Fresh off the Steelers win over the Atlanta Falcon on Sunday, head coach Mike Tomlin was back at the podium to speak with the media ahead of Week 14. Being a key AFC North matchup, 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.
NOTE: This week Coach Tomlin forgot to mention the injuries so he was reminded right after he opened things up for questions. His response, since not usually covered here unless asked about a specific player, has not been included.
Although he has returned to the Steelers defense after missing most of the first half of the season, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt is banged up and playing through multiple injuries. Coach Tomlin was asked if Watt’s rib injury is the biggest hurdle for him.
“Yeah, I guess you could describe it as that. Yes.”
Since Chris Boswell landed on the Reserve/Injured List coming out of the Steelers bye week, Matthew Wright has filled in and has not missed a kick in the last three games. Coach Tomlin was asked what Wright has been able to do for the Steelers besides consistency.
“Man, that’s all I care about. Put the ball through the uprights. I’m not a technical teacher, as it pertains to field goal kicking. I’m responsible for everything, but I don’t have direct experience. I don’t know how to kick, I’m not very good at it. I appreciate the ball going through the uprights.”
Levi Wallace & Cam Sutton
On the season, cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Cam Sutton have reached double digit pass defenses. Coach Tomlin was asked what that means to him as a former secondaries coach.
“They both have really good above the neck games. They do. When you’re good above the neck, there’s a feel, there’s an anticipation, and oftentimes, that feel or anticipation is required to do anything other than tackle the catch. In the National Football League, everybody’s varsity. All things being equal, you’ve got good route running, you’ve got accurate throws, you’ve got good coverage. Usually what you have is defenders tackling the catch. So, when it gets beyond that from a defender’s standpoint, there’s some anticipation, or intuition, or knowledge there that gives them the edge to go beyond that. So, when you see guys like those two with double-digit PBUs [pass breakups], it probably speaks more to anything that they’ve got a certain amount of exposure, awareness and preparedness.”
Even when questions are not asked about him, the Steelers rookie quarterback still manages to find his way into some answers. Coach Tomlin was asked about what the Steelers learned about ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley in playing him the last game of last season. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned Kenny Pickett.
“I’ll tell you, one thing I know and learn is that I look at it from his perspective. That’s a guy that had an opportunity to get an extended amount of play last year. When you don’t have a long playing resume and you go into an offseason, it’s somewhat mystical, the errors in your game that you need to work on. I would imagine last year’s experience really narrowed his focus as he went into the offseason. He was able to identify tangible areas of his game that he needed to improve, and I’m sure that they were as well. So, we’re not going to seek comfort or find comfort in the fact that we’ve been in the stadium with him before. Last year’s exposure for him probably more than anything just tells us we’d better be prepared fora guy that’s significantly better. When you’ve played and you’ve had experience, and you’re no longer speculating. He’s not speculating what it’s like to be in a stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers; he has that experience in his hip pocket. We’d better assume that he’s going to be significantly better, in the same ways that we’re not surprised that Kenny is getting better with each opportunity. Every week, you guys ask me how and why Kenny is getting better: exposure. I can say the same thing about their quarterback play, and the experience that he gained from a year ago. So, that’s our mentality. We have been in the stadium with him, but we’re not finding comfort in that. We’re preparing to see a much better guy, a more experienced guy, a guy that’s learned from that exposure.”
In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked what he looks for in the development of younger players outside of Kenny Pickett and yet he still mentioned Pickett in his response.
“Their development also produces the wins, and so it’s the chicken or the egg. We don’t grade on a curve. Oftentimes, when I’m asked about Kenny, I talk about his progression and the rate of his progression, but always include in that statement that we’re not grading on the curve. We expect him to produce wins while this development is happening. It’s the same thing for all those guys. They’re growing and growing in the right ways because of the victories. Their play is producing the victories, so let’s keep it going.”
A player who has given the Steelers the most consistent play throughout 2022 on the offensive side of the ball may very well be tight end Pat Freiermuth. Coach Tomlin was asked if Freiermuth is coming into his own because of any changes that were made or if he’s simply getting more comfortable.
“Pat’s a second-year guy. It’s reasonable to expect those guys to make a significant jump. He had a lot of success in his first year, he made us really optimistic about the prospects of this year. I think it’s just kind of coming to fruition. I don’t think any of us are surprised by it, and at the top of the list is Pat Freiermuth.”
A lot has been made out of the frustrations on the sidelines last game by rookie wide receiver George Pickens. Coach Tomlin was asked about what he tells Pickens about wanting more targets.
“I’d rather say woah than sick ‘em. I want a guy that wants to be a significant part of what it is that we do. Now the appropriate and professional and mature way to express that, we’re growing and working on, and we will continue. But that spirit, that competitive spirit, the guy that wants the ball, I want that guy. I would imagine that T.J. wants to lay the quarterback down more. We’ve got competitors. This is professional football. These guys know that they have to deliver. So, for a guy that wants to do that, I’m not going to make that a negative, no matter how silly I think the commentary is or people talking about him expressing frustrations and stuff and trying to make it a negative storyline. I laugh at that. Again, that’s one of the reasons why we’re continually progressing because we’re capable of tuning that BS out.”
Cam Heyward & Connor Heyward
Last Sunday brothers Cam and Connor Heyward were able to visit their father‘s grave earlier in the day before facing the Atlanta Falcons. Already saying how he spoke with Cam, Coach Tomlin was asked if he had a chance to talk to Connor yet.
“I have not. I don’t talk to Connor; I talk to Cam.”
In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked about Cam Heyward being the Steelers nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award and what he would say about why Heyward should win for the NFL.
“Here’s the thing for me: just the totality. I know it’s an award that acknowledges the work that’s done in 2022, but much like his playing career, man, his work in the community whether it’s Pittsburgh or Atlanta, where he’s from, or Columbus, where he went to school, or any community that he cares about, this guy contributes in a positive way in the way that he has as a player. The totality of his resume in that area is indisputable like the totality of his resume as a player. It’s over a decade of service. That’s why I feel like he needs no endorsement for me. How he lives his life and how he conducts himself, how he cares about people and utilizes his platform in a positive way is all the endorsement that he needs.”
This was a little bit different scenario about a question and answer that included many players where all but one had previously been outlined above. For that reason, this one falls under Najee Harris as the only one left who didn’t have something else already said about him. Coach Tomlin was asked about hearing from some of the rookies such as Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, and Connor Heyward about the bond that they share and how he sees them growing. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned guys like Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris who are second-year guys and the bond they share as well.
“Every rookie class has a bond. In the offseason, when you bring them together, you herd them in vans, you house them in the same hotels, they eat together, at training camp, they live together. They figure things out together. Life skills on Tuesday. The only thing that’s probably different about this group is they’re probably getting the opportunity to contribute in play more in the midst of it. But you can say the same thing about Naj[ee Harris]and Muth [Pat Freiermuth] and those guys from a year ago. There’s always a unity within a within a draft class, man, not only because of the challenges that they face together, but just the informal time. They spend time together. They often live in the same communities. This life for them, there’s a brotherhood there.”
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