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06-14-2009, 07:27 PM
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Steelers Team Report
Updated: June 12, 2009, 2:20 AM EDT
Inside Slant
Mike Tomlin sent his players home Thursday until the start of training camp July 31 with a few choice words of advice.

"I don't say a lot because the more you say you have to be cautious of what you say," Tomlin said. "But what I said to the football team was physical conditioning (counts) more than anything else. So between now and July 31 they need to do whatever they can to be in great physical condition.
"If they do that, and that alone, and nothing else, we are headed in the right direction. In order to begin the journey we need to be in great spirits, great physical condition and that is where it is going to start for us."

Although he was defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings in 2006, Tomlin knows all too well what happened to the Steelers as they entered that season as Super Bowl XL champs. They got off to a terrible start and finished 8-8, which turned into Bill Cowher's last season as their coach.

Tomlin has no plans to allow his Super Bowl champs to take the kind of "cocky" approach to 2009 as Hines Ward said they did in 2006.

"I am a singularly focused guy," Tomlin declared. "My single focus is on developing a world championship-caliber team for 2009 ... 2008 was great -- it was an awesome team. Where we are is where we are. Where we are headed, more importantly than that, is our focus."

Throughout the spring, Tomlin declared that he would not publicly assess individual players, that the spring was more for teaching. Neither would he talk about the main position battles that will spill into training camp, such as those to become the No. 3 receiver, the No. 2 quarterback or any others.

"Someone is going to surprise us and be on the rise and someone is going to surprise us and be on the decline," Tomlin said. "I make a conscious effort to remain open to those possibilities. I am going to let the dust settle wherever it settles."

Tomlin said Limas Sweed did not lock up the No. 3 spot at wide receiver to replace Nate Washington. And, yes, Dennis Dixon could overtake Charlie Batch as the top backup behind Ben Roethlisberger.

"What he is capable of doing above the neck is going to ultimately determine that," Tomlin said of Dixon, who enters his second season. "We all acknowledge that this quarterback position is a little different than other positions in this game. Does he have talent to be a competitor or have a horse in that race? Absolutely."

Notes and Quotes
--The Steelers ended their OTA practices Thursday with a familiar player at left cornerback. No, not Bryant McFadden, their starter from 2008. He was one of only two of their 22 Super Bowl starters not returning for the 2009 season.

Their starting left cornerback is William Gay. Never heard of him? They have in Pittsburgh because although McFadden was their starter in 2008, the two virtually shared the position. They alternated, each playing two series, right through the Super Bowl.
In fact, Gay got more time because he started and played the entire way for the four games McFadden missed in November and December with a broken forearm.

"It helped me build my confidence within NFL games," Gay said of his experience during the Super Bowl season. "And it just prepared me and let me know that I'm able to get out there and play among the best."

Gay, a fifth-round draft choice from Louisville in 2007, is 5-10, 190 and has good quickness. He has played in every game since his arrival, many on special teams, but he also played some nickel corner as a rookie and recovered a fumble in his first NFL game.

He has no idea why they rotated the two players at left cornerback last season, or whether it was a way for them to break him in, knowing they could not re-sign McFadden, who signed with the Cardinals as a free agent.

"They were like, 'both you guys are hot, so both you guys get in there and see what you can do,' " Gay said.

--The Steelers received their Super Bowl XLIII rings in Pittsburgh Tuesday night during a private ceremony and even they were bowled over by how big and gaudy they were. The rings 3.7 ounces and have 3.61 diamond carats.

"Everybody's in awe right now," backup quarterback Charlie Batch said. "When everybody opened his box, it was like 'Wow!' "

--There are 28 players who picked up their second Super Bowl ring with the Steelers, who also won Super Bowl XL. In the 1970s, there were 22 Steelers who owned four Super Bowl rings.

--Coach Mike Tomlin used one of his final three OTA days, which ended Thursday, to take his players bowling.

--Although every Steelers home game has been sold out since 1972, the team always holds some back to sell to the general public. Those seats will go on sale through Ticketmaster starting at 10 a.m. June 20. All games are available, including preseason.

--The Steelers report to training camp in Latrobe, Pa., July 31 and will hold their first practice Aug. 1, two days later than the date they could have started according to NFL rules.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I guess he just likes a lot of attention sometimes and he likes being the little baby, but Ben is definitely a warrior." -- RB Willie Parker after QB Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice one day after his hobbled off the field with a knee "injury."

Strategy and Personnel
MEDICAL WATCH: WR Hines Ward and FS Ryan Clark went through the spring without practicing because of shoulder surgeries, but each should be ready to practice for the start of training camp.