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5 For Friday: Tomlin's personal touch with players matters

MOBILE, Ala. – When you watch Mike Tomlin work in a situation such as the Senior Bowl, you understand why players enjoy playing for him so much.

Tomlin is at home in these kind of settings, offering coaching and chatting with other coaches and front office members. He's at perfect peace being Mike Tomlin.

Tomlin works the field like he's the only coach out there who matters. And the young players take notice and appreciate his on-field demeanor and hands-on-approach. A number of players here in Mobile spoke openly of the conversations they had both on and off the field with Tomlin during the week.

He has a way about him on the field that makes every prospect feel like he's taken a personal interest in them. Tomlin does the same thing with his own team. He speaks to every one of them at different points, whether it be on the practice field or in the locker room, putting a personal touch on things.

Now, because of the draft, the Steelers will only have an opportunity to add just a handful of these players to their roster – at least this year.

But when some of these guys become free agents down the road, they'll remember Tomlin's on-field coaching, his words of encouragement. It's a big reason why when players are polled each season, Tomlin is one of the top coaches for which players want to play.

With more teams giving out shorter contracts to players the past couple of seasons, that matters.

• The Steelers won't be playing outside the United States in 2023, but they should be doing so very soon.

At his press conference last week, team president Art Rooney II again expressed an interest in playing an international game, even if it means giving up a home game to do so.

"We'd like to play at home for sure, and are reluctant to give up a home game," Rooney said. "But the other side of the coin is, we're fortunate to have fans in other countries and would like to play in front of them once in a while. So, I expect in the near future, we'll be in another international game."

Mexico City would be the natural choice. The Steelers have a large fanbase in the country and Mexico is the team's International Home Market. But Mexico City wasn't a possibility in 2023 because of renovations being made at Estadio Azteca.

"We can't play in Mexico this coming season," Rooney said. "But I definitely would like to play a game in Mexico again sometime soon. We have a great fan base down there. We have the right now under this new international program that the League has to have more of a presence in Mexico and we now have a preseason television agreement down there. Our preseason games are going to be on in Mexico. Our radio broadcasts are on in Mexico. It's a presence that we're going to continue to try to build on."

The Steelers, of course, haven't played internationally since doing so in 2013 in London against the Vikings. And with the Packers having played overseas for the first time in their history last season, the Steelers are now the team that has gone the longest without doing so.

• After being overlooked in the initial voting, Cam Heyward was named to this weekend's Pro Bowl. It marks Heyward's sixth trip to the Pro Bowl.

Thing is, he shouldn't have had to be named to the game as one of the alternates once Kansas City's Chris Jones dropped out.

Nothing against Jones, Jeffery Simmons or Quinnen Williams, the defensive tackles chosen ahead of Heyward, but none of their overall seasons were as good as that of Heyward.

Of that foursome, Heyward had by far the most tackles, with 74. He's one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL. Williams was second in that group with 55 total tackles, while Simmons had 54 and Jones 44.

In terms of sacks, Heyward's 10.5 were three more than Simmons and just behind the 12 that Williams registered. Jones led the group with 15.5.

Jones also had 29 QB hits, while Williams had 28. Heyward had 22 and Simmons had 14.

When it comes to tackles for a loss, Jones had 17, just three more than Heyward's 14. Williams had 12 and Simmons had 9.

• It was good to catch up with former Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster this week at the Senior Bowl.

And to show just what kind of brotherhood there is among Steelers players, as I was talking to him he got a text message in a group chat with former Steelers tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

That bond among teammates is strong.

• The most asked question to players at the Senior Bowl is if they met with this team or that team. It's a rookie reporter mistake.

Per the rules of the event, every player meets with someone from every team. It's a big reason why players choose to attend the Senior Bowl – they get exposure to every NFL team.

So, while it's nice to hear about who spoke to who, it's not exactly newsworthy.

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