With the end of OTA’s, the Steelers enter the only portion of the year which can credibility called “the off season.” When quizzed about what his players had shown him during OTA’s, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin quickly to indicated out that little can be learned from “football in shorts.”
While that may be true of the players, the same can not be said for the coach. This off season revealed a lot about Mike Tolmin, and its time to take a look at what Steelers Nation has learned about their standard bearer.
Mike Tomlin is not emotionally vested in the decisions he’s made.
Personnel provides the perfect example. Tomlin’s two signature personnel moves during his first year were the acquisition of Adrian Rossum and the decision to sign Sean Mahan to start at center. Mahan was woefully inadequate at center, and Rossum was average at best as a returner.
Rossum was among the first cut after the season, and Pittsburgh’s second free agent acquisition sent Sean Mahan from being a starter to merely “having the chance to compete” at guard.
Special teams is another area with Tomlin’s dispassionate decision making was display. Tomlin’s credo since day one has been that special teams is 1/3 of the game and should be treated as such. To that end he used two draft picks on special teams players and the team devoted a record amount of practice time to special teams.
Special teams were of course one of the team’s Achilles heels during the 2007 campaign. Whereas Bill Cowher would have fired special teams coach Bob Ligashesky in the blink of an eye, Tomlin stood by his man (a decsion which Steel Curtin Rising took issue with), declaring that the base of the problem lie in Pittsburgh’s lack of special team aces.
But he has gone beyond that. He’s now drastically cut back on special team practices, banking on scarcity to create a sense of urgency. It remains to be seen if this approach will bear fruit, but special teams does come down to attitude and “want to,” so this shift in strategy is certainly plausible.
Tomlin has also shown himself to be a man who is flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. An apostle of building through the draft, Tomlin moved quickly when Justin Hartwig unexpectedly became available to shore up the center position.
Outside of signing Mewelde Moore, Pittsburgh made few other free agent signings, but they did entertain a parade free agent safeties, tight ends, and lineman, thus making good on Tomlin’s pledge to “leave no stone unturned” in his quest to better the Steelers.
Finally, Tomlin confirmed that he is a fundamentalist. He began the off season by pointedly observing that the Steelers needed to get “younger and bigger” on both lines. Yet, the Steelers stuck to their board and resisted any urge to reach during the 2008 draft. The quality of their draft will remain unknown for years to come, but the Steelers never blinked as they watched lineman leave the board in droves during rounds one and two.
During the 2007 Steelers Nation learned little about Tomlin beyond the fact that he said the right things at the appropriate times and nurture good relations with the press. The 2008 off season has shown us that, at the very least, Mike Tomlin is a man who is willing to adapt.