We all have our yearly rituals. Your uncle burning the hot dogs ever 4th of July cookout. Tom Brady wearing something ghastly at some snobby party. Mike Tomlin going on and on about the importance of conditioning at the start of every training camp.
For me, it’s a reminder that every player who hits the Pittsburgh Steelers’ field this weekend has a chance to make a name for himself. There’s a little more than 50 players on this weekend’s rookie minicamp roster. Some aren’t in danger of getting cut. The draft picks, some of the first year players angling to get onto the 53 man roster.
The ones who are worried that they’re going to get that locker room pink slip? The tryout players. Sorry Jake Taylor, these guys can be cut on the first day. There’s 20 tryout players in rookie minicamp for the three day weekend, probably a blur for any of these guys, especially the ones getting their first crack at the NFL. And yes, the reality is that most will not be signed. On a good year, the Steelers will pluck three to four names of that group and carry them into training camp.
But that means there’s a chance. And that’s all these players are asking for.
I don’t know what other organizations are like. I assume most sign some number of tryout players and based on a couple headlines I’ve read, that’s true. But I can confidently say that in Pittsburgh, each player is given a fair shot. Tomlin’s been explicit about that and from players I’ve talked to in the past, he means what he says.
Last year, Tomlin seemed to make it an extra point that every guy, even the ones here only on an invite basis, is given a fair shake.
“I’m wishing them the best,” Tomlin said. “It is a legitimate opportunity, but they have to believe it.”
That’s the key. Belief. That belief comes from history, both in action and word.
Running back Jawon Chisholm, once a tryout player who circled back to the team later in camp, is one of the quotes I look back on to prove that point.
“No one was stuck up, no one was arrogant,” Chisholm said of his tryout. “Coach Tomlin talked to every single last person. When I first went there, he talked to the rookie minicamp guys, the tryouts and the guys who got drafted, he talked to everyone the same with the same demeanor. He always gives you that type of hope that you really can make it. I feel like he sincerely means everything that he says.”
I tweeted that out last year and Ramon Foster, once an obscure UDFA himself, immediately agreed.
That’s the same attitude scouts have when they invite players for tryouts. Take a listen to what Steelers’ scout Dan Colbert said when he called Gannon’s Tyler Palka after the draft ended.
“If you outperform some of the guys we got at the bottom of the roster, we’ll sign you. We’ll give you a fair shake.”
Simple, to the point, but most of all, honest. That counts. That matters.
No, the odds aren’t great. But they weren’t for Terence Garvin, who made the club in 2013 and became a special teams standout. The odds weren’t great for Adam Thielen from tiny Minnesota State; now he’s a household name. But the odds do exist, they are real, and I hope every player – as Tomlin discussed – heeds his words.