On the Steelers: Mike Tomlin selectively hits the mute button
January 7, 2015 12:00 AM
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, left, and head coach Mike Tomlin speak as the Steelers practice in late November.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Tomlin touched plenty of bases in his season-ending news conference Tuesday. One topic he would not talk about was the status of his coaching staff and another was those four aging Super Bowl-era defensive stalwarts.
He also declined to say whether Dick LeBeau would return as defensive coordinator.
“I haven’t talked to him,” Tomlin said.
Others say LeBeau, 77, wants to continue to coach. He has been their coordinator the past 11 seasons in his second tour as a coach with the Steelers, and has spent 42 years as an NFL coach after his 14 seasons as a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back.
Perhaps Tomlin was stung by what happened after he said he “anticipated” that both of his coordinators would return in 2012, only to have the Steelers not renew Bruce Arians’ contract days later.
Tomlin then hired Todd Haley as offensive coordinator to replace Arians. Quietly, Haley signed a two-year contract extension that will take him through the 2016 season. His offense finished No. 2 in the NFL this season with an average of 411.1 yards per game.
“I am sure I don’t have a lot of answers that you may be looking for in terms of how that might be, the players involved, coaches involved and things of that nature,” Tomlin said, outlining his week ahead of meetings with his players and staff individually. “I am just not there yet.”
That would include commenting on the futures of four of the finest defensive players he has coached since arriving in 2007 — safety Troy Polamalu, outside linebacker James Harrison, defensive end Brett Keisel and cornerback Ike Taylor.
Polamalu and Keisel have contracts for next season, although that means little in determining whether they will return. Harrison came closest of the quartet to saying he might want to come back for 2015. Tomlin would not say if he wants him back or not.
“I’m going to discuss that with James before I discuss that with you guys and I mean that sincerely. I appreciate what transpired this year. But what transpired this year is not going to have a bearing on how we move forward.
“I’m just not in position to talk at a great length about anyone in regard to how we move forward at this point. I just think it’s appropriate that I do that with them exclusively, first and foremost. I will with everybody — players and coaches.”
Tomlin gives QB boost
Ben Roethlisberger likely does not need more advantages when negotiations for his contract extension begin after he had the best statistical season of any Steelers quarterback in history.
But his coach gave him one anyway.
“We have a good quarterback,” Tomlin said. “I like him. I would like to keep him.”
Roethlisberger enters the final year of his contract, something that rarely happens with the Steelers because in the past they have signed their starting quarterback to extensions when he had two years left.
Steelers president Art Rooney, though, explained last year that they would wait because of their tight position under the salary cap, and he talked to Roethlisberger about it. The quarterback said he understood.
“Ultimately, it’s up to [my agents] and the Rooney family to do something, hopefully this offseason and hopefully sooner than later because I love being here with this family,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio spot on 93.7 The Fan.
Worilds, Mitchell pluses
Two defensive players who signed big contracts with the Steelers in 2014 received good reviews Sunday from Tomlin. One is outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who signed a one-year contract for nearly $10 million as a transition player to remain with the team. The other is safety Mike Mitchell, who signed as an unrestricted free agent for five years and $25 million.
On Worilds, who tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks and had another taken away by a wrong penalty call: “From a big-picture standpoint, I thought he evolved over the course of the season. I thought his arrow was pointing up. I thought he did a nice job for us regardless of what we asked him to do.
“He was in a leadership position. I thought he came out of his shell a little bit and interacted with younger players and helped them in their growth and their development. There is value in terms of that. I thought it was a productive year.”
And on Mitchell, who revealed he played much of the season with a groin injury: “I like his performance over the course of the season. I just think big picture-wise, his arrow pointed up in terms of his performance … as he gets up to speed with not only what we do here but how he fits in it. I thought as the season wore on, he got better and particularly over the course of the last month. I was excited about the trajectory of his performance and I am moving forward.”
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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