Q: You worked really hard to earn your job. Do you ever feel territorial about it?
TB: About keeping my job?
TB: I think that's the nature of this position, and it's a very competitive position. I think it's a great privilege. I've always felt when a team trusts you to be a quarterback and they put the ball in your hands, it's a great show of trust they have in you, and I think that you need to earn it every day. So I don't think that you can rest on things that have happened in the past or things that people may project on you. You just have to go out and try to – you know, you're tasked with a big burden — to help the offense be in the right play. You touch the ball on every play so you have the opportunity to distribute it how you see fit. So with that trust comes a lot of responsibility, and I think that that's a big responsibility that I take with me.
Q: How different is your relationship with Jarrett Stidham than it was with Brian Hoyer, given the different stages of their careers?
TB: Well, I was a young player once too, and I had a lot of older players that I worked with so I think I learned from those experiences. I had some great mentors, people that really taught me how to play the position. It was great at a young age to have John Friesz and Drew [Bledsoe], and then to have Damon Huard and to have Vinny [Testaverde] and to have Doug [Flutie]. And then all of a sudden it flipped, and then it got Matt Cassel to Brian to Jimmy [Garoppolo], Gug [Matt Gutierrez]. Gug was in there for a little bit. So I've played with so many great guys over the years. I think for quarterback, it's my belief that when you play a team sport, the best guy plays because that's what's best for the team, and the other guys support that position. It used to be a lot of quarterbacks played. I've been studying up on NFL history this offseason. They used to have a lot of two quarterback systems, and if you had talent at that position, you used it different ways over the years. I dealt with that a little bit in college. As its progressed, now one guy plays and the other guys support that position the best way they can, in whatever role they're asked to do. That's just kind of the way it's gone.
Q: Is there nervousness for the first game of the year?
TB: I think that you work a long time to get to this point, and these outcomes are very unpredictable because you have the competitive landscape of the league, and you have these other teams that are working extremely hard to beat us. I mean, we don't know how it's going to go. You put up a plan, you think it's going to work or else you wouldn't have confidence in it, and then you get into the ring so-to-speak, and then you go at it. They're going to show us a lot of things that we haven't seen, and that's just the way the early part of the football season goes. Eventually teams settle into what they are going to be and what they're confident in and what they're doing a good job at. Your identity begins to take shape and then it changes. Guys come in and out of the lineup, they're hurt, some guys are having better years than expected, some guys aren't.
Q: Does opening with the Steelers on banner night make it any more special?
TB: Yeah, it's pretty great. We've had a great rivalry against those guys and played a lot of meaningful games. We played at their stadium quite a bit the last few years so it's good to get them here. We've got a great home crowd that puts a lot of pressure on their offensive side of the ball to make their communication really solid. But they're a great football team, they have a great history. One of the best defenses, still to this day, in the history of the league. Big Ben [Roethlisberger], what he's continued to do and how that offense has evolved over time. I have a lot of respect for Coach [Mike] Tomlin, how he coaches and what he demands out of his players. They've got a great defensive front, they play extremely hard, great group of linebackers, a talented secondary. Very difficult team to play against, they stress you in a lot of areas. We've got to be at the top of our game early in the season, as do they, which makes it a great matchup
Q: The only two franchises with six Super Bowl rings are the Steelers and the Patriots. Do you ever think about beating them to No. 7?
TB: I think it's pretty cool that we have an opportunity to. Those are lofty goals, and expectations are high for us and they're high for them. I think other franchises have established themselves as winning cultures and winning teams and winning environments, and other teams are trying to get there. So the NFL is tough. Every team starts at the bottom every year, and you can't pick up where you left off last year. You have to earn it every day, and the competition has already started. Even though there haven't been games, there's been competition already starting. How well you can get your team prepared for this opening game, and it continues right through the end of the year.
Q: You were talking with Tom [Curran] about being an old guy...
TB: And I'm not the only old guy in here, just for the record.
Q: That's right, thanks for pointing that out. Along those lines, you have the chance to do something that no one has done at this point of their career: start all 16 games. How meaningful would it be for you to accomplish something like this that no one has ever done?
TB: Well, I love being available to the team. I think that's been something I feel like is a very important part of my job. I can't help the team if I'm not out there, and I work pretty hard to make sure that I am. A lot of that prep comes in advance. That's been well documented over the years. Being out there, I think one thing that I've gained over many years is appreciation for doing things that I love to do, and how fortunate I am to have found a profession that I love. The little nuances to the position, the nuances to the sport, to the scheme, the chess-match between offenses and defenses. So many great players have played this game, and to still be doing it is something that I treasure. I love being a quarterback for this team, and hopefully I can stay healthy. There's a lot of things that go into that. You take some pretty tough hits, as many people do over the course of the season, and there's some luck involved, but I try to put myself in a position where I can withstand those hits and the physical nature of the game, so I can go out there and be there for my team each week.
Q: How do you balance the sense of urgency on the offensive line with the focus in getting the job done on Sunday?
TB: I think everyone feels the same way. This is their profession, they want to do a great job for our team, they're really well coached. There's high expectations for that position group, and there's been a lot of great players that have played those positions for us that are watching, that are paying attention. The guys who are playing now, Isaiah [Wynn] and Ted [Karras], they know they've got a big responsibility and they're prepared for it, and I think they're excited about their opportunity and they want to go make the best of it.
Q: What do you remember about last year's loss to Pittsburgh?
TB: It was obviously not one of our most well-played games. We had opportunities there in the red area late in the game twice, and came away with no points. We set ourselves back quite a bit in long-yardage situations. All of the self-inflicted errors. The interception I threw was a really bad play, and we had our chances. This is a team if you get opportunities like that, you have to put points on the board. You have to take advantage of the opportunities you get. If you don't, they're too good. They've got too many good players, too many good coaches, a great scheme that puts a lot of pressure on you. So we're going to need to play a great 60 minutes in all three phases. That's really what they are. They're one of the best teams in the AFC, they prove that year after year, and we're going to be tested right off the bat.
Q: After that game, you didn't lose another game including the Super Bowl and were 5-0. Could this be another springboard for you guys?
TB: We always want to get off to a fast start. We've struggled at times doing that, and I think the thing is these are early in the year. They count the same as the ones late in the year. So you can't start slow because if you start slow, you're fighting your way out of a hole the whole year. So I wish there was some secret play we could call that would work, and we'd know it would work. We've got to go out there and earn it. This is about hard work, it's about discipline, it's about consistency. It's about pressure and applying it. It's a big test. We can't go out there and play an average game and expect to score a lot of points. This team challenges you with their defensive front, their speed at linebacker. They drafted a great player from Michigan, Devin Bush. I've watched a lot of him over the years. They've got a good secondary, a lot of interceptors in the secondary so you have to play a really clean game.
Q: Is it harder to go up-tempo when you have guys you are just entering the system or coming back from injury?
TB: I'd say it's a pretty hard thing to do in general in the NFL over a long season because there's a limited roster size. There's obviously a lot of new players you're trying to incorporate. There's a lot of conditioning aspects that come in to 45 active players on the roster. When I was at Michigan a few years ago, they had five tight ends in there in the game at one point, and they ran them off and ran five receivers on. Those aren't a part of pro football. In general, the times we've done it it's been great for us, but I think you've also got to – it's a long game, it's a long season, and it's a challenge.
Q: Is there some trepidation on your part, considering the limited time you've had with Demaryius Thomas, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon this offseason?
TB: It's part of football. It's a challenging thing, and that's why it's not always as fluid as you would hope it to be because you prepare for eight months for this game, and then you're getting used to guys we haven't really played with. Or we signed, whatever, three or four new players at the end of cuts that are backups to different positions and they don't have any experience. Look, we're going to try to work as hard as we can, like we always do. I don't think this team ever feels like we're a finished product, and I don't think we finish many practices and Coach [Bill] Belichick has been like, "Man, we've got this all figured out." I think we're trying to work at it every single day and put the time and effort and energy and commitment into it for each other, and you see how that pays off after a long season. The season's not over in two weeks, the season's not over at the end of September, or October, or November. It's a long year and we've got to make improvements. Up to this point, I hope we've made a lot of improvements since the beginning of training camp, but again I think that's going to work all the way through the entire season too. We'd like to, like I said, win these games because they're all important and they all matter, but we're going to have to go earn it.
Q: You've had a lot of success throwing to running backs over the past few years, and it seems that teams like the Steelers have been trying to get more athletic on defense to counter that. How challenging does that make it for you to continue to use those players like you'd like to?
TB: I think a lot of teams have more hybrid-type roles than probably what they were when I first started, where there was a base defense and a sub defense. Now I think we have a lot of those guys that can rush, that can cover. Guys like Mark Barron started in the secondary at Tampa, and now plays linebacker, played linebacker for the Rams last year. So we have experience with those type of players. We have backs that catch a lot of passes, line up in a lot of different spots, tight ends that line up in a lot of different spots. So it's more of a game of that now. There's more personnel groupings, guys are utilized formationing, and they're finding defenders to counteract the skill set of the offensive players too. You know, you have a tight end that's a great run blocker and a great pass catcher, well now they have people to cover that guy, but also play against the run too. That goes for linebackers, secondary types, but people are trying to use their best athletes out there and get as much skill and size as they can to create matchups, whatever they feel are the best to help their team win.