'Camp Cupcake' dies slow death at St. Vincent

Training camp is winding to a close and the Steelers' veterans are praising Coach Mike Tomlin's serious approach this year.

LATROBE – So the softball game was moved up a night from its normal spot on the calendar. It coincided last night with the Rookie Show so that Coach Mike Tomlin could lump all of the periphery nonsense together and get on with the football business at hand.

No one actually put it that way. They put it another way:

"This camp has been much more serious," said 12-year veteran Aaron Smith. "The mindset is much more focused."

Smith doesn't recall the label "Camp Cupcake" that was placed on last year's camp by an out-of-town writer who stopped by for one practice. James Farrior doesn't remember it, either, but Tomlin does, particularly since it was brought up to him last December during the five-game losing streak.

"Maybe that's why he's had camp a little different this year," said Farrior. What's been different?

"We went back to the basics, man," said the 14-year vet. "Everything's more intense. Every period we've had has been a lot more reflective of real game situations. The guys have been made more aware of everything that's going on and take everything a lot more serious than we did last year.

"Last year camp was kind of easy. It's not like that this year."

It's certainly not as fun. For instance, "Movie Day" has been scrapped. So, too, apparently has been "Jeff Reed Day," the day when the kicker sends everyone to dinner 20 minutes early by making a field goal. And of course the big softball game and the rookie show were condensed.

"Even Family Day was moved to earlier in camp," said Brett Keisel, a nine-year vet. "Mike's been sticking to his guns, sticking to his schedule."

"It definitely has the feel of being much more business-like," said Smith. "Mike does a nice job of letting you recover and rest, but you don't have as much free time as we've had in the past."

Was the free-time allotment all used up on the trip to Canton?

"I don't know," Smith said. "It just seems like we don't have as much free time. That said, I really like the way the schedule's been running and how it's been handled, as far as practices and meetings. It's been serious business with football. We just don't have the free time, real free time."

Will it prove effective? Smith said he can never tell.

"You'd think with all of this time I've spent in the league I'd have figured it out by now, but you don't know. You really don't know. You don't know what kind of team you have until about a month into the season. That's when the identity begins to take shape.

"I think we've had a good training camp. I do. I think we've had a good competitive training camp. Overall it's been very competitive. For me as a veteran, that's the most important thing, that guys are competing against each other. When you get that kind of atmosphere, you can only get better."

Even without a day at the movies?

"That's OK," said Keisel. "I'll just watch movies of my son on the cell phone."


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