The 2021 NFL regular season is underway and teams are transitioning from the highly anticipated Week 1 to the ‘business as usual’ Week 2. As the Steelers begin their preparation for their home opener, head coach Mike Tomlin held his regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday. With many players discussed, it’s time for another players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.
Tre Norwood, Cam Sutton, & Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Steelers used a different approach when it came to their nickel and dime defenses in Week 1. Coach Tomlin was asked if it was just an opening day rotation or if it was by design for this opponent and what he likes about Tre Norwood which gave him so much faith to do the job. In his response, Coach Tomlin also mentioned cam Sutton and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“We did it by design. We’ve just got that level of respect for Josh Allen and the continuity that they have. And so not only to mix our calls but to mix the utilization of people, I thought would assist us. When you have guys that are position-flexible, that have a nice skillset in that regard, like Cam Sutton and Minkah (Fitzpatrick) and now Tre Norwood, it allows you to have some interchangeable parts and do some different things and add some complexities that hopefully keep the dogs off you.”
In his first NFL game, rookie running back Najee Harris played every offensive snap. Coach Tomlin was asked if this was the plan and what he saw out of Harris’ performance.
“We were monitoring his conditioning and how the game went for him. It was the first time but he’s a highly conditioned guy. We weren’t moving the ball fluidly enough in the first half where it became an issue. And so that’s really where it captured your attention early in the game. You burn a lot of fuel, as a young guy, early in the game, anxiety and so forth. It became less of an issue as the game wore on. He settled down. We found our rhythm. I was happy with how that transpired and unfolded. The same could be said for the quality his play as the game unfolded.”
T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, & Melvin Ingram III
The Steelers had a three-headed monster at outside linebacker in Sunday’s win against the Bills. Coach Tomlin was asked if he was happy with snaps distributed between T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram and if it’s going to be a conscience effort to do so in the future.
“We’re not going to be a slave to snap distribution. I’m not going to be coming in here every week explaining to you guys why the three guys got the snaps that they got. It’s our job to keep all three men fresh and engaged and in a position to make plays for us. That’s what we intended to do, that’s how it unfolded. And that’ll be our mentality moving forward, so I won’t come in here, week in and week out, and explain the distribution of snaps as it pertains to those three men. They’re all varsity, they’re all going to be significant. We’re excited we’ve got all three of them, and we intend to utilize all three of them. And maybe, from time to time, all three at once if the situation allows for it.”
The Steelers defensive captain had arguably the best game of his NFL career on Sunday where he was credited with 12 quarterback pressures. Coach Tomlin was asked about joking with Cam Heyward about his age and what allows him to play at such a high level in his 11th season.
“I have no idea. I’m going to continue to joke about Cam’s age (smile). We’re all motivated in different ways. Cam is one of those guys that’s always looking for reasons to rise up in the face of something. You throw his age in his face, and even though he knows what you’re doing, he has to respond. That’s the competitor that that man is. So please keep talking about it. We fully expect him to continue to do what it is that he’s doing and has done for us, which is not only make quality plays, but be a quality leader.”
Ben Roethlisberger, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, & JuJu Smith-Schuster
Kicking off his 18th NFL season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a second-half come back win after a slow start. Coach Tomlin was asked about Roethlisberger‘s leadership of the offense and being able to calm the younger players. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned a trio of wide receivers.
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that or even talking to Ben about that. That’s just something that comes with Ben. That’s something that I know he does. That doesn’t dominate my time, to be quite honest with you. I’m concerned about the maturation process of the men that you mentioned. I was really pleased with the maturation process displayed by our receivers. They didn’t get an opportunity to impact the game in a real positive way at the early stages, but they didn’t get frustrated, and they stayed in the fight, and they made the plays when called upon. Claypool made ridiculous plays for us in the second half of the game. Diontae (Johnson) made ridiculous plays. JuJu (Smith-Schuster) made some significant plays. And none of those plays occurred at the early portions. We’ve got a really young receiver group, and so it was cool to see them grow from a maturity standpoint and understand that element of it; that it is a collective, and maybe they don’t always get an opportunity to do what maybe they are capable of doing all day. It’s just a collective. It’s part of team. It’s what makes football the ultimate team game. I was really pleased with the maturation displayed by that group and their readiness when called upon in terms of the plays that they delivered”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about the maturation of the wide receiver group, if it happensed naturally or if it was something the coaches were emphasizing.
“Nothing just happens. Everything is thoughtful. When you’re talking about the maturation process of individuals or a collective, none of it is haphazard. I spent a lot of time talking to Chase Claypool about taking the step from ear one to year two, specifically, for example. And mentality is a component of it. Poise is a component of it. Understanding the ebb and flow that is professional football and the opportunities or lack thereof at times is a very real thing. Kudos to those guys, but nothing happens haphazardly.”
Kendrick Green & Dan Moore Jr.
The Pittsburgh Steelers started two rookie offensive linemen on Sunday in center Kendrick Green and left tackle Dan Moore Jr. Coach Tomlin was asked to assess Green’s play, including why he was removed from the game for three snaps in the second half. In his response, Coach Tomlin also brought up Moore.
“There’s nothing there, from a health standpoint, to be concerned about. We like where he is. Much like I mentioned with the rest of the offensive group and unit, I thought he brought the intangible things. He played with energy, he played with physicality. He played hard, he finished. Some of the technical things, awareness things, skill-related things smoothed out over the course of the game and it’s reasonable to expect that to continue. There are going to be challenges, but boy, what an environment he was in. We were working on silent count, and he’s a center and all those things. Just to get in that environment with him and Dan Moore and not have a bunch of pre-snap penalties and things of that nature, I just thought was a win. I was prepared to deal with first-and-15 or losing five yards on a third-and-three and going to a third-and-eight because they’ve got their ears bent back and we’re working on a silent count. Can’t say enough about the work that those young guys did. By no means have they arrived. We’ve got so much work ahead of us, but it was enough to get us out of that stadium with the win, and I’m appreciative.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to play their first home game of the 2021 NFL season and it will be the first time in nearly two years they will be playing in front of a packed house at Heinz Field. Coach Tomlin was asked about a conversation he had with rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth about playing in front of a college crowd versus the pros and if the conversation included other players.
“It was as many guys as I could. I just wanted them to understand it. A guy like Pat has played in front of 100,000 every weekend. He thinks he’s prepared for that, and he’s not. That’s an illustration that I use to relay to them the differences between the two games. I’m just being honest. You go to college environments: the home team roots for their team. You go to a professional environment: they root against the visitor. There’s an intensity there that’s different than college football. 65 and 70 can be unlike any college environment, and I didn’t want them to be surprised by that.”
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