By BOB LABRIOLA
In a way, Coach Mike Tomlin is willing to accept the distractions that come with being the defending Super Bowl champions. The attention, meeting the President of the United States, the jewelry, being the most important game on every opponent's schedule.
Those things are an inevitable part of the situation in which the Steelers find themselves, some four months after a thrilling win over the Arizona Cardinals made the franchise the first to win six Lombardi trophies.
"My mentality in regards to distractions is really changing, and that is probably how I am growing with the job, if you want me to evaluate myself," said Tomlin. "If you're going to be good, distractions are a part of it. I'm more concerned about embracing that and dealing with it and performing in the midst of it, as opposed of being resistant to it."
One year ago, during the season that cast these Steelers as defending champions in the first place, Tomlin and his players dealt with a myriad of distractions and conquered them all. What the 2009 season will offer in that respect is completely unknown at this stage of the team's development, which as of Thursday was the end of their OTAs.
Next week, the rookies and first-year players will spend an extra week preparing for their first NFL training camp, but for the bulk of the roster the offseason program is over. They're on their own until they're due to report to Saint Vincent College on July 31, and Tomlin sent them away with a particular message.
"I don't say a lot, because the more you say you have to be cautious of what you say, but what I said to the football team was that physical conditioning precedes anything else," said Tomlin. "So between now and July 31 they need to do whatever they can to be in great physical condition. If they do that, and that alone, we are headed in the right direction. In order to begin the journey we need to be in great spirits and great physical condition, and that's where it's going to start for us."
Training camp is where it all starts, in Tomlin's mind, because football is a sport to be played in pads with a constant threat of physical violence. But there also is a process to go through to get to camp, and he said he's pleased with how the team got through the football-in-shorts phase of its preparation.
"We just put the finishing touches on what has been a very productive OTA session for us," said Tomlin. "When we get to Latrobe it won't be the first time these men have heard these coaching points. Not only that, we will have tape of them doing it as part of the teaching. A lot of time, when you coach off old tape or tape of other people, it isn't as meaningful as it is to have a dry run to present to our guys, even if it is on tape.
"There were no new injuries through it all, which is very good. With that, we are going to bring our offseason to an end."