LATROBE, Pa. – Professional football is a bottom line business, and in Coach Mike Tomlin's mind that also applies to training camp.
The Steelers concluded their time here with a Thursday morning practice before breaking camp and traveling to New York for Saturday's preseason game against the Giants, and most everybody who watched them go about their business came away thinking the team got a lot accomplished.
"I measure training camps by seasons," said Tomlin. "That has always been the case with me. I'll let you know how this training camp is, hopefully in February."
Championship trophies are awarded in February, but championships are not won in training camp. Tomlin believes that team-building is a vital part of a training camp, and this edition provided plenty of opportunities for that.
It began on the first day when Hines Ward walked out of the locker room with Ben Roethlisberger for the afternoon practice, a session the quarterback admitted to being nervous about because it was going to be his first encounter of the summer with a large number of Steelers fans, and it included a trip to Canton to share one of the greatest days of Dick LeBeau's life. Tomlin believes all of that has value.
"I think that camaraderie, chemistry, the things you can't measure that you gain from camp are very important," said Tomlin. "It's somewhat mystical because you can't measure it, but for those of us who have been around football teams, we realize that time spent formally and informally, secluded if you will, some of the things that a training camp provides are essential to team building. Not only just being here but some of the things that we do annually, rookie shows, softball and other things, rookies entertaining us at times, it is all part of camaraderie and team building. I think it's a fundamental part of camp."
One of the dangers of this time of the year is that rookies can view the end of training camp as an accomplishment for them, but just because they're leaving Saint Vincent College with the Steelers doesn't mean they have secured a spot on the team.
There are three preseason games to go, and jobs are going to be won and lost based on performances in those games. Rosters won't be cut to 53 for three more weeks, and for players trying to make this team that time could turn out to be more important than the time they spent here.
"It's something that you think about, or at least you concern yourself with it a little bit as a coach during this time of year," said Tomlin. "When you change location and routines it is a natural human response to think that you are shifting focus. I just want to make sure that the team understands that we are not shifting focus. When we come back from this game (against the Giants) we are going to be in Pittsburgh and working out in our facility. We are going to lose some of the things that come with training camp, but we are still very much in the development of our football team. Our goals and focus remain the same. We need to determine who the 53 are and the roles within them."
Other items from Tomlin's final news conference at training camp:
- Tomlin said he had yet to determine how the quarterbacks will be used, but he did say he expects the starters to play in the neighborhood of 24 snaps. Based on the way Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich have been used during camp, it would be logical to assume both quarterbacks would get some work with the first-team offense against the Giants.
Roethlisberger has admitted to being a bit nervous about getting back onto the field in game conditions.
"He is nervous quite often," said Tomlin. "Big games and so forth, he has never been bashful about stating that. I'd be nervous if he wasn't a little edgy. I think all of us are a little edgy at times. Big games, new experiences and you have to acknowledge that this is kind of a new experience for him. If he wasn't nervous I would be concerned."
- Tomlin said Maurkice Pouncey will get some work at center with the first group, as will Jonathan Scott at right tackle.
- Antonio Brown will return punts and kickoffs, one week after scoring on a 68-yard catch-and-run against the Lions on offense. "My initial thought is to make sure that I get some exposure to Antonio Brown doing both," said Tomlin. "It is the same opportunity that was given to Stefan Logan last year in the second preseason game in Washington. It's about giving young guys opportunities. Last year Logan caught our attention and he did so again in week three of the preseason. He did so again down in Carolina when he ran the opening punt back and won a spot. We are going to provide opportunities to young people, and Antonio Brown is going to get that opportunity. If we get a nice number of kick opportunities, hopefully they will be punt return opportunities, and then maybe we will consider putting someone else in there. If we get a bunch of kickoff return opportunities that means they are ringing up the scoreboard. That's not good."