PHOENIX -- Mike Tomlin had a bold message today for those questioning the Steelers ability to be a playoff team in 2013 after so many key losses and defections.
"That's March talk," Tomlin said. "I'll see you at stadiums in the fall."
It might not carry the same stern warning Tomlin issued in the 2009 season when he said, "We will unleash hell in December." And it remains to be seen if this directive proves to more prophetic than the one in 2009 when the Steelers subsequently lost their next two games, resulting in a five-game losing streak.
But it nonetheless points out what Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II have maintained since the start of free agency -- the Steelers are not a team that is rebuilding.
"I acknowledge we got a ways to go," Tomlin said during the AFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, site of the NFL owners meetings. "[We lost close games] because we weren't good enough. Good teams win close games. Teams that are not lose those games.
"We were an 8-8 team. I'm not going to hide from that."
The Steelers have already lost three key starters in free agency -- Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Keenan Lewis -- and released two others who were still under contract, Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison and guard Willie Colon. They are expected not to re-sign two others starters who are unrestricted free agents -- tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Here what Tomlin had to say on several other subjects:
• On the performance of his offense in their first year under Todd Haley:"I thought we did some good things early. I thought we waned down the stretch."
• On the relationship of Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: "I think it's going to be a healthy one and one that grows. Both guys are geared toward winning and are unselfish from that standpoint."
• On using more zone blocking schemes with new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.: "We'll lean on the strength of our guys. It's something we're going to explore. But we're not going to move too far from what the guys are capable of doing."
• On the long-term future of the read option: "I think it's the flavor of day. We will see if it's the flavor of year. We'll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit."