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PHOENIX — He talked to his quarterback about the team's free-agent signings, about draft prospects and even about a hunting expedition.

Coach Mike Tomlin just hasn't broached the subject with Ben Roethlisberger that's front and center among Steelers Nation — retirement.

Roethlisberger is expected to return to the Steelers for a 14th season, although he hasn't conveyed that directly to his coach.

“We hadn't talked quite a bit at all about play or no play,” Tomlin said Monday afternoon while taking a break from the NFL annual meeting at the Arizona Biltmore. “I think it's very reasonable for discussion when you get to 35. I think people probably read too much into it and were making more out of it than what it is.

“I'd imagine … this probably is not the first year he has gone through that thought process. It probably won't be the last if he continues (to play).”

Two days after the Steelers' AFC championship game loss to New England, Roethlisberger created a stir when he told 93.7 FM he would consider retirement during the offseason. That was the last time Roethlisberger spoke publicly, aside from a speaking engagement at Liberty University two weeks ago when he said he was “leaning” toward returning. Roethlisberger turned 35 on March 2.

Tomlin understood the reaction Roethlisberger's words generated.

“The older he gets, the more direct questions he gets in that regard,” Tomlin said. “You guys ran with it. That is your right and responsibility. It's not my responsibility to overreact to it.”

Tomlin last spoke with Roethlisberger before the quarterback embarked on a hunting trip to New Zealand with Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.

“We've had good, fluid discussions,” Tomlin said. “Really, some normal discussions that we have this time of year, keeping him abreast of what is going on in free agency, how the draft is potentially shaping up. Normal, fluid conversations that you have with your veteran, franchise quarterback.”

Tomlin said he and general manager Kevin Colbert have been scrutinizing potential quarterback replacements in the drafts for a few years — or since Roethlisberger reached his early 30s.

“Our experience in this business and the realities of this business put us in that mindset,” Tomlin said. “I know Kevin and I have paid attention to that position over the last several years if nothing else from a dry-run perspective, to gain knowledge and information necessary to make good decisions when we come to that fork in the road. Who's to say we're not there now?”

Other items: Tomlin addressed other items during a 25-minute interview:

►Looking back at the AFC title game loss, he identified man-to-man coverage and an inability to pressure the quarterback without blitzing as two defensive deficiencies. On offense, he cited the inability to maintain a “balance” after Le'Veon Bell's groin injury early in the second quarter.

Tomlin, however, won't build for 2017 in “reaction” to that defeat.

“We're trying to strengthen ourselves in all areas so we can have the type of depth and balance that will allow us to be the team that confetti rains down on this year,” he said.

►Echoing what Colbert said Sunday, Tomlin gave his support to Vince Williams replacing Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker.

“We know what Vince is and what he's capable of,” Tomlin said. “He'll be given the opportunity to assume that position. It's not going to be without competition. That's business as usual for us.”

Tomlin said the team's failed pursuit of linebacker Dont'a Hightower in free agency should not be construed as a slight at Williams.

“We are going to play free agency,” he said. “We are going to create competition. Because we are playing free agency … it doesn't mean a lack of confidence in the existing players on our roster. The truest motivator is competition.”

►Citing the “down time of the year,” he had no updates on tight end Ladarius Green (concussion) or any other players coming off injuries or surgeries.

Phase 1 of the offseason conditioning program begins April 18.

Tomlin also had nothing to report on suspended wide receiver Martavis Bryant, whose reinstatement application could be ruled on by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell before the meetings end Wednesday.

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