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07-22-2007, 10:17 AM
Five pressing topics
LINK (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07203/803455-66.stm)

The site remains the same as the previous 40 years, at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, but the atmosphere for the Steelers will be markedly different as they report to training camp tomorrow under new head coach Mike Tomlin. Here are five of the more pressing topics as they go to work:

Sunday, July 22, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Any time a team hires a new head coach, it's a notable turn of events. When the Steelers do it, the earth moves. Tomlin is their third head coach in 39 seasons and the way he approaches his job inevitably will be compared to his predecessor, Bill Cowher.

Tomlin has scheduled a remarkable 15 twice-daily practices. While nearly half of those are for special teams only, it shows this training camp will be no walkthrough. The new coach has impressed many who have dealt with him, from front office to fellow coaches, players, media and even fans. Now he really gets to show in public and before big crowds in Latrobe how he conducts himself in practices and as a head coach. The scrutiny will be everywhere for a coach taking over a team that was reigning Super Bowl champions a year ago.


Will the real Ben Roethlisberger please stand up? Coaches are convinced their quarterback is the player of 2004 and 2005 and not the one who led the NFL with 23 interceptions last season. They've shown it by giving him more responsibility -- he will make the blocking protection changes at the line -- and open up the offense more for him.

Roethlisberger had excuses for his lowered performance last season -- his motorcycle accident in June, his appendectomy 10 days before the regular season started and his concussion in October. To his credit, he refused to accept them, but everyone else hopes those truly were the reasons.

Virtually every team revolves around its quarterback and his performance means more to wins and losses than at any other position. No quarterback in the history of the game had such a fast start as Roethlisberger in his first two seasons. It's no coincidence the Steelers' success followed, nor that they slinked to 8-8 last year when his performance fell off.


Three of the five starting jobs are up for grabs and a fourth starter does not want to be here. It's not life as usual for the Steelers, who have fielded consistently strong offensive lines through the years. Jeff Hartings' retirement left a hole at center that likely will be filled either by newcomer Sean Mahan, their only big signing in free agency, or longtime heir apparent Chukky Okobi.

Guard Kendall Simmons and tackle Max Starks each faces stiff competition for his job on the right side. Chris Kemoeatu is pressing Simmons, although line coach Larry Zierlein said Simmons had a great spring. Willie Colon is making a run at Starks.

The left side is more stable even though six-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca apparently will play his 10th and final season with the Steelers because of a contract impasse. Marvel Smith has been an underrated left tackle for a number of years.


The team's 39 sacks were tied for the third lowest in Bill Cowher's 15 seasons as coach. While sacks do not always register the effectiveness of a pass rush, Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, said they must improve in that area.

The pressure did not come from traditional forces in a 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers, but rather from their two starting ends. Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel combined for 44 quarterback pressures, compared to the 18 generated by Joey Porter and Clark Haggans.

Toward improving the pass rush, Keisel will move around in the defense and not stay put at right end. The Steelers made linebackers their top two draft picks and second choice LaMarr Woodley seems ticketed for a spot as a rusher on the left side in their pass defenses. James Harrison also could pick up the slack for the departed Porter on the right side.


The Steelers abandoned the ground game in 2003 to disastrous results and a 6-10 record. They ran more than anyone in the NFL the next two seasons and it helped produce a 15-1 record in 2004 and a Super Bowl the following season.

So why the move more toward a spread offense in 2007? The makeup of the team, for one thing. New coordinator Bruce Arians believes he has the quarterback and the receivers -- counting tight ends -- to open up things on offense. He will have Roethlisberger operate under center at times on first and second downs with four wide receivers and one back. That alignment should spread the defense and allow running back Willie Parker to hit bigger gaps and for the Steelers not to be as predictable on early downs.