Mike Tomlin believes his team is better today than it was at the end of the season. Of course, the cloud that continues to hang over quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could burst and change the opinion of Pittsburgh's coach suddenly and dramatically.
Roethlisberger still has not been charged with anything as police in Georgia continue to investigate a 20-year-old woman's claims that he sexually assaulted her in the early hours of March 5. Until something happens, Tomlin said he will proceed normally and even announced that his quarterback is due to show up with the rest of the veteran starters Monday to begin offseason training.
"You know, we don't necessarily have a backup plan at this time," Tomlin said in regards to Roethlisberger's tenuous situation. "It's early in this process and we'll let the process run its course and kind of make decisions from there. I hope we don't come to that. We'll see."
Tomlin said from what he can see, the other three teams in the AFC North Division have improved themselves since the end of the season, so the Steelers are just trying to keep pace after missing the playoffs at 9-7 in 2009. They signed a flurry of free agents a few weeks ago and none of their own has signed elsewhere yet.
"I think part of us getting better and putting ourselves (in position) to be a championship-caliber team for 2010 is strengthening ourselves, creating a more competitive environment, having better quality depth," Tomlin said. "I think with the moves that we've made it's been an improvement in those areas. I think that is critical to us being one of those elite football teams."
Because of those signings, the Steelers won't have to draft for need. They can take the best players on the board. The only thing that might alter that approach is the fate of Roethlisberger. Kevin Colbert insisted again this week that they still will not consider drafting a quarterback high. Tomlin, on the other hand, insisted he indeed attended Florida's pro workout day specifically to watch Tim Tebow. However, he has been known to do such things to throw others off and even acknowledged that some of the 30 prospects they are permitted to have at their facility before the draft will be invited purely as a subterfuge.
"I'm encouraged," Tomlin said of his roster. "I kind of like what we've done thus far in the offseason. The things that tripped us up in '09 we're beginning to address. I think we're adding high quality depth, NFL experience, starter capable depth. It creates an atmosphere of competition and I think that's ultimately what we need to be a world championship caliber team. ... We're going to be very thoughtful about how we try to approach this thing and really I feel comfortable about where we are. Of course, we've got a long way to go with the rest of offseason."
--Tomlin, who had been quiet for the most part on Ben Roethlisberger's two legal ordeals, finally addressed the potential problem while at the NFL meetings in Orlando. After commissioner Roger Goodell noted that Roethlisberger keeps putting himself in such positions, Tomlin concurred.
"He's well within his rights, of course, in terms of meeting with him," Tomlin said. "I share his concerns."
--For the record, Roethlisberger has a contract with the Steelers through 2015 that still has more than $66 million due in salary to him over the next six seasons, including a salary in 2010 of $8,050,000.
--The Steelers picked up three compensatory picks in the April 22-24 NFL draft -- two in the fifth round and one in the seventh. That gives them 10 overall picks. Their additional picks are the Nos. 164, 166 and 242 overall.
--WR Antwaan Randle El could be used in ways the Steelers used him previously, including as a punt returner.
"I'm open to it developing," Tomlin said. "I'm not going to assume he's the same guy he was when he left here. Four years is a long time in football terms but we know what he's capable of."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"If we have to we will but I don't think it's gotten to that point yet where we need to kind of make those hard and fast decisions." - Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on the chance the team might add a veteran quarterback in light of allegations against Ben Roethlisberger in Georgia.
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