Steelers summer break, 44 days until Latrobe
Friday, June 13, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Tomlin laughed before he heard the end of the question about whether Chris Kemoeatu had secured the starting job at left guard this spring.
"He won it in shorts?" he responded.
The stock answer is that Steelers don't win or lose jobs in the spring, when there is no hitting, when there are no real requirements for players to attend and when a receiver can run over the middle and extend his arms for a pass without fear.
Those quasi-football practices came to an end yesterday, and the players now have off until the more telling time of training camp opens for them July 27 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. Although these spring organized team activities have taken on more intensity the past dozen years, they remain a poor cousin of the real thing in the summer.
"What we've done to this point has been good," Tomlin said, "but it's been teach-oriented, it's been skill-develop-oriented. It's different than playing the game of football."
Tomlin talked about spring practices being good for team camaraderie and the learning process for individuals, but the coach pretty much rendered them useless for player evaluations or individual competition for jobs.
"I don't read too deeply into evaluating this time of year," Tomlin said. "It's about teaching. This is football in shorts, and I keep that in mind as I look at what goes on out there. People that may do great things out there may disappear in pads. Guys who struggle out there in shorts may be great players in pads. I always keep that thought in mind. I reserve judgment until we go to training camp and put pads on."
Santonio Holmes suggested a day earlier that Tomlin cut back on the number of spring practices he conducts so he and other players can save it for when it really counts, in training camp. Holmes bowed out of a number of practices because of his beliefs.
Asked if he takes such opinions into consideration, Tomlin answered, "It depends on the source. I like Santonio, Santonio's a good player, a good guy. He's learning how to be a professional. We'll continue to work with him."
Tomlin has been careful not to render public judgment on players who have skipped many of the voluntary practices. Troy Polamalu has spent the spring in California with his personal trainer. Casey Hampton has not been around for weeks, leading to speculation he might be working with a personal trainer this spring as well. Even Ben Roethlisberger was a no-show the past two practices.
"I'm not going to talk about guys who are not here," Tomlin said. "It's voluntary, and I'm going to leave it at that."
Few specifics surfaced as Tomlin wrapped up his second spring session. Among the few tidbits:
• Holmes will get a chance to return punts this year after being denied the opportunity in 2007.
"The judgment we made in regards to that last year really was more about his development as a receiver. He was a second-year player. ... He's a year older, seemingly a year wiser. We'll see if he can handle it. If he can, we'll explore it."
Other candidates to return punts and/or kickoffs are Jeremy Bloom, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore and Willie Reid.
• Training camp will take on a new look because teams are limited to 80-man rosters with the demise of NFL Europa and the five or six roster exemptions each NFL team had for those players.
"I think you have to approach it differently from that standpoint," Tomlin said.
"We are a veteran team in some areas; we have to approach it differently because of that. I know the guys a lot more than I knew them last year ... for those reasons, we will approach it differently."