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NKySteeler
08-05-2008, 04:48 PM
This camp has Tomlin’s stamp
by Bob Labriola-Editor

LATROBE — It’s different. Might be the same campus and the same uniforms and the same weather and the same daily maniacal quest to get a sweaty football player to scrawl his name on a piece of paper, but it’s also different.

What was billed as Mike Tomlin’s first training camp as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers was actually more like Mike Tomlin conducting a training camp the way Bill Cowher used to do it. Same number of days at Saint Vincent College. Same schedule. Same run test. Same drills at the same times during the same practices.

The law of chronology demands that 2008 be considered Mike Tomlin’s second training camp as coach of the Steelers, but what also is accurate is this is the first one where
his fingerprints are the only ones on it.

“I was comfortable last year. I’m not going to make more out of it than what it is,” said Tomlin. “Last year, executing this plan, it was only a plan in my mind. As I stand here today I have tangible evidence of things and the approaches I want to take to do things. Does it make it more comfortable? Yes. But it is similar.”

Similar, maybe in the way that if you’ve seen one NFL training camp you’ve seen them all, but different enough if the only NFL training camps you’d ever attended were ones run by Bill Cowher. And for the vast majority of these campers, that was precisely the case. In some notable instances, what Tomlin did in maintaining the status quo validated the decision to hire him. Keeping coordinator Dick LeBeau and the rest of the defensive
staff intact and allowing them to continue to teach zone-blitz principles might seem obvious to most people, but most people aren’t NFL head coaches.

“To me, that’s all ego-driven when people come in and believe they have to put their stamp on things,” Tomlin said at the time. “Why would you fix something that’s not broken? That’s just me. I’m more interested in winning than anything else, and that allows us to win. We have great players, we have a great system, we have great
coaches. That decision was very easy for me.”

In other areas, there had to be some change in scheme, and there was resistance. Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm were gone from the offensive staff and special teams coach Kevin Spencer went to the Arizona Cardinals with them.

At this time a year ago, there were three new position coaches on offense, and even though Bruce Arians was promoted from within to coordinate the unit, there was a new playbook and some different terminology. There also was resistance from some established players.

“When somebody comes in and tries to change you, as a veteran guy you want to be coachable, but at the same time you’re going to revert back to what comes natural to you,” said Hines Ward. “For the young guys, it’s, who do you listen to? Do you go with the veteran guy who’s been doing it for so many years, or do you go out and do what the
coach is really trying to tell you to do? It comes down to really trusting your coach.”

Nowhere was that situation more tenuous than the offensive line, where the veteran guy who had been doing it for so many years was the same Alan Faneca who was miffed about not getting what he wanted in a contract extension. Larry Zierlein didn’t have anything to do with those negotiations, but he was the guy who was trying to implement some changes.

“Alan was a leader,” said Willie Colon, who spent one season under Cowher but became a starter under Tomlin. “Sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. We have to
realize Alan is gone, Coach Zierlein is the boss and that’s how we have to approach it. It’s a new year and a new ship.”

But Mike Tomlin is still the ship’s captain, and the course currently being charted is distinctly his.

Instead of having the players report 15 days before the preseason opener, as is allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and was preferred by Cowher, Tomlin assessed
the experience/age of the roster and opted to bring the team together 12 days before the Aug. 8 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tomlin changed the run test into a version that he believed measured conditioning without exposing players to the nagging injuries common to sprinting. There is less predictability to the flow of practice, because each session doesn’t always build to a grand finale. Instead of ending the first night practice with a blood-pumping episode of
goal-line, Tomlin held a similarly violent backs-on-backers session in the middle.

He even has made some changes to things he had implemented himself, such as a sharp reduction in the time devoted to special teams and suggesting a dialed-back approach
to teaching them from Bob Ligashesky. But within the changes Tomlin has made, there also has been enough stability to get the message across to everyone that he’s in total
command. It would have been easy to cave, to pander either by changing the teachers or altering the syllabus to one that was more to the students’ liking.

Tomlin did neither, and when Casey Hampton missed several OTAs and compounded the situation by arriving here overweight and unable to pass the run test, there were consequences and those consequences were made public.

“I know that from a human nature standpoint we are all resistant to change,” said Tomlin. “That’s part of the process we went through last year as a football team.”
And they will be better off because of it.