Transition over, livelier Tomlin makes changes

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -One difference in this Pittsburgh Steelers training camp from that of last season: Mike Tomlin is no longer being asked what it's like to succeed Bill Cowher as coach.

Tomlin, who seemed to bypass any breaking-in period as only the third Steelers head coach in 38 years, is more animated and even more in charge than he was last season. Not that there were any questions about who was running the Steelers, despite the now 36-year-old Tomlin's previous lack of head coaching experience.

"He's going to be hard on all the guys, not just me," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said when asked Tuesday how Tomlin has changed. "But I respect him for that."

Respect? Tomlin didn't have any trouble winning that from his players last season, although the Steelers (10-6) experienced a rough finish by losing four of their final five and lasting only one game in the playoffs. Despite that, no player publicly complained that he wished Cowher had stayed around or that Tomlin's inexperience was showing.

Tomlin was an NFL coordinator for only one season before succeeding Cowher, the Steelers' coach for 15 seasons.

"I was comfortable last year. I'm not going to make more out of it than what it is," Tomlin said. "A year ago, executing this plan, it was a plan only in my mind. Standing here today, I've got tangible evidence of the way I want to do things. Does it make it more comforting? Yes, but it's very similar (to last year)."

As it turned out, the transition from the Cowher to the Tomlin eras was rougher than was initially viewed.

"Last year's camp was rough," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Everything was new, the coaches were new and we had a new offense in so it was rough. ... This year is much better. We're all more comfortable with each other. We know what to expect from coach Tomlin. He knows what we have and I think he's more comfortable."

Right tackle Willie Colon said there was tension along the offensive line all season as All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca, now with the Jets, refused to implement some changes sought by new offensive line coach Larry Zierlein.

Faneca's stubbornness created doubt among the younger linemen, who didn't know whether to follow a star player's lead or to do what was asked of them.

"Alan was a leader," Colon said. "Sometimes you can't teach old dogs new tricks. We have to realize Alan is gone, coach Zierlein is the boss and that's how we have to approach it.

"It's a new year and a new ship and we have a lot of new guys on deck."

Hines Ward said the receivers occasionally fought alterations sought by assistant coach Randy Fichtner, though the players and coach talked through their differences. Tomlin downplays any talk of coach-player difficulties, saying, "It's human nature to be resistant to change."

Not that Tomlin is hesitating to make changes of his own, most of which he won't discuss in detail. Among them are adjustments to the passing game and a plan to give some of Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker's carries to rookie Rashard Mendenhall.

Tomlin also is devoting less time to special teams during training camp. Special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, who seemed to conduct every practice at 100 decibels and 110 mph last season, also has geared down.

What Tomlin doesn't want is for controversy to follow any change, one reason he chooses to deal privately with many issues that some head coaches wouldn't hesitate to make public.

Not that Tomlin can't be player friendly, much like Cowher was. Tomlin laughed when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wore a sombrero at one spring workout and he allowed star safety Troy Polamalu to skip spring workouts so he could work out on his own in California.

But when four-time Pro Bowl pick Casey Hampton was the only one of several linemen who didn't follow orders by losing weight before camp, Tomlin didn't hesitate to embarrass one of his best players by putting him on the physically unable to perform list. Until he drops about 25 pounds, Hampton must work out by himself and can't practice with his teammates.

Cowher also battled with Hampton over weight and conditioning issues in 2003 but didn't resort to putting him on the physically unable to perform list.

"He set an example of how he's going to approach things," defensive end Aaron Smith said of Tomlin. "There's a level of expectation when you come out here and that's what he expects."

Here's what Tomlin expects from this Steelers season: Nothing can be assumed, and the teams that adjust on the fly and best cope with injuries, upsets and misfortune will succeed.

"The one thing I am extremely conscious of is there are things that we did well last year, but that doesn't ensure that we will do them well this year," Tomlin said. "Things that we didn't do as well last year, we can't anticipate being poor in those areas. It really is a clean slate."

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