Wednesday, October 10, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When does a week off not really mean a week off? The Steelers are finding that out as they head into what around the NFL is called their "bye" week.
No game Sunday does not mean no work under new coach Mike Tomlin. He's giving them no more time off than required by the NFL collective bargaining agreement. Their usual day off -- Tuesday -- was replaced by a nearly two-hour practice in the heat in full pads yesterday.
They will practice again today and tomorrow and then be off Friday, Saturday and Sunday before they return to work Monday.
"We're practicing all the time," linebacker Larry Foote said, perhaps only half in jest. "He's a young man, he's full of too much energy."
In years past, then-coach Bill Cowher usually would give his players Monday and Tuesday off during the open week, practice them lightly Wednesday and Thursday and send them home until the following Tuesday.
Players joked yesterday about the extra work during a period in which some NFL coaches have given players the whole week off. For the most part, the Steelers did not seriously complain.
"It's a good thing," Foote said. "We're 4-1, aren't we? If we were 1-4, there'd be a question mark. But we're 4-1 so whatever he's selling, we're buying.
"We may be moaning, but we don't mean anything by it."
Tomlin advised his players of the schedule at a 30-minute meeting Monday, in which some tried to persuade him to provide more time off.
"We tried to talk him into that, but he was set in his ways on that, not giving us those extra couple of days off," said defensive captain James Farrior.
Farrior and his teammates, however, took it in stride. They noted that Tomlin went easy on many of the veterans in practice yesterday. Tomlin used the time to get the rookies some work, like Gary Russell, who took most of the snaps at halfback for Willie Parker.
"Luckily, he let the older guys get a little rest. We didn't have to do too many reps today," Farrior said. "I can't complain too much."
Eight players did not practice at all -- Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Bryant McFadden, Marvel Smith, Najeh Davenport, Jerame Tuman, Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.
"Full pads today, huh?" Ward said, smiling. "It's different, but it is what it is. We don't know what to expect; it's [Tomlin's] first time.
"A lot of guys thought in the past we were going to take it easy in the bye week."
But Tomlin had a different plan.
"We bought into it," Ward said. "We can't complain about it because we had success to this point. Guys went out there and worked, it was hot out there, full pads, a lot of hitting going on. At the same time, it was some great quality work for the younger guys to get in because they haven't seen many reps since training camp. In cases where we have injuries, those guys are expected to fill in and this is a great opportunity for them to get some work in."
It would be natural to think that winning four out of your first five games might earn you a reward of an extra day or two off during a week in which there is no game to play. Tomlin explained his position, which sounds as if this week's schedule was created a long time ago.
"We're not going to make emotional decisions on how we go about our plan, based on whether we win or we lose," Tomlin said. "They like to hear that when we lose, but they don't necessarily like to hear that when we win.
"We have their best interest at heart. We fall short of perfection and we're not a finished product. We are trying to get better. We are going to take good use of this time.
"We do understand that we are beat up in some areas. A lot of the teams are. That is the nature of this football season. ... We will be smart. We will regenerate and energize ourselves. Somewhere along the line, we have to keep an eye on getting better, because we expect our opponents to do the same."
NOTES -- The Steelers expect all four injured starters to be ready to play when they resume Oct. 21 at Denver: Hampton (hamstring), Ward (knee), Polamalu (ribs) and Holmes (hamstring). "No doubt, I'll be back," Ward said. Said Polamalu, "I'd be ready if we played this week."