Q&A: Ken Whisenhut / The Steelers' offensive coordinator makes the calls for QB during games

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Football coaches and players talk about their game plan often, but what really is a game plan? How do coaches arrive at one and how do they choose their plays during the game? Ken Whisenhunt enters his third season as the Steelers' offensive coordinator. He sits in a booth upstairs in the stadium, joined by several other coaches, and calls the plays to the sideline. He talked recently with the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette to explain the procedure:

Q: How many plays do you "script" to start a game on offense?

Whisenhunt: I script about the first 10.

Q: Can you explain that process?

Whisenhunt: I get input from everybody during the course of the week -- the offensive staff and the quarterbacks. I get their top plays in each category -- first two plays of the game, play-action, drop back, third-down plays. And then we talk about it as a coaching staff. I rank the top 10 plays, what we think will be good. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. It's not locked in for the first 10 plays of the game, it's more of an idea where you're going to go. The first 10 usually always are our first- and second-down plays. Then I'll categorize our third-down plays.

Q: So you have a group of plays you want to use at the outset of a game, but do you start the game with one definite play?

Whisenhunt: Yes. Usually, we predetermine what we want to run the first two plays of the game.

Q: No matter where the ball is?

Whisenhunt: No matter where the ball is. Now, there are certain situations -- if you get a big return into the red zone, you're not going to run one of those plays there or if you're tight on the goal line. We've been pretty good about consistently sticking with those plays.

Q: What's involved in putting together a game plan?

Whisenhunt: Well, the way we do it, which I think is the best way, all the coaches are in the room together. And we go through each section, whether it's first- and second-down runs, first- and second-down passes, third-down passes, play-action passes. In each category, we have a certain number of plays we're going to put into this week's game plan. It's a little bit flexible -- some weeks maybe more, some weeks maybe less. We discuss it and we put it on a big board and we come up with the plays. And that's what consists of our game plan.

Q: Do you choose certain plays out of your playbook for each situation to put into your game plan for that week?

Whisenhunt: The way we do it, we categorize plays -- third down and 2-5 yards, third down and 6-8, third down, 9-plus. Within that subcategory, we'll rank them how we like them. Then on Friday, I'll put them in situations for different downs and distances on different parts of the field. All the coaches have input on what they like.

Q: How do you pick one play to call?

Whisenhunt: If it's, for example, second and 8 and we have a category second and 7-10, we'll have plays listed for that and you just go down to the play you like. It may not be your first play ranked, because they may be doing something differently and you may have to go to your third or fourth play.

Q: What happens when your opponent's defense comes out in a different alignment in certain situations?

Whisenhunt: Usually, you don't get what you prepare for. A lot of times you get something different and you have to adjust. We have very good coaches who do a very good job of sideline adjustments. We're flexible, our offensive line is flexible, our players are flexible. Training camp allows you to do that.

Q: When you call the play upstairs, who do you relay it to?

Whisenhunt: Mark Whipple, [the quarterbacks coach] who gives it to the quarterback. I can't go straight from the booth to the quarterback.

Q: Who else on the staff hears you calling the play?

Whisenhunt: Everybody.

Q: Does Bill Cowher ever step in and reject one of your calls?

Whisenhunt: Oh, he has veto power and he has input. He has a very good feel for the game. In fact, some of the games where he's had input on a call during the course of the game has worked very well.

Q: Do you permit quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to audible to another play at the line of scrimmage?

Whisenhunt: In certain situations, yes. In certain ones, no. In certain ones we try to take care of that so we don't put too much on him. That will expand as he becomes more comfortable with the offense and that's what's occurring. That's what we've seen in the coaching sessions and that's what we've seen here in training camp.

The Steelers' offensive coordinator is responsible for the game plan and play-calling on game days, but it is far from a one-man show./b>


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