By BOB LABRIOLA
The Steelers concluded their three-day minicamp on Sunday with a light workout at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, and Coach Mike Tomlin said he was happy with all that was accomplished.
Primary among the goals was gathering the draft picks and rookie free agents and throwing so much at them over a short period of time that their eyes water. In this cut-throat business, it's what amounts to a welcome to the NFL.
"They are all lost. They don't have a clue, and I say that smiling because that makes them normal," said Tomlin. "They come in here on a weekend, and they get a playbook thrown at them, and they are competing against the best players in the world at what it is they do, and it's happening fast. I like their spirit, I like their attitude, and I like the way that they're approaching it. It appears to be a very humble group, which is good. I think they know that they don't know, which is good. We are excited about these men at this point."
It has become an accepted fact of NFL life that players make significant improvement from their first to their second years in the league, and Tomlin acknowledged this earlier in the weekend. So, while it's natural to examine the progress made by, say, No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall this weekend, it might be more fruitful to see how far last year's No. 1 pick – Lawrence Timmons – has come.
"It has been a good weekend for him," said Tomlin about Timmons. "It has been a difference of night and day between what he showed us this weekend and what he showed us last year. The pedigree is still there, and we like what he brings to the table. He's a talented guy who's capable of doing a lot of things.
"He's a big guy who is powerful. He is going to be able to do some things in coverage; he is going to be able to do some things in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback. But his deeds on the field are going to etch out his role. He knows that and all the guys know that. He has some potential, but he needs to do the work."
Timmons initially was put behind James Harrison at right outside linebacker, but it wasn't too far into his rookie training camp that he was moved inside. James Farrior and Larry Foote are returning starters at inside linebacker, but Tomlin is looking for Timmons to make it a competition there this summer.
"Hopefully we have a bunch of intense battles (for starting jobs)," said Tomlin. "That's one that could be intense because Lawrence has put himself in a position to compete because he knows what to do. We are only going to be a good football team if we have a bunch of intense battles. We expect that to be one of them; we will see."
One other noticeable change from last year was the way special teams were practiced. In 2007, special teams sessions were both plentiful and longer than had been the case during Bill Cowher's tenure. Yet for all of the time and energy allotted to special teams, the Steelers were sub-par over the course of the season.
Tomlin said there has been a change in philosophy.
"We are emphasizing special teams, but we are emphasizing them in a different way," said Tomlin. "I'm trying to create a little energy through scarcity. We are not going to do it as much. We are not going to work harder, we are going to work smarter."
MINCAMP NOTES: Ben Roethlisberger was back after having an excused absence on Saturday and did take part in the final workout of minicamp … The only injury sustained over the weekend was to Mendenhall, who strained a hamstring during one of Friday's two practices and was held out of the final three. Tomlin said the expectation is Mendenhall will be able to participate on the field once the team gathers together again on May 16 for the start of OTAs.