Players being deprived of in-person Spring workouts is not entirely novel. In fact, it’s not even ancient history. There are several players on the current roster who have gone through that, most notably Cameron Heyward during his rookie season, in 2011. From a football perspective, he had it worse, because there weren’t even virtual meetings. The players were locked out.
“I felt like I was running with my head cut off”, Heyward told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazete about his rookie year. “I couldn’t get information from my strength coach. I couldn’t pick the brain of my defensive line coach. Little things like that, I didn’t know how to work out and what to expect. But those are things that will go along with this class”.
Of course, in spite of the false start, Heyward’s class was a great one, particularly at his position, a class that also included J.J. Watt, one of only two players to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year Award three times. But they were all impacted at the start.
While the societal climate that has resulted in the absence of in-person Spring workouts this year is far worse than in 2011—back then, it was merely a labor dispute between the players and the league—this class of rookies can at least have their playbooks, attend virtual meetings, and communicate with their coaches. That’s a small advantage, but still a far cry from what a normal offseason would bring.
“The only way players are interacting are through these Zoom meetings. Zoom meetings can only do so much”, Heyward acknowledged. “You’re not going to get those physical reps. I didn’t get those physical reps. I didn’t get time with my coaches”.
Interestingly enough, Pittsburgh’s 2011 class did produce a near-immediate starter, but only through adversity. After Willie Colon suffered a season-ending injury in the opener, second-round pick Marcus Gilbert started for most of the rest of the season. Back then, as Fittipaldo notes in the article, he told the paper that he didn’t come in well-prepared or in-shape.
“I think the rookie class will have a leg up on the 2011 class”, Heyward did say, in noting the differences between a complete player lockout and a societally-induced social distancing protocol. “We were playing so much catch-up. The 2011 season was a whirlwind. But they’re definitely up against it right now”.
So, again, it might not be as bad as the 2011 class’ plight, in the sense that they were pretty much only beginning their offseason in training camp, but the complete lack of physical reps and in-person work with their coaches will be a significant hardship for the likes of Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith.
And a shortened preseason will be a disadvantage even Heyward didn’t have.