By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – There are 80 players and 16 coaches here, plus just about everyone with a job in Steelers football operations, and they all have been on the Saint Vincent College campus for the past three-plus weeks. As their time here is about to end tomorrow, everyone is happy to be going home.
Well, everyone except one guy.
"I wouldn't mind being the Latrobe Steelers. We'll play the whole season out here," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I love it. I don't have to deal with the problems of life, I don't have to take my trash out on Tuesdays or anything else. I just have my kids and my wife up here a couple days a week and have dinner with them and then get back to business. That's just my mentality. I'm not sure if anyone else shares that approach."
Actually, Tomlin can be sure that no one else shares his outlook, because no matter how smoothly a training camp runs, it's still training camp. It's still dormitory living, it's still two-a-days, it's still football 24/7.
But it's still a necessity, and with the Steelers breaking the third training camp of the Tomlin era he was asked how it compared to the previous two.
"I really hadn't thought about it from that standpoint," said Tomlin. "I'm not into the business of comparing. I'm just trying to get our 2009 team ready for the challenges that are waiting for us."
Tomlin might not be into comparing, or even evaluating the work being done or the progress being made, but there are a lot of people who have been here throughout who are willing to do it for him.
"You know I don't evaluate camp, because ultimately we are here to prepare for the season," said Tomlin. "How we perform this season will kind of give me a barometer of what we did well and what we need to look at. I make some notes at the end of camp but really, it's more logistics, how things can be more fluid. I really don't evaluate the camp in terms of checking off what I perceive to be a to-do list, because successful camps don't mean anything unless you have a good season so I'm not trying to evaluate the camp from that standpoint."
If what the Steelers accomplished here can be judged by the way the newcomers were integrated into the system and developed over the course of camp, then that can be called a success because the team leaves with all nine draft picks and some undrafted rookies still in position to earn a spot on the roster of the defending Super Bowl champions.
There were some weather issues to overcome – heat and rain – and Tomlin loves the adversity that can present, plus it can be said the Steelers will leave campus in relatively excellent health. Only Darnell Stapleton's arthroscopic knee surgery can be looked upon as a setback in this area, and Stapleton has promised that he'll be back in plenty of time for the start of the regular season.
And as usually happens during this time of the preseason, there is a game immediately following the breaking of camp, and so it will be again this year. The Steelers will go from Saint Vincent College to the airport, where they will depart for their second preseason game – 7:30 p.m. on Saturday against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
Tomlin sounded as though he is looking forward to that as much as he was looking forward to the start of this training camp.
"We got our feet wet, if you will, in terms of playing live football coming off last week," said Tomlin. "We are looking for some guys to take a significant step in terms of some things that we talked about. We need to play harder, we need to play faster, and we need to play smarter.
"That's what we talked to the team about, particularly the young people who just played their first bit of NFL football a week ago. We expect those guys to adjust to the tempo of the game. They know what they should expect, and to be quite honest, we expect the quality of the detail of their work to vastly improve. The great thing about it is that I'm sure that the Redskins are taking the same approach to the game and stressing the same thing to their people, so I'm sure that we will have a great competitive game."