The uncertain future of the ownership of the Steelers could become a distraction for the players, coach Mike Tomlin said today.
"Potentially," is how Tomlin put the chances of it affecting his ballclub. "Because there'll be questions that I'll have to answer in regards to that and there will be questions that potentially our team has to answer in regard to that.
"I don't have the answer to those questions and neither does our football team; I'm here to coach, they're here to play. Those questions will be answered by the Rooneys."
Tomlin did say that a "good" team won't let ownership issues or other off-field subjects become distractions.
"You got a good football team when they're capable of doing that," Tomlin said, "and not only on that specific subject, but on any subject that has nothing to do with playing football and preparing yourself to win football games."
The five sons of franchise founder Art Rooney Sr., who own 80 percent of the Steelers, are negotiating among themselves and with others to try to determine who will own the team and how much of it. Some of the five brothers want to sell their shares as they look toward estate issues and also try to conform to the NFL's ruling that that they must divest themselves of ownership in their two casino-race tracks.
Team chairman Dan Rooney and his son, team president Art Rooney II, are trying to assume a controlling interest in the franchise.
"One of the things I focused on throughout some of these questions along those lines," Tomlin said, "are the words of Dan Rooney and Art Rooney, the words they gave to our fans, that the excitement and expectations for this season will not change. I have a great deal of trust and belief in those two men, so that's the approach I'm taking, that's the approach that this football team will take. That is our focus at this point, readying ourselves to fight the battles that await us to be the very best that we can be and to compete for a Lombardi here in '08."
Among other topics Tomlin broached during his press conference as he prepares to take his team to training camp Sunday in Latrobe:
• All of his players, as far as he knows, are healthy and will be ready to practice. However, pre-camp physicals ultimately will determine that.
• Tomlin reiterated Kevin Colbert's prediction that both unsigned rookies, top picks Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed, will have contracts by Sunday.
• This camp will not be as physically difficult as his first because the 81-man roster is five fewer than last year. He will not conduct as many true two-a-days as he did in 2007.
• Among the more important issues Tomlin cited entering camp are the development of the offensive line, a new third-string quarterback, new role players and to develop the second-year players such as linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley.
• The competition for the starting job at center between newcomer Justin Hartwig and last year's starter Sean Mahan will be "a hotly contested battle."