LATROBE – Another year, another training camp, right?
Taylor enters his 12th training camp with the Steelers and he finds a team quite reminiscent of what he saw in his third camp, back in 2005.
He was asked if there's a different feeling to this camp than, say, the last two, the two that ended with 8-8 records?
“Yeah, it's a good feeling, a good feeling,” Taylor started upon reporting to Saint Vincent College Friday. “From the OTAs to the minicamp to right now, this team, as far as the young guys and the energy, it's like the '04, '05 feeling.”
The 2004 Steelers shocked the football world with a 15-1 record and appearance in the AFC Championship Game, a season before winning Super Bowl XL over Seattle, 21-10.
Of course, both of those teams had most of the same players and, according to Taylor, both of those teams had a trait similar to what we've all seen with this group:
“Well, we're talking about speed on defense,” Taylor said. “And from the OTAs to mini-camp, you saw the speed on defense, and I think in '04 and '05 we were a pretty speedy defense.”
The Steelers made a concerted effort to get faster on defense for this season after several years of hearing the “old, tired and getting slower” criticisms from near and far. Ryan Shazier came aboard as a fast inside linebacker from Ohio State. Free safety Mike Mitchell brings speed to the secondary and there's carryover speed in safety Shamarko Thomas and rehabilitated speed in linebacker Sean Spence.
Thomas, the second-year safety, was asked if there was a rookie coming in who impressed him.
“Shazier,” he said without hesitation. “Just from OTAs and minicamp, he's fast, man. Definitely, he's running around like a DB. It's amazing how he covers the field and makes plays. He's definitely going to be a great attribute to us.”
But all of this speed alone won't make the Steelers better. Sure, it beats getting slower, but there's more to winning football than running fast, right?
“Speed is speed,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Good defense is being in the right place at the right time and making tackles. I think too much ha been made of our speed already.”
Not that Tomlin doesn't like the speed he's added, but “we're not going to hang our hat on it. It's football, not a track meet.”
Tomlin also takes a contrarian approach to somehow avenging the back-to-back .500 seasons. Do those seasons provide any additional motivation for this year's team?
“Not for me they don't,” Tomlin said. “We're here for 2014. The past is the past. I am singularly focused on the now.”
That memo obviously didn't make it to many of Tomlin's players, be they older, new to the league, or new to the team.
“I know this is a real blue-collar team,” free-agent wide receiver Lance Moore said. “They were 8-8 the last couple of years and I know that's not good enough. It gives us a greater sense of urgency for competing for a championship. You don't have to go undefeated to win a championship, you just have to get to that tournament.
“I was in New Orleans nine years and I'm just coming in here and setting up shop. The guys are welcoming, but the goal is still to win games and compete for a championship.”
“You're out to prove something every year, if you don't win the Super Bowl,” said defensive end Cameron Heyward. “This team is hungry. We have a lot of guys who had a sour taste the last few years. We ended on a good note last year, but we're not going to bank on that.”
With all of this new speed on defense, Thomas was asked who would win a footrace among Steelers teammates.
“I think I would win,” Thomas said “We've got some fast guys, like Ike and William Gay and others, but I think I would finish at the top.”
But that's not the top prize Thomas has in mind, either, for himself or for this team.
“Contribute to a Super Bowl, that's the biggest thing,” Thomas said. “I'm not an individual person. I will bust my butt to get to a Super Bowl.”
The butt-busting begins in earnest Saturday with a 3 p.m. practice, and the pads go on Monday, also at 3 p.m.
NOTES: Tomlin said two players, free safety Mitchell and running back Alvester Alexander are on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with groin injuries. Tomlin said Mitchell should return to action in a week. ... Guard Ramon Foster (death in family) and punter Adam Podlesh (father-to-be) did not report, so the 90-man roster is at 88 for the time being. ... Tomlin was pleased with the condition of his team on reporting day after witnessing the annual conditioning test. “I'm excited about getting started,” he said.
(To read the transcript from the interview with Ike Taylor, click here.)