By BOB LABRIOLA
There was an unmistakable energy in the air, even though it had been less than three months since they returned from Tampa with the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy. The Pittsburgh Steelers were back at work as a whole team for the first time since that win over the Arizona Cardinals, but Coach Mike Tomlin made sure to keep it in perspective.
"You know I'm not a big proponent of football in shorts," said Tomlin about minicamp. "The rookie minicamp, for me, is about teaching. It's about getting to know these guys to see how they take in information, to see how they deal with the ups and downs of good plays and bad plays from an assignment standpoint. But football will be played in Latrobe."
There were 88 players in attendance for the Steelers' only mandatory minicamp of this offseason. The only absentee was Larry Foote, and despite reports from various media outlets to the contrary, he remains on the Steelers' roster.
"At this point, I don't think it's prudent for me to go into a lot of detail with regard to what's happening with Larry," said Tomlin. "I'll just say this: He and I have been in continuous communication, and we talked as late as the early part of this week, and we thought it was best that he not come to this minicamp. In terms of speculating what's going to happen with him, and when, I don't have a crystal ball."
Foote, a fourth-round draft pick in 2002 and a starter at inside linebacker since 2004, is in the final year of a four-year contract he signed after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL that included a $4.2 million signing bonus. Foote reportedly is due a salary of $2.885 million for 2009.
The Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons in 2007, and last year Foote talked about the inevitability of losing his spot in the starting lineup to a guy who was a first-round pick. But Foote held off Timmons in a training camp battle last summer to hold onto his starting spot, and even though Timmons' role grew as the 2008 season wore on, Tomlin had said publicly during this offseason that he wanted Foote on the team in 2009.
To underscore that, the Steelers did not select a linebacker with any of their nine draft choices last weekend. The starting inside linebackers during the first day of minicamp were James Farrior and Timmons, with Keyaron Fox and Donovan Woods as the primary backups. Undrafted rookie Tom Korte is another candidate who's competed at the spot, and he had an interception during the morning workout.
"I don't believe we were caught unaware," said Tomlin about Foote's apparent decision to try to force himself off the Steelers roster. "I've been in continuous conversations with Larry, and I'll leave the details of those conversations private."
Tomlin said that since he and Foote came to a mutual decision to have the player stay away from minicamp, he will not be fined.
But with the exception of Foote's absence, Tomlin sounded pleased with how Friday unfolded.
"I thought it was a very productive day for us," said Tomlin. "These are instructional camps for us. This is a time for teaching, for giving and receiving information. Everybody was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and it was a productive day from that standpoint. We also were injury-free, which is another thing we desire to get done with these camps. I really like the energy and enthusiasm of the group today.
"It was a good start to our minicamp, but I don't gauge the success of these weekends, because it's not football, it's teaching."
MINICAMP NOTES: The Steelers have two practices scheduled for Saturday and they will conclude the weekend with one on Sunday.