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Tomlin knee-deep in offseason

Posted Feb 21, 2011

Mike Tomlin isn’t close to hiring a secondary coach to replace Ray Horton, and he’s not really concerned about it. He doesn’t necessarily believe the need for a cornerback is any greater than it has been since he took the job in 2007. He hasn’t given up on Keenan Lewis, or, for that matter, Limas Sweed. And he’s also not a big believer in history being an indicator of the future.

The offseason is underway for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Coach Mike Tomlin has been knee-deep in it for some time, despite the loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV still only a couple of weeks in the rearview mirror, and with an unsettled labor situation on the immediate horizon because of the current CBA carrying an expiration date of March 3.

“When you are in my position, there’s not a lot of time to lick your wounds. There just isn’t,” said Tomlin from the Steelers practice facility on Monday. “I am making sure the staff is getting ample time to refresh, but I’ve got to turn the page and catch up to what Kevin Colbert and his group have done and the information they have given me in order to catch up. I enjoy it. It’s new and different for me. It’s a new challenge. This process kind of helps me turn the page.”

The process to which Tomlin refers is the NFL Scouting Combine, set to begin on Feb. 23 in Indianapolis, but that doesn’t mean he’s been living a life of leisure since returning from Dallas on Feb. 7.

“More than anything we have been wrapping a bow around the season, reviewing our player’s performances and meeting (as a staff), having interviews with guys, specifically rookies and guys whose contracts are up. I have visited with all those guys,” said Tomlin.

During a typical NFL offseason, free agency comes up on the calendar almost two full months before the draft. But this time there will be no free agency until the league and the players come to a labor agreement, and so the process could be reversed this time in terms of how teams are able to go about the process of trying to strengthen their rosters.

The Steelers never have been big players in free agency, but last offseason they were active early. They ended up adding Arnaz Battle and Will Allen, and then brought back former players Antwaan Randle El and Larry Foote.

“It could be interesting, and the only reason I say that is because it always is,” said Tomlin about what free agency might bring this time around. “It’s just too early in the process of our team-building as we sit here today for me to forecast and speculate the necessary moves that are going to have to happen. Those things are going to occur over the next several weeks to months, particularly when the process is going to happen. We’ll see.”

Tomlin also addressed some other issues:

* About hiring a secondary coach to replace Horton: “I’m still in  the information gathering process. I’m in no hurry. I want to make sure we hire the right man, and that has no timetable.”

* On whether Sweed, who spent 2010 on injured reserve, is still in the team’s plans: “Certainly. His competition is getting stiff, because I think we have acquired some guys since we acquired him who have proven they are capable of playing NFL football. I’m sure it’s not a comfortable situation, but it is a competition.”

* On whether the Steelers have an interest in adding help at cornerback: “No question we will have an interest in a cornerback. But I don’t know if there’s been a year since I have been here that I can’t say that.”

* On whether Lewis might be a part of the answer at that position: “Probably more than anything else is that it’s opportunity oriented. He didn’t get a bunch of opportunities. He did get some down the stretch, in the playoffs, and he did OK with it. By contrast a guy like Ziggy Hood had a big opportunity and got better with snaps. I expect all these guys to improve when given the opportunity. When and how they get that opportunity sometimes is outside of their control. We all acknowledge that it’s a part of this business.”

* On whether he believes he did the right thing by keeping Aaron Smith on the active roster through what turned out to be a futile attempt to get him back on the field following a torn triceps on Oct. 24: “Yes. That’s just the level of respect we have for what he is capable of as a player, and probably equally important is what he is as a man and a member of this team. I think there’s an element of value that you can’t measure. If I had to do it over, I would do it again. What am I going to do, replace him with a guy who I’m going to have inactive? No, I’m not doing that. If there ever was a situation where I thought someone we acquired had an opportunity to help us and be put in uniform (on game days) I would have considered it. But I wasn’t going to put Aaron Smith down for an inactive type.”

* And on his reaction to the tough times losers of the Super Bowl have had in the following season: “I don’t care what they say, whoever they are. Our intentions have not and will not change. We have a desire to compete for and win a world championship each and every year. We are going to be unwavering in that pursuit. You tell them that.”

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