Tomlin on tour

Tomlin on tour

Published Apr. 7, 2011 12:12 p.m. ET

I did a double-take outside the Woody Hayes Center at Ohio State last week.

Was that Mike Tomlin? It sure was.

The Steelers head coach was on campus for Cameron Heyward's workout, which was attended by 28 NFL teams. Heyward was recovering from elbow surgery and unable to work with the rest of his teammates at Ohio State's pro day in early March.

My first thought was that Tomlin and the Steelers must really be interested in Heyward for the head coach to come out to a campus workout. But then I did a little digging and discovered that Tomlin was also spotted at pro days at Wisconsin, Miami, Texas and LSU. Maybe he really likes the circuit.

More likely, he's got nothing better to do. With the NFL lockout keeping players out of the building and Tomlin running a team that has its systems in place, there's not a lot of work he can be doing right now. Probably better to wait it out amongst peers and something actually resembling real football, right?

A head coach attending a pro day workout isn't extremely rare, but in most cases teams send area scouts and position coaches. Coordinators will sometimes come along -- and Dick LeBeau was accompanying Tomlin -- if a team really likes a certain prospect. But when that's the case, a team's higher-ups usually get an up-close look during a private workout and a visit to the team's facility.

Maybe the Steelers really like Heyward; lots of teams do. Though it would seem the Steelers have more pressing needs -- offensive line, cornerback -- and that a healthy Heyward would be gone before they pick at No. 31 overall, Heyward could slide right in and produce immediately as a 3-4 defensive end. NFL scouts regard him as a guy who's ready to be good against the run right now and has the smarts and skills to develop as a pass-rusher and to develop into a Pro Bowler.

Don't the Steelers always get those guys?

LeBeau, of course, is an Ohio native and former Ohio State star himself. He's also a Hall of Famer, and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel talked of the "affinity" his staff has for the way LeBeau and Tomlin do things with the Steelers. Sounds like there's an open-door policy with those guys at Ohio State, and vice-versa.

Ohio State coaches have visited the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons this spring, as well as several big-time college programs, for information-gathering and swapping sessions that have become pretty common. NFL teams have started visiting college staffs in recent years to make sure they're keeping up with the latest wrinkles in the spread offense and, in some cases, the way teams are defending it.

College staffs will often use spring practices to experiment with new formations and new ways to get their playmakers the ball in space. NFL teams would like to do the same, but their real business is currently being conducted in conference rooms and court rooms. No wonder Tomlin has been itching for something to do.

The last "big" pro day was Thursday morning at Notre Dame, featuring Cincinnati native Kyle Rudolph. The NFL Draft begins three weeks from today.

--Zac Jackson