Team-Building 101

Mike Tomlin has his young Steelers working hard and fighting for playing time.

Mike Tomlin has set quite an example for his team's preparation this week.

When asked if he was waiting for an explanation on the officiating mistake against Jason Worilds on Sunday, Tomlin said, "I don’t have time to wait for calls from New York. We have a big game this week and we’re moving on to Kansas City."

And when asked if his medical staff was keeping an eye on the disease-riddled hockey team across town, he said, "I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m sorry. I don’t have anything of value to add. I kind of have been in cocoon the last 48 hours or so."

Even the media storylines bore him. When asked whether the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense is peaking, Tomlin said, "I’m not trying to tell a story or paint a picture in regards to our offense. I simply want to score one more point than the people we’re playing."

Now, that's a man buried in his work.

And he's getting the same from his young players.

In a year in which Tomlin has been heavily criticized by local media and fans for the Steelers' inconsistent play, it's sometimes been forgotten that his is a team of youthful inexperience.

Only 32 percent of the players on the current roster have played in a playoff game, and that game was only three years ago.

It's a young team that's won six of its last eight games and can clinch a wild-card playoff berth with a win Sunday against Kansas City.

Yet, in spite of the recent success, Tomlin continues to crack the whip by leaving several positions open to practice competition each week. This week, right tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and cornerback are up for grabs.

Here's how Tomlin framed the competition at each position:

Right tackle -- Last week Marcus Gilbert was set to return from his two-game absence due to an ankle injury, but Tomlin made him a healthy scratch on game day.

"We watched that participation and it wasn’t above the line from a health standpoint. We’d been getting quality work from Mike Adams, who is healthy so we decided to go with the healthy hand.

A reporter asked if Gilbert would get his job back if healthy, but Tomlin simply repeated his answer.

Outside linebacker -- James Harrison also looked good in his practice time last week but was scratched for the game as well. But Harrison wasn't considered a healthy scratch. Still, he'll need to prove his worth over Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones, both of whom have shown marked improvement in recent weeks.

Inside linebacker -- Ryan Shazier was expected to regain the starting position that was handed to him on the first day of spring drills, but sources revealed last week that Tomlin wasn't happy about Shazier's work ethic. Shazier did play a couple of snaps last week, and made tackles on both plays and displayed his athleticism on both as well.

"I was satisfied with it last week," Tomlin said. "It may be different this week."

Tomlin was asked what he's looking for in Shazier.

"Detail, detail, detail," Tomlin said. "It’s more about that for a young guy than the physicality of it anyway. Just, are their eyes in the right place? Are they utilizing proper technique to play from a penalty-free standpoint? And are they winning the possession downs against skilled individuals?"

Tomlin added that he needs complete understanding from Shazier against the Chiefs and their talented running backs.

"If you don’t understand your leverage and where your help is, you’re going to be exposed," Tomlin said. "So much of that is above the neck and so much of that readiness is reinforced and displayed in a practice setting or a preparation setting. There’s a lot to learn from that standpoint as we prepare all of these guys."

Cornerback -- Ike Taylor will practice this week after two weeks of sub-standard play coincided with shoulder and knee injuries. So Taylor isn't an automatic starter if healthy, either, because depth has emerged.

"Oftentimes, when you’re faced with adversity during the course of a season, adversity that’s created by injury and so forth, people get an opportunity to expand their roles," Tomlin said. "As you get your health back from the guys that are injured then you have quality depth. It’s playing out at the linebacker position, but it’s also playing out in the secondary with guys like Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. It’s also playing out at the outside linebacker position with guys like Arthur Moats.

"Hopefully as guys like Taylor, Harrison and Shazier gain their health, we’re fortified from a depth standpoint and a quality depth standpoint with playing experience because of it."

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