Today marks the beginning of the end of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ spring workouts, as through Tuesday through Thursday will be held the team’s first mandatory portion of the offseason, the minicamp that precedes an extended period of down time before training camp opens, officially on July 29.
The OTA and minicamp portions of the NFL offseason are an interesting time, during which mileage may vary by significant degrees, depending on the player, the team, or the point in which an element of that team is in its development, whether it is adjusting to a new offensive coordinator or adapting to new prominent personnel.
There is a lot that can be accomplished in OTAs and during minicamp. Most importantly, a great deal of football conditioning takes place that serves as the preparation for the grind that is training camp. It begins the team-building experience. It is a breeding ground for basic non-contact fundamentals; wide receivers, for example, work a great deal on hand-fighting at this time.
There is also a lot that can’t be accomplished during the spring workout setting, however, for a number of reasons, chief among them, of course, being the restriction against donning full playing pads and the limitation to non-contact drills only.
This is a much greater issue for some positions than it is for others. It is a significant disadvantage, for example, for the offensive and defensive linemen, whose primary job it is to make a whole lot of contact on virtually every play with their counterpart. The amount of non-instructive work that can be achieved by a defensive lineman, as an example, is rather limited.
It reminds me of an article that I saw earlier this season regarding the New York Giants and their newly-acquired defensive tackle, Damon Harrison, who is adjusting from a 3-4 nose tackle to play in the Giants’ four-man front.
Speaking to reporters at the start of OTAs, the lineman said, “it is tough because a guy like me, I am not finesse whatsoever. I don’t know how to go out here and just run around. I am physical. I want to put my hands on someone, I want to bull rush, I want to do everything. You can’t do that out here, so you kind of just do what you can, but it is tough”.
There are some obvious parallels that the Steelers, or any team, can relate to. But Pittsburgh is working on breaking in not one, but two nose tackles this season, one a rookie, the other expected to play a much more prominent role, coincidentally replacing Steve McLendon, who was signed by the New York Jets to replaced Harrison.
While rookie Javon Hargrave is certainly more of a “finesse” player than is Harrison, he is also working his way up to a much steeper level of competition than he is accustomed to, and can use every competitive rep that he can possibly face. Daniel McCullers is a brute player much like Harrison.
It’s rather difficult for players such as him to achieve a great deal at this time of year, let alone to impress coaches, because they are limited in what they are able practice, and to show. It’s like a running back in the backs-on-backers drill. It’s unlikely that you’ll look very good. You’re just hoping not to fall on your face.