Mike Tomlin preaches the journey, not the destination, even if the journey means a trip to Carolina for the preseason finale.

But with a busted-up Hines Ward buying in, convincing the rest of the team will be easy for Tomlin.

“Hines is Hines,” Tomlin said. “I wouldn’t count him out.”

Ward suffered a broken nose Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles and underwent surgery Tuesday evening. It was dubbed a minor fracture by the team, but the fact Tomlin isn’t counting Ward out of Thursday’s game speaks to how seriously the coach is taking the game.

“Really, it’s an exercise in mental toughness for us,” Tomlin said. “I know it’s tough. It’s human nature to look toward Sept. 9th when you get to this point in the preseason.”

Tomlin is so intent on his players not looking ahead to the opener, he turned down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s request this week to look at tape of the Cleveland Browns.

“It’s just having a singular focus,” Tomlin said. “Every step along the way is important. It will produce the end result that we’re looking for, in terms of where we want to go as individuals, in terms of where we want to go as a football team.

“The reality is that we’ve got a game Thursday night. I know that the season’s about to kick off. I know there’s general excitement involved in that, but it’s an exercise in mental toughness to be where we are, to respect this process, and to do what we need to do to prepare ourselves for Thursday night, because if we do, and we do a good job of it, it’ll do nothing but prepare us again for when we have a short week later in the year.”

On Dec. 20, the Steelers will play the St. Louis Rams on a Thursday night following a Sunday game. Perhaps then they’ll look back to their preseason preparations, but Tomlin is also risking injury by using his first team for the planned one quarter Thursday night.

The Steelers in the past have played their first-teamers only briefly in the preseason finale, if at all. Tomlin said he’ll consider a few exceptions to his plan.

“We’ll determine who those exceptions are here in the next 48 hours,” he said Tuesday.

He expects the lineup to be the same as Sunday night’s lineup against the Philadelphia Eagles, with the possible exception of injured starters Ward and Heath Miller. Miller has a right shoulder injury that Tomlin called “minor shoulder discomfort. But it wasn’t as far along as we thought it would be (Tuesday). We’ll take a look at it (today).”

The offensive line, which was unwrapped at practice last week, will remain intact, although Tomlin refuses to call it his official first-team line.

“At this point, I’m not interested in making any grand announcements in regards to the lineup,” Tomlin said. “I think it would be prudent to continue on as we’ve continued on. I think to do so at this time would devalue what we have to do on Thursday night. We’ll roll with the same lineup that we played with last week.”

That includes Ryan Clark at free safety, Deshea Townsend at right cornerback, Dan Kreider at fullback and Willie Reid at punt returner. Reid, though, is on a short leash.

“He put a ball on the ground,” Tomlin said. “I challenged Willie this morning in front of his peers. We’ll see what he does. I expect him to bring it because he’s a competitor.”

As for the fullbacks, Tomlin said, “Those guys are fighting tooth and nail, and I’m enjoying it.”

Tomlin provided a dose of comic relief at the weekly press conference after he was asked if the holding penalty on Carey Davis was warranted.

“What they call, I stand by,” Tomlin said of the officiating.

He then mugged for the camera and gave a hearty thumbs up. “They do a heck of a job,” he said.

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