In Latrobe, at St. Vincent College in the Laurel Highlands of west-central Pennsylvania. This is where the Steelers have been coming every year for more than 40 years, and where you meet people like Brother Pat, a monk who's lived here for 60 years. The monks here do not speak from the time they finish dinner to breakfast the next morning, which means, among other things, it's hard to ask Ben Roethlisberger for his autograph on campus every evening.
Five Things I Think
1. I think the Steelers do not miss Joey Porter the player, because his impact declined in a 64-tackle season last year. But they'll miss Joey Porter the presence.
2. I think the draft choice likely to make the biggest early impact is LaMarr Woodley, the second-round outside linebacker from Michigan. Impressive-looking kid. Steelers think he'll play the run and rush the passer with equal skill. "He's the perfect outside linebacker for our system,'' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau told me.
3. I think the one thing I took away from my chat with Roethlisberger on Saturday evening is he absolutely, positively refuses to make excuses about being so inconsistent last year. Which I think is really a good thing.
4. I think Mike Tomlin is still on trial with some of his players -- many of whom think the 15 two-a-days are excessive. And I also think he doesn't care what the players think.
5. I think the offense may be in the hands of a new man, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who takes over for Ken Whisenhunt. But life on offense here won't change much. "Don't kid yourself,'' Roethlisberger said. "We're still a smashmouth team.''
Did You Know ...
... that when the Steelers commuted the 2.5 miles from the college to Latrobe High School ib Friday night for their annual scrimmage and fireworks display for the locals, they boarded five yellow school buses, in uniform. Talk about back to the future. "It was great,'' Tomlin said. "Like going back in time, like playing for Walnut Heights High in All the Right Moves.''
Insider Fantasy Tip
Not a lot of surprises here. Arians is making the offense more Roethlisberger-friendly -- that is, Big Ben will have more chances to change the play at the line than he's had, and he'll be freer to change formations. The buzz here is he's going to throw downfield more than last year, which means you probably should not allow Santonio Holmes to drift very far down the board in your draft. Amazing stat from last year that shows how underused Holmes was: Until catching the game-winner in overtime of Bill Cowher's last game last season, Holmes had the grand total of one touchdown catch and zero 100-yard games all season.
On The Menu
Always solid fare here in Latrobe. I had what was called "the sizzling fajita" at the end of the lunch period at the Steeler training table. Only problem was, I got there near the end of lunch, and there was nothing "sizzling" about the chicken fajita. More like "the lukewarm chicken fajita," with lettuce, tomato and medium-hot salsa.
Grade: B-minus, only because the chicken was lean and tasty. Add a nice salad (romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, cukes, broccoli, light ranch) and you've got yourself a solid B meal.
Don Banks will handle the Buffalo postcard, but I was at Bills camp Friday, and I feel bad I can't rave about the meal. Now there was one terrific lunch ... Stirfry chicken-and-shrimp with assorted veggies over brown rice. Can't beat that camp meal with a stick.
I sat with Roethlisberger outside the team cafeteria early this evening, after the second Steeler practice of the day.
"Last year,'' he said, "we wouldn't even be here right now.''
"What do you mean?'' I said.
"Last year, on a Saturday in camp, we'd have practiced in the morning, left in the afternoon, been off Saturday night and had to be back Sunday afternoon,'' he said.
No such luck now. Tomlin, with his 15 two-a-days scheduled, brought the team to its annual practice at Latrobe High Friday night, gave them Saturday morning to rest, then practiced a solid two hours Saturday late in the afternoon -- with no chance to leave campus for the 50-minute drive back to Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger said a few of the players in the locker room chafed at the tougher regime this summer, but they were getting used to it. "It's night and day from last year,'' he said, "but this is the way it's going to be. You've got to buy into it.''
Tomlin wants his players to build a tough physical and mental shell. And the way he's going to do that is by working them harder than they worked the last few years (and maybe ever) under Cowher. "We have to get in great physical condition and develop mental toughness,'' he said Saturday afternoon. "You only do that by working hard.''
I sensed no open rebellion. None at all. But I did sense that some of the vets -- like Hines Ward -- still haven't bought in totally to the Tomlin way. We'll see how it develops. My gut feeling is, if they win, everyone will be a Tomlin guy. If they lose, there will be private grousing about how Tomlin beat them up too much in training camp.