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- Stillers.com Team
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Savvy Tomlin pulling the right strings
By John Harris
Saturday, August 9, 2008
The Steelers scored on their opening drive of the 2008 preseason Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field, just as they did to open the 2007 preseason in the Hall of Fame Game against the New Orleans Saints.
Coach Mike Tomlin's first drive in his first NFL game a year ago set the tone for a 4-1 exhibition record and a fast start out of the gate in the regular season.
The Steelers played with a madcap regular-season intensity last preseason. Starters and substitutes all played like the meaningless games really meant something.
For example, cornerback William Gay won a job based on what he did in preseason. It seemed like Gay, a fifth-round draft pick, made a big play in every exhibition game.
Tomlin was just getting his feet wet as a head coach in 2007. A winning record in the exhibition season meant nothing in the standings, but it meant absolutely everything to Tomlin, who didn't blow his only chance to make a good first impression.
The carryover from the preseason led to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth for the Steelers, who played their best football early before fading in the stretch.
To his credit, Tomlin is approaching his second training camp differently -- pulling back more than he did a year ago. He doesn't hesitate resting his veterans, an admission that he may have pushed the team a little too hard the first time around.
Last year, Tomlin was a rookie coach learning about his players, just as they were trying to figure him out. It was important for Tomlin to establish his authority and his coaching style -- almost as important as it was for him to have a successful campaign his first year.
This year, Tomlin is displaying more give-and-take -- more or less.
He understands his players -- what buttons to push, their strengths and weaknesses, how hard to push them and when to pull back.
Tomlin's players, in turn, understand him and his system better. If you don't believe the Steelers don't know how much they can get away with, just ask nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Still on the physically-unable-to-perform list because he reported to camp in poor condition, Hampton was given a reprieve last night from working out on the sideline while his teammates played, as he is expected to do during practices. Tomlin's punishment has become a humbling experience for Hampton, a four-time Pro Bowler.
Other than the Sean Mahan-Justin Hartwig competition at center, Hampton has been the Steelers biggest on-field story.
Hampton's lofty reputation provided Tomlin with all the motivation needed to keep his veterans in line. Regardless of a player's status -- Pro Bowler or scrub -- they know not to rub Tomlin the wrong way.
The Steelers also realize that Tomlin knows his team a lot better now. That's what the regular season is for. There will be plenty of time to prove themselves later, when the games count.
No need for Tomlin to demand the same results from his veterans this preseason. Exhibition games meant a lot more to Tomlin last year than this year.
- Grizzled Veteran
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I think the team is coming together quite nicely. I think Tomlin's give-and-take attitude this year, as well as established trust between the coaching staff and the players, will make for a very successful season.
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