Q&A: Mike Tomlin

From Mike Tomlin's press conference, Rashard Mendenhall and Kendall Simmons are out for the year, and Najeh Davenport is visiting with the team as a potential roster addition.

MIKE TOMLIN, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Good to get a win last night. We're facing a short week this week so we had to sleep fast, as they say. In reviewing the tape this morning, it was a very physical division game. Glad to get that win, but we must quickly transition and get that win behind us because there's no rest for the weary. We've got to go down to Jacksonville and play the Jaguars, and we have some recent history with those guys. They're a very good football team.

Let's start talking about those guys. Of course, they're led by David Garrard, who is very good. You put the ball in his hands at the end of football games and those guys have got a chance to win it, which was evident the last couple weeks with that football team. They've got two top-notch tailbacks in (Fred) Taylor and (Maurice) Jones-Drew. They've got a nice one-two punch and wear you down and win by attrition. At wide receiver they've got (Matt) Jones who's making quality plays on third down, as does Jones-Drew. But ultimately, if those guys don't get you on third down, or fourth down for that matter, Garrard can pull the ball down and beat you with his legs. He's done that in recent weeks; he did it to us in January football last year. Defensively, they're a rough-and-tumble outfit. They've got big people up front. (John) Henderson and (Rob) Meier and (Paul) Spicer and (Reggie) Hayward, those guys are big, strong, powerful people in a four-man front. They supplement those guys with rookies who they're working in in (Derrick) Harvey and (Quentin) Groves, who have special pass-rush capabilities which a lot of people coveted in the draft. (Mike) Peterson's in the middle of the thing making the calls and running the show, and really they're very good on the back end. (Rashean) Mathis of course is a standout player. They moved Brian Williams to safety. He showed some versatility and is doing good things there. They picked up Drayton Florence to hold down the corner spot to play on the line of scrimmage, get in your face. They do a nice job of mixing up coverages. They're a good balanced football team. They're big, powerful and they play a physical brand of football. We've got to get ourselves ready to go because of that. It's going to be a similar kind of football game, potentially, this week and we've got to prepare ourselves for that. In the return game, they've got a guy named (Brian) Witherspoon, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Stillman, who's really been impressive, really lighting it up, averaging 30 yards on kickoff returns, 15 yards on punt returns, so another week for our coverage units to continue to show what they're capable of.

We've got some work to do. We've got to work smart about how we get ready to prepare for this football game, because it's obvious we're coming off a very physical game in a short week and we've got some injury issues.

That being said, let's talk about some injury circumstances. Of course, Rashard Mendenhall has a shoulder fracture. He's going to have surgery and will be out for the season; Kendall Simmons as well with a ruptured Achilles' (tendon). Casey Hampton will again be out this week with a groin strain. Brett Keisel will be out again this week with a calf strain. And Willie Parker will be out again this week with a knee sprain. All three – those last three – are getting better, but at this point we can't say they're going to be capable of playing this weekend. We'll be looking to see where those guys are potentially after the bye. Donovan Woods, who practiced somewhat last week, will continue to move towards playing. We'll see how it is with him this week. And Carey Davis with the ankle sprain felt a lot better today. Don't want to call him out at this point. Along with those guys of course we've got a laundry list of bumps and bruises that go along with playing a football game like we played last night. I'm sure Baltimore's experiencing some of that as well. It's the nature of those kinds of rivalries and those kinds of atmospheres in the AFC North. We enjoy being a part of it. It's good to do it when you win.

Q: How's Andre Frazier?

A: He looks to be remarkably fine. All indications are this guy's got a chance to move on and play this week, providing he pass some tests, which people are pretty confident he will. So, it's really a blessing. It's always scary when you see somebody lay flat and they bring a board out. A lot of that probably was for precautionary reasons, but you want to exercise a little caution under those circumstances.

Q: What moves will you make at running back?

A: We're still exploring those things. We've got some candidates we're talking to and visiting with (Najeh Davenport is one). I'm not going to talk about any until we make those moves. We've got some familiarity things working in the mix. We'll see how that unfolds. Rest assured we'll play with a running back this week.

Q: How reasonable is it to expect Parker to be ready after the bye? And will that availability influence your moves?

A: I'm hopeful of that; I'm sure Willie is. It's probably too early to tell at this point. Definitely he has a shot. It won't affect how we approach what we need to do this week. We live week to week, day to day. We're going to Jacksonville this weekend, so we need somebody to tote the thing and somebody to be a part of it that's capable of sticking their hand in the pile. So we need to make moves that are relative to that and that's where our focus is at this point.

Q: Will you sign a running back today?

A: Potentially, yeah.

Q: How will the injury to Kendall Simmons affect the offensive line?

A: Just got a man thinner. We're addressing that position group as well. Darnell Stapleton, who stepped in and played last night, did a solid job, but this week we'll open it up and get some competition. Darnell's a capable guy. Trai Essex is a capable guy who played a bunch of guard in training camp. The only reason he didn't have an opportunity last night is because he was inactive. Darnell was because Darnell's a capable snapper. But those guys will be pitted against each other to compete this week and we'll see how it sorts out and we'll go from there.

Q: Is Mewelde Moore capable of taking a majority of the snaps?

A: He's capable and he has done it in his career. Maybe not for 16 games, but there've been stretches – 8, 10 games – where he's capable of doing that, has done that, in his career. We're aware of that and that's a factor in our decision-making, but we're going to weigh all our options. We're not going to speak too hastily this time.

Q: Did Mendenhall break his collarbone?

A: It's just a shoulder fracture and that's really all the details that I have. It's going to require surgery and it's going to happen relatively quickly.

Q: Do you have to sign two running backs?

A: Probably going to sign two. We have two guys that went down aside from Willie Parker, who was already down.

Q: How did he fracture a shoulder? And is there a time frame for the rehab?

A: I don't think you can answer the rehabilitation question until after the surgery is done. It just happened playing football, man. He had a run downhill and he hit a hole. I like the way he was running when he went down, but it's just part of football. He'll grow from it and deal with it, as will we as a football team. Over time it will become a distant memory, hopefully one we can put a positive spin on it.

Q: If Davis can't play, who would play fullback?

A: Sean (McHugh) is fullback capable. He actually had a few snaps last night at fullback. That's one of the things that attracted him to us. He is a tight end, an on-the-line guy, a move guy, a fullback guy. He has that experience and capability and he will continue to grow in that direction, and really not because of the injury but because that's the way he's been going here since we acquired him.

Q: How did Moore play last night? And was he frustrated by previous inactivity?

A: Mewelde is tremendous team football player. If he was frustrated in any way, he didn't let on. Mewelde is just one of those guys who just wants to contribute, and he's a good teammate. I thought he played well. I thought he played big for us. He delivered some plays at critical times of the football game. The 24-yard checkdown is what we envisioned him doing for us when we signed him. To drop a ball off about 4 yards away from you, from a quarterback's perspective, and watch him run 20 to put us in field-goal range, that's big. We needed that element in our offense and he's a guy that we feel can win some one-on-one matchups against linebackers. He's shown that capability. He just needs to continue to grow and be a part of this thing and find a comfort zone in terms of his role. I thought last night was a good game. Hopefully we make it a big step in terms of where we're heading with him.

Q: What's the salary cap issues to sign a guy now?

A: We're not going to worry about that. We'll let Omar (Khan) deal with that, because we need some players. We're going to Jacksonville.

Q: How has Jacksonville overcome its O-line problems?

A: Their personality hasn't changed. They run the football. They're still running the ball roughly 30 times a game. They're still getting four yards a pop. They're capable of wearing you down and winning by attrition, and that's what we have to safeguard against. If they're in nailbiters, they know they can put the ball in the quarterback's hands at critical times and he can deliver for them.

Q: What was the scene like when Ben was speaking at halftime?

A: I missed it. What happens is a lot of times I'll say something to the team, we'll let those guys refresh themselves, we'll gather the coaching staff in the coaches' locker room for a number of minutes and then we'll come back out and the offense will address the offense, the defense will address the defense, and then I'll address the team before I leave. Anything that occurred along those lines occurred while the coaches were meeting, so I missed that, whatever that was.

Q: Is the game itselt an example of leadership coming forth?

A: I just thought it was the resiliency of the team. Don't get me wrong, we've got quality leaders, but people have got to be willing to follow and ultimately people got to be willing and capable of making plays and delivering. I thought that they came, and came from a lot of places last night. Ultimately that's going to determine what kind of team we are. I thought they were resilient. I thought they didn't blink. We faced some adversity – some of it was self-induced, but such is life in the National Football League. We fought through it and we played for 60-plus minutes, and we'd better be prepared to play for 60-plus minutes this week because that's one of the signatures of the Jacksonville Jaguars, that they're going to play for 60 or 60-pluys minutes, and you know that going in.

Q: Najeh's here. Is he in good shape?

A: I'm not ready to comment at this point on people that we're talking about.

Q: Was Ben lobbying for the no-huddle at halftime?

A: Ben has always been an advocate of the no-huddle. He likes to get the keys to the car. But there wasn't a lot of debate last night. The potential of it was thrown around briefly at the half and initially in the third quarter. When we got decent field position we went about doing it. We spend a lot of time practicing that phase of our offense. We've got a great deal of comfort in it. It's obvious Ben has a great deal of comfort in it. We're always capable of pulling it out when we feel we need a change of pace.

Q: Why did you call timeout on the touchdown pass that was called back?

A: That's one of the many mistakes that I make from time to time. I told my football team this after the game, that I've got to learn to trust our quarterback in terms of managing the game from a play clock standpoint. I want to do it for him. I want to help, just like I want to help my kids. They've got to ride their bike and they're not always going to fall, and that's what happened under that scenario. That play clock went down to 3, 2, 1 second and I didn't think we'd get the play off and I called the timeout. Unfortunately, after I called the timeout and they gave it to me, it looked like we had a successful play.

Q: Will you ever use the no-huddle on the road?

A: There are positives and negatives to it. People say it's tough to operate no-huddle on the road; some people say it's a weapon because the crowd doesn't know when to cheer because you're never breaking the huddle and approaching the line of scrimmage. Really it all boils down to the quality of execution, so we'll see whether we capable of doing it or willing to do it this week.

Q: Could you talk about the bad timing of the injuries?

A: Injuries happen at a bad time. Injuries are part of the game. I'm not going to come in here and complain about it.

Q: Why does the clock run down on your offense so often?

A: It doesn't happen actually a lot. It happened in that instance because we had a big gain downfield to Hines (Ward) and Ben was on the ground, as was Marvel Smith, who got rolled up on and was kind of slow to his feet and moving in that direction. It doesn't actually happen quite a bit at all. There've just been a few instances, specifically when you get a big gain or you've got a short-yardage situation and people are somewhat slow unpiling.

Q: How did the one-on-one matchups and communication on the O-line progress last night?

A: Obviously it was better. It was acceptable because we won. Of course we're still growing in that department, and not only from a protection standpoint, but from a communication standpoint, from a recognition of hots and a delivery-of-the-ball standpoint. We're a work in progress. We don't shy away from that; we work at it. It was good enough to win last night, but we're not satisfied by it by any stretch.

Q: Have your special teams gotten better in coverage this year?

A: Don't say that, Ed. Keep tearing it down, baby. We're working at it.

Q: But they seem to be better, no?

A: They are. They're doing a nice job, but we've got a tall challenge this week in the name of that young man Witherspoon, who's an undrafted rookie free agent from Stillman who appears to be very fast. Your reputation lives one snap at a time, so we'll see what we're like late Sunday night.

Q: What are you doing with Santonio Holmes on punt returns?

A: We had them punting in situations where they were backed up a bunch, and he's in open grass and we can lock some people down from a body standpoint and give him a chance to get some looks at people. The time that we were backed up, Mewelde went back there. Mewelde's a great decision maker. Santonio's a part-timer, a free spirit, so we like to give him some open-grass looks. I think those two guys are working well together in terms of getting that job done.

Q: Would you consider moving Willie Colon inside as a way of getting Max Starks on the field?

A: Not at this point, but again I don't want to close the door on anything. I think it would be prudent for us to weigh all our options and I'm sure we will.

Q: So it will be Essex and Stapleton competing?

A: In the short term. And I say in the short term. Ask me again tomorrow.

Q: How did the defensive line play?

A: Those guys held up pretty good. There were some bumps and bruises along the way. One time (Chris) Hoke laying on the ground and you're saying, ‘Hey, get up Hokie.' Nick Eason as well, but those guys did a nice job.

Q: Hines Ward crushed Trevor Pryce before he could pick up a fumble. When you watch film, is there a lot of stuff you see like that – beyond the obvious -- from Ward?

A: It's obvious to the people that matter – his peers, his teammates. That kind of work doesn't go unnoticed and is valued. He's not alone. I thought Santonio was very physical last night when he didn't have the ball in blocking and getting after people. It's kind of the nature of that matchup. It brings the best out of you when you're going against great people. And make no mistake, they're the No. 1 defense for a reason. We respect those guys.


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