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Coordinator's Corner: LeBeau & Haley

Posted Sep 5, 2013

Dick LeBeau talked about Troy Polamalu while Todd Haley talks about the running backs, while

Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau

Chris Johnson has a new offensive line in front of him this year. Is there anything different you guys have to do?
Their plays haven’t changed, and it will come down to how they block and how we defend the blocks. If we get in the gaps that we’re supposed to get in and get the proper pursuit, we can keep any runner in check. If we don’t, this guy can get off and get off in a minute. We respect him a lot. He’s a great back.

Is there much difference in Jake Locker’s tape this preseason?
I don’t see that much difference. I looked at every game he played in last year, and he played a lot in the preseason for a starting quarterback. They were getting him off of that first year. He missed some games his first year. I would say that he played two, four, seven, at least eight quarters in the preseason, at least half of the preseason he was in there. So, no, I think they’re going to use him. He’s a special athlete and they’re going to use him the way they use him.

Re: Locker’s accuracy. He was 55% in college:
Well, yeah, but how many runs were in there in college? He’s a great runner. Plus they were behind in a lot of those games. It’s hard to throw when the other team is sitting back there and knows you’re going to throw. I think he’s got the capabilities of being a very good professional football player. I hope that those numbers continue in the NFL, but I doubt that they will.

Re: The Titans run a lot of boots. They get the ball to the edge:
He’s a perfect guy for that. He throws a bootleg as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. I guarantee his accuracy percentages were way up higher than what we just talked about when he’s on the move. He’s a great on-the-move thrower.

What sort of flexibility do you have in play calling when Troy Polamalu is healthy?
Well, really, believe it or not, we only have a few defenses that I would call ‘Troy’ defenses. It’s just the defense that we call, but they are a little bit better when Troy is in there. I’d like to say that we do some kind of mastermind scheme but it’s just Troy’s presence.

Ryan Clark said that this is maybe the best he has seen Polamalu physically in years. Could you agree with that?
I think he is in good shape, and I thought he played well at the end of last year when he got back in the lineup. I think that we can look forward to a good year from Troy.

We’ve seen more rookie quarterbacks come in and play right away. Are the young guys coming in, defensively, more ready to play in the NFL in Week One?
I think that would be accurate because of the offenses that they’re playing against in college. They never huddle and they very rarely have two backs in the backfield, and in fact, they very rarely have one, a lot of teams. They’re developing more pass-ready plays against defenders and that’s always been the biggest jumping spot for college kids coming into the NFL. They just haven’t played against those kinds of offenses. But now, if you go to a high school game, they’re throwing the ball 40 times. The younger players are much more at home playing against these wide-open offenses.

Is there more expectation on those guys to have them come in and play right away?
I don’t know that you would say that, other than the fact that there are 32 football teams, and the need for talent is always there. You can’t have too many good football players.

Do you expect teams to test Steve McLendon early on? Just for the fact that he hasn’t played more than a dozen snaps in a game.
Yeah, they’ll probably have few plays. Let’s face it, you don’t design your game plan around who the other team’s nose tackle is. Steve will have to step in but he’s done this. It isn’t like he’s never been out on the field. He’s played a lot of snaps for us the past couple of years. He’s just got to get in there and take his role on the defense, get his gap, get off some blocks and get some pressure. I’m not guessing on this. I’ve seen him to do it. I’m confident that he’ll play well for us.

He is taking the place of Casey Hampton. Do you expect to see much transition because, like you said, he has been around so much?
Just to add to that, he played a lot of snaps last year and played well. And he’s had a little bit of preseason [work]. I think he’ll do fine. Will he have some on the job training? Sure. He’s carrying the job full time now. So, he’s going to be out there more, and he’ll learn more. Steve will do okay.

Mike Munchak and yourself are two of the small number of Hall of Fame players who have gone on to be head coaches in the league. But you also got to play for Joe Schmidt and coach under Mike McCormack, Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg. How have those experiences helped you in your career as a coach?
I went to a Pro Bowl with Lombardi and Tom Landry, and I played for Don Shula. Paul Brown drafted me and Woody Hayes coached me in college. I can’t complain about the type of people I got to study under. I always knew I was going to be a coach. All those names served me and helped me, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.

Not that you would want to help Munchak this week, but it’s a small fraternity of Hall of Fame players. What does it take to become a successful head coach in this league?

He’s won more games than I did, so I wouldn’t presume to tell him what to do.

Re: The role of the defensive line, particularly in a game where you’re defending against Chris Johnson:
Our defense is built on the defensive line. They may not be the ones to get the splash plays, the linebackers show up and try to do it, and then you’ve got Troy flying around out there, but without the defensive line getting where they’ve got to get, we can’t do what we need to do. You’re sure not going to defend a running back like Johnson without excellent play from the defensive line. So, that’s going to be the same whether we’re playing Ray Rice or Johnson or whoever. They’ve got to get their part of it done. That’s always paramount, and it’s got to get done this week.

Re: Ziggy Hood and the expectations for him:
Ziggy is a special athlete for his size. I think he’s been a constant contributor to our defense. I think he’ll continue to be that. He’s still a relatively young player with some good growth in front of him. But he’s also had an awful lot of snaps, which makes him, for me, a very comforting veteran. The one thing that we like about Ziggy is he’s always ready to play, and he’s a special athlete. We feel good about having him on our team.

What are your plans for your outside linebackers?
Our plans are to sack the quarterback every time that they throw the ball with whoever is in there.

Re: Mike Tomlin mentioned that there could be some sort of a rotation with them:
No doubt. We’re going to definitely rotate our linemen and our linebackers, particularly in the early going when you get some of the hot days. Beyond that, we think we’ve got some good, young linebackers to play. We will definitely play all of them.

There was a learning process for Troy Polamalu when he came in as a rookie. Has Jarvis Jones maybe taken that a step further, or is it still very much a learning process?
I think any first-year player is in a learning process. The flip side is that we’ve always found ways to get these guys on the field and get some quality snaps, all the way back to Jason Gildon, who was nothing but a three-point rush defensive end that really never stood-up. When they show us that they’re football players, we’re going to get them in the game. Jarvis has had a good preseason and you’ll see him playing.

How has Polamalu looked from a physical standpoint?
I think if you roll that back a little bit and go to him last year when he came back and finished up, I thought he played very well. I think it’s a continuation of that. His movement is good and his knowledge – I don’t know if anybody is carrying more knowledge of what is going on out there than Troy. I think we’re going to see a lot of good football from him.

Is that instincts or knowledge?
It’s a combination.

Re: Polamalu being a student of the game:
He definitely is a student of the game. He has the ability to process what he sees instantly on the field. A lot of guys can study it, but when they go out there they don’t see it. Troy sees it and can act on it. A lot of the production that he’s got is from his study.


Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley

Re: Feelings about a running back by committee and trying to avoid that last season:
Yeah, like I’ve said, we’re waiting – we’ve got extenuating circumstances again, but we are still looking for somebody to take the bull by the horns and not let us take him out. The guys are going to have an opportunity in this game to showcase how much they want the job.

So if Isaac Redman opens the game and does well, are you likely to keep him in?
Yeah, absolutely.

How will you use the tight ends?
We don’t have that many tight ends to begin with, so we are just going to have to get the most out of the three that we are going to have in helmets: David Paulson, David Johnson and Michael Palmer. Again, it’s the first game of the season. They are going to be playing a lot of snaps one way or another. We are just going to have to get the most out of those three, not specific package-oriented though right now.

Is Kelvin Beachum an option?
Yeah. And you always have to have a fallback plan. Obviously, if we get short, we have to have answers, because we do play with a tight end most of the time.

Re: Difference between Tennessee this year and last year:
There are new faces there. Bernard Pollard is a big-name, new face. They have a couple guys up front that are new faces to us. The big thing for us in the first game of the year is that there is just a lot of unknown. Coach Jerry Gray has been there. That’s who coached against us last year. You’re seeing a lot of carryover in the preseason at least with some of the things that they’ve done, but you also have the wild card with Coach Gregg Williams. Those two have had a working relationship in the past. I expect them to work well together. You just don’t know exactly what to expect. We’ve done a lot of work going back to when Gregg was coaching in New Orleans. We’ve made sure that we’ve done our due diligence there. Again, there is going to be somewhat of an unknown as there always is in this first game.

Re: Comfort level and confidence level in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders:
I have great confidence in the receiving group in general. I think Antonio is excited about this year, starting out as ‘the guy,’ and Emmanuel has obviously been in there a lot of times as a one or a two in the past. This is his first real opportunity to line up as a starting receiver on a consistent basis. I thought Jerricho Cotchery had a great camp and a very good preseason. He will be a big part of what we do. And with the young guys, starting with Markus Wheaton, we have a nice group. They are working well together. They are hungry. I think they want to go out and show what they are capable of.

Re: Feeling of where you are today compared to last year:
It’s totally different. I am happy we are at home, first of all. I just think it’s only natural, but it’s light years away. Ben Roethlisberger and I talked about that in training camp one day, going out for that first game last year, there was so much more unknown in a lot of areas. For me personally, it was all new. Every trip with the Steelers was the first time I’ve done it, and working with the guys that I was with for the first time, the players, so there was a year, offseason and training camp under my belt. The comfort level is much higher.

Re: Emmanuel Sanders said the same thing today about the players being much more comfortable and you being more comfortable:
Coach Sanders has a future [smiles].

He is quite insightful:
As I’ve said a number of times, it’s part of the natural progression. When you are new somewhere, and there is change, change isn’t always easy and it isn’t always comfortable. If it is seen as a necessity then it has to happen. That process has gone much further ahead, obviously at this point than where we were a year-and-a-half ago.

Re: Felix Jones grasping the offense quickly:
Yeah, he’s come in – heck, the amazing thing was, I think it was the first time I’ve ever seen it where we didn’t even have the guy on the practice [field]. I hadn’t even met him. I met him the night before the game in a team meeting. Then he leads the team in carries and had some kickoff returns. I’d never seen that happen before. So that in itself was impressive. Now that he has been able to get settled in a little bit and get comfortable, you can see there is a reason he was taken number-one at some point in his career. We are excited about having him on board and seeing what he is capable of.

Could he be that number-one guy?
Like I said, until we absolutely see someone come in and take charge of it, it is anybody’s, as far as I’m concerned.

Is he similar to Dexter McCluster?
He is much bigger than Dexter. Dexter was not going to be a one-back or a two-back, every down type of guy, even though he had skills to do it all and has great talent. You are talking about a true running back in Felix. Dexter had 1,000 yards as a receiver in college, doing all kinds of things at both positions. Felix is a running back. That’s what he is. That’s what he’s here to be.

Re: Doing things with tight ends that aren’t Heath Miller:
Coaching is taking what you have regardless of circumstance, and playing to their strengths. The nice thing is, we have a guy in Paulson that has done nothing but impress in the pass-catching area, and really overall. The coaches were patting him on the back this morning during the special teams meeting. He’s got receiving and blocking skills. Like I’ve said from the start, this is a great spot for Paulson to end up, being able to trail Heath around, because in the end I think he will have a chance to do some things that are Heath-like. That’s just the type of guy he is. No disrespect to Heath, who is great, obviously.

Do you change your sets due to Heath not being there?
I don’t think I can tell all that right now [smiles].

Do college players come into the NFL more ready to play and is there more expectation on some of the higher picks to come in and play?
I think with the media and the way social media is, there is more pressure all the way around, because more things are seen and talked about, discussed. It goes on and on, 24-7, in this day and age. I think that in itself ups the ante for everybody involved. I think you see special guys come into the league that come in and produce right away. Other guys don’t do it right away but end up being great players. I think there is a little different path with everybody involved.

Would you call Bell or Wheaton special players?
I don’t know. We haven’t played a regular-season game yet. We will have to see how that goes.

Do you still see that burst from Felix Jones?
We are excited to have him here as part of our offense and the Steelers. He obviously came in with tough circumstances as late as he did. To find his way on the roster says a lot about what we’ve seen out of him. That’s a couple preseason games but now the real games are going to start. He is here for a reason. He is here because we believe he can contribute and help us be a winning team.

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