A feisty Mike Tomlin pulled on the gloves and gave the NFL a few pops to the nose Tuesday, not hard enough to draw blood or a fine, but enough to get his message across.
One swipe was aimed at Ray Anderson, the NFL vice president of football operations and the league's lead man in doling out fines and suspensions, although Tomlin never mentioned his name.
Tuesday, Anderson lauded Steelers linebacker James Harrison because he "let up" on one potential tackle Sunday in Miami.
Tomlin, asked if he saw any other Steelers pulling back, called it "insulting" that anyone would say such a thing.
"I didn't see anything of that nature," an obviously irritated Tomlin said. "If I appear short, it's because it's somewhat insulting to me to assume we're doing anything under any normal circumstances other than trying to play within the rules. That's how our guys play; that's how we coach.
"Number one, first and foremost, is it conducive to winning? That's what our intentions are when we step in stadiums to play, whether it's last weekend or three weeks ago or a month ago. Or a month from now."
The Steelers' coach said, as far as NFL officials commenting on how his players play, "It would be tough for me to care less about their opinion, to be honest with you."
Both Tomlin and Steelers president Art Rooney II publicly backed Harrison after the NFL fined him $75,000 for what it called an illegal hit on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in a game Oct. 17 at Heinz Field. Both called it a legal hit, and Rooney worried where the NFL was headed by issuing heavy fines and threatening suspensions for such hits. Harrison has appealed the fine, and Rooney said he will support his appeal.
Tuesday, Tomlin also bemoaned what he called the disappearance of whistles in the NFL. The subject came up because of the fumbledoozie play Sunday in Miami whereby the referee used instant replay to overturn a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown, ruling he fumbled. No one determined who had recovered the ball, however, so it was awarded to the Steelers at the 1, and Jeff Reed then kicked the winning field goal.
Tomlin was asked that, in light of such circumstances, does he teach his players to play through the whistle.
"Well, you let me know when you hear a whistle," Tomlin replied. "That's one of my contentions. There's been a de-emphasis on the whistle, as far as I'm concerned, in the National Football League, and I don't agree with it.
"We talk about player safety, yet we don't blow whistles at the end of football plays. So that's kind of a misnomer when you're talking about the whistle. What we want to do is play till the action ceases."
Tomlin was asked if that has occurred because the officials are unsure and they are looking to replay to provide the answer.
"They have an opportunity for replay to get called right, and I'm not opposed to that by any stretch. But there has been a de-emphasis on whistles in the National Football League."
Coach Bill Cowher lost his future Hall of Famer to a torn ACL in the season opener 15 years ago and decided to save a roster spot for cornerback Rod Woodson until he healed. It took him until January to get back on the field, but Woodson finally returned -- to play in Super Bowl XXX. Tomlin would not mind seeing Aaron Smith return to play in Super Bowl XLV.
Tomlin announced that, even though Smith had surgery on his left triceps tendon Monday and would be out for a while, he was not going to place his prized defensive end on injured reserve, which would end his season.
"He's going to be out an extended period of time and, at this juncture, we intend to wait that out," Tomlin said. "Aaron's a quality player, a veteran leader for us. If there's hope for his return, then, of course, we're going to be hopeful as long as we possibly can. That is our mentality as we sit here today."
They may not be able to hold a roster spot for Smith if they experience a rash of serious injuries and must sign more players to take the place of the injured. As it is, they will have to release someone to make room for another defensive lineman. Tomlin mentioned practice-squad defensive lineman Steve McLendon, who has dressed for two games this season, as the possible addition.
Tomlin described Smith's tear as "partial." He said Ziggy Hood, the team's first-round draft pick in 2009, will get the chance to start in his place.
"He's had a great training camp and preseason," Tomlin said. "He's not had the kind of production he'd like thus far, but the season is still early. Boy, he's got a big-time opportunity to work on that this weekend. Knowing him, I know he will do what's necessary in the process."
Tomlin issued rather optimistic prognoses for some of his injured players, particularly offensive tackle Flozell Adams, who left the game Sunday in the first half with a sprained ankle.
"He may be limited somewhat here in the early portion of the week, but we expect this guy to make it," Tomlin said.
He said he is "hopeful" that two defensive players with hamstring injuries, end Brett Keisel and linebacker LaMarr Woodley will play this week. Offensive guard Trai Essex has overcome his ankle injury.
The Steelers today plan to work out defensive lineman Jay Alford, who played four games for Oakland this season before being released. Alford, from Penn State, was a third-round pick of the New York Giants (2007) and played two seasons for them before a knee injury ended his '09 season.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com . First Published October 27, 2010 4:00 AM