Coach Mike Tomlin talks about tonight's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles:
Q. Do you see this first preseason game as a different kind of a test for your rookies?
A. We've been hypothesizing about what some of these guys are capable of, speculating. Tonight against the Eagles, those speculations end, and we get tangible evidence of what they're about, particularly from a special teams standpoint. Special teams will include a lot of the young guys, who are somewhat of a mystery to us. What level of intensity will they bring to the game? Can they play in space? Can they do things outside the normal division of labor from their position standpoint? Can running backs cover kicks? Can linebackers protect in the punt game? Those are always things that really are unanswered until you step into a stadium.
Q. With Jeremy Kapinos still out, are you excited to see how rookie Drew Butler can handle the punting chores?
A. He's a fine young man who has worked extremely hard, and we're interested to give him an opportunity. Like we always say, one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. Unfortunately for Jeremy, he's going to be out for a period of time, but it does provide an awesome opportunity for Drew.
Q. What about the return game?
A. We're excited about looking at some unproven talent, some guys who have distinguished themselves in college football. Chris Rainey, Marquis Maze, and even David Gilreath who had an outstanding career as a returner at Wisconsin. Those are three young guys who come in with very nice resumes and pedigrees in that area, and we're interested in seeing if they're capable of doing it on NFL fields.
Q. Can the preseason opener tell you something about the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers, or do you need to wait a little longer into the process?
A. No question that this is going to reveal some things to us, particularly from a football conditioning standpoint. That's something that always jumps out in the first preseason game. It's really a litmus test in terms of where you are from a conditioning standpoint. How they battle the anxiety of playing in stadiums, and how that affects them from a fuel standpoint. You always come out of the first preseason game with a better understanding of that.
Q. For the first time in years, there will be no Hines Ward or James Farrior in uniform. What do you see developing in terms of offensive and defensive leadership?
A. It's really nothing new to me in that regard. Sometimes guys like Hines Ward and James Farrior get the microphone after big games and big moments, and they have done an awesome job of representing us and leading us in that way. But behind closed doors, within the team concept, we have guys here who have been quality leaders for some time. Guys like Ben and Heath and Ryan Clark and Brett Keisel and others have been leading for us for some time.
Q. The list of players on PUP includes three legitimate stars – James Harrison, Casey Hampton, and Rashard Mendenhall. What do you see at running back in terms of the competition there?
A. All the guys have represented themselves well. We all have an understanding of what Isaac Redman is capable of. He's still continuing to improve. He came to camp in great physical condition, the best since he has been with us. He's had a very good camp, and we expect him to do really good things. Jonathan Dwyer is maturing as a young man. He came to camp in the best shape of his career, and he's showing good signs. It's good to see Baron Batch back and healthy and making cuts and being definitive in his play. Of course, we're excited about the young talents – Chris Rainey and John Clay. I like the competitiveness of that group. They've worked really hard, and I'm excited to see how it all works out.
Q. Who is looking good in Casey Hampton's absence?
A. Steve McLendon has had an awesome camp. He's really taken off from how he finished the 2011 season as a young man on the rise and has really come into his own as a professional. Not only physically in terms of talent and the development of his body, but also the understanding of the position. It's showing up on the field, and I think it's been an awesome camp for both Steve and Maurkice Pouncey, two talented young guys who are competing and making themselves better on a daily basis. And Alameda Ta'amu has shown us some things. He has a way to go technically, but you see the talent level. He is who we thought he was from a pedigree standpoint, and he's a willing worker.
Q. How about at outside linebacker behind Harrison?
A. Chris Carter has really taken the opportunity to show what he is capable of, and as we talked about earlier, misfortune for others has provided an opportunity for him. He has worked diligently to prepare himself for this by improving his energy, his endurance and his strength, and he has had gains in all of those areas. And it is showing up repeatedly.
Q. Is there any decision coming on the starting cornerback job opposite Ike Taylor?
A. Keenan Lewis gets the nod just on experience, but we're open to the battle. Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown both have really represented themselves well, and what happens over the next month is going to be critical to determining who comes out there on opening day. And by no means is that battle over.
Q. What do you want to see from your players in this preseason opener?
A. I want to see these guys play with the sense of urgency that's required in the National Football League. Practices here in Latrobe have been spirited and very competitive, but as all know that the volume gets turned up in the stadiums. I want to see a group of men who are capable of responding to that and really setting the pace in that regard. That's No. 1. And No. 2 is I want to get a gauge of where they are from a in-stadium football conditioning standpoint. I'm going to ask some guys to play offense or defense and special teams, and see how they can handle those duties, see how they can execute from a detail standpoint as fatigue sets in.