Tomlin's plan: let them play

LATROBE, Pa. – The run-up to training camp was different this year because of the lockout. The procedures at training camp have been different because of some of the new rules in the new collective bargaining agreement.

What is not different is Coach Mike Tomlin's approach to the preseason opener.

"We're really going to take a simple approach to this in terms of evaluating our men," said Tomlin. "We want to see who can block under (game) conditions, run, pass, kick, tackle, etc. We don't have any hardcore plans as I sit here right now in terms of specific things we want to see from people and repetition counts and things of that nature."

For the Steelers, their preseason opener will come at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, and at the time the ball is placed on the tee, they will have had 10 days of practice in pads but with no offseason program nor OTAs to supplement the process.

Given that reality, some teams have talked about the possibility of communicating with the opponent in the preseason opener and coming to some kind of arrangement as to procedures and parameters. Not Tomlin.

"I'd just as soon show up and play," said Tomlin. "I don't care what (the Redskins) do."

Tomlin's focus will be trained on his own players, particularly the new guys, because he sees this as a significant step in the evaluation process. Just as it's true that some players will elevate themselves when the pads go on and the hitting begins, some guys react differently when it switches from a practice environment to game situations.

"Intelligence in the classroom is one thing, intelligence on the practice field is another thing, intelligence inside stadiums is another thing," said Tomlin. "I'll reserve judgment along those lines until I get further information."

Nobody really knows what to expect from a first preseason game, and the level of the unknown figures to be even higher this year because of the labor unrest that shut the league down for those months during the offseason. But Tomlin believes the situation with regard to the rookies and new players will be mitigated by the reality that no team's rookies and new players will have a detailed understanding of schemes and procedures either.

"It's going to be all relative," said Tomlin. "They're going to be playing against guys in similar circumstances for the Redskins. From that standpoint, the playing field will be level. In the first preseason game there never are many opportunities for rookies to play with veterans under most circumstances. If you remember, Maurkice Pouncey never got with the first unit last year until the second preseason game, and we knew almost instantly how credible he was."

If the game goes according to plan, the Steelers starters will play about 10 snaps, with Tomlin's preference undoubtedly being one 10-play touchdown drive for the offense, and a couple of three-and-outs for the defense. But even during years when the NFL calendar was not interrupted, preseason openers rarely go according to plan, which is probably a reason why Tomlin prefers not to have one.

"We're just excited about this step," said Tomlin. "We have a lot of men to evaluate, 90, and we have a short time in which to do it. This will be a significant step. It will be telling in terms of what people are capable or willing to do."

INJURY UPDATE: Seven players have been ruled out of the game: TE Eugene Bright, ILB Mario Harvey, G Chris Kemoeatu, WR Adam Mims, WR Emmanuel Sanders, CB Cortez Allen and CB Bryant McFadden. "All others have a possibility of playing, some greater than others," said Tomlin. "But those seven are the guys we've identified as not being able to participate in this game."

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