One of the most frequently asked questions Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has had to field throughout training camp has been related to the decision-making process behind the manner in which he goes about hand-picking the individual matchups we see in drills.
Whether it’s the blocking or passing edition of backs on backers, offensive line versus defensive line, or any other number of a variety of drills that pits one individual against another, Tomlin consistently maintained leading up to the first preseason game that there wasn’t necessarily much rhyme or reason behind it at that point, and that if you watch long enough, you’ll eventually see everybody go up against everybody.
Speaking to reporters yesterday for the first time since the passing of Darryl Drake, he made it clear that in-stadium play is the period after which that process begins to be more deliberate and more refined. “I think the biggest thing about when you step into a stadium for the first time”, he said, “is how you utilize this experience to be our guide in terms of how we work, specifically how we spend the rest of our time up here, the drills that we do and the focus of those drills and the allocation of people within those drills”.
While there were some patterns that emerged over the course of training camp with respect to which matchups brought out something positive in a drill, such as the many times that rookies Devin Bush and Benny Snell went head to head, there was still a general sense of randomness, of searching, within the selection of participaants against one another, but that is now evolving.
“Now that we’ve been in a stadium, those selections of people and those matchups within drills are more pointed”, Tomlin said. “As time gets short, we’re gonna get more deliberate in terms of the positions that we put people in, and we acknowledge that once you start stepping in stadiums, your opportunity to state a case for a role, and establishment of those roles, gets tighter. So you’ll feel that as we work”.
There are only a couple more practices in Latrobe, but the work doesn’t stop there just because the fans won’t be in attendance any longer. They will continue to go through very much the same sort of process when they return to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
And by the time they get there, the work will be more refined, and the groups within the overall structure of the roster will become increasingly set, based on how people work, both on the practice field in in the stadiums.
The practice field is quite literally the testing ground for the real product. Tomlin referred to it later in his press conference as ‘football-like’, and the preseason games give a better determination of what “is real”. Those who show up in preseason work get the opportunity to graduate to another level of competition above them, and on it goes. That’s where we are now.