Q: We saw Rob Ninkovich play off the line of scrimmage a bit last week. Does that bring up any similarities or comparisons to Mike Vrabel in how both guys are able to fill multiple roles whenever you need it?
BB: Yeah, I think there are some similarities, yeah.
Q: Outside of the obvious position similarity is there anything else that stands out similarly between those two guys?
BB: No, I mean I think really you hit it. It's pretty obvious. I mean they both played defensive end in college. They both played 3-4 outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. They both played defensive end in a four-man line. They both played off the line either situationally or in need. With Jamie [Collins] inactive last week, when Elandon [Roberts] went out we were kind of short at that spot. Mike [Vrabel] did that, you know, where he played some inside linebacker. Of course we were playing a lot more 3-4 at that time. Yeah, I think there are definitely some similarities. I think there are a lot of athletes that fall into that category. You can put [Shea] McClellin in that category. He hasn't been here that long [but] it' the same type of thing. He played inside linebacker at Chicago. He's played defensive end, really outside linebacker for us, what he did in college. So I mean, you know, I think that's not an uncommon athlete or to see that move from those guys depending on what scheme and what the circumstances are of the team they're on.
Q: Do you think Dont'a Hightower can do the reverse of that where he typically plays off the line but could be used on the line as well?
BB: Yeah, well he did that. So at Alabama he played defensive end in their sub and they had - who did they have at that time? They had [Rolando] McClain and…
Q: And [Courtney] Upshaw?
BB: Well, Upshaw was an end. He was the 3-4 outside linebacker-defensive end. So McClain was really the 'mike' [middle linebacker]. Hightower was the on-the-line 'sam' [strong-side linebacker] to defensive end in sub. Then he injured his knee. Then the next year he came back McClain was gone and he was the inside linebacker. So yeah, sure he's in that same category.
Q: How would you evaluate Malcolm Butler's tackling ability?
BB: Well, I think one of the biggest things is just the desire to tackle. I think I've coached a lot of defensive backs and Malcolm will go in this category of when a guy catches a pass on you they really want to tackle him and tackle him hard. And I think you see that. There's a certain type of defensive back I think that has that mentality. If they catch one then 'I'm really going to try and tackle a guy as hard as I can because he caught one on me,' type of thing. I think you see a lot of Malcolm's tackles like that. Tackling receivers is different than tackling running backs. That's a challenge for any defensive back really because of the skill those players have running the ball and usually they can face up the defender. But you know, Jonathan Jones is kind of like that, too. He's not the biggest guy but kind of like Malcolm he's tough and wants to tackle and knows how to use his size and his quickness usually to tackle low but to be able to get those guys on the ground and wrap them up. I'd say a lot of it is desire, some of it is technique, and then there's definitely an element of playing strength that comes in there. But desire's probably number one. Guys that really want to tackle are usually competitive tacklers. Guys that don't want to tackle aren't going to be good tacklers.
Q: Last season Malcolm Butler's first ever start came in the opener against Pittsburgh. Are there things you know now about Malcolm that you didn't know going into that game?
BB: Oh sure, yeah. Absolutely, yeah - a year and a half later. He's gained a lot of experience. He's done a lot of different things since then. At times we've matched, at times we haven't matched, at times he's played inside in some sub situations, most of the time he plays outside but not exclusively. We have zone calls, man calls; he's learned a lot and improved a lot in all of those areas. Yeah, yeah, of course. He's come a long way in the last year and a half.
Q: Does Le'Veon Bell's skill set remind you of any other player?
BB: He's really good. Yeah, he's really good. He can just do so many things; very good in the passing game, catches the ball, good hands, he's got really good quickness, he plays strong. I know his weight has fluctuated a little bit. I think he was maybe in the 230's in college at Michigan State. I think he looks lighter than that now but he's got really good quickness. He can make guys miss in a short space. He doesn't need a lot of room. He can juke them in very little space but he's got good power, he breaks tackles, guys get on his legs and he just runs through them. He's a really good player. He can do it all. However he gets the ball he's really dangerous. I mean one of the best backs we've played.
Q: When your team gets a safety, as they have the past two weeks, how do you look at that from the standpoint of how quickly it can change the flow and opportunity to build on that momentum during the game?
BB: Sure, yeah it gives you a chance to kind of go on a run which is hard to do in football. But that's how you do it, is scoring on defense or creating really good field positon. Like for example on kickoff coverage and then if you can get a stop and get the ball back, and then you have good field positon or a turnover. You need something like that. You need a turnover, you need a safety, or you need a good field positon play and three-and-out to have that kind of field positon to be able to string a couple of scores together like that. It's a great opportunity defensively, well as a team, but set up by that defensive score to try to go on a run and go from behind to ahead or go from ahead to two or three scores ahead, that kind of thing. Unfortunately we haven't had the kind of returns off of the two safeties the last two weeks that would really enhance that. Getting the ball back is good. If we could've turned those returns into a little more production that would've helped us. But yeah, it's a great opportunity, sure.
Q: Are there examples that come to mind from the past where you've been able to get a safety and turn that into a nice run that sort of catapults the team?
BB: Well, I think when you look statistically, to me I would kind of put that into the bonus points category. You go into a game and you think 'Alright, well how many points are we going to score offensively? How many points are they going to score offensively?' And that's, you know, kind of the way the game normally flows. When you get points from a defensive score, points from a special team's score, whether it be a blocked kick, or a safety, or a defensive return, something like that - I mean you can't count on those points. You can't go into a game and think 'Alright, we're going to get seven points on a defensive score.' Over the course of the year that maybe happens two or three times a year, whatever it is. I mean you know one team might have a bunch of them like Alabama has this year but that's unusual. Just the normal team, the normal stats on it, you get two or three of those a year so you can't really count on those, so when you get those in a game then that's pretty significant. I think the overall statistical advantage to scoring a non-offensive touchdown is pretty heavily - that team is going to win more games. You put turnovers in there, you recover a fumble on the one-yard line - that's not a defensive score - but if that ends up being a score you kind of have a similar result. So those turnovers - that's why the turnovers are so important because they aren't always point-plays but they usually result in points, especially if you get them in good field position then you're already in the scoring zone. But a safety is part of that. Yeah, it's definitely part of that conversation because even though its only two points it is possession so it's a little bit of an added benefit.
Q: Are there any similarities between Chuck Noll and Paul Brown and what kind of respect do you have for Chuck Noll?
BB: Yeah, you know, [I have] tremendous respect for Chuck Noll and certainly through the whole Paul Brown connection and all. I talked to Chuck on a number of occasions and I had a relationship with him. They didn't have much turnover in their staff and so a lot of the coaches on their staff stayed there for a long period of time. A couple of them I knew pretty well through my dad [Steve Belichick] or other connections. Dan Radakovich was there for a long time. Rollie Dotsch was there for a long time and I coached with Rollie at Detroit and so, you know, I would ask a lot of questions about the Pittsburgh System. Bud Carson was another very influential coach there with the whole cover-2. He kind of brought the whole cover-2 scheme to the Steelers in the way they played it and the way they read it and that was obviously a great defense, but the techniques and all the reads they used in that defense under Coach Noll were I'd say pretty innovative. And so I learned a lot about that through Coach [Jerry] Glanville who worked with Coach Carson at Georgia Tech so I felt like I had a lot of connections to Pittsburgh but obviously never worked in Pittsburgh, never worked directly in that system, but through some of those other coaches I learned as much about it as I could. Of course when I went to Cleveland Coach Noll was there. It was his last year. Actually it was his last game when we played them in '91 and then Coach [Bill] Cowher took over after that. [I have] great respect for Coach Noll. He was a very intelligent guy. He had a great way of mixing football with life. Football's important, football was - not trying to make it insignificant - but he had a lot of other interests and he was very diverse. [He] had a lot of diverse interests as well, a very food fundamental coach. The trapping scheme that they ran on offense was very innovative. Coach [Tom] Landry had some of that in Dallas but certainly not to the extent that Pittsburgh had it. When I was with the Giants we always played the Steelers in preseason every year - the Rooney/Mara family relationship. We always played them and so that was always a great preseason game for us because you could really kind of measure your team even though it was a preseason game. It was usually the third game. Usually the starters played into the third quarter and it was a very competitive game that kind of gave you a good sense of where your team was going up against a physical, well coached, tough football team, especially when it was on the road in Pittsburgh when you have to deal with being on the road and the fans and so forth. I've learned from competing against the Steelers going back to Coach Noll and then Coach Cowher. I've learned a lot because they've been so consistent. They've stayed very much the same; three coaches in the last - I don't know, whatever - 40 years or however long it's been, a long time. Because of their consistency I've learned a lot from studying that organization and I think Coach Noll was just - did a tremendous job. He had great stability, very good fundamental coach. He believed in what he believed in and they got good at it and they always had tough, physical, hard-nosed, smart football players. The receivers blocked, the offensive line was tough, defensively they always tackled well. They played good fundamentals. They were just very well coached and all of the people that I've talked to that have coached on his staff, they've affirmed that with their recollections of it. So I never worked with Noll and I never worked with Landry but in 1977 when I was with the Lions Ed Hughes was our offensive coordinator and he had been with Landry for - I don't know - 20 years or 15 years, whatever it was. So he kind of brought the Dallas system and we ran that in 1977 in Detroit and so I learned a lot about the Cowboys system because, again, nobody left the Cowboys. There wasn't much turnover on that staff so I learned about the Steelers from Coach Dotsch and Coach Radakovich, Jerry through Bud Carson and so forth, and then the Dallas system through Coach Hughes from Landry. They were very impactful. I would say learning, part of the learning tree in the early part of my career. Even though I wasn't with those coaches, I felt like I learned a lot about their programs and what they did through people that were very closely in that program.
Q: You broke into the league right around the time that the Steelers were starting their dynasty there with a handful of Super Bowls.
BB: Yeah, so on that note - in '75 with the Colts, we started out 1-4 and we won the last nine games to go 10-4 and win the division. It was a tremendous turnaround. Then we went to Pittsburgh for the playoffs, and they had a great team. We really had a chance in that game. I think it was like, 17-13, I think it was in the fourth quarter. We drive down, we're on the like five or six-yard line, whatever it was, and they intercepted, ran it back for a touchdown. So instead of going ahead, now we're down by two scores and we end up getting beat. For my first year in the league, the point being for my first year in the league, just seeing how good they were, I mean, they were so good on defense. Every guy was better than the next guy. From [Joe] Greene to [Jack] Lambert, that whole front four, and then the secondary, and offensively - and then at the Giants going against them every year, I mean literally we played them every year in preseason, plus a couple random games here and there in the regular season. They were very - when you're a young coach and you're looking at, ok - who does things in a way that you admire or respect or want to emulate, or what can you take from a good program to help you as a coach, or if you ever get a chance, what would you do that they do? They were one of those teams. Not to cut you off on a question, but yeah, from the first year, the Steelers had a very strong impact from the outside on my philosophy as a coach.
Q: What was it like trying to game plan for those guys on any given week?
BB: Yeah, I was on the defensive side of the ball, so with [Lynn] Swann, [John] Stallworth, [Franco] Harris, [Rocky] Bleir, [Terry] Bradshaw, it was, [Mike] Webster, I mean you could go right down the line, one Hall of Fame guy after another, one All-Pro guy after another. It was a very, very solid team. But again, I would say from going against them in '75 to going against them in the '80s or even into '91 when I was in Cleveland, not a lot changed. They had a very consistent philosophy of what they did. They drafted players into it. Of course that was all before free agency so they kept their players; they built them up in the system. They had a very good training program. That was another thing that was impressive about the Steelers and Coach [Chuck] Noll was in terms of the offseason program and player development and how strong, physically their players were. That was uncommon at that point in time, I would say. I went to the Colts [and] we didn't even have a weight room. We didn't have a weight coach, either, but there was no weight room. There was a little universal gym that had four or five stations and that was it. You could have put the weight room in a corner. That was it. But that wasn't like that in Pittsburgh, and then when I went to Detroit, we had a much - it was a legitimate weight room, it was a legitimate weight program; probably similar to what the Steelers had, but kind of trying to keep up with that. Floyd Reese was the strength coach, so then I saw the difference between no weight program and a weight training offseason conditioning program. But that was all, of course, predated by what the Steelers were doing. Again, there were a lot of things like that that they did that were definitely on the forefront that they did a great job of developing. Younger players, bringing them up through the system, guys that might not play for years one, two, three, whatever it was, but then they get in there and then they're pretty good. So they developed players and they had a very, very well-balanced team. That was another thing about them, too. It didn't matter if it was offense, defense, special teams; they were just good at everything. It wasn't like, 'Well, they're pretty good here but we can take advantage of them there.' There wasn't really much of that.
Q: How fortunate do you feel to have LeGarrette Blount available this week based on what you saw on film at the end of the game last week?
BB: I mean, look, it's a tough game. Guys get banged up every week. We come in here Monday and there are a lot of guys in there getting treatment. They're competitive. They work hard during the week to be out there, and then they're out there the following week. I mean, I'm sure every team in the league has that. Again, we're fortunate we have a very competitive group of players that want to play, that want to do the extra things they need to do to play - rest, recovery, extra treatment, so forth. We have staff that cares and a big staff that cares for the players. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they don't, but I respect how hard they try to practice, to be out there every day, to get the timing that they need to whatever extent they can do that, and then to play in the game. Sometimes it's less practice but still being able to play, sometimes they're limited in practice, but at least they're still out there trying to get as much timing and repetition with their teammates as possible. I think I give the players a lot of credit on that, and the staff certainly does a great job in trying to do what they can do. But again, the players really have got to want to put in that extra time and that extra work to be out there. So yeah, of course it's critical.
Q: When did you see Duron Harmon kind of emerge as a leader and what allows him to be such an approachable leader for young guys on the team?
BB: Yeah, Duron [Harmon] is, I'd say every team, or most every team I've ever coached, there are always a couple guys on the team that I would say, for lack of a better word, that are silent leaders. They have leadership but it kind of comes out in a little bit of a different way than Junior Seau or Tedy Bruschi or somebody like that. Again, I'm not saying one is better than the other, they're just different, and I would put Duron kind of in the silent leader category. But I would say, and Bill Russell taught me this, that in a way, a silent leader in some respects is more powerful than a more vocal leader because you hear the vocal guy, you see him, you're very aware of it, but then there are guys that give you that quiet leadership that in a way is more powerful because it's not quite out there as much, but it's that quiet push that sometimes can maybe have a little more impetus. So you could put Duron in that category, and first of all, he's very well-respected. He's smart, he works hard, he studies, he trains hard. I'll go even back to his first year, he and Logan Ryan, the day after the season, they're in here working out, doing extra stuff in the weight room, here working out in January. Things like that. Just not like, 'Hey, Coach I'm here. Make sure you know I'm here. I'm putting in extra time.' They would do it just to do it. He studies the game well, smart. Obviously, came up in a great system with Coach [Greg] Schiano and was very well-schooled. When he got here, he was already used to preparation and understood a lot of the finer points of the passing game. Again, I think he understands and really anybody who plays in a secondary, and I've coached that position a lot of my career, you understand how interdependent you are on everybody else, kind of like the offensive line. Like, even if one guy does the right thing, if somebody else doesn't, then it's a problem for all of us. So, getting everybody on the same page, communication, making sure that you know where your help is, where I'm going to be, I know where you're going to be, so we can work together with each other. Duron is very good at those kinds of things, and also dependable, where if he says he's there, he's going to be there. Some guys, they're not always where they need to be, so then you never really know for sure, do I have it? Do I not have it? I know I'm supposed to have it, but can I trust that? And you can always trust it with Duron. I think you build that up through time, through repetition. You earn that trust on the practice field, you earn that trust on the game field by doing it over and over and over again, and he does that. He's there every day, very consistent, very dependable, and so when he speaks, I think that's where the leadership comes from. There's a trust. If he says something, you can count on it. He'll be there, he'll come through, and he'll deliver it. It's kind of interesting. Like I said, every team has guys like that on it and some are more vocal than others, but some of those quiet leaders have a lot of power and a lot of influence that's a little less noticeable, but very impactful, so that's a great question.
Q: When did you meet Bill Russell?
BB: Bill [Russell] came here in 2002, maybe. We've spoken a few times. In fact, I saw Bill last year at the playoff games, at the playoffs with the Celtics.
Q: When a player like Elandon Roberts only has one year of college production what goes into scouting that player?
BB: Yeah, that's a great question. Really, that's a tough one. You're like, if this guy is so good, why did he not play? Why wasn't he out there? So that one year of production, regardless of who - [Rob] Gronkowski, same thing. One year of production. [Rob] Ninkovich, one year of production. Rob was the same thing. Rob didn't play at Purdue and then when what's his name, [Ray] Edwards got suspended, he played the first half of the season. Edwards was out like four games, five games, so Rob played. Rob had a bunch of production and then got drafted in the fourth round. Elandon [Roberts], kind of the same thing. Got into the starting lineup, played and was very productive. So it's a great question. It's like, is that production circumstantial? Is that production real? Is this guy really on the way up, or was that the peak, and is it going to come back down? I guess the one that sticks out the most for me would be Coach [Nick] Saban's story about [Jack] Lambert. When he at Kent State, speaking of the Steelers. You know, how Lambert couldn't get on the field. He was a backup linebacker and didn't play. The kid in front of him [Bob Bender] was really their leader, he was kind of the heat and soul of the Kent State defense, Nick played quarterback on that team and through a series of circumstances, that's another long story, but we'll skip through all of that. Anyways, the kid dropped out of school, went to work for Mick Jagger, he was a security guy on tour with the [Rolling] Stones, and Lambert became the starting middle linebacker. He probably would have never played had that not happened, and you know, you have a Hall of Fame player. Sometimes things take a turn, and then once they get that opportunity and they get in there, the Tom Brady's of the world or whoever, you can't get them out of there. Lou Gherig, it's just, you know. So is that one, or is the other one of, 'Ok, well that was the high water mark,' and it never gets close to that point again? It's really a tough question. Obviously, the more you have to go on, probably the better chance you have of making the right evaluation. The less you have to go on, the more, 'Is this a one-year flash or is this the start of something that's going to be at that level you saw for a short amount of time?' There are certainly a lot of examples of both, but Ninkovich, it's the same thing. It's a very - I mean, forget about him being at Miami and at New Orleans and all that, but just his college career. He didn't play until his senior year and the only reason he played his senior year is because the kid ahead of him got suspended. Then once he played, you're like, this guy's pretty good. But Elandon had tremendous production last year. He had tremendous production, and I'd say about his production, some guys make a lot of tackles, a lot of them are downfield after four, five-yard gains and that kind of thing, but Elandon had a lot of plays that were not always tackle for losses, but they were plays on the line of scrimmage as opposed to dragging a guy down after he's gained six yards. To me, there's a kind of difference in those types of tackles, in that kind of production.
Q: Extending the play here a bit [with the lengthier press conference]?
BB: Yeah, extending the play. A little scramble.