Robinson: Video review reveals Steelers coach's sideline movements in Baltimore were out of character
By Alan Robinson
Published: Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:51 p.m.
As the NFL investigated Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's sideline blunder that nearly put him on a collision course with Baltimore Ravens returner Jacoby Jones, he urged the league to research how he watches kickoffs.
“I believe that if you do (look), you will see that my actions are very consistent in that regard, in terms of what I do on kickoff plays,” Tomlin said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “I am sure that we all, as coaches, have routines, mechanics, in terms of observing and managing the game. That's something that I employ.”
Despite what Tomlin insists was an unintentional misstep that forced Jones to slightly alter his path on his 73-yard return, the league fined him $100,000 and dangled the possibility the Steelers might lose draft picks or have their draft position weakened.
The NFL never said whether it acted on the coach's suggestion and determined how Tomlin watches kickoffs. Asked by the Tribune-Review whether the NFL researched Tomlin's sideline behavior during kickoffs, league spokesman Corry Rush said in an email, “We have no further comment on the matter.”
Tomlin also declined further comment.
“He has accepted his penalty and is focusing on the Dolphins,” team spokesman Burt Lauten said Friday.
So the Tribune-Review reviewed 122 kickoffs by the Steelers and their opponents this season and 10 from last season's game in Baltimore to determine whether Tomlin consistently watches kickoffs the same way.
The answer: No.
For the first time, the “All 22” coaches' video available on NFL.com is in high definition this season, which makes it easier to detect Tomlin's positioning. His starting position on kickoffs cannot always be precisely pinpointed — the entire sideline is not totally visible throughout every play — but his finishing position almost always can be.
The review determined:
• Not once in the other 131 kickoffs reviewed did Tomlin wander yards downfield, his back to the play as he watched on the video board, and allow a kick returner to rush up behind him as he did in Baltimore. He ventured even a few yards away from the bench area only a couple of times. And only once this season (against New England) could he be seen walking the opposite direction of the kick for more than a few yards beyond others on the bench.
“He was as surprised as anybody he was right there (on the field in Baltimore),” safety Ryan Clark said.
• At least 40 times — about 31 percent of the time — Tomlin walked toward the kickoff, apparently watching the play unfold on the field rather than viewing on the video board. An exact number could not be determined because Tomlin's face is not always visible on the video, which is shot from high atop the stadiums.
“Obviously when we are on kickoff return, I may leave my eyes to the field a little bit. … I can simply go to the point of emphasis in the play or the point of contact,” he said Tuesday.
• His most common viewing position is between the 30-yard line and the 40. On at least one-third of the kickoffs (which take place at the 35), he never ventured more than a yard or so from that position. Sometimes he watched the play in front of him, sometimes he watched it on the video board.
About a half-dozen times, Tomlin was engaged in a conversation with a player as a kickoff was ongoing.
“Almost always when the ball is kicked off, I am right at the kickoff line in order to watch that,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “There is a myriad (of ways) kicks can transpire. … Generally, once the ball is kicked off, my eyes will go to the Jumbotron in an effort to get a good perspective on the coverage.”
• After his misstep in Baltimore, he stayed farther away from the playing field than he does during most games. On eight of the other 10 kickoffs in M&T Bank Stadium, he staked out a spot between the 30 and 40 and watched from there, moving little. On at least three of the 10 kickoffs in Baltimore last season, he walked toward the play rather than away from it.
• Not surprisingly, special teams coach Danny Smith crowds the out-of-bounds line or is in the prohibited white stripe area more than Tomlin. Tomlin rarely gets as close to the playing field as he did in Baltimore.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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