Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there’s now a really good chance that NFL rookie camps, OTA sessions and mandatory minicamps won’t take place this offseason. Heck, we could ultimately wind up seeing training camps effected as well. Whatever portion of the offseason is ultimately wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, assuming the 2020 regular season starts on time, teams with more experienced rosters that have a lot of continuity carryover from the 2019 season seemingly would have an advantage. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward certainly prescribes that theory as well.
During a Friday interview on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore, Heyward was essentially asked if he believes NFL teams with more experienced rosters and little turnover from the 2019 season could ultimately have the upper hand in 2020 should the coronavirus impact a good portion of the offseason program. In his answer, Heyward compared what could happen this season to what happened during his 2011 rookie season.
“I kind of compare it to the 2011 lockout year,” Heyward said. “I was actually one of the 2011 babies, rookies coming into that year. So, we were at a disadvantage. We didn’t have any rookie camp, no OTAs, you literally just showed up on the field and you were just guns blazing from there on. But, you know, I think we’re going to have a leg up. I don’t know how it’s going to be, but there’s going to have to be some virtual meetings somehow to, you know, relay the information going to the younger guys.
“But, you almost gotta think the older guys have an advantage, whether it’s because they developed a plan, know how to take care of their bodies in a certain way. But younger guys, and teams that haven’t been together as long, are gonna suffer because of this. That’s just the way it’s going to crumble because you’re not gonna have that time on the field. You’re not gonna have that, that comradery that you’re just trying to instill day-one. You’re going to be playing catch up.”
That’s certainly great reasoning on Heyward’s part and it’s hard to disagree with anything that he said. With that said, the Steelers are set up good from a veteran roster and coaching standpoint to overcome a completely wiped out 2020 offseason calendar.
When you look at the Steelers offense, outside of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming back from injury and the addition of a few free agents in tight end Eric Ebron, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski and fullback Derek Watt, that side of the football figures to be in great shape. All three of those free agent additions have a lot of NFL experience to boot. As for Roethlisberger, it’s not like he was going to get a lot of offseason work ahead of training camp in regardless because the team surely will take it slow with him.
The same really goes for the Steelers on the defensive side of the football. Most of the Steelers defensive starters from last season will be back and that includes defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who like Roethlisberger, is returning from a 2019 injury. Even a good portion of the Steelers 2019 defensive backups should ultimately be on the 2020 roster as well.
Sure, the Steelers will have several rookies likely to make the 2020 team with most them being draft picks. Even so, the current roster makeup should allow for those rookies to be brought along slowly and thus none will likely wind up being starters to begin the 2020 season, barring injuries.
Even the Steelers coaching staff remains mostly the same from the last few seasons. The team did add offensive assistant Matt Canada this offseason, but that’s not a huge deal based on the overall composition, experience and continuity of the rest of the staff.
A few other teams in the AFC North such as the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, would likely be at a big disadvantage to teams like the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens should the entire offseason wind up being wiped out by the coronavirus. The Browns have added not only a new head coach and members of their coaching staff this offseason, but several free agents as well. As for the Bengals, they could have a new rookie quarterback for second-year head coach Zac Taylor to break in along with several free agent additions likely to be starters in 2020.
“Hopefully we play those guys early on,” Heyward said of the other AFC North teams who could be at a lost offseason disadvantage to the Steelers.