Audio from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin press conference on Tuesday October 20th. Tomlin addresses the upcoming week 7 Minnesota Vikings game. As far as injuries go, running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee bruise) and linebacker Andre Frazier (quad) might be limited in the early part of the week in practice, but should be good to go this week. Safety Troy Polamalu (knee) might also be limited early in the week and game out of the Browns game in good shape. Kicker Jeff Reed will indeed play this week following his Sunday night incident. Tomlin indicated that a committee of Ziggy Hood, Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason all played above the line in regards of filling in for injured defensive end Aaron Smith. Tomlin indicated Mendenhall has the “hot hand” right now and has earned the majority of carries going forward until something changes. The role of running back Willie Parker and the rotation is still being decided.
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Mike Tomlin: Good afternoon. Exciting week for us, we begin preparation for the Minnesota Vikings, which at this point has proven that they are a world championship caliber outfit with what they’ve done so far in the 2009 season. They’re an undefeated team. They’re rock solid on all levels, they’re well coached. We respect this process as we prepare for them. Talking about those guys, I guess you could start offensively. This guy that plays running back for them is arguably the best football player in the world right now, Adrian Peterson. The guy under center is a legendary quarterback, Brett Favre. They’ve got top quality lineman, such as Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie on the left side, big powerful people who plow open holes for their featured runner and protected quarterback. They have big play capable wide receivers in [Bernard] Berrian and of course, Sidney Rice is an emerging star in this league who had an enormous day this past weekend. He’s a guy that’s on the come and a fast riser for them. Their rookie, Percy Harvin is not playing like one, similar to our rookie [Mike Wallace]. He’s making splash plays and time and time again he’s proving the stage isn’t too big for him. Rock solid West Coast offense, tried and tested. Members of their coaching staff are well schooled in their offense, as is their quarterback and everyone else. They’ve got great continuity in regards to that. They don’t beat themselves, they take care of the football. They’re tops in the league in turnover ratio, they do a good job at that. They control the clock of course with their run game. They don’t make mistakes and that’s probably one of the reasons that they’re a 6-0 football team. The quarterback is operating very efficiently at this point, I think he’s somewhere around 110.0 from a quarterback rating on the season. When you’ve got a quality runner like Adrian Peterson, a quarterback like Brett Favre is not making mistakes, you’ve got to play close to perfect to beat them and we’re coming to grips and understanding what that’s about as we prepare. Defensively, they’re a 4-3 team. It starts up front with Kevin and Pat Williams. Disruptive interior forces that they are. Those two guys go to the Pro Bowl every year. They trample the runner on the way to the pass. Kevin [Williams] has distinguished himself not only as a run stuffer but as an interior rush man, I think he’s got four sacks on the season. Jared Allen’s on the outside. We all know what he brings to the table, he’s one of the top sack men in the league. He provides a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for them. To boot, the left end Ray Edwards is a top quality player in his own right and probably doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves playing with that group. E.J. Henderson is the man in the middle, one of the best linebackers in my opinion in the NFC. In the secondary, they’ve got the likes of Antoine Winfield coupled with Cedric Griffin. The thing that distinguishes these corners is they play a very physical brand of football. They launch a lot of things out of their cover 2 two shell from a schematic stand point and within that system, corners have got to be football players first. These guys fit the bill in regards to that. They’re violent people, they defend the flats, play man to man, come up and participate fully in the run game. Very good football team, needless to say. In preparation for that, I thought I’d hit a couple injury issues. Talking about injuries for us. Andre Frazier who missed last week’s game with an acquired contusion, we’re anticipating he’s going to be able to go this week, maybe somewhat limberly here at the early portion of the week. Rashard Mendenhall has a knee bruise. Shouldn’t affect his play whatsoever, may limit him somewhat, make him a limited participant tomorrow. All the other injuries and so forth are minor. Everyone that got hurt in that football game for us last week was able to come back and finish the game so we’re good from that standpoint because we’re going to need all the able bodies that we can get to prepare for and play this football game. Other things of note, Troy [Polamalu] seems to be progressing relatively well in his march back to full participations. I may limit him at the early portion of this week, but we just want to keep that arrow pointed up on his participation, specifically the quality of that. I like where we are in terms of getting him started, getting him back in the fold and getting out there and making plays for us. I want to keep that arrow moving up. I may exercise a little caution here at the beginning of the week in terms of his participation to make sure he’s ready to go for us on Sunday.
Question: Regarding Jeff Reed, do you have a set policy or is it on an individual basis? Do you handle this similarity with the Santonio [Holmes] incident last year?
Mike Tomlin: I have a set policy or approach to how I handle it. First thing that we need to do is information gathering, that’s something as an organization we’ve done. We’ve talked to all the parties involved, myself, Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney. Then we evaluate the situation and handle it internally, always with the premise of we want to do what’s right and do what’s in the best interest of our football team. In reference to how Santonio’s [Holmes] situation was handled last year, [we] really handled it in a very similar manner and that’s our approach. We want to minimize distraction, gather information and deal with it internally. Probably the only difference between this situation and Santonio’s [Holmes] situation last year is the time of the week in which it occurred. Santonio’s [Holmes] incident occurred on a Thursday evening, it basically became something we had to deal with on a Friday leading up to a football game and we chose to deactivate him to minimize that distraction and continue preparation for the football game and really dealt with his issue the following Monday. If you remembered, he missed that game for that reason, he was deactivated. His deactivation was not punitive, it was done to minimize the distraction and to prepare our team to play a football game which was closing in on 48 hours away from the incident. We’re handling this in a similar manner, it’s just that it happened on a Sunday, so we’re afforded the opportunity to deal with it and address it on a Monday or Tuesday, similar to how we did the Santonio [Holmes] thing in which we addressed after that weekends game.
Question: Any degree of frustration on your part?
Mike Tomlin: I wouldn’t necessarily call it frustration, I acknowledge what comes with this job. I’d like to be 6-0 as I prepare to play the Vikings, but I’m not. I don’t always get what I want in this business, it’s not something that’s pleasant. Anything that takes away from game preparation or game readiness is a distraction, anything that sheds a negative light on this organization or its players is a distraction. It’s not something that’s pleasant, but I’m paid and paid well to deal with it and I’ll do that.
Question: Does it make it more difficult to sit him [Jeff Reed] out because there’s no replacement?
Mike Tomlin: It makes it difficult, but all of those type of decisions are difficult, whether you’ve got a replacement on the roster or not, when you’re talking about pulling people out of lineups and so forth, it’s not conducive to winning. I think that’s the reason why those caliber guys are here, because they’re capable helping us win.
Question: Have you decided if he’s playing?
Mike Tomlin: He’s going to play. Again, in comparison of this situation to Santonio [Holmes] situation, Santonio [Holmes] missing that game versus the [New York] Giants a year ago was not punitive in nature. His incident happened on Thursday, we were forced to potentially to deal with it on a Friday. I was unwilling to do that closing in on 48 hours of a football game. I minimized the distraction, I deactivated him and we dealt with his situation on Monday and Tuesday of the following week. We’re dealing with this situation on Monday and Tuesday of the week.
Question: Do you look at this as three strikes and you’re out?
Mike Tomlin: No I do not. We deal with every situation and circumstance individually and really lean on the guidelines that are established by the National Football League in regards to player conduct in terms of how we deal with these things. More than anything, the important thing is that we talked to all the parties involved, we gathered information and we make decisions that are based on the best interest of our football team, and keeping in mind that we would like to keep all these actions inside our organization.
Question: Do you work hand in hand with the NFL?
Mike Tomlin: Not at all, it doesn’t affect me at all. Personally, what I’m doing is preparing to play for the [Minnesota] Vikings and I’ll deal with those issues as they arise. In terms of information that comes from New York or steps involving their investigation, we’re going to cooperate fully like we always do. We have a level of commitment and we understand what being a part of this league is about, we respect the heck out of that. We’ll deal with it, but in the short term, I’m singularly focused on preparing for the Minnesota Vikings.
Question: Are you satisfied with the information you collected to say he will play?
Mike Tomlin: I’m satisfied based on the information that I have that I have enough information to say that he’s going to play this weekend. The investigation is ongoing, the information that’s gathered is on going. This process will run its course, but I’m not going to let it dominate my train of thought this week as we prepare to play the [Minnesota] Vikings.
Question: Are you disappointed this is his second incident?
Mike Tomlin: Again, I don’t talk about levels of disappointment, what I’m disappointed about is irrelevant in the big scheme of things. I tend to focus on preparing and the results of football games.
Question: Will a league penalty come from this?
Mike Tomlin: Again, I think it’s important that we follow the guidelines laid out by the National Football league and that’s what we intend to do. I’m sure they’ll launch an investigation and this process is going to run its course and we’re going to make decisions that’s best for us.
Question: Does the NFL have to let you know at a certain point?
Mike Tomlin: I don’t think this is something that’s going to be played out in that timely of a fashion. Very rarely is it ever. There are legal implications and so forth and I’m sure their decisions will be made based on the outcome of the legal action.
Question: Would you rather Troy Polamalu wear a knee brace?
Mike Tomlin: We’re not going to put him in harms way in terms of anything that our medical experts would advise otherwise. Obviously if he didn’t wear the knee brace he would see that as an option from our medical experts. I tend to let veteran players make decisions in terms of what’s best for them in regards to that as long as there’s no medical risks involved.
Question: Did you put Troy Polamalu in the game to get back to game speed and ready for Minnesota?
Mike Tomlin: It wasn’t done with any sight of mind in terms of the schedule. When he was ready to go medically, we were going to allow him to go. We don’t put any more emphasis on this Minnesota Viking game than we did on the Cleveland game a week ago. We don’t live in that world, we don’t approach it in that way. Every game’s a big game. This is the biggest game of the year for us because we’re staring at it. It’s Tuesday and it’s on Sunday so we got all eyes pointed toward that opportunity.
Question: Was Troy Polamalu’s hobbling based on the initial injury?
Mike Tomlin: No, what happened is that when he intercepted that ball down there in the red zone; Good to have Troy [Polamalu] back by the way, he banged his knee on the ground. So it’s really something separate and different from the injury he sustained weeks ago. That created a situation where he hobbled a little bit around for the rest of the day. His presence is significant an we’re glad to have him back out there.
Question: Did your heart jump a bit when you saw him limping?
Mike Tomlin: I’ve learned to become a flat-liner, there’s a lot out there that’ll make your heart jump if you allow it.
Question: He said he [Troy Polamalu] was a bit tentative, do you think he will still be tentative this week?
Mike Tomlin: I think that everybody that plays this game at this level goes through some, “Man versus Himself,” battles in regards to being tentative, aggressive or cautious, particularly when your body’s betraying you at times. That’s something that comes with this game, particularly in the National Football League. Troy [Polamalu] wont be the only guy out there on the field with aches and pains and things that bother him physically during the course of that game, and all of those men will be making those judgments and decisions about whether to let their hair down and proceed with caution. That’s something that happens on every play, every weekend.
Question: What makes Adrian Peterson so good?
Mike Tomlin: He’s got a great deal of God-given ability. He’s big, strong, fast. He also has the things that you can’t measure. The tape says he’s ridiculously competitive. He doesn’t turn down challenges, he does a lot of things well even when the ball isn’t in his hands, he’s an aggressive and functional blitz pick-up man. He runs good routes out of the backfield. He’s just a complete football player and arguably the best player playing the game right now.
Question: Is Rashard Mendenhall the #1 guy or is it an ongoing competition?
Mike Tomlin: At this point, it’s ongoing but I will acknowledge that Rashard [Mendenhall] has earned the right to continue to take the majority of the snaps as we proceed, I think that’s how we approach a lot of what we do. Who’s going to give us the best chance to win on a week-to-week basis. Rashard [Mendenhall] has had a hot hand for the last several weeks here. He’s been given an opportunity due to the injury of Willie Parker and has taken advantage of it. It’s great to have Willie [Parker] back. We’ve got several capable runners that we’re comfortable giving the ball to. Rashard’s [Mendenhall] got the hot hand, so in the short term, we’ll continue to proceed in the manner that we’ve done here in the last several weeks. If and when that changes, we’ll let you know.
Question: Can you talk about what you see regarding the Minnesota Vikings defense from working with their staff previously?
Mike Tomlin: Schemes evolve, defenses, offenses. Special teams evolve. It hit me that I’ve been gone from there for quite some time here just watching tape preparing for this week. A lot of faces are unfamiliar, a lot of the schemes and things that they’re doing are unfamiliar to me and that’s not surprising to me. It’s been three years since I’ve worked there. They’ve got a great coordinator in Leslie Frazier, who does share some philosophical similarities schematically that I share, but he also spent some time in Philadelphia under the late great Jimmy Johnson and employed some of those techniques and approaches to the scheme and how he attacks people. They’re a different defense, they’re a great defense, one that we respect and I’m not going to devalue what they’re doing or underestimate what they’re capable of simply because I have a history with that organization.
Question: How did the defensive line do filling in for Aaron Smith?
Mike Tomlin: They were above the line. Travis Kirschke played good football, I like what Nick Eason did for us and the young fellow Evander Hood continues to be a guy on the rise. They’re going to be judged on their body of work no question week in and week out, their ability to play at a high level and uphold the standard that is an Aaron Smith type standard is going to be a big time challenge, so the jury will continue to be out on whether they pass that test.
Question: Were you still in college when you saw Brett Favre first play?
Mike Tomlin: Yes.
Question: Do you see any comparisons between Brett Favre and John Elway towards the end of their careers with their progressions?
Mike Tomlin: He has not, in my opinion. I’m very familiar with competing with this guy. I broke into the league with the [Tampa Bay] Bucs with the, “Battle of the Bays” when we used to play those guys twice a year. He utilizes all his eligible’s. It used to be Chmura, now its [Visanthe] Shiancoe, he’ll check the ball down to the backs. Dorsey Levens, now Chester Taylor is one of the most dangerous screen men in football of third down backs. He utilizes all of his eligible’s, he plays within the scheme of the West Coast offense, meaning that he can get the ball out of his hand’s extremely quickly and dump balls off. He utilizes a lot of people, but he brings the Brett Favre element. He’s a calculated risk taker, he has arm strength to attack you vertically and horizontally every inch of the field and he’s willing to do that. He’s still good when plays break down. When you blitz this guy, you better understand that he’s prepared for it and he gets in attack mode when you attack and we respect that element of it.
Question: Is there a way officials can specify when a play is actually over in hindsight to the Hines Ward touchdown that was reversed?
Mike Tomlin: We get great communication from the league and Mike Pereira’s office specifically in the early portions of the week, Mondays or Tuesdays following football games. That’s what it is, information, it’s clarity as you move forward. What happened in Sunday’s game is water under the bridge if you will. We generally take that information and use it to continue to educate our guys in coach situations as we proceed on, but really hindsight is 20/20 in terms of some of the things that happen in stadiums from the weekends prior. Really we just do it for information as we move forward.
Question: Were there any interpretations that you hadn’t been aware of?
Mike Tomlin: I’m not going to specifically discuss any interpretations or interactions that we had with Mike Pereira’s office regarding those things. I think they do a nice job of providing information to the public in regards to plays, questionable plays or occurrences that happen in not only our game, but every game that occurs on NFL weekends.
Question: Do you think officials are slow with whistles on forward progress plays?
Mike Tomlin: I think it has been an increased emphasis in the NFL to be slow with whistles so that when things occur at the end of plays, coaches can be given an opportunity to challenge plays. They let plays play out so they can get the call right. In doing so, I think it creates an opportunity for some of those other things to occur like it happened in our football game and others. It’s just the nature of today’s NFL, it’s continually evolving as we search for a perfect game for our fans.
Question: Is forward progress challengeable?
Mike Tomlin: If the whistle is not blown, the whistle is not blown. That element of it is not something that’s open to a challenge but again, there’s give and take with every adjustment in regards to regulating and officiating this game. Not blowing the whistle in as timely as it’s been blown in the past has also created opportunities to get calls right in terms of things that happen after the end of plays. We all know examples of that and I think that’s why the emphasis is what it is at this point.
Question: How do you feel the running back rotation affects Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall?
Mike Tomlin: That’s something that we’re going to determine as we push forward through the week and it will be done on the emphasis on giving ourselves the best chance of winning.
Question: How is Minnesota’s blitzing package?
Mike Tomlin: Their personality changes week-to-week and I think that’s what makes them a difficult defense to prepare for and makes them consistently one of the better defenses in the NFL. They’re capable of rushing and attacking you with four, they also have some linebackers, guys like E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway and Ben Leber that are capable of heating you up. They bring secondary men. They’ve got a well-rounded schematic approach of attacking you.