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ChronoCross
07-28-2007, 10:27 PM
New coach Tomlin puts his stamp on camp

By Scott Brown (sbrown@tribweb.com)
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, July 28, 2007

A gas station not much more than a couple of football fields from St. Vincent College welcomes the Steelers back to their summer home. The sign outside of it also refers to what the Steelers are doing in the shadow of the Laurel Mountains as "Coach Tomlin's torture camp." Torture? Not exactly.
Mike Tomlin's camp? Without a doubt.
Tomlin's approach to training camp has been a marked contrast from that of his predecessor, Bill Cowher, and it has led to physical, fast-paced and sometimes contentious practices -- and, no doubt, a few raised eyebrows among his players.
Tomlin put his stamp on camp even before the players reported to St. Vincent College last Monday by unveiling a schedule that included 15 two-a-day practices. "I just shook my head," nose tackle Casey Hampton said.
"You look at the first two weeks and it's like 'Wow, that's different. Coach Cowher never did that,' " wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Well, this isn't coach Cowher's team any more. You're going to have some guys griping about it here and there, but they're still going to go out there and do whatever it takes to get better."
It is not hard to see why.
The players have to make an impression on a coach who has yet to see them perform in a game in person, and the Steelers are coming off an 8-8 season after winning the Super Bowl the previous year.
As outside linebacker Clark Haggans said, "Nobody wants to sit out the playoffs like we did last year. It stunk. If coach Tomlin thinks that walking on hot coals barefooted is going to help us, then we're going to do it."
Tomlin hasn't gone to that extreme but his practices have been demanding.
The first one last Tuesday included hitting in the morning, something Cowher-coached teams never did at training camp.
In addition to being physical, Tomlin practices have reflected his belief in the importance of special teams -- the Steelers spent a significant part of every day last week on that facet of the game -- and included plenty of work on situational football as well as spirited, one-on-one drills that encourage toughness and competition.
"I think it's a test to see what type of players he has on his team because he doesn't know us," Ward said.
If Tomlin is familiarizing himself with his players, he is trying to get his arms around the Steelers in another sense as well.
As he walked to practice last Wednesday afternoon, Tomlin heard what he called a "big commotion" and probably shook his head when realized it was simply fans cheering the players as if they were emerging from the tunnel at Heinz Field.
Later that afternoon, Tomlin laughed when asked about a drill in which quarterbacks tried to hit garbage cans that were stationed at different parts of a field with a pass.
"That can't be newsworthy," he said.
But anything Steelers in and of itself qualifies as news, and after every afternoon practice Tomlin is seemingly swallowed by a throng of reporters as he walks off the field.
He has accommodated the media and been the same way with fans, staying after his daily media briefings to sign for anyone who wants an autograph.
Tomlin has shown that he may not be as accommodating of his players.
After outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons aggravated the groin that sidelined him for most of the offseason practices, Tomlin took what appeared to be a subtle swipe at the Steelers' first-round pick.
Timmons, he said last Thursday, "made a couple of plays and then he ducked out."
Maybe that was Tomlin's way of prodding Timmons. Maybe there was nothing to read into that quote.
Tomlin's words will be parsed time and time again, but it doesn't appear that he will mix many with his players.
"If you don't like it, get off the ship and that's kind of been his beliefs," Ward said. "It's our job as veterans to believe in coach Tomlin, his ways, so the younger guys buy into it, too."
So far it seems as if the players are buying into the way Tomlin is running camp.
He spent much of his first week during practice observing, and he has been seen much more than he has been heard. But he carries with him a self-assurance that suggests the rookie head coach knows what he is doing.
When asked after practice Friday night, if he was surprised that Tomlin had yet to erupt on the team, running back Willie Parker laughed and said, "Coach Cowher would have blew us out by now, but it's two different coaches."
And two different camps.
Very different camps.

Preacher
07-29-2007, 12:38 AM
I just continue to admire the way Tomlin carries himself.

Here's to another 15 plus years of great coaching (Oh, I hope so!)