It’s not an issue unique to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it’s one we’ve harped on plenty. But it’s one worth repeating again and again. This rookie class will face a challenge unlike most others. Mike Tomlin acknowledged as such on the Beyond The Lights podcast with Jalen Buck McCain.
“Man, I’ll be honest with you,” Tomlin told the podcast. “I have big time concerns about their development and readiness. Not only our rookies but all rookies. So from that standpoint, it’s fair.”
Fair? Yes. But still, quite a challenge.
Ever since getting drafted, this rookie class has been sitting at home waiting for the all-clear to come to Pittsburgh, something that probably won’t happen for at least another two months. Lost are rookie minicamps, a player’s first introduction to the league, OTAs, and very likely the mandatory minicamp that takes place in June. The best shot at practicing will come July when training camps are slated to open. Even in that best-case scenario, that puts the regular season less than six weeks away. Not much time for wide-eyed rookies to adjust.
“Their ability to contribute. Their ability to gain significant roles and maintain those significant roles are going to be challenging in these circumstances. More challenging than normal.”
As Dave Bryan recently wrote, the only recent precedent we have for something similar came in 2011 when a lockout wiped out the entire spring and almost threatened training camp. That year, Pittsburgh only played rookies when injuries struck. First rounder Cam Heyward spent most of the season on the bench while only Marcus Gilbert, due to Willie Colon going down, played a large number of snaps.
But Tomlin, as always, embraces the challenge.
“It’s our job right now, I’m working my tail off to make [the lost time] as insignificant as possible. That’s the goal. We’ll know how big of an issue it is once we start playing ball.”
Unlike 2011, there is communication allowed between players and coaches. They’ve been limited to virtual zoom calls but the rookie class have been able to talk with coaches, go through virtual meetings, and get their playbook.
Tomlin said the goal is to find out how each player learns to best communicate with them until coaching is done in-person.
“Certain guys find comfort and need comfort in community. They work better in community. Some guys are lone wolves, if you will, and are capable of driving themselves and working remotely. You’ve got to acknowledge that driven individual worker probably has a leg up in this environment then those that need a community to perform. So, those are some of the things that we’re acknowledging.”
And Tomlin made it clear adapting to unique challenges is what football’s all about.
“But the first rule to adapting is first acknowledging that. So, man, that’s just some of the areas that we’re working with these guys and some of the challenges that they face in this environment.”
As we recently wrote about, veteran players like TJ Watt have been more than willing to help out those drafted in their position group. Best of all, the Steelers aren’t counting on any rookie to contribute 1000 snaps on their side of the ball this season.
Check out the rest of the interview below.