OTAs start the team-building process

If you're of a mind, you could count the completed passes and compare the number to the sum of the dropped balls and errant throws. You could make a note of each time a defender was out of position. You could assess yards gained vs. plays that would have resulted in a loss of yardage if there had been any tackling allowed.

When it comes to OTAs, or what's now known as Phase 3 of the NFL Offseason Program, those are the kinds of things that qualify as measurables, as statistics. And somewhere, in some darkened room at the Steelers practice facility no doubt, those and other measurables are being compiled dutifully as part of the overall evaluation process that will take the 80-some players currently on the roster and eventually slice it to 53.

But Coach Mike Tomlin believes what the Steelers are doing now is also about something else. Troy Polamalu agrees.

"Our goals are simple," said Tomlin at the end of the Steelers' first of 10 allowable OTAs. "We're here to learn and teach.

"First and foremost, we acknowledge that's what this phase of team-building is all about, and No. 2 we're going to establish a little football conditioning. The guys appear to be in really good shape, but there's a difference between being in shape and football condition. The only way to gain that level of conditioning is to snap the ball, and that's what we intend to do. And lastly, we acknowledge that we're developing chemistry here, and to a degree that cannot be measured, but really (chemistry) is significant and a factor. So it was great to have the attendance that we have, and we'll continue to move forward in a similar fashion day-to-day."

In moving forward, the Steelers will have two more OTAs this week, three during the days after Memorial Day, and four more the following week for a total of 10. Then the offseason program concludes during the week of June 11 with a three-day minicamp.

In the recent past, Troy Polamalu has been a rather irregular participant in these OTAs, with his preference being to use the time to get his body in the type of condition necessary for him to play six-plus months of NFL football at break-neck speed. And, hey, there's nothing wrong with that when it results in the kind of results Polamalu has been putting up for lo these many years.

Yet, there he was, in his practice jersey with his helmet buckled for the moment when the first-team defense took the field as a unit.

"It's my time to be around the team a little more," Polamalu was saying to a group of reporters after most of his teammates had gone into the locker room.

The Pittsburgh Steelers don't so much change as evolve, and there is some evolving taking place this offseason. Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, and Chris Hoke all retired. Bryant McFadden and Chris Kemoeatu were released. William Gay left as an unrestricted free agent. Todd Haley is the new offensive coordinator. Willie Colon is moving from right tackle to left guard.

All of that is going to require some adjustment, and the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed for that adjustment period to begin for the Steelers on May 22. And so it did.

"It's an important couple of weeks for everyone," said Tomlin. Learning what it is we're doing here – offensively, defensively and on special teams – we don't carry any luggage from years past. None of us do, regardless of whether you're new here or you're not, or you're new to a position or not. We respect this process of team-building, and so it's a significant couple of weeks for all of us from that standpoint.

"From a personal level, you miss those guys," added Tomlin about the retired veterans. "But professionally, you understand that change is a part of football, and I'm excited about working with the men who are here in preparing for 2012."

One of the men who is not here is Mike Wallace, who has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender of $2.7 million for the 2012 season. As of May 22, at least, that's not an issue for Tomlin.

"This is a business, and it's an element of the business," said Tomlin. "Mike came in and we visited last week. We had good communications. This process is going to run its course. We know what type of young man he is – he's a hard-working, diligent young man. It'll be over. There will be a little bit of short-term misery, but it won't be significant in the big scheme of things, hopefully."

Hopefully. And when it comes to players picking up the nuances of the offense being introduced and installed, Tomlin admits that too will be a process.

"I expect the guys to learn and learn rather quickly," said Tomlin. "They're professionals. Football to a degree is somewhat universal. We've got a lot of work in front of us, and we acknowledge that, but that's why we need the type of attention and work that we're getting right now. I don't go into it with any preconceived notions. I expect us to be a good offense when it's time."

That time will come on Sept. 9 when their regular season opens in Denver. This time that they're spending here now is about something else.

"It's important for as many people as possible to be here, because we acknowledge that we're building chemistry," said Tomlin, "and it's a significant part of team-building."

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