On the eve of the Steelers' second preseason game and with the team having left Saint Vincent College and about to enter Phase 2 of the preparation for the 2013 NFL season, Coach Mike Tomlin addressed a variety of issues:
Q. Do you look for something different in this second preseason game, as opposed to last week's preseason opener?
A. I'm looking to watch this group handle the lights of Monday Night Football. I think that's significant. We all grew up watching Monday Night Football, and there's a certain amount of excitement that comes with it. I want to see how these guys can handle it. Secondly, I want to see these guys take a step in development this week in terms of making decisions, in terms of execution, in terms of the understanding of situational football. In some instances I didn't think we got off to a great start in those regards a week ago.
Q. In other words, smarter football?
A. Absolutely, and that's as much a part of team development as the development of skill. Displaying an understanding and being where it is you need to be and seeing what it is you need to see.
Q. Do you see anybody separating themselves in your search for depth along the offensive line?
A. I've liked some of the things that Guy Whimper has done. We acquired him during the offseason with an eye toward him being a potential swing tackle. In the last few days, he has shown an aptitude for guard play, and that helps his case and ours. Kelvin Beachum continues to impress as a swing tackle, and he'll even get some work at center in this game. Those kinds of contributions are going to strengthen us offensively when you have backups who are capable of doing multiple things.
Q. Is there still a fight to be Ben Roethlisberger's backup, or has Bruce Gradkowski taken that job?
A. Bruce has stated a strong case for his position in that regard. We have a lot of ball left to play, and I'll let the story tell itself. But make no mistake, Bruce has been impressive with the things we have asked him to do in an effort to earn that position.
Q. Who gets the chance to return punts?
A. We're going to look at Markus Wheaton. We haven't had an opportunity to look at him, and he has worked diligently at practice and we look forward to giving him an opportunity. We will continue to look at Reggie Dunn, and we'll see what's left for the others after that.
Q. Returning kickoffs?
A. LaRod Stephens-Howling has earned his keep in this league for some time in that area, and we will give him an opportunity. We'll continue to look at Reggie Dunn in that area as well, as a guy who ran four back for touchdowns last year at the University of Utah. We'll look at the snap count and then see what's left for the rest of them.
Q. There were some special teams mistakes vs. the Giants, but how was the coverage, overall, in your mind?
A. You really didn't get a good evaluation of it because all of the kickoffs were out of the back of the end zone. Hopefully we'll put some in the field of play this week so we can see who can cover.
Q. Is it accurate to say that Stephens-Howling has a skill-set that adapts well to the zone-scheme?
A. He has quickness and great vision. He's a good one-cut runner, and so you can say he does display some of those talents. But he also appears to be very comfortable in the passing game, which is exciting.
Q. The team's time in Latrobe is over for another year. How do you see your time at Saint Vincent College?
A. Make no mistake, the time in Latrobe is a significant time for us. We're there developing skill and working to clarify some decisions that we need to make, but we're also working on camaraderie and teammates learning to work together and respect one another. Those are things that you cannot necessarily measure, but you acknowledge are a big part of what you do. It was time well spent for us – formally and informally – and guys are still in the process of coming together, but that environment was conducive to laying down a great foundation.
Q. With only 14 padded practices in Latrobe, is that why live tackling became part of your time there?
A. It had to be. There are so few opportunities to evaluate guys under today's CBA. We need to provide as much clarity as we can, and when you introduce tackling as an element of the drill-work, it helps provide that clarity.
Q. What do you want to see from your team tonight against the Redskins?
A. To do exactly what we didn't do in some instances last week (against the Giants): to make good, sound decisions; to hustle; to not beat ourselves; and to play penalty-free in many regards. I'm looking for the guys taking a step forward in showing an understanding of situational football. It's going to be a big challenge, because when you work with 90 men on the sideline and it's Monday Night Football, it's going to be an exciting atmosphere. We're going to be excited about going out there and getting after it.