SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHRIS HORTON
Opening statement:"Good to see everyone. I hope everyone's doing well. Just a quick little recap of last week – our guys are playing hard. It's really good to see these guys go out and just compete at a high level. That's all we ask for on Sundays. There were some things in the return game that we're going to get these things going. We're starting to get a little bit more kickoff returns, and our job is to get out there and just execute. Our guys will make sure we get that done. That's one of the things we've been focusing on a lot in practice this week. Questions?"
WR DeSean Jackson talked recently about playing against you and UCLA in the old Pac-10. What do you remember from those games? (Jonas Shaffer) "Those days, man there were some good battles during that time. The Pac-10 at that 10, it was loaded; S.C. [Southern California] was really good – those were the Reggie Bush, LenDale White days. Cal, with Marshawn [Lynch] and DeSean [Jackson], and Justin Forsett. So, we've had some good battles. It was great going against those guys. Now that he's here, we kind of laugh and kind of just sit back and just reminisce a little bit about those days."
Did you hold your own against WR DeSean Jackson? (Jonas Shaffer) "I just say, you might need to go pull out some of the old tape and just watch. (laughter) Again, those were some good battles. We had a lot of games. Some were classics; they won some, we won some, but it was fun."
We haven't asked you about P Jordan Stout in a while. How do you think he's coming along with his consistency, especially on those more finesse punts where he's working with a shorter field? (Childs Walker)"That's one area that we've really been trying to dial into. He's getting better, and he has gotten better. It's just every week, it's something different here and there maybe with the drop and things like that. He's done a great job for a rookie. We know we're going to have those moments where they're not always where the ball should be. As we've went through the season, he has done a really good job."
Do you feel like P Jordan Stout had his best game against Denver, when he had five punts inside the 20-yard line? (Kyle Barber) "It was a great day for him. That was one of his best days, and when you sit back, and you watch that with [special teams coach] Randy [Brown] and [special teams consultant] Sam [Koch] – when we talk about critiquing the punt, those were some really good punts – but when we're talking about really diving into them, they're critiquing those things to the finest little details and just trying to figure out, 'OK, that was a really good day, but how can we make it even better?'"
CB Kevon Seymour has been a mainstay on special teams this year. What are some of the things that he does that make him such a great special teams player? (Cliff Brown) "'Kee' [Kevon Seymour] came into this league, and all he asked for is just an opportunity. Every week he goes out, and he's getting better. I think now he's starting to have some success. He's making the plays that he's supposed to make, and that's all we ask for all these guys, and he's going to continue to do that. We try to get him in situations where he can do that, but he's playing good football at the right time."
K Justin Tucker is basically one field goal away from the franchise scoring record. Is that something that's even on his radar, and how much pride do you think he would take in that? (Jonas Shaffer) "I think he'll take a lot of pride in that because that is a big accomplishment, but I don't think that's something that he's probably focusing on, on a daily basis. Every day for him is, 'I just want to go out, and I want an opportunity to make a kick and/or make The Kick,' and I think that's really his biggest focus."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE MACDONALD
Opening statement: "Nice to see everyone. It's nice to be back [for this media session] outside in December. Obviously, a great win for us last week. Guys stayed poised the whole game, our headspace was in a great spot, and we knew what we had to do at the end, so I'm glad to see that we closed it out. Obviously, this week obviously is a big game. Guys are fired up, and our preparation is good so we're in a good spot. We're looking forward to Sunday."
The defense had to get a lot of stops in last Sunday's game, but it seemed like they never got discouraged. Can you talk about the way they hung in there knowing they just had to get a lot of punts? (Ryan Mink)"Every game is different, and our job is to stop the ball and give it back to the offense. Preferably, we take it away, but the sooner the better we can get it back to our offense. At some point – no matter how the game is going – we have confidence that it will eventually break, and we were able to do that."
When you go against a rookie quarterback like QB Kenny Pickett for the Steelers, does your gameplan or preparation change at all? (Jamison Hensley) "That's a little bit tricky. I'd just say that every quarterback is different. You're playing all 11 guys on the field, but the two big ones are really the quarterback and the coordinator, and how they like to call it, and the things they like to do and how they anticipate them attacking you. The quarterback is obviously the most important position, so you're always evaluating what those guys do well, what things that you can possibly try to attack throughout the course of a game. Because he's a rookie, I don't think that changes much. Every quarterback, we're going to go in with an approach of, 'How can we attack this particular person?'"
How has S Marcus Williams looked in practice over the past couple weeks, and what kind of impact can that bring to the secondary and defense that are playing at a high level? (Luke Jones)"He looks great. I kid with him … He's got fresh legs right now, so he's moving around really well. He's been going for a couple weeks now, so he looks the same this week as he did weeks prior as he's kind of getting ready to go."
Has S Geno Stone played well enough that you will want to find ways to still get him on the field even when S Marcus Williams returns? (Childs Walker) "Yes, I'm glad you asked that. Props to Geno – he was ready to go at the [drop] of a hat, on the snap of a finger. I thought he played really high-level football for us and helped us win a lot of games. So, he deserves a lot of credit. His role is definitely going to go down from what it was, obviously, but there are definitely situations where we're going to look to try to get him out there and still have him impact the game for us."
The Steelers are averaging around 156 rushing yards per game over the past five weeks. What have you seen from their run game that has propelled it recently? (Kyle Barber) "I think they've really found a grove and an identity on how they want to operate. They're playing team complementary football to win some of these games. All the good teams do the same thing over the course of the year; they're always evaluating and trying to find their identity as they move forward. I think we've done the same thing defensively. So, I think that's all it is, just try to find what's the best way to put their team in a position to win. To their credit, it's been effective."
What do you think is working so well for the defense right now as it has evolved over the course of the year? (Ryan Mink)"I think we've been able to define roles because we've had some consistency with personnel. Earlier in the year, we had some things moving and shaking, and then guys had gone down in the middle of games. You have to be able to evolve and adapt – it's the NFL; those things are going to happen. We've had a little bit more consistency throughout from week to week, and guys understand how we're going to play different things. When you know what the guy is going to do next to you, and you know who that's going to be, that helps. That makes a difference."
When you talk about defining roles, you have so many players that have played so many different positions. How beneficial was that flexibility when guys went down? (Kyle Barber)"I think it speaks to our depth, and then communication with the guys of, 'If that, then this,' type of communication so guys are ready to step into those things, so there are not a lot of surprises. I think it just speaks to the guys you have in the room [and] the coaches getting the guys ready to go. When you're coaching one guy, you're coaching all 11. So, the guys to their credit, you're not just talking to a Marcus Williams, you're talking to Geno [Stone] and all the safeties at the same time. That's just an example of a guy being ready to go and taking all those coaching points and taking advantage of it."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GREG ROMAN
Opening Statement:"How is everybody doing? Everybody good? We've got a big game this week – a big division game. Guys are locked in, working hard. The Steelers are really good. We're really focused on ourselves and doing things the way we need to do them to get prepared for this game. We know them pretty well. They've got some new faces; they've got some really good players up front. They've kind of revamped their linebacking corps a little bit, and the secondary is doing really well. We've got to watch out for [No.] 39 [Minkah Fitzpatrick] and know where he is at, at all times, pre and post snap. So, that's where we're at. Any questions?"
We've heard the players talk about how much faith they have in QB Tyler Huntley and how much confidence they have when he has to come in. How much do you feel he got out of that stretch of tough games that he had to play last year? (Childs Walker)"Oh, I think [Tyler Huntley] got a tremendous amount of experience out of that, and we were able to watch him during the offseason. The great thing about Tyler is he's his harshest critic, and when he learns something, he files it, and he kind of takes it personal. So, he's really excited about this. But the fact that he was able to play a stretch of games like that [last year] is amazing experience for him – amazing experience. That's how you get good. You get good at football by playing football, so he was able to play real NFL football, and I think that's really going to help him moving forward."
Everybody talks about QB Lamar Jackson's growth from year to year. Where have you seen QB Tyler Huntley grow from last year to where he is now? (Cliff Brown)"I definitely see it. I think you saw it in the preseason when [Tyler Huntley] played. [Huntley has] just a real command of things. Really, in every way, he's really improved. And there's so much that goes into playing quarterback in this league – people don't realize the extent of it – and that's just before the ball is snapped. And then it's snapped, and then you've got 22 people that you've got to make pinpoint decisions around. So, that's why playing at a high level in the NFL is a bit of a rarity when you take the whole population into account. So, he's improving, really, in every area, and I don't know if there's one specifically, but I think his teammates, as we mentioned earlier, really have a lot of faith in him."
Last year and on Sunday, QB Tyler Huntley was a quick strike kind of a guy. With T Ronnie Stanley coming back and with the pass protection you guys have regularly gotten this year, is there any more incentive to look for stuff that's a little bit further downfield to keep defenses honest? (Jonas Shaffer)"Yes, it's week to week. You've got to adjust during the game. Last week, a lot of different things happened. We were kind of going down the field early, and then we had to get out of that mode, for obvious reasons. So, A, I think we're looking to improve and make sure that we can do those things, which I know we can, and B, we've got to make sure that we've got enough in our gameplan to account for different things that happen. Things change in a game, like it did the other day, in quite a few ways. So, it's just something [where] you're constantly working on everything, and once you get into a game, obviously, if a team is playing a million miles off, and their pass rush is getting you, you have to make adjustments. If anything, I probably could have made them a little bit quicker."
There have been a lot of talks about how you guys might not be getting as much bang for your buck from the designed runs the last couple of games. Is there any pattern to that when you look at it? What have you seen? (Childs Walker)"Yes, I think it's a play-by-play thing, really. Everybody is going to always try to grab a theme, and I get it, but it's really, as you look at each play, and you evaluate it, what could we do better? How can we coach it better [or] maybe design it better, differently? And then how can we – certainly – execute it better? So, in the past couple of weeks, I've very simply been able to watch it and evaluate it and try to get those things corrected; and you're always trying to evolve, too, based on what defenses do and whatnot. So, it's a multitiered, multifaceted thing."
How much are you looking forward to getting RB J.K. Dobbins back in the mix, knowing that when he's at his best and healthy, just how dynamic he can be for that running game? (Luke Jones)"Yes, J.K. [Dobbins] is looking good, and I really think that time off and what he was able to take care of is going to make a big impact on his effectiveness. He's really excited about being back; we're excited about having him back. And then let's roll the ball out there and play some ball. So, I'm excited to have him back."
With G Kevin Zeitler – and I'm sure that over the years, you knew about him(Roman: "Oh, yes.")– when did you learn more about him in dealing with him day to day, and what has impressed you the most about that? (Jamison Hensley)"'Zeit' [Kevin Zeitler] is such an attention-to-detail fanatic, and he brings energy every day, really, really cares [and] really, really loves the game, and everything he does reflects that. He's a true pro, and we're lucky to have him. He's playing at a really high level this year."
What makes the Steelers' linebacking corps that makes them so consistent and effective? (Melissa Kim)"I think they know the scheme like the back of their hand. First of all, they're really good players; they've got a lot of No. 1 draft picks there. So, they're really talented guys, and I think they play well together. It's going to be a challenge, really, [to] run and pass against these guys. They added Myles Jack; he brings a lot of experience. So, the outside guys … [T.J.] Watt, obviously … and [No.] 56 [Alex Highsmith] has really upped his game, too. That defense really starts with the edge guys, going back to Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd and those guys, et cetera, through the years, but I think they've really fortified themselves."