If the questions were asked with the future in mind, Mike Tomlin answered them based on the present.
During Day 2 of Ben Roethlisberger's return to the Steelers' offseason program, he worked with the first-team offense just as was the case the previous day, but what made this seem a bit more significant was the fact all four quarterbacks participated in Wednesday's on-field workout. On June 1, Roethlisberger also worked with the first-team offense, but Byron Leftwich was absent that day because of a previous commitment.
So it was not until today that Tomlin's plan for a division of labor was revealed, and following the session he explained it.
"Because he's missed opportunities, quite frankly, to work with some of those guys," said Tomlin when asked why Roethlisberger ran plays with the first-team. "Of course, Byron has been doing it the vast majority of the offseason. Ben's back in the building, so we put him in the huddle to get acclimated with the guys that he usually works with."
The Steelers are in the unique position of knowing now that they will be without their starting quarterback at least for the first four games of the regular season, and so Tomlin is blazing a new trail for coaches in terms of dividing work at a critical position.
It long has been a mantra throughout the NFL that every backup is "one play away" from having to come off the sideline and perform on the field, but that typically refers to injuries, and nobody knows when an injury might occur or how severe it might be. This is a situation where the Steelers know who will be missing, and they also have a decent idea of the duration of his absence. For those reasons, planning for it is possible.
For his part, Tomlin said he will work through it in stages.
"As we sit here today, and that's really all I'm focused on – what we're doing this week, this section of OTAs – and what we really want to do is give Ben quality reps so he can get re-acclimated and improve and work on his game," said Tomlin, "and we want to continue to give Dennis Dixon his reps because he is a young guy. When you're talking about working with four quarterbacks, reps are going to be scarce at some instances. For the purpose of this week, if there's a reduction it's going to be at the expense of Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch."
It was another well-attended OTA session from a media standpoint, and that figures to be the case at least until Roethlisberger addresses the media. When he does, it will be his first public comments since he issued a statement in response to being suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in late April.
"I don't mind the circus atmosphere because I can't control it," said Tomlin. "We're trying to focus on the things we can control. We recognize as a professional football team that's trying to be a world championship caliber team that there are certain things that come with being who we are that we have to accept, and we need to stay focused on what it is we are here to do, which is to improve. He will address the media at an appropriate time in the near future and continue to move forward."
Tomlin made it clear that he sees this situation as a process, and that making a quick pronouncement on Roethlisberger's demeanor over the last two days serves no purpose.
"It's less about how we respond to this in the short term, and even further less important what we say about it," said Tomlin. "It's more about how we move forward largely in the long term, knowing that Ben has a commitment to being what we desire for him to be and what his team needs him to be, and that's my focus."
INJURY UPDATE: Both Hines Ward (hamstring) and Justin Hartwig (shoulder) have been regular attendees of the OTAs, but neither has done much on-field work. "Hines is getting closer and getting better. Justin is as scheduled," said Tomlin. "Justin's going to be limited in terms of some of the exposure that his shoulder might get in terms of contact. Of course the emphasis in OTAs is non-contact, but when you are playing in close quarters, things could happen accidentally, and we want to exercise caution in regards to him with that. It also provides an opportunity for some young guys at the position to get quality reps. Doug Legursky has done a nice job at center for us. Maurkice Pouncey is getting some quality work at center. And of course the same can be said at the wide receiver position. Hines is not getting work so it provides opportunities for young guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown to get some work."