LATROBE, Pa. — Mike Tomlin was again with the punters Saturday afternoon. Whenever you ask those that’ve been round him for years, you at all times hear, Tomlin coaches the entire staff. In the midst of Saturday’s training-camp follow, his focus was incumbent punter Pressley Harvin III and Cameron Nizialek.
“Let’s go!” Tomlin yelled with Harvin poised in addition. “For us, 5.0’s the usual!”
He meant a 5.0-second cling time, which might be exemplary; the common cling time for the league’s prime 10 punters in 2021, per Professional Soccer Focus, was 4.27 seconds. Perhaps the usual is 5.0, or perhaps that’s the dream. No matter, Tomlin boomed it out, and Harvin responded with a Ray Man-like rainmaker down the best aspect. Nice punt.
“The usual!” Tomlin stated. “5 level oh!”
Nizialek’s flip. He’s not more likely to beat out the vaunted Harvin, the 2021 seventh-round draft choose, however he’s competing. Nizialek took the snap and duck-hooked the punt low down the left sideline, out of bounds. “Ooooooooh,” the group responded. Yikes. Not going to make this staff, or anyone, punting like that.
Tomlin didn’t say something (not less than that I heard). The drill went on. Why is it necessary? Harvin and Nizialek understand it’s an enormous deal when the top coach takes 12 to fifteen minutes to focus fully on the punters among the many 90 gamers in camp. This isn’t only a July drill to Tomlin. He desires to know what occurs when the strain is on. In case you shank one in Latrobe with all of the followers loving on you in July, how will you carry out with the brilliant lights on you in Baltimore in a really huge sport? On this one second, Harvin handed the check and Nizialek didn’t. So Tomlin might chalk up some psychological proof in a single small roster battle.
Tomlin’s often good theater right now of yr, however I used to be particularly centered on him Saturday due to what’s at stake. With two of the group’s most necessary folks, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and GM Kevin Colbert, retired because the Steelers final suited up, it is a yr of change, a yr of what’s-next for one of many league’s prime franchises with just one immovable power remaining—Tomlin, coming into his 16th yr as coach.
In his first 15 years as head man, Tomlin’s by no means had a dropping season, a outstanding run of competitiveness within the dog-eat-dog NFL. (For comparability, Invoice Belichick had 5 dropping years in his first 15 as a coach.)
Tomlin didn’t like my post-practice line of questioning about what has been misplaced right here, at one level asking, “You’re hoping that we’re mediocre?” I stated no—however it is a yr that folks have a look at the Steelers and don’t know what to anticipate.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. (Getty Photos)
I might really feel the warmth from behind his sun shades.
“Carry it on,” Tomlin stated. “Carry it on.”
“You want that?” I stated.
“Carry … it … on. Quote me.”
I believe Mike Tomlin loves this setup. Simply loves it.
My story in Latrobe begins with a Benedictine monk.
Father Paul Taylor, the president of St. Vincent School, watched follow from the sidelines Saturday in his flowing brown gown. Father Paul can also be the Steelers’ staff chaplain and priest, and says mass for any gamers, coaches or workers who want to attend each Sunday morning. He is aware of Tomlin nicely.
“What makes him an excellent chief is he rises above the fray,” Father Paul informed me at follow. “He is aware of what’s necessary in his job. And he’s such an excellent communicator. I believe he can see contained in the gamers’ heads.”
Two gamers informed me Tomlin has an excellent rapport with the gamers as a result of he’s blunt with them and by no means hides the reality. That’s necessary this yr, as a result of clearly the most important story in camp is life with out Roethlisberger, and selecting a successor. A former quarterback right here, Charlie Batch, informed me as we watched the QB battle play out in entrance of us: “I believe Mike will likely be completely sincere within the staff conferences. He’ll inform the staff: We’ve a quarterback battle right here. Everybody will get an opportunity, and the movie will converse for itself. Three canine, one bone. Let’s see what these guys can do. Let’s see who wins the job.”
So the monk and the previous quarterback level to communication and honesty in regards to the means of retooling the staff. After I relayed the Batch principle about how he’d deal with the quarterback battle with the staff, Tomlin stated it was spot on.
Peter King and St. Vincent School president Father Paul Taylor. (NBC Sports activities)
“That’s very correct,” Tomlin stated. “I’m going to speak in regards to the elephant within the room. Our potential to place collectively a successful system that enables us to enter stadiums and step out with victory is what it’s about. We’re going by means of a transition at that place so our system goes to alter to a level. Our strengths might change, what we lean on, what we work to reduce. That’s simply staff constructing. It requires dialogue and course. And [Batch] is correct.
“I don’t run from that. I run to that.”
“What’s the novelty like? Whenever you’re coping with some new and necessary folks?”
“I don’t actually search the consolation of a veteran group,” Tomlin stated. “I strategy constructing a staff the identical yearly. That’s how I’m wired. I perceive the query, but it surely’s simply not my fashion.”
That’s what I’d need out of my head coach. Roethlisberger’s gone. Okay. Who’s up? And can we throw it 60 p.c or run it to cover no matter zits we’ve got within the passing sport? Can Najee Harris deal with a 300-carry load if want be? These are the issues Tomlin tries to determine this yr—however they’re the issues, at totally different positions, he’s tried to determine yearly.
It’s too early to attract any conclusions on the quarterbacks six weeks from opening day. However there was one main clue about the way it’s trending on Saturday: In an early passing interval of follow, within the tight purple zone, the reps had been cut up 4-2-1, Trubisky-Rudolph-Pickett. From what I gleaned, the opening-day task, Steelers on the Tremendous Bowl Bengals, is Trubisky’s to lose.
In fact, issues like this era issue into the last word resolution. Trubisky was one in all 4, and Pickett nailed his one likelihood with an ideal contact throw for a landing to free-agent wideout Tyler Vaughns. “We’re on the very early levels of this. Everybody’s gonna get a chance to point out their capabilities, for positive,” Tomlin stated. Accurately.
“Coach Tomlin may be very clear in regards to the scenario,” Trubisky stated. “Ever since I bought right here, it’s been actually spectacular to me how he leads the staff as a soccer coach. He’ll even let you know. It’s not an accident that he will get the outcomes he does as a result of he’s such an excellent chief. I’m simply making an attempt to soak in all that data so I may be the perfect participant I may be and we will proceed to exit and win video games for the Steelers.”
The quarterback place will get the eye. The run protection may be extra necessary. Final yr, the Steelers had the worst run protection within the league, and there’s no approach they’ll contend this yr with out fixing that. The retirement of an excellent two-way lineman, Stephon Tuitt, hurts. And surrendering 5.0 yards per rush is so extremely un-Steelers-like. Each T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward stated that was job one in camp this yr—make sure that will get fastened. That is the highest-paid protection within the league, collectively, and so they’re counting on a few rugged mid-level free-agents, defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi and linebacker Myles Jack, to defend the run considerably higher this yr.
I believe an enormous a part of this staff’s destiny depends on one thing boring: field-position soccer and clock administration. Harvin, the booming punter, must be higher than his 42.6-yard common final yr (26th within the league). Pin groups again, play clockball, defend the run heaps higher, run it for 4.4 yards a clip and maintain Najee Harris upright. These issues are very important to creating it 16 straight non-losing seasons for Tomlin.
Learn extra in Peter King’s full Soccer Morning in America column