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Old 09-19-2007, 03:30 PM   #1
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Default Smizik: Tomlin Eyes Improvement From Tomlin

He does a nice job of articulating what we might describe as Tomlin's "style":
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Tomlin eyes improvement from Tomlin
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin strolled into the media work room at the Steelers' complex, which on Tuesday becomes a television studio, about 40 seconds early for his weekly news conference. He sat at a table and waited until a commercial finished playing on FSN Pittsburgh. It was kind of awkward for everyone with the coach sitting in the front of the room, ready to start but unable to do so.

It was the closest thing Tomlin had to a setback since the Steelers' season began.

It is only two games -- against teams that have made one playoff appearance this century -- but what a debut this has been for Tomlin. His cool, logical approach to football has worked well with the players and better with the media and fans. His day will come -- it does for all coaches -- but, for now, Tomlin is the man who can do no wrong.

Well, almost no wrong. He's tough on himself and ready to find fault with his performance. Who does he think he is? A talk-show caller?

"I fell short of perfection this weekend," he told the media gathering of about 25. "I had an opportunity to challenge a [Buffalo Bills] kickoff return that could have saved us valuable yards and preserved the shutout. I didn't get that done. I'm working and growing every weekend."

Tomlin will make more significant mistakes in the future, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to admit them readily.

Tomlin will be compared for years with Bill Cowher, just as Cowher was compared for years to Chuck Noll. It will take Tomlin many seasons to build the record Cowher has -- if he does. Cowher's career, when it resumes, is on a Hall-of-Fame course. Tomlin is just a rookie coach learning as he goes. He seems remarkably comfortable with his role, as though he were born for this.

He's a refreshing change from Cowher, at least from a media/fan standpoint. Tomlin doesn't seem to have an interest in intimidating or challenging reporters. There are no staredowns from this coach, just easy, well-spoken answers that invariably make a ton of sense. Maybe when the losses come, he'll grow confrontational, but likely not.

It was not a lengthy news conference, running about 20 minutes. There aren't a lot of questions for a coach overseeing an undefeated, division-leading team that has outscored its opponents, 60-10, and which has played anywhere from good to exceptional in all phases.

Tomlin almost had to look for weaknesses in his team.

Concerning special teams, he said, "We need to improve in our kickoff coverage. We can get better in that area."

Concerning his stellar defense, he said, "There's not much you can be critical of there. I thought they played very well with great energy and emotion. We did challenge our corners to do a better job of perimeter tackling. That is an area, if you want to critique, we can get better at."

Not that it's a serious problem. "I think our group of corners are as good a group of tackling corners that you'll find in football."

The offense is ranked sixth in the NFL and has been versatile and deep. Willie Parker has two 100-yard games, Ben Roethlisberger has been efficient, if not spectacular, and playing with the same style that made him so successful in 2005. The receiving corps has been better than expected.

As for the line, recall the anguish during the exhibition season when Tomlin failed to name a starting unit and continued to experiment with various players. The conventional wisdom was such a tactic would limit the line's chance for success severely. Turns out, Tomlin knew pretty much what he was doing.

Tomlin has been blessed with an easy schedule to start his career. Neither Cleveland, despite its amazing, 51-45 win Sunday against Cincinnati, nor Buffalo figure to be a playoff team. Neither do the San Francisco 49ers, the Steelers' opponent Sunday at Heinz Field. The 49ers, despite their 2-0 record, are last in the NFL in offense, just the kind of opponent that does not figure to handle the Steelers' aggressive and confident defense.

One of these weeks, though, Tomlin and the Steelers will lose unexpectedly. It could come Sunday or the following week at Arizona, where the opponent, or at least the opponent's coaching staff, will be highly motivated. If not by then, certainly in the next four games against Seattle, Denver, Cincinnati and Baltimore.

After all, teams don't go undefeated in the NFL. Tomlin and the Steelers are only making it seem that way.
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