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Steelers

Tomlin gives edge to experience

| Saturday, Aug. 4, 2007

Safety Anthony Smith and cornerback Bryant McFadden will be reserves rather than starters when the Steelers open the preseason Sunday night in Canton, Ohio.

It might work out that way when the Steelers make a return trip to the Buckeye State to open the regular season in Cleveland.

Mike Tomlin is as impressed as anyone with the obvious upside of Smith, a second-year safety from Syracuse, and McFadden, a third-year cornerback from Florida State.

But the Steelers' first-year head coach made it clear Friday that he appreciates consistency over potential, which explains why Ryan Clark will start at free safety and Deshea Townsend at cornerback against the Saints.

"It's not necessarily about what they are potentially capable of. It's about what they are on a day-to-day basis," Tomlin said. "These guys are very consistent, they're very smart, they're very competent, and you know what you're going to get from them.

"They're rock-solid guys. They don't ride the emotional roller coaster. There's not a roller coaster in terms of their level of play."

Clark, entering his second year with the Steelers and his sixth in the NFL, has alternated with Smith as the first-team free safety on a daily basis at St. Vincent College.

Townsend, a 10th-year pro, has been a consistent No. 1 at right cornerback opposite Ike Taylor.

"You know what you're getting, and from a coach's standpoint that's very attractive, particularly from a secondary coach's standpoint," Tomlin said of the two incumbents.

Tomlin, a secondary coach in Tampa Bay and a defensive coordinator in Minnesota, said he'll endeavor to delegate authority rather than exercise it as a head coach.

"I believe that my job is to game-manage," Tomlin said. "I believe that once I become a play-caller I lose a little sense of what's going on with all 53 (players), if we were talking about a regular-season situation.

"I'm going to game-manage. I'm sure there will be situations where I will get involved in play-calling, but I'm going in with the idea that I'm a game-manager."

The starters, Tomlin said, will play about 12 to 15 snaps against New Orleans.

He identified quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as a player who "might get less."

As for the rest, "I expect them to compete," Tomlin said. "I expect them to play with great energy. I expect them to be physical, because that's what they've shown me thus far. But I want to see what this team is about."

As the starters depart, those fighting to secure roles or roster spots will take over.

Tomlin will be watching closely.

He said he values performance in preseason games over those in practices, citing the "lights-on" atmosphere and the "full-speed" nature of the exhibition games, including "taking men to the ground."

"Without a doubt, these games are weighed heavier than practices," Tomlin said.

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