LATROBE, Pa. – Takes from Coach Mike Tomlin's camp-opening news conference:
A HIGHLY-CONDITIONED MAN'S GAME
It was a sentiment expressed to Le'Veon Bell during the NFL Scouting Combine a few months before the Steelers would end up using their second-round pick on him. At Michigan State, Bell's playing weight had been in the 240-pound neighborhood, but Coach Mike Tomlin explained that size wouldn't be his ticket to success as an NFL running back. Over the course of the offseason between his first and second pro seasons, Bell lost about 20 pounds, and he capped off 2014 by being voted a first-team All-Pro running back.
Check out the best photos of LB Bud Dupree.
Bud Dupree, the Steelers No. 1 pick in 2015, arrived for his second NFL training camp some 20 pounds lighter than he was a year ago, and Tomlin was asked whether he was concerned about having a left outside linebacker weighing in the 250-pound range:
"No, Anthony Chickillo has lost 20 pounds or so since we acquired him," said Tomlin. "I think what you're seeing is a lot of times guys come into the professional ranks thinking it's a big man's game and it is a big man's game, but more importantly than that it's a highly-conditioned man's game. So we look at second-year players who might be 20 pounds or so lighter than they were when we first developed our professional relationship with them. It's just that these guys are showing you that they understand that the level of conditioning required to do the job is much more important than what they weigh from a size standpoint when they step on the scale. But Dupree is probably 20 pounds lighter than he was 12 months ago. I know that Chickillo is, and you could probably put Jesse James in that category as well. All second-year guys, all have done a lap around the track, all got a basic understanding of how important conditioning is. And I think the weight is reflective of that."
THE STANDARD IS THE STANDARD
Throughout the offseason, the Steelers have been listed among the favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI. Tomlin said he doesn't view such expectations as anything other than business as usual.
"I have the same expectations that I've had for 10 years," said Tomlin. "As I sit here in front of you, I know maybe your expectation may be different, but mine is not. We're taking off on this journey with the potential of being the eventual world champions, and that's going to guide our approach to preparing this team."
It's a league-wide reality in different ways for every NFL team as training camps begin. The path is rarely smooth, and among the things coaches may have to face at this stage of the process are injuries, contract issues, suspensions. Even though the first practice of this camp hasn't happened yet, Tomlin has his top offseason free agent signing on the physically unable to perform list (Ladarius Green), a couple of his key offensive players are angling for new contracts (David DeCastro and Antonio Brown), and a couple of others (Le'Veon Bell and William Gay) could be hearing from the league office sometime this month.
"I just don't view those things as crises," said Tomlin. "They're things that you have to deal with. I'm paid to deal with them. My approach is usually dealing with things in a very up-front manner with the men, and talking openly about it. You never want things that are potentially capable of being a distraction to fester on the perimeter of the group, in formal side conversations, and so forth. My general approach is that I attack the elephant in the room, and then you're able to move on from it. That's how I deal with all circumstances relative to the job."