With the 10 allotted OTA practices now under wraps following last week’s slate, the next event on the horizon before the dead time that precedes training camp in July is the mandatory minicamp, set to take place this week.
It’s not that much different from the OTA sessions, but it is, at the very last, one more step toward football in pads, rather than football in shorts.
The one major difference, of course, is that as previously mentioned, attendance is mandatory, and that means the return of Troy Polamalu.
For the majority of his later years, the strong safety has skipped the bulk of voluntary workouts in order to carry out his own workout regimen. The one exception came when he felt that his presence would be a boost to a young roster with more than its fair share of new faces.
The same could be said of this 2014 roster, which will include multiple new starters on defense in comparison to last year’s season opener.
One of those new starters will be Polamalu’s new partner at safety, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ prized free agent signing, Mike Mitchell.
For the majority of his career, Polamalu has had the luxury of working with Ryan Clark, and the two had come to form a reliable rapport at the back end of the defense over the years, though this was less evident last season.
Sure, there was the occasional game with Ryan Mundy, Tyrone Carter, or Will Allen in recent times, but for the overwhelming majority of contests, it has consistently been Polamalu and Clark in the deep third for more than half a decade.
With the change, then, one would think that Polamalu would want to get comfortable as early as possible with Mitchell, getting a feel for how the two would be able to operate together.
Some seem to be more concerned about this than others, and may have even objected to Polamalu’s absence from OTAs on those grounds.
But in the end, the foremost concern with Polamalu is his health, and he seemed to have found a regimen that could keep him healthy for the year last season. If that keeps him out of voluntary practices in May and June, then so be it.
But more to the point, the truth of the matter is that on-field chemistry doesn’t have much to do with May and June practices. Such bonds begin to form in earnest during training camp through the late stages of July and into August.
While Mitchell is surely excited to get an opportunity to take the field with a renowned veteran such as Polamalu, there will be no long-term repercussions from that first opportunity coming during minicamp, and not OTAs.
Nevertheless, from a broader perspective, minicamp is the first time that we all collectively will be able to get a glimpse at what this 2014 defense looks like, with all of the pieces in place.
Having Mitchell and Polamalu roaming the back end will dramatically reshape the Steelers’ playing range, and that’s certainly something to look forward to seeing as we head into the next phase of the offseason.