MT: Excited to be here today. Miss these warm and fuzzy get-togethers that we all have. No, seriously, excited about moving forward with the next phase of development of our '08 football team, of course, which is training camp. We're excited about moving forward with that. It's a great time of year and we look forward to doing that. Brought the staff back in and we've assembled ourselves and readied ourselves for training camp. The men will report to Latrobe on Sunday and we'll move forward.
A couple of quick updates in terms of where we are:
-- The status of our draft picks. We have everyone signed except for our No. 1 and our No. 2, which is probably consistent for this time of year. Progress on those negotiations is going well. We don't anticipate any of those guys having any holdups, in terms of participating in training camp.
-- Specifically about training camp, our goals are going to be simple, that's to come out of training camp a unified, hardened group. The work that we have to do at training camp, of course, is working with 81 potential guys and coming away with 53 men that give us the best chance of winning as a football team. That's what training camp's about. We've got a bunch of questions to ask; we've got a bunch of questions to be answered. Collectively, I think we're all excited about this next phase.
Q: Are you starting anybody out on PUP?
MT: Not at this point, but again part of the registration process is a physical, a conditioning test. I don't anticipate it, but you've always got to prepare for the unforeseen.
Q: Can you update us on the surgeries?
MT: Right now it looks like everyone's going to be ready to go at training camp. There may be some limits in terms of what we do initially with a guy like Travis Kirschke. But some of the other guys, some of the guys that we talked about the majority of the offseason that got a lot of work done back in the winter, we expect those guys to be ready to go, the Willie Parkers and so forth. We're excited about where some of those injury situations are. We expect Ryan McBean to be ready to go. I think from an injury standpoint, some of the ongoing things are coming to a close. Again, we'll finalize when we give those guys physicals and report Sunday but we're not anticipating any holdups in that regard.
Q: Did your interest in Kevin Jones indicate any concern about Parker's leg?
MT: Not at all. And not speaking specifically about Kevin Jones because he is a member of the Chicago Bears, but it's our policy that we're going to pursue guys that we think are worthy candidates out there that are free agents that have a chance to make us the best football team we can be. We brought some of those guys in this year. Didn't sign them all. We're always willing to explore veteran players that can contribute to that. I think when you're talking about preparing yourself for training camp and putting together the best 80 or 81 men that you can bring to camp, you do it for just that purpose to create great competition so you can come away with the best 53. But anything that we did in that regard, Willie Parker's situation had no bearing on that.
Q: How's Troy Polamalu?
MT: I haven't spoken to Troy recently. Last I spoke to Troy his workouts were going well. We anticipate him being ready to go. I know that he does. We'll see where he is when he reports to training camp on Sunday.
Q: When you sign the two draft picks, will you have to make a roster cut?
MT: At this point we're under the limit, but when we do sign those guys we will be one heavy, so we'll have one additional move to make in terms of being ready for camp.
Q: How will the structure of your camp be different this year?
MT: Structurally, in terms of the way we approach our business, it won't be. The amount of work that we do, and maybe some of the points of emphasis, have changed because they always will. Some of the changes and some of the reasons for change are for obvious reasons. I think that when you talk about putting together a training camp, and we're carrying 80 and 81 guys this year, compared to 85 and 86 last year, there is a difference in terms of keeping your men healthy. The lines will be shorter in some areas. I think that all the coaches across football have addressed or will be addressing those issues, and it is a factor. I think some of the changes that we made in scheduling indicate some of that concern. Also, it'll be different because I have a better understanding of the men that we work with here, particularly the ones that have been a part of this thing. So it'll change for those reasons. I think there's more familiarity with how we do our business; there's more familiarity between players and coaches, in terms of what we expect. For those reasons it will be somewhat different. Not to say that it'll be easy. Camp is not meant to be easy. It'll never be easy. But it will be somewhat different.
Q: Did you go to a clinic or do anything to improve your coaching?
MT: Not much shared information in the National Football League. But, no, you do. The offseason is just that, but you break it up and you grow and you explore. Chronologically, the first thing you do in the offseason is evaluate what you've done and look at potential changes that may occur in that area. You also explore some things that you didn't do well and think about potential changes in that area. After that, you look around the league and you look at trends with your competitors, people that do things well in situational football. You analyze and study what it is that they do and decide if you want to add some of the things that are going on that they do well. That's just a general breakdown of how you go about it across the entire offseason, and we've run that gauntlet and we're ready to move forward now.
Q: Did you feel you got better? Did you like what you did?
MT: When you look back at the season, at things you didn't do well, at things you want to improve on, the one thing that I'm extremely conscious of is the things that we did well last year doesn't ensure that we'll do them well this year. And by the same token, things that we didn't do well last year, we can't anticipate being poor in those areas again this year. It's really a clean slate, if you will. There are some things that you have your antennae up about, but you move forward with an open mind and understanding that this is the '08 season. Things never stay the same; they always change. I will expect some things to be somewhat different. We'll let the process reveal that to us.
Q: How will things be different for you personally going into camp this year?
MT: They're not. I love football. I love this process. I love going to camp. I love the process of team-building, readying ourselves to pursue our goals. I'm extremely excited. If I had to characterize it, no less excited or no more excited than I was a year ago. It's time to play.
Q: What are some of the questions you're looking to have answered?
MT: More than anything, group dynamics, the development of leadership, the chemistry, if you will. The things you can't measure are always a question to me. Some of the other things that are more obvious always sort themselves out where they should: on the grass at training camp and in preseason games. I'm more concerned and more interested in the development that you don't measure: the camaraderie, the natural leadership, the ever-changing roles that involve the football team.
Q: In terms of personnel, do any questions stand out in your mind?
MT: All of them. It really is the case. Some of the obvious ones that've been talked about: the cohesion and development of the offensive line; we'll be looking at a new third quarterback than what we've had in recent years; we have some new role players at the running back position, the division of labor in that group will be interesting; and the development of some second-year players. They'll be called on to contribute more and in different ways this year. There'll be a lot of issues. That's what training camp's all about. One of the things I'm always conscious of is that I never try to tell a story. I let the story unfold and call it as I see it. That's what I intend to do this year.
Q: When Ben signed his contract, he indicated he was more of a team leader. How does that affect training camp?
MT: I think Ben's development as a leader has nothing to do specifically with his contract. I think that's just the growth and development of him as a professional as the quarterback of this football team. That's what I'm more concerned about and I think that that process has been going great.
Q: Has that helped at all? Will it be like having another coach out there?
MT: You anticipate it being helpful but I won't be asking Ben to coach. I'll be asking him to play quarterback.
MT: We'll put a bunch of pressure on those two men, but everybody else in that draft class – when you look across a football team and talk about the changes that occur from year to year, I think that those second-year men have the biggest and best opportunity to make a dramatic jump in how they approach their business and they're level of productivity and the growth and the roles that they have on the football team. Those are two men that have worked extremely hard this offseason, have shown to this point that they're going to be ready potentially to make that jump. They've got to do it with their actions. I think they're in the right frame of mind to do that. I'm excited about watching those roles expand and develop, as I am guys such as Matt Spaeth, Daniel Sepulveda, Ryan McBean, William Gay, Darnell Stapleton, Garry Russell, Dallas Baker, even the second-year players that were on the practice squad who have been through the 12-month calendar and it's their second lap around the track. There's no unknown for those guys. There's a great deal of comfort in that. Hopefully it produces the outcome we're looking for, which is quality play from them.
Q: Would you hope that the offensive line will sort itself out sooner rather than later to get that cohesion?
MT: I hope all of our issues sort out extremely quickly, but experience tells me that it'll never happen as quickly as you like. That's what training camp's about.
Q: At your season-ending press conference, you identified that you needed to get younger, stronger, bigger, faster, better looking, whatever, on both lines. From a defensive standpoint, it didn't appear to happen. If it was a concern then, is it a concern now?
MT: It's somewhat of a concern. I think the thing that added to that concern last year was the number of those men who were going into free agency. Our ability to re-sign some of those men answered some of those questions for us. We had guys like Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason who were going into free agency. So when you talk about concerns and thin depth and the age of the group and things of that nature, you couldn't talk about those guys being in the mix. I think some of the things that we did in terms of solidifying that group and signing those two people prior to the draft have lessened some of that worry. But it is worry. It's part of football. It's going to be great to see that unfold. And again, we had a guy like Ryan McBean, who didn't contribute much last year, who's been through the cycle, who's going to be a second-year guy in the program, and hopefully he'll add some youth and some play to us, but it's something that he's going to have to earn. He's had a great off-season. He's worked extremely hard. He's healthy now, so maybe he's a young guy that can potentially add to that mix. I think it'll all unfold. And of course we brought in some undrafted rookie free agents who will be given an opportunity to step up and show what they're capable of doing. I think one of the things that we've learned around here and I've learned in this business, if a man has a helmet, and he's invited to camp, he has an opportunity. And I don't want to discount the opportunity that stands before those three young, undrafted defensive linemen. We'll see how those guys grow and develop.
Q: As far as Timmons goes, can you expand on what you said about him having more opportunities. Will he start backing up Larry (Foote), and what's the progression there?
MT: Right now he's a backup inside linebacker to Larry Foote. He's played some sub-package linebacker football for us. He does a lot of things well. He?s an explosive blitz man. He can cover people. He can run. He's had a nice offseason. His role specifically and where it goes and the speed it goes will be determined by the quality of his play in Latrobe.
Q: Is he also the top backup to James (Farrior) or no?
MT: He's the top backup to Larry Foote and Larry also plays the same position that James plays. Essentially, he's the third inside linebacker so we have position flexibility in those three men because Larry Foote plays both positions. I know I use that phrase a bunch, talking about position flexibility, but that is one of the reasons we do that, so we can put our best men on the field, whether we're talking about offensive line or linebacker. We've also explored this offseason playing William Gay at safety. He's done some of that. He's a guy that has some position flexibility from a corner-safety standpoint. We're always looking to maximize our position flexibility so we can get our best men on the field regardless of circumstance. What you do is if you have guys who can handle it mentally, you put more on their plate. The bright guys, guys capable of handling the assignments across several positions, you challenge them. You keep them focused on what it is we're installing, what it is that they do and do well. If they can handle it, you take a look at it. At this time of year, we like to keep our options as limitless as we can. We'll harden it up as things unfold.
Q: Your offense has evolved in the last year, differently than we have seen, might we see even more?
MT: It changed for several reasons. I think you utilize your personnel and highlight the guys that are playing well. You respond to adversity, injuries and so forth. How we responded last year was a result of that. But how we evolved last year will really have no bearing on how we develop this year. This year we have a plan and approach in terms of how we want to play and our evolution will occur this year for the same reasons they occured last year. Will it be the same? I don't know. Will it be different? I don't know.
Q: Will you have less fullback play this year? MT: I don't have the answer to that, I really don't at this point.
Q: This team has always been known for its defense, how would you rate this offense?
MT: I could not. I think when you talk about rating an offense, rating a defense or rating a football team, you talk about a complete body of work. Shoot, we don't even have the beginning stages of our body of work right now. We're talking about starting that process and putting it together. I never try to tell a story. I call it as it unfolds. Those questions will be answered as we get going.
Q: Can you comment on the ownership situation and do you feel it could pose a distraction for your team?
MT: One of the things I've focused on throughout the questions along those lines is the words of Dan Rooney and Art Rooney, the words that they gave our fans. The excitement and expectations of this season will not change. I've got a great deal of trust in those two men, so that's the approach that I'm taking. That's the approach that this football team will take. That is the focus at this point, readying ourselves for the battles that await us and compete for a Lombardi (Trophy) in '08. It's family business, it's Rooney business and I'll let them handle that. The task that's before me is to prepare this team to play football and that's what I intend to do. Will it be a distraction? Potentially, because there will be questions that I'll have to answer about that and there will be questions that our team has to answer in regard to that. I don't have the answer to those questions and neither does our football team. I'm here to coach, they're here to play. Those questions will be answered by the Rooneys.
Q: Haven't you found that players can pretty much put that out of their mind because it really doesn't affect what they're doing?
MT: You've got a good football team when they're capable of doing that. And not only on that subject, but on any subject that has nothing to do with preparing to play football and win football games. That's this game. That's what this journey that we?re about to embark on is about. We're preparing ourselves to fight each individual battle and keeping the things that don't matter to a complete minimum. It will be an issue because we'll get questions about it. Other issues will arise. Our ability to deal with it and move on and leave it in its proper place will determine the mental toughness of our football team and ultimately determine our level of success.
Q: Part of the reason your job was as coveted as it was because the ownership has shown so much patience, were you at all rocked by this news?
MT: I don't worry about that. I focus on competing and doing well and winning championships. If you do that, you don't have to worry about things such as job security. That's never been my mentality and hopefully it never will be.
Q: You mentioned how much you missed these sessions. Now that you've been through it for a year, what are your impressions of what's expected of a whole year and were you surprised by anything over the course of that year, maybe other than how much attention was paid to Anthony Smith?
MT: You know I like it. You're in midseason form. I guess a partial answer is that I was surprised by the volume of some of the responsibilities of what I was required to do. But it's never been a a focus of mine. It never will be a focus of mine. The things that come with the job are just that, they come with the job. I enjoy developing this coaching staff, formulating a plan to win and presenting that plan to players, and helping them grow individually. Those are the aspects of the job that I focus on. Some of the other things that come with it are necessary evils. Some of them are pleasant. It's fun. There's never a dull moment.
Q: What are you intial plans for Rashard Mendenhall and will he determine the number of chances he gets?
MT: Our initial plan is that he will be a supplemental runnner. We've explored him potentially returning kicks and he's worked in that area this offseason. The growth of his role will be determined from his ability too execute from an assignment standpoint, how he deals with being a professional athlete. Much like Lawrence Timmons last year, he's a young rookie. This guy just turned 21 last month. Age is a factor. To this point, he's shown that he is mature and unique for a 21-year-old guy. He's shown that he's capable for growing and developing as a member of this football team quickly. But I don't have a crystal ball. We'll let that play out. He's got a nice humble mentality about him. I won't be shocked if he does some nice things for us.
Q: What about Max Starks? Do you anticipate him seeing time at both tackles or will he focus more on right tackle?
MT: Right now, he's focusing more on right tackle. But Max is a guy who's shown he's capable of playing left tackle as well. There will be instances or moments when you see that.
Q: Have you seen enough of that so that you really don't need a long look at him there?
MT: Enough of him where?
Q: At left tackle.
MT: Yeah, we've seen enough of him there to know what he's capable of doing there. It's still like anything else, it's about skill development and muscle memory. At some point, if we call on him to do that, he will have to get some snaps at that position. He will at some point take some snaps at that position. Right now, his focus is at right tackle.
Q: Will (Trai) Essex and Tony Hills be more at left?
MT: Yes they will be.
Q: What about center, do you consider that position open or do you have someone penciled in there?
MT: It is open, like all of our positions are open. We've got two guys there, Sean Mahan, of course, who played quite a bit for us last year, started every game. And (Justin) Hartwig, who's been a starter at that position. That will be a hotly contested position, one that I'm excited about watching unfold. If I write in pencil at this time, it?s very light. And I've got an eraser at all positions.
Q: A couple of players described your run test as easy last year, what was your response to that?
MT: Hopefully it was. That indicates that they're in great shape. For people that are in shape, it should be a breeze. For people that aren't, it's not. Hopefully it's easy for everybody this year. That means we have a team that's ready to embark on our journey.
Q: Have you seen Casey (Hampton) lately?
MT: I have not. Hopefully he's in great shape, he's indicated that he is. We'll see on Sunday.
Q: Can you talk about one or two position battles your excited to see unfold?
MT: I'll let you pick them. Which ones?
MT: Great battle. We have Troy (Polamalu) at safety. Ryan Clark has probably been one of the stories of the offseason, watching somebody battle back from what he's battled back from. What he's done to this point is just part of the battle. It's going to be exciting to watch the next step, which is carry his pads. He's got his weight back up to where it was a year ago. He's excited. He's a mentally and physically tough guy. It will be awesome to watch him take the next step. (Anthony) Smith is ready to rock and roll. He had his trials and ups and downs last year. But again, that's in his rearview mirror. Hopefully his rearview mirror is smaller than his windshield. I know mine is. Hopefully his eyes are moving toward '08 and he's ready to take that life experience and use it for good and get back in that battle this year. Of course, Tyrone Carter is a veteran position-flexible guy who's been at that position. Grant Mason logged a few snaps, primarily as a special teams guy last year. He's been a part of the program for a year now. Again, he's a guy who's ready to take that step and compete. And we drafted a young man right here from Woodland Hills (Ryan Mundy) who will be in that battle as well. We feel like we've got some guys who are ready to compete and sort themselves out.
Q: What will you do with Ryan Clark at camp?
MT: Right now, he's a football player. We're going to let him go. Ryan knows his body better than I do. I know that Ryan's a competitor. He's got a great work ethic. If he's got some concerns then I'll have some concerns. Right now, there are none.
Q: Did you schedule as many two-a-days?
MT: I have not. That's what I was referring to when I talked about training camp '08 and training camp '07. There are less two-a-days. There are less days. There's a little less of everything for a lot of reasons.
Q: Can you imagine a tougher schedule?
MT: I really mean when I say that I could care less about the schedule. When you pursue world championships and want to be the best, eventually you've got to beat them all anyway. As we sit here today, we have no control over the scheduling. We tend to focus on the things we can control. That's the approach that I'll take.
Q: You attended a lot of Penguins games as a fan, did it give you any extra insight into what this area is all about?
MT: I did. I got caught up in the fever. It was awesome. It was a great thing to be a part of. My sons and I, we've got our Sidney Crosby jerseys and we supported that team. It's great to be a part of this community and see how much sports teams mean to this community and this region. It's a responsibility that comes along with that, one that I cherish. There probably a little more appreciation as I sit here from that standpoint than when I sat here a year ago, not only because of what we went through as a football team, but because of what I experienced here as a member of this community during the offseason and being able to do some of those things. Going to Pirates games and rooting for those guys with my boys has been awesome.