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Old 08-01-2009, 08:51 AM   #1
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Default Super Bowl champs retool for title defense

Super Bowl champs retool for title defense
"The '08 Steelers are the '08 Steelers"
Saturday, August 01, 2009
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Six months after beating the Arizona Cardinals and winning a record sixth Super Bowl title, the Steelers emptied their cars and unpacked their suitcases for a three-week stay at their familiar summer home in Latrobe, intent on forgetting about what happened last season and insisting they are ready to start what coach Mike Tomlin called their 2009 journey.

That was the mantra set forth when all the Steelers players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison, reported yesterday for the start of training camp at St. Vincent College -- the 44th consecutive year they have trained on the campus of the Catholic college in Westmoreland County.

"The '08 Steelers are the '08 Steelers," Tomlin said. "We're here team-building for '09. We're going to be blue-collar and humble and start the process of building our football team."

"I'm just happy to be here, get started and do what we did last year," said Harrison, the two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker who drove up in a tiny Smart car that wasn't much bigger than his 250-pound frame.

"It's still fun," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who enters his 12th season and, along with cornerback Deshea Townsend, is the longest tenured player on the team. "I look forward to getting out on the field and trying to build a team like we did last year."

Not all of the players who were with the team in Tampa, Fla., for the pulsating 27-23 victory against the Cardinals made it back to Latrobe. Gone are two starters -- inside linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback Bryant McFadden -- and two former starters -- tackle Marvel Smith and guard Kendall Simmons.

Also missing was No. 3 receiver Nate Washington, who signed with the Tennessee Titans -- the Steelers opponent for the Sept. 10 season opener at Heinz Field -- in free agency. And backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who rescued the team several times last season when Roethlisberger was injured, signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the absence of those players cannot even begin to compare to the stature of the man who was noticeably missed the most on the opening day of training camp -- chairman emeritus Dan Rooney, who left July 21 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.

Not only had Rooney been present for each of the previous 43 training camps at St. Vincent; his son, team president Art Rooney II, said he has been at every Steelers training camp since he was 5.

"We'll miss him, there are no two ways about that," Rooney said. "It will be different. It's been about 70 years of camps he's been through. He's trying to get home for the season opener. Whether he gets back, I don't know."

It will also be different for Art Rooney II, too.

It will be the first time he assumes complete control of the franchise, without his father nearby to help with the decision-making.

"I certainly don't feel like I have to be a different person," he said. "I plan to do things the way I've always done them and stick to the basic philosophies we've had in the organization."

Like they did after winning Super Bowl XL in the 2005 season, the Steelers come to training camp with questions surrounding Roethlisberger, who engineered the winning drive Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla., that resulted in the dramatic touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds remaining.

This time, Roethlisberger is accused in a civil lawsuit in Nevada of sexually assaulting a woman in his Lake Tahoe hotel room during a celebrity golf tournament in July 2008.

Roethlisberger took part in the team's run test yesterday, but did not speak to the media.

Center Justin Hartwig, one of Roethlisberger's friends on the team, said he didn't think the lawsuit would be a distraction to the other players.

"Ben is a teammate; we believe in him, we're here for him," Hartwig said. "It's a tough situation when you get accused of something like that and your business is put out there in the media and people judge you. Unfortunately, the court of public opinion judges and that's just the way it is, whether it's fair or not."

When the players go out for their first official practice this morning, they will find a new practice field, replete with Field Turf, waiting for them. It is the only one of the four fields they use that is not a grass surface. Afternoon practice begins at 2:55 p.m. and is open to the public.

"I'm ready to go," Hartwig said. "I'm focused on winning another one."
Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com.
First published on August 1, 2009 at 12:00 am

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09213...#ixzz0MwHsIZHZ
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