FRIDAY MEDIA AVAILABILITY: WEEK 4 AT STEELERS
Head Coach John Harbaugh
Opening statement:"OK, good to see you guys – appreciate you coming out. Beautiful day, great practice and we're ready to move on to a very exciting game on Sunday night. One note: It's [senior advisor to player engagement] O.J. Brigance's birthday [tomorrow]. We had a chance to celebrate with the players after practice; I'm sure we'll have some great birthday cake in the café for lunch. [He's] just an amazing, amazing man, inspiration to us all, every single day. Every single day he brings himself into work and makes a contribution to what we're doing and makes a difference for our guys. And not just here – he makes a difference everywhere, especially in the ALS community. I would encourage all of our fans out there, especially our younger fans that don't know O.J. as well, to look into his story and draw inspiration and some spiritual strength from who he is and what he's all about. So, happy birthday to O.J. Brigance! OK – what do you have? After that there's really nothing to ask. What could we talk about?"
Considering how long of a layoff it was, how do you think TE Hayden Hurst did this week in getting reacclimated back into a routine? (Luke Jones)"I'll tell you – really well. You can't really say he didn't miss a beat, just because – who knows – we're not really playing padded football in practice as much. But it really didn't seem like there was a difference between when he left and what he did this week. He looked very good, very strong. As far as his availability for the game, it'll depend on what the trainers say. We'll just have to see how that goes. It's something that they'll evaluate between now and then."
Is a factor in that decision TE Hayden Hurst's rookie status? Is it easier to trust a veteran who hasn't had a lot of practice? Or does that not factor in?_ (Jeff Zrebiec)_"He practiced this week. I think it's more of a medical decision actually."
As you understand it, is that an injury where you have to worry about reinjury maybe more than some others? (Childs Walker) "As I understand it, no. It's a bone, so it's either fully healed or not. They're not going to let him out here unless it's fully healed. I think that was the criteria of him coming out to practice in the first place."
How encouraging was it to see ILB C.J. Mosley and DT Michael Pierce out practicing? (Ed Lee) "Again, very encouraging. Both of those guys [have] the same kind of report. They both seem good. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't play. We'll just have to make sure [they're medically cleared]. I guess it could always have a reaction or … I haven't talked to the trainers yet, in terms of how they reacted to today's practice. That's always a part of the evaluation. Based on what I saw today, they looked good."
How have you seen the rookies interact and learn how important senior advisor to player engagement O.J. Brigance is to the fabric of what you guys do? (Jeff Zrebiec) "That's a great question, and I really don't know the answer to that. I think, I know, the vets have the relationship already – so they'll go in and just sit down and just take the time, because it's a challenge a little bit, because of the mechanism he uses to communicate is slower. The rookies don't have the previous relationship, but they're encouraged to do that. I know O.J. spends a lot of time with emails and text messages and things like that, electronically communicating with guys – which to me is incredible in and of itself, because it takes him a while to pen those things. He said something to the team – I assume we'll put that out on the website later today with what he said to the team about this game – and oh my gosh. It was just perfect. It was just perfect. You couldn't have a better encapsulation of what this game on Sunday means to us right now in real time. I don't know though. I think it's personal relationships with him and different guys, and he keeps that between him and the guys."
K Justin Tucker is 14 of 15 in field goals and 12 of 12 in extra points at Heinz Field. Everyone talks about how difficult Heinz Field is to kick there. How come it doesn't affect him? (Ed Lee) _"Big statement. It's probably because he's so good. That's probably the reason it doesn't affect him as much. He handles the elements really well, and knock on wood, he'll be able to do that again. I don't want to say 'knock on wood.' I'm not superstitious. Still a little 'stitious' is the joke. That never gets old to me for some reason. _(laughter) I don't know why. I don't know why it never gets old. He's just good, and he's been there a lot, probably. Maybe that's something to do with that, too. We expect the same this game again."
What are the logistics for CB Jimmy Smith coming back? Do you have to make a move immediately, or do you get an exemption for him next week? (Jeff Zrebiec) _"That's a good question. I think, I think – I'm just going to guess here – I think we have up until Saturday before the game." _(Kevin Byrne, EVP of public and community relations: "I believe that's correct.") "Kevin is saying that's correct, so he'll get to practice, and then we should have a chance to see if he's ready to go. I think we get that opportunity."
Are you allowed during the suspension to have any contact with him? _(Jamison Hensley) _"To my knowledge, no. The only person that can have contact, to my understanding, is Harry Swayne [director of player engagement]. I don't ask Harry a thing; none of our coaches do. We try to be very strict about it. We're not trying to find anything out, so we'll just see him when he gets back here on Monday and see how he looks."
This is a little off topic for now, but I'm doing a story about Kansas City head coach Andy Reid. A ton of the guys in the league who are coaches now coached under him. How did he mold you when you coached together? (Adam Kilgore) _"Andy Reid … This is a great question. We play them? _(laughter)We play them in a couple weeks, right? The Chiefs, right! But, a great question. Amazing coach, amazing leader, great person. The best story I think that I can tell is when I first met Andy. I was a holdover, so to speak. Ray Rhodes was the head coach, and I had gotten pretty close to Ray. Ray is a wonderful guy, and I think Ray and Andy, I know they were good friends, so Ray recommended me to Andy, and that was really the only foot I had in the door was that recommendation. And, Andy hired me just based on that. I remember talking to him and getting to know him the first year, and I always saw this card right behind his desk, three-by-five card. It had two words written on it: don't judge. Don't judge. And I never asked him about it, that I can remember, just because it was pretty clear cut what that means. It's a biblical principle, but the point of the whole thing was, as a coach, you don't bring all your stuff into the thing. Take people for who they are and for where they're at in their life – as football players, as coaches, whatever – and let them be who they are. Help them along the way where you can. Give them good advice. To me, coaching the NFL, it's more about advice than it is anything else, because we're in a peer relationship with the players as much as anything. We all have our roles, and we want to help them be the best player they can be. That's your job as a coach: put them in position. Andy always used to say, 'I need to put them in position to make plays,' and that's what you try to do. But, that 'don't judge' thing has stuck with me forever. It's just kind of engrained in my brain, and I've tried to remember that as much as I can. Hey, look at how well he's doing. This guy is on the cutting edge of offensive football year after year with different offensive coordinators, and they go out and they do the same thing around the league, So he's the top coach in football, in that sense. I'm really proud to be in the tree, to be a part of it."