Transcript: Mike Smith post-practice interview

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On the cuts made to get down to the 53-man roster:

“I think the cut to the 53-man roster is probably the most difficult decision that we have to make as an organization. I think there was competition since basically May, when we got together in May, when we got together as a team and put our team together. I really don’t want to talk specifically about individual guys, but I appreciate all the hard work that all of them put forth as we put our team together. I wish them all the best of luck. Again, it was very, very difficult in terms of the decision making process on a number of these guys.”

On how this year was different from the previous two years in terms of roster cuts:

“I think it was much different, in terms of the caliber of players. I think that the caliber of players that we have on our roster has increased in each and every year. I think that’s a reflection of our personnel department doing a great job in evaluating players that are draft eligible and supplementing it with the guys that we’ve added in our free agency classes. This has been a more difficult decision making process for all of us.”

**On the young defense and if he believes they have improved since last season:

**“I think we definitely are a younger and more urgent team. We definitely were not where we wanted to be defensively, statistically. We have much higher expectations. I think the guys that we’ve added and have drafted and added in free agency are going to help us. Again, we’ve got to go out and do it. Preseason is very benign in terms of really finding out where you’re at because each and every week you’re not really game planning. You really don’t know what the other teams intentions are when you go into a game. It’s difficult to really evaluate. True evaluation comes on the regular season games and we’re excited that we’re getting the first opportunity this Sunday up there in Pittsburgh.”

**On rookie TE Michael Palmer being the only undrafted rookie free agent to make the final roster:

**“I think Michael Palmer came in here with the right attitude that he was going to come in and compete for a tight end position. I thought he caught the ball extremely well in the preseason games. We just don’t evaluate on the games, we also evaluate on what they do in camp. I thought that he, really from Day 1 to the last day of training camp when we decided to make the cuts he probably showed the most advancement of any of the guys on our roster. We felt comfortable that he won the job. It’s good for Michael because when you’re a college free agent the cards are stacked against you and he was able to overcome those.”

On what suspended DT Jonathan Babineaux and LB Robert James are allowed to do this week:

“In terms of league rules, each one of them have a little different set of circumstances that is based on their suspension status. Jonathan Babineaux is allowed to be here for meetings, he can participate in the weight room, participate in getting treatment. He just isn’t allowed to have any activity on the field. Robert James falls under a different category. Robert, for his suspension period, will not be allowed to be in our facility. So, those are the two guys that we’re having to deal with and of course that’s a situation that we were aware was going to happen and we’ve made ulterior plans to put our team together.”

**On whether or not the evaluation process going into Week 1 is the most difficult of the season:

**“Of course, all of the offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators have spent the last nine months in their rooms trying to devise ways to move the football and stop their opponent and you really don’t see it until you get into the regular season. You may see trends of things that they may be trying to do, but you really don’t see it until you get into the regular season. Statistics, tendencies and all that, they go out the door when you open the season. Even if you’ve got the same group coming back, you’re going to see something completely different. We’ve got to go out and prepare and play to our rules, and play to our concepts and what we see on Sunday we’ve got to be able to react to.”

**On how he thinks he has done in changing the culture and coaching a team that is consistent with wins:

**“We didn’t reach our expectations last season and I really don’t have a whole lot of thoughts about it. I know that we’ve worked hard as an organization to add talent to our roster, that’s the first thing we have to do. The guys that we have had playing for us have had a very, good positive attitude and I think that goes a long way in building a team. I think it’s very, very important that everybody understands that nobody is bigger than the team. I think our guys really understand that. We may have stars, but no one star is bigger than the entire team.”

**On going into Week 1 without CB Dunta Robinson having played in any of the preseason games:

**“It’s one of the many concerns that you have as a coach. Believe me, you’re going through all types of scenarios and that’s just one of them. Dunta has come out and practiced for the last 15 days. He’s been a full-participant in practice and he’s been able to make it through those 15 days, so we think he’s ready to go.”

**On how much talent is on the Steelers defense:

**“Whether they’re playing a 3-4 or they’re playing a 4-3, the players and the coaches that they have, (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau went into the Hall of Fame this year, as a player, but you know he could probably go in as an assistant coach as well. He and (head) coach (Mike) Tomlin, they always have their guys ready to play. They’re very aggressive. They want to try to be the more aggressive team. They give you a lot of looks. It’s going to be a big, big challenge for us as we go up there. I know they’ve been very efficient on defense over the last few years. I think they were number five last year if I’m not mistaken in total defense. It’s going to be a big challenge. It’s a new year, they’ve got some very talented players that have been to Pro Bowls. The two outside linebackers, I think are great players. We all know about their safety that lines up all over the field and you have to be aware of where he is and you have to account for him. James Farrior, their inside linebacker, I think is the leader of their defense. Then NT Casey Hampton of course is a mismatch inside with his girth. So, it’ll be a big challenge for our guys. I know we’re excited about the opportunity to go up there and see where we’re at and have our first test of season.”

**On whether LB Sean Weatherspoon will be starting:

**“Again, our guys on defense, it really doesn’t matter who starts the game because they’re all going to play. All the guys that are up and active are more than likely going to play because we use a rotation. We have not settled in on naming the starters, I think we’ll do that when game week officially starts and that’s on Wednesday when we really start our game planning with our players for the regular season.”

**On his philosophy on naming starters:

**“I think the naming of starters in our scheme, offensively and defensively, depends on what personnel groups they run out there. When you say who is the starter the guy that plays the first snap of the game, that’s going to all be based on what personnel grouping (offensive coordinator) Coach (Mike) Mularkey decides and what personnel grouping (offensive coordinator) Coach (Bruce) Arians decides up in Pittsburgh this week. You’ve got to list somebody as a starter and that’s something that we will do when the season starts. Really, we’re going to have, in our mind based on the different personnel grouping, we’re going to have 14 or 15 guys that we consider starters on our team. I think it’s very important that everybody understands that they are all starters and they’re all going to be contributing. That it’s not just the first 11 guys that go out there on the field.”

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