Tomlin warns team to be ready for tough camp

| Friday, June 15, 2007

When the final organized team activity session ended Thursday, the Steelers were able to take it easy.

The respite will last until July 23 when training camp begins at St. Vincent College.

Coach Mike Tomlin warned that his team had better report to camp prepared to work.

"I told the group it's going to be extremely tough," Tomlin said yesterday before watching his players disperse. "I'm not apologizing for that. I'm going to put that challenge out there to them. I'm looking forward to training camp."

The players can look forward to an increased emphasis on two-a-day practices, "probably a little heavier than they're used to," Tomlin said.

"It'll give them something to whine about."

The OTAs and the two minicamps the team conducted this offseason were exercises in "multi-tasking," Tomlin said. The goals were to implement a foundation on offense, defense and special teams, emphasize "situational football" (third down, red zone, etc.) while creating "artificial adversity". The goal is to learn how players approach their jobs and glean insight as to "who they are."

The proceedings at St. Vincent will be about winning jobs.

The current depth chart features Chukky Okobi as the starting center, Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend starting at cornerback and Ryan Clark lining up as the starting free safety.

But the current depth chart, Tomlin emphasized, is "in pencil."

"People want to establish depth charts at this time of year, so be it," Tomlin said. "They change. There are known position battles that will be talked about, but there are also unknown position battles that are going to develop because we're going to go into this thing with no preconceived notions. No jobs are secure. This is not a security business. They gotta play and perform."

The known battles include Okobi and free-agent addition Sean Mahan vying to become Jeff Hartings' replacement at center, Kendall Simmons attempting to hold off Chris Kemoeatu at right guard, Clark and second-year pro Anthony Smith fighting it out at free safety, and the threesome of Taylor, Townsend and Bryant McFadden competing for two starting spots at corner.

There will be potentially less-publicized competition at other positions such as right tackle, where second-year pro Willie Colon is pushing incumbent Max Starks.

"Absolutely, but Willie's pushing a lot of people," Tomlin said. "Willie's been one of the guys we've moved around quite a bit because we want to put him in position to get to that top five and get in where he fits in, if he's capable. Willie's played some guard. Willie's played some tackle. Willie's even tried center.

"Willie's going to push a lot of people."

The regular-season opener is Sept. 9 in Cleveland. The depth chart, presumably, will be in ink by then.

Until then, Tomlin is prepared to let competition dictate all that must be resolved before he leads his first NFL team onto the field against the Browns.

"I kinda like uncertainty at this time of the year," he said. "These guys are in the business of responding to challenges and answering questions. That's kinda the underlying theme that's involved in football."

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