Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Lot Can Change in One Year

In 2006 the Steelers' voluntary workouts (an NFL euphemism for "you need to be here") were marked by Joey Porter's no-show, which followed Duce Staley's strip club troubles and preceded Ben Roethlisberger's header into the windshield of an automobile.

No comes word from USA Today that new head coach Mike Tomlin is talking and working on football:

"PITTSBURGH — A year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were scattered across the country, still celebrating the Super Bowl they had won only six weeks before. Bill Cowher was contemplating whether he should step away or retire from coaching.

This offseason, there's no rest for a team coming off an 8-8 season that missed the playoffs and changed coaches for the first time since 1992.

The Steelers began voluntary workouts Monday under new coach Mike Tomlin, who was eager to get working with his new team quickly. Last year, the Steelers didn't start those workouts until a few weeks later, and even then some players still hadn't returned to town.

These Steelers don't play a game that counts for another six months, but Tomlin said they need as much time together as they can get.

'We're going to get started about the business of putting together a great football team,' Tomlin said. 'That's just rolling your sleeves up and going to work on a day-to-day basis. That's what they're going to see from me. The things that they see from me on day one are the same things that they're going to see from me next January when we're in the thick of things.'

Of course, the team Tomlin is working with now won't be the one he puts on the field in September.

The Steelers have signed only one new starting player since the season ended, offensive lineman Sean Mahan, but they still need help at several other positions. They would like to add an outside linebacker, now that Joey Porter has signed with the Dolphins, and wide receiver, a position that gave them a minimum of production last season.

Most of that help must come in the April draft, now that the top-level free agents have signed elsewhere. The Steelers don't have enough salary cap room to make major changes, and there aren't the players available on the open market even if they wanted to make them.

One change Tomlin won't make immediately: switching to the 4-3 defense and Tampa 2 coverage scheme he prefers. While he is expected to incorporate some elements of the 4-3 defense he used last season with Minnesota, a total overhaul isn't feasible with the players and the system currently in place.

The Steelers signaled that recently by re-signing defensive end Aaron Smith. He is ideal for the 3-4 scheme they have played since the early 1980s but not so well-suited for the 4-3, especially if he had to move inside and play tackle.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a number of key players who fit into the 3-4 much better than they would a 4-3 — linebackers Clark Haggans, James Farrior and James Harrison and defensive end Brett Keisel among them. So any changes made now, in the spring minicamps and preseason training camp are likely to be subtle.

'We're going to continue to shape our package to do what our players do and do well,' Tomlin said. 'It'll be a constant evolution, just like the players are constantly evolving.'

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