"The matchup that an alien like Antonio Gates creates for you is an issue," Tomlin said.
This week, Tomlin used the term to describe one of the Detroit Lions.
"His number one target of course is Calvin Johnson, who is extremely talented; alien, if you will," Tomlin said.
The Steelers' coach again used the term with his players to describe Johnson, a 6-5, 239-pound receiver who ran a 4.35 40 before being picked second in the 2007 draft.
"When coach presented him today, that's what he said: ‘He's an alien,'" said safety Ryan Clark. "And that's what he is. There's not a lot like him. I don't know any. I think he's a very special guy. Ike's going to match up with him and we're going to roll up to him and do some things and make sure we keep him under wraps."
Ike Taylor, of course, draws the "alien" every week. It's what he's done since the 2005 season, and he's done it well.
"We've lost games, but it's not because of that stud guy," said Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton. "It's worked very well for us."
Against Johnson, Taylor will be isolated on the one player who can deliver an upset for the Lions. Johnson has 13 receptions this season for 190 yards (14.6 avg.) and one touchdown. Last week, he caught eight passes for 133 yards against Chicago.
"If he's not in Detroit right now, we'd know more about him nationally," Clark said. "If you watch him play, here's a guy that's 6-5, can catch hitch routes and take them 50 yards, or can catch digs and break a few tackles, outrun the cornerbacks. You don't see guys that size doing that.
"You know, Larry Fitzgerald's considered a big receiver. Well, he towers over him and he's a faster player, great body control. He is an alien."
Can Taylor handle him?
"Ike's 6-1 and runs a 4.2, 4.3 (40), so he can match up with anybody," Clark said. "It kind of gives us the flexibility that we don't have to roll up to him every time. You can leave him in one-on-one coverage.
"They threw two deep balls up to Vincent Jackson last week. It was just Ike and him on the pass plays and it was great coverage. It wasn't a situation where we had to roll the coverage up to him, and I think that allows you a little more flexibility in your playcalling and allows Coach (Dick) LeBeau to be a little bit more creative."
It's become accepted as fact that coaches and teammates soured on Rashard Mendenhall last season because he didn't frequent the practice facility after being placed on injured reserve. That version was told to a reporter by an anonymous player, but Larry Foote didn't know anything about it.
"I thought he was around for the most part," Foote said during his Wednesday conference call with Pittsburgh reporters. And that's what Tomlin and Mendenhall said last spring.
"He did everything we asked him to do," Tomlin said. "I don't know where that sentiment came from."
"I stayed in contact with the trainer (John) Norwig, Coach Tomlin, and also with Coach (Garrett) Gie(mont), the strength coach," Mendenhall said. "I stayed in touch with them and had a good balance of being here and being away from here. They didn't have any problems with me."
JUST HOLD ONTO IT
Ben Roethlisberger was miked last Sunday by NFL Videos. It can be accessed at NFL.com.
During warm-ups, Roethlisberger bemoaned his throwing accuracy. "I'm high. I'm low. I can't throw a tight spiral for my life," he said before completing 26 of 33 passes with a handful of drops by his receivers.
At one point, Roethlisberger was surprised to see Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman in the Steelers' backfield. "There you are,"
Roethlisberger said to him. "Haven't seen you much. You all right? You healthy?"
Roethlisberger's theme throughout the game seemed to deal with Mendenhall's ball security. Roethlisberger brought it up at least five times during the 4-minute video.
Roethlisberger was asked Thursday if he's conscious of the microphone while on the field.
"No," he said. "When I'm on the sideline I am. I try to tell Charlie (Batch) and the guys I talk to the most to remember I'm miked so they don't say anything crazy about anybody, but when you're on the field you don't. Luckily I got to look at it and edit a few things I said."
Willie Parker (toe) didn't practice Thursday and probably won't play Sunday. Troy Polamalu (knee) practiced, but only went half-speed with the scout team and should also be counted out. Chris Kemoeatu (ankle) returned to practice and shared first-team work with rookie Ramon Foster at left guard. Reserve linebacker Andre Frazier (shoulder) also worked in a limited capacity.