Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Figuring out ways to accelerate rookie development
One of the most complicated elements of this offseason is figuring out how to introduce people who have never experienced the game at this level to the physical aspects of a profession that is so deeply rooted in the physical.
The Steelers are more fortunate than most teams in that they do not require the services of any of their rookies in a significant capacity in 2020, or at least not in a starting capacity. It helps that they didn’t even have a first-round pick, their earliest selection being wide receiver Chase Claypool 49th overall.
But gone are the days that the Steelers or any team can afford to give their rookie draft class a redshirt year. Claypool may have three wide receivers ahead of him, but there will come a moment in which he has to step up and play. They are hoping that his big 6’4” frame can be used to great advantage early on.
While some like Kevin Dotson and Antoine Brooks may not be asked to see the field on offense or defense this year (and Carlos Davis is not likely to make the 53-man roster), Alex Highsmith and Anthony McFarland will both be expected to play this year as well.
All three of them got significant work in yesterday’s first padded practices, with the latter two going again and again and again in the backs-on-backers drill, for example. Claypool was noted for making a touchdown grab from Ben Roethlisberger. All of the rookie got work in the special teams phase.
But Tomlin has spoken multiple times since training camp opened, and other coaches have as well, of accelerating the learning process for the rookies. It’s unclear exactly what they’re alluding to, or if it simply amounts to giving them as much work as they can afford.
Without the benefits of Spring practices or a preseason, this training camp stint is all the rookies have to prepare themselves for their first NFL season. Getting them on a level that will allow them to compete with established NFL talent will require special attention.