LATROBE, Pa. ? From Coach Mike Tomlin's viewpoint, now is when it gets interesting.
The first week of training camp is over, and the drudgery has begun to set in. The weather is getting hotter and muggier. There is a game on the horizon, but it's not until Sunday, which is still four days and eight practices away.
Tomlin said he was pleased with the progress that has been made so far, and he backed up those words by shortening each of Monday's two practices.
"Yeah, I'm a nice guy," cracked Tomlin. "But no, these guys are working extremely hard. You'd anticipate that. It's easy to subtract; it's tough to add. When we were putting the (practice) schedule together we had that in mind. They've met certain criteria, they've done that and then some. They're playing with great energy and enthusiasm, and we want to throw them a bone every now and then."
When asked what has pleased him in particular, Tomlin pointed to the overall competitive nature of the players as individuals and as parts of their respective units.
"I liked the ebb and flow," said Tomlin. "We were giving up some deep balls on defense, and we have to make that disappear. But at the same time if you're doing that it means the offense is executing. We turned the ball over some offensively, we had a couple of interceptions this morning, but if we're doing that it means the defense is getting it done. Ebb and flow is a sign of the football team competing, and we're going to keep moving forward."
With the team now in its second week of training camp, and with the first of five preseason games looming, interest is focusing on battles for both roster spots and then roles within the schemes. Before camp Tomlin said there would be no rush to judgment on any of that, and one week into it he hasn't wavered.
"We have to let it play out. We can't come out here with any pre-conceived notions because then you're not giving the men an opportunity to show what they're capable of," said Tomlin. "We start playing preseason games on Sunday. If we're patient enough the picture will become crystal clear."
As time passes, more of Tomlin's beliefs and philosophies manifest themselves. Another one of those came into focus after Monday's afternoon practice when the scenario was presented in terms of a player not showing much in practice and then putting together an eye-opening performance in a game.
"I think gamer is a misused term. Those animals usually don't exist," said Tomlin. "Guys who are good on Sundays are usually pretty good during the week. Every now and then you get guys who are capable of rising to the occasion, and those guys are the guys who are special. But very rarely are you totally surprised about what a guy is capable of because they burst out of the locker room doors on game day and play lights out. Usually you have evidence of that."
STEELERS NOTES: Matt Spaeth (shoulder) returned to practice, but Lawrence Timmons (groin) and James Harrison (rib) missed the session. Tomlin said Timmons had an MRI on the groin, but he did not get specific about what the test revealed. "Timmons and Harrison are still day-to-day," said Tomlin, "and we will continue to monitor those guys." ? Verron Haynes also did not practice, but that seems to be part of a plan to ease him back into things following his rehabilitation from knee surgery last year. "Verron Haynes, we're going to be somewhat cautious with him, take a load off him every now and then," said Tomlin. "We don't want him to take a step back."
ROSTER MOVES: The Steelers made two roster moves on Monday, when they released first-year safety Harrison Smith and claimed veteran outside linebacker Marquis Cooper off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks. Cooper (6-3, 220), a four-year veteran, originally signed with the Steelers on Oct. 31, 2006. He played in two games and was inactive for a third before being released on Nov. 25. Cooper played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004-05 and in four games last season with Seattle. He has recorded 28 tackles in 30 career games.