Mike Tomlin began cutting his team down to size yesterday. He had 75 players on his Steelers roster and must reach 53 today.
Those 53 begin preparations for the start of the Steelers' 75th season Monday, six days before they kick off in Cleveland. No cut will be revealed until today, Tomlin said, but there are some easy ones to make along with the handful of more difficult ones as the new coach tidies up his roster.
It can make for a long morning today, because there are 22 of them.
"They're all tough," Tomlin said, "Not on a professional level but on a personal level because you watch these men put everything into it up until this point. It's not just something that's happened when we went to Latrobe. The guys have been in here since March, sharpening their swords, developing their skills and competing.
"I appreciate their efforts. But the reality is we have to name 53 men who will be the Pittsburgh Steelers this year, so we'll do those things."
A closer look at a handful of things:
It seemed obvious by the use of halfbacks Verron Haynes and Gary Russell Thursday night that the coaches wanted a good look at one of their tougher decisions.
The fifth spot on the running back roster likely will go to either Haynes, who would enter his sixth season with the Steelers, or Russell, an undrafted rookie who flunked out of college and did not play last fall. Haynes ran 13 times for 47 yards. Russell ran 21 times for 62 yards. Each caught a pass for 5 yards.
Part of the assessment of Haynes might be to see how he stood up physically to his extended work (he has never carried as much as 13 times in any regular season game). His left knee had damage to virtually every ligament when surgery was performed last November.
Tomlin, asked if he had to decide between Haynes and Russell, said simply, "We have to make decisions between a lot of men."
John Kuhn did not get much playing time this preseason. The fullback-halfback who finished second in rushing last preseason carried only three times, once Thursday, for 5 yards.
It appears Tomlin will not keep Kuhn, who made the club last year as an undrafted rookie from Shippensburg University after spending the first eight weeks on the practice squad.
Kuhn can be overlooked when a coach goes down a roster on paper, but not so easily when he watches him play. He was a good special teams player and when given a chance, as he was last preseason, productive. But Carey Davis, another fullback-halfback, has surpassed him this summer and there appears to be no room for Kuhn.
Another team -- perhaps one with coaches who know him in Arizona -- might pick him up.
But a technicality could hurt Kuhn's career. He's not eligible for a practice squad.
Players are ineligible if they have been on practice squads for three years or if they have been active for nine games in one season.
The Steelers signed Kuhn to their 53-man roster Oct. 31. He was dressed and played in their remaining nine games.
Tomlin was encouraged by the play of rookie Lawrence Timmons Thursday night.
Timmons looked lost last Sunday against Philadelphia in his most extensive playing time after returning from a long absence with a groin injury.
But the linebacker rebounded against Carolina and had three solo tackles and a forced fumble.
"I thought he took a step tonight, he flashed at times for us," Tomlin said after the game. "I thought fatigue set in on him last week and that's part of kind of getting his legs under him, missing the amount of time he missed. It didn't set in on him tonight. He was productive, he made some plays on defense and in the kicking game.
"I think he's moving in the right direction. Is he still behind? Absolutely. there's no way to make up that time when you miss as much offseason and as much training camp as he did. But he's doing a nice job of fighting back, fighting through it and putting himself in position to help this football team."
It's been assumed that even though his time with the Steelers has been a disappointment, cornerback Ricardo Colclough would make the 53-man roster in his fourth season.
However, a sentence at the end of Tomlin's postgame news conference Thursday changed that forecast to a cloudy one.
A writer from near Colclough's hometown of Sumter, S.C., attended the game to write something about him. He asked Tomlin, "What does Ricardo Colclough have to do to help this team?"
Tomlin replied, "Everything we ask him to do, be a good teammate."
Then, the coach added, "but those decisions haven't been made yet."
If Tomlin keeps five cornerbacks, they will include Deshea Townsend, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and rookie William Gay.
If the other is not Colclough, the team's high second-round draft choice in 2004, then it would be a choice among Jovon Johnson and Anthony Madison, each of whom spent time on the team last season.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published September 1, 2007 4:00 AM