The Pittsburgh Steelers recently went through their virtual rookie minicamp, or at least I assume that it’s ‘over’ by now, since it’s usually three days under normal circumstances. This offseason is so different, however, that one can’t really be sure where the lines blur in terms of player and coach interaction in comparison to previous seasons.
One thing that doesn’t change, however, is Mike Tomlin’s approach to this point of the offseason for his new players. Earlier last week when he spoke to reporters, one individual asked him how the evaluation process at this stage changes because of the lack of that on-field component.
“We’re not in the evaluation stage, and guys that have been around me for a number of years know my mentality in regards to that”, he said. “We’re in a teaching and instruction stage right now, and we will be in that until we get into a football environment in a training camp-like setting and we’re playing the game”.
“All the things that we’re doing right now is preparing them for that, so there’s very little evaluation, per se, in these circumstances, and that would be the same even if we were working together”, he added. “The only thing that we’re evaluating is how they learn, and it’s not done so in an effort to evaluate. It’s done so in an effort to effectively teach them, and utilize all the tools at our disposal to make sure that we have them moving in the right direction in terms of being ready for training camp”.
This is consistent with the comments that he has made over the years about rookie minicamp, and really even OTAs and mandatory minicamp. The most significant evaluation for young players is a basic measure of their physical fitness at this stage.
And, coincidentally, that happens to be perhaps the one thing they truly can’t access. You can’t watch a rookie run laps in his living room or backyard, for example. Most of them likely have a limited amount of equipment—teams are allowed to furnish players with up to $1500 worth of equipment relevant to their team-prescribed training.
Even before the circumstances of the pandemic were understood, it was viewed as unlikely for this year’s rookie class to have a significant impact in 2020. Now that the draft class is known, I don’t think much has changed.
Sure, several of them will contribute on special teams. Chase Claypool should catch a handful of passes as the number four wide receiver. Alex Highsmith might get up to 100 or so snaps as a pass rusher, if that. Anthony McFarland will get some carries. That’s about all I would count on. Anything else they get out of their final three picks on offense or defense in 2020 would be a bonus.