It may just be football in shorts but there’s plenty of value to what’s happening at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex right now. And Ben Roethlisberger recognizes how significant these OTA sessions are.
“Pretty important,” he told the media Tuesday. “Like you said, whether it’s young guys, rookies, guys we brought from other teams. It’s definitely a new kind of challenge. That’s what makes it fun, too.”
Those new faces include Donte Moncrief, a veteran signed away from the Jacksonville Jaguars this March. He’ll be the first man up in replacing Antonio Brown, a role that won’t be filled by just any one player. He’ll function as a deep threat but also as the Steelers X receiver, having to beat press coverage and do damage on short passes. During the draft, Pittsburgh took Toledo’s Diontae Johnson in the third round. His versatility will allow him to play-inside out and lessen his NFL learning curve.
This time is beneficial for guys like James Washington and Ryan Switzer. Washington is looking to take a major leap after a disappointing rookie season. If there’s anyone who needs to take a big step for this offense to function, it’s him. Switzer was an asset during the season but this is his first time in the spring with the Steelers after being traded from Oakland to Pittsburgh shortly before the 2018 season began. So this provides the first real opportunity for him to leave the station on the train, not hop on it mid-way through the process.
“That’ll be the biggest thing, I think. Communication. Being able to talk to guys and being able to tell them exactly what I’m thinking. Like today with [Moncrief], a couple times, I was asking him, did you feel good on your depth there? And working a couple things out. It’s definitely going to take some big focus.”
The reality is new rules on the CBA have curbed practice time. There’s a valid reason for that, players undergoing less wear and tear and injury, but the downside is less reps to work with. These next three weeks provide the lone controlled setting to take things slow and learn. By camp, the focus is on preparing for the year, ready or not.
With drama hopefully behind the team, the focus is on football. Right where it needs to be.