On the Steelers: Tomlin muzzles players' response

But some question fairness to Harrison

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The latest and heaviest punishment the NFL dropped on the Steelers provoked neither the emotion nor outrage that burst from their locker room a year ago after hefty fines were delivered.

James Harrison's one-game suspension brought more resignation than anger from his teammates, partly because coach Mike Tomlin told his players Monday to cool it when talking to the media about the topic.

In the meantime, the NFL's Ted Cottrell heard the appeal Wednesday by Harrison and his agent Bill Parise. His ruling will be made this week. Cottrell is a former coach hired to hear appeals by the league and the NFL Players Association.

Safety Troy Polamalu said his coach told the players "just to say no comment."


Polamalu's comment?

"No comment."

Many Steelers players disagreed with Harrison's punishment, and some acknowledged it might have a chilling effect on the way they play defense. Others thought it unfair that Harrison was suspended for trying to make a tackle while Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour was only fined $30,000 for punching Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito earlier this month, even though it was the second time he had punched another player in two seasons. Seymour punched Ben Roethlisberger last year and was fined $25,000. He was ejected on both occasions.

So repeating a mistake trying to make a tackle cost a suspension while a repeat in throwing a premeditated punch after a play -- which would get a player arrested if he had done it on the street -- drew a fine of only $5,000 more than the first time?

"Man, they're tripping," cornerback Ike Taylor said of the NFL. "I don't know what it is. [Harrison's] getting it handed to him in the NFL way ... He didn't stomp on nobody, he didn't punch nobody's private area."

While Polamalu would not talk about Harrison's situation, he offered an opinion on how it would be difficult for defenders to change how they play the game.

"I don't think any football player is going to go out there and change the way they're playing. I think it's too late in our lives to really do that. Of course, we're professional athletes and we try our best to adjust, but it's tough."

Safety Ryan Clark, the Steelers' player representative to the union, was fined $40,000 for what the league determined to be a helmet-helmet hit Nov. 6 to Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson. Tomlin defended Clark on that one, but, if he hits another player in a similar fashion, he could be the next one to serve a suspension.

  • Game: Steelers (10-3) at San Francisco 49ers (10-3), Candlestick Park.
  • When: 8:30 p.m. Monday.
  • TV: WTAE & ESPN.

"We all are I guess, now," Clark said about being one hit away from a suspension. "The way the appeals process is, the way the suspensions and fines processes go, I guess we all are. There are no set rules, no clarification on what will get you suspended or what will get you fined a certain amount. It's really all let up to judgment.

"We have to continue to try to play within the rules, try to do the right things because it's a battle we really can't win. The NFL is going make the decision on who plays and who doesn't and, for us, we have to try to find a way to play within the rules and still be able to maintain a physical presence out there."

Sometimes, though, the appeals process works. It worked for linebacker James Farrior earlier this year when he and his agent Ralph Cindrich appealed a $15,000 fine he received for hitting Indianapolis Colts quarterback Kerry Collins Sept. 25 helmet-to-facemask. The fine was reduced to $5,000.

"When you get kicked out of a game or get suspended, that's hurting the team," said Farrior, who thought Harrison's suspension might cause defenders to play differently. "We have to think about doing whatever we need to do to not hurt the team."

Preparing for Ben's absence?

Ben Roethlisberger still wore a protective boot on his injured left ankle as two teammates practiced possibly to replace him in a Monday night game at San Francisco.

Quarterback Charlie Batch said he assumes he would start if Roethlisberger cannot play, but Tomlin said he wants to get No. 3 quarterback Dennis Dixon ready even if Roethlisberger does play.

Dixon has not played this season, and Batch has thrown just two passes and completed none.

"It's very tough," said Dixon, who has dressed for two games after spending most of last season on injured reserve with a knee injury. "I'm so ready, I'm so ready to prove to this team once again that I'm able to get things done if it does present itself, and I'm also looking forward to it."

Dixon started the first two games of 2010 during Roethlisberger's four-game suspension. He left in the second quarter of the second game with a torn lateral meniscus, was placed on injured reserve and has not played since except in the preseason.

Batch has not played much more. He played the rest of the way during the Roethlisberger suspension but did not get into another game in 2010. He has played little this season, throwing two incompletions.

"We'll see how this week plays out," Batch said. "You got to take it as I do every week; you have to be ready to go. At least, I'll know I'll get practice reps and we'll re-evaluate the situation toward the end of the week. That's the only thing I know."

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published December 15, 2011 5:00 AM


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