Subplots develop at Camp Tomlin
By John Harris
Monday, August 18, 2008
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Observations from coach Mike Tomlin's second training camp with the Steelers that ended Sunday afternoon at St. Vincent College:
Camp Tomlin still plenty tough: So much for Tomlin taking it easier on his players this year at St. Vincent. Truth be told, Tomlin may have worked his players harder than he did in 2007. "We've been in pads every single day this year," running back Willie Parker said. "Last year, we weren't in pads every single day." Said linebacker Larry Foote: "We had a lot of two-a-days. That was rough."
Batch out, Leftwich in: The Steelers were content with Charlie Batch backing up Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Enter Byron Leftwich, who was signed to replace Batch, out with a broken collarbone. Leftwich can now make the Steelers reconsider retaining Batch, who is five years older. Leftwich has the potential to keep Roethlisberger on his toes -- not as a potential threat as a starter, but as someone who can produce when given the opportunity.
Battle of wills: Tomlin won the battle, but Casey Hampton may have won the war. Despite Tomlin's attempt to punish the overweight Hampton by putting him on the physically unable to perform list, Hampton accepted his punishment because he understands that as the Steelers' No. 1 nose tackle, he gives them the best chance to win.
Double-secret-probation switch at cornerback: Ike Taylor continues to play right cornerback and Deshea Townsend remains on the left in the biggest -- and least publicized -- position change this offseason. When asked about the flip-flop, which began with the AFC wild-card playoff game against Jacksonville, Townsend said Sunday: "It's just Coach's decision. It's a little different in route progressions for the guy that's covering. A lot of times when you're on the right side, you're on the single side of the receiver. When you're on the left side, you're on the strong side, a combination of tight end and receiver."
Strange situation: It's not like the fiscally prudent Steelers to overpay a backup tackle, especially given the team's tenuous ownership situation. So why sign Max Starks as a one-year, $6.895 million transition player? Makes you wonder if management believed it could release Starks even after signing him; his contract's guaranteed for the season. Why else pay so much for someone to do so little?
Broken promise: Four days before the start of training camp, Tomlin told reporters he had spoken with safety Troy Polamalu and "we anticipate him being ready to go." So much for the best-laid plans. Polamalu, who was granted permission to train in California during the offseason, is expected to practice for the first time Tuesday. There was nothing wrong with Polamalu being allowed to work out where he felt comfortable, but if the team had been able to monitor his situation more closely, perhaps his surprise hamstring injury wouldn't have surprised Tomlin when camp opened.
John Harris is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email] or 412-481-5432.