Press Conferences

Coach Tomlin's Press Conference: July 23

Coach Mike Tomlin:Good afternoon. I am excited to be here today. I missed these warm and fuzzy get-togethers that we all have. Seriously, I am excited about moving forward with the next phase of development with our '08 football team, which is training camp. We are excited about moving forward with that, and it is a great time of year; we look forward to doing that. We brought our staff back in and we have assembled and readied ourselves for training camp. Of course the men will report to camp on Sunday and then we will move forward. A couple of quick updates as to where we are: Of course our draft picks; we have everybody signed except for our number one and number two, which is probably consistent with this time of year. Progress on negotiations is going well and we do not anticipate any of those guys having any hold ups in terms of participating in training camp this weekend. Specifically about training camp, our goals are going to be simple and that is to come out of training camp a unified, hardened group. The work that we have to do in training camp is work with 81 potential guys and then come away with 53 men that we feel give us the best chance of winning as a football team. That is what training camp is all about. We have bunch of questions to ask, a bunch of questions to answer and collectively I think that we are all excited about this next phase.

Do you start anybody out on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list?

Not at this point. Again, part of the registration process is a conditioning test. Don't anticipate it, but always prepare for the unforeseen.

Any update on injuries and surgeries?

Right now it looks as if everybody is going to be ready to go at training camp. There may be some limits as to what we can do initially with a guy like Travis Kirschke. Some of the other guys that we have talked about a majority of the offseason that got hurt back in winter, we expect to be ready to go, the Willie Parkers and so forth. We are excited about where some of those injury situations are. 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.

Did your interest in Kevin Jones reflect any concern about Willie Parker?

Not at all, and not speaking specifically about Kevin Jones because he is a member of the Chicago Bears, but it is our policy that we are going to pursue guys that we think are worthy candidates out there that are free agents who can make us the best football team that we can be. We brought some of those guys in this year and of course we didn't sign them all. We are always looking to explore players, especially veteran players that can contribute to that. I think that when you talk about preparing for training camp and putting together the best 80 or 81 men that you can bring to camp, I think you do it for just that purpose; to create great competition so that you can come away with the best 53. Anything that we did in that regard had no bearing on Willie Parker's situation.

Have you talked to Troy Polamalu at all?

I haven't spoken to Troy recently. 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. We will see where he is when he reports on Sunday.

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When you sign your final two draft picks, will you have to cut somebody?

At this point we are under the limit. When we do sign those guys we will be one heavy, so we do have one move to make in terms of being ready for camp, given that we sign those two draft picks.

How will camp be different from last year?

Structurally, in terms of how we approach our business, it won't be. The amount of work that we do, and maybe the points of emphasis have changed because they always will. Some of the changes are for obvious reasons. 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. 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. I think that it is a factor and some of the changes that we have made in terms of scheduling indicate that it is a concern. Also, it will be different because I have a better understanding of the men that we work with here, particularly the ones that have been a part of this thing. I think that 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 will never be easy, it is not meant to be easy.

Do you do anything in the offseason to learn different things such as attending clinics?

There is not much shared information in the National Football League. The offseason is just that, but you do break it up and you grow and you explore. If you looked at it chronologically then the first thing that you do is evaluate what you have done and look at potential changes that may occur in that area. You also explore some things that you didn't do well and some potential changes in that area. After that, you look around the league at different trends that are going on with your competitors; people that do things well. You analyze the different things that they do and then you decide if you want to add some of the things that they do well. That is just a general a breakdown of how you go about it over the entire offseason. We run that gauntlet and we are ready to prepare our team now.

Did you see anything that you really wanted to improve?

Of course when you look back at seasons past, there are things that you didn't do well and want to improve on. The one thing that I am extremely conscious of is there are things that we did well last year doesn't ensure that we will do them well this year and things that we didn't do as well last year we can't anticipate being poor in those areas this year. It is really a clean slate if you will. There are some things that you put antenna up about, but you really move forward with an open mind and an understanding that this is the '08 season and things never stay the same, they always change. We will let the process reveal that to us.

How are your emotions different?

No. I love football, I love this process, I love going to camp, I love team-building; readying ourselves to pursue our goals. I am extremely excited. If I had to characterize it I would say no more excited or no less excited than a year ago.

What questions are you looking to be answered?

More than anything the group dynamics, the development of leadership, the chemistry; the things that you can't measure are always a question to me. Some of the other things are always more obvious and sort themselves out where they should on the grass at training camp and in the preseason games. I am more concerned and more interested in the development of the things that you don't measure; the camaraderie, the natural leadership, the ever-changing roles that are involved on a football team.

Are there any personnel questions that stand out in your mind?

All of them. Some of the obvious ones that have been talked about are the cohesion and the development of our offensive line. Of course that is a question. We will be looking at a new third quarterback than we have had in recent years; that will be a question. We have some new role players in the running back position. The division of labor at that position will be interesting. We have the development of some second-year players who contributed for us last year. They will be called on to contribute more and in different ways this year. The growth and development of those men will create change in the division of labor. There will be a lot of issues and that is what training camp is about. I think one of the things that I am always conscious about is that I never try to tell a story; I always try to let the story unfold and call it as I see it. That is what I intend to do this year as well.

How does Ben Roethlisberger taking on more leadership impact things?

I think that Ben's development as a leader has nothing to do specifically with his contract. I just think that is the growth and development in him as a professional and his growth and development as the quarterback of this football team. That is what I am more concerned about, and I think that that process has been going great.

What are you expectations for LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons?

We will put a bunch of pressure on those two men as we will everybody else in that draft class, I think that when you look at the changes that occur on a football team from year-to-year, I think that those second-year men have the biggest and best opportunity to make a dramatic jump in how they approach their business and in their level of productivity in their roles on the football team. Those are two men who have worked extremely hard in the offseason and have shown that at this point they are going to be ready to make that jump. They have do to it with their actions and I think that they are in the right frame of mind to do that. I am excited about watching those roles grow and expand, as I am guys such as Matt Spaeth, Daniel Sepulveda, Ryan McBean, William Gay, Darnell Stapleton and Gary Russell. All of those guys, Dallas Baker, the second-year guys that weren't on our 53-man active roster, the practice squad guys who have been through the 12 month calendar if you will, and it is their second lap around the track. There are no unknowns for those guys. There is a great deal of comfort in that, and hopefully that produces the outcome that we are looking for, which is quality play from them.

Would you hope that the offensive line would sort itself out sooner rather than later?

I hope all of our issues sort out quickly. But experience tells me that it will never happen as quickly as you like and that's what training camp is all about.

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Is your defensive line still a concern as you head into camp?

It is somewhat of a concern. I think the thing that added to that concern last year was the number of those men who were going into free agency. Our ability to re-sign some of those men I think answers some of those questions for us. What I mean was that we had guys like Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason* *who were going into free agency. So when you talk about concerns and thin depth and the age of the group and things of that nature, you couldn't talk about those guys being in the mix and your potential to explore those guys not being in the mix. I think some of the things we did in terms of solidifying that group and signing those two people prior to the draft have left with some of that worry. But it is worry and its part of football. It's going to be great to see that unfold. And again we had a guy like Ryan McBean who didn't contribute much last year who has been through the cycle. He's going to be a second-year guy in our program and hopefully he'll add some youth and some play, but it's something that he's going to have to earn. He's had a great offseason. He's worked extremely hard. He's healthy now. Maybe he's a young guy that could potentially add to that mix; I think it will all unfold. And of course we brought in some undrafted rookie free agents that will be given an opportunity to step up and show what they are capable of doing. I think one of the things we've learned around here and I've learned in this business is that if a man has a helmet and is invited to camp, he has an opportunity. And I don't want to discount the opportunity that stands before those three young undrafted defensive linemen. We will see how those guys grow and develop.

What is your plan for Lawrence Timmons?

Right now he's a back-up inside linebacker, of course, to Larry Foote. He's played in some sub-packages for us. He does a lot of things well; he's an explosive blitz man, he can cover a lot of people, and he can run. He's had a nice offseason. His role specifically and where it goes and the speed in which it goes and whatever direction it goes will be determined by the quality of his play in Latrobe.

Is he also the top back up to James Farrior?

He's the top backup to Larry Foote and Larry Foote also plays the position that James plays. So essentially he's the third inside linebacker, but we have position flexibility within those three men because Larry Foote plays both positions. I know I use that phrase a bunch to talk about position flexibility, but that is one of the reasons that we do that so that we can put our best men on the field, whether we are talking about offensive line, whether we're talking about linebacker. We've also explored this offseason playing William Gay at safety and he's done some of that.  He's a guy that has position flexibility from a corner/safety standpoint. We're always looking to maximize our position flexibility so that we can get our best men on the field regardless of circumstance. And so what you do is guys who are capable of handling mentally, you put more on their plate. The bright guys are guys that are capable of handling the assignments across several positions, you challenge them. You keep them focused on what it is that we're installing, what it is that they do and do well. If they can handle it you put it on their plate and you take a look at it. I think at this time of year we'd like to keep our options as limitless as we can. We will harden it up as action gets ready to unfold.

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Might the offense evolve even more this year?

It evolves for several reasons. I think you utilize your personnel, you highlight the guys that are playing well, and you respond to the natural adversity that football presents, injury and so forth if you will. How we evolved last year is simply that, how we evolved last year. It really has no bearing on how we evolve and develop. This year we have a plan and approach in terms of how we want to play. Our evolution will occur this year for the same reasons that the evolution occurred last year. Will it be the same? I don't know. Will it be different? I don't know.

Might we see even less fullback play this season?

I don't have the answer to that. I really don't at this point.

Can you rate your offense right now?

I could not. I think when talk about rating an offense or rating a defense or rating a football team, you talk about rating a complete body of work. We don't even have the beginning stages of our body of work right now. We are excited about starting that process and putting it together. Again, I'm never trying to tell a story, I'm just trying to call it as it unfolds. Those things will be answered, and those questions will be answered as we get going.

Do you think that the players have put what is going on with the ownership out of their mind?

You've got a good football team when they are capable of doing that and not just on that specific subject but with any subject that has nothing to do with playing football and preparing yourself to win football games.  That's this game.  That is what this journey that we are about to embark on is about.  It is about readying ourselves to fight each individual battle and keeping the things that don't matter to a compete minimum.  This issue is an issue.  It will be an issue because we will get questions about it.  Other issues arise.  Our ability to deal with it and move on and leave it where it is in its proper place will determine the mental toughness of our football team and ultimately as we go down the road it will determine our level of success.

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Do you personally feel rocked by this news?

I don't worry about that because I focus on competing and doing well and competing for championships and if you do that then you don't have to worry about things such as job security and the like.  That has never been my mentality and hopefully it never will be.

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Now that you have been through a full year – was there anything that surprised you?

A partial answer is that I was surprised by the volume of some of the responsibilities that come with doing what it is that I do.  Some of the things that come with the job – I enjoy developing this coaching staff, formulating a plan to win and presenting that plan to players and helping them grow collectively and individually.  I think that those are the aspects of the job that I focus on.  Some of the other things that come with it are necessary and some of them are pleasant.  But it's fun.  It is never a dull moment.

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What is your plan for Rashard Mendenhall?

Our initial plan of course is that he is going to be a supplemental runner.  We've really explored him potentially returning kicks and he has worked in that area this offseason.  The growth of his role will be determined on his ability to execute from an assignment standpoint.  Much like Timmons was last year – this is a young rookie.  This guy has just turned twenty-one last month, so age is a factor.  To this point he has shown that he is mature and unique for a 21-year-old guy.  Hopefully that translates to him growing and developing as a member of this football team quickly.  But again I don't have a crystal ball and we will let that play out.  He's got a nice humble mentality about him so I won't be shocked if he does some nice things for us.

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Regarding Max Starks?

Right now he is focusing more on right tackle.  But Max is a guy that has shown he is capable of playing left tackle as well.  So there will be instances and moments that you will see that.

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Have you seen enough of Max Starks at left tackle?

Yeah – we have seen enough of him that we are comfortable of knowing what he can do there.  But it is still like anything else – it is about skill development, muscle memory and at some point if we call on him to do that he will have had to have logged some snaps at that position to be successful.  Right now his focus is at right tackle.

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Will Trai Essex and Tony Hills be more left tackles?

Yes.

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Center position – is it open or is someone penciled in?

It is open, like all of our positions are open.  We have two guys there, Sean Mahan of course who played quite a bit for us last year and started every game, and Justin Hartwig who was picked up in free agency and has been a starter at that position.  That will be a hotly contested battle and one that I am excited about watching unfold.  If I write in pencil at this time it is very light, and I've got a nice eraser at all positions.

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Players last year described your run test as easy – what's your take on that?

Hopefully it was easy – that indicates that they are in great shape.  For people that are in shape it should be a breeze.  For people that aren't – it's not easy.  I hope it is easy this year.  That means that we have a team that is in great shape and ready to embark on our journey.

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Have you seen Casey Hampton lately and what kind of shape is he in?

I have not seen him lately.  Hopefully he is in great shape.  He indicated that he is.  We will see on Sunday.

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Can you talk about the battle for the safety position?

Safety, great battle.  Of course we have Troy (Polamalu) at safety.  Ryan Clark has probably been one of the stories of the offseason as far as I am concerned of watching somebody battle back from what he has battled back from.  But what he has done to this point is just part of the battle.  It is going to be exciting to watch him take the next step, which is carrying pads and play.  He's got his weight back up to where it was a year ago.  He is excited.  He is a mentally and physically tough guy.  It will be awesome to watch him take the next step.  Anthony Smith is ready to rock and roll.  He had his trials of ups and downs last year, but again, that is in his rear view mirror.  Hopefully his rear view mirror is smaller than his windshield.  I know mine is.  Hopefully his eyes are moving towards 2008 and he is ready to take that life experience and use it for good and get back in the battle again this year.  Of course Tyrone Carter is a veteran, position flexible guy who has competed at that position.  Grant Mason logged a few snaps primarily on special teams last year.  He is a guy who has been a part of the program for a year now.  We will call on him to take another step and compete.  Then of course, we drafted another young man from Woodland Hills (Ryan Mundy) that will be a battler in the mix as well.  We feel like we have some guys that are ready to compete and sort themselves out.

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How will you handle Ryan Clark at camp?

Right now he is a football player so we are going to let him go.  Ryan knows his body better than I do.  I know that Ryan is a competitor.  I know that he has great work ethics.  If he has some concerns, I'll have some concerns.  But right now there are none.

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Have you scheduled as many two-a-days?

I have not and that is what I was referring to when I was talking about training camp 2008 compared to training camp 2007.  There are less true two-a-days.  There are less days.  There is a little less of everything for a lot of reasons.

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Can you imagine a tougher schedule?

I really mean what I say when I tell you I could care less about the schedule and the schedule making.  When you pursue the world championship, when you want to be the best, eventually you have to beat them all anyway.  That is our goal as we stand here today.  We have no bearing or control over the schedule.  We tend to focus on the things we can control and specifically those things one at a time.  That is the approach that I'll take.

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You were able to attend the Penguin games this year – did it give you a feeling of what this area is like?

I did.  I got caught up in the season.  It was awesome.  It was a great thing to be a part of.  My sons and I, we have our Sidney Crosby jerseys and we supported that team.  It is great to be a part of this community and know how much these professional sports teams mean to this community and this region.  It is a great deal of responsibility that comes with being a part of that, one that I accept and cherish.  There probably is a little more appreciation as I sit here today from that standpoint, than when I sat here a year ago.  Not only because of what we went through as a football team, but my experience here and being a member of this community during the offseason and being able to do some of those things; go to Pirate games and root for those guys with my boys.  It has been awesome.

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