By Teresa Varley
Special teams were an area of concern for head coach Tomlin going into the season and he gave it the attention he thought it needed. There were practices during training camp that focused on nothing but special teams. But the coverage units still struggled, and on Thursday Tomlin talked about those struggles.
"My concern with the special teams is not new," said Tomlin. "I sat before you guys in the spring and summer and fielded a bunch of questions about why I had the attention to special teams that I had. I wasn't interested in throwing up a red flag and saying, 'Hey, I am worried about special teams,' but obviously I was.
"A special teams unit is comprised of four or five core guys; I like to call them phase guys, and a supporting cast. When I evaluated this football team and looked at what was done in the past and where we were going, I felt a void in that area for men who had those leading roles in the past."
Tomlin referred to Sean Morey and Chidi Iwuoma, both special teams standouts in 2006 who were not on the team this year, and James Harrison, another special teams ace whose role changed when he became a starter, as part of that void.
"It would be the equivalent of losing seven, eight or nine starters on an offensive or defensive unit, when you are talking about that," said Tomlin. "That is why I gave it it's just due in preparation leading into the season. I was looking for men to seize those roles and move forward. We were unsuccessful in that area. We have to coach better. We have to play better. We will leave no stone unturned, in terms of making ourselves an elite special teams unit. That is the standard, because it is going to help us become World Champs."
Wide receiver Hines Ward had surgery on Wednesday to repair a partial medial meniscus in his right knee. Ward played with the injury down the stretch, although he missed the game against the Ravens in Baltimore to end the season in an effort to rest the knee.
"The prognosis is very good," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "Things are looking well. He is resting. It is going to require six weeks or so before he can get about his business of preparing himself for 2008."
Several other players will also undergo offseason surgery, including guard Kendall Simmons on his right fourth finger, Andre Frazier for a sports hernia, Trai Essex on his right ankle and Marquis Cooper for a meniscus injury. At this point Troy Polamalu (knee) is not scheduled for off-season surgery.