but the position he plays, corner, puts him on the spot.
Was the lack of a pass rush a problem for Ike?
It's tied together. If you can cover, it gives the pass-rusher time to get to the quarterback. If you can get to the quarterback, the cornerback doesn't have to worry. It's tied together. The run game's the same thing. If you're at the top of the run game like we've been, a lot of people say, ‘Well that front seven's playing pretty well.' But from my standpoint, those back four are playing excellent because if we miss a tackle they're gone. If the guys up front miss a tackle, they've got four linebackers and four DBs to help them out. Everything's tied together. That's why it's a team sport. You're only as good as your other teammates. But sometimes, the position – quarterback and corner – is magnified. They're responsible for so many big plays. It's just the nature of the position and he understands that.
Are you instituting different things now that you're in charge?
We're doing a few things different. We're focusing on a little bit more individual details as far as drills and in meetings what we're looking at, clueing into different things. I like what I see from the guys right now.
How much has Mike helped? Or hurt?
Oh, the more eyes you have the better you are. I can't see everything just like he can't see everything. We haven't changed what we've been doing, because throughout the years here in Pittsburgh it's worked. Like Mike said, why come in and change something that's been working for all this time? All we're trying to do is get better.
What about the cover corner label? Is Ike that man? And could that have been part of the problem, that he was trying to do more?
You'd have to ask Ike that. But I think what happened is human nature fell into the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. We came off a Super Bowl year and if you asked guys across the board, they would say they didn't play as well I did last year. Now, I know this story's about Ike, and I feel that's probably wrong, because it wasn't just Ike. Look across the board and the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't play as well as they did the year before and probably the Pittsburgh Steelers coaches didn't coach as well as they should have last year, so for me it was a human nature thing coming off the Super Bowl, and I think guys are hungry now. I really do.