Tomlin says Steelers are 'team in transition'
PHOENIX — James Harrison, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Colon, Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith departed the Steelers in the last 13 months — a huge chunk of their multiple Super Bowl teams gone.
To coach Mike Tomlin, those departures mean the Steelers are in transition, changing from one configuration to another.
Even if general manager Kevin Colbert said recently they weren't.
During the AFC coaches media gathering Tuesday at the annual NFL meetings, Tomlin said, “We're a team in transition as we always are. Players are ascending, players are descending. We're acquiring players and losing players. I think that's part of this time of year. ... Change is a part of football.”
Both Tomlin and Colbert agree they're not altering expectations. Asked about all the talk that the Steelers are on the decline following an 8-8 season, Tomlin said with a bit of defiance, “That's March talk. See you at stadiums in the fall.”
But during some February talk at the NFL Scouting Combine, Colbert took umbrage at characterizing the Steelers as being in transition, saying that suggests they would settle for less-than-championship play while they alter their cast of characters.
“I don't want to say transition because that means that you're going to accept anything less than a Super Bowl in trying to get back,” Colbert said.
No matter what word characterizes the state of the team, Tomlin knows what the 2013 Steelers must do differently from their 8-8 season: win close games.
“Because we weren't good enough. I don't hide from that. I embrace that,” Tomlin said when asked about the Steelers' five losses by 3 points. “Good teams win close games. Teams that aren't lose those games. Obviously, we did a year ago. Our goal and our charge moving forward is to be on the other side of that.”
A productive, content Ben Roethlisberger and a healthy, contributing Troy Polamalu could help achieve that.
Tomlin doesn't believe Roethlisberger returned prematurely from the shoulder and chest injuries that put him out for three midseason games and appeared to limit the quality and velocity of his throwing the rest of the season. But Tomlin acknowledged the quarterback's play wasn't what the Steelers needed as they lost three in a row to fall out of playoff contention after Roethlisberger returned.
“I think in the moment he was ready and prepared to play. We just didn't get what we were looking for,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin got what he was looking for early on during Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator but not late in the season as the running game disappeared and Roethlisberger didn't play up to his usual level. As a result, the head coach is looking for offensive improvement all around in Year 2, especially after the Steelers add the running back he is pushing for — and hard.
“I think that being familiar and continuing to gain understanding is what's going to make us successful not only offensively but as a team,” Tomlin said of the Haley-Roethlisberger relationship. “I think that process is unfolding. Both guys are geared towards winning, and they're unselfish from that standpoint. I'm excited about watching it continue to grow.”
As for Polamalu, who missed much of last season with a torn calf, Tomlin gave a brief but telling answer when asked if the star safety should alter his offseason workout regimen.
“I want him to be ready. I think he wants to be ready like everyone,” Tomlin said. “I am not going to make more out of that than what it is.”
Especially when he has a team that's in transition. Or isn't.