Steelers coach Mike Tomlin concluded Thursday's final offseason practice with optimism and the belief that several young players are on the road to emerging as standouts.
Tomlin said winning the Super Bowl was "great," but added that his only focus is preparing for the 2009 season, which enters the next phase with the start of training camp July 31 at St. Vincent College.
"I thought we had a very productive offseason from a teaching standpoint," Tomlin said. "My focus is on developing a world championship-caliber team for '09"
Part of that focus during offseason workouts has been the development of young players such as inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who will replace Larry Foote and be one of two new starters from last season (along with cornerback William Gay).
Timmons, who had 71 tackles and five sacks in 2008, has gained weight without losing quickness and is playing with increased confidence as he becomes more comfortable with the defense.
"We're excited about what he's going to do for us," Tomlin said. "We have tangible evidence of what he's capable of doing. He played quite a bit last year and made critical plays at critical times. We expect that to increase and continue. In terms of quality of play, I don't anticipate any dropoff.''
Second-year safety Ryan Mundy is another young player who gained increased practice time with the absence of safeties Troy Polamalu and Tyrone Carter and with Ryan Clark recovering from shoulder surgery.
Wide receiver Hines Ward sat out most of the offseason work while recovering from shoulder surgery, creating opportunities for Limas Sweed, Dallas Baker and third-round pick Mike Wallace.
Tomlin said the No. 3 receiver job vacated by Nate Washington is wide open.
"All the guys other than Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes" are in the mix, Tomlin said.