Tomlin talks preseason opener

Pittsburgh Steelers at Washington Redskins
DATE: Friday, Aug. 12
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
SITE: FedEx Field
TV: KDKA-TV (live); NFL Network, 4 p.m. on Aug. 13 (tape delay)

Q. Does it seem as though the first preseason game turns into a test for everybody because of all of the unknowns?

A. It's always exciting, like the first day of school. We're going to see a lot of young men, in some instances completing plays in manners in which we haven't had an opportunity to evaluate them before this. Finishing runs, blocks and tackles, and so forth. It's just going to be an awesome atmosphere, and I can't wait to see it.

Q. Has the training camp evaluation process become much more difficult because of the unusual circumstances of this NFL offseason?

A. It is, and the reasons are simple. We have more guys to evaluate than we've ever had since I've been here and we have less time to do it. We acknowledge that these are unique circumstances, and we have all hands on deck from an attention standpoint because of it.

Q. Have you seen some players who are completely overwhelmed?

A. Yes, at times, but that's not out of the ordinary. Every year that I've been here I've seen some players completely overwhelmed. These situations kind of bring that out of young men sometimes. From that standpoint, it's very normal.

Q. Is there a training camp phenom, in your mind?

A. I don't buy into camp phenoms, to be honest with you. I'm looking for guys who distinguish themselves in all settings, be it in the classrooms, practice fields, walk-throughs, and particularly in preseason game stadiums. It's a cumulative body of work as far as I'm concerned. But I'm excited. There are some candidates, and I'm excited about watching those guys proceed.

Q. You have had practices in pads that run a little longer than usual. Is that going to continue throughout the camp/preseason period?

A. Absolutely. We've got work to do, and we're going to be unashamed in pursuing it. Our mornings have been altered quite a bit, and so we've created some competition periods that extend the afternoon. Guys appear to be dealing well with it and taking to it nicely.

Q. The last time the Steelers played at FedEx Field in the regular season was in 2008, and that was the occasion when the Redskins offense had to go to a silent count because of all the Steelers fans in attendance. What do remember about that?

A. That was one of those evenings you won't forget for a lot of reasons. It was the eve of the Presidential election and we were in the nation's capital, but more than that, how Steelers Nation supported us in that environment was unique for me. It's something you hear about but you rarely see. It was an awesome thing to be involved in.

Q. The offensive line is without Trai Essex, Max Starks and Flozell Adams – 26 years of NFL experience not in front of Ben Roethlisberger. There are a lot of new faces in front of him. Is that a concern for you?

A. It is, but I'm concerned about a lot of things. The wheels continue to turn in our industry and our business. It's a big part of it – those transitions and movements occur every year at every position. It doesn't lessen the importance of what's going on here from a team development standpoint. But that turnover is as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling. I like the work we've gotten from the men here, and I think they're fully capable of doing a nice job in that area.

Q. This being the preseason opener, how long will Ben and the starters play? Is that a gut feeling for you?

A. Ideally, offensively I'd like to see one series of 10-plus plays, and defensively I'd like to see about six plays in the form of two three-and-outs. But I usually don't get what I want. We'll adjust if it doesn't fall along those lines.

Q. Have you seen QB Dennis Dixon take another step forward this summer?

A. He's done a nice job, but to identify it as a significant step is probably a little early at this juncture. He was in a pool of guys who weren't able to work during the first week of camp, so he's just essentially into his first week of work. Of course what he does inside preseason stadiums is going to weigh heavily in that evaluation.

Q. You seem to be going out of your way to protect the new guys. Is it because of how they've been thrown into the fire?

A. Under normal circumstances we can spend several months getting to know these guys away from football. Their backgrounds, their aspirations, their fears. Just normal get-to-know things, and I believe that's important as you move into training camp settings. Under these circumstances we're in a training camp setting, and we hadn't been able to do those things comfortably, but we still need that information in terms of helping these young men get through what they're facing from a football standpoint. So we've microwaved it to a degree, and that means protecting them. That also means getting to know them rather quickly, which can be uncomfortable at times.

Q. In No. 1 pick Cameron Heyward, do you see a young Ziggy Hood?

A. No, I see a young Cameron Heyward. I'm not going to put him in a box, or compare him to anyone. If I do that, it puts a timetable on his growth and development. I'm not going to do that in any way. He's out there working, he's instinctual, he's very talented physically, and he's got pretty good technique. We're excited to see what he's capable of doing, and we're not going to compare him to anyone else. We just want him to be the best he can be as quickly as he can be it.

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