Head Coach Joe Judge
September 9, 2020
Opening Statement: Obviously, we have turned the page completely from training camp. We’re all Pittsburgh at this point going forward. I’d just say opening remarks wise on the Steelers, very simply put, this team defines continuity in professional sports. From the ownership with the Rooney family who have done tremendous things in the development of the National Football League, for the good they’ve done for the players and the coaches in this league. We have a lot of respect and appreciation for helping to develop our game. Obviously, three head coaches since 1969. All three have been as highly achieved as possible. We have a lot of respect for them.
To play the Steelers, it’s important for our players and coaches to understand the tradition and the culture that’s in their DNA. They’re a tough team from a tough city. They have a blue-collar mentality. This defense is very talented, they’re experienced, they play together, they’re tough, they’re opportunistic, they make plays up front and take advantage in the backend on the mistakes you make. This offense is heavily explosive. Obviously, they have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. They have a tremendous collection of receivers, tight ends and running backs, all of which can change the game on any play. They’re only a few plays away from the end zone at any point in time. We have to respect everything they do. They run the ball very effectively, they throw the ball at will, and they can extend plays. Ben (Roethlisberger) is obviously one of the best in getting the ball out of his hand fast. They give you enough to work on on both sides of the ball. In the kicking game, it all starts with the specialists. They have two big leg guys in (Chris) Boswell and (Dustin) Colquitt. Obviously, that was a big addition bringing Dustin in, a left-footed punter. That’s always kind of a novelty to some people, but this guy has been tremendous throughout the duration of his career. We have a lot of respect for him having gone against him in the past on other teams. Then starting with the returns, love to see what they do on kickoff returns and punt returns. Whether it’s (Ray-Ray) McCloud, whether it’s (Diontae) Johnson, both guys are very explosive with the ball in their hands. We have to do a tremendous job in space of playing with leverage in tackling.
I know Mike (Tomlin) has those guys practicing and playing aggressive. That’s just the way he is in-person. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach for what he’s done for me personally in my career, giving me the opportunity as a young coach to tag along at times and impart to me some of his experiences that have helped me develop my own career.
Q: I was wondering about your history with Tomlin. Can you give us a little more elaboration on your interactions over the years?
A: Very simply put, when he was an assistant in the league at the time with Minnesota, I got to meet him simply by answering phones when I was GA’ing for Amos Jones. He would call Amos sometimes, Amos would say ‘grab that phone and talk to Mike for a minute.” I got to meet him briefly through the phone. Shortly thereafter, he was a head coach in Pittsburgh. To be honest with you, I immediately became a Steelers fan because amongst him and some other people that have been good to me that were good enough to give me the opportunity to tag along with them. I was able to visit them early in his tenure in Pittsburgh when I was a GA. There were times at the combine he allowed me to be a fly on the wall, sit there and have dinner on his check, so I’m very appreciative of that. But he was always very open for a conversation, very open to share some advice when it came up. I have a lot of respect for him as a person, I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. He’s done tremendous things in his career.
Q: Mike Tomlin spoke with praise about Dexter Lawrence yesterday in his conference call with us. I was wondering if you could, since you got on board, tell us what you’ve thought of his skill set? Is this a guy that you see moving up and down your line quite a bit, or is he maybe getting hammered into one position and just shine there? How do you view him since you’ve gotten him as the coach there?
A: We’re going to preach versatility for all of our players at all times. Game by game, we’ll have to see what the best matchup is for our players, the best opportunity to put them in a position of strength. To answer your question real simply, week by week his role is going to change based on where he lines up and who we’re playing. But he’s a tremendous worker. He has a great energy and urgency on the field, he’s very attentive in meetings, I love working with him on a daily basis. He always has a big smile, but you can’t confuse that smile for being soft. This guy brings a lot of heat to the field. He’s a pleasure to work with and we love having him on the team.
Q: Just wondering with the fact that Ben was out for so much of last season, how much do you kind of watch what they did last year without him versus going back to two years ago the last time you really had a chance to study him over the course of a full season?
A: I think there are a lot of things you need to consider. First off, Ben is a tremendous player. He’s been great in this league for a long time, well over a decade. Obviously, there are going to be some things that carry from his past, whether it’s directly early in last year, whether you go back to 2018, you have years and years of tape to watch on Ben and what he’s done well, and you have to factor in for all of it. Look, Randy (Fichtner) has been there a long time with Ben. Obviously, they have a very strong relationship. Ben’s been there with Mike for a long time. There’s a lot of communication between those guys and what they do. We’ll see what Matt Canada’s influence on the offense is. I’m sure he’s doing breaks and multiples. We’ll have to see as the game unfolds what it ends up being. I wouldn’t be surprised to see new wrinkles. We’re going to prepare for whatever comes our way and adjust within the game. But at the same time, what’s made them good over time is their ability to do what they want to do, and that’s to play a physical brand of football, to run the ball effectively, then throw the ball when they have to throw the ball and create explosive plays.
Q: Everybody has kind of been wondering about how good your offensive line is going to be. Playing Pittsburgh, is this going to be a really good indication of where you are?
A: I think playing any team in the National Football League is a good indication of where you are. Everybody has talent, everybody has ability. This defensive line we’re going to see this week is obviously the measuring stick for talent and success. They’ve done tremendous things on the field. You can’t talk about the top defenses in the league without talking about Pittsburgh year in and year out. Look, they have a ton of talent on that defensive front. They use it very effectively. They can play with scheme, but they don’t really need it except to get off on the ball and play to their physical strengths. They’re extremely talented and we have our work cut out for us this week.
Q: Is there anyone this week that you’re going to be watching to make sure that they can be ready physically for this game?
A: We’re a little ways out right now. I think everyone is going to have the time over the next few days to make some progress. We’ve kind of had a few days off from training camp on the backend with the weekend last week. Everyone is feeling pretty fresh right now. We’ll see where everyone goes in these next few days. I think tomorrow we have our first injury report.
Q: Is there anyone we shouldn’t expect out there today not practicing?
A: I think we should have all of our players on the field today. I’m going to check with Ronnie (Barnes) in a second when we get out here and see where we unfold with a couple of these guys.
Q: As far as this is a strange offseason. There’s no preseason at all. How much of that do you view as an advantage because the reality is, yeah they’re going to go back and study Jason Garrett or Pat Graham, but nobody really knows what you’re going to run, right?
A: You can study enough tape of our coordinators and our systems, you can look into my history and get an idea of what it’s going to be like. I’d say the only advantage is going to be the team that comes out there and plays physically and sound on Monday night. No matter what you’ve done in the past, no matter what we’ve put together, it’s all going to come down to when that ball is kicked off, who the most physical team on the field is.
Q: I know you guys released (DeAndre) Baker yesterday. Just curious what you can say on that and why the timing worked out like that?
A: I’ll go ahead and defer that to Dave (Gettleman) or John (Mara) if they ever want to answer that. I’m going to focus on the guys on the roster. But I appreciate the question.
Q: How much of an input will you have on play calling? Obviously, the idea is you are like the CEO. Are you going to be telling Pat ‘I want this run in this situation on game day’ or is it more game planning for your role?
A: As I said in my opening press conference, I’m not here to call the offensive or defensive plays. T-Mac (Thomas McGaughey) and Tom (Quinn) are here to do the special teams. Obviously, I’m involved with all sides of the ball. I’m very involved with the day to day operation. I’m very involved with how the game is going to be unfolding. I want to be informed with how the game is going to be called. Obviously, I’ll have opinions but when we get to game time, I’m going to let our coaches coach and our players play. I’ll obviously be involved with all sides of the ball, but I’m not there to micromanage. We hired good playcallers, we brought in good players, we’re going to let them do what they do.
Q: How did that process work out? We talked about a lot of firsts for you these last dew months. First meetings, first practices. This was your first Tuesday spent in the trenches game planning. How did that work out with everybody?
A: It was productive. Obviously being the first game and Pittsburgh not having played any games before this, we had a lot of time in the spring and the summer to look ahead and kind of gauge what they are. With that being said, their final roster, our final roster, is really what shapes what you are able to do in a game plan from matching the opponent and using your own players for strengths. It was a very productive day, I thought we had a lot of good work on all three sides of the ball. We had really good communication between Monday and Tuesday. We’re not done with the game planning process yet. This continues throughout the entire week. We’ll have four days on the field this week to look at some different things, see how we like it, make sure we are planning things that we’re comfortable with. So far, it’s been very productive working with all sides of the ball.
Q: What kind of input does Daniel have in the offensive game plan in particular? How much conversations go on with him about what he’s comfortable with, what he likes?
A: There’s obviously conversations with the quarterback throughout the week. Whether it’s with myself, Jason, and Jerry Schuplinski, whoever that may be. There’s also conversations on other sides of the ball. Whether you’re talking with Nate Ebner about some of the special teams calls. You’re talking to Blake Martinez and those guys as far as the signal caller stuff on defense. There has to be input with the players and the coaches, and it has to be conversation back and forth. What you find with players is when you present them with the why and how you want it to look, a lot of times they find a better way for what they are supposed to do. You really learn a lot from the players. We always have open communication with our guys. At the end of the day, whatever we decide to do everyone is going full steam ahead with it. Our players understand the final decision has to come from the coaches. We’re always receptive of what the players say because we know they are the ones on the field. We want our players to play aggressive by being comfortable with what we’re asking them to do.
Q: Those conversations have already taken place or will take place?
A: They never really stop taking place. It goes on a daily basis as you are watching tape with different players. It goes into talking about the game plan in install meetings when they may have certain questions about things, and you can clarify and clear it up. It happens on the practice field after an offensive or defensive series of clearing up with someone why they did a certain thing or how they saw it on the field. Then when you watch the tape after practice and you clean up mistakes, that’s when you really find out how they process it, how they’re thinking, what they’re looking at. Ultimately as you get to the end of the week, you have to check with your signal callers on all sides of the ball. Your captains to make sure the whole team is on the same page and make sure everyone is comfortable with the game plan.
Q: I know we have asked you a bunch about Logan Ryan over the last couple of days. When you are this far out from Monday night, do you know that you are going to be able to count on him to be a part of this team right now in this game plan?
A: Right now, there is still a lot of catching up that he has to do. Obviously, he just joined us. Whether it’s the alphabet in our terminology, he has to get on pace with. We still have to make sure that we are fair to him as far as acclimating him. He just got here, he hasn’t been in training camp with anybody else. We have to be careful about how we just throw him into the fire. He’s a tremendous competitor, he’s a very smart player. He did a great job training himself getting in. As coaches, we have to put him in the right situations.
Q: When you are looking ahead to Monday night, and I know you touched on the Steelers front seven a little bit, how much more dangerous does going up against someone like T.J. Watt with an inexperienced center potentially make that matchup? Do you need to do anything to account for their defensive line in terms of calling out the protections and all that because this could be Nick Gates’ first start at center?
A: Here is the thing, if you overplay T.J. Watt, you have Bud Dupree on the other edge and he’s just as fierce. We’ve got all that and (inaudible) our matchups. We have to play smart as a team, we have to call it the right way as coaches, put them in the right position. This all ties into game planning and how we’re working together. The simple answer, do you have to account for really good players, obviously we have to account for really good players. Watt, Bud Dupree, go down the whole list of those guys, they’re all really good.
Q: Is there a way that you simulate those guys in practice, I know they like to run a lot of stunts in Pittsburgh, that can kind of get Nick up to speed on that sort of thing?
A: In terms of what they do on the front, you want to kind of give him a progression and look on everything they do based on down and distance for a situation. That’s a whole week process right there. It’s up to us to make sure they see what they do in meetings to give them a chance to execute on the field and clean it up in post practice meetings. That way we can handle it better. With that being said, because you have the history of what they’ve done, it doesn’t tell you what they are going to do. We have to prepare for not only what they’ve done but also anticipate and play to our rules for anything that comes up. That we have a way to handle it without panic. We never want the players and have them feel they weren’t prepared for this. That’s not what we are going to do.
Q: Now that you have been through a whole summer with Daniel Jones, is there one or two things that you can look back on and say I’m a little surprised by that about him? As a second part of that, are you a believer that the quarterback and the head coach have to have a certain special relationship?
A: I think everyone’s relationship is unique on a team. I try to have special relationships with all the players. I know what your question is about, I think absolutely there is a lot of merit to what you asked. The quarterback and the head coach have to be able to talk. Him being one of our captains obviously puts him in a position that we’re going to have a lot of conversations. Not all involving football but involving all aspects of the team. That should open the platform to him and myself to talk a lot throughout the weeks. You have to have a good relationship with all your players that are signal callers especially. You have to trust them, and they have to trust you. When it comes to the signal callers, and I’m talking about the quarterback, the center, the mike linebacker, whoever the safety is on the back end that’s making the calls, the personal protector on the punt team, these signal callers are critical to the units they are on. Ultimately, they are the quarterback when they are on the field. Whether it’s the quarterback or defensive player or special teams player, they have to see the game the way you are presenting it to them. You have to see the game the way their lens is on the field. That only happens through a lot of conversation. As you watch the practice tape and watch the opponent, you may be saying, ‘hey look, I really see this this way.’ They may say, ‘that’s great, but on the field when I’m playing it, this is how I have to do it to give myself an advantage.’ That’s how we have to be receptive as coaches. Make sure when we get that feedback, we’re smart about how we go ahead and we allow the adjustments to favor the players.
Q: Anything looking back when you look at Daniel and you say, ‘I didn’t expect that from him’?
A: I think the thing that some people may miss on Daniel is he’s quiet natured at times because he is not just up there spouting out. He’s not a quiet guy. Daniel, you get him going, you get him talking, you get him in the huddle, you get him around the guys, Daniel has a very big personality. He’s a great dude. Until you spend a lot of time with him, you can miss that depth of him as a person. That’s been a really pleasant surprise. I always knew he was intelligent, I knew he was respectful, I knew he was a hard worker. Until we really got time to be with each other and spend a training camp together, you don’t really see those layers in people.