Most of Pittsburgh Steelers players haven't met new coach Mike Tomlin. By the time the season starts in September, it may seem like they've known him for years.
Because Tomlin is in his first season, the Steelers are permitted by the NFL to hold not one but two required minicamps this spring, although most or all of their players would already be around for offseason workouts.
The Steelers will also get a one-week jump on most teams in opening training camp, which is expected to start July 21.
The extra week is allowed because the Steelers will play five exhibition games, not the normal four. They will meet the Saints in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 5, a week earlier than most teams begin their preseason schedules.
"I like it," Tomlin said. "I enjoy camp. I think it's an opportunity to eliminate some of the outside distractions that are involved in everyday life. You get to focus on the game, the team element and the chemistry and the camaraderie. I know most players won't agree, but I've always enjoyed it."
By then, the Steelers should have a good idea of how Tomlin plans to approach the season schematically.
With a new offensive coordinator (Bruce Arians) and a new head coach who was a defensive coordinator last season, the Steelers are expected to take on a different look on both sides of the ball.
While assistant coaches such as Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers added their own twists to the Steelers' defense over the last 15 years, the base 3-4 defense was mostly the work of former coach Bill Cowher.
Tomlin, who previously coached 4-3 defenses in Tampa Bay and Minnesota, is expected to bring elements of that defense to a team that has played nothing but the 3-4 since the early 1980s.
"We're in there every day hacking away at it, trying to find ways to get off the field," Tomlin said of the meetings he is already having with the defensive staff.
Tomlin isn't worried about causing problems by altering a system most of the Steelers defensive players became comfortable with long ago.
"We're not going to get enamored with that (making changes)," Tomlin said. "What we're going to do is to continue to shape our package to do what our players do and do well. It'll be a constant evolution, just like the players are constantly evolving."
Arians, the former Temple coach and the offensive coordinator in Cleveland from 2001-03, is suggesting new wrinkles such as employing four-receiver sets on second down. He would also like to try right guard Kendall Summons at center as a possible replacement for the retired Jeff Hartings.
"We're going to do what have a chance to be successful with," Tomlin said. "If that means spreading people out, then we'll spread people out. If four wides happens to be a strength of ours versus a given opponent on first and second down, then of course we'll be willing to do that."
The Steelers almost never used such formations with Cowher, except during hurry-up situations, because he felt they limited the options for their running game.
Tomlin has spent considerable time studying game tape from last season, not to judge what went wrong with an 8-8 team but to evaluate personnel for next season.
"What I am doing is looking at what they do well and what they don't do well fundamentally. I get more information from that than I do evaluating how they fit into a particular scheme," Tomlin said.
No matter what he decides to add, Tomlin is certain a team that is only a year removed from winning the Super Bowl is ready to start making more deep runs into the playoffs.
"The things that they see from me, once we get started on our offseason program (March 19), are the same things they're going to see from me next January when we're in the thick of things," Tomlin said.