Evaluation process: The Steelers open the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday Night at Lincoln Financial Field, and it will be the first opportunity for some young players to take what they have shown on the practice field at Saint Vincent College into a stadium where the evaluation process changes some.
"You only get four of these opportunities to state a case for yourself," said Tomlin. "We recognize that what they do in-stadium is weighted a little bit differently than what happens out here. That is just the nature of this evaluation process. This preseason is about moving from 90 to 53. It is a big day for us. This first time out is about playing good, clean, fundamental football. It is about what we do and the quality in which we do it as opposed to who we are playing and their motive attack and so forth.
"What happens out here (in practice) counts because what usually happens out here is a pretty good indication of what is going to happen in the stadium. Very rarely are you drastically surprised, positively or negatively, and see a performance in-stadium that is not in some way revealed to you out here. I do not want to make more out of it than what it is. It is weighed differently but they are interrelated. They are tied to one another. This sets the stage for what happens in stadiums. Not only in terms of performance, but I am looking for displays of awareness, situational awareness. We worked a lot of situational football particularly over the last week that we have been up here. I want to see that awareness show in stadiums as we are moving the ball and playing legitimate football."
Mason's first shot: Tomlin didn't indicate what the rotation would be at quarterback, the only thing he is certain of is Ben Roethlisberger won't play. But the plan is to get some playing time for rookie Mason Rudolph to see what the rookie can do.
"Mason's done a really good job, but again, he hasn't been hit," said Tomlin. "There will be attempts to hit him on Thursday night, so stay tuned man because that's another one of the reasons why this is weighted differently. An offense's ability to maintain possession of the ball, or ball security, is much more difficult in-stadium than it is in a training camp environment because a training camp environment is controlled in a lot of ways, you don't touch or get close to the quarterback for instance. So, a quarterback's ability to secure the football really doesn't get tested until they play preseason football in-stadium. That's why these opportunities are so precious because that is a big element of the evaluation process of the position."
Rule changes: NFL officials have been at Steelers training camp helping the team to understand the rule changes in the league this year, which include the use of the helmet rule and the new kickoff rules. But just like player evaluation, getting accustomed to the new rules is also going to be a focus in the preseason.
"Even the day that we had officials, it was not a full crew, so the perspective on the play of the 22 men is not as thorough as it is in-stadium," said Tomlin. "The only real opportunity that you get at that is in-stadium and in preseason games. So that is one of many reasons why I say that the preseason games are weighed differently. The cleanliness of the play, the fundamental approach that you take, your hand usage in terms of being clean will be highlighted more so in-stadium than it is out here. Quite frankly because there are more appropriate and professional eyes on you in the stadium from an officiating standpoint. That is just one of the many reasons why I said what I said regarding the weight of the two environments."