Carlos Emmons, Steelers Linebacker, 1996-1999
First, can you tell readers what you’ve been up to since you left football?
I opened up a new restaurant in March here in Atlanta – Wet Willies. I was researching franchise opportunities and went to Miami a lot and saw the success of the Wet Willies there and thought it would do well here in Atlanta.
How was it getting to the NFL as a 7th round pick – how did you make the squad?
When I got there, that year the Steelers took two other linebackers in the draft. Me, Earl Holmes and Steven Conley were all drafted.
The lower picks were really treated as second-class citizens by the coaches. The higher-r0und picks get all the money and attention – the coaches and people who draft the higher round players have to keep their jobs. So early on you realize the politics of the game.
I was left out of a lot of the individual drills – I had to take advantage of every chance to shine. Greg Lloyd, Kirkland, Gildon, Brown….they knew I wasn’t getting many chances and told me I had to prove myself on special teams. Problem was I was like fifth on the depth chart even for special teams.
So, how did you “break through”?
Earl and Steve in preseason games were given a chance to play special teams in the third quarter of a game – the coaches decided to give me chance too for some reason. That game I have I had like seven or eight tackles and a sack in 1 1/4 quarters. From then on I got treated like the higher picks. Then I got the chances too.
I told some of the other players – they don’t know what it’s like being a low-round pick. You go through so much more.
What players helped mentor you most that rookie season – and how?
Lloyd and Kirkland helped us on the field. They could have said “why did they take all of these linebackers” but they didn’t worry about it like they do on some other teams. They had confidence in their ability and helped us instead of worrying about their jobs.
Greg stayed with us after practice to help teach us technique a number of times.
How competitive were you, Earl and Steve as you all fought for what could have been the same roster spots?
We all got along well. We went on to teach the new linebackers all we knew as well. I felt like you couldn’t take my job. I was confident in my position – just like the veterans who helped me.
How difficult was it to adjust to the Steelers 3-4 defense?
The transition was easier for me. I played safety, linebacker and defensive end in college. I played all three linebacker spots in college as well as defensive end in our 3-4 in college. So I had done it all already. I just needed to learn LeBeau’s defense.
And how difficult was that?
The defense relies on you doing you job. It’s a machine – a system – and you have to play within the system. You have to buy in to the system – some guys don’t buy in and play selfish. If one guy tries to be a hero or misses their gap it gasses the whole defense.
Did you ever feel it was too much of a machine – that the best abilities of players got washed out? For example, should James Harrison be dropping into coverage so much instead of rushing the passer?
Not really. Look at Demarcus Ware in Dallas. He’s really a defensive lineman they call a linebacker – he barely drops into coverage.
With the Steelers, you can’t want a sack every play. Every player wants to pass rush every play. But you have to know that when you drop into coverage your opening up a chance for someone else. When I played with Jason Gildon, he got probably three to four times more pass rush chances than I did. I was the better guy in coverage, so that’s how they utilized us. To win games, you have to sacrifice some things.
Who were some of those guys in practice that were the toughest to line up against?
Lester was the toughest fullback in the league. Hitting that guy and Jerome made hitting everyone else so much easier after that.
I learned a lot taking on Dermontti Dawson too. He did things I never saw any other offensive lineman do. He wasn’t a huge guy but he was such an amazing athlete.
Should he be in the Hall of Fame?
Dawson should be in the Hall of Fame, definitely. In my time he was the best offensive lineman I ever saw or went up against.
He used to pancake guys and smile while he was doing it. It would get you so upset – it was insulting (laughing).
Who kept the team loose on those teams, and how?
The clowns were Kirkland, McAfee and Holmes. They would always do something to keep the team loose. Every trip they were comedians. They would make fun of each other to keep the team loose and it brought us all closer together.
In ’99 you left to play for the Eagles. How hard was that for you and why did that happen?
It was just a situation where Joey Porter came in. I told him he was too talented to stay on the bench. It was me or Jason – and when they extended Jason and Joey I knew I was going to be elsewhere.
It was hard leaving – I was a Steelers fan my whole life – it was great being drafted by my favorite team.
But I loved playing in Philly. They are die-hard fans just like Pittsburgh’s. We had some real success in Philly too – three championship games in a row…it was always exciting.
What coaches did you enjoy playing for most?
I liked all the coaches. Cowher was a player’s coach. Most coaches would take a coach’s side no matter what if there was a disagreement – but Cowher took our side sometimes too. He listened to us if we had a gripe. Our honest assessment was looked at and he decided on it fairly and would take the player’s side over the coach’s at times.
Andy Reid had a veterans committee to give him suggestions. He would listen to the ideas and was willing to take input. The players appreciated it. He wasn’t as much of a player’s coach as Chuck but he’d listen.
Coach Coughlin (final year in NFL with the Giants) was not that way. You couldn’t talk to him – it was my way or the highway. Sometimes it works, but not in the long-term. The Super Bowl year he was a different guy – smiling and laughing a lot more. He knew he had to change and when he did it worked. He saw you have to let players have fun too.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Enjoy cheering for your teams. Especially with the owners they have – they genuinely love their players – and their former players. They make all of their players feel special. Playing for an organization like that is terrific.
Most organizations just don’t have the structure like the Steelers do.