One player anxious for Monday

<b>LATROBE - </b>The Steelers return to work Monday morning, and for most it will be quite the drag.<br><br> For Jerame Tuman, though, it'll be like waking up on Christmas morning.

"It probably won't get here soon enough," Tuman said Thursday, before the team departed for its preseason opener in Detroit.

"I feel bad that it's two weeks into camp and I'm just starting my camp. These guys have been out here busting their butts, laying down a great foundation. It's my job to just go out there and show them I'm not behind, that I've been working and am ready to go."

This past off-season, Tuman was moved up on the depth chart to first team tight end. He's entering his sixth season with the Steelers and his only starts have come as a replacement for the injured Mark Bruener or the injured Jay Riemersma.

Apparently, Tuman proved something to his position coach, Ken Whisenhunt, in those replacement games. Last year Tuman started 11 games and had a career-high 12 catches. Whisenhunt has since been promoted to offensive coordinator, and he in turn promoted Tuman.

"I think Jerame has stepped up over the years and kind of grown into the position," said Whisenhunt. "I think he'd earned the right to be the starter. But you know, Jay has been a starter in the league and I think he's a good player."

Riemersma started eight games last season (three times in double tight end sets) and proved to be a valuable offensive threat. But he can't block nearly as well as the since departed Bruener, and that's a problem in the Steelers' run-oriented offense. Rookie Matt Kranchick is nothing more than a pass-catcher at this stage in his career, so that leaves Tuman and Matt Cushing as the top blockers. Tuman therefore becomes the starter.

"I feel I've gotten a lot better at blocking," Tuman said. "It's kind of weird the way it worked out. When I first came in, Bruener was here and he's probably one of the best blocking tight ends to ever play the game. I was able to learn from him. Then they bring in Jay and he does a good job running routes and has some good ideas in that area, so it's really helped me a lot in both areas and I really feel like I'm getting better each year. I don't feel like I've reached my potential yet and I still feel like I'm climbing. As long as I'm doing that, I feel like I'm in pretty good shape."

Tuman felt he was in the best shape of his life only a month ago, and then an infection stuck around in his elbow, or more specifically the bursa sac. It couldn't be flushed, so doctors surgically removed the bursa sac right before training camp.

Tuman was able to continue his roadwork, but couldn't lift weights until the day before the stitches were removed. He said it only took him two or three days to regain the strength he'd lost in the weight room.

"Physically, I feel like I'm in good shape, good condition," he said. "Mentally, I'm itching to go."

He weighs his standard 255 pounds, but believes he'll keep it on this year. Endurance will be a key since his blocking will be an important component of the offense and its base running plays, particularly the B.O.S.S. sweep.

So staying strong and healthy is Tuman's top priority, his main goal. As for production, he's not worried about posting big pass-catching numbers.

"Shoot, I don't have any numbers to start at," he said. "It's never really been about numbers for me. I'd like to be productive but not from a personal standpoint, but to open other things up. I want to make the offense more productive and more potent so the defense doesn't know what's coming."

As the tight end at Michigan from 1995-98, Tuman caught 98 passes and still ranks 11th on the school's all-time receiving list. With the Steelers, Tuman has caught only 24 passes in five seasons.

"There's no way I'd ever say I was disappointed with how it's gone," he said of his pro career. "It's a journey. I didn't catch a pass until, what, my third year in the league? And when I came out of college I thought I was a pass-catching tight end. But I've been really fortunate to be with the Steelers. It's a great organization with great guys and I've had a great experience."

And that experience resumes on one of the best Monday mornings a worker could imagine.

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