Coach Mike Tomlin penciled in starters at several contested positions when he ended the Steelers' spring practices yesterday, emphasizing that's precisely how they're written -- in pencil.
The more permanent ink won't be used until well into training camp.
"You define guys on how they play this game when they play it in pads," Tomlin said. "I like what I saw out there, but I am not making decisions on what I saw in this offseason."
Because someone has to go first, Chukky Okobi will open training camp with the first team at center over Sean Mahan; Deshea Townsend over Bryant McFadden at right cornerback; Ryan Clark over Anthony Smith at free safety; Max Starks at right tackle over Willie Colon; and Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Mike Tomlin addresses the media as the Steelers closed workouts Thursday:
That last one was a ringer, even if Tomlin talked as if not many positions are written in ink yet.
"No job is secure," Tomlin insisted. "This is not a security business and if they are looking for security, they need to find a new line of work."
Of course, players such as Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith, Heath Miller, the entire defensive line and halfback Willie Parker have as much job security as any NFL players. But Tomlin, as a new coach, probably will be quicker to make changes than Bill Cowher might have been.
"I told those guys that I am going to base my decision on them and what they do on a day-to-day basis, not their reputation or resume -- and I mean what I say in that regard," Tomlin said.
"People want to establish depth charts at this time of year, which is good, so be it. They change. I am not worried about who the starting center is or who the starting corners are. I am worried about acquiring guys that are capable of doing a job and fighting it out in Latrobe and in the preseason."
One player who has worked himself back into the good graces with the new regime is left cornerback Ike Taylor. Benched by Cowher last November, Taylor ran all spring with the first team as McFadden and Townsend rotated on the right side.
"There are known position battles that everybody knows about," Tomlin said, "but there are also unknown position battles that are going to develop, because we are going to go into this thing with no preconceived notions. We are going to base our decisions on what we see in training camp."
Some other observations by Tomlin as he shut things down until training camp:
Roethlisberger has performed well.
"He is a tremendous competitor and he's a very talented guy. He communicated well with all of the other players. He's kind of a ball junkie. I didn't know that about him, but he is talking about football on a day-to-day basis. He is really into it and I was very pleased with him."
Rookie linebacker Lawrence Timmons tried to practice this week, but the coach opted to give him more time to rest his injured groin. Tomlin said the team's top draft pick should be ready to practice at the start of training camp, and he hoped he would miss no time because of contract talks.
"I think if you did a study on people who missed parts of training camp during their rookie year, the result would not be good and I think he knows that. Not only him, but everybody."
Tomlin will have more twice-daily practices than the Steelers have had in past training camps. "It will give them something to whine about."
Players were introduced to different positions this spring, just in case.
"Corners played nickel, corners played dime, safeties played nickel and dime, Deshea Townsend played some safety, linebackers flopped around. Wideouts exchanged positions. Tailbacks played fullback, etc. That has kind of been something that we impressed upon them all offseason. The more that you can do, the more that you are willing to do, adds value."
Toward that end, Colon not only competed to take Starks' right tackle job from him, he practiced at guard and center.
"Willie is pushing a lot of people. He has been one of the guys that we have moved around quite a bit, because we want to put him in a position to get into the top five."
His parting message to his players: "I want them to enjoy themselves, prepare themselves and to not be The Guy ... simply, not being one of 'the guys' we are usually seeing in the headlines this time of year. The guys that are making the headlines this time of year are not the type of guy that we are looking for. Don't be The Guy."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .