PITTSBURGH (AP) -The whistle around coach Mike Tomlin's neck is a tip-off that it's not business as usual with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bill Cowher was never seen tooting a whistle during his 15 seasons as the Steelers' coach. Nor was Chuck Noll during his 23 seasons. So some Steelers players were taken by surprise when Tomlin, and not an assistant, sent them scurrying to a new drill with a whistle blast during their recent minicamp.
For Tomlin, it might be a way to remind the players that he is in charge, especially given the lukewarm response to his hiring four months ago.
Already, the 35-year-old Tomlin has been forced to deal with All-Pro guard Alan Faneca's public display of displeasure with his contract situation, as well as the lineman's criticism of the ownership, some of the strongest from inside the team in Steelers history.
Several other players made it known they wished the Steelers had promoted from within to replace Cowher, rather than hiring a young former assistant coach with only one season as an NFL coordinator.
If Tomlin is uncomfortable with these issues, he has yet to show it. He appeared to be fully in charge during the required three-day minicamp from May 11-13, drawing praise from some players for being a hands-on and motivated leader who cared not about his lack of experience or his players' opinion of him.
``Their job is to play,'' Tomlin said. ``My job is to evaluate them.''
There will be a lot of evaluation this week as the Steelers begin 14 days of voluntary (in name only) practices that will extend into mid-June, ending five weeks before training camp opens in Latrobe on July 23.
Normally, such workouts are for incorporating new wrinkles into the offense and defense and indoctrinating rookies and new players.
But with the Steelers overhauling their offense and defense for the first time since Cowher took over in 1992, these practices will involve much more.
``We're getting into a critical stage of the offseason,'' Tomlin said. ``We're continuing to install our football, continuing to work on situational football, continuing to work the details that will allow us to be successful.''
Among those details are new offensive looks on first and second downs that may involve four receivers and no fullback. The offensive checkoff system has been altered so quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be responsible for all changes at the line of scrimmage; before, the linemen and receivers made their own such calls.
``Sometimes,'' Roethlisberger said, ``change isn't necessarily bad.''
In the next month, Tomlin plans to rework much more.
``We're going to have two-minute emphasis, red zone emphasis, short-yardage emphasis days, hurry-up offense, no-huddle offense,'' Tomlin said. ``Just situations that need to be addressed. We know the outcome of games are defined by what happens on critical downs, in critical field position.''
The workouts supposedly are voluntary, but Tomlin has hinted he wants all players around. Faneca promised when the minicamp ended that he wouldn't be back until training camp, and there has been no signal he has changed his mind.
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