No need to bury the lede here. What’s the most critical aspect of these OTA and minicamp practices? Staying healthy.
Unfortunately, as is always the case somewhere around the league, one team can’t say that. Two days ago, the Los Angeles Chargers announced tight end Hunter Henry suffered a torn ACL, almost certain to miss all of 2018. It was a freak play, as most of these severe injuries are, a non-contact tear that could happen to anybody.
As interesting as it is to wet our beak with some 2018 news, if the team comes away healthy for training camp, it’s a victory. Ben Roethlisberger could throw every interception, Antonio Brown drop every pass, Le’Veon Bell sit and rap at Mike Tomlin in the parking lot. As long as no one is leaving practice on a cart, I’m a happy guy.
Henry’s injury just put a big dent into the Chargers’ regular season hopes. They were comfortable moving on from Antonio Gates. There was no reason to entertain the idea of drafting a tight end after Henry’s breakout season. Now, they’re in big trouble with no good options to replace the hole he’s left.
There’s a slightly more practical reason for good health too. As the saying goes, the best ability is availability. If you’re a young player, you need those reps. James Conner is a perfect example. It was fantastic news to hear he was healthy and working on the field, seemingly in full, but it’s all the more important given his situation. There’s no Le’Veon Bell, so Conner gets to run with the first team and see a big uptick in reps compared to what he’d have if Bell was present. The same will happen in camp if a long-term deal isn’t reached.
Because as good as mental reps are, nothing beats practice time. The ability to do it, get coached up, head back into the film room, analyze and improve. But it’s not just Conner. For the rookies, they need all the time they can get to adjust to a new system, coaching staff, and everything else new the NFL brings. For the undrafted players, the little-known players on futures deals, a chance to grab the attention of the coaching staff, just as Mike Hilton and Eli Rogers have done.
And for the vets and starters, even if it’s less significant, to shake off the rust, work on getting back in football shape, and adjust to the nuances and subtle changes made by the coaching staff. Or in the case of anyone on offense, a new coordinator.
Hearing about the new additions, the new schemes, and adjustments the Steelers plan on making in 2018 is always worth lending an ear too. But the thing I want to hear above all else is a clean bill of health for all 90 guys on the roster.