By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – If the conditioning test itself was different, the fact there were consequences for failing it was not.
Under Bill Cowher, the Steelers traditionally opened training camp with a conditioning test that included 14 40-yard dashes with a 30-second rest between each one. Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers opened their 2008 training camp with a conditioning test made up of eight 100-yard sprints, with the players then coming back by jogging 50 yards and then walking 50 yards with a continuous running clock.
"It's a great gauge of conditioning, but it keeps people safe from muscle pulls and so forth by the way the test is structured," explained Tomlin. "What we're looking for is to make sure these guys are in great cardiovascular condition without exposing them to potential injury, because we came here to play football."
In 1999, Jamain Stephens, the team's first-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, failed the conditioning test and was put on waivers the following day. This time, Casey Hampton failed the conditioning test and was played on the physically unable to perform list.
"He wasn't able to finish the test," said Tomlin. "He's overweight and not conditioned enough to participate at this point.
"Hopefully it doesn't (take a long time), but he's not going to wake up tomorrow and be ready to go. He's got to go through a process, and we've got to take him through that process. We'll just live day-to-day with it until he's at an acceptable level of conditioning and weight."
Troy Polamalu (hamstring) and Chris Kemoeatu (triceps) also were played on the physically unable to perform list to open camp, but both of them passed the conditioning test.
"Troy has a mild hamstring at this point, as a part of getting himself ready to play," said Tomlin. "Of course you saw it didn't prohibit him from running the conditioning test because he didn't have to sprint full speed as part of the conditioning test. Chris has a slight weakness in his triceps."
Hampton, the team's No. 1 pick in 2001, is entering his eighth NFL season, and four of those have ended with trips to the Pro Bowl. Considered one of the top nose tackles in football and a key part of the Steelers' 3-4 defense, Hampton also was voted to the Steelers All-Time Team as part of the 75th season celebration.
But none of those credentials served as mitigating factors in Tomlin's decision to put Hampton on PUP.
"I'm disappointed any time we can't go full steam ahead with all of our people," said Tomlin. "It's something we'll deal with, it's something he'll have to deal with and hopefully we'll get it rectified in some sort of timely manner.
Tomlin did not specify what Hampton will have to do, or what he might have to show, before being removed from PUP and added to the active roster. "He's got to exhibit that he's in good enough condition to participate," said Tomlin, "and I'll determine that."
There were no non-participants in the conditioning test as a result of injury, but there were some players who earned their way out of running.
"If you participate in an acceptable number of offseason workouts, then you're exempt from the conditioning test," said Tomlin. "It acts as a reward for guys who show up and participate in the voluntary workouts, but also if guys are showing up and participating in workouts then you know they're in shape and ready to play football."
CAMP NOTES: Monday's afternoon practice, scheduled for 2:55 p.m., will be the first workout that's open to the public. Fans who plan on attending are reminded there have been several changes to traffic patterns in and around the Saint Vincent College campus. Detailed directions are available on Steelers.com on the training camp page.