Steelers coach Tomlin is standing pat in his approach to preseason
The Steelers finished the preseason winless last year for only the third time in nearly a half-century, and indirectly or not, it set up their first 0-4 start since 1968.
So is coach Mike Tomlin more intent than usual on making sure there are some wins before August turns to September and the regular season begins?
“The things we're doing this year are geared toward building this football team. I don't reference last year or any season for that matter,” Tomlin said Thursday.” This is a different group, and I acknowledge this group needs to start fast and play with the type of urgency that is required to win.”
In other words, don't look for Ben Roethlisberger and the starters to play any more or less than normal or the fourth-quarter mindset to change beginning Saturday night against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
After all, the 2013 Steelers had the same 8-8 record as the 2012 team, which went 3-1 in exhibition play.
Tomlin said his approach hasn't changed since he was hired in 2007.
“I think the preseason is very necessary to develop regular-season readiness, cohesion, and the only way to do that is play,” he said.
Even if for not very long. Tomlin wouldn't say how the regulars will play, but usually it's less than a full quarter in the first exhibition game.
Still, it's why Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu will play in the preseason at age 33 as opposed to All-Pro Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who at age 29 won't step on a field until the regular season.
“(Polamalu) embraces the responsibility that comes with checking in with your buddies and peers and playing,” Tomlin said. “Maybe that's the sign of defensive football or how we do business.”
What is different this preseason is the number of rookies pushing to play immediately: linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, wide receiver/running back Dri Archer and, at times, receiver Martavis Bryant.
“The guys who play significantly for us are the guys that are capable of helping us win. If some of those guys happen to be rookies — and to this point maybe some of those guys appear to be those type people — we'll play them,” Tomlin said. “It's that simple.
The Giants game was expected to mark Shazier's unofficial debut, but the first-round draft pick might sit out with a minor knee injury, or what Tomlin is calling a “boo boo.”
Others who might not play are last year's first-round pick, linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin); nose tackle Steve McLendon and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussions); linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin); and tight end Rob Blanchflower (ankle). Tomlin called them “11th-hour” decisions.”
Outside linebacker Sean Spence is expected to play for the first time since tearing his ACL and MCL, dislocating his kneecap and suffering nerve damage in his left knee against Carolina in the final 2012 preseason game.
Few athletes have recovered from so severe an injury — Spence couldn't play until the nerve regenerated — but Tomlin said, “I think I have been pretty consistent that I wouldn't be surprised if he had a full recovery. I know the type of young man he is, the type of worker he is.”
The Steelers also will get their first look at Archer, who could be the fastest player in their history. He ran a hand-timed 4.18-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Archer is reeling off long-distance plays during camp as a running back and slot receiver and is a threat whenever he gets the ball. But practices aren't played at the speed of even a preseason game.
“We'll see what he develops into,” said Tomlin, who wouldn't say whether there's temptation to overuse Archer given his big-play potential.
That, most of all, is what matters to coaches in August: Seeing what develops during the month that determines jobs and playing time.