Steelers have numerous issues as camp begins

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Mike Tomlin needed just one training camp practice to understand how much scrutiny he would receive as only the third Pittsburgh Steelers coach in 38 years.

When Tomlin walked onto a steamy field last July wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and black nylon pants - a switch from predecessor Bill Cowher's favored short-sleeved shirt and coaching shorts - it was one of the lead stories on Pittsburgh's TV news.

Right about then, Tomlin knew what he was getting into with a job that instantly made him Pittsburgh's most-watched leader.

A year later, there figures to be less attention paid to Tomlin at a shorter-than-usual training camp now that he's coached an NFL season. The expectations for his team are no less - a division title and playoff run - but there probably won't be the minute-to-minute attention paid to every Tomlin nuance and detail.

Still, Tomlin said, "There's never a dull moment."

Especially with so much to do during one of the Steelers' shortest stays at Saint Vincent College since they first held camp there 41 years ago. The players report Sunday, with the first two practices scheduled Monday.

With the uncertainty about ownership hanging over the camp - chairman Dan Rooney is trying to retain his family's majority stake - some of the top issues include:

-The crowded backfield. Willie Parker, his 2007 season ended in December by a broken leg, is one of the NFL's top runners but will share time with first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall. That could reduce Parker's yardage, and a less-productive back often becomes a less-happy back.

"The division of labor at that position will be interesting," Tomlin said.

-The most unsettled offensive line in years. All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca, one of the top linemen in team history, is now with the Jets, and Chris Kemoeatu is his penciled-in replacement. At right tackle, 2007 starter Willie Colon is trying to hold off former starter Max Starks, now the team's second highest-paid offensive player.

-The not-very-special teams. Tomlin devoted an uncommon amount of time to special teams during his first camp, with marginal improvement. Tomlin plans to shorten that special teams time this summer.

"Maybe the points of emphasis have changed," Tomlin said.

-Troy Polamalu's conditioning. The Pro Bowl safety eschewed the Steelers' optional team workouts to return to the training regimen he once used at Southern Cal, with the intent of staying healthier and being more productive. He was bothered by knee, rib and oblique injuries last season. Pass coverage has never been his strength, but he hasn't had an interception in 19 games.

-How to best gear up for a demanding season. The Steelers could have opened camp a few days earlier, but chose to be one of the last teams to report. A demanding schedule that includes the Patriots, Colts, Giants, Cowboys, Jaguars and Browns may have something to do with that. The Steelers had an overly long camp last year because they played in the preseason Hall of Fame game, and they didn't finish well by losing four of their final five.

That's why Tomlin's first season was a success, but not a resounding one, with a 10-6 record and consecutive home-field losses to Jacksonville.

-How fast LaMarr Woodley, a second-round pick last season, settles in as Clark Haggans' replacement at outside linebacker. Also, 2007 first-rounder Lawrence Timmons - drafted as an outside linebacker - is now backing up inside linebacker Larry Foote, who is in the final year of his contract.

"We will put a bunch of pressure on those two men," Tomlin said of Woodley and Timmons.

-Nose tackle Casey Hampton's conditioning, which has been an issue at past camps. He was held out of spring workouts for undisclosed reasons.

Last year, the Steelers spent four full weeks in Latrobe. They will spend only three weeks there this summer before returning to their Pittsburgh practice complex, and one of the those weeks is a short one due to a Thursday exhibition game in Toronto on Aug. 14.

"There are less two-a-days. There are less days," Tomlin said. "There is a little less of everything, and for a lot of reasons."

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