Tomlin 'excited' to begin working with a new 53

With the Steelers holding their final practice of the week on Wednesday, the day after NFL rosters were mandated to be trimmed to 53 players, head coach Mike Tomlin got his first look at what his team now looks like heading into the 2023 season.

That doesn't mean the last couple of days haven't been difficult on Tomlin and his staff as they saw 37 players with whom they had worked extensively over the past few months released in a short period of time.

"It's always difficult, but it's the players that make it difficult with their efforts, their competitive spirit, their approach to work every day and staying in the fight," Tomlin said Wednesday. "I thought we had a really good 90 at the beginning of it. I feel the same way at the end of it, and that's what makes the decisions difficult."

Difficult, but necessary.

The Steelers' practice on Wednesday did not include any of the 16 practice squad players the team will add back to the equation, but the team did begin to get more focused on what it will need to work on in preparation to face the San Francisco 49ers Sept. 10 at Acrisure Stadium to open the season.

"It's really kind of exciting to get this group on the field and start the process of directing our attention toward San Francisco," Tomlin said. "That's really what we were able to do today. We obviously were working short-handed because we're still in the transactional phase with our practice squad guys."

The Steelers' initial 53-man roster on Tuesday by the league's 4 p.m. deadline included six of the seven players selected by the Steelers this year in the draft. The only exception was seventh-round cornerback Cory Trice Jr., who suffered a knee injury in training camp and was placed on injured reserve.

Tomlin said all six rookies – offensive linemen Broderick Jones and Spencer Anderson, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, tight end Darnell Washington and linebacker Nick Herbig – are expected to contribute this season in some form or fashion.

"There was a level of football maturity that was exciting," Tomlin said of that group. "We didn't scholarship anyone. They earned their spots. We expect contributions from those guys and increasing contributions as they gain more experience and we push through this journey."

Overall, they should help the team's depth across the board.

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That was a big goal of general manager Omar Khan and the rest of the front office this offseason. And the depth currently looks much better than it did a year ago.

"Depth is required. Depth gets tested," Tomlin said. "We're sitting here at Week 0, so it's easy to feel good about it. It gets tested over the course of the journey, and that's when you really get to find out the quality of it."

Even so, Tomlin is confident about the group the team has put together entering the 2023 season.

The Steelers went 3-0 in the preseason after finishing last season on a 7-2 run in their final nine games. Nothing that has happened in this offseason has quelled that confidence.

Tomlin, however, isn't ready to put that into words just yet.

"No need of me putting that out there," he said. "We'll let our tape do our talking."