View Full Version : Spring football is for experiments

04-23-2007, 10:24 AM
Spring football is for experiments
Saturday, April 21, 2007

It's spring, and it's the NFL, which means it's a time for looking at a lot of different guys at different positions; it's a time for Nerf footballs to be a part of special teams drills. It also means it's not yet time to be worried about the depth chart; it's not yet time to assess team chemistry.

And no matter what season it is, it's not time to get caught up in one of the issues that has been sweeping through Steelers nation since the day Mike Tomlin was hired: 4-3 vs. 3-4.

The Steelers completed the third and fourth of the five workouts scheduled for this voluntary weekend minicamp under a cloudless sky on Saturday at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex, and the day settled nothing.

Start on the offensive line, where the team is looking for a replacement at center for Jeff Hartings, who retired in March. During the opening wave of the free agency period, the Steelers signed Sean Mahan to compete for that spot, but so far Mahan has been lining up exclusively at guard, while Chukky Okobi and Marvin Philip have handled the bulk of the work over the football during 11-on-11 drills.

"There is going to be some position flexibility with him," said Coach Mike Tomlin about Mahan. "That was part of what attracted us to him, but right now we're just getting him locked in on one spot, getting him going in that area. At some point, then we'll cross-train him."

For others, the cross-training has begun and time will reveal to the coaching staff who fits best where. With Alan Faneca not taking part in workouts this weekend, Chris Kemoeatu has been working some at left guard after being primarily a right guard in his first two seasons; Trai Essex has been working at guard after being primarily a tackle in his first two seasons; and after practice was over, Willie Colon, who played right tackle last year as a rookie, stayed out on the field and worked on snapping the football to quarterback Bryan Randle.

"We're going to do that, find the best combination of men to put on the field," said Tomlin. "The offensive line is an area that's focused on right now, but really we're interested in doing that at all positions. Trying to find the best combinations, leaving no stone unturned in that regard, trying to have an open mind about position flexibility."

One of the things that's required to have position flexibility is depth, and depth is something the Steelers are not overly blessed with at outside linebacker and running back.

With Clark Haggans excused from the weekend because of family issues, and with Arnold Harrison still rehabilitating his knee, James Harrison is the only player here with real game experience at the position. Rian Wallace is working there after spending much of his previous seasons with the team at inside linebacker, and newcomer Marcello Church also has been in the thick of things at the position this weekend.

"Just getting the extra opportunities for guys like Church and Rian Wallace to get work is good," said Tomlin. "You know what Clark is capable of, and James Harrison has been around a while. It's just an opportunity for some young, emerging guys to get some snaps and show what they're capable of, and get better from an assignment standpoint. Before you can compete for spots, or for an opportunity to play, you have to know what you're doing. This is valuable work for them."

At running back, there is Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport, plus a host of inexperienced players. Verron Haynes is still rehabilitating his knee and is not allowed to be around the team this weekend because he doesn't have a signed contract, all of which might appear to present a problem for a coach who's on record as saying he will have a tandem at the position this season.

"That's just today's NFL," said Tomlin about splitting the load between two running backs. "It's a long season, and you need two capable ball carriers. The teams that were playing late in January showed last year what that does for a football team. That's our mentality, but at the same time I'm not willing to say those two backs aren't already here.

"We have some capable men who are working on a daily basis. Najeh Davenport has played good ball in this league for a long time. He was part of a rotation in Green Bay when I first broke into the league in Tampa when we were playing those guys two times a year. He was a guy we were always concerned about when Ahman Green wasn't in there."

What Tomlin isn't concerning himself with at this juncture is how and whether the team has developed the kind of chemistry it'll need to make a run at a championship. Three workouts without pads doesn't qualify as a representative sample.

"I think it's extremely early for that," said Tomlin. "I know the guys have a great attitude. It's upbeat, there's some camaraderie. That takes time. You can't rush that process. It's something that happens. It's done because guys respect the work that others put in, and they see it, and they continue to come to work on a day-to-day basis. I can talk myself into feeling good about that. I just don't know if that's something that can be developed in two days."

The Nerf footballs made their debut at a Steelers practice for the first time in franchise history, and did so during a field goal protection drill. Tomlin smiled when asked about it.

"Special teams coaches are a little weird or can be, and we fit the mold in that regard," said Tomlin. "But they're very good at what they do. I think (using Nerf footballs) is to prevent injury in terms of balls flying around or someone stepping on the ball if it's mishandled."

And then there's the debate. THE debate, supposedly between Tomlin and Dick LeBeau: 4-3 vs. 3-4.

"We really hadn't talked about changing whatsoever," said Tomlin. "We agree that it's overblown. It really is. Guys play football. Football players play. We have some guys who are football players. We're a 3-4 team. We might experiment with some 4-3; we might talk about experimenting with some 4-3 if it makes preparation for our opponents more difficult. It's funny to us. We're just concerned about the business of putting a good defense on the field, getting guys who are fundamentally sound, who win the one-on-one battles and run to the football."

04-23-2007, 10:30 AM
This article really had me excited at the possibilities in the future, and once again coach Tomlin impresses with his views and leadership.

I love the fact that he is going to demand versatility from the players. I think this is the start of a process that gets us back on track in the hunt for a championship and in control of our salary cap issues.

04-23-2007, 01:15 PM
This article really had me excited at the possibilities in the future, and once again coach Tomlin impresses with his views and leadership.

Totally the same thing I was thinking. After reading it, I came straight here to see of someone started a thread on it.

It got me so excited that I went in my Steeler room and re-arranged some stuff, put on my Gildon jersey and watched the AFCCG from two years ago!!! I am ready for some football now!


04-24-2007, 06:38 AM
The more versatile we are, the more difficult to play we will be.

04-24-2007, 08:14 AM
Versatility and flexability....not exactly a strong suit of the old regime.

Come on Tomlin....be the man