Q&A: Mike Tomlin
Mike Tomlin (Wickerham/Getty Images)
Mike Tomlin (Wickerham/Getty Images)

Posted Dec 22, 2009


The Steelers' coach talks about signing Joey Galloway and Jared Retkofsky, and how Troy Polamalu could possibly play this week, among other topics (minus the fluff).

Mike Tomlin, Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Greg Warred was placed on IR with an ACL injury. He’s been replaced by Jared Retkofsky. Jared snapped for us for quite a bit of the season last year, through the playoffs and in the Super Bowl, so it’s fortunate for us that a guy like that is available with that kind of experience, but also the experience that comes with being a part of this thing and being in our locker room and kind of knowing how we do business. Also we placed Limas Sweed on the reserve list, non-football illness/injury list, which will end his season. He’s been replaced by Joey Galloway. He’s a guy I have a background with, some familiarity with, having worked with him in the past, but also more recently we explored the potential of signing Joey last off-season. Of course, he went off to New England. He was available to us. He’s a veteran player whose resume speaks for itself. He’s one of those unique guys in that he’s in great physical condition for a seasoned veteran. He can run. He’s done just about all there is to do in this business other than win in the post-season, which is what he told me, so hopefully he can provide a little energy and spirit for us in that regard, some veteran-savvy leadership in a position that’s been depleted a bit.

Looking at the injuries coming out of the game, Mike Wallace has a knee laceration or contusion that may limit him at the top of the week. Hines (Ward) may have experienced a minor setback with his hamstring injury that’s probably definitely going to limit him in the early part of the week. We’ll evaluate him on a day-to-day basis. Rashard Mendenhall has a hip contusion that’s probably going to limit him at the top part of the week. Brett Keisel has a stinger. Troy (Polamalu) is getting his MRI today. I was hopeful that I would have some information for you by the time I came in here, but as you’ve seen in recent weeks I don’t always get what I want. We’ll update you when we get that information. The rest of the things appear to be minor bumps and bruises.

(On the Baltimore Ravens) A lot of times familiarity doesn’t breed comfort. It doesn’t breed comfort in a matchup such as this. They are who they are. Ray Rice kind of makes them go. Running and receiving, we’ve got to contend with him better than we did the last time. Joe Flacco continues to get better and better in terms of leading them from the quarterback position. Derrick Mason is Derrick Mason – his usual body of work. Defensively, the key element of it is (Terrell) Suggs is back in action and we didn’t face him the last time. We know what a game-changing football player that guy is. That’s going to be a significant change in terms of preparing to play these guys, particularly in and around the line of scrimmage from a run-game standpoint and from a protection-of-our-quarterback standpoint, because this guy lines up in a variety of places, does a lot of things extremely well, and really a lot of what you do starts with identifying where he is and what he’s capable of. Ray Lewis is still playing at a high level; Jarret Johnson and the other cast of characters, (Haloti) Ngata, (Kelly) Gregg. Like I said, familiarity doesn’t necessarily make you comfortable, but we’re excited about our opportunity.

Q: What’s wrong with Limas? Do you anticipate Galloway being your fourth guy?

A: I think it’s appropriate right now that we say very little in regard to his personal issues. I will say this: It’s a non-football illness. He has our full support. Anything else I say will be in regards to protecting his privacy. Joey, really, whether or not he’s a fourth wideout, or an active fifth wideout, or an inactive wideout, really depends on the speed in which he learns our football as we proceed through the week. He’s in the building right now working on those very issues. He’s played a little bit of football. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is capable of learning what to do.

Q: If Troy’s MRI is positive, is it possible he plays this week?

A: It is. The results of his MRI are going to dictate what direction we take, like it has in recent weeks. We eagerly await those results.

Q: Do you anticipate changes in the secondary?

A: We’re analyzing that as we put together this plan. I think each week the matchup that you’re given dictates a lot of what you do. A week ago we played Green Bay and their signature’s multiple wide receiver sets; of course their tight end is a big-time vertical threat. Baltimore likes to bring in an extra offensive lineman or tight end and fullback and things of that nature. So a lot of the decisions we make in terms of people that we utilize will be based on the nature of the matchup and what we anticipate them doing.

Q: Have you gotten a lot of feedback on the onside kick?

A: I don’t look for feedback. I just try to win football games. My eight-year-old asked me what I was thinking. Other than that, I make no apologies. I try to get a feel of the flow of the game, try to decipher potentially how it can unfold and how can I increase my team’s chances of winning. What I told you after the game really was the thought process, really, in the latter part of the third all the way through the fourth quarters that I felt like both offenses were capable of moving the football. Making that decision to kick the onside kick started first and foremost with a belief that we could get the football – LEGALLY. We weren’t able to do that. Even if we weren’t able to do that with four minutes and some change left to go in the game, if we were not able to stop them, I felt we’d have significant amount of time to navigate down the field. Now, that process, that thought process of mine, was geared toward them maybe kicking a field goal and being up by one and us having to kick a field goal to win, not necessarily with those guys scoring a touchdown, which of course is what they did.

Q: Based on that thinking and what has happened recently, do you adjust how you feel on what it’s going to take on offense to win a game anymore because you’ve given up more on defense?

A: No, I really approach it with how the game unfolds inside the stadium. I think a plan is one thing, but we all understand that games unfold differently than plans. I didn’t necessarily anticipate that game unfolding the way it did, but as you watched the game and watched it unfold you realize that the familiarity that both offenses had with both defenses was going to be a factor in the outcome of the game, so you adjust plans and approaches accordingly, and we did.

Q: That was more of a reflection of what went on than how you feel about your defense sitting here right now?

A: Absolutely. It was a reflection upon how that game was unfolding inside the stadium on Sunday.

Q: Is that what you told your eight-year-old?

A: No. I just told him to be quiet.

Q: Did your familiarity with the 3-4 help you with their tendencies?

A: I think it helped us in terms of identifying potential blitz pickups and finding holes in coverage, if you will. It didn’t help us in terms of running the football. I thought Green Bay did an awesome job in terms of defending some of our run formations and personnel groups. They brought in an extra defensive lineman and put a 300-pounder in that C and D gap area which made sledding tough in that regard. But that’s just the ebb and flow of football games and the strategy that comes with trying to play winning football. They did some nice things. We did some nice things.

Q: With Rashard’s receiving performance, can he become a triple-threat back for you?

A: I think that’s what we envisioned a few weeks ago when I said that his role would be expanding. With each day, this guy gains confidence and really we gain confidence in what he’s capable of. He’s rock solid from an assignment standpoint in blitz pickup, and I think it starts there. Where he’s also getting increasingly sharp is in being where he’s supposed to be in terms of route distributions. He can catch the football. He’s been able to do that since the day he walked in here, but he’s rounding out a complete game and is becoming a guy that can help us in all areas, similar to what Ray Rice is doing in Baltimore.

Q: Did Ben Roethlisberger call all the plays on that last drive? Or was he receiving the plays from the sideline?

A: He received all those plays from the sideline.

Q: James Farrior said after the game that in the losing streak he began to question some of the things he was doing. Did that happen to you?

A: There’s an element of that, but I think that’s constructive. It wouldn’t be sharp not to analyze what you’re doing and how you’re doing it when you’re in the midst of failure. So there’s an element of that, but is it manifesting itself in the form of mental weakness or anything of that nature? No. It’s just being committed to turn over whatever stones are necessary to win football games.

Q: Is Ed Reed more of an identifiable target as an opposing game-planner than any guy you face?

A: I don’t want to downplay the significance of Ed Reed; he’s one of those special guys. He doesn’t need my endorsement. His body of work speaks to that. He’s a game-changer. He’s a defensive guy that’s capable of ringing up the scoreboard or getting the ball in his hands, so it’s significant. He changes the way you attack the field vertically because of his range, and the cat-and-mouse game that he’s capable of playing with your quarterback, his understanding of route concepts. I think he has physical talent that enables him to cover a lot of grass but you don’t want to underestimate the mental capacity of a gentleman like that because that’s required to cover the amount of grass that he covers as well.

Q: Will Chris Carr enable them to do anything differently as a replacement at cornerback for the Ravens?

A: I’m not certain of their plans at this point, so I’d be speculating. I know he is viable as both a cornerback and return man and that’s why we had interest in him in the off-season.

Q: Do you follow what goes on around the NFL?

A: I have to. It’s the nature of my job, but really only from that standpoint. I haven’t looked at all the playoff scenarios and things of that nature. I just know that we need to win to stay in the hunt and that’s where my focus is. Usually when I get those moments toward the end of the week, where the plan has started to take shape and you have a few moments to yourself, I’ll catch up on what’s transpired around the league over the course of the week. But as I sit here today I have no idea what’s going on this week.

Q: With the rules changes of late, is it tougher to play defense than ever?

A: If it’s tough for us, it’s tough for everybody so I haven’t analyzed it that way. As long as the game is called the same, I could care less how they call it.

Q: Last year Retkofsky was hauling furniture when he got the call. Did he go back to the furniture job after finishing up his season in the UFL?

A: Maybe he took a couple weeks off after the UFL season. I’m not certain. I was just glad he was available because it is comforting when you talk about losing a long snapper. We’ve been down that road before here in Pittsburgh, so it’s good to have Jared.

Q: Are running games becoming less significant around the league?

A: I don’t know if that is a new trend. People have their personality and they gear their personality toward how they want to play football. As long as it fits your people and there’s a level of belief in it, there are many ways to skin the cat. Minnesota has a commitment to running the football and they’re a winning team. New Orleans has a commitment to running their offense through Drew Brees and they’re a winning team. Et cetera, et cetera. I think it’s a level of commitment in terms of how you want to do football based on who your people are and put them in the best position to do what it is they do.

Q: You came in wanting to win by attrition. Have you changed your position?

A: It depends on when you ask me. Sometimes when the plan is successful and we’re able to win by attrition, then that’s the plan. When you have to make adjustments or when you’re unsuccessful like we’ve been of late, it doesn’t necessarily look like you intended it to look. That’s the nature of this thing.

Q: Will Santa pass over the South Side this year?

A: (Laughs) Christmas is cancelled. Merry Christmas, anyway.


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