Tomlin likes rugged first week of Steelers camp, expects more

| Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu loves playing football but hates the Pittsburgh Steelers' training camp — the drudgery, the never-ending practices, the lack of free time. No wonder he and the rest of his teammates can't wait for a day off.

Guess what• Tuesday will be the ninth consecutive day of work during new coach Mike Tomlin's first camp, and there's no day off scheduled until after Sunday night's Hall of Fame exhibition game against the Saints in Canton, Ohio.

No wonder Polamalu isn't ready to disclose what he thinks of spending nearly as much time on the practice field in a day as the Steelers would in a week of practice during the season.

"I'll tell you in private, but not in public," he said.

So far, Tomlin is getting the maximum out of his team — the maximum permissible training camp time, that is. The NFL's labor rules mandate a day off if a team hasn't had any before its first preseason game, so Aug. 6 will be the Steelers' first day off since camp opened July 23.

"It is drudgery," Tomlin said, refusing to apologize for the heavy workload. "More and more, they're showing evidence they love the game, and that's the only way we're going to be special. It comprises more than physical talent, to be special."

Former coach Bill Cowher routinely gave his players Sundays off once two-a-day practices began, but Tomlin put his players on the field once Sunday and two more times more Monday — their 12th and 13th practices in the first eight days of camp, including the opening day conditioning drills. Two-a-days are scheduled again Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, though the Friday morning session figures to be devoted to special teams in advance of Sunday's game.

"I wanted to get to know this football team, present some adversity to them, see who could rise up and see who had competitive spirit," Tomlin said Monday, reflecting on the overloaded first week of camp.

As might be expected with so many practices with a number of unfamiliar coaches — six assistants are new, too — some players are beginning to get edgy. Tomlin doesn't mind that, either.

"Week 2, this is where it probably starts to get a little miserable and you start to know people under duress and nobody feels great," Tomlin said.

Wide receiver Hines Ward, for example, complained Saturday that the defensive backs were being too rough with wide receiver Willie Reid, who missed all but one game last season with a seriously injured foot. On Sunday, safety Tyrone Carter shoved running back Willie Parker after being beaten by Parker during a blocking drill.

The risk with so much on-field work is an unnecessary and possibly preventable injury — one reason Reid wanted a truce to the wide receivers-vs.-defensive backs feud that began when the receivers repeatedly beat their defenders during a night practice Thursday.

"We got all that corrected. There was just a point where everyone gets caught up in the moment sometimes and people get frustrated," said Reid, who took several hard hits from safety Anthony Smith in practice last week. "At the same time, a little contact, there's nothing wrong it as long as it's at the right time. Everybody's fine, nobody got hurt from it but, at the same time, everybody learned from it."

Tomlin matched the receivers and defenders in drills twice Monday, but, he said, "It wasn't done in any way to create a story. If we're going to compete, that's what we've got to do."

And what he plans to keep doing the rest of the week, too, as temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s for the first time during this camp.

"It's getting hot and I like that — keep turning up the heat," Tomlin said. "We'll get to know them even more and they'll get to know themselves more."

Notes: With wide receiver and kick returner Santonio Holmes practicing again after sitting out most of four days with an unspecified problem, WR Chris Jackson was released Monday. The Steelers re-signed WR Gerran Walker, who was cut July 19. ... Tomlin ended both practices Monday nearly 20 minutes early, the first time he's done that. He said, "We want to throw them a bone every now and then." ... First-round draft pick Lawrence Timmons had an MRI on the ailing groin that has sidelined him for most of five days, but the results were not revealed.

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