View Full Version : Steelers paying for August R&R (rest and Rhames)

12-30-2009, 08:52 PM
Steelers paying for August R&R (rest and Rhames)
Dec. 30, 2009
By Mike Freeman
CBSSports.com National Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- It's difficult not to like Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. He's smart, affable and possessor of a crustaceous wit. It's possible he'll win a few more Super Bowls to boot. Tomlin's that good.

Yet some months ago Tomlin made a gross tactical error. If the Steelers falter and miss the postseason (which is likely though not foregone) it can be traced back to the flimsy frosted cupcake of a training camp run by Tomlin.

That camp set the tone for a lackadaisical, error-prone season that started with hopeful, pear-shaped expectations and ends now with the defending Super Bowl champions needing big-time help just to make the playoffs.

Mike Tomlin and the Steelers might have been too relaxed in camp. (Getty Images)
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers might have been too relaxed in camp. (Getty Images)
The common refrain heard from some in the media as well as Steelers fans is if the team had Troy Polamalu for the entire schedule Pittsburgh's season would've entered a more favorable orbit. Polamalu is just one player -- a superhuman one at times, but one guy nonetheless -- and his absence can't be the totality or even the majority of why the Steelers went from dominant to pedestrian in a short time while along the way losing to the microbes of the NFL like Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland.

No, what happened to Pittsburgh goes back to one of the easiest NFL training camps I've witnessed in 20 years of covering the sport.

Part of the problem began with Tomlin giving veterans extended time off in those early days of camp. This is not an uncommon occurrence but Tomlin's approach was extreme, to say the least. Hines Ward, for example, practiced once in the first four days of camp. Ward called the rest CTO: coach's time off. Other key veterans had a similarly cushy early camp schedule.

Also in camp many Steelers players were allowed to violate a sort of longtime NFL tradition. They sat on their helmets during practice, something most coaches despise (the Seahawks and other teams used to fine players for sitting on theirs).

Is sitting on your helmet the worst thing that ever occurred in an NFL camp? Of course not. But it was one of many indicators that the Steelers looked, well, a little too satisfied.

Here was another. Actor Ving Rhames visited the Steelers during one camp practice and he carried on lengthy conversations with Steelers players and coaches. Not at the very beginning or very end of practice but smack in the middle of drills. At one point, Tomlin and Rhames spoke for 10 minutes as practice continued. Linebacker James Harrison sat out that day with an injury and (again during practice) took pictures with Rhames and then spoke to the actor for almost the entire second portion of practice.

Because Harrison wasn't participating didn't mean he couldn't still pay attention.

Some of these things were chronicled once before in August on CBSSports.com, but they are worth repeating.

Just couldn't imagine some of the coaches I've covered closely such as Bill Parcells (three Super Bowl appearances as a head coach), Joe Gibbs (three), Dan Reeves (four), Marv Levy (four) and Bill Belichick (four), among others, running a camp to that laid-back extreme.

The softness of the Steelers has arisen mostly on that formerly tough defense. Before the Baltimore game the Steelers defense allowed 121 fourth-quarter points this year, which was second worst. The 11 touchdown passes allowed in the fourth were a league high.

Tomlin gambled that a team thick with veteran self-starters would need rest more than it did discipline and it was a gamble that, unfortunately for Pittsburgh, failed. The extremely soft camp set the tone for the season and it also boxed Tomlin into a coaching corner.

After an overtime loss to Baltimore earlier in the season Tomlin talked about "unleashing hell" in the month of December. It wasn't a shock the Steelers lost to Oakland in the next game. Coaches can't have a relaxed atmosphere in one portion of the season and then talk tough in the next. It doesn't work.

Tomlin should've unleashed Hades in training camp, not in December against the Raiders. Anytime a coach is talking about unleashing anything against the lowly Raiders, that team is pretty much dead.

The New England Patriots are peaking now (very quietly) because coach Bill Belichick runs a tight operation from the first day of camp practice all through the year. There are bumps in the road, like when he had to send a group of players home for being late to a meeting, but the Patriots almost always get better at the end of the season because Belichick is consistently tough on them all the time. That consistency (along with Tom Brady) is why the Patriots are usually postseason factors and why Belichick will be in the Hall of Fame.

After the Steelers beat Baltimore last week to keep their slim playoff hopes alive it was vintage Tomlin who dared and challenged his team to finish strong. He's sometimes quite the inspirational talker and most of the time there is a great deal of substance behind his words.

Just not this summer.

This summer was camp cupcake goodness mixed in with Ving Rhames and it's coming back to haunt the Steelers now.

If only Rhames had run camp. Then at least someone would've gotten medieval on the Steelers.

For more from Mike Freeman, check him out on Twitter: @realfreemancbs

12-30-2009, 08:56 PM

Been posted already. :coffee: