LATROBE – With so many new faces in place on his roster in 2013, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin put his team through a rigorous training camp with plenty of live tackling drills.
Expect more of the same this time around when the Steelers hold their first padded practice Monday after two unpadded sessions today and Sunday at Saint Vincent College.
Tomlin said Friday after the team reported and completed its conditioning test that after watching players run around in shorts in the spring, he’s looking forward to seeing how they play when the game becomes more physical.
“I know I’m excited about seeing some of these guys play and seeing what they’re capable of and they’re excited about showing what they’re capable of,” Tomlin said. “Really, the only way to do that is to play football. I enjoyed the spring and summer. But that’s the spring and summer. We’re going to do what we do in this setting, which is compete.”
However, there will be at least one key player who won’t get a chance to do that early on.
Mike Mitchell, signed to a five-year, $25-million contract in the offseason to replace Ryan Clark at free safety, will opening training camp on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a groin injury during a recent workout.
Running back Alvester Alexander, who was on the team’s practice squad last season, also will open camp on the PUP list after suffering a similar injury.
“We’ve been monitoring both situations, so it’s nothing new to us,” said Tomlin, adding he expects both players to be out for about a week. “It’s not the type of start those guys are looking for. When they’re healthy, we’ll put them back in the mix with the rest of them.”
In addition, guard Ramon Foster and punter Adam Podlesh were excused from reporting due to personal issues.
Foster, the Steelers’ starting left guard, is dealing with a death in his family, while Podlesh, signed in the offseason to compete with Brad Wing for the punting job, is at home with his wife, who is expecting to deliver a baby this weekend.
That left 86 other players to report Friday with the fresh outlook a new season brings.
“I think every year there’s optimism,” said Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward. “But we’ll get a good look at what we have. This will be the first time going in pads and some preseason games.”
With the Steelers coming off of back-to-back 8-8 seasons in which they missed the playoffs, the goal this offseason and heading into training camp has been simple and was driven home by Tomlin to the players.
“(He told us) that 8-8 isn’t good enough,” said wide receiver Lance Moore, another of the team’s free agent signings. “They didn’t make the playoffs last year, and you have to make the playoffs to have a chance to win a championship. Win one game here or there and you have a chance. Nobody says you have to go undefeated to win a championship. You just have to get into that tournament and be hot at the right time. That’s what our goal is.”
Tomlin looks forward to the fresh start with a new cast.
The Steelers brought in eight veteran free agents from other teams in the offseason to help offset the eight free agents of their own that signed elsewhere. Others, such as defensive end Brett Keisel, have yet to sign elsewhere.
And that was the other part of Tomlin’s message to the team Friday.
“We’re here to build our team for 2014. What we did in the past is in the past,” Tomlin said. “A lot of the guys who are going to be significant components of the team this year, weren’t part of some of the teams (from the last couple of years).
“I’m singularly focused on the now. … We don’t need to carry last season’s baggage.”
Meanwhile, Steelers president Art Rooney II told the team’s web site on Friday that the Steelers will not negotiate a contract extension with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger until the completion of this season.
“I met with Ben shortly before we did the Maurkice Pouncey signing just to make sure Ben understood where we were in our intentions as far as a contract extension for him,” Rooney said referring to Pouncey’s deal, which was reached in June. “I just didn’t want him to feel like we were moving ahead with other players without any communication.
“I talked to Ben, and then we talked to his agent, Ryan Tollner, about where we are and the fact we intend on addressing Ben’s contract situation after the season, so that we could address a number of other players who were going into their last year in 2014. I think Ben understands that’s our intention and the way we’d like to proceed. I think we had a good conversation.”
Roethlisberger has two years remaining on his current deal and will make $12.1 million in base salary this season.
Odds and end zones
The Steelers released Kion Wilson, who started two games at inside linebacker last season, and signed rookie cornerback Lew Toler. Toler (5-10, 190) played at Rutgers. … Today’s practice begins at 3 p.m. It is open to the public.