Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Steelers' Mike Tomlin: Read and React

By Jamison Hensley

The AFC coaches met with the media today at the NFL owners meetings. Here are five issues addressed by Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (via the team's official website) and my reaction:

On losing veteran leadership after cutting Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith: "There is cause for concern there, but there is also some excitement. It’s a changing of the guard. We are at the void of some leaders that we’ve had for an awesome run. Some guys are going to have to step up in that regard, but the more I think about it -- and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it -- it has already kind of evolved. It already has. I think it has to a degree the last several years with guys like Brett Keisel ascending within the group. Guys really respect his body of work and his approach to the business. And so have some others stepped up." Hensley's reaction: I thought it was interesting that the first player mentioned by Tomlin when addressing new leaders was Keisel. It really shouldn't surprise because he is the blue-collar player that has defined the Steelers for many eras.

On whether he's OK if he doesn't get another running back: "I am sure we are going to get another running back, whether it’s in free agency or in the draft. We will address it." Hensley's reaction: It was just a day ago when general manager Kevin Colbert said, "With the young guys we have [at running back], we feel confident someone will emerge who can fill that [starting] role." So, what's it going to be: Are the Steelers going with Isaac Redman or are they bringing someone else in?

On Mike Wallace's dropoff in the second half of the season: “In many instances, teams took him out of the game. When you reel off the kind of seven-to-eight game run that he had there to start the season, that’s some scary video for defensive coaches in preparations for games. They responded accordingly. We saw what Antonio Brown did over the second half of the year. Did one produce the other? I think that’s debatable but the reality is, we got good balance there in those two young guys. Either one of them is capable of hurting you and hurting you pretty bad." Hensley's reaction: It also didn't help Wallace that Ben Roethlisberger fractured his thumb and sprained his ankle in the second half of the season, which hurt his ability to throw deep. A healthy Roethlisberger would have boosted Wallace's numbers.

On how he sees Roethlisberger working with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley: "I’m not going to anticipate tough times. I am a glass half-full guy. I’m excited about the change. I’m excited about the possibilities, and I think everyone has that at this point. We are not naive. We don’t expect smooth sailing. We don’t expect 19-0. It would be great. Maybe we will have a few bumps along the way." Hensley's reaction: Everyone will be watching how Haley and Roethlisberger handle the tough times. Haley is an in-your-face coach, and Roethlisberger has made it clear that he doesn't want to get yelled at.

On the nose tackle position and Ziggy Hood: "Hood is potentially part of that. He is a very talented and strong guy, but I think Steve McLendon proved that he is a capable backup a year ago, and in some instances, a starter. He played a lot of football for us, so we are not in any way discouraged by his progress or what he might continue to evolve into. In terms of the long scenario of Casey Hampton [ACL surgery in January] not being there, I am not of that mentality. We are gearing ourselves for 2012. I am singularly focused in that regard. He is going to be a part of it." Hensley's reaction: Just a hunch, but you might want to memorize this list of nose tackles for draft day: BYU's Loni Fangupo (second round), Washington's Alameda Ta'amu (third round) and Alabama's Josh Chapman (fourth round).