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04-23-2007, 08:58 AM
Steelers minicamp gets sunny reviews

By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, April 23, 2007

Mike Tomlin was pleased enough with the first four practices of minicamp that the new Steelers coach rewarded his players.

He allowed them to wear hats instead of helmets for the final practice Sunday at the team's South Side facility.

The day had a light feel for the players, and that proved to be true off the field as well as on it.

Spirits were high in the locker room, and the fact they wrapped up minicamp before noon on another spectacular spring day was only part of the reason.

Early reviews of the camp were highly favorable, from the players and Tomlin alike.

"The energy and enthusiasm was impressive," Tomlin said. "The guys came with a willingness to work and get better. It was great weather, and no one got hurt, so it was a great minicamp."

It seemed particularly helpful for players on the offensive side.

They are getting used to a number of things, since the Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians.

Minicamp, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, gave them a chance to see how much progress they had made during offseason workouts.

"We've been doing a lot of stuff the last couple of weeks that when we first started doing it we were griping, you know 'We don't want to be here. It's April,' " Roethlisberger said. "After this minicamp, everybody is appreciative that we did it, and we think it really made us a lot better."

The Steelers eased Roethlisberger into the expanded role he will have next season.

Roethlisberger will be responsible for setting the pass protection -- in the past years an offensive lineman has called it -- and he continued to work on that yesterday.

While Arians called the pass protection before plays, Roethlisberger was given the freedom to change it or make adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

One change wide receiver Hines Ward likes is the use of four-wide receiver sets.

Ward said going with four wide receivers on some first downs will help the running game by making the Steelers less predictable and creating more space for Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker.

"It's definitely going to help our running game," Ward said. "We, as wideouts, take pride in our blocking, and just spreading the defense out, there ought to be huge holes for Willie to run through."

While happy with how minicamp went, Tomlin said he and the coaches won't put too much into what they saw from the players, since no pads were worn and there was no hitting.

"Sometimes, you can get enamored by what someone's capable of doing or willing to do in shorts," said Tomlin, who will hold a second minicamp May 11-13. "It's a little different when you play the game, so we're definitely not going to rush to judge in terms of evaluating these guys or stacking the depth chart."

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