Another in a series of stories previewing Steelers Training Camp, presented by Xfinity.
As the Steelers prepare to report to Saint Vincent College for the 2010 version of training camp, Coach Mike Tomlin provided his insight and observations on a variety of topics pertaining to the team and the National Football League.
Q. How do you handle the Willie Colon injury as it happened in late June as opposed to if it happened during a week in the regular season?
A. It's actually a more comfortable situation, because you have a time to adjust. Injuries are as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling – people are going to get hurt, people are going to go down. It has given us an opportunity to be methodical, be thoughtful about how we're going to re-shuffle the deck and compete. Whether we're going to add to the mix, or more importantly, who we're going to add to the mix. It's an easier situation to deal with now than during a week in the regular season.
Q. What is the process?
A. The guys we have in house, we have in house. We know them, we know about them, we just have to evaluate what is the best formula in terms of putting guys in position to compete and the distribution of repetitions. More importantly, is who we add to the mix and how we add to the mix. We look at the candidates, evaluate what they're capable of. You also ask critical questions, such as: Why are they available at this time of year? What are the positives and what are the negatives? You have to weigh those things out and determine the appropriate fit for us. They're all going to have positives and they're all going to have negatives. The negatives are probably more important because that's why they're unemployed at this juncture. What's best for us?
Q. Will you approach training camp differently coming off of a 9-7 season as opposed to coming off a Super Bowl victory?
A. No. Training camp is for one reason and one reason only, and that is to prepare for the season and bring the football team together. That will always be my approach to training camp. Very rarely do I have a reactionary approach to that element of our core beliefs relative to what happened in the past. Usually it is all eyes forward in terms of providing this team with what it needs to prepare for the 2010 season. So from that standpoint, I am not approaching this training camp any differently than how I approached the one before that. or the one before that, or the one before that.
Q. As you always say, training camp is for team building. Does that process ever have to change based on the makeup of a particular roster?
A. That's a big element of it. If you have a young core group, if you have a veteran core group, the health of the group – all of those things are factors. So is experience. Areas where you think the group falls short from a (football) personality standpoint dictate how you make up practice sessions and drill work. All of those things comprise the decision making that lays out the camp schedule.
Q. What kind of a group is this?
A. This is a veteran group, and so a lot of the things I'll do with that in mind. Not to say it will dictate our work, because we do have some young guys expected to contribute in some areas. We'll have young-guy emphasis practices, because it's really about giving everybody what they need. Young guys need repetitions. Older guys need to sharpen their swords for battle.
Q. You have said you don't get excited about the young guys during the "football in shorts" sessions of the offseason. Does there come a time when they need to be tested physically?
A. That is an annual ritual, one we all look forward to, when we put them in situations where you check their oil, if you will. For young running backs, it's backs-on-backers. For young outside linebackers, it's tight ends vs. outside linebackers. We do a bunch of competitive drills that comprise the end of the individual period where it's offense vs. defense that highlight the physicality of the game and provide a stage for a young guy to prove his mettle.
Q. Is there a critical time for a rookie during the course of a whole camp, a time when they might hit a plateau about midway through the whole thing?
A. You can call it the dog days. I use a boxing term – it's an accumulation of blows. It's what it's all about. It's the first dip in the rollercoaster ride. It is a long National Football League season. You look for it, you coach them through it and it's a learning experience.
Q. A big part of a team's ability to run the football during a season stems from what is accomplished at training camp. How do you accomplish that without scrimmaging for a couple of hours a day?
A. So much of a quality running game has little to do with the finish of plays and more about the start of plays. We don't tackle and take people to the ground a whole bunch at training camp, but in terms of the blocking it is at full speed. The tempo, the tracks, things that do comprise the nuts and bolts of the running game, you do get that.
Q. Can you replicate what the linemen see, the adjustments they have to make at full speed based on how the defense aligns and then adjusts before the snap of the ball?
A. You can, but at the same time you're not going to be out there all day every day. It's about repetitions, but it's also about quality reps. That's what makes the offseason so important, because you're looking to minimize mistakes and get some of those things out of the way before you get to training camp, where you can work on the technical issues of getting the blocking assignments done instead of what the blocking assignments are.
Q. How important is it for a short-yardage back to emerge?
A. We are looking for people to distinguish themselves in situational football, that being one of them. It is interesting, we've got some young guys in the backfield who might have a degree of pedigree that is geared toward those things. Of course, there's Isaac Redman, who had a little attention last year in that area. Jonathan Dwyer is a guy who should have a skill-set in that area. But I am open to the development of all of those men, specifically in that area of situational football and all others.