No-nonsense Tomlin looks forward to camp
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In his first training camp, Chuck Noll told his players many of them would not be on the team long because they lacked the kind of talent he needed to forge a winner.
In his first training camp, Bill Cowher stopped practice in the middle one day, gathered his players around him and screamed at them so loud his words could be heard on the hillside around Saint Vincent College.
Mike Tomlin seems ready to continue the tradition tomorrow when his first Steelers team reports to training camp in Latrobe.
As were his two predecessors, Tomlin is young -- at 35, the same age as Cowher and two years younger than Noll when they became Steelers coaches. And he also appears ready to follow their paths as a tough, no-nonsense leader.
Even in the spring, players appealed to captain Hines Ward to approach the coach to go easier in no-pads practices. What's it going to be like in this training camp with 15 two-a-days and no day off until Aug. 6, the day after their first preseason game in Canton, Ohio?
"Probably a little heavier than they are used to,'' Tomlin said, almost gleefully. "It will give them something to whine about.
"I don't know too many active players that like training camp. They probably endure it. I did tell the group ... that it is going to be extremely tough. I am not apologizing for that. I am going to put that challenge out there to them because in a lot of ways it represents the journey that we are going to face this year."
Expectations for Tomlin's first season are not as high as they were for the Steelers the past two training camps, first when they followed a 15-1 season and a visit to the AFC championship game, and then a Super Bowl victory. Still, there is enough talent left from those two teams that last year's 8-8 record is not the expectation either.
As Ward noted in June, "Expectations are still high."
Like the change at the top, the change in personnel from last season is small in numbers, large in stature. Linebacker Joey Porter was cut and center Jeff Hartings retired. Both are former Pro Bowl players.
That opened up two jobs, and Tomlin has opened others, most specifically at right guard and right tackle. Several other jobs are in jeopardy because of younger players -- Bryant McFadden at cornerback and Anthony Smith at free safety -- coming into their own.
Tomlin, though, carries no nostalgia for his players into this training camp, so if some veterans do not perform up to expectations, they also could find themselves in a fight to keep their jobs.
"There are known position battles that everybody knows about, 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," Tomlin said. "We are going to base our decisions on what we see in training camp."
It wasn't merely a management decision to release Porter, ostensibly for salary cap purposes. Tomlin quickly gave it his stamp of approval for competitive reasons as well after watching tape of Porter last season.
"Whether people are looking for comfort or if they find comfort in whether or not their jobs are mentioned as one being up for grabs, I hope they don't," Tomlin said. "I hope they understand what we have been saying to them all along. We are going to base our judgments off of what they do and not what they have done or what their reputations are."
Tomlin has a depth chart going in, but as he noted when he closed up shop in June, they are penciled in, subject to erasure.
"No job is secure," he said. "This is not a security business and if they are looking for security, they need to find a new line of work."
How Tomlin walks that fine line between being tough and too tough should be interesting as camp progresses.
"It is not going to be without ups and downs," he acknowledged. "It is not going to be smooth sailing, but we have to deal with it like champions if we want to be champions. So, I am looking forward to training camp. I am sure they are. I am sure at times, they won't but that is part of it. That is what NFL training camps are about. They are not supposed to be pleasant."
It appears there will be no day at the movies instead of practice for the Steelers this summer, as was an annual ritual of Cowher's.
"You define guys on how they play this game when they play it in pads," Tomlin said.Post-Gazette
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Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Coach Mike Tomlin will judge players off this training camp.
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First Published July 21, 2007 10:50 pm