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Steelers initially resist change, but Tomlin senses a turnaround

PITTSBURGH -- Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers still were Bill Cowher's team when training camp began last month. The players weren't happy about the extra practices new coach Mike Tomlin scheduled and all the contact work during the opening week of camp.

There also was that annoying clock along the sidelines that ticked down the amount of time left in a drill - the clock Hines Ward claims never moves. And the altered practice schedule. Ward also complained that Tomlin allowed the defensive backs to be too physical against the receivers during supposedly non-contact drills.

No wonder that, when asked what he saw his players resisting, Tomlin said, "Everything."

But as the days at Saint Vincent College wound down, Tomlin believes his players settled into the new routine. They came out with an all-business mind-set and an extra measure of physicality for their first preseason game, and they dominated the Saints while the starters were on the field.

While Tomlin hasn't said it yet, he doesn't believe there will be much lingering talk of how it used to be with the Steelers when they open the season Sept. 9 at Cleveland.

"They resisted the change, like we all do," Tomlin said Thursday. "But, ideally, I think they did a nice job of dealing with it and not letting it affect their quality of play."

As camp dragged on -- it finally ends Friday, when the Steelers leave for Saturday's exhibition game at Washington -- Tomlin sensed less and less resistance.

"It's funny, we're all creatures of habit, particularly the guys that have been here a long time," Tomlin said. "Guys who were drafted here, they knew only one way. When you know what's going on, you never have to look at a schedule and you can kind of be on autopilot. That's what we crave. We like to be on autopilot and know what lies ahead. But sometimes it's good to get out of your comfort zone a little bit."

Tomlin's philosophy may explain why he isn't revealing who his starters will be Saturday at several positions - to make sure those players keep an edge. He will play his starters far more than he did in the first two exhibitions, perhaps well into the second quarter.

"We're always going to be prepared to play it by ear. But it's our intention to play guys more in this game," he said.

The starters will play even longer next weekend against Philadelphia, possibly into the second half.

Running back Willie Parker (knee) and first-round draft pick Lawrence Timmons (groin) will play for the first time this preseason, though Tomlin isn't saying how much.

Timmons returned to practice only this week after being out since the early days of camp.

"How much will kind of be determined on conditioning and what he's capable of handling from an assignment standpoint," Tomlin said of the outside linebacker. "But he's shown that he's getting pretty sharp from an assignment standpoint."

Also starting will be Bryant McFadden at cornerback, ahead of Deshea Townsend, and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, ahead of Cedrick Wilson. Those changes are expected to carry into the season.

Tomlin kept one tradition during this camp: Cowher's movie day. Cowher usually canceled one morning practice and packed off the players to a local theater to watch the movie of their choice.

But, predictably, Tomlin handled movie day a little differently. He told his coaches and players on Tuesday night that they would have Wednesday morning off - either to see a movie, sleep in or hit golf balls at a driving range.

By telling them in advance, the players didn't have to get suited up and the trainers didn't have to tape up players for a practice that wouldn't take place. The assistant coaches also didn't have to draw up plans for a phantom practice.

"I had too much work to do. I didn't have time to go to the movies," said Tomlin, who worked during the players' morning off. "I guess going to the movies is a tradition around here. I'm not much into tradition."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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