There are just three days of football activities remaining before the Pittsburgh Steelers take a long hiatus of several weeks heading into training camp over at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. Three days of mandatory minicamp until everything gets packed up and people start taking vacations—unless you’re the franchise quarterback, because you’ve of course already taken one.
So what exactly is the difference between OTAs and minicamp? Well, depending upon whom you ask, not a whole lot. Fundamentally, the work on the field doesn’t change much. The primary difference is that practices are mandatory. Teams are also permitted to hold two practice sessions a day, so the days are longer.
From the players’ perspective, though, the intensity is different—well, for some of them, anyway. Maurkice Pouncey, heading into his ninth season, doesn’t really see much of a difference. He was a starter by this point of his rookie season already though, so he has always been ahead of the curve.
Rookies, however, will notice the change, according to Tyson Alualu, who is also heading into year nine. “I think the rookies are the ones that will notice [the increased intensity] the most”, he said. “It will be closer to what training camp is like, just not with pads. I think that will be the difference. Guys will be flying around more, getting after it and taking the competition to another level”.
The changes this season may be particularly stark because of the uncommon amount of change that we have seen in Pittsburgh. There is a new offensive coordinator and new faces at the wide receivers, defensive line, and defensive backs coaching positions. Because of that, there was probably an increased focus on fundamentals and technique during OTAs, and less on carrying out live drills.
Of course, it will always be bigger for some more than others. Pouncey is a six-time Pro Bowler. He can do this in his sleep. Third-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich is scratching and clawing in the hopes of trying to win a starting job.
He said that minicamp is “huge” and “very important” in that it “gives you a taste [of what training camp is like] and gets you ready for it to start”. Matakevich did log some first-team snaps in training camp a year ago because Ryan Shazier was nursing an injury.
He figures to take a lot more as he competes with free agent Jon Bostic to take over Shazier’s spot at mack linebacker. Both players should see their share of snaps lining up there, but it will be worth taking note of whether or not that process begins today.
None of us really know what goes on during minicamp in great detail, since they are never open to the public. We might get a couple of videos here and there from a beat writer recording a drill, but the team heavily limits what they are permitted to reveal. So we largely have to take the players’ word on what it’s like.