Tomlin Press Conference

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference on Monday, a day early. Here's what he had to say:

MIKE TOMLIN, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Opening statement: Merry Christmas. A quick review of Thursday night. Some of the points we made after the game were evident once we watched the tape. We had great contributions from a lot of people. It was a very good team effort. Najeh Davenport's efforts were well-documented. But we had some good performances by guys such as Max Starks, Nate Washington, Carey Davis and others. It was a good football game. Guys made plays at some critical times and we were able to win because of that.

Moving forward, as you know, on Thursday night, we were talking about being a very tired football team with some injury issues. I'll update you along those lines. Willie Parker has had surgery. It was a success and he's now starting the rehabilitation process. He's resting comfortably at his home and his parents are here to support him. He's on the road to recovery. It's going to be a tough road, but Willie has made his career battling odds and getting healthy and making the best of situations, so I'm sure he'll continue to do that. Clint Kriewaldt is still nursing his shoulder injury. We'll see where he is. I'm sure he'll be somewhat limited during the week. We'll get a grasp of where he is as we move forward toward the weekend. Troy (Polamalu) is still experiencing some knee inflammation. Again, we'll limit him during the week and see where he is as we move closer to game time. Ben (Roethlisberger) has a right ankle sprain. We expect him to be OK. We'll see his ability to run on Wednesday. Andre Frazier is still having groin issues. He'll be listed as questionable. Marvel Smith is still having back issues at this point. We're not optimistic about him playing this week. Clark Haggans has tonsilitis. We think he's going to be fine. Willie Reid suffered a shoulder, AC sprain. He should be fine, but could be limited during the week. And of course, Lawrence Timmons has a thumb fracture which will not limit him from playing. He'll be put in a cast and he'll continue. That's the laundry list, as you will. We don't make excuses about our injuries. It's part of the game. All teams experience it. We're one of those teams. We'll deal with it. We'll ask people to step up and deliver for us as they have done all year. We fully expect them to do that.

Looking at the Ravens, they are a rival of ours. I know they have fallen on some tough times, but you can throw records out of the window when we play Baltimore. They're going to play to win, we're going to play to win. They've still got some very good people playing for them. Ed Reed's still back there in the middle of the field for them defensively. They're getting some contributions from some guys on offense. A young quarterback, of course, is playing. The receivers are still the receivers. (Derrick) Mason is still catching a lot of balls. (Mark) Clayton's a big-play guy. They've got a myriad of backs contributing, (Musa) Smith and others. We've just got to get ready to do what it is we do. We gave the guys some time off, some much-needed time. We'll come in here on Wednesday and focus on the Ravens get ready to go to Baltimore and play those guys. I'm sure they were hopeful the division would be riding on this game. But it's not. I'm sure it will be a hotly fought battle, regardless.

What's your reaction to winning the division?

It's a good thing, but really it's hardware that you pick up along the way as you pursue the ultimate prize. We appreciate it. I appreciate it. But it's just hardware you pick up along the way.

How does that affect your game plan for Baltimore? Do you rest some guys?

It's a [moot] point at this time because it depends on what happens tonight with San Diego playing. Everybody knows we're jockeying between three and four with those guys, so we'll know more after they play tonight.

How important is that third seed for you?

If we have an opportunity to get the third seed, we're going to pursue that. It's, of course, significant between three and four. If you win your first game whether you're going to visit two or you're going to face one. There's definitely some significance there. We're competitors, that's what we do. We try to win football games, so that's our mentality.

You're going with all of your starters at this point?

At this point. Again, we'll know more after tonight's game. But the reality is that we're in the tournament, vying for the Lombardi (Trophy), like others. If we have some injury issues and people are dealing with injuries and that includes resting them, then yes, we will make sure they get healthy. If that includes resting them next week, then yes, we will consider that.

From a competitive standpoint, do you want Jacksonville again after they won here?

In pursuit of the goals that we aspire to, we've got to beat them all, so I don't care who we play.

Would you like to get Charlie Batch some playing time before the playoffs? Is there an advantage to that?

We'll consider that and determine those things as the week moves on. It's really too early to speculate at this point. Would I like to see Charlie play? Yeah, I would always like to see Charlie play because I know that he's a good player. But we'll make those decisions as we move closer and get more information on where we stand or potentially going to stand with the health of Ben Roethlisberger.

James Harrison is OK?

Yes.

Max Starks, you singled him out. He struggled in the preseason there, but in these three games he's played for Marvel, he's done very well. Any explanation why?

Max is a professional. He's starting to develop a good rapport with Larry Zeirlein, our offensive line coach. He's executing some good, sound technique. He's lighter than he was in the preseason. I'm sure that's a factor with agility and mobility. But, I appreciate Max's efforts. He's always ready to step up and deliver for our team. He's on the field-goal block units. He's played some tight end for us. He's played right and left tackle. He's a valuable member of our offensive front. He's doing some good things.

How will you use your running backs?

We're still determining that. Najeh has shown that he's capable of carrying the load. Gary Russell will be used in some form or fashion. And we've acquired Verron Haynes, who has a history here, one that we are comfortable with. He's very reliable as a third-down back, blitz-pickup man, special teams player. We worked him out several weeks ago and were very happy where he was at from a physical standpoint. Now, we have an opportunity to have him back, which is what we got done this morning. We've got a stable of guys we're going to move forward with, but the primary ball toting will probably be divided between Najeh and Gary Russell.

So you'll relieve Najeh of some of the third down stuff?

Yes. If he's going to be the primary ball carrier, you've got to find spots to allow him to catch his breath. I think that's a reasonable assumption if he's going to carry the ball 20 to 25 times.

Does that go to Carey Davis, or does Verron figure into that?

I think both guys. Carey's already shown that he's a capable third-down guy. Verron made his reputation in this league as that kind of a guy. It's going to have to be a running back by committee, if you will. I think that's what you deal with when you lose a player of the quality of Willie Parker. But it's football. I know that those guys are professionals. I know that those guys are serious competitors and they look forward to our team not missing a beat as they roll this thing.

Is Verron the backup fullback and will he dress Sunday?

Again, we'll determine that through the course of the week in terms of who's dressing and who's not. He will work in that capacity as we practice, third-down back, special teams work, potentially some fullback work. We'll see how much he can mentally handle as we get going. But we'll determine who's playing as we get further along in the week.

Has the offense changed much?

He was with us throughout the offseason and training camp. I don't think it will be much a learning curve for him. He was part of the installation at the mini-camps that we got. Of course we got extra mini-camps because I was new, the OTA sessions, the training camp. The offense hasn't changed that much from training camp from where it is now. I would guess that he has pretty good recall on things he was exposed to back in the spring and summer.

Can you tell us more about Parker's surgery?

I personally can't. The reason I can't is because I don't want to give you bad information. I'll let professionals do that. I release quality information to you guys in a little bit.

Did they give you an estimation of when he might be off crutches or anything like that?

No. That's really dependent upon the individual and how they feel. I won't speculate at that either. Again, I'll give you information as I get it.

You do expect him to be back for next season?

Absolutely. I wouldn't count Willie Parker out in any fashion.

Could Marvel's back injury keep him out of the playoffs?

That is a possibility. We're hopeful that it's not the case, but it is a possibility. We're having to deal with this on a day-to-day basis and see if it improves and how he feels. He's uncomfortable at this point. I'm hopeful.

Kickoff coverage on Thursday?

I'm glad we won the game. I tend to focus on the bottom line. I thought we did a nice job in the second half covering kicks. We kicked off eight times, so they broke a couple. We can't allow that to happen. They did a nice job and we got some inside the 20 or around the 20 in the second half. I liked the way they bounced back and I didn't want to make an issue of it.

Why did you start Tyrone (Carter) over Anthony Smith at free safety?

Tyrone has played quite a bit because of Troy's injury and played at a high level. Anthony has experienced some troubles in terms of letting the ball get behind him. The reality is that when you play extremely consistent and keep the ball in front of you, those are qualities we like. So we chose to start Tyrone. Anthony is going to be a good player. But he's experienced some tough times. We wanted the guy who was playing well. It's really black and white.

You'll stay with Tyrone?

Yes.

How did LaMarr Woodley play?

LaMarr did some good things. He provided some pressure off the edge. He got to the quarterback a couple of times and got a few hits. He's getting back to 100 percent, dealing with some of the injuries he's dealt with. It was good to get him out there and see him participate. Hopefully that will continue.

Can a couple of interceptions take the lid off and suddenly that stuff starts happening?

Hopefully it does. By no means is that performance indicative of what lies ahead. We've got to respect the process that it takes to prepare ourselves to play and then go out and do it. But it was nice to get a couple of splash plays from the defense.

Is this a high ankle sprain for Roethlisberger?

No. This is a standard sprain. I know those high ankle sprains are mystical, they go on forever and ever. This is just your everyday ankle sprain.

When you got here, did you think you had a division winner?

I did. I really don't worry about prognosticators and how people predict where we are to finish. I felt good about this football team. And the more I worked with them and got to know them, I felt better and better. I'm not surprised, by any stretch. And I'm not satisfied either. We've got more work to do.

On Troy Smith?

Haven't seen much. I know that he had some throws in the preseason and has been playing of late. He's a quality football player, capable scrambler with a strong arm. I think he's still writing his story. It's too early to talk about him from a characteristic standpoint. I think with each snap he gets, he's going to build that reputation. But he had a quality reputation coming into this league.

What's happened to Baltimore outside of injuries?

That's a good question. They've turned the ball over quite a bit. And they've lost some quality people on defense when you're talking about (Chris) McAlister and (Samari) Rolle, who have missed quite a bit of time. With the way they get after people, their corner play is very important. I think those are the issues, along with the other things. They're just not making enough significant plays to win. I think ultimately, we're all judged by that and it comes down to that. I think they would say the same thing regarding their play. They're not making enough plays to win. It doesn't mean they're not capable of making enough plays to win on Sunday and we've got to be prepared for them to play their best.


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