Q&A: Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin and the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers head to Arizona Sunday. Here's what the Steelers head coach had to say about that game:

Mike Tomlin and the 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers head to Arizona Sunday. Here's what the Steelers head coach had to say about that game.

Opening Statement

I will start with a quick update with where we are in the week. We came in yesterday. We evaluated our performance and usually it is never as good as it appears on Sundays. That was the case. We are glad to get a win. We are a developing football team and there were some things that we pointed out and some areas that we can improve. We are running the ball effectively right now. But from assignment standpoint, we can do a better job up front. We pointed that out to the men and challenged them in that area. We have to do a better job of getting the correct hats on the correct hats in the running game. We are playing physical and we are getting after people, but we can be better in that area.

Defensively, we can get better from a communication standpoint, particularly in the early parts of football games when we are trying to diagnose what it is that we are looking at formationally, personnel wise. We can do a better job of communicating early in football games. We have to do a better job of containing the quarterback. We are getting after the quarterback with our pressure packages. We lost containment a few times versus (Alex) Smith on Sunday. A lot of that is to his credit. He is a very mobile guy. But we have to do a better job in that area.

From a special teams standpoint, we just have to continue to grow technically and understand how we fit in the big picture in the big scheme of things in that area of our team. We have some young guys contributing in that area, and we understand that. Their day to day growth and development is going to be critical for us to continue to be on the rise in that phase of our game. Guys like Lawrence Timmons who I think happens to be leading our team in special teams tackles and William Gay, young guys, we are counting them. They have to continue to grow and develop.

But again, it is good to get a win and we are taking that review of our performance from Sunday, which we did yesterday, and move forward and will continue to grow this week particularly tomorrow as we get started.

Quickly, I will talk about the injuries. First, I guess everybody came to hear about Hines (Ward). Hines has what is being characterized right now as a knee sprain. That will make him doubtful, if you will, for this week's performance. I have learned not to count a guy like Hines Ward out. That is why I am saying it is being characterized as doubtful. But we will take it day to day. We'll see where he is, but it has been characterized as a knee sprain at this point. Sean Mahan also has a knee sprain that occurred in the game. He went and got fitted for a brace during the course of the game, he didn't miss any action, came back and finished the game. We expect him to have a little discomfort, which he had yesterday. He came in and got a little treatment today. We may limit him somewhat tomorrow in practice, but we expect him to be up and running and ready to go definitely by Thursday. We may be precautious in terms of what we ask him to do tomorrow. Matt Spaeth is still dealing with his deep thigh bruise. He is getting a little bit more flexibility in his leg when he runs, still not up to snuff yet. We'll see where he is tomorrow. He was better today. He would be questionable if you had to characterize his status for this week. Really, his status depends on his ability to practice. He is a young guy, everything he does on a day to day basis helps him prepare to play on weekends. He is not a Hines Ward kind of guy who can show up on Friday and prepare to play on Sunday. That is where he is. So he has to get ready to practice, if he is capable of practicing, he is potentially going to play. If he can't practice Wednesday or Thursday, he probably won't play. I think that is the smart thing to do in regards to him.

Quickly, looking ahead, the Arizona Cardinals of course provide a still challenge for us this week. They have talent just about at every position, specifically offensively. Edgerrin James is a known commodity to this league. He is a great back. They have two very good receivers, if not great receivers in Anquan Boldin and (Larry) Fitzgerald. They have a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback (Matt Leinart) backed up by a former league MVP. They have some weapons offensively. They have a first round draft pick in Levi Brown at offensive tackle. We are going to have our hands full defensively going up against their crew. They are well coached by guys that we are all familiar with. Defensively, it is built really kind of Adrian Wilson. I have a great deal of respect for Adrian Wilson as a player. He is one of the most underrated defensive football players in this league. He make plays in the back field, along the line of scrimmage in the deep middle. He is a complete football player as a safety. They have some quality linebackers in (Gerald) Hayes and (Karlos) Dansby. They have some good people up front. (Darnell) Docett is kind of a guy that makes them go up front. He is their under tackle. Knowing a little but about what they do schematically, when he is disruptive, they have a chance to really get after you. They have some good people. They are well-coached. We have to go on the road and continue to keep this thing moving forward which is what we intend to do. But our focus again, like always, is our preparation. What it is that we need to do to be prepared to play our best game this weekend. I'll answer any questions.

Did Hines say which specific play he hurt his knee on? He took two pretty good shots in that first half.

It was one of those plays.

With this game, coaching against guys that were finalists for your job, a lot of ex-Steelers and ex-coaches on the team, what are your thoughts on the scenario of this game?

It is really a non-story for me, to be honest with you. It is a big game because it is the next game. I am here. I want to be here. I am glad to be here. If it is a story at all, it is their story, not ours. We have to prepare to play. It is a big game because the Cardinals are our next opponent.

When you have some ex-ball players and coaches who have coached on this team, does that make a difference? Do you have to change any signals or do anything along those lines?

No, you really just have to prepare to play your game. That is more of a sign of today's NFL. There is mobility in the coaching ranks, there is free agency, there is mobility with the players, it is really not unusual. We have Kirby Wilson on our staff who coached last year at Arizona, I would imagine that is not going to be much of a story this week.

What about a guy like Chukky Okobi that went through training camp with you and maybe knows some things? Is there any advantage he can have to help him out?

If he played defense, it might be an advantage. But last I checked, he still played offense. We are not going to get enamored with those things, those variables in this game that don't matter. We have to prepare to play and are going to prepare to play our game and do what it is that we do. If we do that, we feel like we have a chance to win.

Does Arizona look like they are improved over last year?

Yes, they are a good football team. I thought they had the makings of a good football team last year, for whatever reason it didn't turn up in their win-loss record, but they have some quality players and some guys that are on the rise. They are a good football team, one to be reckoned with.

Would you be surprised if you didn't see Kurt Warner in that no-huddle that was so effective last week?

Nothing surprises me at this point in the National Football League. They control who they play at quarterback. We have to be prepared to defend and stop them both, if that is the case.

Do you focus on what your players do well in preparing for an opponent?

I try to focus on what our guys do well and our guys don't do well. That is kind of our focus. We look at a lot of things when we prepare for an opponent. First and foremost is what schematically works for us and then we look at the matchups, the physical matchups and things that can be an advantage to us from that standpoint. We don't dwell quite a lot on what it is our opponents are doing, more so we focus on what we need to do and maybe the things they do feed into that.

You haven't had to actually match up with receivers with the ability that team has yet, have you?

No, that is just one of the challenges that this week presents. That is the great thing about this business and this league. Every week you have to strive enough to prove to yourself what you are, that you are what you think you are. It is going to be a big week for our corners in that respect. We challenged them last week in terms of being contributors in the run game and getting after Frank Gore. I thought they did that, a tackle for loss early in the game that Deshea (Townsend) had, was a big emotional play for our defense and it kind of jump starts in terms of doing what we need to do in that area. We'll call on them again this week to rise up in a different way with a different challenge. That is what is great about this game.

Is Hines Ward's injury more serious than Sean Mahan's injury?

I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as serious. Those are two different animals. One guy plays wide out and he has to run at the top of his speed in playing space. The other guy is an interior lineman, not saying that those guys don't have to move, but lower body injuries to linemen and skill guys are very different and you deal with them very differently. It doesn't necessarily speak to the level of severity of the injuries.

Is Hines still on crutches?

Not to my knowledge today. I haven't seen him today. He is coming in to get treatment. I think more than anything, the crutches are a precaution.

If Hines Ward and Matt Spaeth can't play, will that limit your passing game?

We can't let it limit us. We have preached that from day one. The more you can do and position flexibility. We have to continue moving forward as a football team. Injuries can not be a factor in determining the quality of our play and we won't let it be.

Might Darnell Stapleton play this weekend?

That is something that is under consideration. That will be determined based on how Sean (Mahan) performs this week and his reaction to practice and so forth.

Would you be hesitant to move Kendall Simmons to center?

If Sean (Mahan) is limited in any way, those are the options; Kendall to center or (Darnell) Stapleton at center. Both are viable options and we have a level of comfort with both of them. We'll weigh those as the week goes on. More than anything, we don't want to rush to judging with regards to the status of Sean. We expect him to be fine.

What makes Willie Parker so effective?

He is a tough runner. He is a competitor. A lot of times you talk about the things you can measure, but really the things that define greatness are the things that you can't measure. He is a tremendous competitor. He has the heart of a champion and the will to compete and win. I think that is what makes him the player that he is.

Is he as effective inside as he is outside?

I think at this point he is showing that. He's taking what the defense is giving him. He has had the ability to bounce to the perimeter and use his speed, which is something that is well documented. I think he is underrated as an inside, tough runner.

What impresses you about the Steelers run defense?

The gap integrity is still impressive. No I am not surprised by that. That is nothing new, but at the same time, you have to take your hats off for the guys that have the ability to maintain that. It's not something that is easy to maintain. When you build a reputation of playing the way they are playing, it's something you have to earn on a day-to-day basis. They come in this building everyday with the mindset of getting better and maintaining that level of expectation. They do it and they do because they play together. They have an understanding of where each individual man fits in the big picture. They relish the opportunity of being able to do it on the weekend.

What does getting off to a 3-0 start mean?

It means just that. Fast starts, slow starts. The reality is, we have 16 games and every game stands on its own. Every time we step into a stadium, we have to be prepared to compete to win. It is what it is.

What do you say to fans looking to January?

That's great. I like it. Keep the standard of expectation high. We aren't going to shy away from that. There is nothing wrong with expectations, particularly high ones. Hopefully we're giving them something to be excited about.

Are you hands-off with coordinators during games and did Tony Dungy teach you that?

I'm really not hands off. There is a bunch of communication. We have headsets on and things of that nature, so it doesn't require that we're standing beside each other in order to communicate. I probably did take my gameday personality, to a degree, from Coach Dungy. He is a ugy that exhibited great belief in the people that he worked with and the plan. I try to do the same things.

Will the roof be open?

It depends on the weather. I would expect it to be hot, so the roof will probably be open.

Do they have to let you know in advance?

They let you know in advance, but it's not that much in advance. I think it's maybe 90 minutes before the game.

Are you taking the black jerseys?

I don't care what jerseys we play in. We aren't going to concern ourselves with variables that don't matter. The quality of our play is going to determine how we perform and I mean that. Some of the things that people spend a lot of their time talking about are irrelevant to me, in terms of getting prepared for football games.

Did you know Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt before the coaching search and what will the pre-game meeting be like?

No to both. I expect it to be professional. We are all in this fraternity. We all compete. We all show up at stadiums and I expect it to be no different this week from that standpoint.

Veterans talked about their loyalty to those guys. Have you been able to overcome that?

That was a nonissue for me. You expect that. If there wasn't a degree of loyalty amoung veteran players and the men who coached them, then that would be a sign of an issue or problem. That comes with the territory. When you work in close quarters with men and you make personal sacrifices to compete, those kinds of relationships form. I had no intention or intentions of trying to break down those relationships. I was brought in here to do a job. I focus specifically on the job that I needed to do and I knew that over time, my shared experiences the players would create similar feelings. There is really no other way to combat that other than to go about your day-to-day tasks and understand that over time, we will have shared experiences. We are three games into shared experiences. That is part of it. That is human nature. That is people working with people and that is what any business is about, whether it is football or otherwise.

Does it help to know Matt Leinart will start and do you still have two prepare for Kurt Warner?

It does help you when you have a clue of who is starting the game. They have shown the ability to play multiple guys and use no huddle with Kurt Warner. We have to be prepared to defend and shut down that element of their offense down. When you step in stadiums, you have to be prepared for anything. I think that is one thing this business tells all of us. Anything is possible. You have to ready yourself to do the very best job that you can do and understand that you have to rise up against the unforeseen; the adversity that comes during the course of a football game.

What did Kurt Warner bring to that team?

He is a been there done that guy. I have been through a few battles with him when he was in St. Louis and they ran the greatest show on turf. It really was the greatest show on turf. He has veteran savvy. He knows how to diagnose defenses and coverages and what he looks at. He is as cool as a cucumber. He is a competitor. He is a very good player.

Are you having fun?

I have fun every day. Believe it or not, you guys probably wouldn't believe me, but I would be having fun if we were 0-3. I am blessed to do what it is I do for a living. I love it. Yes, I am having fun, whether it shows or not.

Ben is obviously going to play well going against a guy who was the offensive coordinator. Do you need to talk to him to stay within himself?

Ben better want to play well just because it is a football game. Yes, we do have those discussions.

Why does it not matter if it is 95 degrees versus 72 degrees?

Because both teams are going to play. If it is 95 on our bench and 72 on theirs then that is an issue.

Why do home teams think it is an advantage?

Because I assume they are acclimated to the climate. We used to think it was an advantage to us when I coached down in Tampa when it was a hot day and somebody would come up. But the reality is that we were in just as much danger as our opponent because we practiced in that weather condition all week. So, we probably went into the game with less in the tank than our opponent. So, it is neither here nor there as far as I am concerned.

Does it matter in preparations this week that you might play in 95 degree weather? Will you consider that at all?


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