By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – Training camp will end for the Steelers on Friday, but that doesn't mean the job will be finished.
Coach Mike Tomlin has said throughout the team's time here that he is pleased with the way the players are working and what they are getting accomplished, but the end of their stay at Saint Vincent College simply means the work moves to a different venue.
"It's becoming clearer but by no means are we a finished product," said Tomlin after Tuesday's afternoon practice. "We have one preseason game under our belts and we have three more to go. That's one of the things I'm going to stress to these guys – just because we're going to check out of training camp here at the end of this week, that doesn't mean we're going to stop the team-building process.
"If anything, it's going to become more significant as we get back into the real world and have to deal with some of the things that you don't have to deal with at training camp. We still have to be a team on the rise, we still have to be a developing world championship caliber team, and those are some of the things we're going to start stressing to those guys at the appropriate time.
It's often a training camp comes to be defined to some degree by the performance of that year's rookie class, and the Steelers' 2009 group has impressed from the start.
The draft picks – from No. 1 Ziggy Hood to No. 7 David Johnson – all have had their moments, and the undrafted rookies have been led by the performances of Isaac Redman and Ramon Foster. Every one of the team's nine draft picks, plus those two undrafted rookies, remain very much in the mix for a roster spot, and if that seems like faint praise it should be remembered this roster won a Super Bowl last year and returns 20 of the 22 starters from that game.
But at this stage, Tomlin has no interest in any proclamations about these rookies.
"I don't try to evaluate those guys after an OTA session or a training camp or a first year or a first two years for that matter," said Tomlin. "Different people come at different stages of development. Everybody is praising Ziggy Hood because he's behaving like a grown man, because he's very mature, he works well. But he's older than Rashard Mendenhall, so he should. Lawrence Timmons is in his third year, and he's 23. We're not too quick to evaluate where those guys are. I like the effort they're giving us, their attention to detail for the most part, but the jury is still out on that group and probably will be."
As for the afternoon's practice, the Steelers concentrated on red zone football, because as Tomlin explained, "The point swing can be the difference at times between being victorious and not, between being great and good and those things. Offensively, you want the seven points, and defensively when they're down there you're looking to get out with possibly three and maybe even no points. I liked the way the guys worked."
At a time when training camp is near its end, the Steelers still have yet to play their second preseason game. Even though the games are critical to the evaluation process, the Steelers will take a similar approach to Saturday's against the Redskins at FedEx Field to the one employed in the opener against the Cardinals.
"We're not really focused on Washington just yet," said Tomlin. "The battle is man vs. himself right now. When you get into the third week of camp, particularly from a young guy's standpoint, the water gets a little deep for them. We're seeing a lot of young guy mistakes, and we have to get those guys back up to speed and find their groove, just to a point of where they're getting comfortable and not having to open up their book every night. Maybe fatigue is a factor, and they have to be able to execute when fatigue sets in, mentally and physically."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE: "Nick Eason looks like he's got a calf strain of some kind. We're going to take a look at that and see his availability for tomorrow and so forth. Scott Paxson has an elbow injury of some kind, but he was able to finish. Mewelde Moore is marching his way back. He was able to participate in individual drills, and we're just going to keep him moving forward. We like where he is. Sean McHugh did miss because of a little swelling in his knee, training camp knee if you will. As soon as that subsides, we'll get him back out here."