Bringing new faces to the fold without actually being able to interact with them face to fact is the most challenging aspect of doing business in a team setting during a viral pandemic—especially if those new faces are completely new to this type of environments.
While all 32 teams are facing the same issues with their rookies and free agent signings, our concern is of course with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the new players that they have brought in this offseason. In some sectors it seems to be undersold how significant an effect this stunted offseason will have in the year-one productivity of these players, but Pittsburgh is trying to do everything it can, in its virtual ‘locker room’, to bring everyone into the fold.
“We have a great locker room”, Steven Nelson said recently. “Guys have been communicating the whole time, trying to bring guys along. These zoom meetings with our coaches have been very helpful. We are correcting all of our mistakes. We are trying to get better as a unit”.
This process isn’t just about the newcomers, of course, but about the group as a whole, and really, for many of these players, they are still coming together. Nelson, for example, was only signed last year. Devin Bush was a rookie last year. Minkah Fitzpatrick has only been here since September.
This year, there aren’t a lot of faces expected to play a big role, which is fortunate. Outside of Eric Ebron, there is nobody else new to the team who is a lock as somebody who will definitely be counted upon to play a lot of snaps this year. Derek Watt will be expected to play 300-plus snaps on special teams, yes, but perhaps not even half that on offense. Chase Claypool may be lucky to see a few hundred snaps. Anthony McFarland won’t get even that, nor Alex Highsmith. Stefen Wisniewski could start, or he could not play at all. That’s yet to be determined.
“Each year your team gets a little better because you are playing with your brothers, you trust each other. That has a lot to do with it”, Nelson said, comparing it to a college experience. “We were all kind of new last year. We were able to have a tremendous amount of turnovers. That is rare to do. I think this year we will take that next step because we have played around each other and have that experience. We will correct what we have to correct and move forward”.
Virtually everybody who will have a significant role on defense this year was here last year, with perhaps Chris Wormley being the biggest exception, and given that he stands to be a rotational defensive lineman, that’s not saying much.