Steelers News

Mike Tomlin On Tannehill’s Comments On Malik Willis, Player Mentorship: ‘It’s Good When It Occurs, But It’s Certainly Not Necessary’

One of the bigger stories in the NFL following the draft, for better or worse, came from the starting quarterback of one of the teams that drafted a quarterback last weekend. Tennessee Titans starter Ryan Tannehill was asked about mentoring new third-round pick Malik Willis, and his answer has, by and large, not been met kindly, including by former Pittsburgh Steelers alumni.

Asked if considered it his job to mentor the young rookie quarterback, Tannehill gave what actually amounts to a fairly thoughtful answer if you actually see it. He says, in part, “We’re competing against each other, we’re watching the same tape, we’re watching the same drills. I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him, but if he learns from me along the way, then that’s a great thing”.

The former first-round draft pick has taken shots from all across the sporting landscape, particularly from former players, and as I said, former Steelers like Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor also weighed in, speaking on how that diverged from their experience in Pittsburgh. Still, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t having any of it.

“You know, it’s good when it occurs, but it’s certainly not necessary”, he said when he was asked about Tannehill’s comments and player-to-player mentorship on the Rich Eisen Show. “That’s why we have offensive coordinators, quarterback coaches, assistant quarterback coaches, people who are employed and their sole focus is the development of players”.

And that’s precisely right. It’s the coaches’ jobs to get the players ready to play, both physically and mentally. It’s the players’ jobs to be ready to play, both physically and mentally. They are not directly responsible for making each other ready, but, as Tomlin said, it’s good when it occurs.

“Certainly, there’s growth and development opportunities and learning opportunities among players, but it is definitely not their function”, he emphasized. “Their function is to have themselves ready to go and be good teammates, and I think that’s probably what you speak to just in terms of providing common human decency and courtesy to someone if you can help them along the way. I’m sure Ryan is open to that, but I think he was just stating the obvious, that he was not employed to do that. He’s employed to play quarterback”.

This could even go back to the Steelers when they drafted Mason Rudolph in 2018, and some comments that Ben Roethlisberger made on the radio shortly after. Rudolph had been asked questions about leaning on Roethlisberger for guidance, and he essentially said something to the effect that he didn’t feel like it was Roethlisberger’s job to do that.

While Roethlisberger was pretty open about wondering if the Steelers made a mistake in drafting Rudolph while already having Landry Jones and having just drafted Joshua Dobbs the year before, he also made a remark alluding to Rudolph’s comment, saying, “I don’t think I’ll need to [mentor him] now that he’s said that he doesn’t need me. So if he ask me a question, I might have to just point to the playbook”.

He was making a joke, again, of course, and since then, Rudolph has praised Roethlisberger for his openness, especially over the past year or two. I’m sure Tannehill will be open and available to Willis, as well. As usual, it’s a storm in a teacup when it comes to the NFL news cycle and what we decide to get worked up over.

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