Tomlin stresses new 'D' for Steelers: discipline

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New, young coach Bill Cowher didn't take long in grabbing his players' attention at his first Steelers' training camp in 1992. He cut Huey Richardson, the team's No. 1 draft choice a year earlier. Everybody noticed.

New, young coach Mike Tomlin will go about it in a different way when he hits Latrobe running Monday. Santonio Holmes has to be thankful for that, but the other fellows probably won't be quite so appreciative.

Fifteen two-a-day practices.

"It is going to be trying at times," an enthused Tomlin said yesterday. "There will be some adversity ...

"That's what training camp is about. You put guys in situations that are a little bit outside of their comfort zone, that will make them a little bit uncomfortable and see who is able to deal with it."

Oh, yeah, they'll be uncomfortable, all right.

After that disappointing 8-8 record last season, they need to be uncomfortable.

No one likes change and many people are afraid of change, but that doesn't mean change is always bad.

The Steelers are a team that needs the change Tomlin is ready to provide, what is expected to be the toughest, most competitive camp in years.

Sure, Tomlin has to make it that way to establish himself, just as Cowher had to send his message by releasing Richardson, one of the great busts in franchise history. Although Tomlin insisted he's "not approaching this as a tone-setter," that can't be true. He has been setting the tone since he took the Steelers job in January, doing a marvelous job of it, actually. It's still too soon to evaluate the man as a head coach. Let's let him win a game first. Let's see how he reacts to a loss or two or three. But it's not too soon to say he has handled himself admirably in every situation so far.

You had to like the way Tomlin shrugged off the very public moans of his veteran players who wanted the Steelers to stay in-house for Cowher's successor and go with a known -- to them, anyway -- commodity, Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm. To paraphrase him: It's their job to play and my job to coach 'em up. At the end of the day, what difference does it make if they like me or not?

You also had to like the way Tomlin dealt with the Alan Faneca contract crisis at minicamp in May. "This will be my last year as a Pittsburgh Steeler," an angry, emotional Faneca said, a contention he reiterated again this week. Tomlin treated Faneca with all of the respect an All-Pro deserves, yet it's believed he also fined him when he skipped a mandatory workout.

Hey, if you let something slide in May, who's to say other things won't slide in November and December when it really can haunt the team?

But this camp isn't just about a new sheriff in town. It's fair to think after the 2005 season the Steelers had grown a little stale, even a little soft, under Cowher, especially after they won Super Bowl XL. It wasn't just all of the underachieving last year. It was the overall lack of discipline, the personal-foul penalties, the sloppy football all the way around, on offense, defense and special teams. Seeing it brought to mind something former Steelers great Jerome Bettis said about Cowher in '05: "He allowed us a lot of flexibility. He never fined us for anything. You came late, you never got fined. You never got reprimanded for anything."

Those days are gone.

Good riddance.

That doesn't mean Tomlin won't be smart at Saint Vincent College. He's not going to burn his team out in the brutal heat and humidity of July and August. There will be special-teams work and walk-throughs on at least half of those scheduled two-a-days. And, as the new boss noted, though he put a lot of time and thought into his rugged practice demands and is happy with the schedule, "We understand that we have to be light on our feet and things will have to be adjusted along the way."

But, for sure, the players still will be plenty uncomfortable.

"We want to come out as a hardened unit," Tomlin said of his No. 1 camp goal. "The only way you can do that is if you are challenged in a lot of ways."

Makes sense, doesn't it?

In this case, uncomfortable really is good.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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