With the Steelers getting their third victory of the season coming out of their bye week to start the second half of the season, there were a lot of questions at the Mike Tomlin 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.
James Daniels & Chuks Okorafor
The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to get improved play from their offensive line as the season has gone on. Coach Tomlin was asked where specifically he has seen the most improvement on the o-line in terms of run blocking and in his answer he specifically mentioned James Daniels and Chuks Okorafor in an example.
“Just the nature in which they put four hands on people, the movement we’re getting when we choose to double and the understanding of the timing of when to come off or when to not come off double teams. That’s just born out of cooperative work, one man working with another. It’s been fun to watch the cohesion come together between JD [James Daniels] and Chuks [Chukwuma Okorafor], for example. But that has to happen for a right guard and right tackle. Oftentimes, they’re double-teaming B-gap players, and they come together, and then they’ve got to deal with the linebackers, however they show themselves. So, I just see collective growth and development in some of the real cooperative work that comes with that position, like a double team, for instance. The help principle associated with pass protection is another example. It’s really all areas, but the significant ones are where multiple people are coming together and gaining understanding and timing relative to the game.”
Ruled out on Saturday due to having an appendectomy, Minkah Fitzpatrick has the possibility of returning after missing only one game. Coach Tomlin was asked if there is one last hurdle that Fitzpatrick would have to do in order to be cleared to play.
“I have no idea. I’d be speculating. I’m just going to follow the advice of the medical experts and communicate with Minkah, but I don’t have a lot of exposure to it, to be quite honest with you.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if Fitzpatrick is grumpy like Cam Heyward stated in a recent interview.
“Minkah is grumpy. But I kind of like it. I do.”
There was no shortage of questions asked about Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett. First, Coach Tomlin was asked if some of the pass protection issues was from having a rookie quarterback and his ability to get rid of the ball.
“Absolutely. That’s why I kind of laughed at the question. Sometimes, Kenny gets Kenny in trouble. But that’s just the nature of being a young guy.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked how he would grade Pickett’s overall growth this season of being able to make adjustments as to when to stay or when to go.
“It’s been really impressive. I think his general growth, if you ask me to summarize the rate of growth and the range of growth, it’s been really impressive in all areas,and I think it’s reasonable to expect it to continue.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about having more designed runs for Pickett rather than him simply just taking off.
“I think every time I say quarterback mobility, I always say the prudent use of quarterback mobility. I do so intentionally, because there’s risk associated with that,and risk is something that we all weigh. Any of us that have mobility at the quarterback position, I just think that that’s a component of the equation each and every week. Mobility is a good thing, but when and how to use it while managing the risk component of it is also an element of the equation and will always, be particularly at that position.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about where specifically he has seen the most growth in Kenny Pickett.
“I don’t know that I can appropriately answer that in terms of the most. We’re just trying to win football games, and he’s a component of it. He’s got to get better and play better each and every week. We expect that, he expects that. There’s a lot of meat on the bone in all areas of his game, but that’s not a wild statement because he is a young guy.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about if red zone passes going to the corner is because of Pickett’s lack of experience.
“Oftentimes, it might be dictated by coverage and a lot of variables. I don’t know what specific plays you’re talking about, so I’ll just answer it in that way. There’s clarity on the perimeter of the field oftentimes. When the field gets short, particularly if you’re a young guy, if you’re cognizant about taking care of the ball, sure, the more prudent decision oftentimes is to seek clarity.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if Pickett’s ankle is fine.
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if Kenny Pickett has had a specific role in the offense finding their identity throughout the season.
“I just think they come to work every day ready to get better, and they’re bringing a good spirit while doing so. You can’t underscore that. We absorb a lot of negativity in this business, particularly when you’re not performing the way that you desire. Your ability to show individual and collective resolve and bring good spirit to the work and not be bogged down by that I think is a significant component in terms of working your way out of those things.”
In his Steelers debut, safety Damontae Kazee had to fill-in for the injured Minkah Fitzpatrick. Coach Tomlin was asked if what he saw from Kazee on Sunday was a continuation of what he saw in the small window of the preseason.
“Really, very much so. I think that’s why we’re all so excited about him, but at the same time, I think that’s why we were all so disappointed when he went down. This guy is just a football lover. He is. He brings energy and enthusiasm. He’s a good communicator. He’s a playmaker. We’re lucky to have him.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if he anticipates finding a way to keep Kazee involved when Minkah Fitzpatrick returns.
“Yes. Specialization is big. We did a lot of that during team development, so it’s reasonable to expect that to continue. Yes.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked about how Minkah Fitzpatrick is like a professor and Damontae Kazee seems to be the opposite type of player and if the group can benefit from having these sort of differences.
“I just learned over the years that when you’ve got a collective like a team, all the personalities are beneficial provided that they’re their authentic self. Whatever you are, be that. Try to be that every day. Be your best self. We benefit from the variety of personalities and approaches. The flatliner stabilizes the group sometimes when it’s Helter Skelter. The excitable guy sometimes uplifts the group when the group’s a little bit flat. I just think that that’s just one of the beautiful things about team sport and our game in particular.”
A key part for the Steelers preparation for the Saints was Mitch Trubisky playing the role of Taysom Hill during practice. Coach Tomlin was asked if there’s been any discussion about using Trubisky in some sort of package.
“We have no intentions of making him Taysom Hill if that’s what you’re asking.”
The follow-up question asked Coach Tomlin why not.
“Because we have others who specialize in those areas who are quite frankly better than him at it.”
The Steelers signed kicker Matthew Wright off the Kansas City practice squad last week and will have to keep him on the roster for three weeks. Coach Tomlin was asked if he was still going with Matthew Wright as their kicker.
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked what else he saw that went wrong on Wright’s kicks.
“I thought I was pretty clear after the game. Our operations have to improve, our protections have to improve and he as a kicker has to improve. So, we’ll go to work this week.”
For the first time in his career, Robert Spillane played every snap on defense for the Steelers. Coach Tomlin was asked about Spillane‘s desire to one day be a football coach and what ways he sees those attributes show up in his preparation and performance.
“Every day. Every day. But we have a lot of guys with that mentality and maybe those aspirations. I tell each and every one of them don’t quit their day job, man. There’s more money in playing. But I just think, as a coach and somebody that loves football, you appreciate that shared spirit. I’ve been around it a long time. I’m honored to have had guys that have come through this program that are coaches in the National Football League and doing a heck of a job at it. It’s cool to be a part of their growth and development in terms of the game and knowing the game from an outside-the-helmet perspective.”
Pat Freiermuth & Zach Gentry
On Sunday, the Steelers used Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry together as a run blockers the most they had this season. Coach Tomlin was asked if they would use more two tight end packages.
“It could be a lot of things. It could be the nature of the matchup, us and them. It could be the Claypool discussion, the redistribution of snaps if you will. There’s a lot of variables in the discussions about what personnel groups we’ll use and to what extent we use them.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about how he felt in regards to the tight end blocking efforts on Sunday.
“I thought they did a really good job, and particularly against those four-three ends. The four-three end is a challenge in today’s game at the tight end position. They’re much bigger people than tight ends, and that’s why a guy like Zach Gentry has value. Zach doesn’t look like most tight ends. He looks like a lot of four-three ends. So that’s why guys like Zach are employed. They’re less dynamic in the passing game, but their efforts are appreciated in more subtle ways. More subtle ways to the naked eye, not those of us that are in the business.”
In Sunday’s game, fullback Derek Watt had two carries, both of which he converted for first downs. Coach Tomlin was asked what he liked about putting Watt in those situations.
“The situations presented themselves. I don’t think he’s done anything outside of his normal role, but just maybe more of the opportunities presented themselves in this game than maybe some others.”
Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson has had a lot of pass interference penalties called against him this season. Coach Tomlin was asked what it tells him about a receiver that gets so many interference calls against him.
“I don’t know what it tells you, to be quite honest with you. I hadn’t analyzed it in that way.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked if it can be frustrating for a receiver to be interfered with so often.
“I think a lot of things can be frustrating. I think he’s probably better equipped to answer that than I. I’m not going to speak for him.”
Running back Najee Harris had his best game of 2022 on Sunday. Coach Tomlin was asked about Harris mentioning a little different approach being taken around the building.
“We’re continually turning the stones over in an effort to change the outcome of games. I’ve been repeatedly acknowledging that as I come in here on Tuesdays, and if he mentioned anything in that regard, it’s those efforts. I’m open to change. I’m open to doing whatever is required for us to get better in all areas, division of labor, schematics, etcetera. So, those have been the ongoing discussions. It shouldn’t be surprising that somebody acknowledges that we’re doing things differently. We have to. We haven’t won enough games, so we better keep turning the stone over until we find the rhythm that we desire.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked if he saw a shift in Harris’ emotions in the way he approach the game on Sunday.
“I don’t know that I sensed any different approach on Sunday. He and I have a lot of conversations because of his role and the position that he plays. It was a normal communication and focus and desire to perform and perform well. This guy is highly competitive, man, he brings that every week. I can’t say that last Sunday was any different.”
A huge factor in the Steelers defensive performance Sunday was the return of T.J. Watt. Coach Tomlin was asked if he could quantify the emotional impact of Watt just being on the field.
“Yeah, you can’t. There’s an intangible quality to players like him. They do. They bring more than their presence and their playmaking. They instill confidence in those around them. So, that is a very real thing. You can’t necessarily measure it, but if somebody’s been in this business, I acknowledge that it is real.”
William Jackson III
Coach Tomlin was asked if there was a specific update on Jackson.
“He’s on IR.”
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