It’s those three little words you’ve been dying to hear.
Football. Is. Back.
In just a few hours, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Minnesota Vikings in the league’s annual Hall of Fame game. Matthew Marczi has you covered on what players to watch out for, but I’m going to talk a little more generally about this game.
Part of me is going to sound like I’m working on my Mike Tomlin impression but in this setting, the first game of a brand-new year, you’re not looking for an A+ performance. Players are going to make mistakes, it’s naturally going to be sloppy, and it’s going to make you want to turn the TV off. But stick with it, watch for these things, and you’ll be a better fan.
1. Be Smart
Ok, I’m totally going to steal from Tomlin here. But he’s right when he said it in his Thursday press conference. No wasteful penalties. That’s pre and post snap. Especially nothing egregiously stupid, like an unsportsmanlike infraction after the whistle. These players are going to be intense and jump at the chance to hit somebody you’re not sharing a locker room in, but harness that in a positive way. Between the whistles, not after.
Beyond that, we’re looking for some of the instinctual plays, the rules that are a bit more obscure. Gunners not voluntarily going out of bounds to draw a penalty, plays of that nature. The ones where you go, “oh yeah, you can’t do that” afterwards.
Even with all that said, don’t right a player off if he gets called for holding or pass interference. It’s all an adjustment. Kelvin Beachum’s first preseason had a laundry list of false starts. Now we’re talking about him getting $40 million dollars.
2. Be Assignment Sound
This one is going to sound really boring. Like, rearrange the bookshelf at the local library boring. But it’s vital. Big plays are nice, they get you noticed by fans, but coaches care just as much about doing what the play calls for as anything else. A lineman moving a defender off the ball is impressive but knowing how to execute a zone block with an outside shade from the DE and an inside shade from the LB is equally important.
At some point, you’re going to be frustrated seeing the quarterback hit the checkdown running back. Hoping and wishing he would take a shot down the field. But coaches are looking for if a QB is following his reads. Sometimes that means the boring dump off.
3. Play With Your Hair On Fire…Even If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing
This mostly regards to the special teams unit. As Tomlin covered, for the majority of the rookies, they don’t have much special teams experience. They’re used to starting on offense or defense, making this third phase foreign territory. This means you’re going to get guys that screw up. Players who aren’t really sure what they’re doing. Special teams is so hard to simulate in practice and they rarely get the chance to piece it together in Latrobe.
I’m just looking for effort here. Not perfection. Show me a guy willing to sprint the whole time, stick his nose in the pile, just a guy who is clearly trying out there. You might look like a baby deer, noticeably struggling to find your footing, but run like a cheetah and I’ll be generally happy with you. Figure the rest out in the film room this week.
4. Learn From Your Mistakes
This goes for from this game to the next but series to series. How you take coaching on the fly is one of the most pivotal ways coaches evaluate you. How well you process and respond to information. Every one of these young players are going to screw up. No one cares. Got fix it the next time. That’s what matters the most.