Coach Mike Tomlin is in Palm Beach, Florida for the NFL Owners Meetings the next few days, but if he had his way there is somewhere else he would be this coming week.
Tomlin will go full force at the meetings as a member of the league's Competition Committee, but at the same time he is going to miss being on the road at College Pro Days, something he truly loves and hopes to catch some of them before the week is over.
Tomlin has been a regular on the road along with General Manager Kevin Colbert, attending more Pro Days than any other NFL head coach does.
It's something he thrives on, getting to know players up close and personal, which includes meeting with them at the Pro Days, as well having dinner with many of the prospects off campus.
"I love it," said Tomlin, speaking during the Owners Meetings. "It's part of getting a snapshot of who they are as people and as players. It's invaluable for us. I love to get out and I love to spend time with them. I love to get to know what makes them tick as competitors. How the journey has shaped them and what their mindset is in terms of addressing the challenges that lie ahead for them. I just think there's no substitute for getting boots on the ground and spending time with them.
"I like to work. The acquisition of talent is a major component of team development, particularly this time of year. I just believe my time is better spent out beating the bushes as opposed to guarding my desk."
Tomlin's presence at the Pro Days often draws attention from the prospects, other teams and the media, with many speculating who they are looking at on each stop. Tomlin said he knows that can be the case, but just because they go to a particular school it doesn't mean they are tipping their hand.
"The most important thing is that we get the work done, that we get the information that's required, that we get an opportunity to get to know the young men," said Tomlin. "The most important element of it is the work and so we don't let the audience slow us down in terms of the work that we feel like needs to be done. We understand speculation comes with it. But we're not hiding."
Over the past week many of the top quarterbacks heading into the NFL Draft have held their Pro Days, and Tomlin has been there seeing many of them. He said the fact that the team signed quarterback Mitch Trubisky in free agency, who joins Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, doesn't preclude them from looking at a quarterback in the draft.
"We've been doing our due diligence," said Tomlin. "We had a great week getting out and getting around last week. We dubbed it 'quarterback week.' It was fun to visit with those guys back-to-back in their spaces, around their universities and with their teammates. Spend formal and informal time with them and get to know them. I just think that it was a good week and a good process for us in terms of gaining an understanding of the talent pool at that position."
The talent pool at the quarterback position is something that the Steelers looked at in free agency when they signed Trubisky, following the offseason retirement of Ben Roethlisberger after 18 seasons. Trubisky, who is entering his fifth NFL season, is a player who the Steelers set their sights on at the start of free agency and went after him right off the bat.
"We were really interested in Mitch. He was really interested in us. And those are good things," said Tomlin. "He was just an attractive guy to us. It didn't require us use any of our draft capital.
"He's been a winner. He's got experience and youth. He's healthy. It was just so much of his profile that was attractive to us in terms of what we were looking for in the position.'
Tomlin said it wasn't so much about Trubisky fitting into offensive coordinator Matt Canada's offense, but instead them working to make sure they highlight Trubisky's strengths within the offense.
"What we do offensively or what any coach does offensively needs to be centered around the talents of those that are performing," said Tomlin. "Whether you're talking about quarterback, running back or what have you, I know that's the approach that Matt and I are going to take. We're going to work to highlight his skill set and work to minimize things that are not attractive, and I think that that's just a function of coaching. When you talk about the style of offense, I think about coaching and less about the individual talents of players."
Sharpening his sword: When the Steelers hired Brian Flores as the team's Senior Defensive Assistant/Linebackers Coach, many praised them for giving Flores an opportunity while he is going through legal issues with the league.
Tomlin said he wasn't surprised at all that the organization gave him the shot, as it's something he has come to expect.
"I don't think it says anything that hadn't already been said," said Tomlin. "To be quite honest with you it's one of the things that makes me most proud of being a part of our organization. To have an opportunity to impact the game in a positive way. To impact society in a positive way. It's continually an honor to be a part of a part of something that the Rooney family has started and led for a long time before my existence here."
Tomlin said he felt a responsibility to connect with Flores as members of the same coaching fraternity, and that connection turned out to be something that benefits both sides.
"I wanted to stay close to Brian when his legal issues started," said Tomlin. "I just didn't want him to feel like he was on an island. I think from a coaching fraternity standpoint I owed him that. I was in a position to provide that. I think that started our interactions and conversations. Over the course of those discussions, particularly when it became evident that he was not going to get a head job, I think the natural discussion began and it really ran its course rather quickly to be quite honest with you. It doesn't require a lot of time to come to the realization that you could use a Brian Flores on your staff. I was so excited that he shared the same level of enthusiasm about being a part of us as we were about potentially acquiring him. It's been really good.
"Senior defensive assistant and linebacker coach is his title. But there's so many ways that he's going to help us and help me in particular, I love sharpening my sword on his and gaining a perspective that his experiences provide. That wise counsel. We're talking about a myriad of things. Whether it's calendar, whether it's taking care of players, whether it's the acquisition and evaluation of talent. It's been fun to have him. His contributions are going to be significant."
Heading into OT: One of the topics that will be addressed during the Owners Meetings are two proposals regarding overtime.
Last season the playoffs had multiple games that went into overtime, or were close, which had many calling for a change.
The Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans all presented Rule Change Proposals, with a slight variation. The Colts and Eagles proposal allows both teams to possess the ball in overtime. The Titans allows both teams to possess the ball in overtime, unless the team with the opening possession scores a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion.
Tomlin was asked if he feels some type of resolution will come during the meetings.
"I'm sure that we'll find some resolution to address it. The final proposal that we all rally around I think will be determined here in the next couple of days. I think everybody has a desire to address the issues. We have a couple proposals on the floor. I'm sure will narrow that and hopefully come to some resolution while we're here."
One of the key factors for deciding on overtime has been keeping the game as traditional as possible with any rule changes, something Tomlin agreed with wholeheartedly.
"No question, I think. I think simplicity is best," said Tomlin. "I don't think you want to be in the most significant moment in time in a game and be explaining the nature of the rules to your football teams. So as traditional as we can keep it, as simple as we can keep it, I think aids in that element of it."
More from Tomlin:
On if there is more the team would like to do from a free agency standpoint:
"It's certainly ongoing. You guys know our approach. We've got two avenues to improve our team - free agency and the draft. We've gotten a lot of things done in free agency. I think it has set us up nicely for the draft. We kind of let some things come to us and things of that nature. But it's ongoing not only in terms of preparation for the draft, but our continued look at free agency and those that are available to us across a couple of positions, wide out, safety, etc."
On signing two interior linemen in free agency in Mason Cole and James Daniels and their flexibility:
"You know that we value competition and the position flexibility of all the parties involved really kind of tee up that environment. I'm excited about watching those guys sorting themselves out."
On if Kendrick Green could be moved from center to guard:
"I'm open to. He had true position flexibility in college. All the other guys do as well. We really feel good about having an opportunity to put the pieces together to put the very best unit that we can on the field and not only that but have quality depth to address attrition and the things that naturally happen during the course of the journey."
On signing linebacker Myles Jack:
"Myles is a good football player. He is a see-ball, get-ball type. You can always utilize those guys. He needs no endorsement from me. I think the thing that really fires me up most about his acquisition is the level of excitement that he had. It didn't take long in the phone conversation to realize that he was just as fired up about potentially being a part of us, as we were about potentially having him. And you guys know I live by the philosophical approach, volunteers not hostages. It was really exciting to hear the level of enthusiasm that he had about being a part of this."
On expectations for linebacker Devin Bush:
"I expect him to get better like I expect all young players to get better. I think it's very reasonable to expect significant improvement in young players, particularly in his circumstance of being 12 months off his injury and putting that behind him. I'm just excited about him getting back out there and having a clean bill of health throughout the team development process and that not being a component of his individual readiness."
On expectations for Stephon Tuitt coming back:
"I'm excited and optimistic. But I don't have any definitive information regarding his participation in 2022 as we sit here."