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Back to football: Steelers open camp, close controversies

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons spent four months waiting for the NFL lockout to end, if only so his teammates could stop making headlines off the field and start making plays on it.

Rashard Mendenhall's tweeting about the death of Osama bin Laden. Hines Ward's DUI arrest. Ben Roethlisberger's highly publicized -- and highly secretive -- wedding.

Oh, and don't forget James Harrison's rants in Men's Journal magazine about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the performance of his own teammates in the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Timmons and the rest of the Steelers who made their way into Rooney Hall on Thursday as the defending AFC champions opened training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., are only too happy to get back to work.

Did Harrison's critique of Roethlisberger and Mendenhall bother Timmons? Not really. That's just Harrison, who later apologized, for being, well, Harrison.

"I know all the guys he said things about, they know that's James, and I just feel like this'll be overblown," Timmons said. "I think the guys that were involved were over it, and I say just let the peace begin."

The football too. Besides, the compact training-camp schedule doesn't allow much time for the cloud of an uncharacteristically busy offseason to linger.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Harrison's comments about Goodell "inappropriate" and wouldn't speculate on whether or not he'll be disciplined by the team. Tomlin doesn't believe it will have any effect in the locker room.

"It didn't register as big a blip on the radar as you guys might imagine," Tomlin said.

Though Harrison, Roethlisberger, Ward and Mendenhall all avoided the media horde that camped outside the entrance to the player check-in, all were accounted for when the team hit the practice field for what Tomlin called a "conditioning evaluation."

Tomlin was pleased with the way his players looked after being barred from team facilities for four months. The players will hit the field for a walkthrough Friday and won't get into full pads until Sunday.

By then, Tomlin hopes to have a better grip on his roster. The Steelers will attempt to address several needs during the truncated free-agency period.

They already agreed to re-sign cornerback Ike Taylor, and kicker Shaun Suisham is set to return.

On Thursday, the team also agreed with offensive lineman Willie Colon on a five-year, $29 million deal, a league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.

Less certain is the future of free-agent offensive tackle Jonathan Scott. He was absent, as was lineman Max Starks and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who were released Thursday

Starks and Randle El have a combined three Super Bowl rings between them. But Tomlin called those cuts "a necessary business decision" as the Steelers attempt to get under the $120.4 million salary cap.

Tomlin wouldn't speculate if Starks could return in some capacity, though there's little doubt there's work to be had.

Tomlin said the team could get creative during workouts until the roster is fleshed out.

"We're open to all considerations particularly in the short term," he said. "We could see some interesting things."

What Tomlin won't see, at least not Friday morning, is first-round draft pick Cameron Heyward. The defensive lineman remains unsigned, as does cornerback Curtis Brown, the team's third-round pick.

The rest of the 2011 draft class has signed. Though, even accounting for Heyward and Brown, the Steelers have 86 players on the roster, four under the NFL's 90-man limit. Three players -- Ward, defensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu and tight end Eugene Bright -- will start camp on the physically unable to perform list.

That opens the door for a handful of free agents to join the team, though Tomlin refused to discuss the possible return of wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

The troubled wideout is trying to get back into football after serving nearly two years in prison for a gun charge. Pittsburgh, where he played the first five seasons of his career, is considered a possible destination.

Burress received at least one endorsement Thursday. Second-year wide receiver Antonio Brown spent the last few weeks working alongside Burress in Florida. Brown said Burress, who turns 34 next month, looks ready to play.

"He's in great shape," Brown said. "He's excited to be out and excited to look for opportunities."

Maybe not as excited as the Steelers are to move on after an eventful offseason. Harrison's diatribe was dismissed by some of his teammates as being taken out of context, though free safety Ryan Clark is pretty sure the Pro Bowl linebacker just got on a roll and failed to hit the "mute" button.

"I think he had some candid conversations with a guy that spent a lot of time with him and it came back to bite him, but if we know anything about James, we know he's not really worried about ... the perception people have of him," Clark said. "He's going to play good football. He's a great teammate."

While the core that led the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances since 2005 is starting to age, the players don't believe that's necessarily a bad thing.

The lockout, in a way, kept them fresh. And with a relatively stable roster at the offensive skill positions and on defense, there's no panic as the team tries to quickly get up to speed.

"That's the story I'm going to bring to the meetings is that we're going to be better off," Clark said. "We played longer. We're a little bit older. I'm not saying (organized team activities) aren't as important for us ... but I like to think (we) have more experience and more wisdom."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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