Steelers Training Camp: First Week Rewind

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Monday, July 30, 2007
By Paul Eide
Steelers Fever Columnist


The hard nosed style of play that has made the Steelers one of the most successful franchises in NFL history started before coach Bill Cowher donned the gold and black, and will seemingly wear on even without him. With an intense tone not seen in nearly ten years by some player's estimation, new head coach Mike Tomlin did nothing to dismiss the recent memory of notorious disciplinarian Cowher.

Hines Ward"It's not going to be comfortable when we play on Sunday and have to come back and play on Thursday night on the road," Tomlin said. "But guess what? The standards of expectations are not going to change, is it? We have to go win. That's what training camp is about, that's why we're thoughtfully non-rhythmic. That's why we do some of the things that we do in terms of scheduling."

Not only were the Steelers the first NFL team to begin training camp, but few other teams match the intensity of Tomlin's first week.

Monday's run tests were by far the easiest day of the whole week. Tomlin's run test differed from that of predecessor Bill Cowher, who made his players run 14 40-yard dashes. Tomlin's test consisted of 16 110-yard jogs, but that was shortened by two Monday.

"Guys were doing so well we cut it at 14," Tomlin said. "It didn't look like anybody was going to have a tough time making it, a testament to their preparation. Hats off to them."

The new coach stepped up training camp on Tuesday, the first full day of training camp, with the first of 15 scheduled two-a-day practices. The first morning practice Tuesday featured all-out hitting in full pads, something last seen so early in camp when Chuck Noll was the head coach. The physical morning practice included one on one drills between running backs and linebackers as well as a goal line stand drills.

"There are a lot more practices (than before) a lot more hitting going on, said wide receiver Hines Ward. "The first week is all about hitting. You can't evaluate players if you don't hit, so maybe we start off fast and he (Tomlin) cuts back towards the end."

"I haven't hit in the (morning) since college," said linebacker Larry Foote, a six-year veteran.

The second Tuesday practice was forced from outside to inside a gymnasium due to rainy weather. Once the rains came, the players traded their pads for shorts and tee shirts and headed inside a gymnasium where they walked through various formations, focusing more on positioning rather than execution. "We challenged the guys and told them this was a chance to exercise a little mental toughness and get some production out of the afternoon," Tomlin said. "I think they did that."

Wednesday was the first all-special teams practice, the first of seven, in addition to the time spent in other practices on the kicking game. Coach Tomlin pointed to the success the Chicago Bears had a year ago as a motivating factor in deciding to devote so much time to special teams, when a lot of other teams reserved limited time for it.

As linebacker Clark Haggans put it, "Special teams determines the outcome of two, three, four games that could get you in the playoffs or a playoff win or could get you to the Super Bowl."

Tomlin is a big believer in the importance of special teams, further illustrated by the fact that he has three coaches on staff dedicated solely to special teams.

In terms of two (special teams) coaches, of course, multiple sets of eyes are better than one," he said. "Not only for what you do on the field but also for the development of game plans. Different ideas are great. Offensive staffs have staff meetings and develop game plans. Defensive staffs do the same thing. We want to recognize this as a legitimate phase of football and have multiple people who are specialists in that area to develop game plans. Tomlin also noted that several starters will be active members of special teams.

On Thursday, there were two full practices in pads, something that never happened under Cowher. Players again participated in the "Backers on Backers" drill, with a special emphasis placed on blitzing the quarterback for the defense. But the biggest news a hamstring injury suffered by first round draft pick Lawerence Timmons, which caused him to leave practice early.

"The two-a-days, a two-hour practice each time, that's hard on a groin you never did anything to," Timmons said. "The wear and tear on the body. ... You got to be smart with everything. It's nothing specific. I'm just being safe. I can still go," he said. "I'm just going off what's best for my body."

Timmons initially suffered the injury on the first day of mini-camp and was never able to participate in another mini-camp practice. When training camp started on Monday he was supposedly fully healed, until he felt a twinge in the leg and was not able to continue.

"He felt a little twinge, so we're just being cautious," Tomlin said. "We don't want to take steps backward as we move forward. Until that point, he did make a play or two, and that was good."

The big news out of Friday nights practice was the performance of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during situational 11 on 11 passing drills.

The first situation was second-and-7 at the 16-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward over the middle in front of safety Anthony Smith for a touchdown. The second situation was a first-and-10 from the 19-yard line while in a two tight end set. Roethlisberger looked for tight end Jeramie Tumane over the middle but couldn't find him throwing an incomplete pass.

On the next two situational drills however, Roethlisberger looked perfect. On a third and six at the 11, Roethlisberger connected with wide receiver Cedrick Wilson for a score. Finally on a first and goal from the 10 yard line, Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller in the corner of the end zone.

"I was real pleased,'' said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians of Roethlisberger's performance. "He knows what he's doing right now."