Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
We had a productive special teams practice this morning to kind of put in the final installations that are associated with playing the game: onside kick, onside kick returns, some things of that nature, obscure things to make sure we don’t get caught ill-prepared if the situation arises late in that football game. We’re at that point in training camp where it’s time to face new challenges and take a step. We look forward to stepping into Heinz Field and putting on the black and gold and performing for our fans. We look forward to the challenge of playing the Arizona Cardinals. Of course, they’re a very talented football team. We’re familiar with that. I’m as familiar with that as anybody, considering we were the last people to play football a year ago.
Looking forward to watching our young guys play against some of their young guys. They’ve got a quality young quarterback in Matt Leinart. I think that’s going to be a great test. We seem to have some good depth at the cornerback and safety position. It’s going to be fun to watch those guys being pitted against that offense and a guy like that who can throw the football the way he’s capable of throwing. Beanie Wells is a young running back they have. He’s special talent. Of course, we’re familiar with him, being from Ohio State. It’ll be interesting to see if our guys can get that kind of guy on the ground and so forth.
There are a lot of those kind of issues, but more than anything we’re just concerned about coming out and playing the game extremely fast, extremely hard. Realize that we’re not going to play perfect, but we’ve got to have Steeler kind of tempo in our play. We can’t be tentative. I talked to the guys about that. Of course we hope that produces a winning performance for us.
Q: Has anybody been ruled out?
MT: No, not at this point. It’s a safe assumption that Darnell Stapleton is not going to play, but being preseason we don’t have a timetable in terms of ruling people out. I’d just as soon keep everybody alive at this point until the 11th hour.
Q: Do you game plan for the first preseason game?
MT: Not a lot of game-planning per se. The big thing is to come out and play with great tempo and speed. That being said, you run some core stuff that you know they’re familiar with. There’ll be some first-time opportunities for some guys out there, and there are going to be motions and things of that nature that are going to be a factor. So we’ll put some base football in in all three phases, something guys are capable of executing because that’s what we want to see them do: We want to see them execute at a high level. We’re not interested in tricking Arizona, to be honest with you. We want to play good assignment football so we can see who can play football.
Q: How long will the first team play?
MT: Our intention right now is a couple series with those guys. We’re going to try to keep that first unit together but we’ll see. We haven’t come to that decision at this point. You can look at history to see how we’ve played people in the first preseason game and kind of make your conclusion from there.
Q: Will the outlawing of the wedge make it safer? And does it cause you to look at different types of players to man your special teams?
MT: I personally don’t know if eliminating the wedge is going to get the desired effect in terms of injuries. Hopefully it does. I don’t know that it will. The reality is that’s a violent football play. Always has been, probably always will be. (Second part repeated) No, it’s going to be similar bodies. I think really what’s going to happen is they said you couldn’t have more than a two-man wedge, but I think generally you’re going to see multiple two-man wedges roughly two or three yards apart and they’re all going to converge on the people they intended to block, and at the end of the day it’s going to be very similar to how it went down in the past.
Q: What about the return positions?
MT: I’m excited about watching these guys perform inside stadiums. I feel very comfortable in terms of what we’re looking at out here at Latrobe in terms of guys naturally being able to settle under the ball as punt returners and kick returners. But you really don’t understand what you’re working with until you get those guys in some live action. We have some guys we’re excited about: Mike Wallace as a kick returner, Joe Burnett as a kick returner, Joe Burnett as a punt returner, and some other young guys. We’ll continue to work those guys and hopefully they’ll distinguish themselves.
Q: Have you determined an order for these guys?
MT: Not at this point. I know that Mike’s going to get the first kick return, and, ah, it’s up in the air, probably Joe Burnett maybe with the first punt return. Again, I haven’t made those types of decisions.
Q: Is Stefan Logan a guy you’ll look at on kickoff and punt returns?
Q: He was pretty hard on himself yesterday about picking up receiver. How has he been there?
MT: I hadn’t seen a lot of him. We’ve given him some specialty plays and things of that nature. I’m sure his assessment of it is pretty close. He needs more looks, and we’ll continue to give him those.
Q: Have you watched the Super Bowl in preparation for Arizona?
MT: I haven’t. They’ve got a new defensive coordinator, so there’s going to be some differences there. Their offensive coordinator’s in Kansas City, so there may be some differences there. Each year is very new.
Q: Any young guys that you’re interested in seeing Thursday?
MT: I’m eager to see all of them play. All of these young people have had their moments, positively and negatively. It comes with being a young player in training camp. I know that when we step in the stadium, it’s not too big for some and maybe too big for others. People usually distinguish themselves positively or negatively when you start playing football games. I know we’re going to gain some clarity.
Q: How’s William Gay settling in at cornerback?
MT: He’s been rock solid. I know something’s going to be made of him being a starter, but there’s not that vibe on this football team in regard to him. This guy’s played a bunch of football for us. He’s been starter-like. He’s been in a bunch of holes at critical times for us. Both he and Lawrence (Timmons) have spent quality time on our football team and on our defense, so in the press they’re first-time starters but it’s not their first rodeo by any stretch.
Q: Will all four quarterbacks play?
MT: We anticipate that all four will. Again, we’ve been in preseason games before where we intended to do something that maybe didn’t happen. We’ll see. We would like to.
Q: Is Justin Hartwig one of those 11th-hour guys?
MT: He is, and if he can’t participate (Doug) Legursky will get the start at center.
Q: Rashard Mendenhall got hurt early last year, so are you looking at him as a rookie or second-year player? And how much has he evolved from last year?
MT: He’s a second-year player and that’s how I treat him and that’s what I expect from him. I expect him to take the jump that I expect all second-year players to make. Those are expectations of him. Injuries are part of the game and we accept that. We don’t make concessions because of injuries. We expect him to be a mature guy, and to this point that’s how he’s conducted himself. He’s conducted himself like a guy who’s been here before, a guy who’s ready to burst onto the scene, if you will, a guy who’s ready to put his hand in the pile and help us win.
Q: Aaron Smith called Ziggy Hood the fastest developing DE who’s ever been here. Do you see that?
MT: He’d better. We took him in the first round. We took Aaron and some of those other guys four and five. He’d better look like he’s got the pedigree. No, but he’s got good football character. He’s a sharp kid. We said those things about him when we drafted him. Everybody that you ask at Missouri who’s had any contact with this young man talked about the things that you can’t measure with him. His physical talents are his physical talents, but what he’s willing to do is what attracted us to him and he hasn’t disappointed in that regard. It doesn’t mean that his play’s above the line just yet. We’ll know a little bit more probably early Friday morning.
Q: Surprised that he stayed in Pittsburgh all offseason?
MT: Again, that’s him. That’s how he conducts his business, and it’s really kind of in line with what we heard about him, so it isn’t a surprise.
Q: There’s a report that a handful of teams are interested in Michael Vick. Are the Steelers one of them?
MT: I’ll say the same thing that I said last time in regards to free agency: If people are capable of helping us win, we have a level of interest in those guys. I’m never going to discuss free agents individually. I don’t think that’s appropriate. I think that’s fruitless and I think that conversation can be endless. If I start commenting on Michael Vick, I’ll be commenting on Plaxico Burress and everybody else that shows up on the wire. We do our due diligence in evaluating, in looking at potential guys that are capable of helping us win, guys that have professional-skill level and of course he is one of them, so we’re doing our due diligence. … So don’t ask me about Plax.
MT: We may sign him, too. Did you see Mel Blount out there?