Tomlin: "We must be a team on the rise"

While many people enjoyed picnics and parades as a goodbye to summer on Labor Day, Coach Mike Tomlin gathered his team for the first day of regular season practice.

But before taking the field, Tomlin gathered those that make up the 53-man roster, as well as the practice squad, and laid the groundwork for the season ahead.

He talked about the growth that has been shown by individuals and as a team, and the growth that is still ahead of them.

"That's a point that I made to our football team as I sat in front of the group," said Tomlin. "I thought it was a significant moment for us as we embark on this journey that is the 2012 season.

"I also made a point that we're also very much a team in development, individually and collectively. We must be a team on the rise. Obviously, we better be a better team in the latter portions of the season than we are now. I could say the same about individuals."

Tomlin was asked in his weekly press conference Tuesday about the starters for the Broncos game, from who will it be at running back, to wide receiver and beyond. But Tomlin knows the focus has to go well beyond who takes snaps with the first team, because everyone will be counted on and they all must continue to grow.

"We're talking about positions and who's earned positions and things of that nature and who's going to run out of the tunnel and start," said Tomlin. "All of that stuff is well and good, but individually, we better still be people on the rise from a football development standpoint, from a skill development standpoint and from a quality of play standpoint. That's the only way we're going to continue to grow and be the type of team that we need to be in the latter portions of the season."

Safety Ryan Clark will not play against the Broncos on Sunday night because complications associated with the sickle cell trait that he carries does not allow him to play in the high altitude in Denver.

With Clark out, Ryan Mundy and Will Allen will carry the load, something Tomlin expects the veterans to be able to do without the defense missing a beat.

"Like anyone else that misses time, we don't cry a whole lot about people that are out," said Tomlin. "We expect those expected to play to play in an above the line manner. Guys like Ryan Mundy and Will Allen have done so in the past, and we expect them to do so moving forward."

It won't just be their play that they will have to step up, but they will need to fill Clark's role of a communicator for the defense.

"He's a great center fielder, if you will, a great hub of communication for our defense, not only our secondary," said Tomlin of Clark. "Those guys are going to be challenged in that way. Not only to play above the line, but to provide some of the help that he provides the rest of the defensive unit with the way that he communicates in-game, pre-snap, post-snap. It just comes with filling in for a guy like Ryan Clark."

Keenan Lewis is listed on the depth chart as the team's starting left cornerback, winning a training camp battle with Cortez Allen, but there was no big announcement touting it.

"He's earned a spot," said Tomlin. "I don't anoint people in terms of jobs or positions. I think he's done a nice job here in this preseason in working and playing good, sound, technical football. That needs to continue.

"He's no longer a young guy. He's no longer new to our system of football or our football team. We expect a hard worker, such as himself, to take off from a playing standpoint and he has."

Lewis earning the starting spot doesn't mean that Allen isn't a guy that the team can depend on if needed. Tomlin is pleased with the second-year corner's development, and is looking forward to that continuing.

"He's another young man that has grown by leaps and bounds," said Tomlin. "He still has room for growth."

With Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich the Steelers have a wealth of experience at the quarterback spot, something that Tomlin enjoys.

"The reality is that when you talk about backup quarterbacks you need to find comfort in that they're capable of coming in and playing winning football," said Tomlin. "In those two guys, we know that we have just that. We've won with them in the recent past, they've displayed in this preseason that they're capable of being reasons why we win.

"There's always some discussion in today's NFL whether you go with two or three. I always find comfort in the three. When I walk up and down these hallways and look at pictures of the 70's Steelers that were 45-man rosters. I saw three quarterbacks in those pictures. So, that's a little bit of a history lesson for me. When you've got three that are capable of being reasons why you win in general, I'm going to lean on going with that three. Obviously, some things that are going on at other positions oftentimes weigh in that when you're putting together a 53-man roster, but just in general, we value and respect that quarterback position, particularly, those that can be reasons why we win."

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