Just last week, about a month before the real start of training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers rookies took a tour of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA to take a look at the battlegrounds where on July 25, their NFL voyage will finally set sail. No blood, no sweat or tears were yet shed or the sounds of pads and helmets colliding, ricocheting like mortars off the stadium seating at Chuck Noll Field.
Some are already locks for the roster, like first-rounder Bud Dupree, while others like seventh-rounder Gerod Holliman, will be in a dogfight to make the 53-man roster or even the practice squad.
In essence, football in shorts is over and when the pads go on, it’s time to separate the men from the boys.
“I just want to focus on learning, and take advantage of this time to learn the playbook before camp,” said sixth-round pick and linebacker, Anthony Chickillo, according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I need to keep learning the playbook and the terminology of the defense.”
With about a month of down time from the culmination of mini camp until training camp begins, the rookies have been picking the brains of some of the elder veterans for tips on how to stay sharp, both mentally and physically, as they get closer to live action. Showing up to camp in-shape this year is a must, as pointed out by coach Mike Tomlin at a recent mini camp.
“They don’t have control over any of the challenges that are awaiting them in Latrobe,” Tomlin said. “What they do have control over is the level of conditioning they show up in. That’s been the consistent message from us.”
For a team that’s expecting to get a jolt of production, or possibly a starting gig, out of Dupree, it’s got to be music to Tomlin’s ears when Dupree says how he’s basically been a sponge up to this point, just asking the older guys the ins and outs of training camp, how to not get mentally drained by the playbook and above all else, staying in peak physical form.
Tight ends coach James Daniel even had a message for some of the younger guys, as his prize pupil, Heath Miller, is basically the embodiment of the lunch pail, hard-nosed type that is a Pittsburgh Steeler.
“My suggestion to all of them was watch a couple of guys who have been great pros,” said Daniel, according to Varley. “I told them watch the pros, develop the same type of work habits and be the same type of players as the guys we’ve got here.”
Much of the players will head back to their hometowns or colleges to train, and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has been on record saying he will head back to Arizona to train, much like he did earlier this offseason. Here’s to hoping the “Silverback” James Harrison will be there mentoring him as well. And here’s some pity for the poor undrafted offensive linemen who have to block him in Latrobe.