Tomlin doesn’t attribute an 8-8 as a reason why camp looks very different from last season. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
After five pretty solid seasons as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin followed up with a fairly bad sixth season in 2012. The exact reason(s) why the team lost to teams like the Raiders, Titans, Browns, Chargers, and Cowboys during the 2012 campaign has been debated all offseason long. And whether most of Steeler Nation agrees (or not) and whether it was one of ‘those reasons’ (or not), I think we can all agree that preparedness was a problem the entirety of the season.
It’s a players game more so than ever after the new CBA. Sure the owners still get a hefty cut of the revenue share, and the NFL as a whole is richer than most nations of the world, but it’s the players that control the tempo of the game – not the coaches. The new practice rules that affect training camp and the regular season make it difficult for coaches to keep the physicality present during preparation for the upcoming Sunday. It’s makes it more difficult for coaches to make judgements on a player’s football readiness when… well… they aren’t really playing football of the ‘padded’ variety. There’s also something to be said about hitting someone continually during the week that keeps the edge of a players physique and mentality sharp. Not getting hit most of the week, then taking a big blow during a game on Sunday might do more harm than what the rule intended. Players just aren’t prepared to play football – injuries, sloppy play, you name it.
The quality of play during most of the season for the Steelers landed them at 8-8. Coach Tomlin may not admit that, but what we all saw on TV was a team void of passion and urgency – all stemming from being prepared to take on the talent facing them on the other side of the field. So what is Coach Tomlin doing in 2013 to counteract the vapid efforts of last season? Well according to the man himself, nothing.
"I’m not doing anything in response to what occurred a year ago, this is not a continuation of what occurred a year ago … I’m just trying to provide this group of men what it is they need to be the best they can be. We’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of competition, jobs and so forth. The only way to provide an opportunity to sort themselves out is to throw a ball out, snap it and play football. And that’s what we’re doing. – Mike Tomlin"
Really? That statement itself is so full of bull that I could spread it on my garden and probably take home a few blue ribbons at this year’s state fair. There’s a problem with what Tomlin said for two reasons: You are either admitting that A) you don’t really think you did poorly last season, won’t learn from your mistakes/shortcomings and this is just a natural evolution in how you coach a football team (in which then you should be promptly fired), or B) you darn well know that your team laid a big ol’ stinker of an egg last season but won’t directly admit that things needed to change on this team (a pretty piss poor way of being the leader of this football team).
You see, Tomlin is letting his guys go at it during the padded practices this training camp. Those padded practices might be limited due to the CBA, but he’s making his guys put it all out on the field when they are in those pads. That’s a far cry from what fans saw last summer. Tomlin however, does not attribute this change to being 8-8 just a season ago as you read a moment ago. I’ll agree that sometimes practices need to be adjusted based on the personnel you have on the field. And perhaps the younger guys on this football team need to get banged around a bit to know what it’s like to be in the NFL.
"We’re young in a lot of areas, particularly in the lines. We got young, talented defensive linemen, we got young, talented offensive linemen. The only way to improve is to play football. I’ve stated that many times and it’s something I believe in. I’m going to give them an opportunity to do that and show what they’re capable of. -Mike Tomlin, on the hard hitting practices"
Perhaps. But, the pendulum has certainly swung in the opposite direction from last season, and I think it’s in large part to the fact that the team lost its edge early and continually showed lack of preparation. Maybe Tomlin is finding a happy medium between his first year back in 2007 that saw hard grueling practices and 2012’s not so grueling scampers.
I just wish Tomlin would at least call it like it is and admit that a culture change needed to take place within the organization. That change starts with harder hitting practices and lots of up tempo play. I think Steeler Nation can feel confident that this team will play better because of this change in camp practices. They may not get better than 9-7, but at the very least, that edge and passion will be back.