By BOB LABRIOLA
The ultimate goal of every NFL team is to be able to leave training camp in good health. At least the Steelers are starting out that way this year.
The second season of the Mike Tomlin era officially begins on Sunday, July 27 when the players report to St. Vincent College, and the expectation right now is that all of them will them to be able to participate the following day when the pads go on.
"Right now it looks as if everybody is going to be ready to go at training camp," said Tomlin at a Wednesday news conference. "There may be some limits as to what we can do initially with a guy like Travis Kirschke, but some of the other guys we have talked about for a majority of the offseason who got hurt back in winter, we expect to be ready to go, the Willie Parkers and so forth."
Certainly, the Steelers' Pro Bowl tailback, who broke his leg in the first quarter of a Dec. 20 game in St. Louis, is of primary interest among those returning from injuries, but Willie Parker is a proven commodity. An extended beginning on the physically unable to perform list for an unproven commodity, Ryan McBean, for example, could have an impact on his chances to make the roster.
McBean, a defensive end from Oklahoma State, was a fourth-round pick in 2007 who spent the first 13 games of that season on the practice squad before being added to the active roster when Aaron Smith was placed on the injured reserve list. In the search for an injection of youth along the defensive line, McBean would seem to be a good place to start, but the early portion of his offseason was ruined by a broken foot. But that has healed, and ever since McBean has been putting in the work to make sure he won't be behind at the start of his second training camp.
"We are excited about where some of those injury situations are," said Tomlin. "We expect Ryan McBean to be ready to go. I think from an injury standpoint, some of the ongoing things are coming to a close. Again, we will finalize that when we give these guys physicals and report on Sunday. We are not anticipating any holdups on that regard."
Besides Parker and McBean, other players who fall into this category include Marvel Smith, Aaron Smith, Troy Polamalu, Kendall Simmons, Ryan Clark and Hines Ward.
Marvel Smith (back), Aaron Smith (biceps) and Clark (spleen) all had their 2007 seasons cut short by surgeries; Simmons and Ward both had offseason procedures done; and Polamalu went back to his old offseason training regimen after consecutive seasons spent battling nagging injuries.
"The last time I spoke to Troy his workouts were going well and we anticipate him being ready to go. I know that he does," said Tomlin. "We will see where he is when he reports on Sunday."
Tomlin will put the players through a conditioning test on Sunday afternoon, and that will be used to gauge their readiness for contact. If any physical limitations are discovered at that time, the option available to the team is the physically unable to perform list. Players on PUP do not count against the 80-man roster limit, and then when healthy, the player can be added to the active roster at any time.
The Steelers currently have 79 players on their roster with regard to the mandated total, with Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed not counting until they sign contracts, and receiver Marvin Allen getting an exemption as an international practice squad player. Once Mendenhall and Sweed sign, the Steelers would have to waive somebody to stay within the designated roster limit, and having fewer bodies will have the most impact on how Tomlin's second camp here will differ from his first.
"I think that when you are talking about putting together a training camp and we are only carrying 80-81 guys this year compared to 85 and 86 guys last year, there is a difference in terms of keeping your men healthy," said Tomlin. "The lines will be shorter in some areas. I think that all of the coaches across football have addressed or will be addressing those issues. It is a factor and some of the changes that we have made in terms of scheduling indicate that it is a concern.
"Also, camp will be different because I have a better understanding of the men we work with here, particularly the ones who have been a part of this thing. There is more of a familiarity with how we do our business, and there is more familiarity between players and coaches in terms of what we expect. I think that in those respects, that it will be easier. Camp itself will never be easy, it is not meant to be easy."