PITTSBURGH (AP) -Bill Cowher was missing, but perhaps not universally missed given an unexpected but telling comment by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Joey Porter wasn't around, either, as was easily discernible in a much-quieter-than-usual locker room.
Alan Faneca was absent, too, though for entirely different reasons than Porter, a situation that could prove to be Mike Tomlin's first test as the new Steelers coach.
Under the first sunny sky Pittsburgh has seen in nearly two weeks, all but three Steelers players practiced Friday during the first day of a voluntary but well-attended minicamp that is one of two permissible under NFL rules for teams with a new coach.
Obviously, the Steelers aren't accustomed to staging such a camp so early in the spring, given this is only their second coaching change in 37 years. Guard Kendall Simmons said it felt different practicing so early with so many reporters around and without five-time All-Pro guard Faneca.
Or Cowher, who resigned in January following 15 seasons as coach but less than a year after winning the Super Bowl. He and the Steelers were unable to work out a contract extension and Cowher chose to pass up the final year of his previous deal.
Roethlisberger seems to have embraced the head coaching change far faster than some other veteran players, especially Faneca, who was upset that former offensive line coach Russ Grimm wasn't hired as Cowher's replacement.
``It will definitely be different because coach Cowher was here before I got here,'' Roethlisberger said Friday. ``Our relationship wasn't great because he was here before I got here and I was just a young kid. Coach Tomlin and I are rookies together in a sense so I think we will have a better relationship.''
The comment was unexpected if only because there were no public rifts between Cowher and Roethlisberger, even after the quarterback crashed his motorcycle last year not long after Cowher asked him to quit riding without a helmet.
Roethlisberger said new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is throwing more at him than predecessor Ken Whisenhunt, now the Arizona coach. During the offseason, Roethlisberger said he sometimes disagreed with Whisenhunt, though he didn't disclose why.
Faneca, upset with the lack of progress on a new contract as he enters the final year of his current deal, was seen at the Steelers' complex Thursday but did not work out Friday. He also is unhappy that Grimm left the organization.
``It's part of the business,'' wide receiver Hines Ward said of Faneca's absence. ``We veteran guys, we would love to have Alan here, but it's between Alan and the front office people. We support Alan in whatever decision he makes.''
Faneca, who has not hinted if he might hold out during training camp like Ward did in 2005, is not required to practice this weekend. Also missing are linebacker Clark Haggans and safety Troy Polamalu, each for personal reasons. The next Steelers minicamp, the post-draft session May 11-13, is mandatory.
With Porter gone after being released in a salary cap move and signing with the Dolphins, the Steelers are missing one of their most visible and vocal players for the second year in a row. Last year, they dealt with the retirement of running back Jerome Bettis.
Coupled with Cowher's resignation, Ward said it had made for significant change for a team only 14 months removed from winning the Super Bowl.
``It's different now, the makeup is different,'' Ward said. ``When you lose your head coach who's been here for 15 years, Joey's been here for eight, Faneca's not here ... it's a different atmosphere around this locker room.''
By contrast, some players didn't seem all that bothered.
Linebacker James Farrior claimed he wasn't thinking about Porter at all, and, he said, ``Change is not always bad.''

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