PITTSBURGH (93.7 the Fan) – After a couple weeks of testing and walk-throughs and finally helmets starting on Wednesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said its their intent to have more traditional training camp practices starting on Monday at Heinz Field.
Tomlin said they are still learning how well the players have listened and learned and will have to adjust based on physical concerns.
“We realize there are certain boxes that need to be checked between now and when we step into a stadium, but we also realize that we might have to alter the pace of some of those intended plans based on the readiness, or lack thereof, of the group,” Tomlin said. “We are just acknowledging that and openly being willing to be flexible when appropriate.”
While two-deeps are where we first look as you gear up for a football season, it’s finding the right mix on special teams that concerns Tomlin and the coaches.
“That is something that really has our attention in this environment,” Tomlin said. “With no preseason games, it is important that we make thoughtful decisions about the placement of people in the special teams’ capacity. But also, once we get them placed, the competitive aspect of practice and creating an environment where we can make some evaluations in that area is something that is at the front of our minds as we continue to get adjusted to what we are doing here.”
Steelers lost their leading tackler on special teams last year as Tyler Matakevich left for Buffalo and a two year, 7.1 million dollar contract. The team does have special teams veteran Jordan Dangerfield and new fullback Derek Watt was a key in that regard with the Chargers.
Along with that, the Steelers try and get the young players used to game-like conditions without preseason games.
“I’m talking about getting an opportunity to evaluate situational awareness, things that you don’t often do in a practice setting,” Tomlin said. “Boxes that often get checked in preseason stadiums, such as a guy’s ability to move from playing linebacker to left guard on punt team and knowing when to take the field and being engaged in transitional things like that or guys being down and distance aware as the ball moves and the chain moves.”
As for guys that might consider themselves as gamers and not good practice players?
“If there is, he won’t get an opportunity to display it in this environment, so he better be a practice player.”
In those practices so far, Tomlin has Matt Feiler exclusively at left guard with Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor battling at right tackle. That will be part of a veteran, but reworked offensive line.
“That shared past experience that those guys have has a potential to be an asset to them, no doubt,” Tomlin said. “But we are also going through some transition there. We are hoping that playing experience, and particularly that shared playing experience, is an asset to a group in some unique times.”
David DeCastro is arguably the best player on that line and earlier this week said the offense last year sucked.
“I don’t know if I would have had those choice of words,” Tomlin said Thursday. “I agree with his general assessment. When you are on the outside looking in at the tournament that determines the eventual champion, then that does suck.”
The defense did not suck last year, the reason the team was still able to have post-season dreams late in the season. And while headlines go to T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cam Heyward and others. Tomlin said corner Steven Nelson was key.
“I told him the other day his presence has been an enjoyable experience for me and us,” Tomlin said. “He’s low maintenance. He’s very consistent. He’s highly professional. He just checks a lot of boxes.”
“That tandem of he and Joe Haden are one of the central reasons why we’re excited about the potential of that back-end group. Obviously, we have to come together and get to work. Those two guys and that level of consistency in terms of their day-to-day approach to preparation and ultimately their play is really attractive to a guy in my position.”