ORLANDO, Fla.—The NFL draft is nearly two months away, minicamp is three months out and training camp is more than four months away. No wonder Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t nearly ready to compare his 2014 team to the one that ended 2013 with six wins in eight games.
Since beating the Browns on Dec. 29 to end up with a second 8-8 record in as many seasons, the Steelers have added Mike Mitchell, Lance Moore and Cam Thomas but lost LaMarr Woodley, Jerricho Cotchery, Al Woods, Larry Foote, Jonathan Dwyer, Emmanuel Sander and Ziggy Hood.
So have they improved themselves?
“I don’t have the answer to that, because we still got a lot of significant stuff to do with the rest of free agency and the draft,” Tomlin said Sunday at the NFL meetings. “We’re talking about probably as many as 10 more people who could be on our football team who aren’t on our team as we sit here today. So it would be very premature of me to measure this group against that last group at this juncture. We are still very much in the process of building for 2014.”
Tomlin talked to Pittsburgh reporters for the first time since the day after the season ended. Tomlin will talk again Tuesday at the owners meetings, this time with national reporters mixed in. Then, his policy has been to not talk again until the draft and the offseason workouts begin.
Here’s what Tomlin had to say about various Steelers issues, and how the offseason has gone to date:
On the offseason moves: ““I think we’ve had some real positive developments thus far. We got a young, talented guy like Mike Mitchell, and Cam Thomas was important to us. Retaining Jason Worilds was important to us. Getting Heath (Miller) and Troy (Polamalu) done from a (contract) extension standpoint was important to us,” Tomlin said. “It’s still ongoing for us. But it’s not that what is going to happen is going to be less significant than the things that I already mentioned, the things that we do moving forward – adding quality depth, insulating us vs. the unforeseen – is a big part of developing the type of team that we need to be.”
Is adding an experienced running back important, given no one on the roster has NFL carries except for Le’Veon Bell? “I felt good about (the meeting with free agent Maurice Jones-Drew). We are open to it (adding an experienced back). I’ll stop short of saying ‘have to,’ but we need to add quality depth to that position, whether it’s through free agency or the draft,” Tomlin said. “Le’Veon Bell is a talented player but a young player. It would be good to get a been-there, done-that type of guy in the room to maybe help him with growth and development. But I don’t view it as a necessity, quite honestly, because Le’Veon is a very grounded and humble young man and is open to getting better, and is a good listener.”
Was the move from the right side to the left side exactly what Jason Worilds needed to become the pass rusher the Steelers long anticipated he could be? “I don’t know that (Worilds) was any different,” Tomlin said. “I just think the animal that he faces is a different animal. That right tackle is a little different animal than the left tackle. I think if you’re really looking for differences in performance or highlighting differences in performance, the true answer might be there as opposed to what Jason is doing. Although, I will acknowledge that Jason has continued to improve since we’ve had him, and he has grown both on the field and off. Obviously, we like that growth and development.”
Can Worilds get even better? “We expect Worilds to grow. We expect Lawrence Timmons to grow. We expect Jarvis Jones to grow,” Tomlin said. “Even though you lose some veteran leadership and experience with the loss of (Woodley and Foote), and that’s significant, but at the same time, I think it is important that we all recognize and state we don’t expect those who remain to remain the same. We expect them to continue to grow on and off the field.”
What might the Steelers do during the draft? “I really just think it depends on how the rest of free agency shapes up. We have things that we feel we need to get done to insulate ourselves on both sides of the ball, and in the kicking game,” Tomlin said. “And what we don’t get done in free agency, we intend to finish off in the draft.”
This is Tomlin’s first year on the NFL Competition Committee, which largely shapes rule changes and dictates how the game should be played. He had a committee meeting Sunday and will have another one Monday, but the Orlando trip isn’t all business for him. He also attended the Pitt-Florida NCAA tournament Round of 32 game Saturday.