Read the transcript from Head Coach Mike McDaniel's press conference on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.
(There are so many injuries at different positions that it's hard to know where to start, but I wanted to ask you on the defensive line on a couple of things. Do you expect DE Emmanuel Ogbah to play Sunday? We know he's missed two days with the back. And will LB Trey Flowers possibly return this year or was his injury season ending?) –"I don't foresee having the same type of sentiment on players all the time, I promise. But our specific circumstances, how there's a lot of strong contributors that, in this portion of the year, are getting nicked. It's hard to even have a plan for who you're going to keep active and inactive because there's a lot. Ogbah is one of many that we're going to take up to game time to kind of figure this one out. So that, I couldn't say with all certainty that he's going to be out or in. I could more – it'd be more accurate to say maybe he's questionable. But they're all working very hard to be with their team at this juncture. And then with the foot injuries and stuff, I don't know if you guys know the stats, but there's a lot of things going on in the foot. I really haven't even begun to think whether or not Trey's going to be able to come back. I wouldn't rule anything out at this point, but we'll wait and see, which is kind of your guys' lives and my life right now together."
(Have you seen enough from T Terron Armstead this week to feel comfortable with him being able to go?) – "Yeah, I mean, I feel more comfortable than the last month of the season, for sure, considering, that was the most that he's been able to practice since really the Patriots game, which is incredibly challenging. It's something I haven't been around a player do that. In the process, he's gained a lot of trust from his teammates and the coaching staff, so I feel pretty good about his availability for Sunday, but unfortunately I don't feel 100 percent on it because that would be too easy, apparently. That's just the nature of everything. But what were we are doing, there's a lot of a lot of these types of issues. Like on offensive line, there's a lot of other positions as well, where we're conditioning ourselves as a team to be able to handle any sort of adversity because so many guys are in positions to step up and play. I feel better about it than I have in the last month but that still doesn't mean that I know."
(OL Austin Jackson practiced a couple times last week and hasn't since. Was there a setback there?) – "No. Like I told you, whenever we talked about that, it wasn't a setback as much as we liked how he was working. We also assessed that with the push-pull strain that incurs for offensive lineman and what an ankle can do to a player at that position, if it's not properly handled, we're actually preventing any setback. We felt like the best thing to do was not put them in those situations until it was a little bit closer. So he's still very much involved and we like how he's progressing, but that was a little proactive. We tried to avoid a setback as we assessed it and looked at it once the week was complete."
(On that same right tackle topic, did OL Brandon Shell give you guys anything to think about this week where now, Offensive Line Coach Matt Applebaum and Offensive Coordinator Frank Smith have a decision to make about who your starting right tackle is? Will it be Shell on Sunday night or are you going back to T Greg Little in that spot?) –"There were multiple people working at that right tackle position. Shell has done a very good job since he's been here. It's been admirable to see how he's immersed himself into the system in such a short period of time, which is to his credit. But what we have been – we'd be fools if we didn't prepare our offensive line to be versatile considering what has gone on during the season. I think they all had a good week of practice. I think that – you're not going to hustle me there and I'm not going to reveal who's starting, but I do think that we're prepared for all those guys to play. They had a good week of practice and I think those guys – whoever is starting at right tackle – will do a good job. And if they can't finish because of injury, then another guy will step up. That's what we're building and preparing to do."
(Have other changes on the offensive line been considered beyond just returning tackles to help?) –"We rep all our positions like that. It's important during the season. I don't necessarily put our business out on the street. I don't think that's fair to the players because it can be taken out of context. But rest assured, we challenge the lineup each and every week because that's a principle of really how I want to run a team, where you're not gifted anything and guys are able to either earn or keep their jobs on the field. So we've been letting guys compete all week. And what you'll see in the starting lineup is the guys that won that weekly competition. But in that, we've got a lot more versatility because we have more guys ready to play than we probably did at the start of the season."
(What are some of the things that you have done or will do in an effort to limit penalties?) –"So if there was an end all, like blanket, you'd probably do that. The way I approach it is I make sure to coach each penalty independently and give guys a little recourse on how they could have avoided this. If it's a holding penalty, you're looking at why that happened. Then you're looking at is someone moving their feet enough and pressing the block, because what can happen is your feet can stop moving, and then a defender moves and you're just trying to do your job. Procedural stuff is a little easier. Pre-snap stuff is a little easier. But just in general, you have to rip the band-aid off and show the team the consequences of said results. How is the offense doing? Or how's the defense doing as a team? How have we worked to get to the situation? Then what does that penalty do? That's the way I emphasize it is just independently but I do it as a whole team so they can understand the ramifications and how we're not working out of the mindset of placing blame and pointing fingers. I'll never sit there and take it out of our hands and blame any sort of officiating on stuff. Who cares if you agree with any sort of call or not. You coach that to try to avoid it in the future as best you can."
(It seems a little risky on a Friday to have only three healthy corners. I know of your five safeties on the 53, at least a couple can play corner. But why are you and General Manager Chris Grier not concerned about having only three? And have you given more work to CB Tino Ellis this week and to CB Kalon Barnes just with the anticipation there could be an elevation?) –"No, it's not that it's not concerning. That's irrelevant. It's what's the best course for this team in the given moment Are you capable in-house of handling it? Or do you have to go outside of what you have? It's not like we're going to handle every situation like, no, we're going to use the guys here. It's more that with the assortment of versatile players that we have, we can kind of handle a lot of issues to a certain point. We are getting close to the brink in terms of how many we can afford, but we're still comfortable and we have some guys that will eventually be coming back. So you have to – really, you're just doing the best thing for the team. I feel very fortunate that we've made some good decisions in the scouting department and as a coaching staff, that the players that we had on the roster are very capable, henceforth that are they're able to make plays out there on Sundays, which is something that I'm very glad we had the depth we've had because everybody's had to play and that will make us better down the road."
(Just to be thorough on OL Austin Jackson, at this point would you say the likelihood of him being activated before the end of the 21-day window is very close to 100 percent?) – "What would Socrates say to that? Do you guys remember? (laughter)The only way that he knows is that he knows nothing. So to say absolutes? Yeah, you don't – I feel good that he's going to be able to contribute sooner than later. To say exactly what where that is, you're just setting me up to – that's a setup that I'm not going to buy. My birthday is March 1983. Not yesterday. (laughter) Honestly, having experienced this in my in my past. It's not just because the trainers and medical staff give a window of maybe this guy will – it's because you really don't know until person for person. And what ends up happening with those is the timeline is different in terms of, 'Ok, well, you might not have that much improvement for an individual for three or four days. And then once you hit that threshold, it's…' Do you know what I mean? So it's kind of inexact. I know he's going to come back and contribute for us. I know he's very hungry, too. We just want to make sure when he is back, that it's not one of those yo-yo situations is the only reason for our conservative approach.
(QB Kenny Pickett from Pittsburgh, he cleared concussion protocol this morning, began practicing in full on Wednesday. Given everything this team has been through with concussion protocol, did it surprise you that QB Kenny Pickett was able to practice in full on Wednesday after a Sunday entrance into the protocol?) –"I may be a rookie head coach, but I feel very, very secure and comfortable with the approach of that's not for me to discuss what has happened on somebody else's team. Philosophically, I would never venture to try to be an expert at that. So there's enough – if you've seen our injury report, there's enough for us to worry about. I'll let the Steelers worry about the Steelers. At this point, there's nothing – I would be surprised if I'd be surprised by anything at this point."