BB: We're kind of winding up here with the preparations on Pittsburgh, working through some specific situations and some single-play-type situations here as we get to the end of the week and try to pull everything back together. Again, I think the more you look at the Steelers, the more impressive they are - the whole body of work. They're very good in the kicking game, really explosive on offense and solid on defense with a lot of young players that I'm sure they're counting on for big years, and it wouldn't surprise me if they deliver because it's a pretty talented group. They're a good fundamental team, they don't make many mistakes. We know we're going to have to play well, and that's what we expect to do. That's where we are for today.
Q: You guys claimed Khyri Thornton off waivers from Green Bay. What traits made you want to take a closer look at him?
BB: I think he's a talented guy. We'll put him in the mix with what we have there and see how it goes.
Q: Is it fair to assume that a lot of that is from when you were scouting Jamie Collins?
BB: Not really. Jamie was pretty much Jamie.
Q: Did it help you to see him for 20-some plays in the preseason game against Green Bay?
BB: You know, a little bit, yeah - I think a little bit. You see him against players that you're familiar with. But he's got a decent body of work through preseason last year. We'll see how it goes. [He's] a player we want to work with. We'll just see how he's able to fit in with what we ask him to do, how he performs and just go from there.
Q: When you have a lot of turnover at running back, how many adjustments does that require?
BB: There's turnover at every position on our roster, just like there is with every team in the league. Every team has got that, maybe not at every position, but some positions. Every year starts all over again for everybody. You've got to reestablish your timing, execution, your own level of performance and tie it in with your teammates. Backs running behind blockers and so forth, pass protection, all those things, it all has to be reestablished every year even if it's with the guys who did it before. But usually that's not the case. Usually there's some movement somewhere, so it's not anything that's really out of the ordinary. It's part of training camp. It's part of building your team from the beginning of the season to getting them ready for regular-season games.
Q: What have you seen from James Harrison's game as he gets older?
BB: Yeah, really good - very similar to how it's always looked over there. Very explosive, powerful guy, good pass rusher, good edge setter, good tackler, instinctive player, tough, physical, good football player. He looks pretty much the same as he has in the past. I know there is an age difference, but he's kind of defying that. He looks good.
Q: What kind of leader has Ryan Wendell become on the offensive line?
BB: Ryan has really done a good job for us. This is a situation for guys like him, Dane Fletcher, [Brandon] LaFell, where they haven't been able to do a lot on the field, until recently for Wendy, but they've done a lot off the field for us, in terms of helping younger guys, I don't want to say help coach, but being there to help work with guys during practice as well as in the meetings and extra time. Wendy has been great. He's been great. He's worked hard at what he has to do, and he's doing what he needs to do on a personal level, but he's also been very helpful to the team, particularly some of our younger interior line players. It's been good. But then again, it's been very noticeable when he's been out there the last few days - the level of experience that he has, it jumps out at you. You can't help but see the command that he has at that position on the line of scrimmage.
Q: What about his versatility? It seems like it's been critical the past couple years.
BB: It has, so that's a plus - that's definitely a plus. He's worked at all three spots as we've gone out there over the last whatever it is - week and a half - or however long he's been out there. Again, we'll just see how all that goes, but you're right, he has done multiple things for us and helped us on kickoff return, center, both guards, so he's working at different spots. We'll just see how he does, and also maybe it's a where-we-need-him situation.
Q: With Le'Veon Bell out, do you think they'll do more to get Antonio Brown involved?
BB: I don't know how they could do much more. It seems like a lot of the pass plays are, I don't want to say designed for him, but he's a key part of all of them. They move him around. They put him in different spots. They use different pattern combinations to give him an opportunity to either get open or to somehow keep you from being able to double cover him. Could they give him the ball more, I guess they could, but they get it to him a lot, and he's definitely a go-to guy for them in the passing game, both in terms of just making plays and [Ben] Roethlisberger going to him, but in terms of scheme and plays that are kind of I'd say designed to, if not get him the ball, at least get him a look, and then if the defense takes him away, go somewhere else, but at least give him a look at it.
Q: How has the move from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler manifested itself on defense?
BB: I think you see some of Mike [Tomlin's] philosophy from what he did when he was at Minnesota, what I remember him doing when he was defensive coordinator there. They've tied a lot of that together, and I'd just say that they're very multiple on defense. They're 4-3, they're 3-4, they're zone, they're man, they're blitz zone, they're overload blitz zone. They still do a lot of things they did last year, but they've also added some other complementary things this year from a different front and a little bit coverage-wise. They didn't really play the two-Tampa last year with Dick. Dick kind of had his own version of Cover-2. Maybe a little more zone, but they're multiple - I'd say that's the biggest thing. You can't come out of the huddle and say, "OK, this is what it's going to be, or it's going to be one of these two things." There is a lot more than that that they can do.
Q: What are your thoughts on Kenbrell Thompkins coming back to the practice squad?
BB: I think he's a quality practice squad player. He was a roster player for us. He was a roster player for Oakland, so to have that player on our roster, but not on our roster, I think is good. It gives us a quality depth player there that we had that same player basically on our team but as a roster spot. We'll see how long it takes, but it shouldn't be too long from a re-learning standpoint. He's a good learner, but just to get back into what we're doing and all that, he ought to be able to compete for playing time based on where he was when he was here before. Based on a short look yesterday, it looks like he still has good skills to contribute. He's got the experience of playing in the slot which he did more at Oakland than he did here, so he's kind of developed some versatility. So we'll see where it goes, but we're happy to have him, a player of his caliber at that position.
Q: How can Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler complement each other when they're both on the field?
BB: We'll see. We haven't seen that yet this year, so we'll see how teams … Each team will probably have its own way or game plan or whatever of how to deal with whatever personnel we have out there. There are different combinations of people that we can have, so it's hard to talk about just one or two players, who are the other three guys, and how are they aligned formationally. I don't know. We'll try to create situations that stress the defense, and if they overplay one thing and underplay something else, then hopefully we'll be going to that softer point. That's pretty much what we're trying to do anyways. Whoever the players are out there, that's kind of the basic philosophy.
Q: Have you ever had two bigger tight ends on the roster at the same time?
BB: At the Giants we had two. We had [Mark] Bavaro, [Zeke] Mowatt; we had Bavaro, Howard Cross. In Cleveland we had Bavaro and [Frank] Hartley. I mean, they're tall, yeah.
Q: Are you pleased with what Chandler and Gronkowski we're able to do at camp?
BB: I think they both had good [preseasons] - the whole preseason process from the spring to practices. Scott hasn't had a lot of playing time in preseason. Rob hasn't had any, but based on the opportunities they've had to play together in practice against our defense or against carded looks and so forth, I think they both are ready to go. It's time to start playing, so we'll see what happens, but I think they're as ready as they're going be.
Q: Are the preparations for Rob Gronkowski different for the opener because he hasn't played in the preseason?
BB: Rob has worked hard. Rob has worked really hard. I think he's pushed himself in practice. I think we've pushed him. Coach [Brian] Daboll has pushed him hard. I think he'll be ready to go.
Q: How important is it to have high-motor guys on the defensive line?
BB: You hope your team is like that. That sounds like Ben [Roethlisberger] buttering us up pretty good, you know. Half these guys have never played against him so - but that's very complimentary of Ben to say that. We'll see; we'll see. I mean, look, it's the opening game of the year, it's Thursday night, I'd like to think everybody's motor will be running, but maybe not. We'll see.
Q: How important is it for the defensive line to keep Ben from being able to extend plays with his mobility?
BB: Huge, yeah, huge. I'd say he's as good as anybody. There are other players that are maybe faster than he is, but he's very hard to tackle, very difficult to get down. On top of that, he's got great vision, very good accuracy down the field. Again, he doesn't have to step into the throw or have a clean pocket. He can make throws with guys hanging all over him, falling down, so he's as good as anybody we play at that. Again, I'm not saying he's going to scramble and run for 40 yards, but he can stay on his feet, he can extend plays, he can make throws with guys all over him, and he has good vision, too. There are guys hanging all over him and his eyes stay downfield. He looks at the pattern and the coverage and can find people, whereas a lot of quarterbacks when they're getting tackled or they're getting hit their eye level drops or they look at the guy who's after them. Ben has the ability to really shrug those guys off, still look downfield, and get the ball accurately down the field. He was over 40 percent last year on throws over 20 yards. That's pretty good. Some quarterbacks have a little trouble with that under 10 yards. He makes a lot of good throws. It'll be a huge challenge for us. There won't be anybody that will be a bigger challenge than him in terms of the total package that he presents on extended plays.
Q: How much of Antonio Brown's ability to get open is based on his ability to find holes in the defense?
BB: He's got really good quickness, so he's got the ability to get separation. Even when guys are close to him, he has one-step or two-step quickness to get away. He's got really good hands, so he doesn't need a lot of separation. He can extend and catch the ball away from his body, and he's a good technique route runner, so he does a good job of making routes looks the same, but they're different - making the inside route and the outside route look the same or the over and the corner route look the same - things like that. His releases are good. He does a good job at the line of scrimmage of getting into his route and attacking the defense quickly, and he's very good after the catch, so you've got to play the deep ball. He's a good intermediate route runner, and if you back off and give him room then he can catch and break a tackle and turn a catch-and-run play into a long play. He's a very hard player to defend. They put him in a lot of different spots, so he's versatile. He's obviously a very sharp guy and an instinctive guy because he can handle a lot of that - wherever they put him, running different routes, running him off linebackers, running him off corners, running him off safeties, running him against split-safety coverage, running against post-safety coverage, man, zone - I mean this guy is a smart player. He's a good player at all three levels of the defense and very hard to tackle after he gets the ball in his hands, so that's a problem, too. I mean, this is not the kind of guy you want to just back off and just let them throw it to him and come up and make the tackle because that will be a challenge. Then on the other hand you don't want to be up there and let him get over the top of the defense, either. He's a huge problem. And on top of that, he's got a quarterback that can get him the ball in any of those situations very accurately. Some receivers are open, but they don't get the ball. This guy is open and they get him the ball.
Q: We talk a lot about players having good instincts or playing with good feel. Do coaches ever make decisions based off of instinct or feel?
BB: Yeah, absolutely. That's hard to quantify really, but it's something that you feel. I've called plays for a significant part of my career and there are times where you just get a feeling that maybe it goes against the tendency or there's something that you just can kind of instinctively feel like is going to happen and you do something to try to take advantage of it, or the right time to call a double pass, or the right time to run a blitz. Or you just anticipate what they're going to do. You just anticipate what the other play caller is going to do and you happen to guess right. Look, we all guess wrong plenty of times, too. I'm not saying that. But yeah, there's definitely some of that where you just kind of get a feel for the way the game is going or a particular situation as it unfolds and you make that call just based on what you feel at that time - not what was the tendency, what did they do in this situation in a bunch of other games. You just feel like at this point in time, here's where you're going to put your chips and you think they're going to blitz you and you call a play that's a good blitz-beater play, or you think they're going to whatever - fake it and pull out of it and not going to do it. You've got to be able to handle whatever they do, but yeah, there's definitely an element to that. And [it's] the same thing in the kicking game, too. I think that Josh [McDaniels] and Matt [Patricia] do a great job of that. They call a majority of the plays, and they do a great job of anticipating what could happen in certain situations. You have to be ready for two, three, four different things - whatever it happens to be - but then every once in a while you just get that feeling that this is the time, this is when we want to do it, and they're right quite a bit.
Q: Malcolm Butler seems to get his hands on a lot of passes in coverage. Is there a special trait a cornerback needs for those kind of ball skills?
BB: I think it's a combination of physical skills, speed, quickness, instincts, just awareness or instincts - however you want to call it - and then there are ball skills. They're all important. Being able to run fast or move quickly in a short area is certainly paramount to getting to the ball. Sometimes instinctively you can kind of get a jump on the play just because of the combination of the route or the way the quarterback is looking or the way the receiver maybe is giving away the route, the way he runs it you're able to anticipate it. But then there is the final part of it, which is of course the ball skills and playing the ball. There are a lot of times when defenders are close to the receiver, they're close to the ball, and the receiver ends up with it, and they either misjudge it or aren't able to get to the reception area with their hand in order to break it up. They reach for it and miss it or whatever. That's a key component, too. Being close to the receiver is good, but being able to have the ball skills, the timing to reach and touch the ball at the right time in order to break it up is important. And obviously the final thing, the fifth thing would be hands in terms of intercepting the ball. It's almost another skill. Breaking up passes is one thing; actually intercepting them is another. Some players might have good ball skills but they don't have good hands. Some players might have good hands but not necessarily have great ball skills. Of course the great ones have speed, quickness, anticipation and awareness, ball skills and hands. At each level, the more of those the better. Some guys get by on one or two or maybe three of them; some guys don't. The good ones have more, and the ones that are not as good have less. And then, I think depending on what kind of coverage you're playing, some of those things are more important than others. That's just in term of pass defense. I'm not talking about tackling now, which that is another issue. Man coverage, zone coverage, press man, off man, so there is a variety of skills involved depending on the techniques and the coverages that you're playing, which is why you have a lot of different players that have different skills that can still be productive. It depends on what scheme they're in and how their skills fit that scheme. That's a component of it, too. Sometimes it's challenging when a player doesn't have all the skills, which there are not a whole lot of them that have that at an elite level, and you watch a player do one thing and you're trying to project his skills to a different scheme, to a different way of playing. Until you actually see him do it, sometimes it's hard to be accurate on that.