Whether or not they always succeed in adhering to the philosophy, the Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization ascribe to the precept that football is in essence about being physical. If you can out-physical your opponent, you have a good chance of winning.
It was Jack Lambert, after all, who authored one of the most famous quotes on the subject, part of which was even turned into the title of a book. “I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest—if you can’t take it, you shouldn’t play”, he is known to have said.
Cameron Heyward sets the tone for physicality for the Steelers these days. He doesn’t go for the big highlight-reel hits, but ask any lineman he’s gone up against where he ranks among the most aggressive defenders they’ve ever faced. And this philosophy isn’t limited to the defensive said of the ball.
Obviously, you want your offensive line to be physical, especially in run-blocking. Pass protection could be more passive, though not necessarily so, but it could be pretty hard to create running lanes if you’re not physically moving bodies around.
“It’s just a trait that we value organizationally”, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the draft last week. “I think it’s a trait – physicality is a brand of ball that we want to play regardless of position. We believe it’s an asset to victory for us”.
And so of course they got just about the biggest wide receiver in the draft in the 6’4”, 233-pound Chase Claypool. And they took one of the hardest-hitting safeties to come out in the past couple of years in Antoine Brooks. And one of the top run-blocking guards in the class in Kevin Dotson. The wide receiver, though, is most intriguing.
“When you can get some wideouts that display that trait, that’s exciting, and Claypool, whether he was contributing on special teams or doing things with the ball in his hand or as a blocker displayed those traits at ND”, Tomlin said of his top pick in the 2020 class.
Of course, arguably the position where they may have most benefitted from physicality, nose tackle, is an area that they didn’t significantly address in the draft. Seventh-round pick Carlos Davis is more of an athlete, a finesse player than somebody who relies on his strength and aggression.
Still, the class overall has a theme of physicality, highlighted by the three players that I pointed out. Alex Highsmith needs to put on some more weight, but I think he will get there with NFL-level training. Even Anthony McFarland for his size will deliver a blow and keep on running.