No rookie class has been through anything quite resembling this since 2011, when the owners locked out the players during a dispute over the Collective Bargaining Agreement. There was no Spring offseason that year, no OTAs, no minicamp, no access to team facilities or with the coaching staff—at least in an official capacity.
This is under very different circumstances, but the effect has produced some similarities. The viral pandemic that continues to affect the country has forced all teams to hold its offseason virtually, with team and position meetings over Zoom and FaceTime, and coaches trying to instruct players without the benefit of on-field workouts.
The veterans feel for the new guys. They remember how difficult it was coming in as a rookie even with all of the typical advantages that they may have taken for granted at the time. James Conner talked about this recently with Missi Matthews and Arthur Moats for the team’s website.
“It’s tough. I feel for those rookiesv”, he told Moats, who played for the Steelers. “You know how it is. Coming in as a rookie, you want to find your footing, you want to gain respect for your teammates, and it’s kinda hard for them to do that over the internet and through a FaceTime call”.
Conner has a rookie draft pick in his own room in Anthony McFarland, but there is also Kerrith Whyte, who was a rookie last season who was only acquired late last season, so he has a lot to learn about the system and the team as well if he wants to improve his already outside chances of retaining his roster spot.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they are not in a position in which they have to count on getting big contributions from any of their rookies. Other teams are not so lucky, such as the Cincinnati Bengals, who have already committed to first-overall pick Joe Burrow starting day one at quarterback. While each team’s individual needs may not be the same, however, their opportunity of access is, and that is important.
“The good thing about it is all 32 teams have the same circumstances, so we can’t use that as an excuse”, Conner said. “It’s definitely been different having a virtual offseason, trying to do meetings and stuff over the computer, but you know how the Steelers are and how Coach T is. We’re gonna maximize it and get the most out of it”.
As of now, the NFL plans on teams gathering in late July to open training camp. That is now a little more than a month away. Meanwhile, there are areas of the country where a number of NFL teams play that are currently experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases. California, Texas, and Florida all had over 3000 new cases yesterday. Arizona had over 2500. Certain states are flirting with their ICU occupancy limits. This thing is not over, no matter how tired we might be of it or of hearing about it. Apathy is not a cure for a virus.