Whispers From The Steelers' Locker Room

Jim Wexell gets the inside read on several issues before asking one veteran if Mike Tomlin can really coach.

Pittsburgh -- Monday was the day for fresh media meat to enter the locker room and ask the same question that those who covered the game on Sunday were all asking:

What can the Steelers do to commit fewer penalties?

Cameron Heyward had the best answer:

"Stop doing it."

One of the least penalized teams in the NFL the last two mediocre seasons is now second with 44 penalties through the first month of this season as they've suddenly become "undisciplined."

"We're not undisciplined," Heyward said. "We just need to learn from it. If we continue to do it then we'll be undisciplined. We have to make some growth right now. Whether it's just celebrating after a play, getting mad at refs for a bad play, that's going to happen in a game and we have to learn from it."

"Getting mad at the refs," hangs on Heyward. He raged at the lack of a holding call that was in full view of at least one official, who on tape is seen staring straight at Sean Spence as he was having his jersey stretched in the open field to allow the back to turn the corner for a touchdown.

Heyward was only speaking up for his team, and their hundreds of thousands of fans, when he berated an official, and he was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"I went too far. My fault. I messed up," Heyward said. The word is that Heyward didn't call the official a name, but instead told him that he HAS to make that (blanking) call.

The 15 yards didn't prevent the Steelers from scoring a touchdown on their next possession, but as a leader Heyward just couldn't absolve himself.

"It's unsatisfactory," he said. "I have to be a professional and learn from it."

Wasn't this an example of an over-officious crew?

"You've got to talk to the NFL office about that," he said. And one more question for Heyward, who as thoughtfully as he could answered all of the questions about the Steelers being "undisciplined":

Isn't that just code for being poorly coached?

"It's not poor coaching because at the end of the day it's us on the field," he said. "For me, I think of undisciplined as not learning from mistakes. So I plan on that not happening again."

RECKLESS Troy

Troy Polamalu is another leader who incurred one of those ridiculous penalties that made the team look completely undisciplined, too.

Or did he?

You remember Polamalu's attempt to time the snap count. It failed. He was called for being offsides. But if you remember, Steve McLendon was late getting off the field as the Bucs attempted to run a play quickly and get an easy five yards, at the least. At the most, the Bucs were going to get a free play and perhaps take a shot at the end zone.

Did Polamalu see all of this as it was happening and did he intentionally jump offside to blow up the play before it became a freebie?

"No," he said. "They were trying to get the snap off because of the controversy over the previous play. They were trying to avoid the replay."

Polamalu was right. Upon further review, Vincent Jackson appeared to have fumbled after an 18-yard gain on third-and-10. He didn't, but Mike Glennon hustled the Bucs to the line anyway, and that's why McLendon was caught in no man's land.

"Actually, I was surprised when they said '12 men on the field,'" Polamalu said. "I didn't even see that."

And then Troy had a question for me.

"Was I really offside?"

I assumed that he had been. In fact, the umpire behind the play threw the flag instead of the line judge.

But I slowed the play down to 1/16th speed on my DVR and Polamalu in fact had timed it perfectly -- again. He also spooked Glennon into fumbling the snap, which Polamalu recovered.

It was a brilliant play, and if McLendon hadn't been a factor it would've been a play that would've sat at the top of all of the controversial calls made in that game.

DRAGGING AT WORK

James Harrison was sitting at his locker Monday afternoon when I asked him how he felt.

"Oh, man," he said mustering up a chuckle. "I feel terrible, just awful."

Was he lucky just to have gotten out of bed and make it in to work?

"That would not be an understatement," he said. "But, what do they say? 'The best cure for a hangover is to drink some more?' So the best way to get over soreness is to go ahead and work out some more."

Normally in the weight room by 5:45 a.m., Harrison said he had to get his eyes checked Monday morning for a new visor and couldn't make it until 9:30 a.m.

Did he expect to be so sore?

"Oh, yeah. I felt it going home (Sunday) night," he said. "I was like, 'Yeah, tomorrow's not going to be a good day.'" Harrison took part in 27 snaps, or 42 percent of the defense's workload.

How did he feel he played?

"I did some things good," he said. "Some things I could've done better. And I did some things wrong. It is what it is five days in."

CAN THIS GUY COACH?

Mike Tomlin wasn't the only guy being ripped -- even fired -- in the Pittsburgh media following the Steelers' loss Sunday to the 7.5-point underdog Bucs. I also heard calls for the heads of Kevin Colbert, and of course coordinators Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau.

What do the players think of this seeming overreaction?

"Any time you lose a game that really you felt like you were going to win, and should've won, there's going to be reaction," said Brett Keisel. "But honestly -- and I was very upset yesterday, as well as everyone was -- the more you think about it, in the grand scheme of things, it's the first quarter. We have soooo much football left and we have soooo much growing to do as a team.

"I am just putting my best foot forward to try and lead and help this team grow in every way I can, week in and week out. I believe that we can perform better, that we can get better, that we can get back on the winning track and start putting wins on top of each other."

Instead of asking Keisel my primary question -- because there's only one way he can answer it -- I instead directed him to convince me why he believes Tomlin's a good coach.

"Well, he is a good coach," said the 13-year veteran. "He addresses things that you see, in our meeting rooms. The things he talks about with you guys, he addresses it. We go over everything (chuckles) and more. At some point, you have to make the choice professionally if you want to be a great player and make this a great team, or are just happy to be here. That's what we all have got to decide and we all have to make sure that we're making that right choice. I know if we do that, we can be tough. We'll see."

One of the main criticisms of Tomlin is that "He's a player's coach."

Does Tomlin want to be their buddy? Is he too nice? Too lenient?

"I like that about a coach," Keisel said. "I like that he does things the way he does. That's one thing I respect about him and that's one thing I respect about the way he coaches. He wants you to be a professional. He wants you to be a man. So I respect the way he coaches, and I will fight for him until my wheels fall off."


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